Is Climate-Themed Fiction All Too Real? We Asked the Experts – by Livia Albeck-Ripka – NYT

Climate Effect: Adaptation‘The Machine Stops’

by E. M. Forster

Forster’s eerily prescient novella imagines a world where life on earth’s surface — besides ferns and “a little grass” — has become impossible. Humans live underground, where they communicate via glowing blue-lit plates and eat, drink and sleep to the rhythm of the eternally humming “Machine.”

Written in 1909 — just over a decade after the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius suggested anthropogenic emissions could change the climate — “The Machine Stops” prophetically described something like the internet. But it was far off in imagining how we would adapt to climate change, said Jonathan Foley, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences.“The idea that we could have self-sufficient civilization underground basically requires we replace the sun,” Dr. Foley said. “And any technology that’s capable of doing that — whether it be fusion, or some kind of magical technology — would have to be so powerful that I’d ask: Why didn’t we solve the climate problem first?”

Dr. Foley said the novel’s ideas weren’t that far from the science-fiction-like discussions he heard coming from Silicon Valley, where vertical gardens, orbiting microwave transmitters or machines that harvest carbon are touted as silver bullets for climate change. “The actual solutions are far simpler,” he said. “But they’re not as sexy. Like, hey: What if we threw less food away, or we ate less meat?”

Dr. Foley said that if he ever wrote a novel, it would be one in which “we all do the slow, hard muddling work of just pitching in, but no hero rides in on a spaceship to save us all.” It would be a terrible novel, he admitted. “No one would buy it, and Hollywood wouldn’t make a movie, but it’s the one I want, and it would surely save the world.”

Snapshots Along the River Where China Meets North Korea – by Chris Buckley – NYT

“A narrow ribbon of river, and in many spots barbed wire, separates China from North Korea. But politically the two countries are further and further apart.”


DL:  Buckley takes a picture of North Korea from the Chinese side of the Yalu River, which is populated by modern looking high rise office and apartment buildings.

Trump should stop the tweets on Twitter, and go silent on North Korea. North Korea is China’s backyard, not ours, and China will stop the North Korean nuclear arms buildup, when they decide it is in their interest to do so.

China absolutely will not do so, if it makes them appear like they have been ordered or bullied by the United States.  If we said we supported a fully nuclear armed North Korea, the Chinese would be more likely to stop the North Koreans from improving their nuclear weapons.

Germany’s Far Right Complicates Life for Merkel and the E.U. – by Steven Erlanger – NYT

“BERLIN — Angela Merkel’s re-election as chancellor of Germany was supposed to be the ceremonial capstone of a year in which Europe did better than anticipated in holding off a populist surge, especially after the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, won so decisively over the National Front of Marine Le Pen.

Instead, the election results on Sunday showed that the alienation with mainstream consensus politics has hardly gone away. Support for centrist parties, including Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, eroded badly, as the far-right Alternative for Germany party received 12.6 percent of the vote.

Even if the far right was contained this year, it broke significant barriers in Europe’s core, making it to the final round of the presidential elections in France and now shattering a post-World War II taboo in Germany by entering the parliament.It has gained a powerful place from which to alter the agenda of European politics. The far right’s gains in Germany will now complicate not only the calculations of Ms. Merkel, the de facto leader of the European Union, but by extension the path ahead for the entire bloc.”

DL: The article also reports that these changes will hurt the chances that Macron of France will be able to create a stronger central European government, that collects and dispenses money more federally. Merkel’s support of these improvements will be hampered by the gains of the far right in Germany.

The Health Care Cul-de-Sac – by Ross Douthat – NYT

“This goes for both parties: not only the stepping-on-rakes Republicans, but the suddenly single-payer-dreaming Democrats. If Obamacare repeal is really dead for the year 2017, both left and right have a chance to shake their minds free of the health care debate and ask themselves: What are the biggest threats to the American Dream right now, to our unity and prosperity, our happiness and civic health?

I would suggest that there are two big answers, both of which played crucial roles in getting a carnival showman who promised to Make America Great Again elected president. First, an economic stagnation that we are only just now, eight years into an economic recovery, beginning to escape — a stagnation that has left median incomes roughly flat for almost a generation, encouraged populism on the left and right, and made every kind of polarization that much worse.

Second, a social crisis that the opioid epidemic has thrown into horrifying relief, but that was apparent in other indicators for a while — in the decline of marriage, rising suicide rates, an upward lurch in mortality for poorer whites, a historically low birthrate, a large-scale male abandonment of the work force, a dissolving trend in religious and civic life, a crisis of patriotism, belonging, trust.”

