About manuelgarciajr

An engineering physicist and independent thinker, always learning.

The Smoke Rings of My Mind

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The Smoke Rings of My Mind

I landed in college as a green wide-eyed freshman, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (NOT Penn State!), in September 1968. This was an explosive year, to my mind the most pivotal one in the United States since 1945. My dorm room was in a short cul-de-sac second floor hallway of the large antique pseudo Oxford-Cambridge style ivy-festooned stone masonry men’s dorm quadrangle building off Spruce Street.

I felt really good to finally have gotten out of the prison day-camp Catholic boys high school I’d been in for 4 years, and out of the nice suburban North Shore Long Island town my family lived in during my adolescence (before that being in New York City); and I had a brand spanking new draft deferment that I thought would insulate me from the carnage of the Vietnam War, which was at its peak at that time with the Tet Offensive.

In fact, Lyndon Johnson’s televised speech with the surprise announcement that he would not seek reelection in November 1968 happened two days after my 18th birthday, after which I had to troop down to the post office and register for the draft. That didn’t feel too good believe me, because I’d watched the news and read the papers daily all through high school. Those were my “Greta Thunberg” years, 1964-1968: from the Bay of Tonkin con-job and 1965’s Marine invasion of South Vietnam — “escalatio” as Tom Lehrer called it — to Tet, erupting on January 31, 1968, and pulsing through three bloody phases that year; when I was dreading the fucked-up situation the adults were shoving my way (you know: die for us, it’s good for “the country”).

My own priorities were: #1, study engineering so I could become the next Enzo Ferrari and build my own sports cars; #2, find receptive female companionship to find an outlet for my raging testosterone levels; and #3, stay out of Vietnam. I was not wise as an 18-year-old, I was NORMAL, having been instructed about women (“girls” was the pre-feminist term used then) by Beach Boys songs (those cherub troubadours of the white colonial culture of the Occupied Territories of Mexico’s northern part of Baja California) and Sophia Loren movies.

In the decades since then I’ve come to realize how difficult it is for women everywhere, and most certainly in the United States with its huge proportion of knucklehead males, to accept becoming the “second mothers” to so many needy fake-macho lunkheads: pickings for good husbands, mates and sperm donors (drones in the Bee World) can be slim for so many alert and intelligent women.

But, in the fall of 1968 I was feeling good and with high hopes. I burrowed enthusiastically into my school work and got on the Dean’s List. Three of us in our hallway were socially awkward and stayed in at night from lack of alternatives and fear blunting initiative. Besides, all the coeds had lots of upperclassmen to pick from and who owned cars and had money to spend. So, Joe Williams invited two or three of us to listen to his Bob Dylan records (note: using a plug-in electric machine that played vinyl discs to produce recorded music sounds).

Now, I had heard all the pop music of the day every day before that, because I had gone to my somewhat distant high school in a carpool driven by a neighbor boy’s father (a NYC fireman with rank, so lots of time to call his own), in a Ford Econoline van (a very cute unsafe-as-hell design), and Robert (the son) would put on the radio for every trip. Beside hearing it all in this way (the grating falsetto Sherry Baby too, too many times, but the Rascals on “Good Lovin’” was the best), and outside school it was so easy to hear spillover sounds from radios playing everywhere. At home I listened to the classical music and Spanish Zarzuelas (operettas) so close to my heart. So, by September 1968 I knew about Dylan’s hit songs up to that point.

But, Joe Williams said we had to hear Dylan the right way. Joe turned us on to grass: marijuana. We would sit up through the night listening to Dylan’s 1965 and 1966 albums: “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Blonde on Blonde.” We laughed our asses off totally stoned listening to “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35” — “everybody must get stoned!” — yeah. It was so hilarious to read the “adult” press on this, where the experts saw in this song a deep poetic cry of alienation. Man, the adult world is just one big blivet of puffery.

I had heard all the popular folk music during its period of prominence, which coincided with the Civil Rights movement from about 1961 to its crescendo in August 1963 when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed his dream to the nation and world from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (which is my favorite single building in Washington D.C.), until its triumphs with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

At that point Bob Dylan checked out of the topical political protest folk singer-songwriter role he’d mastered, and moved on artistically. No creative person can stand typecasting. Dylan’s early career in pure folk music was masterful, but I wasn’t into folk music. I turned onto Dylan when he went electric. For me a good song has both good words (even poetry) plus lots of really good instrumental music. And this essay is, believe it or not, about that.

Bob Dylan went on tour in 1966, backed by a 5 piece rock band, 4 of whose musicians (except the drummer) were a longtime group that would emerge on their own in 1968 as “The Band.” Dylan was booed at all his concerts in Europe and at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, as a “traitor” to the pure folk music style his earlier audiences had typecast him into. Even his pals Pete Seeger and Joan Baez were put off. Why?

In the late 1930s, Frank Sinatra exploded into popularity because he revolutionized how pop music was delivered to the fans. Earlier singing phenomena, like Bing Crosby, knew how to croon with projection to make up for the deficiencies of the crude electrified public address systems of the times, if one even existed in the halls they sang in. By Frank’s high school years (which he bailed out on) microphones and amplifiers were improving significantly (“modern” hi-fi equipment was finally introduced by RCA in 1941).

Tony Bennett has perceptively pointed out that with this new equipment Frank Sinatra did not need to project, so he “made love to the microphone” and sang in a very intimate style, and which every listener in the dance halls and over the radio broadcasts felt was delivered just to them, person-to-person. The Bobby-Soxers went ape-shit over this, a mega-scale precursor to the Beatlemania of 20 years later.

This is where Frank Sinatra was a pivotal figure in the evolution of broadcast popular music: he had that smooth melting crooner’s voice (and had even taken voice lessons from an ex-Metropolitan Opera vocal coach), he had lovely breath control (much learned from Jo Stafford, listen to her meltingly wonderful “The Nearness of You”) with which to fashion long lingering phrases, and he had that intimate emotional and yet cool even vulnerable at times feeling, which he conveyed so convincingly.

Bob Dylan’s folk music was conveyed to his initially small audiences in just this intimate way. Even without a P.A. system, a non-projective (non-operatic, non-Irish tenor) style of singing was just fine in the always small coffee houses and folk clubs of Greenwich Village in the 1950s and early 1960s. And of course, Dylan’s albums from 1961 to 1964 carried his recorded intimate-delivery folk music far and wide.

Now, the American folk music of the early ’60s was nothing like the polished hip big band standards that Frank Sinatra put out, but even at its most angry, and ‘protesty’ and ‘shouty’, the folk music of those years was essentially intimate (think Phil Ochs): it spoke to the personal feelings for and dreams of social transformation in each of the audience members, and with minimal acoustic instrumentation. Those songs were usually not stadium-sized sing-along sonic-boom anthems like Freddy Mercury’s “We Will Rock You,” even though Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changin’,” and “Blowing In The Wind” sort of became ones.

So by 1965, Bob Dylan was typecast by his folk fan base as “their” intimate public voice. But by then Dylan had gotten stoned and was now deep into making group electric music for being stoned. That was the first pop music that could burrow into your stone-cave and light up the panorama movie screen of your stone-mind with its soundtrack — for so many of us lunkhead males, and also for plenty of girls (sorry: women) as I soon learned from direct experience —: the blazing folk-rock of Dylan in 1965 and 1966: “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”

The poor folkies who wanted to be aurally cuddled by their post-Beatnik second daddy folksong troubadour wailed about their Big Brother’s abandonment of them. This is where Bob Dylan is a pivotal figure in American (U.S.) broadcast popular music: his was the folk-blues phantasmagoria of proto-rap lyrical torrents cascading out on streams of blazing hot blues-rock electric music that engulfed the newly stoned minds of the emerging adolescent and young adult nymphs, and the innocent drones and satyrs scheduled as cannon fodder for the Vietnam meat-grinder. That was me.

In 1969, I lost my deferment (2S) and was classified as ready for war right then (1A), because of some screw-up where it was reported to the draft board that “my” grades were failures. For those people any boy Garcia was the same person, so I get pegged with someone else’s failure. When I called the draft board to complain about this clerical error, telling them I could send them a copy of my dean’s list letter from the school, the old lady scarecrow on the phone just said to me “once we start the process we just keep going.” Up to 1968, 50% of the Vietnam War casualties among U.S. soldiers were Blacks and Latinos, always sent out “on point” by their white-boy lieutenant platoon commanders ‘leading’ their men, from the rear, into jungle ambuscades (I heard about such things from first hand recollections by Puerto Rican veterans who survived their 1960s in Vietnam).

