24 October 2014

Devolution


Last month, Scottish voters participated in a momentous referendum in which a majority of the country (97% voting) decided to remain part of the United Kingdom. This reverses an almost unbroken string of devolutionary precedents which began with the North American Revolution in 1776. Does this signal the onset of a counter-trend in world historical terms?

Broadly speaking, in the first instance by 'devolution' I mean the shift of governing power from a central authority to local controlling bodies. The U.S. revolution, a century ahead of its time, was so unprecedented it nearly overshot its devolutionary mark: the Articles of Confederacy would have created 13 independent nations. It took a civil war in the 1860s to rectify this miscalculation and solidify governance in a central authority, albeit one with limited powers—a tension which still haunts our politics to this day.

Recently I republished a map from The Guardian showing the various countries who have, in one way or another, gained their independence from the British monarchic control over time. Here it is again.

(click to enlarge)
Of course, there have been other colonial empires, and in virtually all of them there have been similar devolutionary trends. Besides the reactionary Napoleonic exercises of the 19th Century, the major counter-example in the 230+ years since our Revolution has been the recent experiment in the Soviet Union. Beginning in 1917 and the fall of the Russian Empire, Soviet rulers sought to bring more and more countries and peoples under its sway, provoking a generational Cold War. This project ultimately failed once Gorbachev realized the weight of expansionism (particularly into Afghanistan) and the costs of total control were too great an economic burden for the central authority and the local Russian populace to maintain. And so began a second, reinforcing wave of devolution in the late Twentieth Century, extending the trend to the Baltic states, the -Stans, Belorussia, Georgia, the Ukraine, etc.

It bears noting that current Russian leader Vladimir Putin seems to have some desire to reclaim the lost glories of empire and thus of centralized authority, but his venture into the Ukraine—despite his practically unopposed reclaimation of the Crimean peninsula—is meeting serious resistance both at home and abroad and seems to be showing the folly of resisting the historical devolutionary trend.

Back to Scotland: There are local reasons for the failure of the devolutionary trend in the Scottish referendum, not the least of which involve physical proximity, historical affinity (how random, after all, is the placement of Hadrian's wall?), racial and ethnic and linguistic identity, economic commonality, etc. So it may be fair to say that the recent failure of the plebiscite does not represent a significant halt to the historical sweep of devolution. The British Empire, after all, is pretty much broken up and shows no signs of reversing the larger trend. By all indications, our British cousins no longer have expansionary dreams. They are simply trying to hold onto their nearest and dearest, and their Scots neighbors seem to have bargained for some local political and economic independence as a result of their choice.

There are, however, some current counter-trends, and they can be found in the Middle East and Far East Asia. Significantly, ISIS or ISIL or the Islamic State has noisily announced its goal as the reconstitution of the Caliphate, a multi-ethnic regional theocratic empire. The Chinese, having recaptured Hong Kong from the grasp of the British Empire, are still attempting to consolidate their hold on Tibet and are looking fondly toward bringing Taiwan back into the fold. An Occupy-like movement in Hong Kong is vocally resisting this effort, and the Dalai Lama has withdrawn from political leadership in order to draw attention to Beijing's attempts to manipulate the process of selecting his successor and reify its claim to legitimacy in Tibet.

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A brief U.S. political note: Historically, the term 'liberal' has always meant favoring democratic policies intended to further devolve power from a central authority held by such entities as royals and plutocrats and dictators, whereas 'conservative' has always meant clinging to the centrality of authority. In the U.S. today, however, conservatives seem to favor policies that devolve power to state and local authorities and away from a strong centralized government in Washington, D.C. (except, of course, in matters of national security). Why is this the case?

To understand this, we need to look at a second, parallel devolutionary trend. Besides the movement of political power, there has grown up a related though hardly identical form of devolution: economic. When the great empires were dismantled, the economic structures that held them in place fell as well. Historically, tribute, in the form of taxes and native resources, found its way back to the centers of power in exchange for continued protection and control—which necessarily did have some benefits in terms of, e.g., physical infrastructure, bureaucracy, institutions. Thus, local populations retained or recaptured ostensible control of their resources and production.

