Waterfowl Week Wraps Up Tonight

The new baby geese never did show themselves. Just the once, when I didn't have my camera. So instead I'll wrap up waterfowl week with a picture of the second most recent crop of babies, who are now several weeks old. They join three other cohorts hanging around our lake, the oldest of whom are now big enough that they almost look like actual Canada Geese. It is the circle of life, my friends.

Terrorism and Lunacy Are Not the Same Thing

What a depressing day. I can't say I really felt like writing anything. But I will say one thing: there is a big difference between an attack coordinated and carried out by a foe (Pearl Harbor, Pan Am 103, 9/11, Paris, etc.) and an attack by a lunatic who was inspired by something or other (fame, hatred of blacks, Islamist ideology, etc.). The former is either terrorism or an act of war and the latter is an act of psychosis—and while it may be politically handy to conflate the two, it does nothing to fight either one. Banning Muslim visitors or ramping up the air war against ISIS would have done nothing to stop Omar Mateen. Banning guns would have done nothing to stop either the Paris attacks or any other act of international terrorism.

Everyone needs to keep this firmly in mind over the next few days. Obviously politicians won't, especially a sociopath like Donald Trump, who's more interested in using the Orlando shooting to brag about how he's been right all along than he is in actually fighting mass shootings and international terrorism.

Trump wasn't right, of course: Omar Mateen was born in America, just like Judge Gonzalo Curiel. But Trump doesn't care. Crowing about his own greatness is really the only thing he cares about. What an empty, loathsome soul.

Mystery Weekend Goose Blogging

This is a Canada Goose, the original provocateur behind this week's waterfowl blogging. Very majestic, no? But who is that mystery women in the distance?

Brad Plumer writes about the disappearing Milky Way:

Most of us living in urban areas can’t see it because of all the light pollution. In big cities, we’re lucky to even glimpse the Big Dipper. It’s becoming harder and harder to pick out our place in the universe.

How hard is it? In a new study for Science Advances, an international team of researchers created the most detailed atlas yet of light pollution around the world. They estimate that the Milky Way is no longer visible to fully one-third of humanity — including 60 percent of Europeans and 80 percent of Americans. Artificial light from cities has created a permanent "skyglow" at night, obscuring our view of the stars.

Someday I would like to see the Milky Way. I never have—not that I recall, anyway. I've spent my entire life in the suburbs, and travel and vacations have never taken me anyplace dark enough to see it.

So where do I have to go? The light map below shows the few places left in America where you can get a good look at the Milky Way. If you're east of the Rockies you can pretty much forget it. If you live in Southern California, like me, the closest place looks to be Death Valley or thereabouts. That's not so bad. According to Google Maps, if I drive across the border into Beatty, Nevada, I can stay at the Atomic Inn and eat at Mel's Diner. September 1-4 looks like it might be good. Perhaps this is something I should finally do this year.

On the Hermeneutics of Twitter Humor

At 11:19 am Jesse Singal wrote the following tweet:

At 11:44 am he wrote this tweet:

Your assignment: please write an essay of no more than 10 double-spaced tweets examining what this means for digital communication and the future of global civic society, with a special emphasis on the intersectionality of gendernormativity, power relations in capitalist transactions, and the implications of the 140-character limit on feminist ontology. You may use any form of splaining you wish.

Many years ago I wrote a blog post about the refinery problems that plague Southern California almost like clockwork every single summer. The timing is an eerie coincidence, isn't it? I haven't continued to follow this story since then, but I'm happy to report that 12 years after I wrote about it, it's still happening:

Los Angeles-area gasoline prices rose over the last week and could tick even higher as a result of unplanned refinery outages and delays in the Exxon Mobil Torrance refinery’s return to full service, fuel experts said....Analysts say the Torrance refinery might not reach 90% to 100% capacity for several more weeks....In addition to the repair delays in Torrance, unplanned outages at other refineries in Southern California as well as at a BP refinery at Cherry Point, Wash., which supplies fuel to California, have contributed to rising gasoline prices in Southern California.

In June, the flowers bloom, the Dodgers swoon, and refineries fume. But no worries. When summer is over and everyone has come home from their vacations, I'm sure all these refinery problems will be miraculously solved.

Meg Whitman—former eBay CEO, former Republican candidate for California governor, and current mortal enemy of Donald Trump—asked Speaker of the House Paul Ryan how he could endorse a guy who's just the latest version of Hitler and Mussolini:

Ryan explained the difficult political situation he was in, as the leader of House Republicans. While spending a couple of weeks last month deliberating about an endorsement, many of his members increased pressure on him to back Trump. Many of them represent districts where Republican voters are strongly supportive of Trump, Ryan explained....The audience was described as largely anti-Trump yet sympathetic to Ryan's predicament.

