Friday, January 31, 2014

In Salem as in Portland as in Seattle: Mega-Project Mess: All This Could Be Yours - BlueOregon

The Salem Sprawl Lobby continues to push the "Salem Alternative" without ever even honestly addressing any of the warnings about how these projects go.

"As Governor Kitzhaber pushes Oregon's lawmakers to go it alone on the costly, risky Columbia River Crossing mega-project, it might be wise for everyone in Salem to get a subscription to the Seattle Times, Crosscut, and The Stranger, stat.

Over the past two months, the Times has had headline after headline about WSDOT's latest mega-project, the Seattle tunnel. Most are about how Bertha, the world's largest tunneling machine (custom-built for this project) hasn't moved for nearly eight weeks; contractors and WSDOT have undertaken an expensive and potentially dangerous investigation.

As Oregon has no experience with such mega-projects, and ODOT has a terrible track record with its recent large projects, it is incumbent on CRC-backing legislators to learn from others.

We know Oxford University's Bent Flyvbjerg's meta-analysis shows 90% of mega-projects go over budget, with a billion-dollar cost overrun about average for projects the size of the CRC. We know how Boston's Big Dig, projected to cost $2.8 to $6 billion, ended up costing $22 billion.

Closer to home, we remember the OSHU tram, which came in at two to four times its projected cost, and with a fare more than double the estimate. That's a project one-hundred times cheaper and simpler than the CRC.

But Oregon lawmakers should also notice similarities with mega-projects in Washington, where the DOT – an agency with much more experience than ODOT in managing mega-projects, and that oversaw much of the groundwork the CRC – is struggling mightily with a big bridge project and a two-mile tunnel in Seattle. . . ."

Don't miss this -- making Salem work for everyone, not just drivers


News Release from Cherriots - Salem Keizer Transit
Posted on FlashAlert: January 29th, 2014 3:30 PM
Gil Penalosa is a champion of advocating quality of life for people of all ages, from eight to 80 (and beyond). The Executive Director of a Toronto based non-profit, 8-80 Cities, Gil bases his practice in a simple philosophy: If you create a city that's good for an 8 year old and good for an 80 year old, you will create a successful city for everyone. This is an 8-80 City.

Mr. Penalosa is adding Salem to the long list of cities in which he has lectured with the hope of sharing ideas and inspiration that will help Salem become an 8-80 City. He will present his ideas in a public lecture in Salem on February 19.

As former Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for the City of Bogota, Colombia, Gil successfully led the design and development of over 200 parks of which Simon Bolivar, a 360 hectare park in the heart of the city is the best known; here he created the Summer Festival, with over 100 events in 10 days and more than 3 million people attending, making it the main annual recreational and cultural event in the country and an economic engine for the city.

Salem-Keizer Transit General Manager Allan Pollock said, "I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Penalosa speak in Washington D.C. Like many who hear him, I was inspired by his vision. Gil articulates the importance and benefits of active transportation in a compelling way. We are honored to have the opportunity to host him in Salem and hope that many will join us to learn how we might improve livability in our own community."

Elements of an 8-80 City are simple:

-8-80 Cities are communities built for people. They are made up of public spaces that create equal access for diverse groups.
-They nurture our need to be physically active by providing safe, accessible and enjoyable places for everyone to walk, bike and be active as part of our daily routine.
-They recognize that people are social creatures and prioritize human interaction by fostering vibrant streets and great public places where people can rest, relax and play.
8-80 Cities encourage vibrant communities and healthy lifestyles for everyone regardless of age, gender, ability, ethnicity or economic background.

Locally sponsored by Salem-Keizer Transit and Willamette University, the event is free to the public. Doors will open at 6:00pm. Penalosa's presentation will begin at 6:30pm. Light refreshments will be available.

Willamette College of Law, 245 Winter St. SE, John C. Paulus Great Hall
February 19, at 6:30pm
Contact Info:
Sadie Carney
Director of Community Relations

Thursday, January 30, 2014

By two Salemites! The Health Care Movie!

By two residents here in Salem!  A terrific movie about how a country much like our own overcame the power of special interest money and gave all its citizens full, universal access to health care by fixing a broken financing system that excluded the poor . . . the system that is still killing thousands of us annually in the US.

Look for a showing here in Salem this Spring!  And go the HealthCareMovie.Net to buy your own copies and spread them around!

A Forecast of Our Energy Future; Why Common Solutions Don’t Work | Our Finite World

If you want to understand why every dollar wasted on Bridgasaurus Boondogglus is being stolen from our very hides, read this cool, clear-eyed analysis of our predicament vis a vis energy and other resource limits.

And the $400-$800+ million Bridgasaurus is the least of it -- For that matter, we are very unlikely to pass even the $70+ million dollar bond for a new police HQ. Indeed, it's a good bet that we are never going to build anything at the scale of the City Hall bunker from the 70s again, at least without defaulting on it afterwards.

Food security is the emerging critical issue. Three days after the trucks stop delivering, the stores are out of food.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

WORD: Chris Hedges: The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies

The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies

By Chris Hedges

Editor's note: The following is the transcript of a speech that Chris Hedges gave in Santa Monica, Calif., on Oct. 13, 2013. To purchase a DVD of Hedges' address and the Q-and-A that followed, click here.

