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Trump is the New Groucho

No, it's not his permanent scowl that earns him that comparison. It's his unpresidential gall.


On the same day that the New York Times reports that "11 Straight Days of Tornadoes Have U.S. Approaching Uncharted Territory," the newspaper's lead story is headlined, "In Climate Fight, Trump Will Put Science on Trial."


No one has ever confused the Midwest with Tornado Alley in Oklahoma, but that might soon change. The latest bout of storms cut a swath of death and destruction from Iowa to Ohio, with stops in Illinois and Indiana. Memorial Day marked the eleventh straight day with eight or more tornados according to the National Weather Storm Prediction Center.


Ask yourself? When is the last time you turned on the TV or picked up a newspaper or checked yours news feed and NOT found a story about yet one more destructive weather event? Does it make you think something might be up with the climate?


Not according to President Trump. After rolling back numerous climate regulations, pulling out of the Paris accords, Twitterly mocking climate change, and appointing a Secretary of State who believes that the warming of the Arctic makes it a land of "opportunity and abundance," he's preparing to take off the gloves and attack the underlying science. Key to his anti-climate change initiative is a proposed, new climate review panel that will challenge, and hopefully undercut, years of climate change research.


The panel proposal, backed by the president's national security advisor, John Bolton, will be headed up by William Happer, a 79-year-old former Princeton University physics professor, who despite his seemingly impeccable credentials, is on record as saying, "The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler."


Tastelessness aside, who are you gonna believe, him and the other Trump stooges or your lying eyes?

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The Climate Change Follies — Act One

 Mitch McConnell, Principal Choreographer of The Climate Change Follies

There are times when the level of public discourse about an important issue becomes so depressing that the only logical response is to laugh through the tears. This may be one of those times in regard to climate change. Here are a few of the recent developments...


…In cased you didn't get the word, President Trump and Mitch McConnell, leader of the moral invertebrates in the Republican Party, are for the Green New Deal, Nancy Pelosi is against it. Trump and McConnell want to brand the Democrats socialists, Trump on the campaign trail, McConnell in Congress. The outcome is preordained, but by bringing the bill to a vote, McConnell hopes to embarrass Democrats who vote No, and tar those with the S-word who vote Yes. Pelosi, who is on record dismissing the bill as "The green dream or whatever they call it," is wise to the Republican ploy, and simply wants to crawl to a hole and hide. But by playing politics, both sides are putting self-interest ahead of an informed discussion about what's right for the good of the nation and the future of the planet.


…Sebastian Gorka, Fox News commentator and would-be Deputy Assistant to the President (he failed the security clearance and wasn't important enough for Trump to overrule the intelligence community) is someone who clearly didn't get the word. He railed before CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, about the Green New Deal, "They want to take your pickup truck! They want to rebuild your home! They want to take away your hamburgers! This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved!"


The threat of the gulag must be Mitch McConnell's latest Republican talking point. In a bitingly satiric, must-read column in the New York Times, David Bentley Hart describes conservative economist's Ben Stein's appearance on Fox News as "like some grim heathen god, exuding all the effervescent charm of a despondent tree sloth, glumly wobbling his jowls and opining that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez espouses a political philosophy that in the past led to the rise of Hitler and Stalin." Full disclosure: Ben was my college fraternity brother. As I recall, he aspired to be a stand-up comic, one career among many that he pursued with some degree of success before turning to wrong-headed economic punditry.


BTW, I wasn't kidding when I said you must read this column! More follies next time...



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March Madness

When I wrote The Piketty Problem, subtitled The Robots Are Coming, The Robots Are Coming, my intention was to tell an entertaining story about the depressing outlook for low-income wage earners in an increasingly AI world. I and everybody else thought that robots would replace workers with minimal skill sets doing highly repetitive tasks, such as flipping burgers at McDonald's. And I still believe that to be the case, even if reality is starting to look like it can outstrip art.


No, the basketball player in the picture is not Stephen Curry or the latest one-and-done Duke star, but a robot named Cue 3 developed by Toyota, of all companies. The six-ten robot made five of eight three-pointers in a demonstration in Tokyo last Monday. True, no player was defending him, so arguably, they were nothing more than long-range foul shots. And the cable that tethers him to what appears to be his brain, would surely be an impediment on the court.


Nonetheless, Cue 3 demonstrates the potential for a highly-skilled machine capable of performing constantly changing tasks.  According to a Toyota spokesman, he/it has a good visual acuity and an understanding of the math that can predict the ball's path and the propulsive force necessary to get it through the hoop. This is way beyond flipping burgers. Perhaps Cue 3 is merely Toyota's solution for a driver for autonomous vehicles, or a prototype of a next-generation military recruit. But if robotics can come this far this fast, one has to ask, how far can they ultimately go?


