Thursday, September 30, 2010


If you didn't hear it you should take a look at the write-up of Dave Davies' interview of Bill Clinton's labor secretary Robert Reich on NPR's "Fresh Air" yesterday evening. Reich's new book, "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future," addresses the fundamental reason we haven't begun to recover from the economic meltdown of 2007-08: the growing concentration of wealth and income among the richest Americans. If the middle and working classes don't have money to spend, demand for goods and services -- the one and only engine of modern industrial economies -- collapses.

The super-rich do buy stuff with all that money, but their demand (there are so few of them) is insufficient to keep a giant macroeconomy up and running. Mostly they use their massive fortunes for further investment, i.e., speculation. I've known for a long time that when people have too much money, they go to the casino. That's all you really need to know.

This is the golden age of political blogs, and when President Obama began lashing out at the "professional left" in recent days, angered and extremely annoyed with the intensity of press criticism his administration has been subjected to lately, the tantrum was a tacit admission that a small but very influential handful of left-wing bloggers have got into his underwear and next to his skin. Foremost among this cadre of critics: Glenn Greenwald at, John Aravoisis at, Atrios at, Digby at Hullabaloo (, and the tag-team duo of Jane Hamsher and Marcy Wheeler at

Why is this tiny group of internet scribblers so important? Because, as Peter Daou points out, although "Some will dismiss them as minor players in the wider national discourse...two things make them a thorn in the administration’s side: a) they have a disproportionately large influence on the political debate, with numerous readers and followers — among them major media figures, (and) b) they develop the frames and narratives that other progressive Obama critics adopt and disseminate."

Gone are the days when a person needed to own a printing press or a television network to bring down a smooth-talking con man in the White House. Nowadays, if you're forceful enough, write well enough, and have a few connections, you can touch off a revolt with nothing more than a laptop and an internet connection.


The Tea Party movement and the Republican base are identical, and they are the face of American fascism. A lot of commentators try to avoid using the f-word, since it's misused so frequently (often by fascists) as a synonym for dictatorship or any kind of fiat authoritarianism, or as an epithet flung mindlessly at anybody we don't like. But I don't shrink from using it because, despite all the agonizing people frequently fall into trying to define it, fascism is actually a very simple thing, and a simpleton's response to the complexity and velocity of modern geopolitical life.

Based on fear and incomprehension, fascism rests like a three-legged stool on a trio of institutions: religious orthodoxy, militarism, and corporatism, which is the welding of government and big business into a single, seamless entity. A fearful, ignorant mind draws a sense of security from this all-encompassing security blanket of authoritarian, reactionary institutions which attempt to suppress, as opposed to dealing with, the political fallout unleashed by modern techniques of industrial production and finance. It's the classical form assumed by an upside-down revolutionary movement for the compleat idiot, and the current American version of it, with its highly refined use of electronic mass media as the principal instrument of social control, provides a textbook illustration of what classical fascism looks like.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Ogilvy is not just a fictional character; he's an imaginary fictional character created by the protagonist of "1984," Winston Smith.

Smith's job at the Ministry of Information was to correct and revise the official records of the state's history, so that history conformed with orthodoxy. He wrote Ogilvy's bio to replace a laudatory article about a former inner party member named Withers who had got into trouble with the authorities and been made an unperson. There was no way of knowing whether Withers had ever been a real person or was, like his successor, the product of someone's imagination. The distinction was irrelevant anyway, since in the world of 1984, reality and fiction serve the same purpose.

