TALK: “Why We Should Abolish Prisons”

text "prisons are for burning" with a lit match under a guard tower

Transcript of talk originally given Feb. 24, 2019

Hi. So, the name of my talk is “Why We Should Abolish Prisons”. I am going to—I didn’t put warning on the announcement, and I should have. There’s going to be some discussion of sexual assault and violence. So, hopefully it’s not gratuitous, but it is kind of necessary to what we’re talking about.

So, as I started doing the research for this, I actually discovered new information—things coming up in the news—and I ended up changing what this subject was going to be about. With your indulgence, I’m actually going to talk about something completely different, which is that, in the People’s Republic of China, they have the largest prison population in the world, and out of every 100,000 adults and children there, about 650 of them are going to be held in some sort of coercive custody. Currently, about double that are going to be monitored by various organs of the nation’s state security apparatus.

While this is something that affects all groups, to some extent, among ethnic Uighurs— among the Muslim Turkic ethnic minority—this is something where they’re going to be about six times more likely to be in a mass re-education camp than, say, a Mandarin, the dominant group. There is about a one-in-three chance that a Uighur man will be seized, confined in a cage, and monitored, sometimes for years. Especially when they’re between the ages of 18 and 29, which is pretty terrible.

Although there are no official sources that keep track of this, private human rights organizations determined that about 465,000 of those that are being forcibly held in the People’s Republic of China have not even had a show trial to justify why their freedom was being restricted. About 350,000 of those that are being held without a trial are not even accused of any violent, antisocial behavior. Primarily, this consists of those who are too poor to bribe a judge with a contribution to an immediate province or locality.

And although this is a pretty massive police state, among OECD nations, only Mexico, Turkey, and Estonia have a higher violent crime rate than the People’s Republic of China, and this is despite the PRC not counting any of the violence that routinely happens within their mass re-education camps. Any statistics, particularly sexual assault, it’s just—it doesn’t exist.

That’s why I think it’s very important for China to reform its mass re-education camps. It needs to do a better job of making sure that they are a little nicer when they seize ethnic Turkic minorities from their homes, and just make it so it’s a little more pleasant for people when they’re forced to be held there, particularly women and children.

Hopefully, all that sounded ridiculous to you; that was the point.

All of those statistics that I just gave were for the United States.

If you map it over, instead of Turkic ethnic minorities, you get Black Americans. Instead of the dominant Mandarins, it’s the whites. It should sound ridiculous to say that “we are going to reform mass re-education camps in China,” but that’s what we often say about prison in the United States. Yet we don’t really think about it that way.

It is my contention that saying “we need to reform prison in the United States” is like saying, “we need to reform the Soviet gulag system”. It’s like saying “we need to reform the Japanese internment camps during WW2”.

Continue reading “TALK: “Why We Should Abolish Prisons””

Mathew Duncan Ector: A Mostly Unremarkable Life of White Supremacy

Original work began November 2017

As memorials to Confederate figures and slavers continue to be removed from public and otherwise challenged, a common refrain is that by doing this, we’re forgetting our history or erasing it.

This is, of course,  disingenuous, but it reminded me how little I know about the namesake of Ector County: Mathew Duncan Ector. So I went looking.

I found that my home county is named after a Confederate general and Texas judge most notable for re-affirming anti-interracial marriage laws post-Reconstruction.

As part of the Southern effort to kill hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans in order continue keeping millions of fellow Americans in chattel slavery, Mathew Ector rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate army until he was wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga, resulting in the amputation of part of his left leg. [link] [link]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most memorials and plaques to him are centered on his military actions, for example, the 1963 historical marker [link] placed in county seat Odessa, Texas:

Enlisted 1861. Lieutenant 3rd Texas Cavalry. Fought Arkansas, Missouri and Indian territory. As colonel led 14th Texas Cavalry Kentucky invasion. Made brigadier general 1862 to command famed Ector’s brigade in Tennessee and Mississippi battles. Wounded four times without leaving Chickamauga field. Under constant fire 70 days in Georgia. Lost leg in Atlanta 1864. Assigned to defense of Mobile, Alabama. A memorial to Texans who served the Confederacy erected by the state of Texas 1963,

A second marker [link], placed in 1964, refers to the creation of the county itself but includes the curious phrase “Outstanding Jurist”, which took some digging into.

