Death of the Civil Rights Movement?

Several people emailed us last spring when Eddie Glaude and Ronald Sullivan wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post arguing that the civil rights movement was moribund:

The civil rights old guard, represented by the board, seems stuck in a 1960s mind-set that expects a particular form of response from black America -- pushing for government action to remedy the effects of discrimination. This type of response was popular, successful and necessary during the civil rights movement and, in some cases, remains a powerful form of redress.

The successes and failures of the civil rights movement, however, fundamentally changed the country's racial landscape. Of course racial discrimination remains. But we have entered what has been called a post-civil-rights age that requires an array of strategies to address the complex problems many African Americans face. . .

Indeed, many current civil rights leaders fetishize the form of dissent most associated with the civil rights movement. They confuse principle with tactics. They behave as though marching and petitioning the government for redress of grievances is the only principled response to the maldistribution of burdens and benefits in our democracy. And they bristle at other forms of dissent, tactics designed to reach the shared goal of equality under law for all Americans. For many, it is either the old way or no way at all. . .

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Solar Dreams

The Times' Andrew Revkin offered an excellent overview of the problem with solar last month on his blog. It can basically be summed up in four words: too expensive for China.

"We're not going to get people in China to do it, we're not going to get people in India to do it, if it costs 10 percent more than the energy they now pay for," Dr. [Nathan] Lewis [of Caltech] said. "Right now it costs 50 times more."

Just to avert a small wedge, not even one-tenth, of the anticipated growth in coal burning through 2050 would require perhaps 200 of the "Million Solar Roof" initiatives (that's the moniker for California's highly-publicized effort).

Experts still largely agree that scale remains the hurdle to surmount for solar power, for expanded nuclear power, for use of coal without emissions -- basically for any energy technology option other than "business as usual," in a world heading toward 9 billion people who aspire to a reasonable quality of life.

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Albert Ellis, 1913 - 2007

In Break Through we touch lightly on the history of cognitive therapy, and give credit for its birth to largely to Aaron Beck. After I talked to Dad about it he pointed out that really it was created by both Beck and Albert Ellis, who died last week at the age of 93. The Times today listed some great Ellis quotes which it elegantly laid out like aphorisms from Nietzsche, an obvious influence.

The second type of screwball thinking is called absolutist thinking, another 10-dollar term. . . Some of us walk around all day long getting on our own cases: "I've got to do this. I've got to do that. I should have said this to that person. I need to be more that. I ought to be more organized. I should be more attractive, intelligent, witty, popular and personable. I ought to be more assertive. I need to be less aggressive. I've got to speak up more. I really need to keep my mouth shut." ... Some of us "should on ourselves" all day long!

Much of Ellis's insights were taken up wholescale by the self-help movement, and so it's easy to overlook the revolutionary quality of his willful psychology. Ellis insists, demands, that you "take hold of your life," an idea emphasized by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche in the 19th Century, and re-embraced by mid-20th Century existentialists. Like them he writes with a bombast and brevity against dogmatism.

But Ellis gave existentialism a uniquely American populist style, tapping into the American will to power -- one's personal power to alter one's future no matter how horrible one's past had been, and redefining what is "rational" and "irrational" according to whether it advances your health.

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Enough with Chariots of Fire nostalgia

Thankfully somebody is starting to talk some sense against all of those doping is destroying cycling! people (read: sports columnists), who seem to have a memory that stretches back half a decade, max.

Jere Longman writes in the Times

While the world's most famous bicycle race is now under threat, only the most naive have considered cycling to be clean. It seems inhuman to ask athletes to pedal their bikes at great speed some 2,200 miles in three weeks, often up tortuous mountain passes, without chemical assistance.

Fausto Coppi of Italy, who won the Tour in 1949 and 1952, was once asked if he ever fueled himself with amphetamines.

"Only when necessary," he said.

How often was that?

"Most of the time," Coppi replied.

Jacques Anquetil of France, a five-time winner, once said with sarcasm, "Do they expect us to ride the Tour on Perrier water?"

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Our Wet Drought

I've been teasing friends and family that global warming has done wonders for northern California. The summer has been sunny and hot (for northern California). Little rain. Gorgeous Mediterranean meals at 6 pm after work. Plums, blackberries, peaches, and tomatoes -- all ripe for the picking and eating.

Alas, nobody has hesitated to remind me that dry days are upon us, and Mike Madison writes in today's Sunday Times that we should remember that the first year of the drought is always lovely:

[T]he first year of a drought is a gift to the farmer. Our apricot trees flowered under clear skies, the bees did their job, and in June we harvested a record crop. I sold fresh apricots, I dried apricots, and my wife put up 800 jars of apricot jam: straight apricot, apricot with lime, apricot with saffron. The other crops in the district -- olives, walnuts, almonds, plums -- are on the same track, heading for a record harvest.