The most prescient portrait of the American character and our ultimate fate as a species is found in Herman Melville's "Moby Dick." Melville makes our murderous obsessions, our hubris, violent impulses, moral weakness and inevitable self-destruction visible in his chronicle of a whaling voyage. He is our foremost oracle. He is to us what William Shakespeare was to Elizabethan England or Fyodor Dostoyevsky to czarist Russia.

Our country is given shape in the form of the ship, the Pequod, named after the Indian tribe exterminated in 1638 by the Puritans and their Native American allies. The ship's 30-man crew—there were 30 states in the Union when Melville wrote the novel—is a mixture of races and creeds. The object of the hunt is a massive white whale, Moby Dick, which in a previous encounter maimed the ship's captain, Ahab, by dismembering one of his legs. The self-destructive fury of the quest, much like that of the one we are on, assures the Pequod's destruction. And those on the ship, on some level, know they are doomed—just as many of us know that a consumer culture based on corporate profit, limitless exploitation and the continued extraction of fossil fuels is doomed.

"If I had been downright honest with myself," Ishmael admits, "I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing."

Our financial system—like our participatory democracy—is a mirage. The Federal Reserve purchases $85 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds—much of it worthless subprime mortgages—each month. It has been artificially propping up the government and Wall Street like this for five years. It has loaned trillions of dollars at virtually no interest to banks and firms that make money—because wages are kept low—by lending it to us at staggering interest rates that can climb to as high as 30 percent. ... Or our corporate oligarchs hoard the money or gamble with it in an overinflated stock market. Estimates put the looting by banks and investment firms of the U.S. Treasury at between $15 trillion and $20 trillion. But none of us know. The figures are not public. And the reason this systematic looting will continue until collapse is that our economy [would] go into a tailspin without this giddy infusion of free cash.

The ecosystem is at the same time disintegrating. Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, a few days ago, issued a new report that warned that the oceans are changing faster than anticipated and increasingly becoming inhospitable to life. The oceans, of course, have absorbed much of the excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. This absorption is rapidly warming and acidifying ocean waters. This is compounded, the report noted, by increased levels of deoxygenation from nutrient runoffs from farming and climate change. The scientists called these effects a "deadly trio" that when combined is creating changes in the seas that are unprecedented in the planet's history. This is their language, not mine. The scientists wrote that each of the earth's five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one [part] of the "deadly trio"—acidification, warming and deoxygenation. They warned that "the next mass extinction" of sea life is already under way, the first in some 55 million years. Or look at the recent research from the University of Hawaii that says global warming is now inevitable, it cannot be stopped but at best slowed, and that over the next 50 years the earth will heat up to levels that will make whole parts of the planet uninhabitable. Tens of millions of people will be displaced and millions of species will be threatened with extinction. The report casts doubt that [cities on or near a coast] such as New York or London will endure.

Yet we, like Ahab and his crew, rationalize our collective madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward economic, political and environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess.

The corporate assault on culture, journalism, education, the arts and critical thinking has left those who speak this truth marginalized and ignored, frantic Cassandras who are viewed as slightly unhinged and depressingly apocalyptic. We are consumed by a mania for hope, which our corporate masters lavishly provide, at the expense of truth.

Friedrich Nietzsche in "Beyond Good and Evil" holds that only a few people have the fortitude to look in times of distress into what he calls the molten pit of human reality. Most studiously ignore the pit. Artists and philosophers, for Nietzsche, are consumed, however, by an insatiable curiosity, a quest for truth and desire for meaning. They venture down into the bowels of the molten pit. They get as close as they can before the flames and heat drive them back. This intellectual and moral honesty, Nietzsche wrote, comes with a cost. Those singed by the fire of reality become "burnt children," he wrote, eternal orphans in empires of illusion.

Decayed civilizations always make war on independent intellectual inquiry, art and culture for this reason. They do not want the masses to look into the pit. They condemn and vilify the "burnt people"—Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Cornel West. They feed the human addiction for illusion, happiness and hope. They peddle the fantasy of eternal material progress. They urge us to build images of ourselves to worship. They insist—and this is the argument of globalization ¬¬—that our voyage is, after all, decreed by natural law. We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death. We ignore and belittle the cries of the burnt people. And, if we do not swiftly and radically reconfigure our relationship to each other and the ecosystem, microbes look set to inherit the earth.

Clive Hamilton in his "Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change" describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that "catastrophic climate change is virtually certain." This obliteration of "false hopes," he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth—intellectually and emotionally—and rise up to resist the forces that are destroying us.

The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury—as well as unrivaled military and economic power for a small, global elite—are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence. But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel, after the hottest year [2012] in the contiguous 48 states since record keeping began 107 years ago, we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism. We have bound ourselves to a doomsday machine that grinds forward.

Complex civilizations have a bad habit of ultimately destroying themselves. Anthropologists including Joseph Tainter in "The Collapse of Complex Societies," Charles L. Redman in "Human Impact on Ancient Environments" and Ronald Wright in "A Short History of Progress" have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. The difference this time is that when we go down the whole planet will go with us. There will, with this final collapse, be no new lands left to exploit, no new civilizations to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate. The long struggle between the human species and the earth will conclude with the remnants of the human species learning a painful lesson about unrestrained greed, hubris and idolatry.

