Last month I visited Providence, Rhode Island, getting to know the city. I plan to establish a summer home here next spring. I’ll keep my permanent residence in Austin, but I’ve had it with Texas summers.
I’m a climate crisis refugee. I was born and raised in Texas, and I’ve always been glad of my heat tolerance. I’m comfortable up to 95 degrees. But now we have two months of the year when the mercury shoots up past 100. I’m tired of hearing weather casters tell me not to go outside in the afternoon.
I’m not the first climate migrant. People fleeing drought and flood have been on the move for a generation. It’s global, but it has been mostly a third world movement. Now the first world is beginning to feel it.
It’s possible to ignore the rising heat if you live in air conditioned spaces. But you have to be content to give up summer afternoons. I’m not.
Ironically, that air conditioning that shelters us from the heat outside makes the heat outside worse. The air conditioners use power from plants that exhaust greenhouse gases. And the air conditioners themselves pump heat out to the air. It’s a positive feedback loop. The hotter the environment, the more we use the air conditioner. The more we use the air conditioner, the hotter the environment.
I’m moving away from that loop. Of course, there’s no real escape. There’s another effect. Providence is in the hurricane zone. And with the climate crisis, hurricanes are growing stronger and more numerous.
I took a riverboat tour on the Providence River. The captain told tales of hurricanes past, and he pointed to a gated flood barrier high enough to keep out the flood surge of the worst hurricane on record. But the storms are growing stronger. It’s only a matter of time until a storm surge overwhelms that sea wall. And then another. Then there will be a new wave of climate migrants. More people on the move.
But for now, Providence is a great little city.
(Photos by Robin Cravey unless otherwise noted).
Feature image above: Downtown Providence. Photo by Jeffee Palmer. The city seen from the river.
Donald Trump, despicable demagogue, has been defeated. This is the victory of a lifetime for Joe Biden. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory for Democrats.
Trump is two steps down from Richard Nixon. William F. Buckley gave an apt defense of Nixon. When someone called Nixon a tenth-rate politician, Buckley retorted that Nixon may have been a tenth-rate man, but he was a first-rate politician. Trump is a tenth-rate man and a third-rate politician. His one talent is fulminating.
His talent for fulminating was enough to make him president of the United States, and that is a fearsome revelation of the state of the States. A substantial minority of citizens is ready to burn the country down. And they are waiting for a man with a torch.
Why? Who are they? They are poor, uneducated, and asocial. They live in the big empty spaces of our country, where they eke out a living and glare enviously at the wealth of city-dwellers. When I write that they are willing to burn the country down, I mean they are willing to burn the cities down. Trump’s fulminations are a cocktail for them.
Biden won by soothing the fears of the conservatives. That wasn’t the only way to win, but that’s the way he won. As the Democrats always do, Biden made the calculation that the left would support him because where else are they going to go? And as they always do, centrist Democrats are now busy demanding that the left shut up and not upset the right.
If the nihilism of the right is a harsh kind of insanity, the appeasement of the center is a soft kind. It’s the insanity of doing the same thing and expecting a different result. It’s Mike Dukakis thanking George Bush* for not using the “L” word.
The centrists achieved a tepid victory. Considering the mortal danger we are in, the Democrats made a pitiful showing. They won’t have the strength to do much. How is it that when the Republicans win power, they can do tremendous damage, but when the Democrats win, they can barely manage to do some deferred maintenance?
A more perfect union: step by step. Republicans worked for two generations to take control of the courts. Democrats can take control of the House and the presidency in just one generation. And we can rein in the Supreme Court.
First, expand the House. It hasn’t been done in four generations. Even setting aside the improved representation, this solves several problems. It reduces gerrymandering. It changes the balance of the electoral college. It changes the number of state delegations controlled by each party. It shifts representation toward the cities, where the people are.
Second, expand the Supreme Court. It hasn’t been done in six generations. Also, limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. For example, take away the authority to invalidate acts of Congress. Also, rotate the membership on the Supreme Court among all the appellate judges.