Created February 26, 1887 from Tom Green County organized January 15, 1891, named in honor of Matthew Duncan Ector 1822-1879. Member of the Texas legislature a confederate officer and outstanding jurist Odessa, The County Seat.

(He spelled his name with only one “t”, after his mother’s father [link], but it shows up even on plaques with the more common spelling.)

The Texas State Historical Association has articles about Mathew Ector and about Ector’s Brigade [link][link], and those are about the most complete biographical information written about him, albeit highly simplified and often slipping into Confederate apologism.

Just after the Civil War, Ector won an election for district judge, but in 1867 the United States military government removed him from that position due to being a “Southern obstructionist”.

Ector had won his district judge election in 1866 before federal Republicans and an occupying military had successfully extended the franchise to black men, so his first judgeship and removal occurred in the context of white resentment and violence toward formerly enslaved people [link]. Other than the 1866 election being illegitimate for that reason and, perhaps, lying about whether men sworn-in to serve on a jury actually had been Unionists during the war, I haven’t found a source to detail what he did during that year.

The specific phrase “Southern obstructionist” seems to come directly from a short chapter of flowery prose [link] from The Bench and Bar of Texas [link], written in 1885 by James Daniel Lynch [link], a Confederate private and later anti-Reconstruction writer [link].

Ector claimed not to be an obstructionist, of course. He wrote more than once to President Ulysses S. Grant, first to the then-general in 1866 for endorsement of a pardon regarding his part in the war, then Oct. 10, 1867, because the Union military generals in charge had removed him as an elected district judge on the basis of “Known Hostility to the General Government” [link].

But Ector claims:

I positively assert that since I have been upon the bench I have taken no part in politics and have had as little to say about such matters as possible.

Grant favored the pardon but had no opinion on restoring him as a district judge. Ector went back to private practice till 1874 when the state legislature removed his replacement, District Judge John B. Williamson. A known “impediment to reconstruction” Governor Richard Coke appointed Ector to fill it, so he was obviously considered by his peers to be a good, safe Southern legislator. As Southern revanchists reasserted their power in Texas, their new constitution in 1876 created the Texas Court of Appeals in an effort to get around the existing Texas Supreme Court and its anti-Confederate justices [link]. That structure remains to this day.

In his decision in Frasher V. Texas, 1873, upholding anti-miscegenation laws as part of the Texas Court of Appeals, circumventing the Texas Supreme Court’s rulings that such laws violated the 14th and 15th amendments [link] [link]

In Charles Frasher v. the State of Texas, Presiding Judge Matthew Ector writes [link]:
Marriage is not a contract protected by the constitution of the United States or any of its amendments. It is a civil status under the control of the states, and the existence of the relation and the rights, obligations, and duties arising out of it are to be determined exclusively by state laws.
The provision of the Texas code making marriage of a white person to a negro an indictable offense is not repugnant to or avoided by the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the constitution of the United States, or the legislation of Congress under them.
The fact that by the code the penalty is imposed on the white person only, does not make it obnoxious to the Civil Rights Bill. 

The opinion later quotes that exact Texas law, article 2016 of the Criminal Code passed in 1858 [link], stating that a white person couldn’t marry someone with a great-grandparent identified as black, except on fear on imprisonment:

“If any white person shall, within this state, knowingly marry a negro, or a person of mixed blood, descended from negro ancestry to the third generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each shall have been a white person, or having so married, in or out of the state, shall continue to within this state to cohabit with such negro, or such descendant of a negro, he or she shall be punished by confinement in the penitentary not less than two nor more than five years.”

