If it woes, it leads

We’re backing into the climate future/present with woes leading the way. It’s the perfect media framing and supports the status quo – yes everything is awful. We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas, let’s see how we can keep cheap gas going a little bit longer. It’s this way, in part, because ALL of the progress is boring. For instance, wide bandgap:

Silicon and silicon carbide are useful in electronics because they are semiconductors: They can switch between being electrical conductors, as metals are, and insulators, as most plastics are. This ability makes semiconductors the key materials in transistors — the fundamental building blocks of modern electronics.

Silicon carbide differs from silicon in that it has a wide bandgap, meaning that it requires more energy to switch between the two states. Wide bandgap, or WBG, semiconductors are advantageous in power electronics because they can move more power more efficiently.

Silicon carbide is the senior citizen of WBGs, having been under development as a transistor material for decades. In that time, engineers have started using younger upstart WBG materials, like gallium nitride, or GaN. In the 1980s, researchers used gallium nitride to create the world’s first bright blue LEDs. Blue light comprises high-energy photons; gallium nitride, with its wide bandgap, was the first semiconductor that could practically produce photons with the sufficient energy. In 2014, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for that innovation, which became ubiquitous in devices like TV screens and light bulbs.

Lately, researchers have started using gallium nitride to improve power electronics. The material reached commercial fruition over the past few years in adapters for charging phones and computers. These adapters are smaller, lighter, faster-charging and more efficient than traditional ones that use silicon transistors.

“A typical charger that you buy for your computer is 90 percent efficient,” said Jim Witham, chief executive of GaN Systems, a Canadian company that supplied the transistors in Apple’s gallium-nitride laptop chargers, which were released last fall. “Gallium nitride is 98 percent efficient. You can cut power losses by four times.”

Keep going, science.

Moving on from Cheap and Plenty

Waste – where does it all come from, where does it all go? In a closed system (Earth), a little of it goes everywhere and all of it goes nowhere. We ‘deal’ with waste by putting it out of view, all the while we make more stuff, want more stuff, buy more stuff, sell more stuff, invent fake stuff to buy and sell, even if it’s a ponzi scheme [Narrator: It’s a ponzi scheme].

Now comes the lament that the good days of cheap goods and easy access to them is coming to an end. It is but a scare tactic. And from the perspective of waste – and not only that – were those days so good? The ethos, such as it is, of disposable _____ (goods, culture, food) creates a self-fulfilling emptiness. We could argue that cultivation of these seeds of despair have bloomed and blossomed, and as we feast upon them, they only serve to further famish. Why? What’s the mystery? From wanting nothing issues the inability to figure out what is wanted, what is meaning, what’s it’s all for. As the noted philosopher Jethro Bodine reminds us, “naught from naught equals naught.”

We shudder at the very thought of empty shelves or infringements on long commutes, when fewer shelves and shorter drives represent a signal turn for the better. But gladly to rush into the arms of division and destruction only to maintain the misery fix, we’re only the worse and will fight to keep it.

These failings are ours, but within them lay great tools of rebuilding – not more new things, but better new selves. All of our many advantages were not achieved just to make money off of money, but to make music – whether that means actual notes and tones to you or not – to enjoy and enjoin.

How to channel the urge to exploit? Realize every instance of the act reserves a double portion for the actor and we won’t need to worry with saving the Earth (closed system) when we get serious about saving ourselves.

Two good shoes and all.

What can you see from your car?

Or truck.

Other cars, lane lines, hopefully*. Traffic lights, parking lots. Some trees, a pedestrian*. A cyclist**.

A sidewalk – don’t stop looking at your phone.

Without a shift in perspective, it’s readily seen how none of this changes until people get out from behind the windshield. And no one will make you – that’s not how this works, at least not here, not yet. The costs could sway your decision-making, you could think about doing something differently. Not because you have to, but because you’re curious. You don’t live out in the country, but you also can’t quite walk to the store, much less to work. Still, you want to check out the view, have a look at the street from up close, from the other side of the windshield.

