California’s a Desert and Getting Worse

California DesertI came back home on Sunday. It took ten hours. There was a time when the trip to my sister’s took about six hours. It was just awful. A great deal of the trip was bumper to bumper. Part of it doubtless was that it was the end of the big holiday weekend. But that isn’t all. In the middle of California — where the only signs of civilization are little encampments that exist to serve I-5 — there was quite a lot of road work going on. I don’t know what it is for. Maybe they plan to run the train along it. The train itself strikes me as far too hopeful. California is dying.

For those of us on the northern coast of California, it is easy to forget that the state is pretty much a desert. As usual on the drive, we passed the turnoff for highway 14, which takes people to Lancaster and Palmdale. I know them both very well because I used to manage the IT for a real estate investment company that did all its work there. And though the names sound pleasant, they are two of the worst places on Earth. The only reason they aren’t dead last is because there is no active war going on. But that’s about the only thing you can say about them.

William Wisher wrote in the script, “EXT. ROADSIDE BURGER JOINT – HELL ON EARTH.” And location manager Steve Dawson said, “No problem! Lancaster!”

You’ve probably seen Lancaster. You definitely have if you’ve seen, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Remember the scene where they are at this roadside hamburger joint. It’s incredibly dusty. It’s probably where they got the visual idea for hell in Constantine. It’s just awful. That was shot in Lancaster. I assume that they did it because it didn’t require any art direction. William Wisher wrote in the script, “EXT. ROADSIDE BURGER JOINT – HELL ON EARTH.” And location manager Steve Dawson said, “No problem! Lancaster!”

When I was down in southern California, my sister introduced me to a very nice couple. I started the conversation by noting that California was dying. They are both very liberal, but they seemed quite disturbed by this. And skeptical. How can you be skeptical about that? I think we might be making a mistake in calling our changing climate “global warming.” That is not at all the worst of it. The bigger problem is the global drying. That’s not true everywhere. Obviously, in a warmer world, there will be more rain. It is just that the vast majority of it will be over the oceans, which is useless to us.

But the main thing is that California is going to be like the vast majority of the earth’s land area: it’s going to get drier — a lot drier. And what this trip really brought home to me is just how dry California already is. And it isn’t just that we are in the middle of a drought. (Although you have to wonder if in ten years we won’t be looking back on the good years like 2014!) The whole idea of Los Angeles is a joke. Who ever thought that was a good idea?

But I was wondering about all the building in central California. No one thinks long term, I guess. We live in a nation where next quarter’s profits are all that matters. And I do get it: we still have maintain I-5 while it’s still in use. But what I saw was more than fixing potholes. (Which they ought to be doing more of, by the way.) They are moving the whole road around. I don’t know what’s up. But if I had the money, I’d be investing in Canada and Siberia. That’s where our futures will be centered.

Pro-Muslim Rhetoric Is the Perfect Wedding to Anti-Muslim Policy

Glenn GreenwaldGlenn Greenwald wrote a very interesting article, Let’s Not Whitewash George W Bush’s Actual, Heinous Record on Muslims in the US. He accepts that Bush was indeed good regarding his rhetoric after the 9/11 attacks. He warned against the people using this as an excuse for blaming Muslims or people from the Middle East for the attacks. It is a minor thing in an absolute sense. But looking around at the Republicans who are currently running for president, it is remarkable. And no similar appeals were made by FDR after the attack on Pearl Harbor. I’m reminded of the “I Am an American” photo.

At the same time, Bush really was terrible to the Muslim community — both here and abroad. It wasn’t just a matter of all his invasions, and things like Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. He was terrible to Americans who just happened to be Muslim:

The reality is that, on US soil, he perpetrated a wide array of radical abuses aimed at Muslims in the wake of 9/11. In the weeks after the attack, more than 1,000 Muslims and Arabs were swept up by the FBI and detained without charge, often by abusing the powers allowing for detention of “material witnesses.” Thousands of Muslim immigrants were deported from the US in the months following the attack. Bush quickly and secretly implemented an illegal scheme of warrantless domestic eavesdropping aimed largely at Muslims.

