Monday, June 30, 2008

Fantasy Island

On another forum I was encouraged to visit the web address of one Lindsey Williams, a self-appointed energy expert who claims there are more than adequate supplies of petroleum in the world -- easily enough to support two-buck gas and the continued regime of happy motoring.

But I declined to visit Williams's site, because I already know the main outlines of the theory he’s peddling, which consists of equal parts infantile fantasy and snake oil. I call it “The Creamy Nougat Center” theory, and it’s the idea that the earth’s core is spontaneously generating crude oil, which is seeping into the bottoms of the world’s petroleum reservoirs as they are emptied from the top. I hope someone will correct me if I have some aspect of this fundamentally wrong.

Thus desperate and fearful people are lured into believing that there’s just as much petroleum to be had now, or shortly will be as much, as existed at the beginning of the second industrial revolution, ca. 1865 or so.

This, of course, begs the question, “Where is it then? Where is this embarrassment of abundance?“ If, as it was in the beginning, so it now and ever shall be, why has oil production in the U.S. declined every year for over 30 years, by about five percent a year? Why are the Saudis having to pump ever-increasing amounts of sea water into their main field at Ghawar, and relying more and more on horizontal drilling techniques just to maintain current levels of production?

In order to answer those questions, you have to turn to the snake-oil part of Williams’s scenario, the conspiracy theory. I’m less familiar with that part of it than I am with the “creamy nougat” part, since I see no reason to learn the details of complicated, Byzantine, and convoluted scenarios involving the oil giants, Jimmy Carter and the Trilateral Commission, secret meetings at the Bohemian Grove, etc., etc. It suffices to point out that if there was any truth to this conspiracy theory, every bureaucrat in every oil ministry in every country currently struggling to maintain production levels would either have to be in on it, or would have to be an unwitting dupe of the master conspirators -- something that’s clearly impossible.

No credible expert in the field has paid the least notice or given the time of day to these crackpot theories. I’ll cite the Princeton geology professor Ken Deffeyes as an example, and he’s just one of dozens I could cite, who in his commentary on the situation this week bluntly advised, “What do we do? First – admit that there is a problem . . . It's the oil supply, stupid.”

Admit there’s a problem, which is to say, two-dollar gas and happy motoring are gone forever, and little Pollyanna, who sticks out her lower lip and doesn’t want to admit there’s a problem, really is not helping.

All of this reminds me of an incident that happened a few years back when a young friend of mine, on fire with the new life he’d been given by A.A., visited the cirrhosis ward in a large metropolitan hospital. He was sure he’d be able to help some of those poor, suffering bastards. But as it turned out, he couldn’t help any of them, because none of them had a drinking problem. Every single one of them testified that alcohol was not a problem, that “I can take it or leave it.” And this, even though the day of reckoning for them had arrived.

The day of reckoning has been bearing down on us for a long time, and now it’s here. The first thing I did this morning, as I usually do when I get up on Monday, was visit Jim Kunstler’s blog, for his weekly installment of the bad news. And I’ll admit, it does take a strong stomach and some real courage for any normal, ordinary citizen to wrap his or her head around the truth.

But we’ll be a lot worse off if we don’t acknowledge it, and take personal steps to cope with it. The phrase that comes to mind is from Mr. “T” -- he of “A-Team” fame, who always used to say “I pity the fool who…” Yes. And I pity anybody who has not taken some concrete steps in his or her life to deal with these new realities, because you’re getting crushed like bugs.

And just one more thing. Obviously, there’s going to be a third industrial revolution, and the gangbusters new industries that arise during that phase of development will focus on renewable and clean methods of energy generation and energy conversion. There was a time when this country would have been leading the world in investing in, and developing and, yes, selling the new technologies. What happened to us? Why have we become so backward, inept, and unable to deal with the realities of changing conditions?

This is not the America I grew up in.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What Do You Have?

What do you have when you have a country where the government has "fought many wars," bringing the country "to the verge of bankruptcy?"

--Where "an system" is "unable to manage the national debt," which is "both caused and exacerbated by the burden of grossly inequitable" (and insufficient) "taxation?"

--Where there is a deep resentment of the continuing "conspicuous consumption" of the ruling class?

--Where there is ongoing and rising high unemployment and inflated prices?

I'd say you have the French Revolution on your hands, from the looks of it.

The major social disruptions usually occur when a society has been experiencing the sort of crisis described above, and then things improve just a little bit. At that point all hell can break loose, as it did in 1789.