These economic organizations grew up hand-in-hand with empire. The Dutch East Indies company being the prime example. Their allegiance was always to the crown—the central authority from whom they received their charters. When the crowns toppled, these organizations were left in place. They became 'Ronin', that is to say samurais without warlords, mercenary to whatever authority provided them with the most benefits. Many grew extremely powerful in the vacuum left by the devolution of political power, some arguably more powerful than many national governments.

Today, in the U.S., this trend of economic devolution is, if anything, even more powerful than its political cousin. Large corporations operate in- and out-side of national borders. National and local governments compete for their business by lessening the tax burdens and regulatory strictures on these entities—revenue and regulations intended largely to protect local populations. And, left to their own devices, these corporate entities grow even more centralized and powerful—more ungovernable.

The central tension in U.S. politics today, I believe, has to do less with how much political power to devolve to the States and more with how much economic power will devolve to these rogue corporations. U.S. liberals, thus, paradoxically find themselves having to favor policies that promote a strong central economic authority which will reign in unbridled corporate activities. U.S. conservatives and libertarians likewise find themselves in the paradoxical situation of fighting for the further devolution of political power because it favors the concentration of economic power in fewer and fewer corporate hands.

The great national powers now are not so much tools of political as of corporate power. Corporate imperialism is the new tyranny; economic inequality and class warfare are merely indications of this movement. Economic devolution is the central political issue confronting world politics today.

Multinational corporate empires are less easily reigned in by local bureaucrats squabbling over schools and potholes and kickbacks than by sophisticated, centralized taxing and regulatory agencies. And national governments, as we've witnessed since at least the Vietnam conflict and, intensively and explicitly, over the past nearly quarter century in Iraq, best play their role by using their economic clout and war-making powers to open otherwise closed markets to corporate interests.

There is a balance to be struck somewhere between a world order of authoritarian central command-economy governments and the creeping anarchy of rogue corporate fiefdoms wielding absolute control within their spheres of economic influence. I do not pretend to know where that perfect balance lies, but it is, to my mind, the central dynamic at work in both U.S. and world affairs. Scotland, the Ukraine, Hong Kong, Tibet, Syria/Turkey/Iraq/Kurdistan, the fight for control of the U.S. Senate, the struggle against inequality and concentration of wealth, the Occupy movement and, yes, the Tea Party movement, and even Bitcoin: these are some of the contemporary flashpoints in this ongoing historical trend. Watch this space.


15 October 2014

Panthertown Valley

Panthertown Valley is a backcountry wilderness area in Western North Carolina, near Cashiers and Highlands, just off U.S. Highway 64. An easy 2+ hour drive from the ATL, it has become Wisdoc's and my go-to day hiking getaway. It is now part of the Nantahala National Forest and offers miles and miles of trails and dozens of secluded waterfalls. You can hike for hours and hardly see a soul. We've been there five times and have nowhere near exhausted its riches. Just returned from a misty, foggy, rainy long weekend there, fall colors at peak. Word to the Wise: If you go, go first to Highland Hiker in Cashiers and get an up-to-date map.

So, Pics! [As ever, click pic to embiggen slideshow or mouse over pic for secret message]

View from Salt Rock 
Weird Vertical Panorama at The Overlook
Both dogs are in this pic. Can you spot Lily?
Did I mention COLOR?
Bruno & Lily: Boon Hiking Companions
Elbow Falls (= Negative Ions!)

Another in the series "Things Growing on Other Things"
Bruno - 6 months old, enjoying Elbow Falls: His First Hike
"The woods are lovely dark and deep..."
A Sluggish Hornet on Our Canoe
Fog Descends on Hogback Lake
Wisdoc at Hogback Lake

06 October 2014

This Week in Water

Scientists find that the oceans are getting warmer more rapidly than their models anticipated.

Rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are causing rapid warming of the Earth's ocean surfaces, reducing their ability to absorb increased carbon emissions—that is, their ability to cool the planet.

Earth's oceans are acidifying at the fastest rate in 300 million years.

Cambridge University researchers believe the Greenland ice sheet is more sensitive to climate change than earlier estimates suggested. A complete melt would mean rising sea levels up to 7 meters, or 23+ feet.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is headed toward "unstoppable" collapse according to studies using visual data from the Europeans Space Agency.

Miami Beach, a particularly vulnerable low-lying U.S. city, is worried about its annual 'King Tide' which threatens to push an extra foot of water over sea walls and onto its streets.

More than 35,000 walruses were driven ashore in Alaska because of a loss of coastal sea ice, their normal habitat.

Some scientists believe whale poop can help reverse the effects of climate change. It's complicated.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii (full disclosure: my son is a student there in the school of oceanography) are trying to breed super-coral reefs which they believe may pre-empt excess acidification and warming of the oceans.

Scientists have revised and updated their maps of the undersea floor using satellite data, discovering many new mountains in the deepest parts of the ocean.

Scientists from MIT believe global warming could actually ease fresh water scarcity in some parts of the world, but the distribution could be unpredictable and uneven.

For the first time in modern history, the eastern basin of the South Aral Sea—once the world's fourth-largest lake—has completely dried.

Like California and other parts of the U.S. West, the Amazon regions of Brazil are facing unprecedented drought. Rivers there are drying up.

As in parts of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, the Arabian sea has a dead zone from sewage and fertilizer flowing into it from local rivers. It's the size of Texas.

Meanwhile, hundreds died in India and Pakistan from the heaviest monsoon rains in 50 years.

Some of the water molecules in your drinking glass were created before the formation of our sun.

Astronomers have detected water vapor in the atmosphere of a planet in a solar system far, far away. This is a scientific first.

23 September 2014

This Week in Water


Obama Words: today, the President of the U.S. addressed the U.N. Climate Summit. A transcription of his remarks follows [Obama Deeds underlined]:

"For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week -- terrorism, instability, inequality, disease -- there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.

Five years have passed since many of us met in Copenhagen. And since then, our understanding of climate change has advanced -- both in the deepening science that says this once-distant threat has moved “firmly into the present,” and into the sting of more frequent extreme weather events that show us exactly what these changes may mean for future generations.

No nation is immune. In America, the past decade has been our hottest on record. Along our eastern coast, the city of Miami now floods at high tide. In our west, wildfire season now stretches most of the year. In our heartland, farms have been parched by the worst drought in generations, and drenched by the wettest spring in our history. A hurricane left parts of this great city dark and underwater. And some nations already live with far worse. Worldwide, this summer was the hottest ever recorded -- with global carbon emissions still on the rise.

So the climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. The alarm bells keep ringing. Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call. We know what we have to do to avoid irreparable harm. We have to cut carbon pollution in our own countries to prevent the worst effects of climate change. We have to adapt to the impacts that, unfortunately, we can no longer avoid. And we have to work together as a global community to tackle this global threat before it is too late.

We cannot condemn our children, and their children, to a future that is beyond their capacity to repair. Not when we have the means -- the technological innovation and the scientific imagination -- to begin the work of repairing it right now.

As one of America’s governors has said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” So today, I’m here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that we have begun to do something about it.

The United States has made ambitious investments in clean energy, and ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions. We now harness three times as much electricity from the wind and 10 times as much from the sun as we did when I came into office. Within a decade, our cars will go twice as far on a gallon of gas, and already, every major automaker offers electric vehicles. We’ve made unprecedented investments to cut energy waste in our homes and our buildings and our appliances, all of which will save consumers billions of dollars. And we are committed to helping communities build climate-resilient infrastructure.

