Two Hundred Years Ago, Deposed Autocrats Were Banished…

Two hundred years ago, deposed autocrats were banished to prevent their causing harm.Forced to abdicate his throne April 11, 1814 by the Treaty of Fontainebleau, NapoleonBonaparte was taken from Paris to Elba, largest spit of land in the Tuscan Archipelago.Allowed to retain his emperor’s title, Napoleon’s letters, published in 1954, revealed hiscolossal conceit, referring to handfuls of marines as his “Guard” and a few small boatshis “navy.” Months later, onboard Inconstant, he was ferried back to the mainland, wherehe gathered supporters for another European conquest. Elba wasn’t isolated enough tomake his earlier exile stick. Declared outlaw by the Congress of

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On Wuhan and COVID-19

Because Donald Trump repeatedly used China to deflect criticisms of his own pandemic errors, conspiracy theorists abound. To them, a biosecurity-level 4 facility in Wuhan, where COVID first emerged, is too coincidental, even though the mission of the laboratory is to prevent zoonotic transmissions of potentially deadly diseases from other animals to us. As a bsl-4 lab, Wuhan’s Institute of Virology has high security clearance to genetically map and identify airborne pathogens for which vaccines have yet to be developed. If only to exorcize political demons here and abroad, Wuhan and the WIV should be epicenters of investigations into the

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A linear, Disposable Economy Designed to Generate Waste

The fundamental equation in thermodynamics for predicting spontaneous reactions and equilibrium in biological and chemical processes is G = H – TS. That is, energy available to do work or “Gibbs free energy” (G) equals “enthalpy” or the heat of the reaction (H) minus temperature (T) times (S) the degree of systemic disorder or “entropy.” The relationship of Gibbs free energy to enthalpy, entropy and temperature measures the inefficiency of energy transfers and transformations in the universe. When energy changes from one form to another, entropy (i.e. disorder or chaos) inevitably increases in closed systems. Energy lost by natural systems

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Military Spending Goes Unchallenged, as Fiscal Conservatives Grouse About Lesser Costs

Values and prevailing attitudes of America’s big three service branches are reflected in their military academies’ chapels. West Point’s grey stone gothic exudes permanence, immovably connected to the land, anchored atop the same basalt bluffs forming nearby Hudson River Palisades. The Navy’s chapel in Annapolis is much more ornate, its dome inspired by Beaux-Arts architecture with lots of interior marble and brass. The Air Force Academy’s cadet chapel, tellingly, is intimidating. Seventeen leak-prone spires of shiny aluminum, glass and steel project skyward. Their jagged rows resemble Nike-Hercules and Ajax missiles emergent from silos ready to launch, a high-tech, razor-sharp shredding

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Progressive Taxation Can Help, but Taxing Wealth is the Ultimate Solution

Needs for infrastructure modernization and hardenings against “ransomware” are stark. Last week’s cyber attack by Russian gang DarkSide shut down Colonial Pipeline’s conduits from Texas to New Jersey, interrupting 2.5 million barrels daily flow of gasoline and other fuels. That’s 45 percent of East Coast supplies, more an annoyance than an obstacle but for predictable panic buying. Instigated by social media disinformation, people waited in gas lines to fill guzzler SUVs and pickups the way they hoarded toilet paper last year. DarkSide’s stated purpose is capitalistic, not ideological, interested only in extorting money, not “creating unrest.” Evidence Putin or other

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A Permanently Altered Society

Without question climate change and the pandemic have permanently altered society. At some point, if we approach 85 to 90 percent herd immunity (an unlikely scenario in the U.S. given its intellectual and vaccine resistant laxities) mask-wearing might become an elective again, even in crowded venues. As COVID cases decline, however, were wisdom and ethics heritable memes in our culture, we’d still be donning masks in highly infectious settings, such as theaters and bars, sports arenas, public transit, grocery and department stores, hospitals and nursing homes. It’s been a hard lesson to learn, but Americans should by now be attuned

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Righteous Stupidity is now more Harmful than Wickedness

Luckily, in the 1950s, fostering knowledge was a promotional hook luring parents into stores. Drugstores sold Classics Illustrated and, around 1959, grocers began selling weekly/bi-weekly installments of reference books for students. Among them were Golden Book’s Encyclopedia, its subsequent Home and High School Encyclopedia and an Encyclopedia of Natural Science. To say they were transformative is understatement. My parents shopped at the participating First National Store, and each week I couldn’t wait to pick the latest Golden Book out of its bag. The introductory volume, covering “aardvark to army,” sold for 49 cents. I was age seven. As I turned

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Considering the Supreme Court