But there is a dark side to this. If the first year of a drought is a gift, the second year is a worry, and the third year is a crisis. That crisis has a twist to it. In the third year, the lakes and reservoirs are empty, and not only is water in short supply, but so is electricity, for with empty reservoirs there is no flowing water to turn the hydroelectric turbines. We get power failures that frustrate irrigation and every other sort of industry. The farmers age a lot in those years.

Of course, as Madison notes, we don't know if this is the first drought year of many to come or not. Such is weather: it is the last thing we humans seem to control on earth, save ourselves.

A close friend has kept saying to me, "Why don't we have gray water systems? Everyone in Germany does!"

Aside from pointing out that Germany is ahead of us on everything cool, not just gray water systems, I didn't have an answer. But her point was spot-on: why isn't there a concerted effort to conserve all this amazing water we have rather than draining down our reservoirs?

I think about our house times 35 million other Californians. We use clean drinking flush our toilets and water our lawns. Why not recycle the water from our showers, laundry, and dishwashers?

Conservation is, I'm sure, only part of it. But some of these things seem so easy -- a bit more up-front labor and investment when building homes -- it's just amazing we don't do them.

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Individualism, the Herd, and the New Politics

Teeny bopping disco queen

she barely understands

her dreams of bellybutton rings

and other kinds of strange things

symbolic of change

but the thing that is strange

is that the changes occurred

now she's just a part of the herd.

-- Jack Johnson, "Rodeo Clowns,"
On and On, all rights reserved, 2003

"Rodeo Clowns" was the first Jack Johnson song I ever heard. It was on Boulder's KBCO annual 2002 or 2003 mix, given to me by my step-brother Mark. I thought of it the other night when Ted commented on how what he really liked about Jack's music was the syncopation.

When we were writing Break Through I wanted to use the word "herd" and Ted, soberly, didn't allow it. In the world of progressive politics, its use would have no doubt been scoffed at by critics and bloggers alike. I recognize its cliche quality but like it nonetheless. It sets individuality as the norm, which strikes me as almost always a good thing.

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When Pat Buchanan’s Right, He’s Right

Scary to admit it, but sometimes Pat Buchanan just nails it:

Should not the United States be in constant contact with those we see as enemies, to prevent irreconcilable differences from leading us into war? Here, Obama's instincts are not wrong.

During World War II and the Cold War, FDR and Harry Truman met with Josef Stalin. Ike invited the "Butcher of Budapest" for a 10-day tour of the United States and tete-a-tete at Camp David. JFK met Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna -- after he declared, "We will bury you." Richard Nixon went to China and toasted the tyrant responsible for the deaths of thousands of GIs in Korea and greatest mass murderer of the last century, Mao Zedong.

None of the five with whom Obama said he would meet is in the same league with these monsters of the 20th century.

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What "Sicko" Misunderstands About Health Care

Jointly authored with Ted Nordhaus, and drawing on research conducted by American Environics and Lake Research Partners for the Herndon Alliance

Anyone who remembers how the last Democratic effort on health care went down in flames -- dividing the party and leading to the Republican takeover of the Congress in 1994 -- remembers the infamous "Harry and Louise" attack ad. The ad was nothing fancy -- just a typical middle class couple discussing the Clinton health care reform legislation. What fewer people remember is why the ad worked.

The ad worked because it spoke, directly and in a very intimate way, to the things that Americans worry about when they consider changes to the health care system: what the changes will cost them and how the changes will affect their own health care and choices.

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Your Grandma on Global Warming

Peter Teague and Jeff Navin wrote a very good piece about energy politics for the American Prospect. They lead with a punch:

The camera pans in on a scene in a simple American bedroom. An elderly woman sits on the bed, getting dressed to venture out into the cold. She puts on an old coat, over the top of another coat, and then a scarf and hat. Just when we think she's going to get up, she turns off the lamp, lies down, and pulls the covers up.

Fade to black.

Imagine this 30-second ad, narrated by a familiar-sounding voice, describing the higher electricity bills and hardship millions of Americans will face if Congress votes to take action on climate change. Remember how quickly the insurance industry overcame widespread public support for health care reform and destroyed the Clinton plan for universal coverage? Meet the Harry and Louise of global warming.

This is not a "message problem" - this is a conceptual problem that cuts to the heart of the global warming challenge.

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