Collapse comes throughout human history to complex societies not long after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity.

"One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun," Reinhold Niebuhr wrote.

That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what Ronald Wright in "A Short History of Progress" calls the "progress trap." We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion, Wright notes, that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature.

And as the collapse becomes palpable, if human history is any guide, we, like past societies in distress, will retreat into what anthropologists call "crisis cults." The powerlessness we will feel in the face of ecological and economic chaos will unleash further collective delusions, such as fundamentalist beliefs in a god or gods who will come back to earth and save us. The Christian right provides a haven for this escapism. These cults perform absurd rituals to make it all go away, giving rise to a religiosity that peddles collective self-delusion and magical thinking. Crisis cults spread rapidly among Native American societies in the later part of the 19th century as the buffalo herds and the last remaining tribes were slaughtered. The Ghost Dance held out the hope that all the horrors of white civilization—the railroads, the murderous cavalry units, the timber merchants, the mine speculators, the hated tribal agencies, the barbed wire, the machine guns, even the white man himself—would disappear. And our psychological hard wiring is no different.

In our decline, hatred becomes our primary lust, our highest form of patriotism. We deploy vast resources to hunt down jihadists and terrorists, real and phantom. We destroy our civil society in the name of a war on terror. We persecute those, from Julian Assange to [Chelsea] Manning to Edward Snowden, who expose the dark machinations of power. We believe, because we have externalized evil, that we can purify the earth. And we are blind to the evil within us.
Melville's description of Ahab is a description of the bankers, corporate boards, politicians, television personalities and generals who through the power of propaganda fill our heads with seductive images of glory and lust for wealth and power. We are consumed with self-induced obsessions that spur us toward self-annihilation.

"All my means are sane," Ahab says, "my motive and my object mad."

Ahab, as the historian Richard Slotkin points out in his book "Regeneration Through Violence," is "the true American hero, worthy to be captain of a ship whose 'wood could only be American.' " Melville offers us a vision, one that D.H. Lawrence later understood, of the inevitable fatality of white civilization brought about by our ceaseless lust for material progress, imperial expansion, white supremacy and exploitation of nature.

Melville, who had been a sailor on clipper ships and whalers, was keenly aware that the wealth of industrialized societies was stolen by force from the wretched of the earth. All the authority figures on the ship are white men—Ahab, Starbuck, Flask and Stubb. The hard, dirty work, from harpooning to gutting the carcasses of the whales, is the task of the poor, mostly men of color. Melville saw how European plundering of indigenous cultures from the 16th to the 19th centuries, coupled with the use of African slaves as a workforce to replace the natives, was the engine that enriched Europe and the United States. The Spaniards' easy seizure of the Aztec and Inca gold following the massive die-off from smallpox and [other diseases] among native populations set in motion five centuries of unchecked economic and environmental plunder. Karl Marx and Adam Smith pointed to the huge influx of wealth from the Americas as having made possible the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism. The Industrial Revolution also equipped the industrialized state with technologically advanced weapons systems, turning us into the most efficient killers on the planet.

Ahab, when he first appears on the quarterdeck after being in his cabin for the first few days of the voyage, holds up a doubloon, an extravagant gold coin, and promises it to the crew member who first spots the white whale. He knows that "the permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man … is sordidness." And he plays to this sordidness. The whale becomes like everything in the capitalist world a commodity, a source of personal profit. A murderous greed, one that Starbuck, Ahab's first mate, denounces as "blasphemous," grips the crew. Ahab's obsession infects the ship.

"I see in [Moby Dick] outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it," Ahab tells Starbuck. "That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me."

Ahab conducts a dark Mass, a Eucharist of violence and blood, on the deck with the crew. He orders the men to circle around him. He makes them drink from a flagon that is passed from man to man, filled with draughts "hot as Satan's hoof." Ahab tells the harpooners to cross their lances before him. The captain grasps the harpoons and anoints the ships' harpooners—Queequeg, Tashtego and Daggoo—his "three pagan kinsmen." He orders them to detach the iron sections of their harpoons and fills the sockets "with the fiery waters from the pewter." "Drink, ye harpooneers! Drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat's bow—Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!" And with the crew bonded to him in his infernal quest he knows that Starbuck is helpless "amid the general hurricane." "Starbuck now is mine," Ahab says, "cannot oppose me now, without rebellion." "The honest eye of Starbuck," Melville writes, "fell downright."

(Page 3)

The ship, described as a hearse, was painted black. It was adorned with gruesome trophies of the hunt, festooned with the huge teeth and bones of sperm whales. It was, Melville writes, a "cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies." The fires used to melt the whale blubber at night turned the Pequod into a "red hell."

Our own raging fires, leaping up from our oil refineries and the explosions of our ordinance across the Middle East, bespeak our Stygian heart. And in our mad pursuit we ignore the suffering of others, just as Ahab does when he refuses to help the captain of a passing ship who is frantically searching for his son, who has fallen overboard.

Ahab has not only the heated rhetoric of persuasion; he is master of a terrifying internal security force on the ship, the five "dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air." Ahab's secret, private whale boat crew, who emerge from the bowels of the ship well into the voyage, keeps the rest of the ship in abject submission. The art of propaganda and the use of brutal coercion, the mark of tyranny, define our lives just as they mark those on Melville's ship. The novel is the chronicle of the last days of any civilization.