In 1879, the Texas legislature explicitly extended the punishment to black spouses as well now that the law had to regard them as people.

In her 2008 paper [link], University of Texas Professor Martha Menchaca [link] considered the Frasher opinion nationally notable and part of a general revanchist streak to undo Reconstruction:

This new legal conservatism coincided with political changes at the end of Reconstruction. In 1873, Texas Governor Coke, who opposed extending equal rights to Blacks, began replacing liberal state supreme court justices with conservatives (Richardson and Wallace, 1970: 224). Furthermore, conservatives took control of the legislature and in 1876 revised the state constitution to condone the segregation of Blacks. In 1877, the Texas Supreme Court heard Frasher v. The State and upheld the legislature’s right to preserve the division of the races. The decision was felt nationwide as it set a legal precedent protecting the states’ right to pass antimiscegenation laws immune from the jurisdiction of the 14th Amendment. The Court opined that the 14th Amendment did not apply to marriage because US Congress conferred on state legislatures the right to regulate marriage contracts in order to follow majority views. According to the court, if Christians in Texas by tradition have opposed the intermixture of the White and Black races, the legislature had the obligation to uphold this belief. Judge P. J. Ector offered the opinion of the Court:

In this state marriage is treated as a civil contract; but it is more than a civil contract. It is a public institution established by God himself, is recognized in all Christian and civilized nations, and is essential to the peace of happiness, and well-being of society . . . Civilized society has the power of self-preservation, and, marriage being the foundation of such society, most of the states in which the negro forms an element of any note have enacted laws inhibiting intermarriage between the white and black races. And the courts, as a general rule, have sustained the constitutionality of such statutes . . . It has always been the policy of this state to maintain separate marital relations between whites and the blacks. . . . If the people of other states desire to have an intermixture of the white and black races, they have the right to adopt such a policy. When the Legislature of this state shall declare such a policy by positive enactment, we will enforce it; until this is done, we will not give such a policy sanction.

Following the ruling, Frasher became the national precedent upholding the states’ right to regulate marriage and determine which races could intermarry (American Digest, 1902, 1949). State rights were to be upheld at all cost even if policies prevented people from marrying within their own ethnic group, or if the policies resulted in absurd practices such as prohibiting people from marrying anyone.

Otherwise, as presiding judge, I couldn’t find any especially laudable or even notable rulings up to his death in 1879 [link]. Then, there’s nothing until the county is named after him.

I’m not a scholar, so I’m limited to what work others have done or has been digitized. Ector’s first name is just as often given as “Matthew” instead of “Mathew”, plus almost all references that appear are for his part in the Civil War in a military capacity.

To a layperson like myself, other than, I suppose, some personal bravery for volunteering, fighting in multiple battles, and eventually losing a leg, he doesn’t seem especially notable in his military career considering there were literally hundreds of other Confederate brigadier generals and dozens of Texans [link].

Tom Green, Benjamin McCulloch, and H.B. Granberry had counties or cities named after them, too, but not Prince de Polignac, Sul Ross, or Richard Waterhouse.

Without access to the debate on HB 113 from Texas’ 20th Regular session [link], I can’t know what their stated criteria was. Someone could still do that in the future.

Looking at places where Ector pops up otherwise, there’s a reference to how he treated some enslaved people while administrator of his father’s estate prior to the Civil War [link].

Matthew D. Ector, as an administrator of the estate of Hugh W. Ector in Rusk County, placed three of his eight slaves ‘with the best carpenters the county could afford and this materially enhanced their value as skilled workmen.’

Ector’s father Hugh [link] seems to have died in 1835 [link], so Ector would have been 13 at the time. Rusk County is also in Texas, and if Ector was living there then, he had to get back to living in Georgia for passing the bar and his early adult career. It’s also possible the estate was in someone else’s hands till he came of age [link].