So I basically lost my mind, desperate to achieve my goal #2 before being done in by a failure to meet goal #3; and I kept up my studies in the hopes of being ultimately able to proceed with my career ambitions to do engineering and science in a creative way, should I survive. I eventually lucked out by getting a very high number in the draft lottery of December 1969, and so I was passed over for being inducted into the U.S. military.

And during those years of 1968 and 1969, I listened to much music designed to accompany being stoned: Dylan, Doors, Janis Joplin, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and even Crosby Stills and Nash. Janis and CSN were favorites in the girls’ dorms (dorms were segregated by sex in those days, so making an overnight stay involved careful planning and inside help to pull off, like a bank heist caper). I learned much about all this music from the young ladies — all of them far more socially aware than me, keenly informed about pop music, and all very bright — who accepted me into their group company to listen to records at night.

After 1969 I started becoming an adult, but that is another story. Last tip: put Crème de menthe into your bong instead of water, especially helpful with hashish.

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The Climate Threat from Arctic Methane Releases

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The Climate Threat from Arctic Methane Releases

A friend, who is an intelligent person with no science background, asked me to explain simply what the concern expressed with alarm by many scientists and (anti) climate change activists is about the increasing rate of methane gas emissions in the Arctic. That attempted explanation follows.

From even before the extinction of the dinosaurs by the Chicxulub Meteor 66 million years ago (66mya), to about 34mya, the Earth was much warmer (the peak occurred 50mya) and there was no polar ice, north or south.

Antarctica was covered in forests and jungles; the Arctic Ocean was a warm sea ringed by swamps and forests of ferns and Redwood trees along the Eurasian and North American northern continental shores; and those swamps swarmed with crocodiles.

Between 34mya to 12mya Earth’s temperature fluctuated and Antarctica froze thawed and refroze. Then Panama swung into place closing the oceanic gap between North (Central) and South America, and that altered ocean currents so that a Southern Ocean circumpolar current sealed off Antarctica climatically: the deep freeze of that continent that continues to this day.

That global cooling trend continued after 12mya and plunged Earth into the deep cold of the repeated glaciations of the Pleistocene Epoch (Ice Ages), from 2.58mya to 11,700ya, before the thawing of temperate latitudes introduced the balmy global climate we have enjoyed since.

All the lush and soggy vegetation around the Arctic Ocean was buried by sedimentation into the shallow continental shelves around that ocean, and then further locked away by the deep freeze producing permafrost, which extends quite a bit down below the ground surface, and down from the top of the seafloor of the shallows near land.

Rotting organic matter in the seas (algae, plants, fish, animals) sinks to the bottom and is decomposed by bacteria, and that produces methane gas (like cows fart from eating grass, and we fart from eating beans); but because of the cold and pressure deep down in all oceans, or in cold shallower seas like the Arctic, that gas actually combines with water into a fragile unstable crystal-like solid called methane clathrates or methane hydrates.

This is an “ice” that people can light up with a match and it burns like gas-soaked charcoal, but with a blue flame. When a methane hydrate solid is brought up to the surface of the ocean from the high pressure of the depths, it can spontaneously ignite because of the release of methane gas mixing with the oxygen in the air. Such flares have been seen on the ocean surface at night by airline pilots.

There is a large amount of compressed, frozen methane-rich organic matter, including peat, all along the sub-Arctic ring of sea and land about the Arctic Ocean. The thawing of that region is now increasingly releasing some of the trapped gas: from out of the clathrates, from out of subsurface compressed organic plant matter, and also from new underground fires burning peat seams and coal seams. Such fires are now extensive and burning continuously all along northern Siberia; they are called Zombie Fires.

Because of the complexities of molecular structure, a molecule of methane (CH4) has 2.5x (15/6) more ways of moving, plus rotating about and vibrating along the chemical bonds between its atoms, so as to store heat, than does a molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2). So, CH4 is 2.5x times more effective at being a global warming agent than CO2.

A large release of CH4 into the atmosphere will have a more pronounced global warming effect than an equal mass of CO2. But CH4 eventually combines with atmospheric oxygen molecules to form more CO2 and H2O (water).

What is happening in the Arctic is that the massive amount of stored subsurface methane — in all the forms that bound it — is now being warmed sufficiently to allow it to overcome the cold and pressure that used to hold it in. So there is an increasing rate of methane gas bubbling up from the seafloor, and from the Arctic tundra which is permafrost grassland that is thawing, slumping, and popping out with methane eruption craters, some tens of meters in diameter and depth. [1], [2]

Because of that accelerating rate of emission, and because the total amount of methane stored in the Arctic is so large, climate scientists are very concerned about the negative potential for our climate in the near future.

How worried? How fast? How alarming?

Well, the presently accelerating rate of carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, and of global warming, is proceeding at a pace at least 20x that of previous major CO2 eruptions and global warming events in Earth’s geological past (like during the onset of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, 55.5mya); and that rate today could even be hundreds of times faster.

The CO2 increase in the atmosphere over the last century or so has equaled comparable amounts of increase that may have occurred over several thousand years during the massive eruption episodes in the geologic past that caused major extinctions.

During those past eruption events, where the pace of change was over thousands of years (a blink of the eye geologically), despite the extinctions that occurred much animal and plant life was able to adapt, and such adaptation carried on over longer spans of time was their transformation by biological evolution.

But today such a tactic of biological adaptation by a species in response to the shifting of climates is impossible because the genetic processes of evolution are far outpaced by the rapid rate of increase of CO2 concentration, and thus of global climate change.

However, we are not talking about doomsday in 5 or 10 years. Just think of how climate and weather have changed (gotten worse) since, say, the 1970s, and imagine a similar rate of degradation for another few decades, and you can then guess that sometime near the end of this century (maybe the 2070s) that Earth will really be at the edge of environmental collapse: if humanity had continue to do nothing about curbing its greenhouse gas emissions since this moment, and continues heedlessly emitting fossil fuel exhaust fumes beyond that point. 

Many people worry that such an unhappy timetable could be sped up if there were to be a truly massive eruption of “all” the methane locked up in the Arctic. If I get to live to be 100, in 2050, I’ll then know the ultimate course of Earth’s dynamic climate system.

Young people worldwide, sparked by Greta Thunberg [3], will be alive in 2050 and very much want to know NOW what the environmental conditions will be THEN, when they are supposed to experience their adult lives and be responsible for continuing civilization. And they have every right to demand that today’s adults do their intergenerational duty to pass on a hospitable Earth that sustains their dreams, our human civilization, and all species’s futures.

Within the next 10 years we had better begin to actually and continually cut down civilization’s (anthropogenic) annual CO2 emissions; by 25 years we had better be reducing them at a very pronounced rate; otherwise by 50 years Earth’s temperature may be high enough to trip the climate system into a new mode we will very much dislike — being much more of what we don’t like now — and which will be beyond our ability to correct regardless of whatever heroic measures we would then take, like miraculously dropping our CO2 emissions to zero forever.

The geophysical reality is that it takes the climate system hundreds of years (I once estimated 240 years) to BEGIN to shift in response to new atmospheric conditions. This is like a huge thermostat lag to a heating system of global scale, or like the lag between turning the rudder on a large ship and then actually having the ship begin to veer in a new direction.

It is because of this inertia that it is essential to stop our emissions as soon as possible (ASAP). The longer we wait — emitting more while waiting — the longer it will take Earth to respond to our finally throttling our emissions, and the longer it will take for the climate system to flush out that excess CO2 and lower the average global temperature. I estimate 1,000 to 1,400 years, but it could be much longer.

So that is what the worry about the increasing Arctic methane releases is all about.

Notes

[1] Giant new 50 meter deep crater opens up in the arctic tundra
https://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/giant-new-50-metre-deep-crater-opens-up-in-arctic-tundra/

[2] More than 300 sealed craters are ticking time bombs from a total of 7000 plus arctic permafrost mounds
https://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/more-than-300-sealed-craters-are-ticking-time-bombs-from-a-total-7000-plus-arctic-permafrost-mounds/

[3] “I Am Greta,” an excellent documentary about the young lady who is puncturing the big phonies of all our governments, on the overarching issue of climate change.
https://youtu.be/xDdEWkA15Rg

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Guy de Maupassant, and America Today

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Guy de Maupassant, and America Today

Having now read 98 of the 290 short stories written by Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), from 4 English translation anthologies with many repeats between them, I am convinced that he was the best short story writer ever. The quality of his stories range from “good” to “masterpieces,” there are no mediocre nor bad ones.

Any writer aspiring to be a literary artist must read and learn from de Maupassant. He was a master of economy of style, brisk pacing, even-tempered wit, deep insights into human psychology that remain entirely relevant to this day, and of devising imaginative plots with deliciously apt denouements (endings).

