Death in the Sea, Life in the Fishtank

Most of the great fisheries of the world face disaster these days. Huge Asian trawlers drag the bottom, destroying everything. The fish they can’t use they throw back, dead, along with sea mammals such as dolphins. Sea creatures large and small frequently die when they are caught up in lost nets and lines. The harvest of fish all over the globe is declining from overfishing and environmental decline.

The increasing acidification of the seas gives shellfish thin and weak shells. Same with crabs and lobsters. Coral thousands of years old is dying and turning white as the water warms. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is dead. Bigger fish have dangerous levels of mercury and lead in their flesh. Fish in the Pacific are showing up with cancerous tumors, a consequence of the radioactivity still leaking from Japan’s Fukushima reactors destroyed by earthquake. Fish for sushi increasingly have tapeworms and other undesirable creatures growing in their flesh.

The picture is not good, and greater consumption of fish has been recommended in the recent past in place of our unhealthy overconsumption of beef.

But fish farming using up to date technology offers the US a golden opportunity to provide first-class food locally raised in tanks.

Fish farming earned a bad reputation from filthy Asian methods, in which the fish lived in disgustingly dirty river water, and were fed all sorts of things, including human feces. These farms are packed one next to another, with very little water current and no attempt at cleaning the water.

But Norway has shown us how to raise excellent, healthy, and very tasty fish. Whole Foods has sold Norwegian farm-grown salmon, which is excellent, for several years. There is no reason the same techniques should not be used by American seafood farmers. Fish farming is an ideal industry for worker ownership because initial costs are relatively low, and can be sited in many places. But the industry needs help getting established.

Fish farming could be established in areas of the country, like the South, that have had persistent conditions of poverty and unemployment. The government could assist these efforts at relatively low cost. Minor, in fact, compared to most government investments. Petroleum, for example, has had unnecessary subsidy costing billions for many decades. The infrastructure for fish farming is far less expensive than most city buildings, more along the line of metal farm outbuildings.

That’s not the only thing needed, of course. Besides the solid infrastructure for farming of fish and other seafood, an industry to provide food for these fish is needed, as well as systems of transportation to market. Live fish could be sent to local markets in far greater quantity than at present.

Saltwater fish could be raised in interior areas, with some changes, mostly the provision of sea water. (I assume that sea water has ingredients that are necessary and not found in ordinary salt.) Since these modern methods purify the water, only small quantities of sea water would need to be regularly replaced. The middle of the country could have healthy and nutritious fresh saltwater fish without the high cost of long-distance shipping.

Likewise, freshwater fish could be raised in seacoast areas as well, areas that typically have ocean fish, but much less freshwater fish. When both are more evenly distributed, transportation costs will fall, and superior saltwater and freshwater fish could be supplied to everyone at a reasonable price.

With a bit of American ingenuity, I’m sure there are a number of other industries that could be similarly established as worker-owned entities that provide their products to local markets with low transportations costs. The floor is now open for nominations.

Repubs Must Now Decide Who Is To Die

In the modern countries that have national health care—which means every one of them except ours—the unfortunate souls who are diagnosed with a serious condition such as cancer are more likely than anyone in the rest of the world to survive. That is because they will receive the very best, most up to date treatment there is.

Whether you or I survive just depends. Mostly it depends on our income. If we make as much as, say, members of Congress, who make a lot of money, and whose health care is also subsidized, our chance of survival is as good as the best.

At the bottom of the income scale no one survives cancer, because they earn so little they can’t afford health care at all. That’s not quite true right now, because the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, somewhat corrects for this inequality.

But it has been a primary Republican goal to kill Obamacare from the first day it became effective. Now, with control of the executive and both houses of Congress, Republicans are free to finally get their wish. But that also presents them with a decision they must make:

Who should be the ones who die because they are denied health care? They must decide who shall die.

Now, obviously, the chronically unemployed fit the category, because as it is well known, the only acceptable reason for being unemployed is laziness. Every Republican knows that. At the other end of the scale, people who earn adequate income should have the best health care, because as every Republican knows, income is a fitting measure of virtue.

