Sunday, April 5, 2015

Are we getting Better?


MEXICO CITY 1980, 2011 - ©Corbis, Owen Franken, ©Corbis, Keith Dannemiller

How are we doing? As a populace on this planet, are we better off today than we were at other points? What about in our lifetime, have things improved? 

In many ways, we're living in the best times we've ever had. Food, and good food is very common. We can access information more efficiently than ever before. More importantly, we can look at global indicators like infant mortality rates, literacy, GDP, and a host of others that have been going in a positive direction all over the world. 

The Gates Foundation's 2014 Annual Report does a great job illuminating this point. The report works to disprove three myths:
  • (Myth 1) That poor countries stay poor.
  • (Myth 2) Foreign aid doesn't matter.
  • (Myth 3) Saving lives leads to overpopulation.
Comparing the 1960's to today, they note that really most countries are doing a lot better today than they were 50 years ago. Wealth used to be concentrated between the west and the Soviet Union, however, more and more countries and ultimately more of the worlds population is in a class  of middle income countries that barely existed 50 years ago. Due to globalization, foreign aid, advancements and health technology and the spread of modernity, here are some items that have been mentioned.
Per-person incomes in Turkey and Chile are where the United States level was in 1960. Malaysia is nearly there, as is Gabon. And that no-man’s-land between rich and poor countries has been filled in by China, India, Brazil, and others. Since 1960, China’s real income per person has gone up eightfold. India’s has quadrupled, Brazil’s has almost quintupled, and the small country of Botswana, with shrewd management of its mineral resources, has seen a thirty-fold increase. There is a class of nations in the middle that barely existed 50 years ago, and it includes more than half of the world’s population (Gates 2014). 
Another question is whether our country is doing better today than it was 50 years ago. This is where I think it's a bit hazier. The amount of technology and access to materials is probably drastically better. However, wages have stagnated for the majority of the U.S. population. The disparity in wealth is higher (in spite of higher rates of educational accomplishment). Fareed Zakaria in his book, The Post-American World discusses the rise of other global powers in light  of the U.S.'s relative stagnation. A synopsis from wikipedia can be found as follows:

[Zakaria] ..draws parallels between the British Empire in the 1890s and starting theBoer War, with the US in the 2000s and starting the Iraq War. The difference between them is that the British had unsurpassed political power but lost its economic dominance, whereas the US, in the 2000s, had huge economic power but faltering political influence. Zakaria defends the US from indicators that suggest American decline but warns that internal partisan politics, domestic ideological attack groups, special interest power, and a sensationalistic media are weakening the federal government's ability to adapt to new global realities.
The other argument I do still hold true to is that the social fabric of the U.S. is still falling apart. Robert Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone (which I rant and reference to like a lunatic) and his new book Our Kids points to this. In Our Kids which I am fervently excited  to read, Putnam makes the argument that the growing inequality in wealth coupled with other social trends in our connectedness, is having a devastating impact on the well being of our young people who don't come from families of means. They have less access to services, enrichment, quality time with parents and other caring adults and a host of other stabilizing factors that would contribute to upward social mobility. The ultimate point Putnam is making is that it has gotten a hell of a lot harder for a growing number of young people in our country to have the chance to thrive  and those with means don't see all these kids in their community as all of our kids. The policy choices we have made as a country has put us on a track for worsening outcomes comparative to the prosperity that has occurred for many other countries around the globe. If we continue on this track, the growing economic divide will only get worse and majority of the U.S. population will continue to see their wages and economic mobility decline. We're disconnected, our political system is hijacked by vested political interests and we're not set up right now to be able to as much about this unfortunately. 

So I believe there is a good argument to be made that globally things are  better than at most points in our history. Our country is more nuanced however, and I think there are serious questions about our prosperity as a result of our loss of social mobility. The last question would be whether this global  prosperity is sustainable? This is a huge question obviously but ultimately, much of the economic growth that leads to improvements in quality of life, happens on the back of fossil fuel use. 