And yet Ahab is no simple tyrant. Melville toward the end of the novel gives us two glimpses into the internal battle between Ahab's maniacal hubris and his humanity. Ahab, too, has a yearning for love. He harbors regrets over his deformed life. The black cabin boy Pip is the only crew member who evokes any tenderness in the captain. Ahab is aware of this tenderness. He fears its power. Pip functions as the Fool did in Shakespeare's "King Lear." Ahab warns Pip of Ahab. "Lad, lad," says Ahab, "I tell thee thou must not follow Ahab now. The hour is coming when Ahab would not scare thee from him, yet would not have thee by him. There is that in thee, poor lad, which I feel too curing to my malady. Like cures like; and for this hunt, my malady becomes my most desired health. … If thou speakest thus to me much more, Ahab's purpose keels up in him. I tell thee no; it cannot be." A few pages later, "untottering Ahab stood forth in the clearness of the morn; lifting his splintered helmet of a brow to the fair girl's forehead of heaven. … From beneath his slouched hat Ahab dropped a tear into the sea; nor did all the Pacific contain such wealth as that one wee drop." Starbuck approaches him. Ahab, for the only time in the book, is vulnerable. He speaks to Starbuck of his "forty years on the pitiless sea! … the desolation of solitude it has been. … Why this strife of the chase? why weary, and palsy the arm at the oar, and the iron, and the lance? How the richer or better is Ahab now?" He thinks of his young wife—"I widowed that poor girl when I married her, Starbuck"—and of his little boy: "About this time—yes, it is his noon nap now—the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again."

Ahab's thirst for dominance, vengeance and destruction, however, overpowers these faint regrets of lost love and thwarted compassion. Hatred wins. "What is it," Ahab finally asks, "what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time. …"

Melville knew that physical courage and moral courage are distinct. One can be brave on a whaling ship or a battlefield, yet a coward when called on to stand up to human evil. Starbuck elucidates this peculiar division. The first mate is tormented by his complicity in what he foresees as Ahab's "impious end." Starbuck, "while generally abiding firm in the conflict with seas, or winds, or whales, or any of the ordinary irrational horrors of the world, yet cannot withstand those more terrific, because spiritual terrors, which sometimes menace you from the concentrating brow of an enraged and mighty man."

And so we plunge forward in our doomed quest to master the forces that will finally smite us. Those who see where we are going too often lack the fortitude to actually rebel. Mutiny was the only salvation for the Pequod's crew. It is our only salvation. But moral cowardice turns us into hostages.

I am reading and rereading the debates among some of the great radical thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries about the mechanisms of social change. These debates were not academic. They were frantic searches for the triggers of revolt. Lenin placed his faith in a violent uprising, a professional, disciplined revolutionary vanguard freed from moral constraints and, like Marx, in the inevitable emergence of the worker's state. [Pierre-Joseph] Proudhon insisted that gradual change would be accomplished as enlightened workers took over production and educated and converted the rest of the proletariat. [Mikhail] Bakunin predicted the catastrophic breakdown of the capitalist order, something we are likely to witness in our lifetimes, and new autonomous worker federations rising up out of the chaos. [Peter] Kropotkin, like Proudhon, believed in an evolutionary process that would hammer out the new society. Emma Goldman, along with Kropotkin, came to be very wary of both the efficacy of violence and the revolutionary potential of the masses. "The mass," Goldman wrote bitterly toward the end of her life in echoing Marx, "clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify!"

The revolutionists of history counted on a mobilized base of enlightened industrial workers. The building blocks of revolt, they believed, relied on the tool of the general strike, the ability of workers to cripple the mechanisms of production. Strikes could be sustained with the support of political parties, strike funds and union halls. Workers without these support mechanisms had to replicate the infrastructure of parties and unions if they wanted to put prolonged pressure on the bosses and the state. But now, with the decimation of the U.S. manufacturing base, along with the dismantling of our unions and opposition parties, we will have to search for different instruments of rebellion.

We must develop a revolutionary theory that is not reliant on the industrial or agrarian muscle of workers. Most manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and, of those that remain, few are unionized. Our family farms have been destroyed by agro-businesses. Monsanto and its Faustian counterparts on Wall Street rule. They are steadily poisoning our lives and rendering us powerless. The corporate leviathan, which is global, is freed from the constraints of a single nation-state or government. Corporations are beyond regulation or control. Politicians are too anemic, or more often too corrupt, to stand in the way of the accelerating corporate destruction. This makes our struggle different from revolutionary struggles in industrial societies in the past. Our revolt will look more like what erupted in the less industrialized Slavic republics, Russia, Spain and China and uprisings led by a disenfranchised rural and urban working class and peasantry in the liberation movements that swept through Africa and Latin America. The dispossessed working poor, along with unemployed college graduates and students, unemployed journalists, artists, lawyers and teachers, will form our movement. This is why the fight for a higher minimum wage is crucial to uniting service workers with the alienated college-educated sons and daughters of the old middle class. Bakunin, unlike Marx, considered déclassé intellectuals essential for successful revolt.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Sixth Extinction Signed Edition by Elizabeth Kolbert - Powell's Books

The Sixth Extinction Signed Edition

 Upcoming Event

Thursday, February 20, 2014 07:30 PM

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction (Henry Holt), two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Please note: Signed preordered books will be shipped to you and are not available for pick-up in the store the night of the event (but if you're planning to attend, don't worry! Signed editions are usually available at the events). Also, we are sorry but we can not accommodate personalized inscriptions, or guarantee the signed books are first editions. Thanks for your understanding.