But here’s the rub: where is the line of demarcation separating the virtuous from the lazy? The point above which most survive, and below which all die. What is the level of income necessary that we can be assured that such persons deserve a full-out effort to battle their cancer, and below which we should not bother because they are not worth it and can’t afford it?

This is the dilemma Republicans must resolve, because they are certain that a full-out effort to save a person from cancer should depend entirely on their personal income, which is a measure completely equivalent to their virtue, and therefore their value to society.

You would think that somewhere along the line Republicans would realize that bad health is bad for the country, that the only equitable health care is national health care that is available to all, that you can’t be paying billions of dollars to insurance executives who contribute absolutely nothing toward health and expect reasonable costs. But so far they haven’t. They just keep trying to kill the Affordable Care Act, again and again, but never have anything better to offer. That’s because all those old white guys just can’t get over the notion that anything national is—shudder—Socialism, and we will all end up in Siberia. Like France, I suppose.

Published in: on 2017/04/28 at 8:49 pm  Comments (2)  

The Self-Destructive Folly of Trump’s Hatreds

Trump campaigned on a policy of hate, and nearly every picture we see of him shows a contorted face of hatred. He hates virtually every human group that is not white, male, and rich.

He said that all Mexicans are rapists and criminals. All Muslims are terrorists. All blacks are lazy. Women should stay home and raise children. And so on. All the standard prejudices of our times, none of which is true.

The tragedy is that poorly educated whites, those already convinced that they are naturally superior, accepted what he said in spite of its obviously self-contradictory nature, as Trump lied and lied and lied. Even now, some 70% of what he says consists of lies. Lies and contradictions.

He made hatred acceptable. Shortly after his inauguration there were dozens of acts of violence against individual persons and groups he has as much as said it was OK to kill. And some did kill.

Hatred is not a good foundation on which to build a country. Germany can vouch for that.

But the lesson is lost on Republicans. If it weren’t, Trump and his billionaire toadies bent on destroying the promise of our country would have been tossed out by now. Instead, Congress passes one bill after another designed to punish people, always the poor, people of color, immigrants and refugees, Muslims, and women. The very people who should be protected the same way everyone else is. And Trump, in the absence of understanding what he is supposed to be doing, has signed endless executive orders designed only to hurt people.

Republicans are always against the poor because they believe poverty is always the result of “bad choices”. But here’s something: Five million manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000. Lost to the changing nature of work, and shipped offshore to very poor countries with very low wages. Many of the US Americans who lost their jobs have not been able to find another, and are in great financial difficulty, with very little income. Now, Republicans, since these people worked faithfully and well for decades, who is it who made these “bad choices”? The unemployed workers who can find no work at any pay? More likely it’s the Republicans in Congress who have acted in favor of wealthy capitalists, while the fortunes of the faithful employees who came to work every day went down and down.

There are many things that Congress could have done to improve conditions for workers. The work week could have been shortened, which would have provided work for more people. The minimum wage could have been raised to the point where no one working full time would need three jobs. A minimum income law could have been passed, so the people who could find no work at least had food and shelter, and we wouldn’t find them living under the bridge in tents. National health care could have been established, health care like every modern nation has except ours. Ways could have been found to assist companies that make goods here. Laws could have been passed to prevent corporations from hiding their profit.

All these possibilities were ignored, and many laws were passed to boost the income of the very wealthy, so that the very wealthy could become yet more wealthy at the expense of the poor. Income that cannot even be spent, it is so great.

What we have ended up with is a bunch of very rich people dictating what the rest of us are supposed to feel and believe about our lack of equality. And they think only rich white males are worth bothering with. All the rest—the poor, the people of color, the Jews, the Muslims, the ill and infirm, the aged, the children, the women—they are expected to fend for themselves, because we all know they are lazy and will not work. That’s why minimum wage doesn’t matter, why we don’t need medical care, why only schools for the rich are important, why immigration must be ended, why Muslims and Mexicans must be deported, on and on.