He was superb at describing food, dining and cuisine, and also of sensory impressions like smells, with vividness. Also, he was a lyrical artist with his many passages describing natural settings: the sky at various times of the day and during various seasons, river environments, the woods, open hilly grasslands and plains, and weather day or night. The best equivalent I can recall in American literature is Mark Twain’s lyrical passage in “Huckleberry Finn,” on the early morning mists on the Mississippi River.

It is easy to find critics, from de Maupassant’s day to ours, who dislike him. This is because he was so truthful, and so matter-of-fact about it; never an appealing trait for people protecting cherished illusions and prejudices. Indeed, Guy de Maupassant does not show any prejudices, except perhaps for a marked dislike of cruelty, and a marked enjoyment of life, from which springs his enormous compassion for the very very flawed creatures that we human beings are.

Reading Guy de Maupassant as a social critic of the French Second Empire (1852-1870) and Third Republic (1870-1940), it is easy to see why that Third Republic fell in 1940. Jean Renoir’s 1939 film, “The Rules of the Game,” is a gem in this regard. The health of a nation is based on the attitudes of its people, and the attitudinal corruption riddling the Third Republic, despite its wonderful cultural elegance peaking during its Belle Époque (1880-1914), undermined its political strength against the subsequent assaults by fascism.

The attitudinal weakness and sociopathology of Americans today, as say compared with the awesome fortitude of the Russians of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during the 2 year 4.5 month siege of that city during 1941-1944, or of the Cuban population for over half a century since 1961, is similar to the classism and dissolution of the French bourgeoisie during the Third Republic. But, today’s Americans are practicing their dissolution and societal enervation without the culture, grace or elegance of the 19th and early 20th century French.

That 70 million Americans could vote for Donald Trump in 2020 is the saddest commentary one can imagine on the abysmal state of the American Public Mind. While I have now read many thoughtful and statistically supported analyses, from November 2020, of the erosion of Trump’s political support and the electoral collapse of his regime, I remain convinced that his appeal was always based on one factor: bigotry by white people (and minority individuals who hankered to join the capitalist übermensch club) whose xenophobia is expressed as fear of being economically swamped by demographic dilution.

I acknowledge that Marxist analyses of the November 2020 election, based on their economic focus using their class analysis dissection of American society, are excellent; and that perhaps a few of the pop-psychology and ‘cultural’ commentaries on that election’s aftermath also offer some insights; but I think it all boils down to identity politics (voting for the projected ‘me’ reflected by a candidate), electorally, and gut “race-consciousness” emotionalism, which is stronger the less educated the individual. That very highly educated very rich people would also vote consistently for Trump and the Republican Party is entirely a function of their parasitism, but even with them gut-level racism is a factor in their sociopathological outlook on human society.

What is wonderful in Guy de Maupassant’s stories is that they are filled with a wide variety of characters, and many of these reflect the attitudes I just described with respect to American voters in 2020. So, one gets sharply drawn personified images of the many shades of those attitudes. Another aspect of his sharp insights into human nature is that we are not strictly governed by our rational minds (which rationalist-materialist stricture I see as the biggest gap in the Marxist analysis of human society), because humans in fact are much compelled by genetically programmed behaviors and tendencies erupting out of our ancestral evolutionarily honed instincts: our monkey genes. It is so easy to see Trump’s rabidly naïve functionally psychotic evangelically bigoted zombie horde as a purely reactive monkey troop defending its imaginary territory from “them!”

As regards American society in November 2020, the best that I can see is the growth of refreshing and enlightened attitudes in so much of the young population (under 45 years old), which was crucial to the electoral defeat of Donald Trump; and the best I can hope for is that a revival of real education occurs so that an increasing fraction of our younger citizens can learn how to better enjoy life by developing their minds beyond the limbic tendencies embedded in our monkey genes. It is such people who will propel any economic and political improvements that may occur in American society in the coming years, and which are absolutely essential for making credible organized responses to the challenges posed by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the destruction of world environments and the loss of biodiversity, and the overarching threat from global warming climate change.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Ants biting the underside of leaves as a result of infection by O. unilateralis. The top panel shows the whole leaf with the dense surrounding vegetation in the background and the lower panel shows a close up view of dead ant attached to a leaf vein. The stroma of the fungus emerges from the back of the ant’s head and the perithecia, from which spores are produced, grows from one side of this stroma, hence the species epithet. The photograph has been rotated 180 degrees to aid visualization.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

On 4 November 2020, Jeffrey St. Clair wrote:

“I keep hoping that one day there’ll be a presidential candidate who just says very plainly: I don’t want to invade anyone else’s country or drone their wedding parties; I don’t want to torture anyone; I don’t want your family to go bankrupt from the bills for your daughter’s chemo; I want you to be paid fairly for the work you do and not be preyed upon by bill collectors when you’re unemployed; I want you to have a roof over your head and clean water to drink; I don’t want your kids to go hungry at school or be thrown in jail for smoking grass or be shot by the police while walking home from the 7/11; I want you to have time off to enjoy your life and not worry about your house burning down in a wildfire or being swept away in a hurricane. Is that too much to ask? Where is this person?”
— Jeffrey St. Clair (4 November 2020)

“People in hell want ice water, too.”
— Wendell “Moe” Beecher (1974, Gas Dynamics Lab, Princeton University)

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus

A Scientific American article from 2009 describes the following [1]:

The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus infects Camponotus leonardi ants that live in tropical rainforest trees. Once infected, the spore-possessed ant will climb down from its normal habitat and bite down on a leaf, with what the authors call a “death grip,” and then die.

After the ant death, the fungus begins growing hyphae inside the insect’s body; in a few days, the hyphae would emerge from the exoskeleton—”always … from a specific point at the back of the head,” write the authors of the study, which was led by Sandra Andersen of the Center for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Within a week, the fungus had grown to about twice the length of the host ant’s body and had started sexual reproduction. Meanwhile, “the ant cuticle is … remodeled into a protective case by reinforcing the weaker parts,” and the parts of the fungus inside the ant’s body appear to differentiate into separate functions, write the researchers.

When the fungus releases spores, it creates what the authors describe as “an infectious ‘killing field'” about one square meter below the ant body that could infect C. leonardi ants or similar species that are unlucky enough to walk there.

Much more about the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is given in [2].

Alcon Blue Butterfly

Caterpillars of the Alcon Blue Butterfly have developed an outer coat that tricks ants into believing the young are their own because it smells like ant grubs, duping the ants into carrying the larvae back to their colonies to feed and care for, even at the expense of their own grubs since the Alcon Blue caterpillars smell like queen ant grubs, so the worker ants feed them preferentially. The Alcon Blue caterpillars grow fat in their ant nests, pupate, and then fly away to reproduce and continue their species’s parasitic life cycle.

Alcon Blue Butterflies are found in Europe and across the Palearctic to Siberia and Mongolia. They occur on damp meadows where Gentiana (Marsh Gentian, a purple 5-petal flower) grows; they are plentiful in such places, sometimes even in abundance, from the end of May into July, but in the North not before the end of June. [3]

SARS-CoV-2

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has blindly evolved an ingenious strategy for perpetuating itself — perhaps indefinitely — through its host population: riding on human stupidity, impatience and selfishness.

Were people everywhere to follow the anti-pandemic protocols of:

– maintaining a greater than 2 meter distance from other individuals in public;

– self-quarantining for 2 weeks to ensure they are not infected before entering a new household or social environment since much viral spread is by asymptomatic carriers;

– wearing masks over their mouths and noses to prevent their breath-plumes, sneezes and coughs from spewing possibly infected droplets into the meters of airspace around them;

– thoroughly washing their hands often with soap and water (preferably hot), especially after contact with strange objects or people;

– avoiding gatherings, especially large ones, and especially for lengthy periods;

then the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles would have much greater difficulty finding and infecting hosts, and that virus species would eventually die out because of the decay and rupture of its particles’s outer lipid (fat) casings exposed to atmospheric oxygen and environmental heat.

Following this protocol requires discipline, patience and intelligence, because it is annoying. Our lack of discipline (to so regulate our personal behaviors), patience (to stick with the protocol for the duration of the pathogen species’s lifespan), and intelligence (to recognize the reality we must grapple with rationally, which has been exposed by scientific research), in aggregate is SARS-CoV-2’s winning strategy. It eats us out through our undisciplined emotionalism and our preferential fantasy ideas.

Capitalism

Capitalism — as championed by the United States and the high-carbon-footprint part of the International Community that surrenders all its mental capacity and moral character into the logic-bubble of Free Market speculation and finance — is a fungal idea among homo sapiens that causes them to destroy the environments and biodiversity of Planet Earth in frenzies of mineral extraction, overfishing, forest clearing, wildlife extinctions and soil depletion, so as to monetize these bites out of Nature for immediate short-term gains, while in the process spewing out enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and methane gases into the atmosphere (~12GtC/y, or ~42GtCO2/y, [4]) as the exhaust pollution of their so-called “economy.” All of this is hidden under the phrase “global warming” (“anthropogenic global warming” if you want to be a smarty-pants).