This is the year the Republicans will be swept from power. The Democrats will take over, and people will be expecting big improvements. But the Democrats won't deliver the kinds of big changes voters are anticipating.

There'll be some improvement, but there'll also be a lot of foot-dragging. We won't be leaving Iraq any time soon.

That is, unless major social disruptions occur. Could happen.

Friday, June 27, 2008

That Which Never Changes

"God" is a word impossible to get one's head around. "Supreme Being" is almost as bad.

Our yoga teacher -- my daughter's and mine -- sometimes refers to "that which never changes." There's something nearly possible to think about. But what could it be? Everything changes. Even mountains change. Even the universe changes.

But some things change so slowly that for our intentions, for purposes of the length of a human lifetime, they change so slowly and imperceptibly that we can perceive them us unchanging. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," didn't much like the world, but he liked the dioramas at New York's Museum of Natural History ("where I went as a kid") because they never changed.

I've been spending time lately near the three-times-lifesize bronze statue of the Buddha in Golden Gate Park. As far as my limited senses can tell, it never changes. I'm sure it does, really. I'm sure it erodes. But it hasn't visibly eroded since I first visited it in 1965. It was cast in Japan 218 years ago, and brought to where it stands now in 1949. I'll bet it hasn't changed a bit since then.

He reminds me that suffering doesn't change either. For most of us, it comes and goes, but it always remains the one thing all human beings have in common.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


The most reliable indicator of relative justice or injustice in any society is the measure of income distribution, And the most accurate index of relative income distribution in modern societies is the Gini Coefficient.

An extremely well-written Wikipedia article explains it this way: The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion most prominently used as a measure of inequality of income distribution or inequality of wealth distribution. It is defined as a ratio with values between 0 and 1: A low Gini coefficient indicates more equal income or wealth distribution, while a high Gini coefficient indicates more unequal distribution. 0 corresponds to perfect equality (everyone having exactly the same income) and 1 corresponds to perfect inequality (where one person has all the income, while everyone else has zero income).

A historical overview of the Gini Coefficient in this country would show it at relatively high levels in the early part of the twentieth century, with the most severe inequality occurring just before the onset of the Great Depression. From the time of the first Roosevelt administration the coefficient gradually fell, as an increasingly progressive income tax and the advent of Social Security redistributed the national income.

It reached an all-time low (highest level of equality) of .386 under the administration of Lyndon Johnson. Starting with Nixon, the tendency toward income inequality, i.e., the tendency of the rich to grow richer and the poor to grow poorer, began to increase. This tendency was exacerbated under Reagan and has reached absolutely unsustainable proportions under the Current Occupant, reaching an all-time high of .47 in 2006, the most recent year for which the index is available.

No other industrialized country has income inequality approaching anything near what exists in this country.

When a modern nation exhibits this level of inequality, it means the mass of citizens is necessarily indebted and impoverished, and unable to provide themselves with life's necessities. In our case, the necessity we are most critically unable to provide ourselves with is medical care.

This is a symptom of a populace that has been stripped of political power. Lack of power is the problem; acquisition of power is the cure.

If the corporate oligarchy will not give us back the political power that we as free citizens used to have, we will have to take it by force. It's the only way we can return a government to Washington that is willing to act in our interests, rather than the interests of a privileged few.

Without economic democracy, political democracy doesn't mean a goddam thing.

Mao Tse Tung once wrote that all political power comes out of the barrel of a gun. I don't agree with that, because in the present case, violence against a caste of oligarchs who have a police state at their disposal, while justified, would be self-destructive. However, as Gandhi and M.L. King taught, there is more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case, peel the thick layers of fat off the top of a corrupted ruling class.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hilltop Destination

Today I took my usual morning walk to the top of the hill and got this lovely picture of a typical Cole Valley sidewalk scene. This small market at the corner of Stanyan and Parnassus has one of the city's nicer selections of cut flowers.

But alas, my errand was not mainly flower oriented, since my main destination this morning was the more pedestrian objective of Walgreen's, right across the street from this charming scene. I needed to get Metamucil cookies, since the biological reality of aging dictates that once most of us have passed 60, our natures need a little assistance.

The weather here seems to be transitioning from foul to fair. There's still a cool breeze and some high fog, but I'm hoping that by tomorrow it'll be summer again.

I've been here nearly a month now, and while I'm still charmed by this city, its crowded, intense, and relentlessly concentrated essence is beginning to wear on me somewhat. I'll be back in Desert Hot Springs by this time next week, but only for a few days; from there I travel north, to the truly cold country.

