29 March 2008

It’s Not Getting Any Colder

You bought a hybrid. That's swell. Now how about we all get down to business?

We've made more political progress on environmental issues this year than in the previous 20. Al Gore won the Nobel. The hipster band Guster is on board.

But it's still a crisis. Global warming is the biggest thing we've ever done to the earth, and the news from science is getting worse at least as fast as the news from politics is improving. Dealing with it is going to take more than getting your tail in a Prius—it will even take more than getting the respective tails of Alicia Silverstone, Dr. Andrew Weil, Billy Crystal, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Donny Osmond, Ed Begley, Harrison Ford, Kevin Bacon, Kirk Douglas, Dr. Oliver Sacks, and Robin Williams into Priuses.

In fact, if you want to be realistic—which in my experience increases your chances of being right—the only question is what kind of a crisis we're talking about: the nasty kind you get through or the nasty kind you don't get through.

The first kind—bad but bearable—can seem impossible when contemplated from a distance. Like divorce: impossible enough that people do all they can to avoid it. But then you're sucked out of the smooth water and into the rapids and you're no longer contemplating something dauntingly large; you're just handling the details as they come roaring at you: court dates, separate apartments, garnishments, weekend-visitation rights. It's not fun, but half the country has been through a divorce. You deal, and eventually you're out the other side, maybe chastened, maybe poorer, definitely different, but still intact.

Global warming might work out like that. We've spent two decades hoping it would get better on its own, but now, pretty clearly, we're going to start doing something. New technologies are coming online faster than we could have hoped, and political attitudes are starting to change, too. Lightbulbs, carbon taxes, international treaties: We're in the process of rolling up our sleeves, and any minute now we're actually going to get at it—and then it's going to be OK, yes? Things will be different, but different is good, right?

HERE'S THE BEST CASE: The U.S. breaks its political logjam and passes ambitious caps on carbon, pledging to reduce emissions quickly and dramatically. This reconfigures economic gravity, so that money now flows toward the sun and wind and insulation, not coal. That money starts producing engineering breakthroughs, lowering the price of everything from solar panels to plug-in hybrids so rapidly that the technologies spread as quickly as, say, the Wii Remote.
Meanwhile, seeing that rapid change is possible, we in the rich world rise to our obligations and embark on a kind of global Marshall Plan to deploy the same new gear all over the world, allowing China and India and everyone else to develop without burning their coal. Meanwhile, we make noble changes in our habits—the rising price of gas leads to the demand for decent mass transit, and once the bus is there we actually decide to, you know, take it. We become less American, more European, and we encourage the developing world to aspire to Oslo and not Orange County.

Oh, and the earth responds. Seeing our good intentions and rapid progress, nature backs off a little. Sea levels rise in inches, not feet. We build some levees and we evacuate some low-lying Pacific atolls. It could happen. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that noble band of climate experts, calculated last spring that we could build all the technology we needed to hold carbon emissions down at an eminently reasonable cost; in the next 20 years it would knock about one 12th of 1 percent off gross world product annually. As The Economist, that Trotskyite rag, put it, "The world would hardly notice."

But then there's the other kind of crisis, the one that begins with the Very Concerned Doctor sitting down across from you. And now we're talking about a different kind of regimen. The changes aren't just daunting; they're damaging—technicians are X-ing targets on your body with grease pencil and your hair is falling out. A lump in one place turns into a shadow in a dozen others, and the "treatments" start seeming very nearly as bad as the problem, and your friends are scanning the Internet for news of new, novel cures.

If you were laying down odds right about now, you'd be hard-pressed not to lean toward this scenario. Late last summer, the sheets of Arctic sea ice began to thin at a markedly faster rate: There was a week when an area the size of Florida melted every single day. And the same kind of bad lab results were coming back from many different systems: tundra permafrost, temperate-forest soils, Amazon aridity. Small flare-ups caught everyone's attention: Wildfire blazed across a parched Southern California, drought dropped Lake Lanier so low that Atlanta started measuring its water supply in weeks. Worse than we'd feared, and spreading faster. There seems little doubt now that this century will be at least as tough as the scientific consensus has been warning: crop-threatening heat waves, rapid spread of mosquito-borne disease, the whole litany.

WE DON'T KNOW YET if we're facing type one or type two. But in both cases the actions are pretty much the same: We need to change, quickly and comprehensively. This means go ahead and screw in the lightbulb, but then screw in the new senator immediately thereafter. Big political action—in Washington, and then internationally—is the only way we can start snuffing carbon fast enough.