See our full selection of signed editions from authors coming to Powell's

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.


"Kolbert accomplishes an amazing feat in her latest book, which superbly blends the depressing facts associated with rampant species extinctions and impending ecosystem collapse with stellar writing to produce a text that is accessible, witty, scientifically accurate, and impossible to put down." Publishers Weekly (starred review)


"Rendered with rare, resolute, and resounding clarity, Kolbert's compelling and enlightening report forthrightly addresses the most significant topic of our lives." Booklist (starred review)


"An epic, riveting story of our species that reads like a scientific thriller — only more terrifying because it is real. Like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction is destined to become one of the most important and defining books of our time." David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z


"With her usual lucid and lovely prose, Elizabeth Kolbert lays out the sad and gripping facts of our moment on earth: that we've become a geological force, driving vast swaths of creation over the brink. A remarkable addition to the literature of our haunted epoch." Bill McKibben, author Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist"

About the Author

Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer at The New Yorker. She is the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.

Free public transit in Tallinn

In Salem, our farebox revenue is only about 12% anyway, and a good chunk is wasted on the machinery for fares.
This system with swipe cards for residents makes a lot of sense.

Free public transit in Tallinn is a hit with riders but yields unexpected results | Citiscope

TALLINN, Estonia — Last January, Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, did something that no other city its size had done before: It made all public transit in the city free for residents.

City officials made some bold predictions about what would result. There would be a flood of new passengers on Tallinn's buses and trams — as many as 20 percent more riders. Carbon emissions would decline substantially as drivers left their cars at home and rode transit instead. And low-income residents would gain new access to jobs that they previously couldn't get to. As Mayor Edgar Savisaar likes to say, zeroing out commuting costs was for some people as good as receiving a 13th month of salary.

One year later, this city of 430,000 people has firmly established itself as the leader of a budding international free-transit movement. Tallinn has hosted two conferences for city officials, researchers and journalists from across Europe to discuss the idea. The city has an English-language website devoted to its experiment. And promotional materials have proclaimed Tallinn the "capital of free public transport."

The idea has been very popular with Tallinners. In an opinion poll, nine out of ten people said they were happy with how it's going. Pille Saks is one of them. "I like free ride," says Saks, a 29 year-old secretary who goes to work by bus. "I have a car, but I don't like to drive with it, especially in the winter when there is a lot of snow and roads are icy."

Different reads on ridership

What's less clear on the first anniversary of free transit in Tallinn is whether it has actually changed commuting behavior all that much.

Mayor Savisaar says it has. He points to numbers from early last year, showing that traffic on the biggest crossroads had decreased by 14 percent compared to a week shortly before the policy started. He has also cited substantial increases in transit riders. "We are frequently asked … why we are offering free-of-charge public transport," Savisaar told a gathering of officials from Europe and China in August. "It is actually more appropriate to ask why most cities in the world still don't."

But researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden who are evaluating the program found more modest results. They calculated an increase in passenger demand of just 3 percent — and attributed most of that gain to other factors, such as service improvements and new priority lanes for buses. In their analysis, free pricing accounted for increased demand of only 1.2 percent.

What's more, they found that traffic speeds in Tallinn had not changed — a sign that drivers were not shifting over to riding transit as intended. Actually, the researchers said, if any modal shift is happening, it's that some people are walking less and riding transit more. Their study notes criticisms of free transit as a "second-best pricing scheme" for discouraging automobile use, less effective than increasing the price of parking, gasoline or using the roads.

However, the researchers did find evidence of social benefits in the form of improved access to the city. Of all the districts in Tallinn, transit ridership jumped the most in Lasnamäe, a densely populated area with high unemployment and a large ethnic minority population of Russians. In Lasnamäe, transit ridership increased by 10 percent.

Experiments around the world

Tallinn isn't the first city to experiment with free transit. Across Europe, a number of smaller cities have done it, dating back to the late 1990s. Templin, Germany was one. In France, there was the city of Châteauroux and Aubagne and some surrounding municipalities. Ridership in all of those places increased substantially when fares went away.

The most closely watched was Hasselt, Belgium. After Hasselt made its buses free in 1997, ridership increased more than tenfold. Ultimately, that wasn't sustainable. Facing budget problems last year, Hasselt reintroduced fares of €0.60, although young people, seniors and those receiving public benefits can still ride for free.

Targeted free ridership of the sort Hasselt has got now is much more common around the world. Many cities and college towns in the United States have free "circulator" buses on downtown or campus routes. Singapore is experimenting with free train rides early in the morning to relieve crowding during the morning rush hour. And Chengdu, China has offered a mix of all these perks: free rides for seniors, free rides on 44 central bus lines and free rides from 5 am to 7 am.

