Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A History Of The Future

AHistoryOf The Future1James Howard Kunstler was best known for his dystopian non fiction until he made the move to fiction in 2008.  I reviewed his first novel, A World Made By Hand, in 2010.  The US Economy and for all intents civilization has collapsed suddenly.
The reasons really don't matter, there are hundreds of scenarios that might result in such a collapse.  Only the strongest and the brightest are able to survive and move from a 21st century technocratic society to a 19th century agrarian society.  The first novel centers around the town of Union Grove in up state New York.  For more background read my review of the World Made By Hand.
 A History of the Future is the third novel in the series.  It takes place about 2 years after the first novel.  Union Grove has made great strides in organizing thier 19th century civilization.  The benevolent feudal lord Bullock  still runs his estate although he is out of spare parts to repair his water powered electrical generator so he too will soon have to do without electricity.  Brother Jobe who is the head of the cult/commune has become an important part of the community because  included among his flock are engineers and skilled tradesman.  He opens a tavern and restaurant in town which serves as a gathering place for the people of the time.
The thing that really makes this 3rd novel different is we learn what is going on in other parts of what used to be the United States.  In the first novel Robert Earle's  son Daniel takes off with a friend to see what is happening in the rest of the country.  Daniel returns after two years on Christmas eve.  He is nursed back to health by the local doctor and then begins to tell his story.  It is almost a novel within a novel.  I understand that in the print version of the book his story is actually is actually presented in a different font.
All three novels are dystopian Science Fiction and Kunstler does not try to pass them on as predictions.  For someone best known for non fiction Kunstler does as good a job of any author I have read of creating characters with depth and personality.  I recommend all three novels in this series for the joy of reading.
Originally Posted At The Moderate Voice 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A senior's take on E-Books

At 67 I am officially a senior. A tech savvy senior, I have been writing code for 40 years and have been an IS administrator.  I resisted the Kindle and e-books until recently however.  About a year ago there was a book I wanted to read that was only available as an e-book  so I put the Kindle app on my PC.  Reading it on my PC was not easy but it was better than not reading it at all.  When I moved a few months ago I had to move boxes of books accumulated over the years so when I got my tablet I downloaded the Kindle app and got a couple of books.  The tablet was much better than the PC - it was possible to read in bed once again.  It seemed to be an acceptable way to read a book and for books not yet out in paperback much cheaper and a lot lighter than a hardback.  So this old fart made the leap and I purchased the Amazon Kindle Paper White.  Much smaller and you can carry it around and read much like you would a paperback.  As an aging hippie the fact that I can adjust the font size is also a plus.  This 67 year old is sold - better late than never.  I just purchased 3 New York Times best sellers for what I would have paid for 1 hardcover.

Over at the American Conservative Daniel McCarthy wonders if e-books have peaked.  He sites an article by Nicholas Carr who observes a "flattening of e-book sales."   It's not always clear if this is a decline of  the sale of readers like Kindle or a decline of book sales.  My thought is Amazon and others should target the new seniors, more tech savvy.  Seniors read a lot, like to save money and the font thing should be a real selling point.

Originally posted at The Moderate Voice

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

This is an unconventional book review as it consists of two posts at The Moderate Voice.

