The Saints, Snowmageddon and Climate Change

The New Orleans Saints won the Superbowl in order to prove that serious climate change is challenging humanity.

Or what I really meant to say was that, by bringing attention to the City of New Orleans just as the Nation’s Capital was getting buried in an epic snow, the Who Dat Saints also brought attention to the fact that the Big Easy has still not recovered from the Big Flood engineered by the Army Corp of same after their ill-constructed levees broke during a visit from a nasty tourist named Katrina.

Or what I really meant to say was that, despite the shallow (or on-purpose cynical) misunderstanding of the nature and implications of climate change by those who are quite certain it has nothing to do with billions of tons of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere to support our air-conditioned style of Modern Living, the confluence of both overheated tropical storming and overcooled, overmoistened northern storming simply suggests that yes: much as the scientific models have predicted, we are now subject to a pattern of weather extremes that rather strongly suggest a period of climate flux.

Or what I am really getting at is, I am not quite convinced myself that the matter of weather patterns parting from their historical norms is due more to pollution than to over-attention (or new attention, anyway) much as, say “autism” is a diagnosis based on perception and new attention rather than a sudden huge increase in sickly children. Does anybody recall there were always those kids in class who were somehow just “different” or unfortunately “weird” or oddly “quiet”? Now they’re victims of “autism spectrum syndrome”. Fine. But they’re still the same kinds of kids, and probably showing up in the same amounts.

Or what I am really saying is, even though I am not convinced that humans are the cause of global climate change, I think it more or less stands to reason we may have a role in it. And in a way, the whole “global warming” debate obscures the real action item for the industrialized carbon-based beings swarming the planet these days (eg. us), and that is: we really should be taking better care of the place.

For instance, does the threat of global warning make it any less shameful that we chop down forests to make pasture for cows we turn into BK Broilers, destroy delicate habitats to line our floors with “beautiful, durable hardwood” slats, dump plastic in the ocean in such quantities that we have created poison-leeching mini-continents drifting in the mid-Pacific, belch enough smoke into the air such that Beijing is a massive cancer-ward while East L.A. reeks half the year in filthy smog, reduce the habitats of brave and beautiful animals like the Siberian Tiger to the point where as a species they are hanging on by a claw?

It does not.

For the sake of the Tiger and the Vu Quong Ox and for those who must breathe filthy air and for the sake of the cruelly torn jungles and forests, can we please take a step back and ask how we might stop the wantonness of our destruction? Does it really matter if we are responsible for Katrina, or Snowmaggedon, or the shrinking of the ice-caps?

It does not.

We just have to stop killing and burning and smoking it up on the massive scale we have become accustomed to, not because we know it’s going to cause a climate problem, but because it’s ugly and stupid and in the end, immoral.

Climate change? Maybe. Throw a little love to the tigers? Yes.

And by the way: Who Dat?

A Waste of Precious Resources

The following actors must stop making movies immediately or face heavy fines levied by the MovieGoing Authorities:

Harrison Ford
Robert DeNiro
John Travolta
Mel Gibson
Jim Carey
Anthony Hopkins

They are, as a rule, talented. But long ago they became caricatures and hacks, and now must be stopped before they waste any further precious movie-making resources.

Is there any reason in the world why we should have to look at Ford’s face again as he plays very tiresomely the Serious Adult in the room–avenging a threat to his or someone else’s family?

Is there any reason why we should have to endure DeNiro mugging emptily in a movie he neither cares about nor adds anything to but the presence of his Name?

Can we just pretend Travolta’s career consists of the several good movies he made (Saturday Night Fever; Pulp Fiction; Urban Cowboy) and “Welcome Back, Cotter”–and leave it at that?

Mel Gibson is a force that must be stopped–he has rarely played anything but a dark avenger adding nothing at all to the world but anger and violence and unhealthy vengeance. Did I mention vengeance?

Jim Carey was good on a half-hour TV comedy-variety show years ago that featured the Wayans brothers. After that, he had Dumb and Dumber. And then an undifferentiated string of movies, some animated, some not, in which he was grossly scatological and eminently not funny (and the overrated Truman Show). Pull the plug. Kill the Mask.

Anthony Hopkins: you died as an actor after playing Hannibal Lecter. You ate your career with Fava beans. Please retire to your English manor.

