Arts for Action's Sake

The Trend is Not Your Friend

June 27, 2018

Tags: climate change, global warming

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Although it may not always seem that way to cable new viewers, Stormy Daniels isn’t the only meteorological phenomenon that the media is covering. There’s been a noticeable uptick in stories about climate change, thanks to the thirty-year anniversary of then-NASA scientist James Hansen’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. It was that hearing that first brought the concepts of greenhouse gases and global warming to the public’s attention.

Thirty years after Hansen’s seminal testimony, our president has declared climate change fake news, Congress is still dithering, and the news media are doing their best to confuse the issue. (more…)

Are You Better Off Now Since the Last Time I Asked?

June 14, 2018

Tags: state of the economy

That’s a riff on the killer question asked by most politicians. And if you believe what you read in the papers or your alternate go-to news source, your answer should be a resounding YES!

It’s difficult to find a dissenting voice about the strength of the US economy in the media. Take the unemployment rate, for example. The customarily sober-minded New York Times went so far as to headline their story about the eighteen-year low of 3.8% in the May report, “We Ran Out of Words to Describe How Good the Jobs Numbers Are.” The lead states, (more…)

We've Got the Power

May 1, 2018

Tags: climate change, global warming, rock music, folk music

This is a guest post from Joe Di Fabbio, songwriter and rock bandleader since the days of Woodstock. Joe wrote this terrific, uplifting song, "We've Got the Power," to help galvanize action to fight climate change. You can read the lyrics below and click on the title to hear Joe's arrangement.

Artist's Statement: I have been shocked and disappointed by the widespread denial of the human contribution to climate change, even after numerous reports of thousands of scientists around the world. The way we spill oil into our oceans and pollute the air we breathe point to an immediate need to develop and use cleaner fuels.

This song is a wake-up call to change and correct the damage that we are doing to our environment. We possess the technology, we just need to spread awareness and overcome the disinformation being promulgated by the oil cartels. I feel very strongly that we have the power to turn things around if we have the will! — Joe Di Fabbio

"We've Got the Power"

What goes around, yeah,
surely comes around,
and it ain't no different
with our pollution.

Instead of dumpin'
in the air, and sea and ground,
we need to find
a clear solution.

And we'd better start using clean fuel, yeah,
ones that don't spew gas all around.
And let those fossils stay with the dinosaur,
We've got the power, to turn things around.

Seems we've been thinking
"out of sight, out of mind",
but that's really not too wise.
The oil we've burned now
for a long, long time,
has made a greenhouse of our skies!

Why don't we see what
Mother Earth's saying,
Winds are blowing her rage all around,
And our environment
we're surely swaying,
but we've got the power, to turn things around

So mister lazy,
now that you've heard the plan,
ya 'spose we can fix,
what we've ben bungling?
well we'd better start changin',
and work to clean the land,
so we don't stumblin', and rumblin' down.

We've got the power to turn things around!

I'm off to Washington this weekend to see if I can galvanize the lit biz agents to fight climate change with powerful fiction! Wish me luck!

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The Robot Revolution=Robotic Evolution

April 25, 2018

Tags: Robots, jobs

Early Androids
You can’t escape them. Turn on the TV, pick up a magazine or newspaper, search the Internet. Robots started off as a futuristic threat, quickly became a nervous, jokey prediction about lost jobs for humans, and now are in danger of becoming a meme.

Still, other than the occasional Roomba vacuum cleaner or Robomow lawnmower (my favorite), most of us still haven’t seen a robot in action. That’s because they work largely behind the scenes on the factory floor. It’s also because they tend to look nothing like the bipedal, anthropomorphic, android robots of our imagination and our toy stores. Today’s robots are designed to do very specific functions (more…)

Gunplay - A Physician's Point-of-View About Gun Control

April 18, 2018

Tags: Gun control, NRA

"Grandma Swift's" guest post about the need for gun control elicited many comments and much conversation. So today, Peter Acker, a practicing pediatrician and author of the medical thriller Blood Brain Barrier weighs in on the issue from a physician's perspective.

A few years ago I wrote an essay with the provocative headline “It’s the Environment Stupid”. It was inspired by a talk from Dr. Y. Cathy Kim, associate director of the Pediatric Environmental Health Center at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. I wrote about the environmental factors that influence the health of children and argued that it was well within our purview as pediatricians to get involved in community issues such as the type of food readily available in our schools. Of course, every doctor should want to know about environmental influences, but I think it is of particular moment in pediatric care because we pediatricians are charged with advocacy for a group that does not have the clout of adults.