The prospect of seeing other drivers, reifying our fellow road-users, in recent parlance, into something other than the abstractions that we experience, which allow us to disconnect what we are doing from the consequences of doing it. That abstraction is what has to go. And if it’s only that, maybe we won’t feel like we’re losing so much.

See how fun this is? Fiddling with ways to trick ourselves into doing what’s best. So very child-like, this dependence on unsupportable habits to maintain, to remain in, abstract suspension, protected from the outside and other people, things that don’t actually mean us harm. “But I need to get from here to there,” though I don’t want to re-consider here or there. Just want to stay wrapped in this steel cocoon.

Conveyance. Economic drivers. These notes for later betray an urgency beneath the wheels, outside the windows.

Happy American Day

April 9th is the day Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding General of the US Army, received the surrender of Robert E. Lee, a renegade US Army Colonel who was a leader of a violent rebellion against the United States which killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Grant offered generous terms to Lee and the other traitors making up his army. Six days later President Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, DC.

The reality of the past is unchanging, as immutable as time proceeds only in one direction. But our perceptions of it, our understanding of its meaning and the stories we tell about it are perpetually in flux. Humans are story-telling creatures. Many of the great artifacts of human intellection are analytic, mathematic, visual. But at the deepest and most penetrating level we understand the world through stories, narratives. The production of these narratives become histories in themselves.

Nowhere is this more viscerally apparent than in the century of valorization of the traitors who led the pretended state called the Confederate States of America. This even goes down to the deep valorization of Southern military culture and the Confederacy’s top generals. This goes for Lee himself, a very skilled tactician but a highly conventional commander. This applies equally to the denigration of the commanders and common soldiers of the North whose reputations were downgraded as an offering to the wounded pride of the South.

Measured words from Marshall, but a great appreciation of the rehabilitation of Grant’s reputation at the link. For some reason(!), we really don’t commemorate this day, I guess some still don’t want to talk about, much less admit the truth about the outcome. But it is not in doubt, and would do everyone a world of good to get better acquainted with the endemic sore-loserdom that followed this day and cuts a raggedy jib even unto today.

Also highly recommended if you’ve never read it, The March, by E.L. Doctorow.

Image: Stacked weapons at Appomattox, 1865.

More than a feeling

Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir
With the Lost Photographs of David Attie
by Truman Capote
Let this be the last election in which Republicans are allowed to vote against people voting. To win office, you must be required to win more votes, rather than suppress or decrease the number of voters. The only way to be prepared to govern – not reinforce your advantages, not reward your nests or feather your friends, however the saying goes. Unfettered capitalism has done more to undermine capitalist systems than an army of Engelses and a brigade of Marxes. Speaking of whom, To the Finland Station:

“To the Finland Station” is different. The structure is simple: the decline of the bourgeois revolutionary tradition after the French Revolution, as Wilson sees it reflected in the writings of Jules Michelet, Ernest Renan, Hippolyte Taine, and Anatole France; the emergence of revolutionary socialism, seen through the writings of Saint-Simon, the communitarians Charles Fourier and Robert Owen, and Marx and Engels; the triumph of Communism, illustrated by the careers of Lenin and Trotsky. There are things Wilson minimized that would have complicated this narrative: the persistence of a non-Communist socialist ideal in Western Europe; the liberal tradition in Russian politics (to which Nabokov’s father belonged); the success and failure of the Mensheviks, of whom Wilson did not make much. And, of course, if the book were being written now, the vicious side of Marxist and Leninist thought, mostly a subtext in Wilson’s account, would guide the narrative, and the story would touch down in Siberia or Berlin rather than at the Finland Station.