The Republican agenda is to create the limits that support these beliefs, to keep the poor so poor that they cannot rise. The tragedy is that Trump convinced so many poor whites that they were superior, and should therefore vote for him. They did vote for him, and immediately launched acts of hatred against his approved villains. What they didn’t understand, though, was that Trump and the Republicans thought that they were no more worthy than the official list of villains. They soon began to feel the sting of his betrayal.

This is not the way to run a country in which equality is the benchmark by which we will be judged. Equality of opportunity, no matter who your parents are, what color or religion you are, no matter what you do for a living. Our foundational principles are falling away at an alarming rate. Obviously, Trump and the Republicans think this is what should happen.

What Facebook Kitties are Really About

In my college years, the 1960s, scientists were telling us that animals have no emotions. This struck me as patently ridiculous, but they insisted. As someone much later said, “Don’t any of these guys have dogs?”

Somehow these brilliant scientists seem to have missed out on fundamental brain anatomy. We differ from other animals in that we have a greater cerebral cortex. But the cortex is not the seat of emotions. The “seat of emotions” is found in the Limbic system, one level up from the “reptilian” brain, the brainstem and cerebellum. Obviously, then, a bigger cortex cannot separate our emotions from those of other animals. Hell, even reptiles are easily shown to have emotions. Even fish.

Franz de Waal, in one of his earlier books, relayed a story told to him by Nobel winner Conrad Lorentz, who researched geese in the early 20th century, among other things. A visiting woman read the look on a goose’s face and remarked that she must have had a tough life. Indeed she had. Lorentz explained that she had lost two mates to violence.

It pleases me very much that our understanding of animals has improved greatly since my college years. But still, there are still many who make use of the “rubber ruler”. That is they claim that we differ from “the animals” (somehow neglecting to realize that we are animals ourselves) because “animals can’t do”… and here they mention some specific thing. Then they learn that certain animals can indeed do that certain thing, and so the ruler is stretched and some other thing that animals can’t do is found. But then the process repeats, requiring the ruler to be stretched again. This has been going on for some time but it has become more and more difficult to pretend the idea makes sense. The ruler won’t stretch any more.

This brings us to our favorite source of all wisdom, Facebook. Even though it is now becoming more difficult to winnow out the nonsense, I still like Facebook for all the animal photos and videos, if nothing else.

Recently I saw a photo of a cat embracing the back of his busy human, eyes closed. The love was obvious, as it often is in photos. Remember the huge tiger, all but bowling over his favorite person as he slurps his cheek with that big tongue, eyes closed. Or the baby elephant who came running whenever his fave guy drove up. Or the big owl who was in bliss when his head was scratched. I’ve also in person seen birds who wantonly turn belly-up for a good scratch. Facebook swarms with photos of all kinds of animals, big and small, from all over the animal world, who very obviously love and are loved. They can love their own species, another species, or specifically the human species. Is there any other reason a dog would come to his human’s grave every day for years?

Videos can be priceless because we are amazed, or because they make us laugh. One of my recent favorites showed a smallish rabbit watching a border collie herding sheep. Apparently that seemed interesting enough to try, because the video next showed the rabbit taking a shot at it. To everyone’s great surprise, he was pretty good at herding sheep. I howled at a video of a mischievous dog watching the cat as it stood on the edge of the bathtub, watching it fill. Then the dog pushed the cat in, and in an instant took off running, knowing the cat would be in hot pursuit, which it was, and furious, with laid-back ears and a snarl on its face. Then there’s the one with two dogs seated on the stairs. A woman’s voice demands, “who made this mess?”. Two noses turn in synch to point to a third dog, who immediately looks embarrassed. I come across the video now and then, and laugh every time.

We’ve all seen various parrots do hilarious things, like really get down and dance in perfect rhythm, or make up operatic songs with nonsense lyrics, or be swung around on clotheslines. I saw the wild blackbird “sledding” down a snowy roof on a jar lid. And the magpie stealing clothespins, and hanging on the bottom of the sheet a woman was trying to dry, between the times he was harassing his dog friend.

