Several friends have asked me “offline” how I can stand reading and digesting enough news to continue posting it here. My answer is that I can’t – not always. Sometimes it just makes me sick and despondent, and that’s when it’s very helpful to have several hundred pages of assigned reading in my classes: homework sharply curtails the time one can spend following this administration’s daily assaults on democracy, human rights, and the environment.

Unfortunately, it also makes for brownouts here on the blog for several days at a time. I apologize for those.

  • First… on Saturday I mentioned (scroll down to the item that begins “I guess there’s a reason I think of them as the White House Press Release Corps”) that another suspected press shill had been identified. Well, (via Salon) he’s not holding up well under close inspection. (Whatever would a guy be doing with a domain name like Hot Military Study? My goodness, that sounds almost… Why, has he been watching Sponge Bob Squarepants?!)
  • Congratulations to Karl Rove, who is now officially in charge of everything. Now can we just unplug Bush’s battery pack and put him away? Or at least set him on “mute”? I really can’t bear another press conference.
  • Yes, I’ve been reading about the budget, but there’s nothing I can say that others haven’t already (e.g., David Corn). But here’s where we get a little insight into why Bush was such a spectacular failure as a businessman (Ok, he was very talented at getting associates to bail him out when the businesses went bankrupt): while all effective forms of education are going to be debilitated, the totally ineffective abstinence-education programs actually get MORE money. Here is a useful site where you can look at the “nutshell” version of specific recommendations for specific departments and programs. (Thanks, B!)
  • George Monbiot provides a jaw-dropping overview of US-facilitated corruption in Iraq.
  • Ernst Mayr, 1904-2005
  • I knew this guy’s dad! When I was in college, I did an internship at the Columbus Zoo and spent a good many hours observing Oscar, father of Oscar Jonesy (OJ – as he was known then – had already been moved). If I remember correctly, Oscar Sr. was the son of Colo, the first gorilla born in captivity, which of course makes Oscar Jonesy her grandson. He’s got her cheekbones.
  • In one of my classes we’re reading Richard Baxter’s People or Penguins: The Case for Optimal Pollution. Setting aside, for the moment, the difficulty of getting one’s head around the notion of “optimal pollution” — I’m trying hard to appreciate what was apparently a groundbreaking model for analyzing the costs and benefits of controlling pollution. But this has been difficult, since I’m repeatedly compelled to fling the pages as far from me as I can get them. Baxter begins from the premise that nonhuman life and “resources” (some of which are also known as “habitats”) have no intrinsic value – only what is assigned to them by humans (as, I suppose, sources of medicine, outerwear, elegant deck furnishings, fossil fuels, and places to drive snow mobiles). I can’t “get there” mentally, so the rest of his system is, for me, like doing math with no concept of zero: I’m not on the same scale. Still, I recognize that his model has shaped public policy on the environment – for better or worse – for the last 30 years (see here, for an example).

    I land on the side of “for worse.” For that reason, I’m probably going to have to read Jared Diamond’s latest book, Collapse. I read what was probably an excerpt sometime last year (the year before?) in Harper’s Magazine and was fascinated. The excerpt began:

    One of the disturbing facts of history is that so many civilizations collapse. Few people, however, least of all our politicians, realize that a primary cause of the collapse of those societies has been the destruction of the environmental resources on which they depended. Fewer still appreciate that many of those civilizations share a sharp curve of decline. Indeed, a society’s demise may begin only a decade or two after it reaches its peak population, wealth, and power.

    Recent archaeological discoveries have revealed similar courses of collapse in such otherwise dissimilar ancient societies as the Maya in the Yucatán, the Anasazi in the American Southwest, the Cahokia mound builders outside St. Louis, the Greenland Norse, the statue builders of Easter Island, ancient Mesopotamia in the Fertile Crescent, Great Zimbabwe in Africa, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. These civilizations, and many others, succumbed to various combinations of environmental degradation and climate change, aggression from enemies taking advantage of their resulting weakness, and declining trade with neighbors who faced their own environmental problems. Because peak population, wealth, resource consumption, and waste production are accompanied by peak environmental impact—approaching the limit at which impact outstrips resources—we can now understand why declines of societies tend to follow swiftly on their peaks.

    Here is a detailed review of the new book, from Grist online magazine.

    While we’re on the topic, take heart in this Washington Post story, “The Greening of Evangelicals.”

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