Part One: The Sixth Extinction

Photo I took of Pacific Tree Frog that appeared in the LA Times
I have just started reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert.  There have been five previous massive extinctions in the past.  Over at the Wonk Blog they have an interview with the author.  I have read chapter 1 and it concerns the extinction of amphibians world wide.  The fact that amphibians were disappearing was noted more than a decade ago.  The cause remained a mystery until recently.  It is the result of human activity but has nothing to do with climate change.  In his book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created Charles Mann documents how plants and animals from the New World altered the planet and our diets.  This only increased in the 20th century with air travel and large ocean freighters.  The impact was not always positive which brings us back to the amphibians.
The first clue to the mysterious killer that was claiming frogs from Queensland to California came— perhaps ironically , perhaps not— from a zoo. The National Zoo, in Washington , D.C., had been successfully raising blue poison-dart frogs, which are native to Suriname, through many generations. Then, more or less from one day to the next, the zoo’s tank-bred frogs started dropping. A veterinary pathologist at the zoo took some samples from the dead frogs and ran them through an electron scanning microscope. He found a strange microorganism on the animals’ skin, which he eventually identified as a fungus belonging to a group known as chytrids. Chytrid fungi are nearly ubiquitous; they can be found at the tops of trees and also deep underground. This particular species, though, had never been seen before; indeed, it was so unusual that an entire genus had to be created to accommodate it. It was named Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis— batrachos is Greek for “frog”— or Bd for short. The veterinary pathologist sent samples from infected frogs at the National Zoo to a mycologist at the University of Maine. The mycologist grew cultures of the fungus and then sent some of them back to Washington. When healthy blue poison-dart frogs were exposed to the lab-raised Bd, they sickened. Within three weeks, they were dead. Subsequent research showed that Bd interferes with frogs’ ability to take up critical electrolytes through their skin. This causes them to suffer what is, in effect, a heart attack. Kolbert, Elizabeth (2014-02-11). The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Kindle Locations 198-209). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.
As it turns out one explanation of the spread is the wide scale importation around the world of North American Bull Frogs (for food) and the African Clawed Frog (used for pregnancy tests).  Both carry but are resistant to the fungus and their spread would not have been possible without air transport.
I have personally witnessed this 6th extinction. Just 5 or 6 years ago the Pacific Tree Frog was common here on the West Coast.  Their chirping or croaking was a way of life.  If you were unfortunate enough to have one outside your bedroom window in the summer you probably wouldn't get a very good nights sleep.  Three or four years ago they simply disappeared.  The North American Bull Frog was not indigenous to this area but had been introduced several years ago - a possible explanation.
There are many similar examples.  The introduction of the European earth worm nearly destroyed the North Eastern hardwood forests before the Revolutionary war  is is still causing problems in the entire northern half of the United States.  The Fox and Eastern Gray squirrels are spreading across the country from the North East probably hitching rides on trucks and trains.  The result is the Western Gray squirrel is threatened.  When debris from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan started washing ashore here on the west coast the major concern was not radiation but invasive species.
I guess the question is can human beings survive the 6th extinction they are responsible for?
Pacific Tree Frog

Part Two:The Anthropocene
There is widespread agreement that we are in a new geological era, the Anthropocene.  I just finished The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and it is all about the Anthropocene.  There are some who think this era started when man began to use fossil fuels a few hundred years ago but they are wrong.  Homo Sapiens and yes even Neanderthals altered the world tens of thousands of years ago.  The extinction of large mammals  can be associated with human migration.  Being large was a survival advantage until smart hunters came along.  We were also responsible for the extinction of our retaliative, the Neanderthal, but not before we had had enough sex with them to leave all of us of with European or middle eastern descent with 3 to 6 percent Neanderthal genes.  It's estimated that up to 90% of the Native American population was killed not by European weapons but European diseases.
Human caused global climate change may only be the most important because it may result in man's own extinction.  There have been shifts in the climate of the planet before but the thing that makes this different is the speed it's occurring. The ocean is dying, because of acidification  the corral reefs will all be dead by 2050.   The combination of entire ocean ecosystems dying and over fishing will result in the starvation of millions and perhaps billions who depend on the sea for food.   It is also estimated that up to 50% of all species on earth in 1900 will be extinct by 2050.  While it's easy to blame the Koch brothers and Exon/Mobile how many of us are willing to give up our energy intensive life style?  This post has been written from both my desktop and laptop computers. I have a large screen TV and I stream movies and TV shows. I don't drive or own a car but this is because of vision problems and I probably would if I could.  So I plead guilty, I'm   part of the problem.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review - A Great Aridness

A few months ago I did a post on an article by William deBuys  Exodus From Phoenix.  This article was just an introduction to his book A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.
DeBuys says that this book did not start out to be a book on climate change but as a general environmental history of the Southwest.  It was already becoming obvious that the growth in the Southwest could not continue, this was especially true of the Phoenix area but applied to the entire region.  He could see that the environmental factors that were the subject of the book were being exacerbated by climate change and that end was going to come a lot sooner.

It becomes at once obvious that William deBuys loves the desert Southwest.  His prose is almost poetic sometimes making it a wonderful read.  It is full of history and science, politics and human stories.