Once these abovementioned usurpers have been banished from the movie set, perhaps some younger, more-deserving, interesting actors can take their place in front of the camera; and our precious moviemaking resources can be utilized in the creation of valuable entertainment product instead of more rounds of depressing dreck destined rapidly for the bottom rack in the DVD section of BestBuy.

Units Under Stress–And Sun

Over a lengthy Holiday Season holiday, I found myself relaxing under a pleasant warm sun, in sight of the very pool where John, Paul, George and Ringo splashed for the cameras back when Kennedy had just been shot but the world was going to be all right anyway mostly because of those very moptops.

The hotel is a large, old ratpack haunt where the likes of Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason gave shows in the vast ballroom; where The Voice and The Drinker stayed; and that now has been rediscovered by Europeans (and me) as a somewhat offbeat, fairly-well restored three-star that drips Moderne on a relatively unfashionable stretch of Collins Avenue well to the north of the iniquity and madness of Ocean Drive. At the entrance, shiny new cars are lined up for valet parking; across the street are some rather humble but satisfying Brazilian-themed restaurants and markets. Within blocks are a bagel place with a straight-outta-Flatbush owner, an American bar and grille, a Chinese place that seems to have been ported in from somewhere along Queens Boulevard and a full-blown Sikh-owned headshop/newsstand/notary public that rivals anything in the East Village. Add winter warmth and you can see why I flat loved this neighborhood.

However, as is generally known, South Florida is also one of the two epicenters of egregious overbuilding of condos and houses (the other being Las Vegas). Noticeable even at the vaunted Beach are towers that stand seemingly rather empty and swanky-looking developments that seem in no hurry to be completed. The prices have been keenly pared on all of them and I have it on good authority that the bottom has not yet been reached.

According to my knowledgeable source, whose interaction with HUD and the effort to keep wayward homes from completely going to pot makes him privy to a wealth of information about the market, there are over a hundred thousand units in Dade County alone that are under stress and heading for foreclosure within the next eighteen months. Word is, there is no way that amount of property can be absorbed into the market–meaning that continuing price slippage is inevitable.

The tourist areas are still crowded–and in much better shape now than, say ten or fifteen years ago when Miami Beach was only a ghost of its past and a dream of its future–but there is no shortage of soaped-over storefront windows and bare patches here and there along the beachy highways.

Eventually a home in the oceanside land of perpetual warmth may be in order–but apparently more bargains are on the way. And let’s all offer our kind considerations to those who irrationally believed that water plus yearlong sun plus four walls and a roof equaled ever-escalating home-value; then, after we kindly consider their real-estate foolishness, wait until their properties drop to the lowest point we can believe in and then buy them.

I Agree With Sarah Palin (Not Really)

But sort of, and only in a manner that gives me an excuse to rage against pollution in general and then specifically against the way the Magilla from Wasilla emits pollution like a garbage truck in need of a ring job.

Sarah says global warming is real, but we can’t necessarily pin it on man-made causes. I agree. The fact is, we cannot know. The earth is a big, old place and it has had ice-ages and Devonian heat-waves in its own seemingly whimsical Can’t-Fool-Mother-Nature way for about four billion years. If the temperature generally rises 3 degrees and causes the ice caps to melt, it may be a disaster for us but for the Earth (or Gaia if you must), it’s not much more than the feeling you’d get if you broke a sweat trying to catch the bus.

That said, I see no connection whatever between the argument that the earth is/is not warming because of us, and the real outrage that ought to be inspired by the multi-stage environmental disasters we know we are causing, and which are at best depressing and often enough mind-blowing in their rank awfulness.

Sure, Gaia doesn’t care whether the Siberian Tiger makes it to the year 2050. But I do. And I know we are causing it to die off because we keep cutting down its forested habitat. Of course we can’t know if Antarctica is turning into a palm-fronded paradise because of us. But we do know that the Amazon is getting burned down, and that sludge in the water is killing children there, and that wonderful new species of plants and animals are being discovered there only as they are being destroyed in a sickening quest for cheaper burger-beef (even though I love The King of BK fame).

It may be true that Al Gore is Chicken Little. I never thought he was brilliant (he never seemed bright compared to Clinton, anyway), nor that he really had made a convincing case just because he knew how to use scary pictures in a pedantic manner. But to me, Global Warming isn’t the point. The genuine tragedy is the destruction of habitat and species that we KNOW is our fault.