For prosperity to occur, it requires electricity, heat, manufacturing and transportation. Much of this still comes from the use of coal fired power plants. With all of this contributing to climate change that is clearly happening, we have a limiting force put on our growth. With most of our major cities on coasts, we're very vulnerable. With the loss of potable drinking water rising temperatures, decreasing snow melt, our planets capacity to have access to drinking water is highly vulnerable. These two factors alone raise big questions as to what our planet might look like in the next fifty years. We need to act on the question of climate change, however, at this point, ice caps will still melt, temperatures will still rise and we're  going to probably have some massive amount of global instability. 

Ultimately, I believe we're in the best place we've been in by most indicators of global prosperity. I have question as to whether this will continue. We need to change our fuel sources that have helped us get to this place  and modify our practices to ensure that we are feeding, heating, transporting, and hydrating our societies in a fashion that is ultimately sustainable. With heightened efficiency in alternative energies, the use of nuclear power, the ability to make our machinery require less carbon , and other innovations, we could stem some of the effects of climate change, but we're not currently on the best track to do this. 

Our ability as a population to respond proactively to problems is the other factor in question. I worry about our ability to connect and organize. I worry when we rarely see our neighbors and spend less time socializing. I worry about the ability for crowds to come together, to protest what is happening and put pressure on the current power structure. The inability for a longer and louder response to these massive problems by today's world is what causes me the most consternation. Can we come together today like our predecessors did to address many of societies major problems? That ultimately will inform this question about our future prosperity more than anything. 




Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Changing Climate we're Seeing





Obviously the winter weather here in New England has been insane. It's been the most we've ever had in such a short period. It's three times as much as the Blizzard of 78'. For many of us, it's made our commutes much harder, it's required more shoveling, exertion and planning to get from point A to point B. It's been really tough. 

It's important to be mindful though of how much more it's costing us. The lost business that leads to lost jobs, the added costs to our cities and towns that will lead to less resource available for our schools, roads, and infrastructure later on; the people who are already vulnerable - the elderly, individuals with disabilities or the homeless who are more acutely affected by several feet of snow. It's a heavy toll.

What scares me is that this is the reality we're going to have to deal with for years to come. We're going to see more extremity and instability in our weather as a result of our changing climate. You can't say one snow storm is caused by global warming, but absolutely is it the case that some of the variation in our weather can be attributed to our warming climate.

cold weather global warming explanation
Union of Concerned Scientists
This in part is due to more instability in our polar vortex allowing cold arctic air to flow further south, interacting with warmer air which can cause severe snow. There are fluctuations in our jet stream that have to be studied further that impacted by our warming planet and will affect the changes in our weather. 

To be honest - I have a hard time grasping what I just wrote. I think one of the fundamental problems is that climate change is complex and doesn't make sense to the majority of Americans. This allows folks who are opposed to further regulations of fossil fuels to have a lot of wiggle room to shape policy.

The problem is that this isn't a theoretical argument anymore. I write this because I'm scared. The greater Boston area hasn't had the infrastructure to whether this storm. It's been and will continue to be extremely costly for us. Many areas are dealing with coastal flooding from rising sea levels and drought due to a warming temperature. The effects of climate change are happening right now and we're on track to have them get worse. This very well will be the most destructive force our civilization will have to face and we're not doing much about it. Ted Cruz is now head of the Senate subcommittee on space and science - we're not poised to stop burning massive amounts of fossil fuels. 

So again, it's not hopeless. Especially with the realities that we're now seeing on the ground we can get mobilized to make change. However, we need to ensure that we're making the connection between the extreme weather patterns and our changing climate. We need to make that link even if it's complex grasp and we need to ensure the media is as well.

From there we can continue to take some steps to address the reality of what's happening. Our voice needs to mobilize into collective pressure that is salient to our elected officials. Raise your voice and let's make the changes that need to happen so we can stem the rising temperature of our planet and it's shifting climate.