So, all told, these advances have helped create jobs, grow our economy, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades -- proving that there does not have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth.

Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to do more. Last year, I issued America’s first Climate Action Plan to double down on our efforts. Under that plan, my administration is working with states and utilities to set first-ever standards to cut the amount of carbon pollution our power plants can dump into the air. And when completed, this will mark the single most important and significant step the United States has ever taken to reduce our carbon emissions.

Last week alone, we announced an array of new actions in renewable energy and energy efficiency that will save consumers more than $10 billion on their energy bills and cut carbon pollution by nearly 300 million metric tons through 2030. That's the equivalent of taking more than 60 million cars off the road for one year.

I also convened a group of private sector leaders who’ve agreed to do their part to slash consumption of dangerous greenhouse gases known as HFCs -- slash them 80 percent by 2050.

And already, more than 100 nations have agreed to launch talks to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol -- the same agreement the world used successfully to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals.

This is something that President Xi of China and I have worked on together. Just a few minutes ago, I met with Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, and reiterated my belief that as the two largest economies and emitters in the world, we have a special responsibility to lead. That’s what big nations have to do.

And today, I call on all countries to join us -– not next year, or the year after, but right now, because no nation can meet this global threat alone. The United States has also engaged more allies and partners to cut carbon pollution and prepare for the impacts we cannot avoid. All told, American climate assistance now reaches more than 120 nations around the world. We’re helping more nations skip past the dirty phase of development, using current technologies, not duplicating the same mistakes and environmental degradation that took place previously.

We’re partnering with African entrepreneurs to launch clean energy projects. We’re helping farmers practice climate-smart agriculture and plant more durable crops. We’re building international coalitions to drive action, from reducing methane emissions from pipelines to launching a free trade agreement for environmental goods. And we have been working shoulder-to-shoulder with many of you to make the Green Climate Fund a reality.

But let me be honest. None of this is without controversy. In each of our countries, there are interests that will be resistant to action. And in each country, there is a suspicion that if we act and other countries don't that we will be at an economic disadvantage. But we have to lead. That is what the United Nations and this General Assembly is about.

Now, the truth is, is that no matter what we do, some populations will still be at risk. The nations that contribute the least to climate change often stand to lose the most. And that’s why, since I took office, the United States has expanded our direct adaptation assistance eightfold, and we’re going to do more.

Today, I’m directing our federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into our international development programs and investments. And I’m announcing a new effort to deploy the unique scientific and technological capabilities of the United States, from climate data to early-warning systems. So this effort includes a new partnership that will draw on the resources and expertise of our leading private sector companies and philanthropies to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters, and better plan for long-term threats like steadily rising seas.

Yes, this is hard. But there should be no question that the United States of America is stepping up to the plate. We recognize our role in creating this problem; we embrace our responsibility to combat it. We will do our part, and we will help developing nations do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation –- developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.

The emerging economies that have experienced some of the most dynamic growth in recent years have also emitted rising levels of carbon pollution. It is those emerging economies that are likely to produce more and more carbon emissions in the years to come. So nobody can stand on the sidelines on this issues. We have to set aside the old divides. We have to raise our collective ambition, each of us doing what we can to confront this global challenge.

This time, we need an agreement that reflects economic realities in the next decade and beyond. It must be ambitious –- because that’s what the scale of this challenge demands. It must be inclusive –- because every country must play its part. And, yes, it must be flexible –- because different nations have different circumstances.

Five years ago, I pledged America would reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020. America will meet that target. And by early next year, we will put forward our next emission target, reflecting our confidence in the ability of our technological entrepreneurs and scientific innovators to lead the way.

So today, I call on all major economies to do the same. For I believe, in the words of Dr. King, that there is such a thing as being too late. And for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate while we still can.