Make no mistake: of course we need to survive as a species–we claim that right and I support it and even support species bigotry because that’s as natural as a lion’s quest for breakfast. But I don’t support wanton destruction of beautiful, complex natural habitats only to replace them with crude dwellings and cheap crap amusements and dimwitted, potbellied nincompoops complaining the Liberals are out to get them and that Sarah Palin’s their six-pack-totin’ gal. No.

And in a further note on this woman’s eternal gift for glaring tackiness, let us briefly review the crude manner in which she blotted out the name of the Man Who Made Her Queen on the silly sun visor she was wearing at the beach in the State That Had Too Many Hawaiians while wearing a vapid, vituperative shirt that said “If You Don’t Love America, Why Don’t You Get the Hell Out”?

To which I would answer: Sarah, you are not America. You actually don’t love the real America–the multi-racial, multi-cultural one that exists today. So why don’t you get the hell out? Alaska would be far enough, and keep your stupid mouth shut while you’re at it

One Hundred Years Ago. . .

. . .your great grandparents were in their prime (do you know who their parents were? and isn’t it bone-chilling to realize you may not, and that your own full, passionate life may be subject to the same oblivion but a hundred years hence?).

Please read on, fellow mortal.

Your great grandparents, probably without understanding exactly why, were standing at the portals of a momentous period we have come to call “The American Century”. That century has come to an end. The 21st got started with awful news from Dade County (Bush) and then worse news from the corner of Liberty and Church in Lower Manhattan, followed by even worse news a couple of blocks south at the corner of Wall and Broad just across from where a certain American General was sworn in as the nation’s first Commander in Chief. Obama may be President today, but he’s inherited a deflated-balloon of a nation hissing out its remaining air in a way that sounds an awful lot like the mindless drone of tea-baggers and other ill-tempered opponents to common-sense.

But hope cannot be lost if we look back on what was going on a hundred years ago, when the prospects for the nation loomed great, but when the United States, culturally at least, was unsound and notably laggard–perhaps much as it is today.

Here are a few examples of what made the papers (ref: “America’s Taste 1859 -1959, NYT Books):

1908: New York Camera Club Ousts Alfred Steiglitz
They accused him of malfeasance but he said the reason was they just objected to his realism. They called him and his followers “the Mop and Pail crew”, mocking their penchant for photographing the city’s streets and its people. For quite some time, cubism’s forward-looking works on canvas could be seen only at Steiglitz’ New York Studio. Incidentally, Picasso’s earth-shaking “Les Desmoiselles D’Avignon” with its distorted monstrous nude ladies with African masks was revealed to a generally horrified public in 1906.

1906: Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” is panned by the critics but becomes a best-seller anyway.
“I aimed for America’s heart and hit it in the stomach” said Sinclair (who also authored “Oil!” upon which the Daniel Day-Lewis vehicle “There Will Be Blood” was based). For those who don’t know, “The Jungle” is a novel about labor injustice and woefully poor hygiene in the meatpacking industry. Apparently the latter descriptions were so disgusting that the public grew outraged and soon insisted upon, and got, the US government to inspect food processing and keep it at least effectively clean enough not to sicken any noticeable percentage of those who partook. Sinclair had in addition hoped to spur similar outrage at the labor malfeasance thereat, but as any Mexican working in a chicken-parts factory knows, this part of the outrage never became as popular with a feasting American public.

1903: Carrie A. Nation is jailed.
Her axe-wielding quote: “You have taken me in as a lamb but I shall come out as a lion”. And thus was born the movement that would eventually become an ignominious chapter in our history known as Prohibition; and concomitantly we’d see the rise of a ruling class of Gangsters in America. What Carrie couldn’t understand was that you can’t stop people from ingesting what they want (see above) no matter what method with which you regale them or punish them. Carrie A. Nation, an Oklahoma girl, had in her later years decided, it seems, that Demon Alcohol was the ruin of lives and families and that alcohol-bars must be cut up with axes. She may have had a point. But it is a little known fact that she was equally and as vociferously against “fraternal orders” such as the Masons, the Odd-Fellows, and probably, if they had existed, Ralph Kramden’s Raccoon Club. One imagines these groups were far more influential then than now–or perhaps we just don’t realize what they are up to these days (Skull and Bones anyone?). I know I haven’t a clue. Having discovered this latter nugget of information, I must admit, is forcing me to give old Carrie a second look.

Finally, and this is about inflation:

1909: Holbein Portrait sells for $400,000–a scandalous sum for a painting at the time.
Now of course we would be well into the multi-millions for same. Fifty million? Maybe. But $400,000! Today you might get a weatherbeaten Manhattan co-op with a view of the air shaft for that much, provided you could convince the bank you really didn’t need the money in which case they would guardedly lend it to you (still owing all that TARP money to the government).