Hardly a day goes by that there isn’t some really interesting video of an animal doing something we might not have believed if we hadn’t seen it ourselves. There are hundreds of them.

This is why the kitty videos on Facebook are important. Not because kitties are cute, but because they and all the other animal videos show us that we are not nearly so different from animals as we once thought. They do very many of the things we also do, and express sadness, surprise, and pride. Facebook shows us that their emotional lives are virtually identical to ours.

How dare we mistreat an animal when we know we are so close to them, and they are capable of deep love. Cruelty to animals is deeply offensive, and earns hefty jail sentences. And if we dare not mistreat the animal that shares all of our emotions, how dare we mistreat someone of our own species?

What to Call a Hater

The short answer is, Don’t call them anything. Don’t label them. Forget what they look like to you. Drop all your preconceived notions. Even the worst haters are sentient beings, after all. Maybe the dumbest and ugliest of them mostly wants you to pay attention.

This is what liberals should do, rather than the vile name-calling we often see under Comments on political statements online, from conservatives and liberals alike. It’s not so easy to maintain a level head when someone is calling you a “libtard” or some equally insulting name. But using such a label is just a reflex, to be used instead of debate.

If you keep your response neutral you may learn something valuable. For example, some guy who lives in an area where so many are becoming addicted may be unemployed for years, and rightfully angry about it. Ask him about his problems. Then ask him what he thinks the solution is. If he spouts nasty comments, do not respond in kind. If he speaks of information you know is false, gently remind him of the actual facts. Tell him where you found your information.

In this particular case, your new buddy might have some simplistic solutions to complex problems. Explore with him some of the options for improving the situation. For example, what does he think of a guaranteed minimum income? The role of robots these days. Is more unemployment due to shipping jobs overseas or to replacing workers with robots? He may have some interesting insights from the front lines.

Offer to meet with him online with Skype or FaceTime. Ask him to put some of his friends in touch. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up with a lively discussion group.

What to call a hater is part of a much larger problem, that of turning the hate that Trump cultivated and tapped into over a long period, and enlarged greatly during the campaign, back into civilized discourse. Trump’s campaign of lies and hate, much approved of by racists and haters of every kind, and never disavowed by him, even to this day, has resulted in a storm of hate crimes against virtually every social, cultural, and religious group that is not white and Christian. In short, we have rapidly devolved from an admirable nation into a dangerously uncivil one, unsafe even to visit.

It will not be enough for liberals to simply “make nice”, though. Hatred makes a lot more noise, even when very few people are involved. But are there very few? I’m afraid not. It has been obvious for a long time that racism is one of the defining characteristics of today’s Republican Party. Republicans believe all blacks are lazy and stupid, all Mexicans are criminal, all Asians are sneaky and untrustworthy, all Muslims are terrorists, and so on. Not to mention the rampant misogyny we have observed in hundreds of proposed laws to control and limit women—but never men, not once. Many are outspoken in these and similar beliefs, although most refuse to explicitly acknowledge them. But the beliefs are there, and making nice on the part of liberal Democrats can only be a weak and ineffective response.

It is not the liberal message that needs to be changed. The rights and welfare of the people are still the primary concerns, and not the wealth of the already wealthy. It is the way the message is delivered that must be improved. It is imperative to know that ending the loud shouts of hatred depends not only on how a better message is delivered, but on formulating workable specific programs and policies that address the legitimate issues raised by the unemployed and disappointed in all parts of the country. Moreover, bringing new hope to neo-nazi haters is just as important as improving the lives of more likable characters. If a cause is legitimate, it is legitimate for everyone, and seeing that improved fortunes for all don’t depend on worsening fortunes for some—it’s not like dividing a pie—may change a few minds.

No such coherent plan exists at present. Hillary Clinton, as competent a president as she would have made, would largely have preserved the status quo, rather than forge a very progressive new plan that would address these very real problems. What we need is that progressive plan—guaranteed minimum income, encouragement of domestic industry of all sorts by various means, a strong program of acceptance of all people—always delivered with kindness.