But we don’t read “To the Finland Station” as a book about the Russian Revolution anymore. What draws us now is the subtitle: “A Study in the Writing and Acting of History.” History is the true subject of Wilson’s book, and what he evokes is what it felt like to believe—as Vico and Michelet, Fourier and Saint-Simon, Hegel and Marx, Lenin and Trotsky all believed—that history holds the key to the meaning of life. The evocation is successful because when Wilson began writing “To the Finland Station” he believed in history, too. He thought that history had a design, and that the Depression was an event fully comprehensible within the context of that design: it was the long-predicted collapse of the capitalist order. “To the Finland Station” is valuable as a window on the nineteenth century, but it is also a poignant artifact of the nineteen-thirties, a time when many people thought that history was something you could get on the right side or the wrong side of. It was an idea indistinguishable from faith, and Marx was one of its prophets.

It’s a dirty foul that American school kids don’t learn about Jules Michelet. We must get beyond this aversion to learning about certain histories, be it socialism or the 1619 project, whatever. The less you know, well, the less you know and suddenly another Trump falls off the turnip truck yesterday and the corporate types get summoned to the cut of his jib, obscuring the more accurate assessments, ‘something just ain’t right with that boy.’

Image by David Attie, 1959, from the NYRB

One-Hundred-Year Storm

photo of house with flag over fence
A house damaged by Hurricane Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, 2005

With another hurricane approaching the Louisiana coast this weekend (Delta? does that mean they ran out names for this year? Yes, yes it does), the NYRB reviews a new book about New Orleans – Katrina: A History, 1915-2015:

“I ain’t proud to be American no more,” Dean Blanchard, a shrimp distributor, told a reporter in 2015.1 Ten years earlier, his business was nearly ruined when Katrina, one of the most ferocious hurricanes in American history, pummeled New Orleans, killing at least 1,440 people and causing $150–$200 billion in economic damage, including nearly $1.5 billion to the local seafood industry. Five years later, BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, spewing more than 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and its coastlands and decimating food populations. A lawsuit brought by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority to hold oil companies responsible for the environmental damage they had caused was opposed by the governor, then dismissed by a federal court. Blanchard became convinced that nothing—not government, not infrastructure, not the courts—was protecting him or his neighbors, that no one was fighting on their behalf.

Blanchard was not alone in this view. As Andy Horowitz, a historian at Tulane University, shows in his new book, Katrina: A History, 1915–2015, “The experience of Katrina, compounded with the oil spill, increasingly served Louisianans as a metonym for federal illegitimacy.” He argues that while President Obama described the oil spill as “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced,” and the media presented it as “an efficient drama” unfolding over the course of eighty-seven days, “few people on the coast experienced that tight narrative arc.”

Disaster histories are usually written for entertainment, not diagnosis. They tend to begin in a calm, tranquil moment. Suddenly, there is a disruption: water from a tsunami breaches the nuclear power plant; Patient Zero leaves the market; the levee breaks. When political leaders arrive on the scene, they attribute the damage to an “Act of God,” “Mother Nature,” an unforeseeable error. Horowitz argues that Hurricane Katrina obliterated this narrative. “The more I have thought about Katrina,” he writes, “the more uncomfortable I have become with the idea of ‘disaster’ altogether.” Disaster, Horowitz believes, is a political category—“at best an interpretive fiction, or at worst, an ideological script”—one that’s usually invoked to defend or maintain the status quo. His book asks a necessary question: What happens to the story of this one moment in time if we stretch it forward and back, looking for causes and consequences that reach beyond the storm?

It’s all one story – the land development, the discovery of oil, the expansive canal digging, the sinking, the demolished wetlands, the unprotected infrastructure at risk from large storms exacerbated the very activity of said infrastructure – that bleeds out into a completely understandable loss of civic faith. A few get rich, many suffer, told and re-told over and over again, from slave markets to oil refineries. Katrina, a long time in the making, can but remind us of other slow-motion catastrophes coming due just now.

Who’s the sucker?

Or, in the case of facebook, if you can’t tell what the product is – it’s you:

Facebook is the prime online, global incubator of racist, quasi-fascist propaganda, conspiracy theories, state-run psyops and agit-prop operations, even in at least one case actual state-backed programs of population transfer and arguable genocide. But to really understand the problem with Facebook we need to understand the structural roots of that problem, how much of it is baked into the core architecture of the site and its very business model. Indeed much of it is inherent in the core strategies of the post-2000, second wave Internet tech companies that now dominate our information space and economy.