The steps outlined above can be taken with simple acts of Congress. Of course, that requires that Democrats have full control of both the House and the Senate as well as the Presidency. What if we don’t win the two Georgia Senate seats? Below are two steps that might get through a divided Congress.
Third, develop the Dakotas. Three generations ago FDR flew over the South and saw its backwardness. He took the initiative to develop it. Now, three generations later, that investment is paying off. Developing the Dakotas would be the same investment, and because those states are basically empty, the investment required would be smaller and would pay off sooner.
Several developments can draw educated and diverse citizens to the Dakotas. First, establish a major city of at least half a million residents in each state. Make some land grants. Locate a substantial Federal government center there. Also, create an industrial center that would attract major employers like Amazon or Google or Apple. This would bring in educated residents who could have a major impact on the culture of the state. A large center for environmental stewardship of public lands could be a liberalizing influence. These moves would immediately pay dividends by providing employment and hope to the region.
Fourth, expand federalism. Renovate interstate compacts and floor pre-emption. Provide for a comprehensive system of interstate compacts that can handle issues on a regional level that don’t command a majority on the national level. With floor preemption, the federal government sets minimum standards, and the states, or the interstate compacts, set higher standards. This is already done in a hodgepodge fashion. Rationalize it.
Beware of nullification. Nullification is the theory that a state doesn’t have to follow an act of Congress that it believes is unconstitutional. It was favored by Jefferson until he was elected president. Then it was disgraced by John C. Calhoun, who used it to protect slavery. The right has used nullification to restrict abortion. The current very successful movement to legalize marijuana is basically an exercise of nullification. Regardless of federal law, the states are legalizing it. This is dynamite. Handle with care.
Finally, expand the Senate. This one requires an amendment to the Constitution. This is the long game. It can be incubated in the interstate compacts. Provide that every state will receive one senator for every two (or three) members of the House. Sure, keep the minimum of two senators per state. This will complete the democratization of our government.
Trump will leave fulminating against our democracy. It is up to us to choose whether we will simply stand pat on eroding ground or fix the foundation.
I had to correct this, after I remembered that Dukakis did not run against Reagan. So, was it Mondale who said it to Reagan, or Dukakis who said it to Bush?
These days, everybody who’s nobody wants to go viral. Going viral is one way a nobody can become a somebody. Then you can tell your name the livelong day to your admiring blog.
So, you want your viral moment. But then, you want another. You don’t want to be a one- hit wonder. And then, people will ask, How big is your blog?
How big is your blog? A thousand hits (not viral). A million hits? (yes, viral) A billion hits? (pandemic!)
So, if you want to go viral, I’ll tell you how I do it. Just email this blog to everyone in your address book. Also, post it on Facebook and tag all your friends. Check back next month to see if I’m viral. If yes, try this. If no, thanks for playing.
See, there’s a validation mechanism built into this con. Way better than a chain letter. How can you lose?
On a day when there’s water in Barton Creek, it’s a running oasis refreshing visitors. It’s a source of joy and a scene of friendship. And Barton Springs is our city’s main attraction in the world. But the creek and the springs have many facets. No savage clans ever fought harder over a source of water than the people of Austin have fought outsiders and each other over Barton Creek and Barton Springs. And preserving those waters has been a labor of love for many.
So the creek and the springs have touched many lives in many ways. They have left sweet dreams and memories, but also scars and bitterness. It’s a big story. And Karen Kocher has done much to tell that story, or those stories.
Karen’s latest work, the Barton Creek Time Stream, is a great attraction that you won’t see at Barton Springs this summer, thanks to the pandemic. But, you can see it in a virtual tour on September 10 at 6:30 pm.
Early this year, Karen invited folks to write something for the exhibit. I wrote about some of my experiences with the creek and the springs, and she whipped me through several rewrites until she was happy with it. She gave me permission to post it here.
My essay comes in three parts. First is a short history of my involvement with the springs. It’s not so short. Second is a short paean to the dynamic geology of the aquifer, the creek, and the springs. Third is a tutorial in how, when the creekflow is good, you can climb the creekbed horizontally.
All this might start you thinking about getting involved with the creek and the springs yourself. You ought to. It’s fun, and there’s a lot to do.