Ross is mostly right. There are bigger issues to address. It is time to

Will Mark Zuckerberg ‘Like’ This Column? – by Maureen Dowd – NYT

“Finally on Thursday, speaking on Facebook Live, Zuckerberg said he would give Congress more than 3,000 ads linked to Russia. As one Facebooker posted: “Why did it take EIGHT MONTHS to get here?”

Hillary is right that this $500 billion company has a lot to answer for in allowing the baby-photo-sharing site to be turned into what, with Twitter, The Times’s Scott Shane called “engines of deception and propaganda.” ”

“As Vanity Fair pointed out, Mueller’s focus on social media during the campaign could spell trouble for Jared Kushner, who once bragged that he had called his Silicon Valley friends to get a tutorial in Facebook microtargeting and brought in Cambridge Analytica — Robert Mercer is a big investor — to help build a $400 million operation for his father-in-law’s campaign.

Some lawmakers suspect that the Russians had help in figuring out which women and blacks to target in precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan.”

“The Sandberg admission was also game, set and match for Elon Musk, who has been sounding the alarm for years about the danger of Silicon Valley’s creations and A.I. mind children getting out of control and hurting humanity. His pleas for safeguards and regulations have been mocked as “hysterical” and “pretty irresponsible” by Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg, whose project last year was building a Jarvis-style A.I. butler for his home, likes to paint himself as an optimist and Musk as a doomsday prophet. But Sandberg’s comment shows that Musk is right: The digerati at Facebook and Google are either being naïve or cynical and greedy in thinking that it’s enough just to have a vague code of conduct that says “Don’t be evil,” as Google does.”

Nice work Maureen Dowd. Here is a comment I support.

Paul Wortman

East Setauket, NY 1 day ago

Yes Maureen, Facebook was used by the Russians. Unfortunately, they exploited a major gap in our campaign laws that do not regulate social media. That, and not just Mark Zuckerberg, is what needs to change. We desperately need to end the money in politics that has bought most of both political parties leaving many angry at the “establishment.” That is why we have Donald Trump in the White House. And don’t forget, The Donald continues to take advantage of Twitter to run a 24/7 political campaign. So, what we’ve learned is that social media can be “weaponized” not just by the Russians, but also by the man now occupying the Oval Office. We need to have “regulation,” but with an anti-regulatory Republican Congress and Supreme Court that is unlikely. Prepare yourself for the battle of the bots in 2020! You can even tweet that if you like.

Mr. Trump Squanders the World’s Trust – The New York Times

“At a crucial moment, Donald Trump is forcing the world to confront core questions it really shouldn’t have to ask: Can he be trusted? And, more saliently, can America be trusted? His threats to jettison the Iran nuclear deal are undermining America’s credibility as a negotiating partner and weakening America’s ability to lead the free world as it has for 70 years.

In his rush to bulldoze President Obama’s accomplishments, Mr. Trump has withdrawn from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, leaving China with a freer hand to set trade rules in Asia; abandoned the hard-won 195-nation Paris Agreement to address climate change; and sowed grave doubts about his commitment to NATO, the bedrock alliance that has kept peace in Europe after World War II.”


DL: So sad, so true. I have posted and written about the TPP, and what an extraordinary piece of diplomacy it was by the Obama team.  Containing China is important, but mitigating the pollution exacerbating climate change is essential. We are losing precious months and years in leadership, and teamwork, that is necessary to preserve life as we know it on this fragile planet.

Everyone Wants to Reduce Drug Prices. So Why Can’t We Do It? – by Jay Hancock – NYT


“Those comments matched Mr. Trump’s characterization in January of drug companies as “getting away with murder.” That same day, a dozen Republican senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, John McCain of Arizona and Mike Lee of Utah, voted for the old liberal idea of letting Americans buy cheaper drugs from Canada.”

“The pharmaceutical and health products industries spent $145 million on lobbying for the first half of 2017, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Drug makers gave $4.5 million to congressional campaigns in that period, including six-figure donations to House Speaker Paul Ryan; Representative Greg Walden, a Republican of Oregon who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a Kaiser Health News analysis found.

The drug lobby has spent $28 million so far this year to air six ads depicting heroic researchers about 4,600 times on national TV, according to, an ad tracker.”