Facebook is an ingenious engine for information and ideational manipulation. Good old fashioned advertising does that to a degree. But Facebook is much more powerful, adaptive and efficient. That’s what all the algorithms do. That’s why it makes so much money. This is the error with people who say the fact that people do bad things with Facebook is no different from people doing bad things with phones. Facebook isn’t just a ‘dumb’ communications system. It’s not really a platform in the original sense of the word. (The analogy for that is web hosting.) Facebook is designed to do specific things. It’s an engine to understand people’s minds and then manipulate their thinking. Those tools are refined for revenue making but can be used for many other purposes. That makes it ripe for misuse and bad acting.

As Josh says, fB is in the middle of another round of bad publicity and they deserve every bit of it. Obviously also another meaning of being green, but we CAN learn, get older and [a bit] wiser.

And speaking of TPM and green, find some good media you trust and pay for it. Support it. Help it exist. TPM is a good one that I’ve read for many years now. But don’t believe me, go check it out for yourself. Hit ’em up.

Image via.

With other animals

“Think of the disproportion,” Lord Edward was saying, as he smoked his pipe. “It’s positively…” His voice failed. “Take coal, for example. Man’s using a hundred and ten times as much as he used in 1800. But population’s only two and half times what it was. With other animals… Surely quite different. Consumption’s proportionate to numbers.

Illidge objected. “But if animals can get more than they actually require to subsist, they take it, don’t they? If there’s been a battle or a plague, the hyenas and vultures take advantage of the abundance to overeat. Isn’t it the same with us? Forests died in great quantities some millions of years ago. Man has unearthed their corpses, finds he can use them, and is giving himself the luxury of a real good guzzle while the carrion lasts. When the supplies are exhausted, he’ll go back to short rations, as the hyenas do in the intervals between wars and epidemics.” Illidge spoke with gusto. Talking about human beings as though they were indistinguishable from maggots filled him with a peculiar satisfaction. “A coal field’s discovered, oil’s struck. Towns spring up, railways are built, ships come and go. To a long-lived observer on the moon, the swarming and crawling must look like the pullulation of ants and flies round a dead dog. Chilean nitre, Mexican oil, Tunisian phosphates–at every discovery another scurrying of insects. One can imagine the comments of lunar astronomers. ‘These creatures have a remarkable and perhaps unique tropism toward fossilized carrion.’

POINT COUNTER POINT, by Aldous Huxley, 1928

Squamish Nation not squeamish on blending indigeneity and urban design

Clunky title, but this story on the re-development of one of Canada’s smallest First Nations reserves mixes boldness with vision for Vancouver that is easy to romanticize but more nearly resembles a living model for cities going forward.

Few First Nations reserves in Canada are found so centrally in urban areas, and this unique location has given the Squamish Nation a chance to explode local city-building norms. Construction begins in 2021, and at more than 500 units per acre, Senakw’s density will reach Hong Kong levels – a fact that is only allowed because Senakw exists not on city land, but on reserve land, which is technically federal.

Another striking feature is that only 10% of apartments will include parking, unlike the city’s rules that mandate one parking space per unit. The buildings will also forgo the podium-and-tower design that’s become a hallmark of “Vancouverism” in favour of slender high-rises maximising public space. The buildings could be up to 56 storeys tall, towering above the low-rise neighbourhoods nearby.

But beyond even the serious density considerations, there is the language slight of hand that gets at something far more pernicious:

“In the early history of Vancouver, and colonial cities generally, there is this opposition assumed between the civilization cities are imagined to represent, and the imagined savageness of Indigenous people,” [Stanger-Ross] says. 

The ways that the terms ‘urban areas’, ‘cities’, and even abstractions like ‘density’ have been co-opted as code words for racist politicking is maybe coming full-circle. Hopeful, I know. But good work, First Nations folk. Right racists depend on decent people being too nice, too squeamish, plus the ever-present lack of temerity to call out, punch back, or in this case, build up. Re-take the words, then re-make the savage cities with civilizing force of architecture.