It must be consistent. It must be insistent. It must be brought to all, including the very people who would prefer to simply hate and shout.

Women, Power Up

I have heard that the Women’s March of “45” + 1 (the day after Trump’s inauguration) was the largest demonstration in history. I don’t know about that, because there have been many marches and demonstrations around the world that made the streets look like a bee swarm. But what I do know is that women, particularly in the West, have enormous power, and that power must not be lost.

Almost all of the violence, wars, and mistreatment of others throughout history has been the fault of men. This is largely because women, because they are generally smaller and weaker, have been judged inferior by men, and relegated to the kitchen and the business of child rearing, often by force. But women have some of the most important character features needed in the world today, particularly patience and compassion.

There have been hundreds of laws proposed by Republicans in recent years to control and limit women, but not a single one that limits the social atrocities or sexual activities of men. The statements by old white Republicans in this regard are astonishing. Old white Republican men can’t seem to leave the female reproductive organs alone.

By now it should be very clear that it is not the case that women are fit only for the kitchen and child rearing. Women have been leaders in every field of endeavor. Women of all colors and cultures have been heads of state, leading scientists and mathematicians, have been CEOs of international corporations, prominent academics and presidents of universities, noted ambassadors and senators, pilots, welders, car mechanics, astronauts, and so on and on. Women are not inherently unfit for anything one can imagine.

Judging women as fit only for the kitchen has been the policy of the Republican Party and more, and in the face of the evidence it is an insult that cannot continue. That is not to say that the kitchen and child development are unworthy occupations. Indeed, both are vastly important, and women appear to be generally better at managing the lives of children for the same reason they should be prominently featured in public life: compassion, self-control, and endurance.

It is encouraging that in recent weeks women have seized the opportunity to organize for the purpose of resisting 45 and his dangerous acolytes. Republicans have embraced a world-plan that is bad for virtually everybody but the top 1% in income.

The Republican plan is built around these things: (1) enrichment of the rich at the expense of the rest of us, especially the poor; (2) punishment of everyone who is not a white Christian; (3) destruction of every law and regulation that protects the lives, education, and wellbeing of us all, as well as the natural world; (4) morbid denial of reality, including denial of the advancing climate change, belief in magic as found in ancient books like the Bible, denial of the reality of the physical world, including how the universe functions, the true age of things, the reality of evolution, and much more; (5) failure to understand that the Age of Carbon is over, and it is necessary to advance to a new reality and leave behind our dependency on oil and coal.

This is virtually, and maybe literally, insane. The purpose of the government of the United States of America is not to destroy the lives and futures of the people and to deny realities that cannot be denied. It is not to support the greed of the rich at the expense of the poor. It is not to lead us into war. It is to support and protect the people and the planet, nothing less.

When one sees pictures of Republicans in the seat of power one sees almost entirely the faces of old white men. Men who don’t give a damn about our lives or about any future of the country that doesn’t make them very wealthy—at the expense of the very environment we live in, the air we breathe, the water we drink. And at the expense of everyone who is not they. They want to control us all.

Only the power of women, many millions of women, can turn this tide in the direction of improving the lives of all. “45” can deny the sheer power of the Women’s March all he wants. The fact is that it was an awesome demonstration of the power of organized women. It was quickly followed by the hundreds of town hall meetings featuring women that frightened Republican representatives so badly that almost all of them fled when they were unable to answer simple questions—because they had no reasonable answers. They are correct in their fears, and they know they are doomed. When the next election rolls around, it is the women who will determine the outcome. If they continue to organize and be active, they won’t allow the same mistakes to be made—including allowing the 46% of lazy citizens who couldn’t be bothered to vote, thereby electing an unqualified white man with a three minute attention span.

Women, especially you young women, take a look at what men, especially Republican men, say about women. About all women. Consider what the uneducated voters for 45 have to say about women. These people are dangerous, not only for democracy, but for you and me. Many of you need to run for office. It is your responsibility to become involved however you can, for the rest of your life. We need you. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the survival of civilization depends on you.