The rate of humanity’s CO2 and methane emissions is increasing annually, and global warming and ocean acidification (killing the marine food chain) are accelerating. If left unchecked, anthropogenic global warming will ultimately warm the planet and sterilize the oceans, so that the climate is too hot, too parched and Earth too food-depleted for our species to continue in its current numbers, and ultimately at all (if still here, we will know the ultimate trajectory of our fate within 2 centuries).

Is capitalism our Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a mass psychosis causing our species to self-limit or even self-destruct, to open evolutionary space for other species (probably of bacteria) to evolve and explode their populations to dominate Life-On-Earth? Is it all part of Nature’s unfolding — or “God’s Plan” as the ‘intelligent design’ religious cultists would call it — to prod homo sapiens off the stage of Life-On-Earth after its scripted 200,000 year scene?

Why not? It is certainly hard to see humans as entirely self-actualizing rational beings who make logical decisions on the basis of scientifically verified facts, given the obvious zombification of so many of them by the mere presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the environment, and by the immateriality of the idea of ego-centric capitalist wealth that drives them wild.

Democratic Party

Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world’s oldest active political party.

The wikipedia entry for the Democratic Party gives this capsule summary of its history:

Before 1860, the party supported limited government and state sovereignty while opposing a national bank and high tariffs. In the late 19th century, it continued to oppose high tariffs and had bitter internal debates on the gold standard. In the early 20th century, it supported progressive reforms and opposed imperialism. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition in the 1930s, the Democratic Party has promoted a social liberal platform. Well into the 20th century, the party had conservative pro-business and Southern conservative-populist wings; following the New Deal, however, the conservative wing of the party largely withered outside the South. The New Deal coalition of 1932–1964 attracted strong support from voters of recent European extraction — many of whom were Catholics based in the cities. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the core bases of the two parties shifted, with the Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northeastern states becoming more reliably Democratic. The once-powerful labor union element became smaller after the 1970s, although the working class remains an important component of the Democratic base. People living in urban areas, women, college graduates, and millennials, as well as sexual, religious, and racial minorities, also tend to support the Democratic Party. [5]

The resentments over the diminished impunity of White Supremacy because of the Civil Rights Movement and Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, along with the societal trauma of the Vietnam War, and the reactionary backlash to the law-and-order chaos spawned by antiwar sentiment and the massive routine racial discrimination, economic privation and violence against Blacks (e.g., the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968), which sparked major rioting in numerous cities, along with the economic recession of the 1970s, fueled the expansion of a reactionary, or “conservative” mindset that exploded out of the head of the body politic and into full view like an Ophiocordyceps unilateralis hyphae in the person of Ronald Reagan, the U.S. President inaugurated on 20 January 1981.

The neoliberal regime established by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom in 1979, and Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1981, continues to this day: few restraints on corporate capitalist exploitation of the public commons (and human misery), with always diminishing support for human needs, and with economic austerity imposed on the wage-dependent public to pay for the enrichment of the wealthy.

To compete against the Republican Party — the shining knights of neoliberalism — in U.S. electoral jousts, the Democratic Party turned to new young leaders, beginning with Bill Clinton (U.S. President from 1992 to 2000), who led it away from concentrating on the defense and representation of the wage-dependent public and instead to seek corporate funding to underwrite the political campaigns and lush careerism of its leadership elite, who instead devoted themselves to facilitating the capitalist ambitions of their patrons.

So, the Democratic Party became the Republican Party of Dwight D. Eisenhower (U.S. President from 1952 to 1960, when the top income tax rate was 90%), while the Republican Party of Eisenhower hardened into the neofascist party of Ronald Reagan (1980-1988), George H. W. Bush (1988-1992), George W. Bush (2000-2008), and Donald Trump (2016-?).

The continuity of the neoliberal regime in the U.S. since 1980 was maintained by the post-1990 corporatist Democratic Party during its command of the White House during the administrations of Bill Clinton (1992-2000) and Barack Obama (2008-2016). In fairness to the Democrats, they were sometimes a little less rabid about forcing socially and behaviorally oppressive policies on the public (of AIDS-denial, and on: birth control, abortion, pollution and unionization, for example).

But, the electoral successes of the Democratic Party steadily declined — despite their acceptability to (or tolerance by) a wider range of Americans beyond Paled-Faced Capitalists — as they became less distinct from the Republican Party by their adherence in both word and deed to the neoliberal orthodoxy. Barack Obama even cited Ronald Reagan as one of his heroes and role models, instead of pissing on the memory of Reagan’s public evil (e.g., PATCO, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, South Africa, Iran-Contra) as any truly decent socially-conscious human being would want to do.

So, is the Democratic Party of the last 30 years a political Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungal agent whose purpose is to zombify the struggling and not-always-alert wage-dependent American public to allow itself to be remorselessly eaten out for the perpetuation of neoliberal capitalism, which is only enjoyed by a select population of privileged societal Alcon Blue Butterflies (until Biosphere Environmental Collapse occurs)?

If the Democratic Party is intent to continue as a reliable electoral failure, despite toadying zealously for the corporatocracy (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein), then the very least it could do would be to regain its self-respect and fight vigorously in the defense of the wide spectrum of individuals in the wage-dependent public whom it has long abandoned.

As the reelection yesterday (3 November 2020) of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, along with the election of Cori Bush in Missouri clearly shows, the championing of that public and their human needs against the predations of neoliberal capitalism and its attendant racism can have resounding electoral successes, because: “When you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.” [6]

Once an American mind has been seized by the brain-fever of neoliberal economics, why would it vote for its feeble imitation as the Democratic Party when it can get “the real thing” from the Republican Party, with the added bonus of being able to happily liberate repressed bigotries into the expansive shit-hole of Trumpofascism?

Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Our climb to escape from geophysical and socio-economic realities to latch onto self-terminating delusions, with both personal and societal death-grips, is caused by the zombification of people, our societies and our species into self-destructive behaviors for the benefit of external parasites, by the action of fungal ideas — mindless and non-material — : our fantastical and selfish ideas about the COVID-19 pandemic, about capitalism and neoliberal economics with its global warming denial, and about acquiescing to the shameless careerism and anti-democratic machinations of the corporatist ideologues of the Democratic Party.

Because those parasitic agents plaguing us can only infect us virtually — through ideas — unlike the actual materiality of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus and the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, they can be most easily defeated by simply changing our thinking, which is done without fuss by people of rational mind who are disciplined, patient and intelligent. Unfortunately, not everybody is so constituted, and many people are purely reactive, as stated by Harmless’s Principle: “People don’t change until they feel pain.” [7] But this is not physiologically necessary, to the extent that cognition is free of disease and free-will has scope to operate.

We can act in our own best self-interests in ways that blend into decent life-affirming people-centric societies and political-economic government policies, that in turn mesh harmoniously with the workings of Nature to continue our species indefinitely, with sustainable energy and food production (e.g., Regenerative Agriculture [8]) in collaboration with the continuation of a bounteously biodiverse Life-On-Earth; at least until geophysical or astrophysical forces that are truly beyond human influence (e.g. another Chicxulub Meteor, or the Sun’s expansion into a Red Giant) dictate otherwise.

So I ask that you look upon the old saying “clearing the cobwebs from my mind” with a new more critical and motivated intent.

Notes

[1] Fungus Makes Zombie Ants Do All the Work
[A tropical fungus has adapted to infect ants and force them to chomp, with surprising specificity, into perfectly located leaves before killing them and taking over their bodies]
31 July 2009
Katherine Harmon
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fungus-makes-zombie-ants/

[2] Ophiocordyceps unilateralis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis

[3] Phengaris alcon
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phengaris_alcon

[4] GtC/y and GtCO2/y
GtC/y = giga metric tons of carbon per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of C;
GtCO2/y = giga metric tons of carbon dioxide per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of CO2.

[5] Democratic Party (United States)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_(United_States)

[6] “If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything”
https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/02/18/stand-fall/

[7] Ann Harmless

[8] Kiss The Ground
https://kisstheground.com/

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ED: Election Day

52 State Flag (proposed); if add Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

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ED: Election Day

I voted for the guy
who would destroy America
at a slower pace.
I’m sentimental, I have kids.

I’m all for Socialism,
I’d just hate having to do it
with Americans.

The Democrats are all for voting
so long as only they
and Republicans
get to do it.

The Republicans are against voting
for everyone
except themselves.