Today, I’m going to replace the hard drive in my new Macintosh LC III. It’s new because I just bought it, but it was made in about 1993. That was a time when you could get under the hood of the Mac and install upgrades, make repairs, or just tinker.
I don’t keep old Macs as museum pieces. I keep them as working machines. I bought my first Mac in 1985, and I like to have a chain linking me back to that first Mac Plus. I find that if I have on hand a Mac released about every ten years, I can access all the files in my archives and pass documents forward and backward in time.
Somehow, I let a gap open up between the 80s and the 00s. I’ve owned and used at least a hundred Macs over time, but I let go of all the ones from the 90s. That left my Mac Plus stranded back there in the 80s with no link to the 00s.
What are the important links between generations of Macs? Operating systems are probably the most important links. They change drastically over 20 years. So, a file created on a computer from 20 years ago is probably not going to be readable on a new computer today. Ports are also important links. These are the sockets on the back where you plug in keyboards and other input devices, external hard drives, network connections. Nothing on the market today can plug into my old Mac Plus.
I’m pretty excited about this LC III. It’s sort of flat and square, and in it’s time it was nicknamed the pizza box. As I’ve accumulated computers, I’ve come to appreciate a shape easily stored. The Mac mini is the epitome of that value.
Speaking of ports, it requires an adapter, but this LC III can display on an LCD monitor that can also display from a new Mac. So display technology has been pretty stable for about 30 years. In fact, I have the LC III plugged into the same monitor that my 2007 Mac mini is plugged into.
As I said, back in the early days, it was possible to open up the Mac, take a look around, and do things. So let’s get started. Unplug all the cables. Don’t forget to wear your groundwire.
At the back of the topcase are two big tabs. Lift them up and tilt the lid forward. As it pivots forward, just remove it and set it aside. What a dream!
Right up at the front, on the left, is the hard drive. It’s an 80 megabyte drive. Yes, you read that right. I’m replacing it with a 125 MB drive— a real monster!
At the back of the drive is a ribbon cable and a four-wire connector. Carefully pull those out. Little plastic tabs hold the drive in place. Gently pull those away from the drive and lift it up. You’re halfway there! Set aside the old drive.
You’re not quite done with the old drive, because you need the drive bracket. That’s the little cage of sheet metal that clips into the plastic tabs so snugly. Unscrew the bracket from the old drive and screw it onto the new drive.
Now you have the new drive securely in its bracket. Go ahead and push in the long head of the ribbon cable and the plastic plug of the four-wire connector.
You can just slide the drive and its bracket down between the tabs until it clicks into place. It’s installed.
Put the lid back on. Tilt it toward you and carefully slide the front facade up against the front of the computer. Now tilt it down until the two tabs at the back snap into place at the back of the computer. Plug in all the cables.
Now for the moment of truth. Switch on the Mac and wait to see if it boots up. There’s the startup ding. There’s the Welcome to Macintosh splash screen. Success!
We have almost doubled the storage capacity of our Mac in only a few minutes and with no cussin at all.
It’s good to have an emergency meal in stock. Like a lot of Austinites, I was slammed by the pollen in the air one weekend. I had to eat, but there were no leftovers in the fridge.
I operate on a very narrow grocery window. I try not to buy more groceries than I can eat in the next three days. That saves me from throwing out a lot of stale food.
I could barely drag myself around the pad, let alone go out for groceries. I contemplated the gloomy prospect of ordering food for delivery. Then, I remembered my emergency meal.
I opened the cabinet, and there it was, a can of pinto beans and a can of diced tomatoes! I was saved. This is a meal that you can cook, eat, and clean up after in less than an hour.
First, start heating the skillet. A cast-iron skillet with congealed bacon grease from breakfast is perfect. Put it on a medium burner.
Second, chop garlic, onion, and (red) bell pepper. Scrape the ingredients into the hot grease one at a time, about a minute apart.
Third, pour in the can of beans. A word about bean juice: it’s precious! Some people will tell you to drain your beans. That’s crazy. Pour it all in.
Fourth, heat it through. Shake on the spices. Salt frugally, but apply a nice dusting of cumin and chili powder over the entire surface. After a few minutes, stir it. By now, the juice should be bubbling.