Sunday, February 15, 2015

Defeating Winter: Fastly and furiously

True hero -
(http://fineartamerica.com/featured/old-man-winter-sandy-sisti.html)

So the immense brutality of winter is clearly upon us. The blizzard of 2015 is closing roads, schools, the subway and many other institutions. We're somewhat trapped inside and it's hard not end up like Jack Nicholson in the Shining. It's hard not to get worn down and very much defeated by the crushing weight of winter and all of it's wrath. There is hope (I think sometimes) to keep yourself going, stay strong, stay happy and defeat winter's crazy wrathfulness. A couple years ago, I posted some ideas about this. But considering the situation we certainly need a few more tools in our belt.
Exercise, move and get on out for gods sake. Winter's treachery is one in which it makes us think we're stuck inside. If you are physically able to get on out then do so!  Exercise improves our physical, cognitive, emotional and mental health
  • Go running outside safely. Take it slow, get some sun. The soft cushion of the snow actually makes it kind of nice. But an even greater secret is that kinetic movement keeps your body warm. Some insects (rather than hibernating) just move their wings to generate heat (the noble winter moth!). Running outside will keep your body nimble, generate heat and maybe give you a bit of sun while you're out.
  • Shoveling: Obviously you might have to do this. However, shoveling can be a workout. There is even some research that indicates that your view of an activity informs how many calories your burn. So think of your shoveling as exercise and it's a bit more satisfying and potentially healthier. 
  • Winter walks and other activities: If you're able to get outside and move around then do so! The woods are really pretty in the snow. Bring a camera, take some pictures. Go sledding! Snowshoeing is just terrific as well and super easy (rent em). Winter can seem like it has something to offer when it's viewed this way. All of this helps you not actually be trapped indoors which is important. Don't be trapped all day. 
  • Walk, run or bike to work: Now this sounds like absolute bat-shit, but with the MBTA being closed or performing poorly as a result of 30 year old train cars - some of my neighbors broke out the mountain bike and really had some good trips into the office. I tried it and it worked pretty well. Take it slow, stay really visible, be extra vigilant, but especially if you have a bike path, a mountain bike tire can sustain pretty well (and be faster than other forms of transit). If you're within a few miles, walk or run in. Get that exercise while getting where you need to go. Because it's winter it doesn't make you disgustingly sweaty when you get to the office. 
  • Just dance or something inside: When you are inside (and if you have some space), put on some songza and dance really. It's just a good thing to do. It's valentines day weekend so I think that makes sense. Do some exercise  inside. Do your planks, your push ups, your stretches. Again, that physical activity will keep you goin' right now.  
Talk to your peoples which sometimes feels harder with the winter. But really, New Englanders love to complain about the weather. You'll have opportunities for this as everyone is outside shoveling. So share a story, commiserate, share a little support. Really, you can talk about how crappy the weather is to anyone right now - it transcends all sorts of interpersonal differences. This actually goes a long way when we're all collectively being attacked by storm after storm after storm. We can remember we're mostly all in this together and that counts for a lot.  

Be extra generous this time of year. With heating costs higher, and many folks still sleeping out on the streets, this is extra important to do. It's also harder for ambulances and fire trucks to also get where they might need to go. Just help make  things go better and be thoughtful and generous when you can in these situations. 

Hobbies can be great to get up on with. Play a little music. Do a little writing. Knitting? Reading, abstract photography, drawing, art. Heck, go on forums and start posting tons of message. See the inside time as an opportunity to get at something while it makes sense to and do a nice hobby that engages you. It goes a long way

All I got for now you can find more winter survival tips here, here and here

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dumber than Anything

Absolut Koch: Gettin' it while it's good

We're dumber than all fuck and just deserve a world of shit that we've sowed. Look, if we're going to release trillions of pounds of green house gasses into our atmosphere, our planet will warm and our climate will change. When our climate changes, it effect on our seasonal weather pattern.