The U.S.A. is a capitalist democracy
which means
elections are bought.
“Bribery” is called
“campaign contributions.”

Why not have Election Week?
A paid time off
National Holiday
during which all votes
are easily counted.
(I know, I know:
there’s no profit in it,
and too damn much fairness.)

Why not have
Parliamentary Democracy?
(I know, I know:
there’s no profit in it,
and too damn much fairness.)

Vote for Blue no matter who?
or
Better Dead than Red?
Ave Imperator
E pluribus unum
Morituri te salutant.

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The CO2 and Temperature of the PETM

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) was a 200,000 year long period 55.5 million years ago (55.5mya) at the transition from the Paleocene Epoch to the Eocene Epoch on the geological timescale, of highly elevated global temperature and carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere — the highest since the demise of the dinosaurs 66mya.

The average global temperature is estimated to have been +5°C to +8°C higher than it is today, which current average can be taken to be 15°C (59°F). Thus, the average global temperature during the PETM was in the range of 20°C (68°F) to 23°C (73.4°F). [1]

A recent study published by the ETH (in Switzerland) has determined that:

“Accordingly, between 57 and 55 million years ago, the mean annual air temperature at the equator where Colombia lies today was around 41°C (105.8°F). In Arctic Siberia, the average summer temperature was 23°C (73.4°F).” [2]

The cause of this elevated global temperature was a large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) in the atmosphere. How much of each, and how did they get there? There are numerous theories and no definitive answers. My sense of a general scientific consensus is that a large swarm of volcanic eruptions in the North Atlantic volatilized layers of methane hydrates (the cold pressurized crystalized precipitates of organic matter decayed by bacterial action) on the seafloor, as well as spewing CO2; and that wildfires and the burning of peat may have contributed to the carbon emissions.

The PNAS paper presents data supporting the idea that CH4 overwhelmingly dominated the greenhouse gas load, with CO2 concentration remaining steady at ~1000±500 ppm [1]; while the ETH report states that: “At that time, the atmosphere was essentially flooded by the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, with concentration levels reaching 1,400ppm to 4,000ppm.” (ppm = parts per million) [2]

The amount of carbon lofted into the atmosphere, according to the PNAS paper, was in the range of 2,500GtC to 4,500GtC (GtC = giga metric tons of carbon = gigatonnes C); but it cites alternative scientific studies whose estimates range from 6,800GtC to 15,400GtC. [1] Their methods of analysis were unable to determine the timescale of the emissions pulse, but it must have been well less than the 200,000 year span of the PETM, to account for its recovery back to the “normal” conditions of the early Eocene Epoch.

Methane emitted into the atmosphere will eventually oxidize to CO2 and water by chemical reactions like the following:

CH4 + 2*O2 -> CO2 + 2*H2O

CH4 + 4*O -> CO2 + 2*H2O

CH4 + O3 -> CO2 + H2O + H2.

There are many more possible reactions because there are many intermediate species formed, such as: H (atomic hydrogen), OH (hydroxyl radical), HO2, CO (carbon monoxide), H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide). So it is likely that within a few millennia of a massive CH4 release that it has all been oxidized to CO2 and water vapor.

Thus, I thought it reasonable to model the PETM temperature history as due to an emissions pulse of CO2. Specifically, that pulse is a Gaussian with a full width at half maximum (FWHM) of 4,000 years (4ky); centered at 6ky from the start of the PETM, and with a peak emissions rate of 1,456GtC/ky (1,456 GtC per 1000 years, or 1.456GtC/y). By 12ky from the start of the PETM, that pulse has come and gone leaving 6,190GtC in the model PETM atmosphere.

Figure 1, PETM CO2 pulse (12ky)

The calculated CO2 concentration added rises to 2,500ppm between 9ky and 10.5ky from the start of the PETM, (presumably there was ~280ppm, or more, prior to the emissions pulse).

Figure 2, PETM GtC/ky, GtC, CO2ppm (12.5ky)

This model assumes that the composite relaxation time for CO2 absorption from the atmosphere is 40ky. The dominant process fixing atmospheric CO2 is taken to be the weathering of carbonate and silicate rocks and soils; and the processes of both photosynthesis and the absorption by the surface waters of the oceans — which act on much shorter time scales — are assumed to be saturated because of the high concentrations of CO2 in both the air and the oceans.

The course of this model PETM atmospheric carbon excursion out to 20ky is shown in Figure 3, and out to 100ky is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 3, CO2ppm (20ky)

Figure 4, CO2ppm (100ky)

Beyond 100,000ky, the model PETM CO2 concentration falls into the range of the pre-industrial levels of ~200ppm to ~300ppm.

The model atmosphere at 0ky was taken to have 0ppm of CO2, so everything shown in the Figures is only added carbon (added CO2). The added heating caused by the added CO2 is estimated at:

+∆T °C = [CO2ppm added]/[130ppm/1°C] – 11°C,

where a baseline has been assumed of an average global temperature of 11°C at “0ppm” (actually 170ppm to 270ppm) as existed in the depths of the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene Epoch (2.58mya to 11.7kya), when the global temperature hovered about -4°C±4°C from what it was in pre-industrial times (~15°C).

The ratio 130ppm/1°C comes from my estimate of a +130ppm rise in atmospheric CO2 (280ppm to 410ppm) during the 130 years between 1890 and 2020, accompanied by an average global temperature rise of 1°C.

The calculated history of the model PETM average global temperature rise — by the above method — peaks at +8.2°C, between 9.3ky and 10ky, and is shown in Figure 5. Thus, the peak average global temperature implied was 19.2°C (66.6°F).

Figure 5, +T°C from PETM carbon pulse

If I assume that the model PETM temperature rise calculated above actually rested on a background global temperature of 15°C, similar to pre-industrial conditions (which might seem inconsistent, but there are many uncertainties), then the peak of the model PETM global temperature is 23.2°C (73.8°F).

Note that the ETH results were: +26°C at the Equator (41°C = 105.8°F) and +8°C in the Arctic during summer (23°C = 73.4°F), which are hotter for middle and tropical latitudes than in the model here.

My study here cannot rival the scientific rigor of [1] and [2] and it cannot quantify the entire complex of climate-affecting phenomena that occurred during the PETM; but it does give a clear general picture of a hyperthermal excursion caused by a massive pulse of carbon emissions into the atmosphere as occurred during the PETM.

The climate at that time was hotter and wetter, and with no polar ice; Antarctica was jungles, and the Arctic was a crocodile-infested swamp-ringed ocean.

Notes

[1] Temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentration estimates through the PETM using triple oxygen isotope analysis of mammalian bioapatite
Alexander Gehler, Philip D. Gingerich, and Andreas Pack
PNAS July 12, 2016 113 (28) 7739-7744; first published June 27, 2016;
https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1518116113

[2] Back to the future of climate
Peter Rüegg
ETHzürich
26 October 2020
https://ethz.ch/en/news-and-events/eth-news/news/2020/10/back-to-the-future-of-climate.html

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This Is Now (U.S.A.)

Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

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This Is Now (U.S.A.)

In his CounterPunch column on 30 October 2020 [1], the editor-publisher, Jeffrey St. Clair, made the following refreshing comment:

“In his resignation letter, Greenwald goes a little far in claiming his story was ‘censored.’ Call it the victim of a strong editorial hand. Cockburn used to apply his frequently to my stories and his normal scalpel was replaced by a ruthless chainsaw whenever my subject matter strayed onto the fraught terrain of climate change, assault weapons or catch-and-release trout fishing.”

I have had the same experience with my articles and papers in every single publication I have submitted them to (even CP). I came to learn that each journal has its ideological boundary, within which is its acceptable orthodoxy, and outside of which is rejected heresy. The arbiter determining the exact contour of that boundary is the editor, and moreso when also the publisher.

This is not necessarily bad if the precepts of the orthodoxy and contour of its boundary line are clearly stated, and uniformly adhered to. Then you as a reader and writer know how to pick and choose what to get into, or not. We all prefer to sing in our own choirs and thus perpetuate a world of mutually repellant cacophonous babel, because it is so much easier to maintain our ignorance and prejudices that way.

Having said this, I have to add in all fairness that CounterPunch has been the most tolerant of any journal toward my submissions (better than 50%). If you want to eliminate all censorship and editorializing on your writings, then just publish them yourself in a blog, or just don’t bother. Believe me, most people don’t want to hear or read what you think, however much your ego would be pleased to think they do.

At this point I thought I would editorialize a bit more on the editorial just cited.

+= Jeffrey St. Clair
– = MG,Jr.

+ Biden losing Texas because he made little to no effort to secure the Hispanic vote and couldn’t effectively distance himself from Obama’s inglorious record as deporter-in-chief will be one of the most biting ironies of this strange campaign.