Greenwald doesn’t discuss why that was. I suspect there were many aspects to it. Greenwald does touch on one: Muslims voted overwhelmingly for Bush in 2000. In fact, if Gore had received just one percentage point more of the Muslim vote in Florida, he would have won the state (and thus the presidency) even with the bad count. So part of Bush’s rhetoric was doubtless due to the wish to hang onto those votes. He didn’t succeed. Muslims voted overwhelmingly for Kerry in 2004. That was certainly a rational vote, regardless of how many mosques Bush visited.

Bush wanted to control the abuse of the American Muslim community. It certainly didn’t help the US fight any kind of “war on terror” when yahoos were out shooting up Sikh temples. In a nation that is deeply ignorant of everything that goes on outside its border, you can’t have people taking the law into their own hands. Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists — they are all “foreign” and therefore “the people who hit us.” It isn’t just crazy white supremacists who don’t know the difference.

This takes us back again to World War II. There was much effort put into distinguishing between the Chinese (our allies) and the “Japs” (our enemy). Another aspect of this is that after the Pearl Harbor attack, the FDR administration floated the idea of concentration camps before they presented the policy. They wanted to know if the people would push back against the idea. When they didn’t, the government went ahead with its plans. Since Bush’s plans were not to publicly target Muslims, it made far more sense to make nice with the Muslim community.

The reason that American Muslims voted so strongly with Kerry in 2004 was the Patriot Act. There was nothing in it that was specific to Muslims. But it was and still is used that way. And it is much more broad than that. Does the FBI commonly find unstable white Christians, talk them into participating in a terrorist attack, and then arrest them? No. It’s just Muslims. The US government has it out for Muslims.

I don’t know if Bush’s nice rhetoric then or Obama’s nice rhetoric now is genuine, or just a way to convince non-Muslims that the government isn’t being unfair. But regardless, that is the kind of rhetoric that would be most useful to go along with the anti-Muslim policies that have been standard for the last 14 years.

Morning Music: Psycho

Almost BlueWhen I was in graduate school, a fellow student loaned me a copy of Almost Blue. I had avoided it because it was just an album of covers — and country covers at that. But I was blown away with how much I liked it. Some time later, I bought a re-issue of the album, that contained a whole bunch more songs. And there at number 18 was Costello’s version of Leon Payne’s song “Psycho.”

It is a perfect song. It tells a very compelling and complete story while maintaining the emotional core that all songs should have. It also has perhaps the best payoff line of any song I can think of. It reinforces the theme of the song while re-framing the plot. The interesting thing is that I have found no one covering the tune before Costello. He seems to have been alone in realizing what a great tune it is.

There is a live version (but I can’t embed it). So here is the album cut:

Anniversary Post: Rosa Parks

Rosa ParksIt was 60 years ago that Rosa Parks effectively started the modern Civil Rights Movement by refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Parks was not the first person to do this. Claudette Colvin had done the same thing in March of that year. But when it was discovered that she was 15 years old, pregnant, and unmarried, civil rights leaders decided not to use her as a test case. As we know today from incidents like the murder of Trayvon Martin, the first thing the power elite does is dig into the victim’s background. Regardless, Parks was hugely important in the Civil Rights Movement.

I did learn something interesting today. She was not originally sitting in a “white” seat. The bus became over-crowed, and so the driver simply assigned four “colored” seats to “white.” Parks was sitting in one of those four seats. She was arrested for violating a local segregation law, but she hadn’t actually broken it, given that she wasn’t sitting in a “white” seat.

What I find fascinating about this is how it shows what a sham segregation and “separate but equal” laws were. Here was a bug with seats for whites and blacks. But the moment there wasn’t enough seats for whites, the bus driver just took seats from the blacks. This couldn’t even be used as satire because it is too extreme. You might as well say, “Separate but equal”: 36 seats for whites and 0 seats for blacks!

It’s interesting to see that the bus is in the Henry Ford Museum. And that there are plaques and monuments to the event. But some (Most!) people will always be behind the curve. It doesn’t matter what it is. We love our old civil rights heroes (especially after they’re dead), but we hate our new civil rights heroes. We throw them in jail and applaud ourselves for our righteousness. But given enough time, we change our beliefs and claim we always thought that way. I don’t place myself above anyone else in this way. But a little self-recognition would be nice.