Human Sacrifice

I wish a copy of this morning's Bob Herbert column in the New York Times could be on every Congressperson's desk today.

It seems like the wars and the people who have to fight them are no longer topics of conversation in this country. They've just been filed and forgotten -- the wars and the warriors both.

As a nation, our callous and unfeeling attitude will come back to haunt us.

"The dog starved at his master's gate predicts the ruin of the state." (William Blake)

Monday, June 23, 2008


I wrote in my private journal earlier today that "As Jim Kunstler predicted years ago, the energy crisis is turning into the everything crisis. And it's not the crisis that's upsetting so much as people's stupid reactions to it."

The unreflecting nature of a stunned and stupefied public eventually tends to drive calmer and more analytical types out of the political realm, and causes some to retreat toward internal sources of strength in an attempt to maintain equilibrium.

Maybe that's why yoga is gradually, slowly, but inexorably moving toward the center of my life, and replacing politics and activism increment by daily increment.

Yoga is not an exercise technique, although it incorporates that activity. And it is certainly not a performance art.

Yoga is a wellness program.

Yoga is an aesthetic.

Yoga is a philosophy.

Yoga is a way of life.

Its essence is utter simplicity.

Its demeanor is quiet, and doesn't call attention to itself. That's why it flies under the radar.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

No Truth in Pravda; No News in Izvestia

Claiming that "U.S. news would drive me nuts" if she had to watch it, outspoken CBS News foreign correspondent Lara Logan used an appearance on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" to vent her frustration with war coverage in the American media.

She's already on record as claiming that Americans generally have no idea of how badly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are going because of media suppression of pictures of American casualties.

Logan's opinions about the wars are derived from her intimate experience of combat conditions there. She's regularly on patrol with troops, and told Stewart, "I’m on high-value target raids, taking down some of the most wanted Taliban fighters and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, and I’m told … ‘Unless it’s Osama bin Laden, who cares about — you know, Mullah bin Shagged, whatever?’"

That's because for most of us, the war is now off our radar, as Frank Rich pointed out in his NY Times column this morning. From early 2007, Rich says, most Americans had decided the Iraq war was a mistake, wanted us out of the Middle East, and basically stopped thinking about it (see Rich's "Now that We've 'Won' Let's Come Home".

That view is backed up by Lara Logan's observations that “Nobody really understands. And the soldiers do feel forgotten. … We may be tired of hearing about this five years later. They still have to go out and do the same job. … More soldiers died in Afghanistan last month than Iraq. Who’s paying attention to that?”

More of Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" interview with Lara Logan, plus video, is here.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sweet Delight/Endless Night

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

--William Blake
"Auguries of Innocence"

Friday, June 20, 2008

But Ugly

Tourists are baffled by it, because they don't know what it is. Franciscans mostly don't like it and generally ignore it. It's one of the least known major San Francisco landmarks. The top of it looks to me like a three-masted frigate.

Shortly after work on this Rube Goldberg of a transmitter sitting atop Mt. Sutro was completed, the late SF Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote "I keep waiting for it to stalk down the hill and attack the Golden Gate Bridge."

Sutro Tower is useful for purposes of geographical orientation (it can be seen from everywhere in this low-rise city excepting those few places where it's obscured by tall trees or tall buildings), but ugly. The television stations which had it built in the early 70's to improve the city's spotty reception patterns could have just waited a few years, until cable came in, but they had no way of knowing that at the time.

This morning I climbed the steep Cole Street hill, which I can easily and pleasurably do now that I no longer smoke cigarettes, and took this shot at the corner of Schrader and Carmel. It's tee shirt weather here today, which is unusual, and the streets are crowded with pedestrians. I took a long walk and didn't worry about getting lost; I can always figure out where I am by looking for Sutro Tower.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry -- a cheap, nutritious, and delicious meal.

Get you a package of (organically-grown) chicken legs. Put 'em in a kettle with just enough water to cover.

Boil until that white scum stuff comes to the top. Skim it off, cover the pot, and simmer for an hour. The meat should be just about, but not quite falling off the bones. Put the meat and soup in another pot.

Rinse out the kettle and heat a couple tbsps of oil in it. Chop a yellow onion and sautee it until it's clear.

Add two tbsps of curry powder. Any kind is good, but I like Bolst's medium from India. Moisten the onion with a little soup if the bottom of the kettle dries out too much. Cook for a couple minutes, then add some more soup.