Ordered:
That the adminis on the estate of HUGH W ECTOR dec’d be premitted & authorized to keep the estate of said dec’d togather without division in joint common stock for the benefit of the family & heirs until the legal age or marriage of either or otherwise legally required—— and to continue to work the plantation, saw mill, balcksmith sop and carpenter at their discretion as they may think necessary.

By 1845, he’d been elected to the Georgia General Assembly as a House representative for Meriwether County [link], and other sources indicate he only served one biennial term through 1847. Although I was able to find several references to his father, I couldn’t find anything for Ector himself during this time as a Georgia House member [link].

After his first wife died in 1848, he moved to California then to Texas where he was a lawyer again but also a newspaper editor for the Henderson Democrat. He shows up in this period before the Civil War in regards to an 1860 a slave insurrection panic [link] that a fire had been intentionally set, perhaps as part of an abolitionist conspiracy [link].

Ector initially claimed he thought “negroes had but little to do with it”, but the “committee of vigilance” he was on ultimately recommended hanging at least three black people and fretful Texans lynched at least one white person in direct relation to the panic [link].

Henderson, Aug. 7, 1860.
Judge Frazer:
You have before this learned the fate of our town. All from McDonough’s Hotel to Smither’s office, taking that entire block, and from Redwine’s store to Likens’s corner, running back to the Presbyterian Church, (which was saved,) is a scene of ruin and devastation; 10 stores, 2 drug stores, 8 or 10 law offices, 2 family groceries, &c., were consumed. There was a stiff South wind blowing at the time, and in two hours at most, every house which had caught burned down. The sparks reached out fully a half mile. Judge, it is a sad picture to visit the scene, where all but yesterday was life and energy, fine buildings and every evidence of thrift and prosperity, now burnt and crumbling walls, lonely chimneys, chared [sic] shade trees, and the rubbish, as is generally to be seen after such a calamity. Owing to the failure of crops, such a misfortune never could have found us so illy prepared to meet it in a pecuniary point of view. And when we consider it has not been the result of accident, but that it was fired beyond any sort of question by some fiend in human shape, who had only acted the part allotted him in all probability, in a common purpose, to set on fire our towns and perhaps to murder or poison our citizens, it has driven us to a state of desperation which can scarcely be conceived by one who has not witnessed it. All is alarm and excitement with our women and children. Our men are in arms. The most vigilant investigation is being had. The plot was so well conceived, the time of the night, a little excitement between two gentlemen had just occurred which attracted the crowd just as our citizens were assembling at Church, and before the guard started out, the fire was put in some shape into an old shop where there had been none for months. It was burning in every part of the house at once, and in less than five minutes it was on fire all over. As yet we have not been able to find out who it was that did it, whether white or black. No traces have been discovered. My own opinion is, that the negroes had but little to do with it. I have given you these particulars in haste. I will write again soon. I see no chance for us to have a Court. We can scarcely provide for those of our people left. I would like to hear from you and advise with you. Be on your guard, for you cannot tell how soon you will share the same fate with us.

Your friend,
M. D. Ector.

With the tail-end of that panic coinciding with the 1860 election and slipping quickly into the American Civil War, we’re back up to his military service.

If I gloss over that, it’s only because, again, I don’t care much about the particulars what the moral equivalent of child rapists did in their war to defend systemic child rape.

Timeline in Confederate Gazette [link]

  • 1822: Born in Georgia
  • 1844: Passes Georgia Bar
  • 1846-47: Served one term in Georgia General Assembly as representative from Meriwether County
  • 1850: Settled in Texas by way of California after wife’s death in 1848 (married 1842)
  • 1851: Passes Texas bar
  • 1855: Elected to Texas House
  • 1859: Second wife dies
  • 1860: He is listed in the 1860 U.S. census as having $29,000 in property and enslaving 20 people; only 1860 Census I’ve found (for Rusk County) says 4,000 real value and 2,500 personal value [link]
  • 1861-1865: American Civil War
  • 1867: Wrote to President Grant, claimed to be apolitical and loyal to government [link]
  • 1874: Becomes district judge again. Rules in favor or railroad companies’ fraudulent election where they paid fees for special bond [link]
  • 1876: Elected to Texas Court of Appeals.
  • 1879: Dies
  • 1887: House bill 113 of 20th Regular Session Texas legislature passes, dividing western Tom Green county into six new counties. [link]