Winston Smith creates Ogilvy with specific purposes in mind, which are always the main purposes of the news organ he helps the state produce, propaganda and indoctrination. Ogilvy's crude appeal is designed to feed the brainwashed public's bloodlust and mindless hatred of the enemy. Orwell's synopsis of Winston Smith's news copy reads:

Comrade Ogilvy, Smith writes, led a patriotic and virtuous life. At the age of three, he refused all toys except for a drum, a toy submachine gun, and a model helicopter. At age six, he joined the "spies" (a government-run youth organisation that indoctrinated children to watch their parents and other adults for "unorthodoxy") a year ahead of schedule. At age eleven, he denounced his uncle to the Thought Police after overhearing a conversation. At age seventeen, he became a district organiser of the Junior Anti-Sex-League, and at age nineteen, designed a hand grenade that killed 31 Eurasian prisoners of war in its first trial. He took vow of celibacy and was a nonsmoker, with his only recreations being a daily hour in the gymnasium. His only subject of conversation was the principles of Ingsoc, and his only goals in life were the defeat of Eurasia, and the hunting down of enemy spies, saboteurs, thoughtcriminals, and traitors. At twenty-three, he was killed in action while flying a helicopter over the Indian Ocean. Pursued by Eurasian Jets, he weighted his body with the helicopter's machine gun, grabbed important despatches he was carrying, and jumped into the water from his helicopter to avoid capture, interrogation, and seizure of the despatches.

The picture of Ogilvy Winston Smith supplied with the bio was of a typically generic, replicatable military face belonging to anybody and nobody. Smith had no way of knowing whether his replacement story would ever be published, as he suspected with good reason that several other workers in his section had gotten the same assignment.

Winston Smith's celebration of Ogilvy, a deformity issuing from the inhuman needs of a malignant and insane state, reminds me of nothing so much as the heroic death of Pat Tillman, who died under fire while leading his unit in Afghanistan.

Monday, September 27, 2010

palmy days

How long the road to the weary traveler;
How long the wandering of many lives.
--The Buddha,

My mind goes back often now to those Bakersfield nights, those close, overheated but rapidly cooling, terribly polluted, magical evenings sitting on the patio with cigarettes and ice water. On a good night, when the neighbors weren't wrangling and the dogs weren't barking, and the cars weren't racking their pipes, when it was quiet enough to hear the crickets call, I would sit in the stillness and listen to the faint hum of the 99 freeway a mile off, that river of cars that never goes dry.

Somehow, I derived a feeling of peace and permanence from that humble little balloon-frame house and the incessant, relentless road so close by. I knew that early in the morning I'd start my own car, and take to the northbound lanes of that road going 75, and in half an hour be in the grape fields adjacent to Delano, a.k.a. Uvasville, where I taught English at the high school, mostly to the children of the Spanish-speaking farm workers in that community. It was hard and honest work, and made me a better person, mostly.

Eventually it came to an end, as it always does. I left off going to Delano and closed up the house, took off from the three-bedroom, two-bath on Stillman Ave in a yellow VW bug with a yowling cat in a carrier in the cargo hold, and headed southeast. Driving through the desert there were large, dense, black clouds shrouding the eastern hills, and an afternoon sky like a very dark night as I crossed over them to descend to the desert valley floor. I found out later that this was a sign of what would come.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

the bicycle thief

Unlike the protagonist of Vittorio De Sica's 1948 movie of the same name, I didn't depend on my bike to make a living. It was a favorite possession that I bought for pleasure and exercise, and to help me enjoy the brief Seattle summers, and maybe soak up enough sunshine to combat this psoriasis that troubles so many northwesterners.

But still, I can't help but feel this is a very unfair fate, not just because I had my little Schwinn Ranger mountain bike for only three and a half months, but also because it was parked in a locked garage and secured on a thick drainpipe.

To no avail. Last night when our apartment building was visited by thieves and vandals who tagged the front door and forced the automated garage gate, of the three bikes parked in the garage my Schwinn was the one they wanted. Then, on their way out, they jammed the garage door opener's gears so the gate wouldn't shut. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to frequently say and/or write.

I discovered this sad state of affairs when I went downstairs to take a ride on the bicycle I no longer have late this morning. When I reported the theft to the building manager he offered to let me use one of his bikes, which a former tenant had abandoned when he moved. So I did get my ride after all on this lavishly gorgeous Seattle day, on a Schwinn Cross-Country which has seen better days, but still has good tires, a good seat, and at least one gear I can live with.