Yes, it's called global warming, but it causes more erratic weather patterns, like the one's were having now. From Frontline:

Winters will likely get shorter as a result of climate change, Oppenheimer said. “On the other hand,” he said, “during the period when it is cold enough to snow, if you’ve got enough moisture in the air, you can get some wicked big snowstorms.”
Why does climate change lead to more moisture?
“The maximum amount of water vapor that can be present increases with increasing temperatures. That’s just a consequence of the laws of physics,” Broccoli said.
Global sea temperatures have gone up about one degree Fahrenheit since the 1970s because of human activity, said Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist in climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
The higher sea temperatures lead to higher temperatures above the sea surface. That warmth moves throughout the year, and at this time of year, gathers off the East Coast.
“If we have a storm that’s developing, it reaches out as far as a thousand miles away and grabs the available moisture, and brings it into the storm so that it snows harder,” Trenberth said. “At this time of year, this is exactly what you expect.”
We love fossil fuels just so much. We use a lot of them. This is what happens when we keep ravaging everything on our planet... we get fucked. We are part of the biological world on this planet - we're not separate entities. Addressing climate change is something we should all be doing and it should inform much of our policy efforts. We certainly shouldn't be denying climate change for our own profit like these folks are (Micheal Crighton, David Koch).

People are preparing for zombies and not vaccinating their children. People are worried about sharks and scared of clowns in the street. The woods are dangerous, so are swimming pools, so is walking home from school. Don't exert yourself too hard now. Don't switch to renewable energy even if it's more cost effective. Heck, nuclear energy sounds scary, so don't use that (we probably should be...).

Let's just keeping fucking up the world we live in and NOT ACTUALLY FEAR THE CHANGING CLIMATE THAT IS DOOMING OUR FUTURE ABILITY TO HABITATE THIS PLANET. Pay no attention to rising sea levels when so many of our major population centers are on the coast. Who cares about more erratic weather patterns when our system of agriculture has evolved to function with regular seasonality. And drinking water? Who needs drinking water? They're selling Yuengling at the corner store now...


That's exactly how we thrive as a populace, just being afraid and reactive of stupid things versus actually taking action against the real and logical threats that are looming. Great job.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

What's Happening




I don't know what to expect anymore. People don't at all seem to grasp how much our country institutionally oppresses communities of color and folks who are impoverished. We imprison 2.3 million citizens, most of whom are in jail for possession of drugs. There are millions more who are on probation who often lose their right to vote, access housing, and access employment. We have immense disparities  in our drug sentencing that are just disgusting.

People don't seem to get this. If you're a white frat boy at a college you might often do a ton of drugs (more so than what happens in most urban communities). Hey, you might even drink and drive. However, you don't live in a community that is monitored by a militarized police presences that is systemically incentivized to fuck you. You aren't of an ethnic / racial background where you can get pulled over and searched with no probably cause. You can smoke your pot, snort your blow, drink behind the wheel with an exponentially higher chance of experiencing little to know harassment from law enforcement.

So, when we have so many cases of people of color literally being killed by our law enforcement official (sometimes on video) with no repercussion, we need to remember that our war on drugs that motivates this behavior isn't actually about drugs or right and wrong. It's about the entrenched interests that have ingrained themselves in our legal system that hope to profit off of the oppression of others. It's about politicians being able to say that they are "tough on crime" being able to win votes. It's about the racist ideology that still permeates much of our citizenry and institutions. It's about our economic realities where we have chosen not to try to reintegrate people into our workforce, and instead would rather spend valuable resources on locking them out

We need people who aren't affected by this to wake up. We need folks to be outraged and know that this is about all of us. This is about your neighbors and your fellow citizens being persecuted. This is about allowing a slow-moving holocaust happening right next door and you saying nothing. This is about realizing everything we say we're proud of and accomplishing being tarnished by our moral indifference to the dark realities that we are operating in a racist and destructive system. 

This utterly shouldn't be the case. It doesn't have to be this way and we have to ensure this. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Boston 2024



Society, as always, it just terrific. This is made clear by getting the honor to live in a city that will be the U.S. contender for the 2024 Olympics. Terrific. The recent history suggests that the Olympics are a scourge on the cities that have hosted them. There are plenty of important resources to read in regards to this, but the evidence suggests that they cost billions more than they bring in and cities are left with vacant stadiums and buildings that have no long-term purpose that need to be maintained.

