From The Editor
Bill Girdner
Story Date:   
Earth Murmur

     I took a January swim, brief as it was, in Oceanside last week. A storm was on its way. In the final light of day, the ocean reflected a flinty blue light that seemed charged, a slightly unnatural hue that said the weather was changing and summoning energy.
     But the water itself was easy to get into.
     Normally, this time a year, it takes an act of will to get in the ocean, a tensing up before the plunge under the first big wave in a frigid sea. I then pop up out of the water and, waist deep, run in place to keep the blood moving. The chilly air seems quite pleasant compared to the cold, cold sea.
     But this year, the water has been pretty warm all winter long. As it was last year.
     It is not normal.
     On our webpage at CNS, we played the news that 2015 was the earth's hottest year on record at the top of the page, but we did not lead with it. The New York Times, on the other hand, gave the story a dominant position, two columns at the top right of the front page.
     The print version of the paper had a straight-forward leading paragraph that announced the record, noted it was back-to-back with last year's then-record, and shifted into the present volatile, extreme weather around the globe.
     But the online version of the Times, which aims for the younger, more transitory and more pumped-up audience, led with the implications for the current primary race. It said that it would be more difficult for the Republican candidates to deny global warming, given the back-to-back records.
     I doubted it.
     I have an otherwise intelligent friend who persists in saying global warming is a hoax. I say the scientific evidence is clearly and overwhelmingly to the contrary. It does not matter, he does not believe it.
     It is not worth discussing further. It is a matter of conviction.
     While the course of this political season should have taken away any capacity for shock, the denial of the threat to mother earth herself continued to prompt amazement and hopelessness.
     But on the right -- by far the more entertaining of the contests -- the denial of climate change seems to have faded from the speechifying of late. And as the first of the primary contests came down to the wire, the flash-point issues of the past years, healthcare and environmental regulation, more or less disappeared.
     Instead the emotion-loaded issues of immigration, jobs going abroad and foreign terrorists were dominant, with Donald Trump, against all predictions, acting as a 500-pound magnet bending all argument in his direction.
     But underneath the awe-inspiring hurly burly -- professional wrestling in a political arena -- I hear the earth's condition as a murmured complaint, a gentle admonition, but one that, if we continue to ignore it, will turn into devastatating wrath.
     And the complaint can be heard all around. Drought followed by deluge. Winter hurricane followed by record blizzard. It can be heard even in a little story in the Times about logging elephants in Malaysia unemployed because the forest is disappearing.
     That long wave of the earth's condition cycles underneath the much shorter wave of human conflict. And it too does not bode well for the human condition.
     While religious conflict goes back as long as religion, the current fighting in the Middle East seems to be spreading like a virus that has no vaccine. In the last ten to twenty years, the hot spots, the zones of steady and seemingly intractable conflicts, have spread wider and wider through the Middle East.
     And most recently, they have started to push their knock-on effects into Europe.
     The unending flotilla of migrants and refugees streaming out of the Middle East and towards Europe will wind up reversing the union of open borders, as each country starts to literally and figuratively do what Sweden has done, put up a guarded fence on the major bridge from Denmark, the single road over which the great majority of immigrants have come.
     And the agony of the Middle East will continue.
     But, as the earth is damaged in a long wave cycle and humanity damages itself in a short wave cycle, the current political season serves to distract us from darker thoughts on a more fundamental and, for many, fatal malaise.
     