+ The Biden campaign has made two shrewd strategic decisions: One, to limit Biden’s own appearances; and two, to keep Bill Clinton off the campaign trail, even though Bubba might have drawn some bigoted white men over to Biden in Georgia and South Carolina.

– Spanish speaking Americans are most likely voting overwhelmingly for Biden anyway as the obviously preferable lesser evil to raging Trumpian Hispanophobia. We (i.e., ‘Hispanics’) always know that U.S. elections are competitions between two corrupt gangs of ‘pasty-faced knuckle-headed palookas’ (a fabulous phrase from the Three Stooges) united by capitalist ideology. We make inroads as we can with young new progressives, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and with the numerous non-PFKHP activists over the years. Also, in time we will demographically bury PFKHP Trumpphilic America, because we are way better lovers.

+ Usually, the lies get more grandiose the closer we get to an election. This year, however, there’s been a refreshing outbreak of honesty. Biden has pledged that he will “not end fracking.” And Trump’s chief staff Mark Meadows has vowed that Trump “will not control the pandemic.”

– It’s all about the money. It has always been all about the money. This is the United States you’re talking about: “Capitalism is a religion. Banks are churches. Bankers are priests. Wealth is heaven. Poverty is hell. Rich people are saints. Poor people are sinners. Commodities are blessings. Money is God.” — Miguel D. Lewis

– Fracking = fossil fuel = power for U.S. military machines = international political power = profits = careerist orgasms; therefore the Next White (or Whitened) Guy In The White House is 100% for it.

– “Controlling the pandemic” is a tax on “the economy” a.k.a. the exclusive corporate casino subsidized by the public, both by their tax submissions and by their acquiescence to death by incompetence and neglect. Also, laissez-faire as pandemic control is the mentally easiest policy for PFKHPs to manage.

+ The grooming of AOC for a leadership position in the party seems to be well underway. Consider her placid reaction to Biden’s retreat on fracking: “It does not bother me … I have a very strong position on fracking … However, that is my view … It will be a privilege to lobby him should we win the White House, but we need to focus on winning the White House first.”

– Lighten up on AOC. She and Greta Thunberg have done more to wake people up to working for a better U.S. and better world than all the U.S. politicians and pundits of the last 50 years, excepting the activist kids of 2018 from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

– AOC has made the most startling and effective puncturing of the PFKHP political bubble since god knows when, and has near-instantly built up a political potential so threatening to PFKHP patriarchal control that its flaccid intelligentsia across its entire spectrum for reactionary Trumpofascism to Pelosischumer liberal pablum has been driven into apoplectic frenzies of attack against the future that AOC personifies: young, female, feminist, inclusive, non-PFKHP (and non-‘Karen’), multilingual, socialist, smart, honest, engaging and effective.

– Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s newly reelected Labour Prime Minister, is another personification of that advanced political future (a reality in New Zealand, as yet a dream in the U.S.). The fact that AOC is also urban and a Puertorriqueña is icing on the cake (for this Nuyorkino). The great fear in weakling PFKHP minds is demographic dilution, and they see their projected image of that fear as AOC, before whom they tremble: rage as pretense for fear.

+ Who will tell DiFi? McConnell, just after the Senate voted to limit debate on Amy Coney Barrett: “A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”

– Climate change (crisis, emergency, catastrophe) is a universally acknowledged fact, often brutally so in the wake of hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires. The culpability of major corporations in fueling global warming by the overproduction and sale of fossil fuels and petroleum products (like plastic by the Coca Cola Company) for the last half century, and of doing their utmost to cover up the scientific findings about the root causes of global warming (that’s where “anthropogenic” comes in) so as to continue maximizing their profits by destroying the environment, are all now public knowledge.

– Therefore, it is inevitable that the public will increasingly point the accusatory finger at the oil companies (for CO2 pollution fueling global warming) and plastic producers (for ocean and biodiversity destruction) in the form of class action lawsuits. The evidence of guilt is overwhelming; there is no exculpatory evidence. The only way that future corporate defendants would be able to secure favorable judgements once they have been harpooned by such lawsuits would be to advance payments now into insurance policies known as campaigns to install as many corporate-friendly judges into the higher echelons of the corporate-friendly U.S. judiciary as possible, and as soon as possible. This is how to buy judges legally in the United States, where “justice” is a commodity.

– And that is what the frenzy to install Amy Coney Barrett into the Supreme Court was all about. Her daddy was an oil exec, so she’s part of the family of the petrocorp ancien régime. Her religious fundamentalism is incidental to the corporatocracy (though it’s a great distraction for the hoi poloi); it’s all about the money.

+ Reporter: “What do you say to Philadelphia residents that are outraged by yet another unarmed Black man being shot by police?”
+ Biden: “What I say is that there is no excuse whatsoever for the looting and the violence.”

– Except by the PFKHP supremacist U.S. military abroad, and occupation troops (a.k.a. ‘police’) domestically. It used to be called “manifest destiny,” now it’s called “exceptionalism.” What the ancien régime fears most is having its own tactics used against it, and its various euphemistic expressions of that fear, as given by Biden here, are its most forthright admissions of guilt.

+ It’s become a fixture of American political culture where those who later apologize for being wrong about a disastrous policy (regardless of the body count) are given more attention and credibility than those who made the right call from the beginning.

– This is because such heartwarming forgiveness is dispensed by the U.S. mass media, which in aggregate is the privatized propaganda ministry that touts disastrous-for-the-public corporate-friendly government policies with alacrity. These are sinners forgiving their own sins, which the public had to become impoverished and bleed and die to underwrite (as in the 2008 financial meltdown, and Vietnam and Iraq Wars).

+ In the last two years, Trump’s Department of Energy has blocked the release of more than 40 reports on renewable energy: “They just go into a black hole.”

– The U.S. Department of Energy is a government agency for the maintenance of U.S. nuclear weapons capability, infrastructure and production. Anything else they may do is auxiliary. While there is much more that the US DOE could do to further renewable energy (I know, I used to work for them through a contractor, and my renewable energy reports just ended up on my blog), that is not a concern of the petrocorp ancien régime that owns the government.

– It may help to remember that John Jay, an author of the Federalist Papers and the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was fond of saying: “The people who own the country should run it.” By “people” Jay meant wealthy merchants and slave-owners like himself. This is what the Supreme Court has always been about (with the exception of a few deviations by people like William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall and surprisingly by Earl Warren): the defense of property against democracy.

+ The Arctic’s giant methane deposits are beginning to leak their climate-wrecking fumes. Adjust your doomsday clock accordingly.

+ A worst-case climate scenario could produce almost $500 trillion in damages—about twice all the wealth in the world today. A best case still inflicts about $30 trillion in damage, a new study in Nature estimates, with intermediate scenarios between $69 trillion and $131 trillion.

+ According to a post-debate Morning Consult poll, only 28% voters oppose transitioning away from the oil industry. 52% of independents support transitioning away, and even 41% of Republicans.

– The exploding magnitude of the problem of global warming is only matched by the degree of reluctance by politically organized human society to reformulate its civilization into balance with Nature, and thus into harmony with the continuation of biodiverse Life-On-Earth. The mental inertia behind our non-action is from the static self-images many people have of themselves (‘I have to keep living and working this way because I can’t imagine otherwise’), and from our near-universal fetishizing of money.

– “The economy” is an artifice that can be constructed any way “we” want — so people could easily be made more important than profits — and money is just a token that is easily printed on government paper, and is now even generated as electrons vibrating in computer memory circuits. It doesn’t matter how much “money” it costs to formulate a decent society in harmony with Nature; money is shit, and shit is fertilizer.

+ Trump’s war on wolves just went nuclear…
+ The decision to remove the protections for gray wolves across all 48 states is going to have lethal consequences in Wisconsin, where the state’s “wolf hunt” will be immediately reopened.

– What it really is, deep down, it is the pleasure of inflicting cruelty on the helpless by terrified weaklings.

+ Ned Norris Jr., Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, on the border wall’s desecration of Indigenous sacred sites: “As Americans, we all should be horrified that the Federal Government has so little respect for our religious and cultural values.”

– It’s all about the money; it is the pleasure of inflicting cruelty on the helpless by terrified weaklings; it is so much easier to maintain ignorance and prejudices that way; it is a reaction to the increasing fear of demographic dilution and the puncturing of the political bubble of PFKHP patriarchal control; it is manifest destiny and exceptionalism; it is the fearful wrath of the American money-constipated ancien régime.

– Capitalism must die for the world to live.