Fifth, now we’re ready for the tomatoes, but ask yourself how much more time you want to take with this. If you have time, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for a little while. If you’re in a hurry, go ahead and pour in the diced tomatoes and stir until the bubbling starts again. Then serve.
This one pan meal is great by itself, but it goes really well with cornbread or rice. Squash or greens also make a nice side dish.
Garnish with a jalapeño. And when I say a jalapeño, I mean a whole jalapeño, from a can, not nacho slices from a jar. It is scandalous that there are several reputable grocery stores in Austin that do not sell whole jalapeños. At least HEB remains true.
Okay, meal’s over. You probably have enough left over for another day. It’s a matter of minutes to wash the skillet with hot water and a stiff brush.
I read Circe, by Madeline Miller. It’s good. I also read Miller’s previous book, Song of Achilles. It’s good, too.
I found both books browsing in Bookpeople. I was studying the tables of new and popular books when I found them. I had just finished rereading the Odyssey, so Song of Achillescaught my eye. I picked it up, read the back cover copy, and put it back down. Then, I saw Circe. Hmm. I picked it up and read the back cover. Okay. I held onto it. It took me several minutes to find Song of Achilles again, but I did. I bought them both.
These are the only two novels Miller has written so far. I don’t know if she is going to keep mining this vein of Greek mythology. I hope so.
Just to review, Greek mythology was created or at least told by the oral poets of ancient Greece beginning about 3,800 years ago, during the Bronze Age. The Greek poet Homer wrote the Iliadabout the Trojan War, which was said to occur about 3200 years ago. Achilles was a hero of the Iliad. Homer wrote the Odyssey, about the heroic voyages of Odysseus after the war. Circe was a goddess who played a role in the Odyssey.
My eye fell on the Odysseylate one night when I was perusing my bookshelves for something to read. It was right next to the Iliad. I don’t think I’ve read either one since my twenties. I’ve kept them all these years, just for that night.
To be a good student, I should have picked up the Iliad first, since it comes first in the story. But, I really didn’t want to read a war story. I wanted to read the Odyssey,the story about a worthy man buffeted by the gods and the elements and weak companions, true to his journey, determined to reach his goal. That’s sort of how I’m feeling, these days.
It’s a fantastic adventure story. It begins at the end of the Trojan War, with the victorious Greeks making sail for home. Odysseus has already been away from home for ten years fighting that war. Because he has angered certain of the gods, he is doomed to wander for another ten years on the wine-dark sea, buffeted by tempests and emboldened by rosy-fingered dawns. He encounters incredible monsters, seductive temptresses, mortal dangers, and sumptuous banquets.
Circe is a goddess and a sorceress, living on an island in the wine-dark sea. Odysseus lands his craft on the shore and sends his crewmembers to scout the land. They offend Circe, who turns them all into pigs and corrals them. Soon after Odysseus comes to her house. He beguiles her, and she resolves to keep him as the object of her love. She keeps him for a year, and at last sets him free to resume his voyages.
Just as Circe is only one episode in the story of Odysseus, Odysseus is only one episode in the story of Circe. She was a shy child who adored her father, Helios. She grew up knowing the rivalry between the Titans, her kin, and the Olympians, who arose to dominate the Titans. She loved a mortal and was betrayed. She learned the magic in herbs, and learned the spells cast by words of power. For disobedience, her father exiled her to solitude on an island.
Her solitude was often interrupted by Hermes the messenger, and by voyagers who found their way to her shore. It was an assault by sailors that prompted her to begin casting the spell to turn them to pigs. So the centuries passed.
Then Odysseus came, and she held him, and she let him go. Then she found love. She freed herself from exile and began life anew.
These ancient texts carry fundamental meanings, or so we believe. For comparison, the Mahabharata, containing the Bhagavad Gita, is about 2800 years old. The Torah, comprising the earliest books of the Bible, is about 2600 years old.