Add a chopped large carrot and a chopped, unpeeled large potato. Shred the chicken meat and throw that in. Add as much soup as personal preference dictates. Add salt and (importanta) cayenne to taste. I use about 1/8 to 1/4 tsp of cayenne. Just remember, once it's in, you can't take it out.

Simmer for an hour and serve on steamed white rice. Top with anything your heart desires; possibilities include raisins, salt peanuts, cashews, bananas, plantains, chutney, etc., etc., etc.

Eat. Enjoy.


Then just leave out the chicken, and use a vegetarian bouillon or vegetable stock. Trader Joe sells a pretty good one.

I respect and admire the vegetarian lifestyle, which continues to gain adherents daily. However, I could not live without chicken soup, one of the most nutritious and versatile foods known to the human race, and since I need to cook chicken meat to get the soup, I figure I might as well eat the meat too.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Boss Hogg

The ideal weather returned yesterday, after four days of a cold, foggy, windy, December-in-June interlude that frequently oppresses the spirits of this otherwise fabulous city. I've resumed my extended walks, and this morning snapped this pic of an ancient, antique Cadillac with its disintegrating ragtop at the corner of Grove and Masonic. It's a fitting memorial to the internal combustion engine at the end of the age of the car.

With gasoline at $4.79 a gallon two blocks away at Fell and Masonic, "The Dukes of Hazzard" has been canceled and won't be returning to this town anyway for the fall season. Even in the land of NASCAR, where drivers depend heavily on pick-'em-up trucks, that show will be running a curtailed schedule.

Closing his eyes and going to sleep this morning, President Bush urged Congress "to end a federal ban on offshore oil drilling, according to White House officials who say Mr. Bush now wants to work with states to determine where drilling should occur," according to this morning's NY Times.

The Times article notes that "the federal Energy Information Administration estimates that roughly 75 billion barrels of oil in the United States are off-limits for development, and that 21 percent of this oil — or 16 billion barrels — is covered by the offshore moratorium." The United States consumes a billion barrels of oil every fifty days.

Personally, I'd be skeptical about the mathematical abilities of anyone who thinks that 16 billion barrels of offshore-derived oil, which could come on line a minimum of two years from now, would at this point or any time in the future have any significant effect on either world supply or prices.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

They Said "I Do"

The first couple to be to be married under California's new interpretation of the laws governing marriage is a lesbian pair who have lived together 55 years.

Phyllis and Del finally tied the knot and made it official. I saw their picture in the paper, and they certainly look harmless enough. They don't appear like the sort who could demolish the foundations of society.

Some people feel that gay marriage threatens and undermines the institution of marriage, by which they mean exclusively heterosexual marriage.

I guess I don't have a dog in that fight, since I'm not married and have no stake in that institution.

If it is an institution.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Reverend Malthus Returns

"Kunstler is too negative," people frequently say to me when I mention his name. And it's true that reading Jim Kunstler is not exactly going to be a laff riot for anyone with two fully-functioning brain hemispheres.

However, I must point out, as Kunstler himself has on more than one occasion, that there's a difference between what I would like to see happen and what I have reason to believe actually will happen with regard to, say, the price of gasoline, or the prospect of the continuing political stability of the United States, or the possibility of world-wide famine.

It's not that Kunstler is too negative; it's reality that frightens people (me included) to tears. However, if we fail in the unpleasant task of facing the truth, we'll suffer even more grievously than if we ignore it, by instead dwelling on more pleasant topics such as Lisa Marie's baby bump.

Kunstler has the annoying habit of making accurate predictions. I've been reading him since right around the turn of the century, and everything he predicted back then has come to pass, without exception.

"(S)hortages of food and oil are two fiascos that are pretty clearly predictable for the second half of the year," he cheerfully prophesizes in this morning's column. "That's bad enough without figuring in the 'unknowns' that could kick up American hardship a few more notches. The hurricane season just got underway..."

His Monday-morning screed also mentions the 19th-century demographer Reverend Thomas Malthus, who 200 years ago shocked the world with the gloomy observation that human populations inevitably outrun the food supply, since human reproduction, capable of doubling a given population in every generation, can increase geometrically, while available food supplies are limited only to arithmetical rates of increase.

Malthus has fallen into disfavor among academics during the past few decades, and with the world's population rapidly approaching seven billion, the philosophers of "progress" have seen no reason to take Malthus's deep-rooted pessemism and conservatism seriously. But the collapse of the kind of agriculture which made the earth's present-day population possible -- an agriculture based on petroleum "inputs" such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides -- may be at hand.