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) usually argued for lengths of elected service determined by the people. If constituents wanted to re-elect the same “public servant” time and time again, and he (or she) received enough ballots, Franklin didn’t object, even if tenures of presidents were long. When it came to appointing judges, however, Franklin adamantly argued for a Scottish-style legal system where lawyers, not holders of high office, designated judges. James Wilson (1742-1798), who signed both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution before becoming a Supreme Court Justice himself, strongly disagreed. Wilson favored court appointments by authorized individuals, feeling collectives of peers

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Our Duty is to Recognize Gaps Between the Idealized and Reality…and to Close Them

It should not have taken AAPI rallies, spa shootings in Georgia, and sidewalk beatings of elderly Chinese to draw our attention to new and savage synergies of resentment and violence against Asian Americans. Coactive xenophobic elements were everywhere. For over a year, people of Asian descent and Pacific Islanders endured pandemic scapegoating and slander, suffering nearly 4,000 reported hate crimes nationwide. Most undoubtedly were instigated by Trump calling SARS-CoV-2 “the Chinese virus,” emboldened racists reiterating his “kung flu” slur, and continua of flagrant name calling and condescension online. When asked about motives for the March 16th murders in Atlanta, local

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It’s About Time CEOs Assumed Such Progressive Mantles as Upholding Voters’ Rights

A spate of voting restrictions, disproportionately and negatively impacting people of color, has reemerged in the South. In Florida, Republicans are plotting to constrict mail-in voting, even eliminating drop boxes, proven helpful and secure in 2020. In Arizona and Texas, Republicans hope to narrow ballot submission times, dropping names from early-voting lists if a citizen votes less often. The first salvo, however, of what President Biden calls “21st century Jim Crow” was recently fired in Georgia. Advocates call their new law, which suspiciously looks like voter suppression, a necessary prevention of fraud. Maybe Georgia’s intentions are good, but one has

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Americans Unflinchingly Repeat the Same Mistakes

EU citizens are astonished that the world’s most powerful, yet counterintuitive nation can be so logically and socially incoherent, that Americans unflinchingly repeat the same mistakes responsible for past surges of COVID-19. Reopening before herd immunity’s attained, riotous spring-breakers, and inconsistent mask-wearing and social distancing support their conundrum. Super-spreader events and anti-vaccination rants convince the rest of the world that Americans care little about others and even less about themselves. With 600,000 U.S. pandemic deaths imminent, words like “fragile” and “heedless” keep resonating. Europeans point to the Trump administration’s restrained pandemic response, demonstrators clamoring to “open up,” and Dr. Birx’

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‘Extremism in Defense of Liberty’ if Devoid of Truth and Ethics, is Definitely a Vice.

Homegrown terrorism keeps metastasizing, spreading through America’s lymphatic and cardiovascular systems as rightwing radio, social media and television. Faced with our greatest domestic challenge since the Civil War, finding solutions for combating QAnon, neo-Nazi white supremacist groups and anti-government militias is not unlike curtailing Boko Haram, Al-Qaida, and the Taliban. Limit their outreach and growth, and determine what makes extremist propaganda so alluring: a tall order given that American law enforcement is limited by freedom-of-speech. As a result, anything the Biden administration does to mitigate domestic terrorism will reinforce narratives of politically-motivated censorship. Thusly, without accompanying moral clarity, liberty and

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Our Infrastructure Can’t Withstand 21st Century Challenges

Three years ago, as temperatures in Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart, Tasmania topped 117º F, Australian roads melted and buckled like cardboard suitcases. Last month, the fragility of America’s electrical grid became apparent when Texas and the Deep South experienced severe winter storms, at least by Dixieland standards. Resulting power outages and water main bursts served notice how, in a light-flicker, industrialized nations, with infrastructures ill-equipped for climate change, turn Stone Age. Because Lone Star utilities failed to use low-viscosity, synthetic lubricants in wind turbines, as troubleshooters do up north, propellers froze. Instruments at nuclear and coal-fired power plants iced over

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Half-Earth Gives the “tree of life” at Least a Fighting Chance

Saved on my old Dell, CD-RWs and, more recently, a flash drive as failsafe is a 660-page tome I’ve been writing for years. Referenced to the point of overkill, it’s a heavily-cited compilation of environmental ethics and moral philosophy, delving into humanity’s destructive bent. I began writing it the first day I retired, over a decade ago. Although back-burnered in recent years, I could easily add another six or seven hundred pages. Surely, as Texas and Mississippi lift mask mandates, I’d be remiss not to include a chapter on stupidity prolonging the pandemic. But, for any realistic chance at publication,

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Connecticut Revenues Depend on Hartford’s Ability to Adjust