Bonus

John T Reagan, with a nearby county [link] and elementary [link] in Ector County Independent School District named after him had this to say: [paper] [source] [full text]

‘Reagan described “the four million negroes in bondage in this country … better fed better clothed, better protected from violence and wrong. better informed. more intelligent. ” than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. To free the Negro would be to destroy that ideal state. Besides, Reagan added, he found Negroes so incapable of self-government and survival that if emancipated “they would fall into such habits of idleness and vice and licentiousness as would render it necessary, for the security of society, to exterminate the greater portion of the race. ” ‘

Sources

Continue reading “Mathew Duncan Ector: A Mostly Unremarkable Life of White Supremacy”

What “Defund the police” really means

Police officers in riot gear and national guard shrouded in tear gas and smoke backlit by floodlights outside of Seattle Police Department East Precinct

Our police department, as we have seen last night and the night before, and the night before that, is using weapons of war on our own residents.

I heard reports last night of people being three stories up and not being able to breathe because of the gas. Last week we heard the story of the 3-month-old baby who was foaming at the mouth. We heard other stories subsequently of a 6-month-old baby sitting in the hallway with its parents trying to get fresh air.

These are stories that we must respond to, and we also have to recognize that we have a budget that allows us to maintain controls over this effort.

Source: Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda per KUOW

“I did not make up with the demand of 50 percent defunding of the police, that came from the community. … Any politician, whether they are in Minneapolis or Seattle who is telling you that police can be dismantled under capitalism is bullshitting you.”

Source: Councilmember Kshama Sawant per Periscope

There are inherent limitations of political imagination once you’re in office, but given the councilmembers’ own experiences on the barricades, their words, and their reasoning, it’s difficult to see how half-funding such an organization as they describe should be looked at as a positive result.

There hasn’t been a budget cut to the department since 2000, so I’m not sure what prior year a 50 percent reduction would take Seattle back to, but it’s likely that law enforcement was being brutal and predatory toward its most vulnerable residents at the equivalent funding level in 1999 or 1990 as well. “Defund” is not sophistry; it’s a demand because the status quo is radical and harmful to the people America has always despised.

I was not at any protests while people were being actively assaulted by the police’s chemical weapons, explosives, or maiming projectiles, but I have close friends who were, and I was observing via the livestreams of ground witnesses and upper-story neighbors as police committed those assaults. I was trying to help get information to people there about where was safest to regroup amid the explosions or to find a medical station that hadn’t been overrun and destroyed and experiencing terror for them in real time.

When I hear that the goal is fund police a bit less, it sounds something like I imagine it would to a Cold War-era East German hearing that the Stasi budget was getting slashed.

If in our own communities, a budget cut means we have fewer secret police—that is, undercover cops and armored officers covering their badges—on the streets, that is an improvement, but it’s not a victory. Having half as much poison gas that’s been banned in warfare to use on unarmed people in the community still means there’s plenty of poison gas to use on unarmed people in the community. Plus, bullets are still relatively cheap and so are truncheons.

Source: Teresa Mosqueda via The Urbanist

The most lawless things I’ve seen in Seattle in my time here have not been people unable to afford permanent shelter who sleep outside but the behavior of a bunch of (mostly) men, incredibly well-equipped, hiding their identities as they attack regular people for continuing to stand with umbrellas because those people not disperse when the armed and armored men said so. Yet if there had not been dozens of cameras and thousands of eyes on them, they wouldn’t have been on what was apparently their best behavior. One or two officers alone with one unarmed protester, those cops would have likely genuinely feared for their lives and used that as justification to brutalize that person or even kill them. And that’s not a hyperbole.