So, while we might still be driving the bus in the ditch, we can safely consider ourselves well ahead of our great grandparents in some ways. For instance, there is no chance they carried around supercomputers in their pockets. Nor would they have been lucky enough to be able to argue about universal health care (in an age when “dropsy” was a significant ailment).

In any case, why is everyone so excited about any of these? A hundred years from now it will all seem so quaint.

Lost in the Woods Again?

AP–(Oregon)Search on for missing Ore. Christmas tree cutters

C’mon. Really? Really?

I sure hope the diabetic tree-hunter and his non-camper wife get found soon, because they have a couple of kids who are waiting for them to come home.

But really. Is there any way we can convince people to avoid trying the very obviously stupid attractions life can offer? Like, say, carnival games? Or credit card debt at 28% interest? Or going up into the high snowy mountain wilderness hunting for a Christmas tree?

Again, my hopes are riding on those Oregon State helicopters looking for this poor couple. But for heaven’s sake, if they get found, they should also be put in stocks in the public square and forced to wear forest-green dunce-caps for at least a full day.

What sort of fatuous impetuosity propelled them to take the family Subaru and go up into the inhospitable snowy wastes of the Cascade Mountains in winter, hoping to find the type of tree associated with pagan Yule celebrations (attached inexplicably to the High Christian Holiday since the Victorian era), but especially the type of tree favored by ancient barbarian Teutons that also happens to grow only at the peaks of wilderness mountains? And especially if one of them were diabetic (one supposes the hunter of exotic trees was also a hunter of Angus Quarter Pounders)?

I cannot imagine a suitable mindset. Not for a parent. For a loner, or any unattached adult for that matter, fine: go up in the woods, get lost, die if you must, it’s your life and your fate alone. But if you’ve got a couple of kids at home, and you drive off into the wilderness looking for a very temporary living room decoration in the middle of winter, you are probably a perfect idiot. Proof? Here is the proof: last year the same couple got stuck for four hours in the Cascadian Siskiyou forest also looking for a Christmas tree. So this year they figured, why not try it again? And let’s hope for their kids’ sake they get real lucky again, with the search helicopters burning taxpayer fuel droning on and on and on. . .

On a related note, a recent story in Science News (on line) noted that snowflakes can sometimes be triangular and the microscopic photos of same were, in the true sense of the word, wonderful.

Small comfort for the frostbitten.

Of Driving and the Original Wilderness

I am a train lover. I am an airline-intense-disliker (especially of the constitution-violating security measures they employ). I am an avid city-walker and an enthusiastic, if occasional country-hiker.

Perhaps it is a surprise to hear that a person (me) living in a place where one needs no car loves–truly loves–driving. Perhaps it is because that person doesn’t ever really need to drive? And never has commuted by car in his life (except for a grim and thankfully brief period in his teens, intra-suburb,”carpooling” in the back seat of an AMC Gremlin, an experience so dispiriting it may have been life-changing)?

But I do love driving. And I can think of no more act quite as assuredly enthralling as pressing down on the gas, rounding a curve, coming upon a new vista, passing some relative slowpoke perhaps, and feeling quite in control and on top of the world. I like to think of myself as a “good driver”. I don’t do stunts. I don’t speed. I use my mirrors. I am respectful of other cars, inanimate objects, the odd small animal and especially pedestrians. I am probably a regular goody-two-shoes of a driver. But none of that innate caution detracts from the feeling of power and ascendancy that comes from moving at speed through a gorgeous landscape–protected from the elements, The Basement Tapes playing off the iPod–I become misty at the thought.

Then there is the choice of venue. Perhaps a tour through the clamor and waste of, say, southern Nassau County, or to spin oneself endlessly in circles around the magnificent, vast parking lots of the Paramus Mall would not afford the same exaltation. But I do a fair amount of my driving in the storied, gorgeously well-endowed, quasi-rural and sophisticated Hudson Valley–a geography that has certainly got its due historically but remains underreported as one of the world’s Great Locations.