I will add as well that I think there should be real concerns over what will happen to Boston's non-profit sector should we be chosen as a host site. Much of the attention and philanthropy that might be going to our youth centers, food banks, crisis hotlines, homeless shelters and other vital organisations that are dependent on generosity might be in great jeopardy. Philanthropy is not an unlimited resource, and much of it could be diverted to the implementation of the Olympics.

I'm troubled (but not really surprised)  that the Olympic bidding process is emblematic of the fundamental problems in our society. Wealthy elites have a disproportionate amount of influence. Whether it's the IOC, Suffolk Construction, Boston 2024; these are powerful groups that have vast amounts of resources at their disposal and utilize their influence to change the course of policy in ways that benefit them at the expense of everyone else. This seems to unfortunately be the trend in our post-citizens united world where our country behaves more like an Oligarchy than a Democracy. We have a class of ultra-wealthy that control so much our countries financial wealth. They have plenty of opportunity to use this wealth to influence our elected officials to get the policies that suit them best and make them more wealthy. The Olympics is what you get.

This shouldn't be the case and I believe it doesn't have to be. Voices can and should be heard. Unfortunately, turnout really is low in a lot of non-presidential elections. We can change this by voting and getting other folks we know to vote. Unfortunately, it's the older folks who tend to be most  vigilant about voting but this doesn't have to be the case. We can make our voices heard. There are nine community meetings planned in regards to the Olympics. We can show up, learn a thing and share our viewpoint. We can write the Mayor and our reps. This is what it all comes down to. So much of the special interest money goes into influencing you to vote a certain way. The increased political advertisements are evidence of this. We can ignore these messages and vote based on what we know is happening on the ground in our communities and that's still what I think it mostly comes down to. 

We just need to participate or pretty soon we might not even have the opportunity to do so. Show up, make your voice heard, and let's make sure our Mayor knows that he should be planning to build a functional city, not an extravagant event. 


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Non-Profit Yields





One thing I'll mention about the non-profit field is how precarious it can be. There is significant struggle of finding and cultivating resources and being able to be able to sustain your services. It leads to this outcome where the most important people in these organizations are the development staff, the folks that get the money. The individuals who do direct service are not going to directly be able to keep the organization afloat in their efforts.

The problem is that the development folks aren't contributing to the non-profit's mission directly. They are not bettering society directly in anyway; they are bettering their organization by being present to sustain and grow it's work. However, what this means is that sometimes over half the funding that goes into a non-profit, goes to PR, HR and development costs to keep the organization running. That is what smart agencies will do. However, this really limits the reach of serving more of the community. It can be such a struggle to survive that as a non-profit, this is where you need to invest a lot of your funding.

There are other countries, where there is a lot more government support for the services that many non-profit organizations provide. However, we need more security in funding. The services that so many non-profits provide, whether it's food banks, shelters, crucial youth development services, mentoring, environmental protection among others shouldn't be thought of as "luxuries". These organizations are filling crucial gaps in societies' social fabric that are not being filled because of an immense amount of current and historic inequity. If we're going to allow these inequities to persist (which we shouldn't) through our tax and economic policies, then we need to at least provide resources for nonprofit and social service organizations to address the problems that are being created and exacerbated.

So, please, ask your representatives to provide more funding to the non-profit sector. Especially for a lot of the country that is struggling so much economically - we need these services and can't afford for them to not be available because the resources are not there. I would generally advocate that their should be more secured funding sources for non-profit organizations so that more of their efforts and intentions can be diverted into fulfilling their vital missions.

Ultimately, our tax policy needs to change. The 1% and especially the .1% need to be paying their fair share. It's disgusting how little they contribute. However, in the interim, please do your part financially, volunteering or through advocacy to support the organizations that are trying to keep up in fixing all of society's ills.