Malthus is back, along with the Four Horsemen. If you don't like contemplating such things, avoid reading Jim Kunstler; he'll only depress you. If, on the other hand, you want to prepare for what's coming, read Kunstler, read Malthus's "Essay on the Principles of Population," and climb to the top of the bell-shaped curve to get a view of the world from Hubbert's Peak.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ain't No Tellin'

George Packer's New Yorker article, "The Fall of Conservatism," is competently argued and backed up by evidence both historical and anecdotal, and it's generated a lot of buzz. It's worth reading, but I don't entirely buy it.

Ain't no tellin' what's going to happen. If underlying social and economic conditions were roughly the same as they have been the last 100 years or so then the political system would be predictable. Conservatism would go dormant for a couple decades, like liberalism did from 1980 to 2006, then after a time would reassert itself.

The problem is, underlying conditions are radically changed. This country has lost a lot of power in the last eight years spinning its wheels in Iraq to the tune of three trillion, and is now the world's biggest pauper (which is one reason it's lost quite a bit of that power).

The Vietnam War wiped out our gold reserves. This one was all put on VISA. And now the credit market is tapped out, the great suburban build-out is over, gasoline is unaffordable and will mostly stay that way from now on -- all the sources from which our wealth and power derived are broken or gone.

Maybe a majoriity will turn viciously right-wing under the pressures of poverty and anxiety, wanting to make scapegoats of immigrants or some other vulnerable group. There could be a kind of fascist revolution of that sort. Or on the other hand we might turn to radical environmentalism, and turn on the TV news to see drivers of gas buggies getting pelted with stones, and people turning in their neighbors to the re-ci police for not recycling their paper bags.

There's just no telling.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Anne Frank's Diary

by Dian Hassel

Anne Frank was born on June 12 in 1929. On her thirteenth birthday, she received the gift that would affect the world forever, a diary. Forget that she was an adolescent---her thoughts were so mature, so world-wise. Her family lived in Amsterdam, and one month after receiving this diary, she and her family went into hiding to escape the persecution of the Nazis. They lived in hidden rooms in her father's office building for two years, until someone gave them up. She died of typhoid in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as a fifteen-year-old. If you're so inclined, pick up a copy of her diary (required reading in quality middle schools and junior highs)---just imagine what we have missed, not having a 79-year-old Anne Frank now, and all of the preceding years of wisdom and observations.

I was fortunate enough (as a twelve-year-old) to visit the building where they hid on June 27, 1968 (recorded in my diary). Our family was doing seven countries in thirty days. There were scheduled tours that day, but my buddies on the trip, another 12-year-old named Dan and his 9-year-old sister Beth, decided to take off on our own! We went off for the whole day by ourselves, figured out the bus routes and got to Anne Frank's house. It was perfectly safe for us to do that then, and our parents weren't worried. We had enough money with us to take care of all the expenses of the day, including a very nice bread, cheese and fruit lunch in a park. Forty years ago, and I can remember every detail!"

Here are a few quotes from Anne Frank's diary:

"No one has ever become poor by giving."

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery and death."

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tempus Fugit

Some say it crawls, but I say it flies.

My daughter turns 36 on Sunday. I can scarcely believe that eventful and exciting June night at Swedish Hospital in Seattle was way back in 1972, but there it is. Julie and I didn't have two nickels to rub together, but we managed to produce an issue who brings joy to the world and to everyone whose life she touches. And even at her advanced age, Rachel is still passes as "that Gypsy girl" most of the time.

Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the U.S. The first that I remember distinctly, Eisenhower, was the 34th.

On this date 122 years ago, the deposed King Ludwig II of Bavaria was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Lake Starnberg, near Munich. History books sometimes refer to him as "mad," but he was no crazier than you or I (I'm assuming that none of the readers of this blog are schizophrenics). He was merely an early prototype of the gay interior decorator, and had no sense of fiscal responsibility, which sort of goes with the territory. He built Neuschwanstein, beloved of travel poster photographers and the model for Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland. He also had a mouth full of black stumps instead of teeth, since he was addicted to sweets and dental hygeine wasn't very good in those days.

Also on this date in history, in 1934, Hitler met Mussolini for the first time in Venice. They made a cute couple, but Mussolini later referred to der Fuehrer as "a silly little monkey."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thought for the Day

If you belong to City CarShare it costs you ten dollars a month in any month you don't need to drive anywhere and don't use a car.

When you do use one of "your" cars, which are conveniently located in neighborhoods throughout the city in "pods" of anywhere from two to a dozen vehicles, the chage is less than what it would be for a rental, and you never have to buy gas.