COVID-19 and anthropogenic climate change are creating new social environments to which economies must adapt. Connecticut’s revenue stream will depend on Hartford’s ability to adjust, especially through green energy job creation. That was particularly difficult during the Trump administration because the former president relentlessly dismantled institutions, flouted rules and degraded the electoral process. Because capitalism, with all its faults, still depends on honoring contracts, America’s oligarchs weren’t about to let that happen. Knowing stability, not strife, predictably boosts profits, blue-chip companies are halting campaign donations to members of Congress who challenged 2020’s election. Corporations, however, will gladly cut workforces to

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‘Reverence for All Life, Can Take us Out of Echo Chambers’

When species diversify by exploring new ecological niches, passing along novel behaviors, acquired knowledge and distinctive anatomical traits, we biologists call that adaptive radiation. Culture is the passing from generation to generation of learned and shared behaviors. Units for carrying such ideas, symbols or practices from mind to mind via speech, writing, rituals or other imitable ways are memes. Like genes in biological evolution, they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures. With so much rapidly transmissible misinformation, distortion of fact and conspiracy mongering, it’s time we Americans stepped up to the plate, pined less for the old, dysfunctional “normal”

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Don’t Give in to ‘Triangulating’ China

Next February marks 50 years since President Nixon and First Lady Pat visited the People’s Republic of China and, in an effort to underpin peace and thaw Sino-American relations, met with Mao Zedong. Perhaps no diplomatic overture in history has been as transformative or bold, nor could anyone but Nixon have pulled it off. His unassailable reputation as anti-Communist hardliner made him immune to criticism from anyone espousing conservative values. Yet Nixon, born in a Yorba Linda, California farmhouse, was a self-proclaimed “moderate reformer.” He revolutionized foreign relations, curtailed the Cold War, reduced nuclear and biological weapons, set cornerstones of

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If Hartford Isn’t Farsighted Enough for a Public Bank, I’d like to See One in New London County

In 1935, as Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield, comedian and Dickens scholar W.C. Fields underscored financial struggle: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds, happiness; annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and six, misery.” Were this Dickens’ London, many of us would be in debtors’ prisons run by CEOs and shareholders the political establishment allows to rig and parasitize our economy. And the fault is not in retirement pensions or luxuriant public services (unless trolley systems suddenly reappeared in Connecticut last night) it’s in hardwired, politically entrenched two-party myopia. The pandemic not only exposed inherent instability of

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Jed Clampett’s Days are Numbered

With his flurry of four dozen or so executive orders to date, Joe Biden’s hit the White House floor running. Some reverse harmful artifacts of the previous administration. Nearly all acknowledge crises facing America and the world, paramount among them climate change, the pandemic, and asymmetric human migration. Using a few prudent strokes of the pen, approval ratings buoyant, Biden’s rejoined the Paris Accord, revoked permits for Keystone XL, and negated withdrawal from the WHO. By directing agencies to review and reverse 100 or so of Trump’s misguided attacks on the environment, he’s setting a tone for rational and progressive

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Trading of Water Futures — a Cause for Concern

Human beings, and virtually all other terrestrial animals and plants, need fresh water to live. We are water’s embodiment in myriad forms. But over 97 percent of Earth’s water is toxic to terrestrial organisms because of its salinity, and more than 90 percent of remaining “sweet water,” sufficiently low in sodium to sustain life, is deep underground or solidified as ice sheets and glaciers. A scant 0.0001 percent of the planet’s fresh water is readily accessible. The hydrologic cycle, which allows life-sustaining land-based and non-potable oceanic waters to evaporate, condense again, and fall as snow and rain, helps replenish that

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America Will Continue to Split Apart until Truth is Paramount

Because of four years’ epic mistakes and mishandling of crises, Joe Biden’s to do list is large. But I’m guardedly optimistic. At long last, we’ll have an overarching, national plan to slow the spread of COVID-19, one which entails federal mandates for mask-wearing and social distancing and aggressively uses the Defense Production Act to cover shortages of critical drugs and personal protective equipment. With once-assured serum reserves seeming a sham, coronavirus vaccine supply chains need immediate resilience, and hospitals, overwhelmed by infection rates, are in dire need of sedatives and neuromuscular blocking agents to help intubated patients on ventilatory support.