What sets Tallinn's experiment apart is its size and Tallinn's status as a European capital. As the birthplace of Skype and online voting, Tallinn also has a reputation for innovation. So there's a feeling, at least among advocates of the idea, that if free transit can work here, maybe it can work in other large cities.

Joining the movement

The Social Democrats, an opposition party, first floated the idea of free transit in Tallinn in 2005. It wasn't taken seriously at first. But later, a former mayor, Hardo Aasmäe, brought up the idea again in a debate in the office of a newspaper. That was noticed by deputy mayor Taavi Aas, who thought it was worth developing further. A 2010 survey of transit riders offered more encouragement: 49 percent of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with fares, more than twice the number who complained about crowding and frequency of service.

There was money available to invest. The construction of public water and sewer infrastructure was about to end, so it was possible to finance public transport with funds that previously had gone into construction. The merger of two municipal transit companies, one that ran the buses and the other the trams and trolleybuses, also saved some money.

Mayor Savisaar unveiled the idea to make public transport free in the beginning of 2012. Savisaar said it would relieve traffic jams and reduce the number of accidents. "And what's most important," he explained, "free ride will provide better access to public transport to families in economically difficult situations."

Opponents called the idea stupid. Some said the money would be better spent on building new kindergartens. Others said if there was no charge then homeless people would ride buses all day and make travel uncomfortable for everyone else.

The city administration put the question to a referendum conducted among Tallinn residents. Turnout in the election was light, but 76 percent of those who did vote said yes to free public transport.

The plan took effect January 1, 2013. Tourists still have to pay €1.60 to ride. But for Tallinn residents, a deposit of €2 gets a smart card that allows limitless travel within the city. Residents do need to swipe the card over a reader when boarding and exiting buses and trams. They also must carry an identification card proving that they are a registered resident of Tallinn.

Replenishing lost revenues

The registered resident part is crucial to how Tallinn is paying for all of this. Before, there were 40,000 unregistered residents of Tallinn, meaning that they lived in the city but were paying taxes to another town where they had previously lived. Now, free transit is an incentive for those people to register and get on Tallinn's tax rolls.

Triin Rannar is one of them. She moved from eastern Estonia to Tallinn a year ago, and rides the bus to her job downtown each day. The offer of free transit inspired the 24 year-old to register with her new city. She estimates that she saves €23 per month by registering.

Rannar is not alone. More than 10,000 people registered as Tallinn residents in 2013, nearly three times more than registered in 2012. They contribute new annual revenues of about €10 million — almost as much as the lost farebox revenue of €12 million. "If all the registrants were taxpayers," says Deputy Mayor Aas, "then the project costs of free transportation would be covered."

Aas notes that the economics of free transit would be different in other cities. One reason why it works in Tallinn is that the system was highly subsidized to begin with. That's not the case in London, for example, where fares account for 85 percent of public transport revenues. Free fares there would leave a gaping budget hole. "It is easier to waiver the ticket revenue if there's already a large subsidy," Aas says. "The subsidy part used to be 70 percent in Tallinn. Now it's 96 percent."

Can it continue?

Whether that decision was worth it is a question that will take more time to answer. In 2014, researchers hope to gain more insight into free transit's impact on the local economy. And they hope to get more data on mode shifting, as well as how various socioeconomic groups are responding to the change. 

Politically, the big question is whether Tallinn will be able to sustain free transit for the long run  or go the way of Hasselt. Aas says it's possible to keep investing in transit even without farebox revenue. "The first year showed that yes, we can," Aas says. "We have bought new buses. Within five years, we want to replace all buses with modern ones. And one tram line is under renovation, along with the buying of new trams."

As Aas sees it, all this is at least as sustainable as the other services governments spend money on. "Are free education and medicine sustainable?" he says. "Or how sustainable is widening of streets and the construction of new crossroads that will soon be filled with new cars?"

But Andres Harjo, head of the city transportation department, says it's important to remember that price isn't everything. Free rides won't be effective if buses and trams become overcrowded, slow, uncomfortable or unreliable. "The price of a free ride is only one measure to attract people to public transport," Harjo says. "My feeling says that if we are able to guarantee quality, then the number of passengers will slowly and continuously rise."


Mixed results from free transit in Tallinn

Oded Cats on research from Tallinn

Free transit in the U.S., for college students (coming Wednesday)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Read it and rage -- 50 doomiest stories of 2013

50 doomiest stories of 2013

Homo sapiens -- the only species known to have pursued self-extinction with the vigor that most life forms use to resist it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Via CoolTools: a guide for preserving local history

Best how-to for life stories 

Oral History Workshop

Jan 23, 2014 01:00 am

When you're 64 wouldn't you like someone to ask you about your life story and then preserve it? When you're 24 wouldn't you like to learn what really happened back in the day? Here are some great tips for interviewing and archiving these stories, including two chapters packed with a hundred great sample questions to ask. Technology makes this easy to do. I've done regular video interviews with my children as they grew up and with my parents and in-laws. One of the smartest things I've done. This book hadn't been published then (and it's the best of a half dozen on the subject), but if I had read it then I would have done a better job. Right behind me, my high-school age son is now capturing oral/visual histories, and he found this book extremely helpful too.