In Circe, Miller does a good job of relating this ancient text to the present day. Her prose is excellent, and her storytelling is rich and believable. We believe in Circe from the first sentence to the last. What is her story? She grows up as a meek girl among powerful beings, yet she contains an inner strength. Those around her disrespect her, and for her inner strength she is exiled. In exile, she grows into her own power, and finally, she finds what life means to her. She finds real happiness.
You’re probably wondering how things are going with the file rollover. Well, pretty good, I’d say. The file box is stashed back in the storage closet. Fresh new hanging folders are ready for this year’s files. And my writing table is clear again. There is still a small basket of hard-to-classify papers awaiting future action. But, all in all, I’d say the paper file rollover is a success.
As expected, going through the files brought back memories. Some made me smile, and some made me melancholy.
I haven’t started yet on the digital file rollover. You wouldn’t think so, but for some reason, that’s always harder. I’ll let you know.
What was Andrew McCabe thinking? He went on CBS “60 Minutes” and said that when he was acting FBI director he discussed with the deputy attorney general the option of removing Trump from office. Did he think there wouldn’t be consequences?
He did know it’s not a felony to say ‘no comment’ to a newscaster, didn’t he? Does he think just because he’s been fired nothing matters any more? He says he wanted to protect the Mueller investigation. I have a really hard time understanding how his interview did that.
I understand why he wondered if Trump should be removed from office. Many people do. But when you’re a high government official, that’s something you reveal when the danger is over, not when the suspect is still holding the detonator.
What a beautiful day! It’s a day when everything seems possible. We are now about one month before the spring equinox, but spring came early. And that’s frightening.
I woke up at 5, dropped the top on the red roadster, and zipped down to the 24 Diner. It’s a favorite breakfast spot. I unfolded the Timesand read while I ate. When I was walking the Town Lake Trail every Sunday, I ate breakfast at the Diner every Sunday. That was when I was writing Benchmarks (Year of Sundays). I finished my coffee and left the Diner.
I reached the trail in the predawn light. I started walking west, and made it to Lou Neff Point just at the critical moment. There were already a couple of sunrise lovers there before me. I watched as the golden torch rose, sent bright rays careening through downtown towers, smeared syrupy light down the lake, and spread color across the sky. Inspiring.
I kept walking west. On the Crenshaw Bridge I did a little more sungazing, then crossed to the north side and headed east. There was a marathon going on. Good for them. I saw an old friend. (Why didn’t I take a picture?) The air warmed up, and I took off my jacket. At the Pfluger Bridge I walked up to the street and the red roadster.
At home, I opened the blinds and opened the windows. Let the spring day in! Then, I clicked up Dvorák’s New World Symphonyand pushed the slider to loud. I have a lot to do today, and Dvorák always cranks up my energy.
I looked at the Timesfor another minute. The lead story in Sunday Review is “Time to Panic.” Subhead is “The planet is getting warmer in catastrophic ways. And fear may be the only thing that saves us.” Well, finally, someone said it.
Time to panic! That deserves an exclamation point. We’re barreling downhill toward a cliff, picking up speed every minute. Hit the damn brakes!
Most of us know the threat. The planet is heating up at an alarming rate. Extremes of weather are rampaging around the world, leaving paths of death and destruction. The polar ice caps are melting. Sea level is rising.
Most of us know the cause. Our production of greenhouse gases is trapping heat that should be escaping into space.
But most of us can’t focus on the enormity of it. The threat has now become immediate. We’re already past the point of no return, if you were thinking of that world that the boomers were born into. We’re past the point of no return if you were thinking of that world that the gen exers were born into. We’re about to lose forever the world we’re in now.
“The collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon,” David Attenborough said. Think about that. What world are we heading for? Maybe the one of the Permian, about 250 million years ago. And do you think 7.7 billion people can survive in that world? No.
Is this the time for everyone to become a survivalist? Hardly. Is it the time for everyone to become a conservationist? Well, sure. But personal conservation is not going to turn this around.
We must hammer our governments into tools to fight climate change. This is the time for governments around the world to take dramatic action. This is the time for individuals and societies to be afraid of the real disaster looming, to panic, to demand action.
Well, the symphony has finished, and this early spring day is balmy. I have other things to do. Enjoy the day, but don’t forget to be afraid.