Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Cat in the Hat Moves into the White House

What sort of cat wears a hat, wreaks havoc wherever it goes, makes a monstrous mess that entertains as it appalls, turns the world red from "lying", and suffers no personal consequence? Why, it's the Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss. If you missed it in childhood, you can witness it now, in the news every day. While the adults were out, a man in a red hat and no scruples slipped into the White House. This time, there will be no magnificent machine to clean up the mess, no VOOM! to erase the lies that spread red across the land.
Little lies founder,
But big lies can stick.
Lies can determine
The leaders we pick.
Taken together, The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back anticipate our current cat-in-chief's tremendous capacity to demolish what was carefully put together, and generate an endless stream of red lies that spread and spread. In the Cat in the Hat Comes Back, the first red stain happens when the cat lies in the tub. From that first "lying", the red stain spreads from bathtub to mother's dress, to Father's shoes, to the rug, ultimately coating the snowy landscape outside.
If you don’t like that lie,
Then I’ll give you another.
I’ll give you its cousins,
Its sister and brother.
The cat has helpers to spread its brand of mayhem even further. Out of the cat's red hat leap small assistants who spread the red until it coats the land. Those assistants, in our increasingly unreal world, include not only those who wish to spread the lies, but also those attempting to stop them.
We’ll make ourselves welcome--
A lying family--
On the porch of your house
Drinking new lies for tea.
How do you stop a lie from spreading? The standard method in journalism is to state the lie, then explain that it isn't true. The more outrageous the lie, the bigger its headline, and the more it dominates conversation. Whether the lie gets repeated with an air of disgust or irony or stern correction, the assumption is that people will see it for the lie it is. But lies, if they are repeated often enough, become true for people who aren't paying much attention. The actual truth often can't compete.
The truthy truth truthers
Will frown all around,
At how high I can fly
While they’re stuck on the ground.
If someone is accused of a crime, each time that story is reported, the accused is associated with the crime. But if the crime is a false accusation about someone else, then news reports taint the lied-about more than the liar. The lied-about can charge the liar with slander or defamation of character, but that risks even more news coverage with yet more repetitions of the lie.
We’ll keep telling lies
Till you think they are true
Do you think it can’t happen?
It can happen to you.
We become like the boy and girl in Dr. Seuss's stories, powerless, aghast, but also entertained while watching their world order come undone.
And how do you stop a big lie once it’s out
By saying it again while it prances about!
As an example of how lies can be like a stain that keeps spreading the more you try to stop it, consider a pre-election series in the New Yorker that documented myriad lies. These are thoroughly researched, devastating articles, and yet they also serve to spread the lies further. Though the series' alliterative title, "Trump and the Truth", was meant to be ironic, at a subliminal level some may be swayed instead by the visual power of two words that share the same length and the first three letters. By associating Trump with the truth, the title works against the articles' content. And because of the difficulty of reporting lies, the articles' content even works against itself. Of 1260 words in one of the articles, only 195 present the truth, while 628 convey Trump's lies.

This is the journalist's predicament, in a time when content may not register. Instead, it's the subliminal message in the image, the look or sound of words in the headline that people respond to. In a similar manner, some people watching the presidential debates last fall may have picked up on Trump's impressive physical bearing, rather than what he actually said. For people wishing to believe, appearance will win out over content.

Click on "Read More" below to see the 195 words of truth, presented almost apologetically, and how more than half of the article actually helps spread Trump's message.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Climate Think: Comparing Climate Change and Drunk Driving

Here are two examples of what can be called Climate Think:
  • If we viewed terrorism the way we view climate change, there'd be no security checks at airports, because no one could prove definitively when or even if a plane will be hijacked in the future.
  • If we viewed drunk driving the way we view climate change, there'd be no law against Driving While Intoxicated, because no one could prove for certain that alcohol was the cause of the accident.
The burning of carbon fuels previously stored safely underground has increased atmospheric carbon dioxide by 40%. All weather is now influenced by climate change. The oceans are now 25% more acidic, due to some of that extra carbon dioxide turning into carbonic acid when it's absorbed by the oceans. All ocean chemistry is now influenced by climate change. Our bodies strictly regulate our internal chemistry, including pH, yet many people seem to think we can radically alter the earth's chemistry without consequence.

If the universe were patrolled by police, the earth and its drivers would be arrested for DWI.


When it comes to terrorism and drunk driving, the potential for harm is considered sufficient to take action. Contrast that mindset with the tortured and timid suggestions that climate change can in part be blamed for the destructiveness of recent hurricanes and wildfires.