-- KK

The Oral History Workshop
Cynthia Hart, Lisa Samson
2009, 180 pages

Sample Excerpts:

Even in interviewing, though, some silence can be a virtue. Particularly if the interviewee is discussing something difficult, a breath of silence implies, "Tell me more, associate further, give me the links to this experience, fantasy, or anxiety."

So, though in preparing for your interview you'll likely focus on what you'll ask, don't forget about the power of a well-chosen pause.


Broad questions have a way of eliciting vague answers. Instead of "Tell me about high school," you might start with a smaller, more specific question: "Who were your best friends in high school?" A "little" question about a childhood game could reveal a big truth about a family dynamic. Aim for a combination of broad and specific questions to get the full story.



What insights have you gained about your parents over the years?


Begin each recording by identifying the time, place, and names of the participants. This will serve as a journalistic "time stamp."

To give audio recordings a visual context, take still photographs of your interviewee (and if possible of the two of you together) at the interview location.


Before you finish an interview, ask yourself, "Is there one last question I need to ask in order to achieve what I'd hoped for?" Then ask the interviewee: "Is there anything that you would like to talk about?" or "What have we not discussed that you feel is important for me to know about you and your life?"


Describe a typical family meal in your childhood home. What was usually on the menu? Who sat where around the table? Did it matter to you?

What is the best gift you've ever given someone? The best gift you've ever received?

If you could take only one last trip, where would you go and with whom? What would you do?

What's the biggest mistake you ever made? What did it teach you?

Who are your three closest friends? How are they different from one another, and why is each so dear to you?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Another "coming soon in Salem"

Here's the solution to underused parking structures:  convert them into places for people to live in instead of storage spots for cars.

We Need to Design Parking Garages With a Car-less Future in Mind

Eric Jaffe, The Atlantic 
The Joni Mitchell song "Big Yellow Taxi" rues the day they paved paradise to put up a parking lot. But on East 13th Street in Manhattan, they're doing the reverse. The New York Post reports that a developer has turned a former Hertz garage into an uber-luxury residential building, complete with rooftop foliage (and, yes, parking spaces for tenants). What's most interesting is that the developers decided not to raze the garage but merely to renovate it:

"It has very good bones," says [Dan Hollander, managing partner of DHA Capital] of the garage. "There are over 10-foot ceilings, good columns and the property is 67 feet wide — that's what really attracted us to it."

There's a growing belief among architects and designers that all urban parking garages should be built with these "good bones," which will allow them to be re-purposed in the future. For a variety of reasons, from higher gas prices to greater densification to better transit options, city residents will continue to drive fewer cars. As a result, we'll eventually require fewer parking lots. The ability to adapt a structure rather than tear it down will save developers time, money, and material waste.

"As the auto culture wanes we're going to have a lot of demolition to do, which is unfortunate," says Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. "If we're going to build these [garages] let's design them in a way that they can have alternative uses in the future. With just a few tweaks that's really possible."...

Carless cities and sky cycles

Next for Salem: Massive Wave of Retail Store Closings Predicted

Massive Wave of Retail Store Closings Predicted

Krystina Gustafson looks at the coming "tsunami" of store closures as North America transitions to the "next era in retail".  

"Shoppers will likely see an average decrease in overall retail square footage of between one-third and one-half within the next five to 10 years, as a shift to e-commerce brings with it fewer mall visits and a lesser need to keep inventory stocked in-store, said Michael Burden, a principal with Excess Space Retail Services."

Wells Fargo analyst Paul Lejuez believes "it makes more sense for a retailer to have half the number of stores they once thought appropriate, and instead concentrate on a small store network and e-commerce business."

Full Story: A 'tsunami' of store closings expected to hit retail



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Thursday, January 23, 2014

EXACTLY! "Saying no for the sake of yes"

Subject: Strong Towns Update for 01/22/2014
Reply-To: Strong Towns <>

Saying no for the sake of yes.

Jan 22, 2014 05:00 am | Gracen Johnson

You have to be willing to say no to the bad if you want your city to be built with the good, especially with the development incentives rigged as they are today. Sometimes this can create pro and anti-development factions in your city. A tool to diffuse that animosity is to remember that every time you say no to a proposal, you could be saying yes to something better.
Read More

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Oncologists call for Medicare for All

> January 20, 2014
> 11:23 AM
> CONTACT: Physicians for a National Health Program
> Mark Almberg, communications director, Physicians for a National Health Program,
> Oncologists call for Single Payer in Leading Cancer Journal
> Article in leading cancer journal calls on oncologists to support single-payer national health insurance