Lake Mead
So what's the problem?  The problem is the lack of water.  The dams on the Colorado River no longer fill up.  As the area continues to grow the available water continues to decline.  This is not the first drought to hit the area and not even the first to bring an advanced society down. He gives us a history of the 12th century drought that brought down several advance societies in Arizona.  Of course it's not just man made climate change man has had other impacts.  Because of mismanagement the forests are more susceptible to forest fires.  Of course climate change plays a part in this too - dryer and warmer winters make insect infestation more severe.  
I recommend this book to everyone.  There are human stories as well as history and science.  While the desert Southwest is on the frontlines climate change is already impacting us all.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review, Murdoch’s world: The Last of the Old Media

Book Review, Murdoch’s world: The Last of the Old Media (via The Moderate Voice)

Murdoch’s world: The Last of the Old Media Empires’ by David Folkenflik gives us a look at Rupert Murdoch from the time his father died to the middle of 2013.  Rupert Murdoch was 21 when his father died and he inherited a small regional Newspaper…

Book Review - Climate Myths

Hurricane Sandy
We are seeing the impact of global climate change almost daily.  There is of course the drought in the Midwest of the United States as well as part of the Russia, two the the largest grain producing regions in the World.   The East Coast of the United States was hit by Hurricane Sandy in October of 2012 and then a nor'easter in February of 2013 resulting in millions of dollars in damage.  The Phoenix, AZ area may be on it's way to becoming one of the first climate change ghost towns.  As summer ends in Australia it was the warmest on record with 123 records broken in 90 days.  That's just a few of them.  In spite of this the energy industry has been successful at creating doubt and blocking legislation by creating a series of myths about climate change.  Dr John J. Berger successfully destroys those myths in Climate Myths: The Campaign Against Climate Science.

Chapter one deals with the disinformation campaign  of the oil, coal and other large industries in the U.S. to give talking points to climate change deniers.
For decades, the oil and coal industries and some of their largest industrial customers have conducted a sophisticated and wildly successful multimillion dollar campaign based in the U.S. to convince the American public that climate change is not a serious threat.  The impetus for the campaign has been to protect industry profits by blocking any action designed to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and other global heating gases produced in burning fossil fuels.
This has always amazed me.  Are these executives so concerned about profits today that they will risk their children and grand children's future.  There is really on one explanation - they are sociopaths.

This disinformation has come from various right wing think tanks and trade groups that produce papers that appear to be based on science but unlike the "real" papers produced by scientists are never peer reviewed.  Chapter two introduces us to the activities of these organizations.

The rest of the book is a look at eleven myths of the climate change deniers and explains why they are disinformation.

Myth One
The scientific foundation for concerns about climate change is uncertain and unproven.  The evidence is contradictory and inconclusive.

Myth Two
Even if humans added substantially to the atmosphere's carbon dioxide concentration carbon dioxide is not a powerful enough gas to cause global warming.  Other gases such as nitrous oxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and even water vapor are far more powerful.  

Myth Three
Human burning of fossil fuels is not the source of observed increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration above naturally occurring levels.  Increases are caused by natural processes, such as the outgassing of the Earth's mantel.

Myth Four
Climate varies naturally.  We are in a natural warming cycle that has little or nothing to do with human influence.  There have been warm periods in the past, such as the Medieval Warm Period, that prove the world heats and cools naturally, unaffected by greenhouse gas emissions from human industrial activity.  Indeed, periods of warming may actually be caused by natural fluctuations in cosmic rays or solar radiation.  

Dr Berger dismantles these four myths and the seven others.  The trick here is that there is a little real science in most of these myths giving them the appearance of real science.  The problem isn't what they say so much as what they don't tell you - what they leave out.

I don't have any faith that anything is going to be done to mitigate climate change in time.  We are already past the point of no return.  I'm 67 years old and will not be impacted but the children and grandchildren of the executives responsible for this disinformation will be.

This is a quick easy read that will make it possible for you to refute the talking points of the change deniers and I recommend it.

Dr Berger's website.

