June: Glub Glub Glub

I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the odd things about freelance journalism is that you can be drowning in work, and yet the time lag from research to the printed page means there isn’t much to show for it right away. I guess it’s not quite as bad as being a musician – the Mekons have reportedly had a new album all but ready to go for two years now, and that’s not even close to a record – but it’s still frustrating sometimes when it’s time to write these updates. In any event, there should be plenty of fruits to my labor over the next month or two – not to give too much away, but let’s just say you might not want to be nominating Anderson Cooper for a Nobel Peace Prize just yet.

As for last month’s fruits, as promised last month, the Village Voice ran my investigation into the new, even stricter welfare rules and what they’re likely to mean for poor
families in New York. (Hint: It’s not going to be less dysfunctional bureaucracy.) One of the troublesome city programs singled out in my article: WeCARE, an “intensive case management” system that mostly served to force people to truck halfway across the city to meet with an endless stream of doctors and case workers, or else have their benefits cut off – and within days, the city had announced it would switch to decentralized services in clients’ own neighborhoods. Coincidence?

On the sports stadium front, the Yanks and Mets deals are currently on hiatus – possibly for several months – but Minnesota more than picked up the slack, passing a nearly $400 million sales-tax package to fund the bulk of costs for a new Twins stadium. The approval came after more than a decade of legislative debates, and with polls showing Minnesota residents still opposed to the deal by a 2-to-1 margin. Baseball Prospectus subscribers can read my take on why the state legislature caved, while everyone else can see my interview in the Minneapolis City Pages.

Also on my agenda for the month was reading a pair of books I’d been meaning to get to – and which I highly recommend if you or your loved ones intend to live on this planet for more than the next few years. Elizabeth
Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe is a slim, eminently readable travelogue on the devastating, irreversible impacts of global climate change – it’s probably the lightest reading you’ll ever do on the end of the world. (That’s a compliment, by the way, to Kolbert’s New Yorker-honed prose. Incidentally, I worked on a college newspaper with Elizabeth’s brother Dan, and while he didn’t teach me everything I know about journalism, he certainly gave me a good nudge in the right direction. Thanks, Dan!)

For a meatier look at the same topic, check out Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers, which includes such unlikely-but-not-unlikely-enough scenarios
as the complete collapse of the Amazon rainforest ecosystem and the halting of the Gulf Stream, bringing Ice Age conditions to Europe. (Flannery is also the author of one of my other favorite books, The Eternal Frontier, a history of North America over the past 65 million years that contains the only description I’ve seen of how to preserve mastodon meat by burying it in a bog.) Flannery goes on a bit at times – feel free to skip the first chapter about the Gaia theory – but it’s still gripping reading, and at least spares you having to watch Al Gore.

Between the two of them, Kolbert and Flannery make clear that radical change is needed in the way we produce and consume energy, and soon, if we have any hope of preventing catastrophe within our lifetimes. It looks like we can have SUVs or polar bears, but not both. And if we don’t choose soon, possibly not either.

And on that cheery note, I’ll see you next month. Happy hurricane season!

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