 

My union, SEIU 925, is having members forced to take furloughs due to a drop in revenue by UW Medicine. This is after being called “heroes” but being continuously underfunded and provided insufficient resources of personal protection during a pandemic.

It makes me sick to see what material resources and salaries these cowards in the Seattle Police Department have been given to misuse when the tool they actually need is respect for other residents of this city as equals.

I don’t think they’re capable of that, which is why they must be defunded and that money given to other organizations that actually make people safe from the violence of eviction, of not being able to afford insulin any longer, or of sleeping on the side of a highway in the rain because the hotel you can see from there that lights up “BLM” on the side doesn’t want to turn its vacant units into shelter for free and the government won’t force them.

King County General Fund
Source: https://kingcounty.gov/council/budget/budget_basics.aspx

I want to fund public safety, not exploding canisters. Which means, at the county level, I want to fund room, board, and medical care for people whenever they need it, not just when they’ve been arrested and sent to jail to be held against their will. Seattle police make for an easy villain because of their union, their fragility (they really tried to claim that reflecting their own floodlights back at officers with foil was a provocation), and their visibility in the city, but this is a much wider problem and Democrats everywhere are going to have to make choices about what rhetoric they’ve always meant on principle and what rhetoric was convenient to get them in office.

If someone told you two weeks ago Seattle police would abandon their Capitol Hill precinct entirely and leftists would be booing Councilmember Sawant for only promising to cut the police budget in half, you would have scoffed and called it ridiculous. So would I have. None of us should scoff now at literally defunding the police or first start looking for a way to compromise.

One more thing: A week and a half of people in the streets unwilling to compromise on the fundamental humanity of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color has done more to combat police militarization and their unaccountable violence than 30 years of Democratic governance, female, male, Black, white, gay, and lesbian.

Therefore, I support the protesters the way some people support the troops: I will not parse it between “good” and “bad” or “peaceful” and “looters”.

Demolitions are destructive, too. Dismantling the viaduct was destructive, too. If what we’re trying to construct is a better place where people are not executed for being deaf in one ear while woodcarving or executed for needing help during a mental breakdown while pregnant or abducted off the street for walking with a golf club as a cane, then we should count some broken windows and expropriated material from a department store as the controlled demolition necessary to get people’s attention where repetitive human suffering could not.

People literally risked their lives in the hope that a rubber bullet aimed in malice wouldn’t cave in their head or that panicking officers wouldn’t switch to live ammo to mow down a crowd holding rainbow umbrellas. In another week, people from those crowds and their loved ones will literally start to die from COVID-19, and they’ll die because they demanded their police not be equipped for war and allowed to kill them.

There is nothing unreasonable, immature, or impractical about being unwilling to accept half-measures for a cause so worthy that you risked so much for, and they’ll remember us for how we treat them and their concerns forever.

BOOK REVIEW: “Dawn of the Code War” looks at the digital battleground of the 21st Century

Two centuries ago, the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote, “War is a continuation of politics with other means.”

The nice thing about aphorisms is that they are so easy to re-interpret for fresh purposes and present circumstances. In that way, aphorisms are unlike new technology, which often change the world around it far less than is credited to it purely by virtue of being novel and therefore more visible.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: “Dawn of the Code War” looks at the digital battleground of the 21st Century”

We’re all living through a pandemic, but it’s not the same pandemic for all of us

Can't Pay Won't Pay #RentStrike

“A lot of folks have it worse.”

This is not the most effective mantra for cheering someone up, whether they’re hearing it from outside their head or within.

When I had rotator cuff surgery last year, remembering how fortunate I was to have health insurance and a 401(k) to empty out didn’t provide anywhere near the relief that a hydrocodone every eight hours did. My state of mind was more dependent on changing my material conditions than my perspective on anything.