[1] https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/10/30/roaming-charges-high-anxiety/

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Last Words

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Last Words

They hate us because we remind them of what they fear most — dying — and so they torture us, withholding morphine to punish us for our dying, to deny us some final joy, and they call that morality, righteousness against the sin of addiction. But, I know what it really is, deep down, it is the pleasure of cruelty inflicted on the helpless by terrified weaklings. Our only vengeance is knowing that in time they too in all likelihood will suffer this if they are unfortunate enough to fall under the power of those now young whom they abuse by training, which they call religion, to carry on with the same dreary deadness of soul and emptiness of mind and spirit. So open the valve, then turn out the light and go home, and you will have fulfilled your humanity by letting me fulfill mine.

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The Perennial Smoldering of America’s Reichstag

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The Perennial Smoldering of America’s Reichstag

“Historian Timothy Snyder warns that America is already in its own ‘slow-motion Reichstag Fire’” proclaims a current article in Salon. [1]

“Obviously, we are in a slow-motion Reichstag Fire right now. That is what is happening. Donald Trump is not as skilled as Hitler. He doesn’t work as hard as Hitler. He doesn’t have the same level of confidence as Hitler, but he’s clearly looking for that Reichstag Fire emergency. Trump tried to make Black Lives Matter into that emergency. ‘Antifascists’ and ‘thugs’ and ‘law and order’ and so on is part of that effort. Donald Trump keeps trying to make the Reichstag Fire work.” — Timothy Snyder.

I have heard this idea being applied to U.S. politics for some time (since Reagan). I think it reflects the fear of many people, which arises as their previously taken-for-granted assumptions of the general benevolence of U.S. institutions and the U.S. political elite as a whole, drop away in the face of scandals and public disclosures of the obviously cruel and predatory nature of U.S. foreign and even domestic policy goals.

The first major incident of this sort since WWII was the Vietnam War: the Tonkin Bay Incident deception, the Pentagon Papers, My Lai, the Secret Invasion of Cambodia, Agent Orange; and then the many negative incidents of domestic fallout from all this: the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., urban riots, Watergate, the exposure of the CIA assassination plots (the Senate’s Church Committee), COINTELPRO (domestic spying), and the FBI/Police assassination of Black Panther Party people.

So, I think that widespread loss of trust in the U.S. Government by sectors of the population that still believed in “our way of life” (so, not for Black America, which was only too well-acquainted with immunized murderous racist policing; nor Native Americans) became a permanent feature in the public consciousness, and is expressed differently depending on the people involved: pro-gun idiocy by ignorant people being one example, and “Reichstag Fire” alarms by intellectual liberals and academics being another.

I think that the truth of the matter is that the actual purposes and goals of government policies, and the intentions of the insiders who instigate and enact those policies, have always been the same: the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth, with the costs of these actions being passed on to the population at large in the form of taxes and the manning of the military for “doing the dirty work” and providing the necessary bleeding and fatalities required to “get the job done.” I think the American people are by and large a “human shield” to the “owners” who run the whole government-economy game. The comedian George Carlin famously said: “It’s one big club, and you ain’t in it!”

So, while I agree that Trump and his cult followers are a real low point in American history, and threats to the wellbeing of most of us, I don’t think a Biden-Harris administration will be dramatically different as regards the substance of American foreign and domestic policies. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are where they are today because they are fully vetted as reliable agents for that “Inner Party” (from Orwell’s “1984”). Both are personally invested in (careerism) and fully compromised (bought) by the Wall Street Inner Party (WSIP), to work in the management bureaucracy that continues the long-standing mission of corporate-owned government: the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth.

The WSIP is finding that Trump is too unstable and too incompetent for their convenience; he is spoiling the smooth continuation of their profitable operations. They want someone like Obama, a smooth operator to calm the masses so they do not interfere with the status quo which in no way benefits them. Obama was superb at doing that job. Kamala Harris is just a shameless careerist who is hoping to graft Hillary Clinton “femaleness” to Barack Obama “Blackness” into a winning (for her) public image. She smiles today because Biden’s nod indicates that the WSIP has bought into Kamala’s “business proposal” of the utility of her personal branding (or subterfuge, as far the public good is concerned).

If the November 3 election proves to be a disaster for the Democratic Party, then the WSIP will soldier along profitably, as it is always assured of doing, but with a rockier and much crasser political “leadership,” and thus a more restive public. If Biden-Harris win decisively as many hope, then the WSIP will gain the benefit of Biden-Harris being a political soporific for the masses, which would make WSIP business-as-usual predatory profiteering easier to carry on and map out into the long term.

At this point, all those elected and appointed political insiders are scrambling to work out their own careerist bailouts or takeover plans, depending on how they see themselves positioned with respect to their public images and their approval ratings with the WSIP. So, for sure the cast will change for 2021, but by how much is not yet clear. The play, on the other hand, will not change in any fundamental way, though clearly a Biden-Harris win would require them to make some highly visible, but not necessarily significantly revolutionary changes: bones tossed to the chained-up dogs barking out in the rain.

Relative to berserker Trump, whatever palliatives (I’m sure weak ones) Biden-Harris might toss out would still be welcome. But they will be items that the WSIP would be prepared to “pay” in exchange for a return to the “stability of business conditions,” under a Biden-Harris (or, Obama III) Administration, a stability (of guaranteed subsidies and political protection) that they so highly prize for their maximum ROI and ease of planning (“investing”).

My view on the election of 3 November 2020 is this: The time now is to plug the holes in the boat to keep it from sinking, only after that can you decide which direction to row it in. Beyond that, no matter who you vote for, with whatever idealism and revolutionary vision you wish to have, you will get the same functional result: the WSIP owned government will focus its awesome powers, foreign and domestic, on the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth.

To change THAT, will require much much more continuing social and political activism and agitation for a long long time. Dumping Trump and his gang is a necessary first step to begin advancing that idealistic process, and without doubt would be a major morale boost far and wide. So we should all make sure it happens, but have no illusions about it’s depth of change of the American reality. Having that kind of voting attitude requires maturity: the having of a realistic outlook enabling pragmatic action without falling into despair and having childish tantrums of frustration over being denied the immediate gratification of realizing revolutionary utopian dreams at the push of a button.

And if, in the extremely unlikely event that we really do suddenly drop into a new 1933-style Nazi free-fall, then we will just have to fall back on our personal moral character, and work out our various paths toward lives of merit, as so many others were challenged to do throughout human history.

Thus, I agree we should have intelligent, realistic concerns about the course of American politics, but I think it counterproductive and personally harmful to have exaggerated irrational fears. Whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) during the November 3 pivot, maintaining your equanimity and psychological strength are essential for carrying on with your life.

[1] Historian Timothy Snyder warns that America is already in its own “slow-motion Reichstag Fire”
(Salon talks to Snyder about how Donald Trump uses pain and suffering as a weapon to remain in power)
Chauncey DeVega
October 18, 2020
https://www.salon.com/2020/10/18/historian-timothy-snyder-warns-that-america-is-already-in-its-own-slow-motion-reichstag-fire/

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Heller, Vonnegut, Melville, Twain, Maugham, and Guy de Maupassant

On 17 October 2020, Eric Andrew Gebert wrote:

“Born on this day, 1915, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005). Now might be the right time to re-read ‘The Crucible’ (1953). I’ve always preferred ‘Death Of A Salesman’ (1949). Although, anything written by Miller is a gem.

‘“Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value.” — Arthur Miller’

Eric’s comments prompted the following exchange:

MG,Jr.:
If you read the first few chapters of “Closing Time” (1994), the not-great sequel to “Catch-22” (1961), by Joseph Heller (1932-1999), you are given a very clear and fulsome view of the neighborhood and cultural environment – Jewish Coney Island – from which Arthur Miller and Joseph Heller came. While “Closing Time” is not great, it is nevertheless a tale imbued with “New Yorkness” particularly of the City, and it beats most of the twaddle published as novels and even “literature” today. It came out in the ’90s; Heller died in 1999. And agreed, Miller was a superb author-playwright.

Eric Andrew Gebert:
I’ve never read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I’ve read so many articles about the book and author, yet never read the book. It’s on my list for sure.

My own thoughts prompted by the above:

I read “Catch-22” and “Slaughterhouse Five” in 1968-1969, while I was listed as 1A for the draft (Vietnam War) during my first year in college. I consider both masterpieces of 20th century American literature, and both were written by anti-war WWII veterans who had seen plenty of action – and death – during the mid 1940s (in Italy and Germany, respectively).

It is my opinion that these two books are absolutely essential reading for any American alive then and now, if they really want to gain some insight into fundamental aspects of American culture, and the collective psyche of Americans. If one also wants to get “historical” and can accept immersing themselves in the “literary,” then it is essential they include “Huckleberry Finn” and “Moby-Dick” to that reading list.