Easy to See, Difficult to Look

Two peoples, separated by a common language, gaping and gasping at each others’ stupidity across the ocean blue:

There’s been perfectly understandable confusion expressed here, by more than one commentator, wondering why the British Parliament doesn’t just ‘cancel’ Brexit. The sheer weight of evidence showing how damaging any form of it will be is so clear, the level of corruption (including foreign funding and meddling) surrounding the 2016 Referendum is so obvious, the scale of the divisions it will leave in British society are so terrifying – why on earth are the democratically elected representatives of the British people still going ahead with it in the face of all that? What’s wrong with them? Why do the British people stand for it?

It’s a fair question, so let me answer it with another question.

Given the huge damage that the Trump Administration is doing to America, and given that the level of corruption (including foreign funding and meddling) surrounding the 2016 Election is so obvious, and given that the scale of division Trumpism is causing in American society is so terrifying, why on earth haven’t the democratically elected representatives of the American people done the right and obvious thing and removed the Gelatinous Orange Pustule from office? What’s wrong with them? Why do the American people stand for it?

In both cases, it’s the same sad boringly predictable answer. The people who want to stop it are a majority within the country, and they might be a majority within the Legislative branch, but they are not a majority within the Governing Party. While the minority Party, which does have a (large) majority in favour of stopping the whole shit-parade, is a MINORITY, with a small minority of members within it (some of them in pretty senior posts) who don’t really want to stop it. It can’t force or win a vote to stop anything without substantial crossover support from members of the Governing Party, and the members of the Governing Party who think it should be stopped will not give that support unless they absolutely and unavoidably have to in order to save their own skins. They won’t even loan their votes to slowing it down unless they’re face to face with a sharp-fanged decision-point that they can’t avoid, and as soon as that vote has taken place it’s straight back into Line of Battle and clocks are reset to zero.

Another obvious question, given the relatively simple proposition that Anything Else > This Parade of Gobshittery, is why there isn’t a majority within the Governing Parties to stop Brexit/dump Trump? Or, more realistically, why won’t the minority of elected members of the Governing Party who believe it/he should be stopped/dumped join with the minority Party to make it happen? Again, it’s the same answer for both countries. Fear. The very real and well-supported fear these elected representatives have of losing their access to high-status positions and post-politics employment in the ‘Studfarm for Past Favours’ sector if they don’t stick to the Party line; either through being deselected by the radicalised membership of their local Party branch, or by being denied electoral funding by the Party leadership.

How did seeing through Brexit/protecting Trump become unchallengeable Party policy? Well, that’s the result of decisions made earlier. They put themselves in this position through being half as smart and twice as cowardly as they thought they were. In the case of the Tory Party it was the decision to put a referendum on E.U. membership into its 2015 manifesto in order to finally lance the boil of Europhobic bastardy and give the slightly less insane leadership room to move on the European stage, a decision which blew up in Cameron’s face when the national vote of his Liberal-Democrat Coalition partners (who he was banking on to veto the idea of a referendum for him once they returned to office) completely cratered and the Tories actually became a majority Government with an obligation to meet their manifesto promises. While for the Republicans it was the decision to go all-in on Total Obstruction and White Power in the face of Obama’s tyrannical melanin levels, which led directly to the popularity amongst GOP Primary voters of the Birther-in-Chief and the mainstreaming of his brand of sneering, liberal-baiting racism.

Once those twin errors had achieved electoral ‘success’ the Parties were trapped within the ideological cages they represented. Cameron had to have a Referendum, the GOP had to have Trump as their candidate. Both were destructive decisions based at their inception on maintaining internal party-political unity at all costs, screw the greater good, but both were errors the respective Party leaderships thought they could get away with once the voting public – rather than the extremists within the Party electorate – got a good look at the reality of what they were offering. No one would be stupid enough to actually vote Leave/elect Trump, would they?