I thought of this piece while digesting all the articles I have been reading about the current gun control debate. Unfortunately, it is loaded (excuse the use of this verb!) with hyperbole, myopia and absurdity. For example, (more…)

A Modest Proposal from Grandma Swift

March 28, 2018

Tags: Gun control, NRA

High School Students Demonstrate for Gun Control in Washington, DC, March 24, 2018
This is a guest post from Marian Armstrong Rogers, author of Astonishments: Stories as True as Memory

Now, you have no idea what I’m going to say about guns until you hear me out, so please do…

I was once the proud owner of a gun. Loved that little water pistol. Never owned a real gun, or even thought about it. When I talk about my schooldays, my grandchildren don’t believe me. Of course, those same years my black brothers and sisters down south were wondering which way to run to escape Jim Crow’s hefty guns and other deadly dealings.

But now there are mass shootings at concerts, nightclubs, hospitals, even schools where children not far from infancy are mowed down by others not far from childhood! Road-rage? Going postal? Sweet Jesus, I never heard such weirdly descriptive terms ‘til every hair on my head was gray and standing straight up at the thought of what they mean.

Truth be told, I don’t like feeling afraid when I’m walking down an empty sidewalk. So instead of burying myself in a book I’ve been mulling this problem over, listening to the debates, considering the latest proposal to keep our children safe: training school teachers to shoot guns and keep one nearby (where? in a desk? a pocket? tucked into a belt?), in case a deranged shooter suddenly appears, and I’ve come up with a solution of my own.

It’s even more outrageous than arming the kiddies’ teachers. You’ll think I’ve finally slipped off the cracker. In fact, I myself wonder if I’m going mad, along with the rest of the country. Could be. But trust me, if nothing else, this solution will tickle you NRA members to death…

I say arm everyone! The young, the old, the in-between; the well and infirm; the calm and agitated; the contented and frustrated. (more…)

The Robots Are Coming? The Robots Are Coming?

March 21, 2018

Tags: Robots, jobs, fast food

Flippy waiting for humans to catch up
Well, I do still think they are, and sooner than we think, although in the spirit of fair play there have been a flurry of reports that suggest otherwise. Or insist that if and when they do come, they will have minimal impact on American jobs.

The most recent apparent setback was the death of a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, on Monday, struck by an “autonomous” Uber car, despite the presence of a human safety-driver. In response, Uber has suspended all tests of self-driving vehicles until an investigation is complete. There were several mitigating circumstances: it was dark, (more…)

The Robots Are Here!

March 7, 2018

Tags: Robots, jobs

"Look, Ma, no hands!"
Here are a couple bulletins from the AI front. It’s worth noting that all appeared in the New York Times yesterday and today.

Uber has announced it’s been operating driverless trucks for several months, serving customers in Arizona. They still have a human in the cab, ready to take over if anything goes awry, but they plan to phase out the carbon-based life form over time. Uber’s strategy is to have so-called “autonomous” trucks for highway long hauls between “transfer hubs,” where humans can take over, driving the final few miles to the customer’s loading dock. Uber claims that driverless trucks will increase driving jobs, in part because of greater demand, spurred by decreasing costs. The company also has a bridge to sell you.

Google has unveiled new research that helps explain how machines reach their decisions, using neural networks, complex computer programs that learn by analyzing vast amounts of data. (more…)

His 2020 Campaign Message: The Robots Are Coming

February 19, 2018

Tags: Robots, politics

Mr. President? Credit Guerin Blask/The New York Times
What follows, without editorial comment, are excerpts from an article by Kevin Roose that first appeared in the business section of the New York Times, February 10, 2018.
Among the many, many Democrats who will seek the party’s presidential nomination in 2020, most probably agree on a handful of core issues: protecting DACA, rejoining the Paris climate agreement, unraveling President Trump’s tax breaks for the wealthy.

Only one of them will be focused on the robot apocalypse.


That candidate is Andrew Yang, a well-connected New York businessman who is mounting a longer-than-long-shot bid for the White House. Mr. Yang, a former tech executive (more…)

The Last Ballad—A Classic "Social" Novel

February 8, 2018

Tags: social protest novel, Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

I wrote a week or so ago about the general disdain for “social” or “social protest” novels (also called “social problem” novels) among the lit biz powers that be. Their prevailing attitude seems to be that readers aren’t interested in fiction that comes freighted with a message. As one acclaimed novelist put it, “The landscape of literary history is littered with the wreckage of writers who thought they were on a mission.”

Just as there’s no unanimity about the proper name for this type of fiction, there’s disagreement about whether the plot must revolve around the struggles of workers, or if protesting other social problems are acceptable literary fodder, such as the economic demoralization and destruction of the middle class. Ayn Rand certainly thought so, when she published what is arguably the most influential social protest novel of all time, Atlas Shrugged. And although my political leanings (more…)