If you're wondering, yes, Monday was April 1, but I'm not sure how the International Date Line affects the calendar, or if the Japanese have adopted April Fool's. But the demonstration was covered by many reputable/Fake news agencies and I am inclined to believe what was reported and my own eyes. Here's the video!

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Weird Weather Will Save Us!

Our Weatherman in Chief recently tweeted, "In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded… What the hell is going on with Global Warming? Please come back fast, we need you!" Of sourse, he needed to look no further than sunny Australia, where an 80-year old record was recently broken in Adelaide, with temperatures topping out at 114 Fahrenheit.


The Twittersphere and Fake Media erupted with outrage that the Chief Executive didn't know the difference between weather, the short-term changes in the atmosphere, and climate, what the weather is like over an extended period of time. Although this is a distinction that truly is a difference, I have come to conclude that we should soft-pedal it. I'm of the opinion that the best way to convince people that climate change is real, and make them want to do something about it, is to bombard them with images and stories about catastrophic weather events, or "weird weather" as the climate-change denier in my novel, The Eleventh Grieve, prefers to refer to it.  


The evidence comes from a recent national poll from Yale and George Mason University that showed that 73 percent of Americans believe that global warming is real, a jump of 10 percentage points since 2015. While there are undoubtedly many factors contributing to this increase, the one that got my attention was that two-thirds of survey respondents felt that global warming was affecting our weather, and about half said that climate change made last year's hurricanes and wildfires in the West worse than normal.


So to those highly ethical scientists who can't bring themselves to say that there is a definite linkage between climate change and the latest assault of weird weather, I say "Shut up!" And to our president, who is puzzled why the Midwest is frozen at the same time the globe is heating up, I commend to him the wisdom of that old-West gunslinger and one of my favorite philosophers, Bat Masterson, cited above.


Incidentally, Masterson's advice for success was "Shoot first and never miss."

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The World is Going to the D...I Mean Robots!

Marty At Work

After two delightful weeks in Hong Kong and Taiwan to start the New Year, I can't bear to kick off 2019 with how I'm feeling about the perilous state of the union or the future of our planet. So to bring you up to date on the theme of The Piketty Problem, and with minimal snark, here's a light-hearted bulletin on the latest in robotics.


Meet Marty! No, you're not seeing things. Marty is your friendly grocery store robot who along with 500 of his cloned friends, may well be coming to your local Giant or Stop & Shop in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, or West Virginia in the next few months. This high-tech floorwalker is designed to roam the aisles to detect issues such as out-of-stock, product spills, and incorrect shelving. That seems like a great deal of investment for such mundane tasks. My bet is with those big eyes and high-resolution 3D cameras he'll be on the lookout for shoplifters as well. I wonder if he was named after Ernest Borgnine's character in that great movie, "Marty."


Who says Jeff Bezos isn't paying attention to his business? His latest innovation is giving "Amazon Scout" a trial run in Snohomish County, Washington. A fleet of these robots that look like bright-blue coolers on wheels, will be rolling along the sidewalks at a walking pace to deliver Amazon packages right to the customer's door. Drones anyone?


Then there are the Lovots, furry, robotic plush-toys, about eighteen inches high, that are designed to do nothing except be loved. This Japanese lovie recognizes sounds and identifies individual humans. It has wheels to motor around, flippers to show surprise or affection, and a smaller version of Marty's eyes to interact with users while it makes wordless chirping noises. It also laughs when tickled, and will fall asleep if you cradle it in your lap. Unfortunately, its "minimal motor function" means it can't fetch you a beer. Sorry, Judge.


The ways things are going, that may be it for light-hearted this year. Sorry, readers.

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Happy New Year to All! — Climate Change News from the Dead Zone

Credit: Johnny Milano for The New York Times

No, the Dead Zone is not Earth, not yet anyway. It's not even Florida after a hurricane, although that's closer to the truth, as you can see in the picture.


Holiday time, particularly the days between Christmas and New Year's, is a journalistic Dead Zone. Any news media reports from that period are sure to receive far less attention than normal. A favorite tactic of sleazy politicos is to try to slip one by during that period to avoid criticism or outrage by concerned citizens. Case in point is the release on December 28 of yet another Trump administration proposal to defang an environmental protection rule. This one would allow greater emissions of poisonous mercury into the air, and ups the Trump Termite's scorecard of weakened or repealed environmental restrictions to nearly a dozen.


Almost as troubling, and far less understandable, was the mystifying decision by the New York Times to release a special twelve-page report on December 26 about the consequences of Trump's environmental retreat on the health and safety of Americans, while on the same day, headlining the editorial, "Trump Imperils the Planet." These issues demand greater exposure and publicity than they can ever receive in the media Dead Zone.


The report goes into considerable detail about the personal stories of ordinary citizens who have been affected by the loosening of regulations, like the farm worker in California disabled by Chlorpyrifos, a nerve agent and broad spectrum pesticide, and the North Dakotans who are afraid to breathe the air, and the West Virginians who are afraid to drink the water. It's a long read, and a heart-wrenching one. At least skim it if you can.