This challenge demands our ambition. Our children deserve such ambition. And if we act now, if we can look beyond the swarm of current events and some of the economic challenges and political challenges involved, if we place the air that our children will breathe and the food that they will eat and the hopes and dreams of all posterity above our own short-term interests, we may not be too late for them.

While you and I may not live to see all the fruits of our labor, we can act to see that the century ahead is marked not by conflict, but by cooperation; not by human suffering, but by human progress; and that the world we leave to our children, and our children’s children, will be cleaner and healthier, and more prosperous and secure."

16 September 2014

Songs from "Northern Britain"

Scotland (ancestral home of at least some of my people) is voting on whether to break away from the United Kingdom on Thursday. Here's a map showing all the countries that have declared independence from the British:


In honor of this momentous referendum, I offer a cascade of Scottish bands:












14 September 2014

Fun with Wordle

Here's a Wordle of my novel, EULOGY. I've just completed what I consider to be the FINAL draft. The submission process is beginning:

EULOGY Wordle

12 September 2014

07 September 2014

This Week in Water

I apologize for not having posted much recently. I've been obsessing about finishing what I believe is my final revision of my unpublished novel EULOGY. I've had to rewrite the ending and been in a bit of a panic about that, but the novel is ready to be submitted to agents now. Wish me luck.

There. That's out of the way. Let's turn to the real world. Water: It's a problem.

Halliburton has to pay $1.1 billion for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers. Something about faulty cement. BP which claims it has spent more than $28 billion on damage claims and cleanup costs may be fined up to $18 billion more for its role. Of course, if corporations were people, as folks like Mitt Romney and the U.S. Supreme Court claim, wouldn't that make them liable for murder and manslaughter? Oyster harvesting along the Gulf has yet to recover.

Satellite analysis is showing that Earth's two largest ice sheets—in Antarctica and Greenland—are being depleted at an astonishing rate of 120 cubic miles per year. Computer climate simulations show that human contribution to glacier melting is increasing steadily. The Atlantic Ocean, by absorbing vast amounts of heat from the atmosphere, has masked much of the effects of global warming. This trend may reverse after 2030.

A slow-motion disaster: The East Coast of the U.S. is facing increased damages and ill-effects from rising sea levels. Miami and New York City (my former home) are ground zero in the battle against rising seas. "Imagine Cape Cod without cod. Maine without lobster. The region's famous rocky beaches invisible, obscured by constant high waters. It's already starting to happen."

Historic levels of flooding hit Detroit and Michigan.

Half a million residents were left homeless as devastating floods hit Bangladesh. Monsoon flooding in India and Pakistan has claimed nearly 300 lives.

It's been a busy typhoon season in the Pacific, much busier than the Atlantic, and it's still going on.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is under duress from natural and man-made forces. So much so the government has abandoned plans to dump 3 million cubic meters of dredged sand into the area.

Meanwhile, in another potential slo-mo disaster scenario, California continues to labor under historic drought conditions. Click for shocking pics of vanishing lakes. More than 80% of the state is either in extreme or exception drought category, the highest levels. Crops are shriveling up. Wells and aquifers are running dry. More devastating pics. Some worry that groundwater depletion there is destabilizing the San Andreas Fault (among others) and increasing earthquake risks. And it's not just a California problem: the food supply of the whole nation is in jeopardy.

Texas, too. And some think this Southwest drought could last for a generation or more. Especially with hydrofrackers competing for limited water resources and fouling nearby aquifers in their wake.


28 August 2014

A "F*** You and Your Friends" Jig

A special birthday cascade tribute for a longtime blegfriend who's just paranoid enough to believe it might not be about him (& just might listen to a song or two to discover if the music will save him again (from his [& our] complicity)):













Dangerous Book by The Plimsouls on Grooveshark

21 August 2014

The gods are watching adverts

Found the first of the following three Kate Tempest vids on Huenemanniac. Thanks, Charlie, nice pick! And welcome to a coveted spot on WoW's renewing Wisblog Roll.

Enjoy!