Now—nearly by definition of the word—we’re all living in a pandemic. But it’s not the same pandemic for all of us. A lot of folks have it worse.

Continue reading “We’re all living through a pandemic, but it’s not the same pandemic for all of us”

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Case Against Free Speech’ centers actual power over abstract principle

Journalist P.E. Moskowitz‘s latest book “The Case Against Free Speech” is provocatively titled, but does a good job of persuading why we ought to regard free speech more like magical unicorn horns: as something that does not exist, has never existed, and fundamentally can never exist in the world as currently constituted.

But the author goes further, and they demonstrate how those who fight in the name of “free speech” end up working on behalf of fascists, transphobes, misogynists, and petro-billionaires—to extend the analogy, actively aiding rhinoceros poachers on behalf of defending the principle that magical unicorn horns should exist.

For liberals, this is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? But from a jumping-off point of the ultimately deadly white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, Moskowitz thoroughly disabuses readers of many of our common-held notions.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Case Against Free Speech’ centers actual power over abstract principle”

BOOK REVIEW: Juan Williams’ history of civil rights sacrifices and gains proves he knows better

There is still some hesitancy among mainstream media outlets and other civility-compulsives about whether Donald Trump is actually a racist or—out of a cynical appreciation for the expediency of racism—merely someone who talks like one; has acted like one throughout the entirety of his public and professional life; has surrounded himself with bigots from his butler to his administrative staff; and supports racist policies including ethnic cleansing.

This is a distinction without a difference. Sen. Elizabeth Warren got some pushback on the Left for saying something similar.

Is the president racist?” CNN’s Manu Raju asked her. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Juan Williams’ history of civil rights sacrifices and gains proves he knows better”

BOOK REVIEW: We can still make “A Bright Future” with nuclear energy

I’m writing on a day when SeaTac had a high temperature 10 degrees hotter than the previous record.

Summer—our brief respite of full, sunny days and clear-crystal weather for which we endure our nigh-year purgatory of ever-drizzle and afternoon sunsets—is still not officially arrived at time of this writing.

Seattle Summer 2018
Seattle Summer 2018 | David A Johnson

We can hope this season will squeeze in some few nice days precious amid the ash-gray haze of Pacific Northwest forest fires that turns the high-sky sun into a cigarette’s cherry.

We’re told this is the new normal, but it could be worse. And it will be.

It is, I promise, worse than you think.”

The New York Magazine piece “The Uninhabitable Earth” by American journalist David Wallace-Wells from 2017 goes on:

If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today.

Wallace-Wells details what heating the whole world by degrees really means, the sort of catastrophe a rise of four degrees Celsius causes everywhere and how 10 degrees makes vast portions utterly unlivable from the direct heat—let alone crop failure, flooding, and extreme events that will become common enough just to be called “weather”.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined in its Fifth Assessment Report that: Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: We can still make “A Bright Future” with nuclear energy”

BOOK REVIEW: With “No One at the Wheel”, the rich can steal the roads from us—if we let them

Autonomous vehicles, or AVs, will be the most disruptive technology to hit society worldwide since the advent of the motorcar.

This pronouncement by the team of journalist Karen Kelly and former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz is the sort of boilerplate futurism you’ll find written about any new technology.

Likewise, the very next statement could almost be chalked up to typical hyperbole: “Some futurists and policy experts even talk about driving being banned on some or all roads.”

What sets No One At The Wheel: Driverless Cars and the Road of the Future apart from that sort of replacement-level schlock isn’t where it looks forward, then, but for how it looks backward to show how a similar process already happened.

A century ago, the original grand theft auto was letting the car industry steal the roads from pedestrians and non-motorized traffic. Soon, driverless industries will be in a position to take the roads from the public entirely.

But only if we let them.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: With “No One at the Wheel”, the rich can steal the roads from us—if we let them”