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No Nation can be a Personality Cult and Function as a Republic as Well

In 1910, long before television’s unveiling at the 1938 World’s Fair, Belgian information expert, Paul Otlet, and Henri La Fontaine imagined a global repository and distribution point for sharing the world’s knowledge. Their vision evolved into the League of Nations’ International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation (forerunner of UNESCO). In 1934, prescient of the World Wide Web, Otlet wrote about a “Radiated Library” connecting TV watchers to encyclopedic knowledge via telephone wires. The idea remained dormant until the 1960s, when J.C.R. Licklider, a psychologist and computer scientist, proposed linking the world’s computers into a network for scientific exchange. In the heart

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Poor Leadership is as Poor Leadership Does

Delivering a memorable line in the 1994 motion picture, “Forrest Gump,” Sally Field (as Mrs. Gump) gives motherly advice to her son, played by Tom Hanks. “Stupid is as stupid does,” she says comfortingly, a bromide turned ominous by COVID-19. Already America’s coronavirus cases top 22 million with 370,000 dead. Conservative models project U.S. fatalities will reach 560,000 by April. Sixty to one hundred thousand may die this January alone because of post-holiday surges. These totals, by far the world’s worst, were neither inevitable nor teleological. They happened because people ignored advice of scientists, the CDC and other medical advisers,

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Challenges Should Not Tear Us Apart

It’s a sad commentary on America that our greatest challenges – the pandemic, climate change, health, wealth and educational disparities, and racial injustice – not only fail to bring us together, but widen divisions. Both major parties have not only deepened those fissures, but given them orthodoxy. Now, democracy, once a serviceable impasse to candidates with dangerous ideas and disruptive impulses, no longer assures even semblances of progress. Sowing discontent, stoking hatred, and disregarding facts and science comprise a tactical lexicon for getting votes and undermining truth. And until reason and empathy “entangle” within our social consciousness, behaving in lockstep

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A 21st Century Moonshot

Plastic bags and packaging were introduced in the 1950s. Transparent cellophane wrappers enabled shoppers to rummage through pre-cut portions of food, already adulterated with waxes and dyes, less appealing sides of which could be hidden by grocers. For durable goods, plastic packaging posed obstacles to light-fingered customers, and giving illusions of grandeur to the smallest of purchases. From perspectives of profit, versatility and strength, plastics have been a lightweight, malleable, nonperishable boon. Contributing mightily to our glut for oil, they’ve been a cheap structural material in everything from toys to automobiles, aircraft components to medical equipment. In the classic 1960s

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Make ‘99% Herd Immunity’ Our Battle Cry

Disasters are usually avoidable. Weeks before Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii and Herculaneum (A.D. 79), Bay of Naples sea floors boiled and bubbled, streams and wells near the volcano went dry, and rats and other animals left both cities in droves. In 1985, a year before it exploded, engineers at Morton Thiokol warned about Challenger’s O-rings. At temps below freezing, they insisted, O-ring rubber could stiffen and rocket booster sections might not seal. When Bob Eberling, Roger Boisjoly, Arnold Thompson and Allan McDonald asked to delay the space shuttle’s launch for warmer weather, they were overruled. Bending to press and political

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A Rational Middle Ground For Today’s Global Crises

In America’s Coming-of-Age (1915) Van Wyck Brooks famously divided American culture into “high-” and “low-brow.” He imagined, however, a rational middle ground, an organic common sense which combined the passion and practicality of the low with the intelligence and foresight of the high. In my lifetime, the closest we’ve come to that ideal was the environmental movement of the 1960s. It combined self-preservation with realistic views that humans and other elements of the biosphere are roughly equivalent; that living and nonliving members comprise a single, moral, ecological community. So polarized are we now between intellectual and tribal extremes a cultural

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White Privilege is No Rapunzel

Like fossils of dinosaur tracks in ancient riverbeds the first Gilded Age and Victorian era left lingering imprints. White opulence, once hidden at English manors, Rockefeller’s Kykuit or Hearst’s “Xanadu,” became overt consumption of goods, in higher quantity or greater expense than practical, to display social status. Thorstein Veblen described such behavior as “conspicuous consumption” in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Expensive goods not only provided “serviceability,” but “honorific” value as well, the kind of outward display of wealth formerly reserved for aristocrats, nobility and religious leaders, virtually all white. Once corporatism, capitalism and oligarchy morphed into parasitism,

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Freedom of Speech isn’t a License to Deceive

Leadership, above all, is acknowledging reality. When politicians play fast and loose with facts, they immediately disqualify themselves from public service. When Apollo 15 landed on the moon, astronaut Dave Scott, paying homage to Galileo Galilei, dropped a hammer and falcon feather to test whether objects in free fall accelerate from gravity independent of mass. In a near-zero atmosphere, as Galileo predicted in the 17th century, they did, hitting the lunar surface at the same instant. Years ago, a forgery of “Sidereus Nuncius” deceived the world’s foremost bibliophiles. Galileo wrote the astronomical treatise in 1610, using his newly invented telescope

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