Needless to say, there's no worry about parking when your trip or errand is done, and maintenance, insurance, etc., are someone else's problem.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Steal Back Your Life, Part II

The energy crisis we're experiencing now could have been avoided. For less than what we've spent on this stupid, testosterone-fueled, illegal, and immoral Iraq War, we could have replaced most of the petroleum we use with an electrical generating capacity that could meet today's needs and then some. It would have been a matter of building a few dozen of the present generation of idiot-proof nuclear facilities and a few dozen vast wind farms, and converting private vehicles to electricity, or to gas/electric hybrids that can be plugged into a wall socket.

We could have once again had a railway freight system that takes a back seat to none, to replace all the smelly, dangerous, diesel-burning tractor-trailers that presently make the national highway system into an obstacle course.

Instead we chose to pour three trillion dollars, four thousand-plus of our own lives, and the lives of a million or so Iraqis into the sand of the Mesopotamian desert, not to mention the hundreds of thousands who have been maimed, invalided, or had their lives otherwise ruined. We did this in pursuit of petroleum and an adolescent need to act out some macho self-image.

The time to launch an emergency energy rehabilitation program would have been ten years ago. Or eight years ago. Five years ago would have been too close to where we are now -- we'd still be in the soup, just not as deeply.

There is no political leadership in this country worthy of the name, and hasn't been since Roosevelt died.

When a government has no interest in serving the needs of its people, when it violates the people's right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," then the people have "the right to alter or abolish it." Or, Jefferson might have said, the duty to overthrow it.

Actually, "overthrow" is a rather harsh and inappropriate word, since it implies the kind of violence that would be foolish and self-destructive if ordinary people tried to use it against a war machine such as the one oppressing us. "Undermine" not only sounds nicer, it's more practical.

We can undermine our ruling class and the government which does its bidding by a) not buying stuff; and b) not paying taxes. The way to accomplish b) is to find some way to make a living off the grid, getting paid cash in an underground economy.

Piece of cake.

Now all we have to do to steal our lives back and seize the carrot is figure out how to live without oil and gas that we can afford.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Steal Back Your Life

If you're young, don't volunteer yourself into the armed forces, even if you're jobless. Better you should be scrambling for some crumby job than giving your life away for a few barrels of oil that will probably never materialize anyway. And be thankful there's no draft.

Get out of that straitjacket of a suburb, while the getting's good. Get back to the city, to a walking neighborhood where you can get to the store, the hardware store, the post office, etc. on foot. Donate the beater to Father Joe. Forget the price of gas, the price of oil. You'll guess what they are easily enough gauged by the prices of everything else you buy.

The earth can support its present population only if some are starving while others prosper, and only if we continue our ecologically destructive ways. It could support a population half as large if we lived harmoniously with Spaceship Earth only if we embrace vegetarianism, or near-vegetarianism. Steal back your life from the forces of fossil-fuel derived fertilizers and pesticides and the fossil-fuel burning machines that make agribusiness possible.

The purveyors of slow death tell us we asked for suburbia, for cars, for agribusiness, for Wal-Mart, for more and cheaper stuff at any cost. I don't remember asking for any of that.

Lots of people are banking on Obama, but I don't have a lot of faith in political solutions. I'm sure Obama is well-intentioned, but keep in mind that he has to work with the powers that be -- the corporations and the Pentagon and the alphabet special interests such as the AMA and the NAR and all the other movers and shakers who put us here, where we are today, or in other words, the very people we now must force to relinquish our lives, so we can steal them back and make them our own once more.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Immaculate Tranquility

The charm and grace of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park derives as much from what it's missing as it does from what it contains. Only a grossly insensitive person could fail to notice the complete absence of trash -- no shards of plastic bags or bits of paper cling to the shrubbery, no soda cans blight the sparkling pools, and there is scant evidence of even vegetable debris such as leaf litter and pine needles here.

Its immaculate, pristeen, and manicured state amplify the tranquility and languid, late-spring serenity of the garden, and this ambience is further enhanced by its centerpiece, a magnificent bronze seated Buddha cast in Japan in the late eighteenth century.

This is a "wet, walking" garden, as opposed to the "dry" variety of Zen rock-and-raked-sand landscaping also native to Japan. Its gentle, grassy slopes, punctuated with stone monuments, bonsai trees, and numerous shrubs and bamboo groves, are interspersed with narrow streams which the visitor crosses by steppingstones or tiny footbridges, and nearly imperceptibly-moving pools. You can get a small pot of green tea here, and slacken the pace of a too-busy life for an hour or so.