There are many comedic elements in both “Catch-22” and “Slaughterhouse Five” (1969), but both books are very clearly deadly serious. With Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s (1922-2007) book (Slaughterhouse Five), the more you think about it, the deeper is your realization of the underlying tragedy; with Heller’s book, comedy carries you to a finale that requires a strong stomach and deep commitment to finish reading, and in this way leads you to the tragic realization equivalent to that which Vonnegut so subtly (well, playfully) presents.

Only AFTER you have read C-22 and SH-5 should you allow yourself to see the movies made of them. The only good movie of C-22 (a recent TV series has also been made, at best a C-) is the excellent 1970 Mike Nichols (1931-2014) film (Catch-22), with a screenplay written by Buck Henry (1930-2020). Parts of that screenplay were so good that Heller said he wished he’d thought of them to put in his novel.

This film is very faithful (but not exact) to Heller’s plot (simplification being necessary since Heller had many, many characters, and a great deal of non-chronological density), and is entirely faithful to Heller’s arc of comedy-to-anguishing reality (with a sparkle at the end of the film to give you hope). Milo Minderbinder, a character in C-22 (and Closing Time), is the absolute quintessential personification of American capitalism, an excruciatingly apt portrayal in both the book and movie.

The only film worth seeing (AFTER you read the novel!) of SH-5 is the 1972 George Roy Hill (1921-2002) movie (Slaughterhouse Five). In that movie the character of Valencia Merble is the quintessential portrayal of the White suburban American mom, not quite a Karen, but a simple self-absorbed but not selfish Americana (a chaste but not fundamentalist version of Guy de Maupassant’s “Boule de Suif”); this perfection of depiction being in both the book and movie.

Believe me, those two books of the 1960s, and the two films made of them in the early 1970s cannot be remade today to equal standards of art and psychological insight: “we” are too hung-up on our “modern” (self-delusional) ‘wokeness.’ Here is art that is a mirror of a ‘national soul’ that we generally don’t wish to see in complete clarity. These works are both of their time, and timeless.

Every work of art has its roots in earlier works by earlier artists, and in conceptions from earlier times. One can, with imagination, follow this trail of sequential inspiration all the way back to the 5th Century (BCE) Greeks; and with even more imagination back to the cave paintings at Lascaux (~17,000 years ago) and Altamira (~36,000 years ago). Even though I do not know the history of Heller’s and Vonnegut’s literary inspirations, to my mind these two authors were the 1960s flowering of roots that grew from Herman Melville (1819-1891), Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910), and Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893).

Melville had a keen and pessimistic insight into the American soul, and a wicked wit, which can be hard for today’s casual readers to untangle from his convoluted and fascinating antique New England prose. I can see Heller’s Milo Minderbinder as a youthfully handsome comic inversion of Captain Ahab (the terrible protagonist of Moby-Dick): both are monomaniacal obsessive-compulsives. Both were avidly mercantile individuals, to devote themselves so fully to their risky commercial ventures. For Milo it was all about money to gain power to make more money (in a vicious circle), while for Ahab it was all about money (his gold Doubloon, and command of his ship’s resources like the breaking out of rum) to gain the mesmerizing power over his men’s hearts and souls to bind them tightly to his obsession for vengeance against the very forces of Nature incarnated as the white whale, Moby-Dick.

Mark Twain, that other supreme giant of American literature (I vacillate between seeing Melville then Twain as the greatest of all American authors, but that is a worthless exercise really: together, they are the sourcepoint of all essentially American literature), was both a comedic genius and a deeply serious writer with a very great compassion for the human condition; and his enlightened outlook on people was far in advance of American norms — to this day!

Kurt Vonnegut was deeply influenced by Twain, he said as much in his introduction to a television movie (shown on PBS) of Twain’s “Life On The Mississippi,” and it is so easy to see many parallels between Twain’s seemingly naïve witticisms and Vonnegut’s seemingly childlike playfulness in prose. And both had very serious matters about America’s dark soul to present back to its people, under the cover of sweet sunny confections of comic storytelling — up to a point.

Guy de Maupassant was a supreme master of naturalness in the telling of short stories, with an economy of style that made his penetrating insight into the psychology of his characters — the people of his day, and ours — transparent. His words speedily take you to the heart of the matter without obscuring it by any pretentiousness, insights and matters that were: comic, tragic, banal, horrible, lovely, socially withering, and of human avarice, corruption, credulity, deceitfulness, and simple nobility.

Like Heller and Vonnegut, de Maupassant mined his wartime experiences as a French solider during the disastrous for France Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Guy de Maupassant’s story “Two Friends,” about the hazards two Frenchmen buddies find themselves facing when they are captured by the Prussians during a surreptitious fishing excursion along a river behind enemy lines, has all the absurdist qualities Vonnegut put into the narrative thread on his avuncular character Edgar Derby, the mentor of Billy Pilgrim (the protagonist of Slaughterhouse Five) while both were prisoners of the Germans in WWII Dresden.

Even more grim a tale about the utterly absurd waste of human life, human innocence, and the permanent loss of happiness because of war, was de Maupassant’s “Mother Savage,” a story about one old French peasant woman’s iron will to wage her personal war against the Prussians, and by extension against all the social forces and higher classes and their attitudes, which had combined to bring that disastrous 1870 war right into her little cottage far out in the country. Where Edgar Derby was an endearingly blithe overgrown lamb oblivious to the hellscape of firebombed Dresden, Victoire Simon (Mother Savage) was an implacable wolverine propelled by grief capping a long hard meager life of scratching the land.

Two de Maupassant stories of desperate personal actions taken by ordinary French civilians against the Prussians, because they just exploded with rage against being bullied, are “Mademoiselle Fifi,” about the stabbing killing of a Prussian officer by Rachel, a Jewess prostitute who successfully evaded capture by being hidden by the parish priest; and “A Duel,” a similar story about a nebbish little man whose sudden rage fills him with power sufficient to kill a Prussian officer in a duel, his first ever, and for the Prussian his last of many. But I did not see any parallel incidents to these de Maupassant stories in either “Catch-22” or “Slaughterhouse Five,” despite their extensive periods in wartime settings.

Heller’s portrayal of the whorehouse in Rome frequented by Yossarian (the protagonist of Catch-22) and his buddies has many echoes of de Maupassant’s story “Madam Tellier’s Establishment,” of simple souls with simple dreams mixed with desperate longings and simple pleasures. Guy de Maupassant wrote many stories involving carnal affairs, licit and illicit, with a keen eye to human foibles and hypocrisy, and a sophisticated savoir faire combined with a very deep compassion to the human condition, so like Mark Twain’s.

Much of the anguish and histrionics of English and American marital-sexual-relationship dramas is refreshingly absent in de Maupassant’s stories because of his honest clear-sighted presentation of the situational and psychological facts. The hypocritical Victorian prudery of the English and the Americans is absent from de Maupassant and many of his characters, who are after all drawn from real life as de Maupassant saw it. That naturalness, pioneered by Gustave Flaubert (among others), de Maupassant’s mentor and teacher of literary art, is at the heart of Heller’s verve in “Catch-22.”

The direct root from Guy de Maupassant that grew out into English literature was W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), another great short story writer, as well as playwright, novelist and essayist. The keenest insights about women that I have seen in literature are by Guy de Maupassant and W. Somerset Maugham. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) has some as well (particularly in “Tender Is The Night,” 1934), but he was often much more lyrical and because of that honeyed radiance thus more vague.

Guy de Maupassant by contrast offered gems of clarity (not necessarily desired by society at large) cut with such precision as to bring out the sparkle of insights that pierced through the fog of all illusions. This deemed de Maupassant smutty and immoral to many socially correct readers (especially English and American ones) up to the present day.

My favorite novel of Maugham’s is “The Moon and Sixpence” (1919), a novelization of the life of the French Impressionist painter (and pal of Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890) Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), told as the story of Charles Strickland, a fictional English equivalent to Gauguin. Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence” is an epigrammatic novel worthy of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and Maugham’s acknowledged inspiration: Guy de Maupassant.

Guy de Maupassant has written the best and most detailed descriptions of eating, food, cuisine and dining that I have ever read; he has done what Flaubert had taught him: to let you smell the aromas and taste the flavors just from reading the worlds. His touching yet earthy matter-of-fact slice-of-life story, “Idyll,” is echoed by John Steinbeck (1902-1968) as the grand and incandescent metaphor at the end of his “Grapes of Wrath” (1939), for the desperate and self-sacrificing human compassion and solidarity during a time of economic catastrophe that some of its victims could find to bring out of their own destitution and grief, to generously give others the milk of human kindness.

How fortunate I am to be able to read so many wonderful books. The overall lesson they have given me is simply to see with greater appreciation the intrinsic beauty of life despite the many hardships and random tragedies it also entails.

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