Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday Reading

Burning Down The House — Joan Walsh in The Nation on what Mr. Boehner and Mr. McCarthy hath wrought.

The chaotic House GOP leadership battle—if it can be called a battle, when virtually no one wants to be leader—is normally blamed on fractious right-wing extremists in the so-called “Freedom Caucus.” But when House Speaker John Boehner and his would-have-been successor Kevin McCarthy wonder who’s to blame for their troubles, they should start by looking in the mirror.

Since Boehner came to power in 2011, his leadership team has encouraged the far right in its crusade against government, governing, and compromise. They’ve fostered the extremists’ delusions that they can do things they simply can’t, with a Democrat in the White House—repeal Obamacare, defund Planned Parenthood, hold the debt ceiling hostage to force huge budget cuts.

Boehner and McCarthy (and before him Eric Cantor, who was defeated by a far-right primary challenger last year) can do the math: time and again they turned to Democrats to pass measures to keep the government open and avoid disaster, but only after they tried and failed to mollify the far right. This only encouraged the “Freedom Caucus” members in their delusions of power—and enraged them that they were being kept from wielding it.

There’s a further irony in the fact that, back in 2010, McCarthy and Cantor (along with House Budget Committee Chair and 2012 vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan) recruited a lot of the folks tormenting them now. A photo of the three “Young Guns” made the rounds on Twitter on Thursday, with the young men dressed in pleated slacks that looked like hand-me-downs from Dad. Now two of the Young Guns have been defeated, and the third, Ryan, is being begged to step in as Speaker and save the party.

Ryan doesn’t want the job either—though as I write, there’s reporting that he may bow to pressure from Boehner, McCarthy, and others and take the job. But what happens then? The minute he does that, the guns of the right, young and old, will be aimed at him. Ryan, the man behind the cruel Ryan budget that would slash programs for the poor and voucherize Medicare; who wants an abortion ban with no rape exception, won’t be far-right enough for the crazies—at least once he stepped in as Speaker. By definition, if he does it, he’s doing the establishment’s bidding. He’ll be tainted by reports of the two Boehner phone calls to lure him; by McCarthy himself saying Ryan should do it; by the whole roster of Republicans who said he’d save the party.

The Republican base doesn’t want to save the party. They want to burn it down.

Killing The Coral — Karl Mathiesen in Mother Jones reports on the imminent death of a vast amount of coral reefs.

Scientists have confirmed the third-ever global bleaching of coral reefs is under way and warned it could see the biggest coral die-off in history.

Since 2014, a massive underwater heat wave, driven by climate change, has caused corals to lose their brilliance and die in every ocean. By the end of this year 38 percent of the world’s reefs will have been affected. About 5 percent will have died forever.

But with a very strong El Niño driving record global temperatures and a huge patch of hot water, known as “the Blob,” hanging obstinately in the north-western Pacific, things look far worse again for 2016.

For coral scientists such as Dr. Mark Eakin, the coordinator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Watch program, this is the cataclysm that has been feared since the first global bleaching occurred in 1998.

“The fact that 2016’s bleaching will be added on top of the bleaching that has occurred since June 2014 makes me really worried about what the cumulative impact may be. It very well may be the worst period of coral bleaching we’ve seen,” he told the Guardian.

The only two previous such global events were in 1998 and 2010, when every major ocean basin experienced bleaching.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia, said the ocean was now primed for “the worst coral bleaching event in history.”

“The development of conditions in the Pacific looks exactly like what happened in 1997. And of course following 1997 we had this extremely warm year, with damage occurring in 50 countries at least and 16 percent of corals dying by the end of it,” he said. “Many of us think this will exceed the damage that was done in 1998.”

After widespread devastation was confirmed in the Caribbean this month, a worldwide consortium of coral scientists joined on Thursday to somberly announce the third-ever global bleaching event—and warn of a tenuous future for the precious habitat unless sharp cuts were made to carbon emissions.

Since the early 1980s the world has lost roughly half of its coral reefs. Hoegh-Guldberg said the current event was directly in line with predictions he made in 1999 that continued global temperature rise would lead to the complete loss of coral reefs by the middle of this century.

“It’s certainly on that road to a point about 2030 when every year is a bleaching year…So unfortunately I got it right,” he said.

Why We Loved That Comic Strip — Sarah Boxer in The Atlantic on the history of Peanuts.

Peanuts was deceptive. It looked like kid stuff, but it wasn’t. The strip’s cozy suburban conviviality, its warm fuzziness, actually conveyed some uncomfortable truths about the loneliness of social existence. The characters, though funny, could stir up shockingly heated arguments over how to survive and still be a decent human being in a bitter world. Who was better at it—Charlie Brown or Snoopy?

The time is ripe to see what was really happening on the pages of Peanuts during all those years. Since 2004, the comics publisher Fantagraphics has been issuing The Complete Peanuts, both Sunday and daily strips, in books that each cover two years and include an appreciation from a notable fan. (The 25-volume series will be completed next year.) To read them straight through, alongside David Michaelis’s trenchant 2007 biography, Schulz and Peanuts, is to watch the characters evolve from undifferentiated little cusses into great social types.

In the stone age of Peanuts—when only seven newspapers carried the strip, when Snoopy was still an itinerant four-legged creature with no owner or doghouse, when Lucy and Linus had yet to be born—Peanuts was surprisingly dark. The first strip, published on October 2, 1950, shows two children, a boy and a girl, sitting on the sidewalk. The boy, Shermy, says, “Well! Here comes ol’ Charlie Brown! Good ol’ Charlie Brown … Yes, sir! Good ol’ Charlie Brown.” When Charlie Brown is out of sight, Shermy adds, “How I hate him!” In the second Peanuts strip the girl, Patty, walks alone, chanting, “Little girls are made of sugar and spice … and everything nice.” As Charlie Brown comes into view, she slugs him and says, “That’s what little girls are made of!”

Although key characters were missing or quite different from what they came to be, the Hobbesian ideas about society that made PeanutsPeanuts were already evident: People, especially children, are selfish and cruel to one another; social life is perpetual conflict; solitude is the only peaceful harbor; one’s deepest wishes will invariably be derailed and one’s comforts whisked away; and an unbridgeable gulf yawns between one’s fantasies about oneself and what others see. These bleak themes, which went against the tide of the go-go 1950s, floated freely on the pages of Peanuts at first, landing lightly on one kid or another until slowly each theme came to be embedded in a certain individual—particularly Lucy, Schroeder, Charlie Brown, Linus, and Snoopy.

Doonesbury — Daydream believer.