This garden, as diarists and chroniclers of the 1700's were wont to say, "shews how delightfully the hand of man (sic) is capable of felicitous improvement to the beauties of nature."

Designed in 1894, the garden was maintained by the Makoto Hagiwara family, who also resided within its walls, for 47 years, until they were sent to a concentration camp in 1942. During the war it was neglected, but the arrival of its resident Buddha in 1949, a gift of the Gump department store family, signaled its renaissance.

Admission to the Japanese Tea Garden is free on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings from 9:00 until 10:00 a.m.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Hippie Hill

Yesterday this unremarkable but nevertheless famous grass-covered slope in Golden Gate Park lay quiet and all but abandoned in the late morning sun. But on the same sort of rare June morning as yesterday's, at the same time of day forty years ago, it was seething with activity. There were drummers (as many as 20) drumming, guitarists guitarring, pot-smokers smoking, and devotees of the stronger grades of psychedelics rolling on the grass in ecstatic transports, watching the luminous and diaphanous angels of Jehovah descending from heaven with their hair aflame and their loins quivering.

And while all that is true as well as in keeping with the current historical view of San Francisco in the sixties, it only conveys one aspect of a multifaceted phenomenon. Beneath the frivolity and Bacchantism, behind its celebratory face, there was a serious and analytic side to the hippie revolt as well, and the same drugs that lent themselves to flights of ecstasy also enabled their users to see history and the society which had nurtured them in a new and profoundly disturbing light.

"Growing up," I heard lots of people saying at the time, "watching 'Leave it to Beaver,' I knew something was really wrong, but I didn't know what it was."

The hippies were among the first to recognize that the American way of life, by the latter half of the twentieth century, had evolved into a way of death, and that besides making war on innocent people half a world away, our very manner of living entailed violence against the earth herself. These were the days when gasoline was still fortified with lead, when the eight-cylinder seven-m.p.g. behemoth ruled the roads and streets of our incrasingly polluted and ravaged country, and the U.S. still led the world in oil production as well as consumption, and in the uses pesticide and the profligate generation of waste, toxic and otherwise. It was one of the most important reasons members of my generation dropped out of the mainstream of American society, as Henry Miller wrote, "as naturally as a twig falling into the Mississippi."

At the time, such a reaction to the materialist and consumerist cult of living death, that now-discredited way of life increasingly rejected by that very society from which it sprang, was seen as wild-eyed radicalism, and its proponents as dangerous, drug-addled subversives who needed to be dealt with harshly. It was the serious and analytical side of the sixties which gave rise to the forty years counter-revolution that has now given us Nixon, Reagan, the two Bushes, a host of right-wing think tanks founded in the wake of the sixties, the Neocon wing of the Republican Party, and the daily toxic waste generator of right-wing hate radio.

With the collapse of the second Bush administration and dissolution of the Iraq occupation, the counter-revolution appears to have finally run out of steam, and the second phase of the revolution may be set to begin. But as Robert S. McElvaine (see link above) points out, "Of course no peace will be achieved before those who have been the main political beneficiaries of the Forty Years War launch their final offensive--and we can be sure that it will be offensive."

For my part, I'm ready to see life return to Hippie Hill.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Not Your Grandpa's Depression

At this point, even Republicans are beginning to suspect that what's happening is not part of the normal "business cycle," i.e., the normal capitalist pattern that begins with recovery from collapse, then moves successively through boom, mania, panic and collapse. It's something different and completely unprecedented this time.

The price of oil and the onset of the Long Emergency are what's driving this fiasco, which has dovetailed with the off-the-chart foreclosures rate and its attendant evaporation of billions in imaginary capital. Bank failures loom, and we citizens of the World's Greatest Democracy are probably in for some real material hardship, although the truly rich won't suffer, of course.

Still, this is going to be worse than the Great Depression, because the only things in short supply then were work and money.

At Beliefnet/U.S. Politics, we haven't even seen any of those "the economy is really, actually great" threads from the usual suspect lately, although she's still around.

Republicans continue to try to put on a brave front, but secretly they're shaking like a bunch of dogs shitting peach pits.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Old Hat

There's no reason for anyone who lives within busing distance of Haight Street's Wasteland vintage clothing store to ever buy any new garment except socks and underwear.

The deportment of the store's employees matches its tasteful and restrained facade. The clothing, shoes, and miscellaneous items inside are chosen carefully and artfully displayed.

It's the perfect place to get that new old grey fedora to go with your new, used Doc Martens, which, somehow, magically, fit perfectly.

