Tuesday, January 10, 2012

1/10/2012: Back To Blogging

After a lovely winter break and brief blogging hiatus, we return to your regularly-scheduled depressing internet links...

First though, a brief note from me; despite the various health-related difficulties of the past year, I'm thankful for all our you wonderful people in my life. More sappiness here.

Speaking of break, it was a nice and relaxing — perhaps because I didn't spend my entire time online and actually relaxed and took the time to slow down:
The urgency of slowing down — to find the time and space to think — is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

When telegraphs and trains brought in the idea that convenience was more important than content — and speedier means could make up for unimproved ends — Henry David Thoreau reminded us that “the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages.” Even half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan, who came closer than most to seeing what was coming, warned, “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.” Thomas Merton struck a chord with millions, by not just noting that “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest,” but by also acting on it, and stepping out of the rat race and into a Cistercian cloister.

Yet few of those voices can be heard these days, precisely because “breaking news” is coming through (perpetually) on CNN and Debbie is just posting images of her summer vacation and the phone is ringing. We barely have enough time to see how little time we have (most Web pages, researchers find, are visited for 10 seconds or less). And the more that floods in on us (the Kardashians, Obamacare, “Dancing with the Stars”), the less of ourselves we have to give to every snippet. All we notice is that the distinctions that used to guide and steady us — between Sunday and Monday, public and private, here and there — are gone.

We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And — as he might also have said — we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines. 

The Department of Interior decides that 500 new jobs versus potentially poisoning the water source of 26 million Americans isn't worth it. Republicans respond with their usual scorn; if policy doesn't advance the interests of the businesses that line the pockets of the GOP's campaign coffers, it's anti-American:

"It is unconscionable that the administration has yet again caved to political pressure from radical special interest groups rather than standing up for the American people," said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. "Banning access to the most uranium-rich land in the United States will be overwhelmingly detrimental to both jobs in Utah and Arizona and our nation's domestic energy security."

Bishop, McCain and other GOP lawmakers back legislation that would prevent the Interior Department from imposing the 20-year ban.

Using modern techniques, mining does not affect drinking water from the Colorado River, the GOP lawmakers said.

The Bureau of Land Management said the 20-year ban on new mining claims would reduce overall uranium production by about 6 percent of current U.S. demand.

State, local and federal governments are expected to lose an estimated $16.6 million in annual tax revenue, and 465 jobs would not materialize.
The Center for American Progress notes who the real winners and losers are.

Meanwhile, continuing with our look at the EPA's new pollution regulations, we get another report that not all energy companies buy into the lie that curbing pollution is evil. Sure, they're driven by their own business interests in this battle, but at least they are making it clear that compliance with pollution regulations can be profitable:
Pointing out that it took only three years to install the scrubbing technology, completing construction in 2009, Constellation argues that other utilities could have been getting ready, too.

Its criticism of other utilities is part of “a very clear, longstanding split” between companies that made the leap and those that deferred the investment or even challenged the rules in court, said John Walke, a coal expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. But the laggards, he said, should have seen it coming.


Some experts say that Constellation’s motivations should not be confused with altruism. Jeffrey R. Holmstead, who headed the E.P.A.’s air office from 2001 to 2005 and now does legal work for utility companies, said that Constellation’s argument that “we stepped up and did the right thing, and now everybody else should” is misleading.

“They didn’t do it out of the goodness of their heart — they did it because they were required to,” under the Maryland Healthy Air Act, Mr. Holmstead said.

And power plants that survive under the new rules will benefit from the closure of competitors, he and others have pointed out. They will run for more hours of the year and fetch higher prices in daily electricity auctions.

And more of the disingenuous false dichotomy of EPA vs. Jobs, presented by the pollution-loving GOP. Krugman sums up some of the nonsense in a recent column here. ThinkProgress notes that pollution rules actually create a lot more jobs than Keystone XL ever will, not to mention that protects human health and wildlife, while the other destroys it. The editorial board at the NYTimes chimes in, as well, challenging Obama to more forcefully make the case for the job-creating power of curbing pollution and transitioning to a clean energy economy. ClimateProgress points out that cleaning the polluted Chesapeake Bay also creates more jobs than Keystone XL. But no matter, the lies from the GOP will continue to come. Rick “Frothy Mix” Santorum decides that the best way to consider costs and benefits is to ignore the benefits altogether. And why stop there? Frothy Mix is now a climate scientist, apparently, and has decided that there's no way a trace gas could ever affect the climate system. Well done, Rick!

If the Repubs win the White House in November, what happens to the environment? Grist's Dave Roberts tries to answer that question. (Part of a larger set of what-if-Obama-loses pieces from the Washington Monthly; be sure to also check out the piece by the always-wonderful Mike Konczal.)

A drier, hotter future: that's where we're headed. The question is what we're going to do. Two new reviews of recent books on the Southwest's sustainability problem ponder that very question.

Those hoping to prop up our unsustainable car-based suburbs that thrive on water we'll no longer have might want to remember that empires fall when water disappears.

The FDA takes on antibiotics in agriculture. Well, sort of. Some antibiotics. Bittman calls it a token gesture; as he pointed out earlier, the FDA has repeatedly shirked its responsibility. Barry Estabrook cuts through the bullshit and rightly notes that the new regs are little more than a cheap stunt. One step forward, but two steps back seems to sum up the situation pretty well.

Peter Gleick takes on the climate change deniers, and labels the GOP's presidential pack the worst of the bunch.

Will the GOP's racist rhetoric come to an end anytime soon? Probably not so long as racists are a key block of the party. But until then, you'll be hearing plenty of paeans to the gloriousness of hard-working whites, while Newt and Frothy Mix get all up in arms about people of color receiving government benefits:
Rick Santorum – son of a beneficiary of the GI Bill (the veterans’ New Deal, you know) and a man who wouldn’t exist were it not for the government program that employed his parents, brought them together and housed them to boot – now says (when he can’t stop himself saying it) that “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

Which is to say, when affirmative action was white, it was great, but now …

This is what I call class warfare.

Does Beethoven's progression towards deafness show up in his work? Dutch researchers, analyzing his remarkable string quartets, which are truly sui generis, say yes.

Can you recognize the difference in sound between a Strad and a non-Strad? Try it yourself. More interesting coverage here and here.

Advice on living a life without regrets:
Almost to a person, the elders viewed happiness as a choice, not the result of how life treats you.

A 75-year-old man said, “You are not responsible for all the things that happen to you, but you are completely in control of your attitude and your reactions to them.” An 84-year-old said, “Adopt a policy of being joyful.”

The 90-year-old daughter of divorced parents who had lived a hardscrabble life said, “I learned to be grateful for what I have, and no longer bemoan what I don’t have or can’t do.”

Even if their lives were nine decades long, the elders saw life as too short to waste on pessimism, boredom and disillusionment.

Zombies! Brains! Parasitic mind control!

Funny ha-ha: the year's best humor writing.

That favorite songs of 2011 playlist I made on Spotify just got even larger. Check out 103 great tunes (mostly indie, with a healthy does of modern classical and a small smattering of jazz) released in 2011 here.

And everyone's favorite feature, Heather's Happy Link of the Day, takes us to the Shel Silverstein archives.

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