The difference comes in attitude. If you're dealing with a bad-but-bearable problem, it's best to be flexible, to compromise, to negotiate and arbitrate and mediate. This is what we're starting to do, finally. Congress is grudgingly raising mileage standards, and the international community at least met in Bali to talk about talking. Nothing to sneeze at. But if your back is against the wall, then it's time to fight. And by fight I mean out in the streets, as if your life depended on it. This is starting to happen—in the past year a few of us have organized almost 2,000 rallies in all 50 states. This doesn't take much in the way of money or a big organization. Just start e-mailing everyone you know and saying, "If you're worried, if you're mad, if you want to feel hopeful: Hold a demonstration." They've mostly been polite, even good-humored: scuba divers underwater in the Florida Keys, skiers descending en masse down the melting glaciers of the Rockies and Cascades. But they came with an edge, too—the demand, not the request, for meaningful action now. A demand that has begun to make some headway.

Six or seven years ago, I met the nonagenarian extreme activist Granny D, fresh off her cross-country walk to demand reform. We were both participating in one of the first protests against global warming on Capitol Hill. As we were being arrested and led away, she looked up at me and said, "I'm 91, and I've never been arrested before. I should have started long ago." That's known, I think, as calling you out.

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28 March 2008

Asperger's: My life as an Earthbound alien

One CNN manager recently learned that she has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism:

Recently, at 48 years of age, I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. For most of my life, I knew that I was "other," not quite like everyone else. Although having the diagnosis has been cathartic, it does not change the "otherness." It only confirms it.

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24 March 2008

Well, it looks like I might be out of a job soon.

Last year, the finance industry was responsible for nearly a third of all wages earned in the city, the highest in modern times. And each Wall Street job supports three workers in other sectors.

Analysts are predicting wider cuts across the industry, even among workers who had nothing to do with mortgages. A UBS analyst, Glenn Schorr, said the major banks had already cut 5 to 10 percent of their work forces, and he said he expected them to make cuts on a similar scale again in the next few months.

“It’s fair to, unfortunately, expect another wave of cuts as they batten down the hatches,” said Mr. Schorr, who covers several major banks.

That worry has been building since last summer, just after two hedge funds within Bear Stearns collapsed and the mortgage markets were beginning to freeze. Employment at securities firms in New York had rebounded since the 2001 recession and was nearing its all-time peak of 200,000 from before that downturn, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a trade group.

Since August, the financial industry has gradually shed at least 20,000 jobs, mostly among those selling loans, those bundling loans into complex securities and those placing trading bets on the likelihood that borrowers would pay.

Now the pace of job losses is increasing. Significant cuts at Bear Stearns are almost certain. Citigroup is in the process of cutting 10 percent of the work force in its investment bank, or 6,000 people. Lehman Brothers announced 1,400 layoffs two weeks ago.Goldman Sachs said in January that it would reduce its global work force by 5 percent. On Friday, The New York Post reported that the cuts would rise to 20 percent, which would bring the total cut to 6,400 jobs. A spokeswoman for Goldman had no comment on the report.

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Beat that, picture of the Virgin Mary on an English muffin.

Attendance at a Buddhist temple in Japan has increased since the temple's pet, a two-year-old dog, has joined in the daily prayers. Conan, a Chihuahua, sits on his hind legs, raises his paws and puts them together at the tip of his nose.

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22 March 2008

He said what?

Panhandler on the F train: Hello. Many of you recognize me or my sister since one of us comes through this train at least once a day. I am collecting donations of food, clothing or money to help the homeless. If you have food or clothing, please put your money back in your wallet. I would rather have the food and clothing. I guarantee that by the end of today, we will have given away all the food and clothes we received.

I was at the other end of the car. I raised my hand so he could see that I had a few bills to contribute.

Panhandler, once he reached the other end of the subway car: If you happen to be attractive, please put your money away and stand up and give me a hug instead.

I laughed and put my money in his bucket.

19 March 2008

What Lloyd Blankfein thinks about

Lloyd Blankfein worries. True, as CEO of Goldman Sachs, he stands at the summit of the financial world. He just led his firm to its best year ever. But still, Lloyd Blankfein worries... "Some things will go bad no matter how good you are." In other words, Blankfein knows that Goldman Sachs, despite all appearances to the contrary, is not invincible.