I think I'll try to buy or beg this hog of a bike off the manager, since I can't afford to go out and buy another one right now. The doctor I'm currently consulting is a naturopath, not an M.D., the medications I'm taking are nutritional supplements, not pharmaceutical prescription drugs, and the therapies I'm trying are experimental, so none of this is covered by Medicare or any other insurance. So it goes.

The old Cross-Country could actually be a pretty serviceable vehicle anyway, with a little work and a lot of WD-40 to loosen the rusted lug nuts and screws, so I can lower the seat, remove the toe clips, unfreeze the shifter mechanisms, lubricate the brakes, and so forth. And I really should count my blessings, because even though I lost a bike, Providence has supplied another if I'm willing to show a little initiative.

When life gives us lemons, we need to do one of two things: either make lemonade, or squirt our enemies in their eyes. That latter bit should tell you that I'm still hoping to spot my old Schwinn Ranger somewhere in the neighborhood.

Friday, September 24, 2010


An acute sense of intuition can be a blessing or a curse. Sometimes a rough, general insight into how life will unfold holds good news; other times one lives in fear and dread of the pain certain to come. But for someone who combines an intuitive grasp of the meaning of unfolding events with a close and dispassionate study of history, the combination of the two can be life's most valuable possession.

Mark Twain said "History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes." I would add that a predictable future blind-sides those who are unaware of precedents, hence unable to gauge the consequences of their own behavior.

People who currently rule here (and I don't mean the government) mistake themselves for the descendants of the republic's founders, a culturally homogeneous, property-owning, liberally-inclined oligarchy which overturned the political authority of the mother country two and a half centuries ago. But the ruling elites we have today are unrelated to the authors of the Constitution, having consolidated and extended their power only during the past 65 years, beginning with their writing the conclusion of the cataclysmic wars and upheavals of 20th-century Europe. They are blissfully unaware of either the brief duration or ephemeral nature of their own rule, and the suddenness with which it will be swept away.

The coming reconfiguration of American society will begin as earlier revolutions have, when a few members of the ruling elites, having read and understood the prophetic writing on the walls, decamp and establish themselves as leaders of the insurrection.

The main features of the regime of capital will also be the causes of its destruction: appropriation of the nation's government and laws by a tiny economic oligarchy, which then uses the usurped power to concentrate all wealth and tax-exempt privilege in its own hands,

Economic factors impelling us toward the coming upheaval include rising levels of poverty, destitution, and homelessness, caused by the deliberate impoverishment of the middle and working classes through widespread unemployment and collapsed real estate prices. Another cause is the crushing burden of debt due to military domination of the national budget, especially in the prosecution of a perpetual, pointless, and increasingly self-destructive series of aggressive and morally repugnant wars, which have no meaning outside the oligarchy's hunger for violence and its predatory obsession with eliminating socially benign spending of any kind, such as Medicare and Social Security.

Despite the effectiveness of the oligarchy's tireless campaign of brainwashing through mass media, primarily television, the millions of ordinary citizens are belatedly awakening to the grim facts of a war waged daily against them, and will sooner or later act accordingly. And actually, the time is not long.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

real life analogy

Natasha Pettigrew died on Monday. She was only 30.

She was until recently a law school student at the University of Miami. But because she was a committed environmental activist, she decided to put her studies on hold and return to her home state of Maryland where she was running for the U.S. Senate as the Green Party's candidate. Had she lived she would have been opposing the incumbent Democrat, Barbara Mikulski and the Republican nominee, Eric Wargotz, as well as several other third-party candidates.

But she's gone now. She was accidentally run down while riding her bicycle along Route 202 in Largo, Maryland, by a woman driving a Cadillac Escalade SUV. The driver claims not to have known that she struck a person, and says she thought she had hit a deer or a dog. So she didn't stop, but on arriving home realized that she had dragged Pettigrew's bicycle, which was stuck beneath the vehicle, from the scene of the accident all the way to her house. She and her husband decided to call the police.