You'll be the envy of all the other accountants in the office, I can assure you.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Oh, Henry

I'm reading Henry Miller's Black Spring. This guy was a writer, but impossible to classify. His work isn't fiction, nor memoir (although some of it is memoirish), nor criticism, nor political analysis, although it contains elements of all those things. It's more like stream-of-consciousness improvisation, kind of like jazz in print.

Miller is always intense. I don't know where he got the energy, but reading him tends to wear a person out. He knew things very early that the rest of us only figured out much later. For example, he knew that America was a menace to the rest of the world way back in the twenties and thirties, and also was aware that the nineteenth and twentieth century were eras of civilizational decline. Here he is commenting on the meaning of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe:

"A remarkable book, coming at the culmination of our marvelous Faustian culture. Men like Rousseau, Beethoven, Napoleon, Goethe on the horizon. The whole civilized world staying up nights to read it in ninety-seven different tongues. A picture of reality in the eighteenth century. Henceforward, no more desert isles. Henceforward, wherever one happens to be born is a desert isle. Every man his own civilized desert, the island of self on which he is shipwrecked: happiness, relative or absolute, is out of the question. Henceforward everyone is running away from himself to find an imaginary desert isle, to live out this dream of Robinson Crusoe. Follow the classic flights of Melville, Rimbaud, Gauguin, Jack London, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence...thousands of them. None of them found happiness. Rimbaud found cancer. Gauguin found syphilis. Lawrence found the white plague. The plague -- that's it! Be it cancer, syphilis, tuberculosis, or what not. The plague! The plague of modern progress: colonization trade, free Bibles, war, disease, artificial limbs, factories, slaves, insanity, neuroses, psychoses, cancer, syphilis, tuberculosis, anemia, strikes, lockouts, starvation, nullity, vacuity, restlessness, striving, despair, ennui, suicide, bankruptcy, arterio-sclerosis, megalomania, schizophrenia, hernia, cocaine, prussic acid, stink bombs, tear gas, mad dogs, auto-suggestion, auto-intoxication, psychotherapy, hydrotherapy, electric massages, vacuum cleaners, pemmican, grape nuts, hemmorhoids, gangrene. No desert isles. No Paradise. Not even relative happiness. Men running away from themselves so frantically that they look for salvation under the ice floes or in tropical swamps, or else they climb the Himalayas or asphysicate themselves in the stratosphere...

"What fascinated the men of the eighteenth century was the vision of the end. They had enough. They wanted to retrace their steps, climb back into the womb again."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Neighborhood Joys

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, as the late Fred Rogers used to sing. The sun is shining and it's about 60 or maybe 65 degrees. It's a good day for walking.

The Alpha Market is the heart of this little enclave, standing squarely at one of its two main intersections (Cole and Parnassus), right next to the big hardware store. On the other side of the street are a fitness/pilates studio and an excellent sushi restaurant.

The other main intersection is a block away at Cole and Carl, where the "N" streetcar stops. There's a laundromat there, and a video rental place, and more restaurants.

Looking to buy clothes? On Haight Street there are always excellent deals at the Goodwill Store, and one of the best used clothing stores in the world, Wasteland, is just a few doors down. Why buy anything new?

Occasionally I do have to leave the womb of Cole Valley, but even then most everything is within walking distance. For example, this morning I had to leave the neighborhood to buy two grams of high-grade marijuana, in a shop about ten blocks away. I also had to go to the hospital (University of San Francisco/St. Mary's -- one of the world's best) to schedule a CT scan. That took me outside the neighborhood, as I had to cross the Golden Gate Park panhandle, but it was still only a fifteen minutes' walk.

I could easily settle down here and never leave.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Stencil Graffiti

The ugliness of freestyle tagging is increasingly taking a back seat to stencil graffiti.

Under the influence of the U.K.'s great stencil artist Banksy, stencil graffiti has become a major influence in public art in the world's more cosmopolitan cities. Not all of it is great, or even good, but a surprising amount of it is very high quality.

In this city most of the stencil graffiti is executed on the sidewalks rather than private buildings. This puts it squarely into the realm of public art, as opposed to vandalism. But even though it's more polite than tagging, it expresses an anti-authoritarian, outsider aesthetic. As such, it is revolutionary.

Other traits of the revolution to come include anonymity, the uncompensated production of free art, goods, and services, a tendency to use hit-and-run tactics rather than prolonged confrontation with the powers that be, and humor, especially satire and sardonic ridicule.