Using Climate Think, a drunk driver could argue that his accident was minor compared to many accidents caused by sober drivers. He'd point out that many drunk drivers make it home safely, and there's no way it can be definitively proved that his alcohol levels caused the accident.

You can see these sorts of rationalizations being used in news coverage of climate change quoted below: "the possible role climate change played..", and "climate change is not necessarily causing specific fires to occur." Imagine the same sort of apologist approach being used to report on drunk driving.

An editorial in the Washington Post: This editorial has a brave headline, but then gets very timid, with its "time to talk" and "possible role" and "measures the nation should take."

See it, say it: Climate change
"While California prepares for what promises to be an arduous rebuilding, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other places hit by this year’s unprecedented back-to-back-to-back hurricanes are still mopping up and, in Puerto Rico’s case, just beginning to rebuild. So it would seem to be a natural time to talk about the possible role climate change played in these disasters and about measures the nation should be taking to slow global warming."
An article in the NY Times: It would be interesting to see a news report state that alcohol levels accounted for half of a driver's weaving on the road, or half of a deadly accident.

California’s Wildfires: Why Have They Been So Destructive?
Researchers from the University of Idaho and Columbia University published a study last year saying that climate change had caused more than half of the dryness of Western forests since 1979. 
Parched landscapes can increase fire size and duration, said Scott L. Stephens, a professor of fire science at the University of California, Berkeley. 
But it is important to note, he added, that climate change is not necessarily causing specific fires to occur. Wildfires are a natural part of a forest’s life cycle and have been part of the state’s history since long before anyone called it California.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Las Vegas: A Layer Cake of Crazy

The mass shooting in Las Vegas, gruesome and horrific, is just the top layer of a cake made of crazy. Increasingly, acts of insane mass violence play out within a culture whose version of normality is itself profoundly destructive and, like the killers themselves, ultimately self-destructive. We mourn the dead in Las Vegas, but that grief is felt in the context of a daily and deepening mourning for a larger extinguishment, playing out day after day, global in scope.

That larger extinguishment of the world we cherish is being carried out not by the attention-grabbing men who spray bullets or drive trucks into crowds, but through the collateral damage of what passes for normal everyday life. The proliferation of guns and other armaments is scary, but it's the chemical warfare that we have all been enlisted to participate in that is driving the most profound and destructive transformations. Society itself has been weaponized, not only with guns, but with vehicles and homes armed with exhaust pipes and chimneys, whose emissions of climate-changing gases are no less destructive for lack of drama or ill-intent. Though an exhaust pipe is discreetly hidden under the back of a car, it is aimed at the future, with nature and ultimately us the victims of its emissions.

The peace we seek in a return to normal is an illusion. Las Vegas, in the size of its massacre and the conspicuousness of its unsustainable consumption, is a steroidal version of the giant gamble that haunts normality worldwide. How does a city like Las Vegas return to normal? By turning its fountains back on, in the middle of the Mojave Desert. In Las Vegas, normal is just a different kind of crazy, a glamorous void into which people pour their dreams and money.

Las Vegas, in a country where many pretend that climate change is a hoax and corporations are people, is a city that pretends to be anywhere but where it is. There, along with opulent fountains, you can find giant versions of the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canal of Venice, the Colosseum, the statue of David, the Statue of Liberty, and the pyramids of Egypt.

The Mandalay Hotel, from whence the unhinged gunman's bullets flew, is named after a sentimental Kipling poem, longing to return to "Mandalay, where the flyin' fishes play." During construction, the hotel was found to be sinking, as is much of the Las Vegas area, as water is sucked from aquifers below, so that fishes and people can play in the driest desert in North America. The city spent $1.5 billion to bore another giant straw closer to the bottom of the nearby damming of the Colorado River called Lake Mead, so it can continue sucking water from the reservoir as it too drops, already down to 40% of its original capacity due to recurrent droughts made worse by climate change. In part due to Las Vegas' thirst, the Colorado River runs dry before reaching its ocean outlet. Billions more may be spent to build a pipeline to raid groundwater 250 miles to the north. Contrary to a false headline that made the rounds in 2016, the city does not run on renewable energy, but powers its glitz and gambling with fossil fuels, thereby contributing to its own future desiccation.

So we have a crazy gunman in a gambling city in a country that gambled on a president who, like Las Vegas, offered glitz and glamour, and a void for voters to pour their last ditch dreams into--the voting booth just another slot machine. Consider the possibility that the giant gamble with climate change that infects the core of normal has laid the foundation for a layer cake of crazy.