Another shorter, must-read lost in the Dead Zone, is David Leonhardt's New York Times' column of December 30, where he makes the argument that the best hope for raising awareness and concern about climate change is the weather. Pundits and scientists always warn us not to confuse extreme weather events with a changing climate, but Leonhardt makes the obvious point that weather is what people can see, feel, hear, and touch, and thus it's going to have a far greater impact than all the academic studies or governments reports put together. I have particular sympathy for this argument, because the novel that I'm currently trying to sell into the Dead Zone of the lit biz, The Eleventh Grieve, is all about how the recognition that "weird weather" is really climate change can win over even the most bullheaded denier.


Leonhardt says he "wanted to write my last column of 2018 about the climate as a kind of plea: Amid everything else going on, don't lose sight of the most important story of the year." That's all well and good, but as we used to say in my former profession, the ad biz, "It's not what you say, it's what they hear." So wise up, Dave! There aren't that many people listening on December 30!


As a postscript, check out today's New York Times' article, post–Dead Zone, on a childhood cancer cluster in Indiana that can be traced to contamination of groundwater by trichloroethylene, or TCE, a colorless fluid with a subtle, sweet odor used by as many as four-fifths of the nation's 65,000 dry cleaners, as well as about 2,200 factories and other facilities. At the urging of industry groups, the Trump administration has indefinitely postponed an Obama-era regulation to restrict its use.


I've lost count but I think this could make it an even dozen for Trump's Termites. As I said, Happy New Year to all.

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In Case You Missed It, Part Two

Thousands of environmental experts are now gathered in Poland for the United Nations’ 24th annual climate change conference. The goal is to establish rules for carrying out the Paris accord to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Centigrade, or 3.6 Fahrenheit. Just prior to the conference, Poland, which has the highest domestic coal production in Europe, and is home to 33 of the 50 most polluted cities in EU, announced that it planned to invest in more new coal capacity in the coming year.

The UN conference comes on the heels of several other recent disheartening developments presented mostly without comment…

…After several weeks of protests, Paris is virtually on lockdown as the “Yellow Vests” express their rage about taxes and salaries. The spark that ignited the riots was a planned increase in France’s fuel tax, designed to help the country meet its carbon reduction pledge.

…Le Grand Orange responded on Twitter "I am glad that my friend Emmanuel Macron Read More 

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In Case You Missed It...

If you were still shaking off the effects of a tryptophan coma induced by the Thanksgiving turkey, or out hustling for bargains at your local zombie mall, you might have missed last Friday’s big news from the White House—a stark warning about the devastating impact of global climate change on America’s economy and our way of life.

Wait a second. The White House? Isn’t Trump still president?

Unfortunately, yes. See the date of the release, the slowest news day of the year.

But our president had no choice. The findings about climate change come from the National Climate Assessment, a major scientific report mandated by Congress that the federal government is required to produce and release every four years. Thirteen federal agencies contributed to the alarming findings Read More 

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The Lit Biz Eats Its Best and Brightest

The American novelist, Barbara Kingsolver, writes stories that encourage readers to think while they’re being entertained. Her novels are concerned with the great social issues of our time, such as global climate change and political turmoil.

Publishers have a variety of names for this genre, as though the lit biz can’t quite get a grip on it—social novel, social justice novel, social protest novel, political novel, the literature of social engagement. Whatever these kind of novels are called, they’re generally viewed with suspicion by critics and editors, who see little or no place for social commentary in “literature” or in sales. Happily, that attitude hasn’t stopped Kingsolver’s books from becoming best sellers, and being shortlisted for such prestigious honors as the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award.

Kingsolver’s eighth novel, Unsheltered, was published in October. It’s more overtly political than her previous novels, as well is should be in this Time of Trump. It’s also one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking novels I’ve read in quite some time.

The plot revolves around an educated middle-class couple,  Read More 

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Post-Election Morning: An Open Letter to My Children

Two years ago, on the morning after the election, I wrote to you acknowledging our disappointment, even despair, but cautioning against a rush to judgment about our new President. My hope was he might step up to the responsibilities and gravity of the office. Those hopes were quickly dashed.

But I also reminded you that our democratic system is stronger than any one man or woman, and if Trump proved incapable, we would exercise our Constitutional rights and find a new leader

I know you are disappointed once again, but don't be. I believe that Constitutional process began yesterday. In fact, I'm willing to go on the record with a prediction: other than a possible Supreme Court vacancy, yesterday was Trump's last political hurrah.

The political rock stars on whom so many Democrats were pinning their hopes—Gillum in Florida, O'Rourke in Texas, Abrams in Georgia— went down to a narrow defeat. Trump gets the credit for energizing the worst instincts  Read More 

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