“Drug makers say that high prices reflect heavy investment in innovation and drug development. They reject the notion that the industry wields too much influence in Washington. The top 10 publicly traded United States drug companies made $67.8 billion after taxes last year, regulatory filings show.”

Reform is a disaster, since big money seems to rule. Here are the top comments, which I endorsed.

Mickey D

NYC 1 day ago

I have been working in this area, drug pricing and patenting, for almost my entire professional life. All that time the Bayh Dole act has contained a price limiting section. The majority of big drugs are developed with some federal funding for all or part of their inventions. No administration, Republican or Democratic, has ever had the nerve to assert these rights against expensive drugs and their manufacturers. Instead, government agencies, especially the NIH which usually grants these funds, throws up its hands and says they have no expertise in setting fair prices. Well the statute says they have that responsibility and all they have to set up is what all agencies have similarly done, whether they deal in transportation, agriculture, safety, or even emergencies. They hire some economists and get to work.

But the pharmaceutical companies have clearly bought them all off with lobbying and promises of funding for new prestige enhancing articles.

My prediction, after forty years at this, is that nothing is going to happen. My personal failure, including congressional testimony, media interviews, op ed pieces, published letters to the Times, and the like, is nothing compared to our social failure which condemns us to decades and more of suffering because big money has stolen our democracy and our access to reasonably priced pharmaceuticals.

NYT Pick


is a trusted commenter Massachusetts 1 day ago

I spent the better part of my career producing communications materials for agencies whose clients were drug companies. I used to buy into the “‘research and innovation argument” but soon realized how much waste went into marketing, and even into clinical decisionmaking that favored quick-hit profits from developing “me too” drugs over finding novel compounds.

I just finished Ross Douthat’s piece on the problems facing America other than healthcare, and let me just repeat what said there, which is: MONEY is our biggest problem. Money in politics, bought and paid for politicians, Citizens United, lobbyists who write legislation to free up politicos for–what else?–fundraising.

Drugs cost a bundle because they pay an army of industry flacks to preserve the status quo, fight price regulations, ensure politicians get rewarded for votes, and make America subsidize the lower prices the rest of the industrialized world demands to add a product to their government-run formularies.

“If there ever was a time to strike while it’s hot, it’s now,” said “Dr. Sarpatwari.

No, I have a better time: when we as a nation decide to roll back Citizens United and enact term limits.

How to Win a War on Drugs – by Nicholas Kristof – NYT

“Decades ago, the United States and Portugal both struggled with illicit drugs and took decisive action — in diametrically opposite directions. The U.S. cracked down vigorously, spending billions of dollars incarcerating drug users. In contrast, Portugal undertook a monumental experiment: It decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001, even heroin and cocaine, and unleashed a major public health campaign to tackle addiction. Ever since in Portugal, drug addiction has been treated more as a medical challenge than as a criminal justice issue.

After more than 15 years, it’s clear which approach worked better. The United States drug policy failed spectacularly, with about as many Americans dying last year of overdoses — around 64,000 — as were killed in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars combined.

In contrast, Portugal may be winning the war on drugs — by ending it. Today, the Health Ministry estimates that only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began.

The number of Portuguese dying from overdoses plunged more than 85 percent before rising a bit in the aftermath of the European economic crisis of recent years. Even so, Portugal’s drug mortality rate is the lowest in Western Europe — one-tenth the rate of Britain or Denmark — and about one-fiftieth the latest number for the U.S.”


David Lindsay

Hamden, CT

Hooray and hallelujah! Thank you Nicholas Kristof for an excellent reporting on a magnificent story. Some of us have been arguing for decriminalization and legalization for over thirty years. Our arguments have fallen on the rocks of doubt. Even my cousin George, like Nicholas, worried for decades that the idea was bad, because logically, the death rate might rise before it fell, and be therefore politically unpopular, maybe even wrong.

But the data from Portugal is game changing. It is irrefutable proof that the US war on drugs is a miserable failure compared to the Portuguese model, half-baked as it is. It still has the most important components, decriminalization for users, and a massive public health initiative to help people who are sick with the disease of addiction. And behold, it costs roughly 5% of what our complete failure of a policy costs. “$10 per citizen per year” (in Portugal), versus “$10,000 per household over a decade” in the US.

I have for years argued that the statistics and history of legalizing alcohol, after the end of prohibition, prove that legalization of addictive drugs will reduce crime, and deaths, and the destabilization of governments, especially if partnered with a Marshall plan to help addicts get off their addiction, or learn to maintain it safely. In this report of the Portuguese model, one paragraph after another, is proof of of the argument.