(Insert image of surprised looking bear crouched behind a woodland bush reading a newspaper with a prominent “Is the Pope Catholic?” headline)

Enter Fake News and illegally funded campaigns aimed at leveraging widescale public fear of changing socio-economic realities and the ever-pulsing vein of white racism into a multi-tool for getting people to vote against ‘something’, against ‘anything’, against every bloody thing that pissed them off, because it was all THEIR fault and THEY needed to be taught a lesson. Enter compliant and complicit Media entities that wanted the drama and the controversy, that were so fixated on ginning up an eyeball-dragging horserace that they were quite willing to overlook overwhelming evidence of cheating on behalf of the ‘underdogs’ if it made for sellable conflict. In Britain, as in America, established and provable facts were put in the dock alongside barefaced lies and debunked conspiracy theories, with ‘so-called experts’ forced to justify and explain their entire field of expertise in 30 second soundbites while spittle-flecked nutcases in red, white and blue romper-suits were given uninterrupted airtime to puke-funnel any damned thing they wanted into the bemused face of a general public that were less informed at the conclusion of campaigning than they’d been at the start.

In the end the loudest shouters won. And while their shocked enablers in the establishment media turned all of their time and energy towards sending expeditions of bead-and-button carrying urban sophisticates out into the Wild to bring back precious recordings of the sacred ways and eternal truths underpinning the unspoilt, rough-hewn and not-at-all racist Homo Sal-in-Terra cultures who had delivered these electorally narrow but also – in a sensuously metaphysical sense that just flicked the hell out of every savvy, everything you know is wrong bean in the infotainment industry – somehow incredibly portentous and paradigm-shifting victories at the polls for White Suprema…(Editor’s Note – Are you sure you meant to say this?) …..Working-Class Populism, the Parties found themselves lumbered with the job of translating the cut-and-pasted ravings of comment section misanthropes into national and international policy. The ambitious and the deeply stupid flocked forward to take up the challenge, while the guilty sloped away to hurriedly change their shoes and deny in indignant tones any responsibility whatsoever for tracking bull-shit over the nation’s creamy carpets.

In both cases what we’ve had since is the result of putting nearly unfettered power over the nation’s present and future into the hands of utter fuckwits; people who achieved prominence in the field of fuckwittery by steadily building up a portfolio of crass stupidity, whining victimhood and uninformed wrongness for all to see, taking the retrograde side of every argument and proving themselves suitable for no post more challenging than bringing up the rear in a Human Centipede. But these are the people with the whip-hand in our respective Governments. We’ve got Brexiteers and you’ve got Freedom Caucus types. They may not have the numbers, but they’ve been empowered by their Party leaderships to set the terms of acceptable debate and that’s what’s killed any hopes of good government or compromise. It’s their way or… well… that’s your only option. They’ve been reborn as avatars on Earth for the Dark Lord Willadapeepul and their Word is Law. With the Right-Wing Media providing the songbook and the establishment Media happily humming along to the chorus their malicious lunacy has been given an unearned patina of plain-spoken common-sense and amplified across the nation with a result similar to sticking a trumpet up a hippo’s arse – it’s noisy, the shit goes everywhere and only the deeply kinky are smiling.

So, basically, neither of our countries can have nice things because the Parties in Government are in the grip of ideological tractor-beams dragging them further and further away from reality, and the Media are either leading the way on behalf of their Europhobic publishers or are happy to go with them in pursuit of ratings and promotions. What this means over here is that, as the prospect of Brexit begins to resemble the ‘Libera te tutemet ex inferis’ scene from ‘Event Horizon’, the nutters are digging in their heels and making the choice for anti-Brexit Conservatives stark. They either break with the Party whip and grab onto the next available life-raft, whether that means backing a confirmatory referendum on May’s deal, revoking Article 50, or backing a Labour vote of no-confidence in the Government to force a General Election. They are the only people who can stop this, but in doing so they’ll break their Party for a generation and probably never win elected office again.

It’s in their hands. Even Theresa May says so.

Via BalloonJuice.