Translation: Yes, Trump is a singularly moronic and demagogic candidate, and it's appalling to think of him in charge of a lemonade stand, let alone the US nuclear codes. But hey, we still have to win the House, so Trump 2016!

I was chatting with a friend yesterday about the (alleged) anger of low-income whites this election season, and she asked what kinds of concrete, long-term trends might be responsible for this. Concrete in the sense of important, measurable stuff that truly makes people's lives worse. The truth is that I don't know of many. Crime is down. Teen pregnancy is down. Student test scores are up. Graduation rates are up. Illicit drug dependence is down (yes, really) and it's way down among teenagers. The growth rate of health care costs is on a multi-decade downward trend. The Great Recession did immense damage, but we've been recovering nicely for several years: growth is steady; unemployment is below 5 percent; inflation is below 2 percent; job openings are rising; and household debt, which has been trending downward for nearly a decade, is at its lowest point since 1980.

So what negative trends are there? That is, big trends, the kind that affect lots of people and aren't easy to turn around. Rising student debt, for example, wouldn't qualify. In the great scheme of things, it's not that damaging,1 and it could be turned around pretty easily if we felt like it. It's not burned into the fabric of society or anything.

Nor am I thinking of partisan issues. If you're liberal, you're unhappy about the growing assault on abortion in red states. If you're conservative, you're unhappy about the growing acceptance of gay marriage. That kind of stuff is always around.

That said, two big negative trends come to mind. First, wages have been sluggish for decades and flat-out stagnant since the beginning of the century.2 Second, marriage rates have continued to slide. This produces more single mothers struggling to raise kids with no help, and more single fathers who cough up child support every month but don't see their kids much and live frustratingly solitary lives. And the standard of living for both is effectively worse than it was for their parents, since they're managing two households on about the same income.

In terms of broad societal trends, life has improved over the past couple of decades in nearly every respect—even for the working and middle classes. But these two big exceptions might be enough to produce an electorate that's pissed off enough to elect Donald Trump.

POSTSCRIPT: It's worth saying that my own personal view remains the same as ever: the electorate isn't more pissed off than it usually is. All that's happened is that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have milked the normal amount of voter anger more effectively than usual, and social media has amplified it more than in the past. The case for this seems overwhelming to me—though I'm still open to contrary arguments based on actual evidence. But if you continue to believe in the anger theory and you want to know why people are so angry these days, wages and marriage are the two trends I'd look at.

1FWIW, I recommend you give this some real thought before dashing off to Twitter to tell me what a clueless moron I must be.

2The long decline in the labor participation rate is a related issue, but it's much trickier to figure out exactly what's going on with this. The participation rate for men has been declining steadily since 1950, so obviously it's not caused by something that just started in the past couple of decades. About half of the decline is due to retirements. And there's some evidence that the declining rate for women is mostly caused by giving up second jobs that never provided much net income in the first place. So...call this half a trend if you want, and then you've got two and a half trends to think about.

Three Little Questions

The First: How long before l'affaire Curiel dies down and Republicans go back to being outraged at any suggestion that Donald Trump is a racist?

The Second: Many of us have been on the receiving end of overwhelming Twitter mobs—most of them angry and semi-literate, some genuinely violent. But have any of you ever experienced the opposite? That is, hundreds and hundred of tweets overwhelming your Twitter feed to tell you how great you are and how your latest piece was a work of genius? Let's be clear: I'm talking about a universe in which you are not Beyoncé, and yet you receive a tidal wave of tweets from total strangers coming at you so fast and furious that you can barely keep up with them.

The Third: A week ago Hillary gave a speech demolishing Donald Trump's vague gestures toward a foreign policy. A couple of days later Trump told Jake Tapper that he planned a "little retort." We were supposed to get it on Monday, but it never happened. Do you think he's going to follow through eventually, or should I just throw this onto my ever-lengthening list of things Trump promises but never delivers?

Friday Bird Blogging

I'm not quite reduced to posting pictures of seagulls yet, but I'm getting there if those baby geese don't show up soon. In the meantime, here's a snowy egret. We don't often see them in our local pond, though they're hardly uncommon around here. There are lots of them in a nearby marsh, and at least a few who hang out in a nearby flood control channel. But we get them every once in a while. They're lovely critters, aren't they?