Five Pieces for March

puzzle_viaLetIdeasCompeteAt the end of each month I share some links to pieces I found thought-provoking in some way. Continuing the trend of less noise, more noticing, I offer five pieces for March.

 

Letter From a Drowned Canyon – Rebecca Solnit

“On October 15, 1956, President Eisenhower pushed a telegraph key that sent the signal to detonate the first round of dynamite. Construction of Glen Canyon Dam began with this warlike gesture by the former supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe. A temporary dam was built upstream of the site, and two 3,000-foot-long diversion tunnels were blasted into the canyon walls to send the river through while the dam was built. Rafters explored the canyon, conscious that it was doomed, and Porter made his expeditions to document it. Many Navajo residents of the region were horrified; the confluence of the Colorado and the San Juan rivers, a place of great significance to them, was about to be erased.

“Glen Canyon died in 1963 and I was partly responsible for its needless death” was how Brower began his essay for Porter’s book on the place. In March of that year, water began backing up behind the new dam, but the scale of the reservoir was so vast that it did not reach maximum water level until 1980. Full, its surface is 3,700 feet above sea level, but it will never be full again.”

 

‘Somebody Else’s Babies’ – Fred Clark

“But, on the other hand, there’s also something terrifying about the message of this sign. It seems to acknowledge and recognize something about our culture that is, frankly, monstrous and horrifying. That unlovely admission suggests that these signs are unlikely to do much good. It suggests that their appeal to empathy and respect for the Golden Rule is misdirected.

Think about it. “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here,” the signs say, because it’s understood that “Drive Like Somebody Else’s Kids Live Here” wouldn’t be an effective slogan. Just those last three words ought to be sufficient: Kids Live Here. But, given that those kids are not “your” kids, it’s expected that “you” would have no reason to care about that. If it’s somebody else’s kids — kids you don’t know, personally, or kids who aren’t a part of your personal bloodline — then it’s presumed that you’ll continue to drive recklessly and without regard for their safety.”

 

The Road That Lies Ahead – Sean Patrick Hughes

“Something happened not too long after that’s stuck with me nearly fifteen years later. Cruising up the highway in one of the long rural stretches of the great agricultural mecca of America that is Central California, we passed three cars that had just been in a gnarly accident. Two of them were smashed up badly. The other less so. There were suitcases and boxes strewn all over the side of the road. People were wandering around in a fog, disoriented, hazy. There was a woman holding a crying child. A man with a bloody nose sat next to one of the wrecks staring out in to space.

No one looked like they were too badly injured. At least not from a half mile away at 70 miles per hour. But the police weren’t there yet. And we were fifty miles from civilization. The first thing that popped into my mind was, man, I’m glad we weren’t in the middle of that.

My leading petty officer in one of the trailers popped into my ear over the radio.”You see that LT?”

“I see it.” Was all I said back. And we kept trucking. I heard him key the mike on the radio again, but he didn’t say anything else.

A hundred miles up the road when we stopped for gas, the door of the one truck swung open. My leading petty officer charged across the parking lot at me tattoos and muscle flying. He jammed his finger into my chest.

“Why the fuck didn’t you stop LT?” ”

 

I am an Arctic researcher. Donald Trump is deleting my citations – Victoria Herrmann

“At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The US National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies.

I had no idea then that this disappearing act had just begun.

Since January, the surge has transformed into a slow, incessant march of deleting datasets, webpages and policies about the Arctic. I now come to expect a weekly email request to replace invalid citations, hoping that someone had the foresight to download statistics about Arctic permafrost thaw or renewable energy in advance of the purge.”

 

Lithium-Ion Battery Inventor Introduces New Technology for Fast-Charging, Noncombustible Batteries – UT Austin

” “Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted. We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries,” Goodenough said.

The researchers demonstrated that their new battery cells have at least three times as much energy density as today’s lithium-ion batteries. A battery cell’s energy density gives an electric vehicle its driving range, so a higher energy density means that a car can drive more miles between charges. The UT Austin battery formulation also allows for a greater number of charging and discharging cycles, which equates to longer-lasting batteries, as well as a faster rate of recharge (minutes rather than hours).”

 

Image Credit: Let Ideas Compete

Where We Go From Here

divided_viajenThe world seems to weigh a lot more lately. Stuck with the gravity of the situation, the rock of history, and the hard place of the coming few years, I can’t help but feel greater responsibility and greater urgency both. I thought, outside of climate change, that I had time to figure things out. Now I think I have no time at all.

So, in changing some of my focus, I also will be changing my writing. I started writing here as practice and a way to explore ideas, and I still want to do that, but the patient exploration of ideas is no longer where I can afford to spend the majority of my time. I need concrete, specific action that will have a direct impact on the world.

What that means for the time being is that I’ll post essays here only on Fridays, and I reserve Tuesdays for things I find productive in the Trump era. I need to balance my thought and my action, and so I’ll balance it here as well.

To start with, yesterday I attended (and nominally helped organize) a session on having hard political conversations in our communities. It’s a small step, and a work in progress. But, no matter what our politics, we’re all getting into those conversations, and it helps to think about how to have them beforehand. So for today, I’m posting the list of resources I helped compile, and which is going out to participants. Continue reading

Yes and Also…

keySimplicity is an enduringly attractive ideal. The clarification of mind and idea brings with it a singularity of focus and purpose, a drive to act, and a knowledge of what is right. To boil down a problem to its essence gives us confidence that we understand, and the ability the reason, we think, more adroitly. Nodding our heads, we proclaim that we understand—yes, now, finally, we do.

We do not.

Simplicity is a great boon when problems are complicated by our own confusion and misperception. But simplicity is a dangerous canard when the problems we face are complex, multi-faceted, and refuse to yield to silver bullets.

There is no one solution. In acknowledging that, we bring down upon ourselves a deep despair, a feeling of something so large as to be intractable, and a fear that we will never gain its measure. Yet that is the true state of things, and as we look upon destruction (that we did not stop) born of ignorance (our own), the allure of simple answers can and must be resisted.

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Pomp and Cowardice

Syria-vote-640x480The first effect of fear is to sharpen our self-preservation and to enhance our awareness of danger. Those instincts are useful, but hyperbolic—they claim the unfamiliar is more dangerous than it is, and the familiar more benign than we should reasonably presume.

The second effect of fear is that we act, but the choice of action depends on whether we use our fear as an impetus or as a caution.

There are a lot of people consumed by their fear. It’s okay to be afraid, and it’s even okay to be overwhelmed by it. But it is not okay to use your fear to justify prejudice and xenophobia. And it really is not okay to deny your unthinking fearfulness and spin it as a virtue.

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