 
Coyote Speaks
Robert Kahn
Story Date:   
Those Were the Days

     Back in the days before our newspapers were owned by three competing corporations (Bad Inc., Worse Corp., and the Worst LLC) I used to edit the damn things.
     Hemingway said journalism was a great education for a writer, "if you get out in time."
     News editors get so much information so fast: We get so hardened to the daily slaughter of innocents that the dead people barely matter anymore. It's not a question of what the news is - it's just a question of where to play it.
     Of course we care. But if we cared even a little too much, we'd be useless - to our bosses, and to you.
     As a newspaper editor, I took my pleasures where I could. I invented weather. On orders from the publisher, I wrote a gardening column - until the publisher read it.
     Much of a news editor's job is fitting things in: Cut this story here; fit that one in there. Three inches on the latest idiocy from Kansas.
     All newspapers buy packaged "news features" to cram into a box on Page A2: Celebrity News, though they call it something else. "What You Need to Know Today," perhaps. Oh, I beg your pardon, I believe that's a new feature from The New York Times.
     My favorite part of posting the box on A2 was editing "Today in History," from The Associated Press.
     It's a great feature, though meaningless. It gives you a look at history, though Feb. 5 has nothing to do with it.
     I wished could comment on Today in History back then, though I didn't have the time, and it would have been pointless anyway. But now that I have the time:
     On Feb. 5, 1849, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's first class met at the Madison Female Academy.
     Isn't that a great name for a college? The Female Academy? U.S. teachers were abominably paid, prohibited from getting married, leaving their homes after dark or smoking until high schools were set up in the early 20th century. A shortage of female teachers forced us to hire men. So we started paying teachers better. A little bit better.
     On Feb. 5, 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium established the Congo as his personal possession.
     Cool, huh! So Leopold was a king and a corporation at once! Plus, he was in charge of the taxes! Eat your hearts out, Koch brothers!
     On Feb. 5, 1900, the United States and the United Kingdom signed a treaty for the Panama Canal.
     Wow! And Panama belonged to Colombia, which didn't have to sign anything at all! Talk about "government efficiencies"!
     On Feb. 5, 1917, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917, over President Woodrow Wilson's veto. Also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, it forbade immigration from China and Southeast Asia.
     Since Chinese immigrants had finished building our railroads, we deported tens thousands of them to Mexico, which is why Chinese restaurants in Mexicali and Calexico are excellent to this day.
     On Feb. 5, 1958, the Air Force lost a hydrogen bomb off the coast of Savannah, Ga. It's never been found.
     Heaven help us if the terrorists get it.
     And let us never forget that thanks to an act of Congress, Feb. 5 is National Weatherperson's Day.
     Happy day, Weatherpersons!

 
From The Courts
Milt Policzer
Story Date:   
Picture Day

     I may be imagining this, but it seems like every time the stock market crashes, the volume of new lawsuits goes up.
     If any economists out there are reading this, you clearly don't have enough to do. But since you're not busy, you may want to look at this.
     My hypothesis is that lawyers losing money in the market figure they need to make up for it by generating more fees. This works out well because there are also a lot of clients looking to make up for losses.
     This probably isn't true, but I did come across an awful lot of lawsuits last week in Los Angeles and, on Wednesday, I had what I like to call a Picture Day.
     That's a day when I get a bunch of wonderful stories encapsulated in complaints that cry out to be pictured in my mind - and also yours, because I'm all about sharing.
     I have four from Wednesday filings. Picture the scenes described.
     They may not have actually happened the way they were depicted, but it's more fun to pretend these things are true.
     The first is from a suit you may have heard about against Dr. Phil, aka Phil McGraw, who was sued by a former member of his staff who claims she was so traumatized by an event last March that she was forced to quit about a month and a half later.
     According to the suit, about 300 Dr. Phil show employees were summoned and crammed into a standing-room-only room. Security officers were present and the doors were locked.
     "Dr. Phil yelled at the employees present at the meeting, including Plaintiff, alleging that one of them had leaked internal information to the press. Dr. Phil informed those present that he had contacted the 'Feds' because the information that was transmitted was done so over state lines."
     Contemplate this scene.
     Shouldn't someone be laughing at Dr. Phil? Imagine Dr. Phil calling the FBI to report a security breach at his daytime talk show.
     "Yes sir, Dr. Phil," the highly placed official on the other end of the call would respond. "We'll get on that immediately. Do you suspect the Chinese or ISIS?"
     Imagine suspects being interrogated on camera.
     The suit gets a little less weird on the next page when we're told that a CBS executive told the plaintiff that Dr. Phil just enjoyed scaring his staff.
     But why would this staff be scared by something so silly?
     I'm guessing he only hires potential patients.
     Our second item is from a suit filed by a guy who says he got invited to a gathering in Malibu featuring a talk by a faith healer.
     The healer - I'm omitting his name because he sounds scary - approached the plaintiff and asked him to sit down. "Plaintiff was then under the impression that (healer) would pray for him ...
     "Suddenly and without any advance warning or other requesting permission from the Plaintiff, (healer) forcefully twisted Plaintiff's neck and awkwardly cracked it."
     Ouch.
     Apparently this conversion technique doesn't work on everyone.
     Fake vomit was central to a suit filed against a film production company by an 80-year-old extra working on an episode of a reality show called "Hot Shots."
     I haven't seen this show, and I'm kind of afraid of what the "hot shots" might be.
     It seems that the plaintiff was supposed to sit in a restaurant booth while someone in the next booth fake-vomited on a table.
     Everything was fine during rehearsal.
     But during the final take, "the vomit-like material shot directly onto Plaintiff's face."
     The old guy freaked out, hurt his back and sued - but I'm guessing they used the footage.
     Finally, a property owner - represented by a real law firm - sued the City of Los Angeles and a group of city officials for not making his neighbor take down or trim a hedge.
     The most astonishing sentence from this complaint is this one: "Due to the above-described misconduct, Plaintiff has incurred significant expenses, totaling more than $200,000 in attorneys' fees and costs."
     Clearly, this is someone with a hedge fund.