The Hudson Valley is America’s first “wilderness”–wilderness being a concept that requires a non-wilderness (and in this case that would be the million-footed beast clutching that last Palisade of the valley before its great river washes out past the skyscrapers and into the bay and the bight and ultimately the sea). It was sold to the masses cramped in city-quarters as such, and so many carriages and trains and parkways endeavored to take them there over the course of, say, the time just before the Civil War to the time just after Woodstock, that it became after a time overlooked and came to be seen as “your father’s paradise” and therefore kind of dowdy and maybe even creepy. Certainly the dozens of abandoned, wretched-looking tourist shacks that cluster near some of the interior roadways do nothing to dispel the notion it may have been, for a time, pretty much a lowlife destination and kind of creepy.

I’m here to tell you today that it’s not anybody’s paradise, but that it’s got as much charm and intrinsic beauty (and as many great restaurants) as any richly endowed valley in any part of the world. The other day I drove up River Road on the eastern side of the Hudson north of Rhinebeck (a very winning little crossroads town in and of itself) and was astonished at the autumn finery in the trees, the ancient, native architecture of the houses nestled in crooks of the valley, the way the road wound about through woods and over streams, and at last how it ended up in the entirely underrated river town of Hudson, New York, a very small city whose main street happens to be a study in American architecture from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century and is lined with stores and restaurants of a quality and sophistication more to be expected in urban centers like Tribeca and Soho.

There is a long story waiting to be written about how the Hudson Valley now beckons the driver to its winding, shady roads and tempts the driver with succulent feasts at charming restaurants owned by chefs that might as well have made their mark in Manhattan. But that would be a much longer story than this format will tolerate.

Let me just say it again: a) I love driving and b) I especially love driving in the Hudson Valley.

How to Spot a Losing Presidential Campaign

Barack won. I like to think we all did on Tuesday night.

It wasn’t even that close. But along the way, there were lots of people who firmly believed McCain might pull it off (including no small number of paranoid liberals).

Next time, wouldn’t it be nice not to have to get all worked up about it? Wouldn’t it be nice to sort of know who’ll win by looking at the telltale signs? The McCain campaign gave us lots of signs it was headed for disaster. In order that we may better spot the loser in advance next time (and not feel so anxious), let’s review:

How to Spot a Losing Presidential Campaign

-the candidate is of the same party as the worst President anyone can remember

-the candidate is not liked by his own party; and struggles to beat even the almost preternaturally unlikeable Mitt Romney in the primary

-the candidate resurrects a dying campaign by hiring people who destroyed his earlier campaign by attacking him with vicious lies

-the candidate behaves in a much less likeable manner as soon as these people are hired

-the candidate selects a beauty-pageant nincompoop as Vice President having met that person exactly twice

-the candidate permits speakers at his party’s convention to insult the achievements of the other candidate

-the candidate claims that “the fundamentals” of a certain important pillar of national prosperity are “sound” when they are very obviously crumbling like the pillars of a Pompeiian villa during the eruption of Vesuvius; then claims that he meant something else than what everyone knows those words to mean; and further, that to claim to have seen through his silly insistence on this lie is to have attacked hard-working Americans

-the candidate suspends his campaign for no very good reason; then acts as if it never happened

-the candidate looks sickly and angry and is often barely coherent while debating his calm, cool opponent

-the nincompoop VP fails to give coherent answers to even simple interview questions, providing the best comedic fodder anyone has ever seen

-the nincompoop VP attacks an obviously patriotic opponent as a terrorist, but does not call for his arrest

-the nincompoop VP loots the campaign treasury for fancy duds; then is punked on the radio

-the candidate has no money for advertising

-the campaign trots out a new, silly message each and every day

-the campaign selects a random, not-very-bright no-tax bigot who practices his profession without a license as a putative everyman, then cannot find him at key public events where he is expected

-the candidate draws crowds roughly one-tenth the size of his opponent’s

-the candidate has trouble keeping the lights turned on during a live event in the same week his opponent launches a flawless and beautifully produced half-hour campaign commercial that ends with a flawless and beautifully produced transition to a live event with thousands of cheering supporters

-the campaign anonymously attacks its nincompoop VP in the final days, calling her a “hillbilly”, a “diva” and a “whack job”

-very, very long lines of what appear to be the campaign’s opponent’s voters form in any state that allows them to vote before election day

-the candidate appears on a nationally televised comedy show alongside a comedian who is openly mocking his nincompoop VP

-on election day, the nincompoop VP does not reveal whom she voted for

-did we mention the part about the candidate voting 90 percent of the time with the worst President anyone can remember?

So next time you see a campaign exhibiting the above characteristics, you don’t have to wonder much about whether or not it will win. It will lose.