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17 March 2008

Gooooooooo BEES!!!

A truck flipped on its side Sunday on a highway in Sacramento, California, and let loose its cargo of honey bees.

"There was somewhere between six (million) and 16 million of them running around out there," Officer Steve Merchant of the California Highway Patrol told CNN.

The bees stung cops and firefighters who tried to corral them. They buzzed toward nearby businesses and forced them to shut their doors. They prompted authorities to warn drivers to roll up their windows and turn off their air conditioning -- lest a vent suck in a bee or two.

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14 March 2008

Bear Stearns bailout keeps firm afloat

Shares of embattled broker plunge by as much as 53% after it says it will tap emergency funding from JPMorgan and N.Y. Fed in effort to fend off collapse.

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11 March 2008

Free Photoshop Alternatives

Photoshop is great but way too much editing power for the average user and way too expensive. Try one of these three free alternatives.


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07 March 2008

death and taxes

I may never be able to retire. My 401K and personal portfolio has tanked so much in the past few months, I'll have to keep on working even after I'm dead.

06 March 2008

Stephen Schwarzman profiled by the New Yorker

Just goes to show that for some people, sometimes enough isn't ever going to be enough.

Stephen Schwarzman, former Chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, has made himself an easy target for critics of Wall Street greed and conspicuous consumption. Schwarzman walked away from Blackstone's ipo with 684MM and a 24percent stake in the company worth 4.6B.

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04 March 2008

Hipster or Homo?

The bf and I attended Poprally's DFA Dance Party on Saturday night.

Not being hip or gay, it's not always easy to differentiate between a hip gayster or a gay hipster. I just assumed everyone was both.

Gawker readers have a few suggestions on how to differentiate gayster from hipster.

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The Other Liquid Gold

Forget the energy crisis. There's a crisis even more dire looming on the horizon, and Charles Wheelan, the Naked Economist spells it out for us:

There's plenty of evidence that the country already has water issues.

Much of the Southeast was in drought all fall. In the Southwest, communities have been springing up and growing at a rate likely to outstrip the region's long-term water resources, at least if swimming pools and landscaped lawns in the desert remain the norm.

Even in the Great Lakes states the water issue has come up. I recently attended an academic presentation entitled "Is Water the Next Oil?" The speaker made two main points. First, water drawn from the Great Lakes is often not returned there, causing water levels to fall. Much runoff and sewage drain into other waterways, such as the Mississippi River, and ultimately run out sea. More provocatively, she asked what will happen when some parts of the country have enough water and others don't. When Nevada residents realize that there isn't enough water to support the recent housing boom, will U.S. taxpayers be asked to pipe new water to them? (Midwest voters won't like the expense of it, or having "their" Great Lakes piped out of town.) Think about that one for a while.

Perhaps the United States will never face major long-term water shortages. If that turns out to be the case, then great. We won't have to agonize over how much water we're sending out of the country every time we export a watermelon.

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When Adventure Tourism Kills

Uh T, is THIS what you mean about needing a vacation?

It's unclear what Markus Groh thought when he signed up for a late February dive that could put him face-to-face with killer sharks spanning 18 feet in length without a cage to separate him from the man-eaters. But the 49-year-old attorney from Austria, died on Feb. 24 after being bitten in the leg while swimming with the sharks in the Bahamas.

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Ha ha ha!

English marine experts have laid their hands on an octopus that's missing two of its own: a six-limbed creature that they have dubbed 'hexapus.'

Ordinarily, octopodes have eight arms and legs. And should they lose one or more in an accident, they can grow the limbs back.Which is what makes 'Henry' -- as staffers at Blackpool Sea Life Centre in northwest England have dubbed their find -- so unique.

"If you look closer between the legs, there's webbing that attaches each of the arms together," John Filmer of the Sea Life Centre told CNN Tuesday. "You'd assume if he'd lost one of his legs in an accident, there would be space for an arm to grow back.

"But there's no space for two extra legs to grow back. That's just how he is."They named him 'Henry' because it alliterated well with 'hexapus.'"

It has also been mentioned in the grapevine that he was named after King Henry the VIII who had six wives when he should have had eight," Filmer, the centre's marketing director, said.

Until Henry, the most famous six-legged octopus was one that appeared in a 1955 B-movie, 'It Came From Beneath The Sea.'As was common of many science fiction movies of the era, the film was made on a shoestring budget -- and designers left off two legs from the creature because of budget contraints.

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