Meet the World’s Leaders-  in Hypocrisy – by Nicholas Kristof – NYT

“Leaders from around the world have descended on New York for United Nations meetings, fancy parties, ringing speeches about helping the poor — and a big dose of hypocrisy.

And — finally! — this is one area where President Trump has shown global leadership.If there were an award for United Nations chutzpah, the competition would be tough, but the medal might go to Trump for warning that if necessary, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” There were gasps in the hall: A forum for peace was used to threaten to annihilate a nation of 25 million people.

There also was Trump’s praise for American humanitarian aid to Yemen. Patting oneself on the back is often oafish, but in this case it was also offensive. Yemen needs aid because the U.S. is helping Saudi Arabia starve and bomb Yemeni civilians, creating what the U.N. says is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. In other words, we are helping to create the very disaster that we’re boasting about alleviating.”

Thank you Nicholas Kristof.  The three leading comments are all good additions to op-ed I so admire. I particularly like Socrates in his comment, since I agree that over-population is the biggest elephant in the room.


is a trusted commenter Verona NJ 4 hours ago

Meanwhile, the human population explosion continues unchecked, utterly trashing the planet’s soil, air and water as medieval, conservative religious-political leaders mindlessly support the fatal cancer of ‘growth’ as they kill the planet with 7.5 billion humans wrecking the landscape.

In 2012, the United Nations declared that access to contraception is a universal human right.

Since then Trump and the medieval Republican Party have conspired to re-implement the Global Gag Order on women and cancelled funding for the UN Population Fund, two acts completely self-destructive to society and the planet that will dramatically increase global warming, environmental catastrophes, mass migrations and political instability.

It took all of human history until 1800 for world population to reach one billion.

The second billion was achieved in just 130 years (1930).

The third billion in 30 years (1960).

The fourth billion in 15 years (1974).

The fifth billion in only 13 years (1987).

The sixth billion in 12 years (1999).

And here we are at an unstable 7.5 billion humans, while Christian Shariah Law psychopaths Trump and Pence and their misogynistic Middle Eastern medieval Shariah Law cousins whistle ‘chastity’ and ‘abstinence’ and female subservience through the environmental graveyard.

The world needs a massive condom drop, free IUD implants for all, sex education.

“Be fruitful and multiply” is a religious suicide mission.


SE PA 9 hours ago

Don’t forget about our climate change crisis, which is driving the death of coral reefs and the acidification of the oceans, both of which, combined with the over exploitation of world fisheries, will add substantially to the food crises.


is a trusted commenter Massachusetts 7 hours ago

“So it’s maddening to see world leaders posturing in the spotlight and patting themselves on the back while doing so little to tackle humanitarian crises that they themselves have helped create.”

Reminds me of the drunk who causes chaos and next day comes up from the cellar and asks, what was all the commotion last night?

Yes, it is maddening, particularly when the solutions and re-ordered priorities remain clear but lack the will. I have to laugh at the juvenility of that speech by Trump (written by a 28-year old) who essentially said, “America First” in words, when he really meant America only.

The man can read whatever speech is written–but his behavior is far more telling than his words. Remember this is a man who loves autocrats, threatens to jail journalists, and packages his ideas in an “us versus them” mentality for home consumption.

I’m sure all world leaders do so to some extent, but the Trump speech was stunning not only in its hypocrisy but also its selfishness.

If you think Trump gives two hoots about starving children in Africa, when all he sees is dollar signs from new properties there, then I have a bridge, yada yada yada.

I guess the only good thing you can say about Trump is he speaks without a filter. No guessing, ever, what’s in his mind. It may be frightening, but at least it’s clear.

Tax Cuts for the Rich by Another Name – The New York Times

“Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee violated their supposedly sacrosanct principles of fiscal hawkishness this week, by saying that it would be just fine with them to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years in order to cut taxes. They justify this hypocrisy by asserting what has been disproved time and again — that tax cuts spur the economy and compensate for any lost revenue.

In fact, these cuts could hurt the very people they purport to help — small-business owners, middle-class professionals and working-class Americans.While even initial details of the tax plan are not expected before next week, deep corporate tax cuts have been a Republican priority for some time. Much of the discussion of that has revolved around the top rate, now 35 percent. President Trump has called for lowering it to 15 percent, while his economic aides and House Republicans favor a top rate around 25 percent.”

Excellent editorial, and comments.