> WASHINGTON - January 20 - A feature article published this week in the Journal of Oncology Practice contains an evidence-based appeal by two oncologists, including a past president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), for their colleagues to endorse a single-payer health system.
> The authors are Dr. Ray Drasga, a longtime community-based oncologist who founded a free clinic in his own community of Crown Point, Ind., and Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, a distinguished professor of medicine at Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis.
> Einhorn is perhaps best known for his pioneering research in the treatment of testicular cancer; his successful treatment of cyclist Lance Armstrong received widespread media attention. His research interests also include tumor oncology and lung cancer.
> Einhorn is also past president of ASCO, the largest and most respected oncology society in the world, and has won numerous professional awards for his achievements in clinical cancer research.
> "With the costs of cancer care skyrocketing out of control, most people with cancer are burdened not only physically but also financially," said Dr. Drasga, the lead author. "They delay or do not receive care due to their inability to pay.
> "The crisis in health care is much more pronounced in cancer due to the high costs of drugs, tests, and procedures," he said. "For example, the cost of a new cancer drug has increased to a median price of $10,000 per month since 2010, and some drugs cost much more.
> "The situation is worsening," he said. "We need a fundamental shift in our approach to funding health care in the United States."
> The authors ask their fellow oncologists and their society, ASCO, to endorse a single-payer system of national health care insurance. They say they do not believe that the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," will be able to solve the health care crisis that cancer patients face.
> The Journal of Oncology Practice is a publication of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Its focus is on providing oncologists and other oncology professionals with information aimed at enhancing practice efficiency and promoting a high standard for quality of patient care.
> ###
> Physicians for a National Health Program is a single issue organization advocating a universal, comprehensive single-payer national health program. PNHP has more than 15,000 members and chapters across the United States

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Why doesn't the post office sell "forever" second-ounce stamps for first-class letters?

Likewise, why no forever stamp for postcards? (Maybe the second-ounce forever stamp could also be the same one for postcards.)

The whole point of the forever stamp was to avoid having to print small-stamp denominations to accommodate rate changes, but the problem persists when you get to a second ounce or try to save money by using postcards; the forever stamp doesn't cut it above one ounce.

Phones to Replace Farecards Aboard U.S. Transit Systems [feedly]

Salem needs to implement this in an expanded way, to create a single system that let's the user use a cell phone to pay for or receive credits from others for parking, transit, tolls, and ride shares and even gasoline. 

Anything having to do with mobility should be accessible/payable with this system, which users can add to via their phone cards, but which can accept credits from employers (for using transit, say, preserving parking for others) and public trip reduction programs.  Payment systems accessible via texting are already here.  

What is needed is to stop thinking in silos, with mobility services and services that critically depend on mobility all Balkanized among agencies that don't communicate or even acknowledge each other (schools with massive bus systems and acres of free parking encouraging driving, parking services, bus system, public health workers, etc). 

A Suburb that Makes Walking to School a Priority [feedly]

A Suburb that Makes Walking to School a Priority

Saturday, January 18, 2014

lol my thesis- urban planning

We'll be using this one a lot, too late though: lol my thesis

lol my thesis, the saddest one of all

  1. Looking for a reason to give up on humanity? Study climate change. That shit isn't changing back.

    Environmental Studies, New York University
     From Nick Kristof's NYT column:  "Here’s a scary fact about America: We’re much more likely to believe that there are signs that aliens have visited Earth (77 percent) than that humans are causing climate change (44 percent). . . . A reader from Virginia quoted James Hansen, the outspoken climate scientist: “Imagine a giant asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth. That is the equivalent of what we face now.” . . .  My take is that when Democrats, led by Al Gore, championed climate change, Republicans instinctively grew suspicious. Yet the scientific consensus is stronger than ever. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in September raised its confidence that human activity is the main cause of warming from 90 percent probability to 95 percent or higher.  . . . Nordhaus warns that “the pace of global warming will quicken over the decades to come and climate conditions will quickly pass beyond the range of recent historical experience.” . . .In politics and the military, we routinely deal with uncertainty. We’re not sure that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, but we still invest in technologies and policies to reduce the risks. We can’t be sure that someone is going to hijack a plane, but we still screen passengers. . . ."

For would-be journal keepers

Keeping a journal using email 

Oh Life

Jan 13, 2014 01:00 am

I've written so many "first" journal entries that I've lost count. I have always wanted the benefits of a journal, but could never build the habit, or muster the discipline, to consistently write entries. That all changed when I discovered three years ago.

Oh Life is the tool that helped me successfully keep a journal for the first time. Thanks to it, I now have a record of my life that is richer and more meaningful than I ever expected. Oh life is where I wrote about the birth of my first son, my decision to quit a terrible job, and my excitement about starting a new, better job. It's where I wrote about my brother's cancer diagnosis and where I chronicled the daily milestone's of my son's infant and toddler years. Now I can look back on those events with a clarity that I never had before. In short, given me everything that I'd hoped for in a journal.

What makes Oh Life different is the medium. It is entirely email based. Every day, they send you an email, asking how your day went. All you do is respond to the email, and whatever you write is entered into your journal. The system is completely private so your entries are only accessible by you. As a bonus, each email contains an excerpt from a previous entry, which is a great way to get a daily glimpse into your own past.

I've also known a few people who used it as a shared-private journal. One family wanted a common place for kids, parents and grandparents to share day-to-day experiences and thoughts with each other. They set up an email address that automatically forwarded the daily prompts to all of them. This let them all make contributions in a format that was accessible to all family members but shielded from the public.

The basic service is free, and it offers all of the functionality I've ever needed. However the premium service offers some nice features. For $48 a year, you get:

-Up to 5 photo uploads per entry (vs. 1 with the free version)

-Customized email prompts


-Automatic Backups

-Trending tools, to see changes in particular terms or concepts over time.

If you want the benefits of keeping a journal, but can never seem to make it work, Oh Life might be the tool you need.

-- Scott Lyman

Oh Life