Note
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Globalization and the failing economy

Paul Craig Roberts has a PhD in Economics and a conservative background. As the Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury in the Reagan administration he was a big believer in supply side economics.  He was a very establishment economist who was editor of the Wall Street Journal, Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and holder of the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy at Georgetown University.  He was a regular on FOX news until he turned on the Bush administration in 2002.
He has a new book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and the Economic Dissolution of the West (Towards a New Economics for a Full World).  (Unfortunately it is only available in Kindle E-Book format) He sounds more like  a very shrill Thom Hartmann.

Dr Roberts explains why the job creation has been slower than in any recession in recent history and no it's not just because of the Republicans alone - it's globalization and the offshoring of jobs.

The fact that millions of jobs have been moved offshore is the reason why the most expansionary monetary and fiscal policies in US history have had no success in reducing the unemployment rate. In post-World War II 20th century recessions, laid-off workers were called back to work as expansionary monetary and fiscal policies stimulated consumer demand. However, 21st century unemployment is different. The jobs have been moved abroad and no longer exist. Therefore, workers cannot be called back to factories and to professional service jobs that have been moved abroad.
Economists have failed to recognize the threat that jobs offshoring poses to economies and to economic theory itself, because economists confuse offshoring with free trade, which they believe is mutually beneficial. I will show that offshoring is the antithesis of free trade and that the doctrine of free trade itself is found to be incorrect by the latest work in trade theory. Indeed, as we reach toward a new economics, cherished assumptions and comforting theoretical conclusions will be shown to be erroneous.
The economies of the United States and Western Europe are in decline because they now produce little that can be exported and most of what we consume is imported.  An economy that doesn't turn raw materials into something more valuable is not sustainable.

This book is organized into three sections. The first section explains successes and failures of economic theory and the erosion of the efficacy of economic policy by globalism. Globalism and financial concentration have destroyed the justifications of market capitalism. Corporations that have become “too big to fail” are sustained by public subsidies, thus destroying capitalism’s claim to be an efficient allocator of resources. Profits no longer are a measure of social welfare when they are obtained by creating unemployment and declining living standards in the home country.
The second section documents how jobs offshoring or globalism and financial deregulation wrecked the US economy, producing high rates of unemployment, poverty and a distribution of income and wealth extremely skewed toward a tiny minority at the top. These severe problems cannot be corrected within a system of globalism.
The third section addresses the European debt crisis and how it is being used both to subvert national sovereignty and to protect bankers from losses by imposing austerity and bailout costs on citizens of the member countries of the European Union.
There is not a lot in the book but Dr Roberts puts it all together in a concise if shrill way.  He explains what could be done to turn it around but then says it won't be because Wall Street and the large financial institutions have captured the government - we have essentially become an Oligarchy.  Much of his discussion of the financial system comes from Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History by Matt Taibbi.

He also explains why nearly all economists get it so very wrong.

Economists do a poor job of adjusting economic theory to developments brought by the passage of time.   Just as capital theory originated prior to the income tax and free-trade theory originated at a period in history when capital was internationally immobile and tradable goods were based on climate and knowledge differences, economists’ neglect of the ecosystem as a finite, entropic, non-growing and materially closed system dates from an earlier “empty world.”     In an empty world, man-made capital is scarce and nature’s capital is plentiful.   In an empty world, the fish catch is limited by the number of fishing boats, not by the remaining fish population, and petroleum energy is limited by drilling capability, not by geological deposits.   Empty-world economics focuses on the sustainability of man-made capital, not on natural capital.   Natural capital is treated as a free good. Using it up is not treated as a cost but as an increase in output.   Economic theory is based on “empty-world” economics. But, in fact, today the world is full.
In a “full world,” the fish catch is limited by the remaining population of fish, not by the number of fishing boats, which are man-made capital in excess supply.   Oil energy is limited by geological deposits, not by the drilling and pumping capacity of man-made capital. In national income accounting, the use of man-made capital is depreciated, but the use of nature’s capital has no cost other than extraction cost.   Therefore, the using up of natural capital always results in economic growth.
In other words economic theory is based on a world that no longer exists.  Nature's capitol is nearly exhausted. 

This is an important book not because there is anything really new in it but because it puts all the pieces together and is a must read

Note:
If you don't have a Kindle you can download a free app for your PC at Amazon.