Pettigrew, severely injured, died while in a nearby hospital at about 10:30 Monday night. No charges have been filed in the incident.

I'm not even going to point out why this tragedy is an analogy for the downward trajectory of this unravelling society of ours. I assume readers are intelligent enough to understand such an extended metaphor without any prompting.

Monday, September 20, 2010

full metal meltdown

Christine O'Donnell says she is all done with witchcraft. She says there hasn't been any of that since she "dabbled into" the practice while in high school.

O'Donnell supporters are quick to point out that the dabbling into occurred over a decade ago.

She is currently running double digits behind the Democratic candidate for the Delaware Senate seat, Chris Coons. His detractors have pointed out that he once described himself as having been transformed from a conservative suburban kid into a "bearded Marxist" by a trip to Kenya, where he witnessed poverty of a type he hadn't previously known existed. They don't mention that he wrote this 20 years ago.

Live and learn, I always say.

So, to wrap it up, in a nutshell, and boiling it all down to gravy, finally, in conclusion, I'd like to dedicate this wonderful song to Christine O'Donnell. It's the definitive '50's version of an American classic, as significant in its own way as Bach's unaccompanied cello suites. I only wish we had access to what comes after the song, with Johnny Otis sitting down behind the drums and Lionel Hampton playing vibes.

Hamp was a great drummer in his own right, but he never played traps very much after Benny Goodman discovered him playing vibraharp in a restaurant in Hawaii back in 1930-whatever-it-was, and he was soon appropriated for the Benny Goodman Trio, which at that point became the Benny Goodman quartet.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

old school

I liked the Pledge of Allegiance better before it was amended and "under God" was added to it, which screws up the rhythm.

When I was just a little tyke at the grimy old brick schoolhouse full of mean old-lady teachers in Youngstown, we said it without the "under God." It was just "one nation in a dirigible" up until Flag Day, 1954, when Eisenhower and the U.S. Congress got together and changed it. By then I was between fourth and fifth grades, and long gone from the old brick prison which smelled funny. By 1954 we had gone suburban, and I was in a "ranch-style" one-storey school across the railroad tracks and up on Market Street in Boardman.

The reason they inserted that short phrase in the pledge was so we could distinguish ourselves from those dirty Godless atheistic commies over there in red Russia.

Well, they're gone now. All gone. No more. None left. So can we go back to saying it the way we used to? (I wonder why it is that the original way you learn to say or do something you always think that's the way it spoze to be.)

Also, I liked the 48 states better than the 50 states. And back when the pledge was just one nation in a dirigible, we were pledging to a 48-star flag, just like the famous one shown here which Jasper Johns painted in 1954, but not as textured. And it was still the 48 States for a long time after they changed the pledge, all the way until 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii both came in. So that was under Ike also.

I've never believed Alaska and Hawaii were real states. For one thing, they're not even attached.

Friday, September 17, 2010

dude, you have no koran!

By now I suppose everybody's seen the viddy of the guy in Amarillo who was gonna burn a Koran on a park grille, and while he was arguing with people who had gathered around to try to talk him out of it a 23-year-old skateboarder came up behind him and made off with his Koran, saying as he departed on his skateboard, "Dude, you have no Koran!"

But if you missed the original, you're just in time for TEH AWESOME REMIX of "Dude, you have no Koran!"

I love this guy; he's absolutely great. Jacob is still a skateboarder and no doubt a stoner at 23, works in a pizza joint, wears big, geeky-looking glasses, has a bad haircut to go with his great attitude, and might be able to benefit from a few pointers on grooming, if he even cares about such stuff, which I doubt.

"So I snucked up behind him and took his Koran -- he said something about burning the Koran, and I was like, 'Dude, you have no Koran!' "

God is still making dirty hippies after all these years. This knowledge brightens my day and refreshes my heart. It's a wonderful world after all, and there really is a God.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

back to the future

What are the chances America could once again become a nation of small landholders and yeoman farmers, which Thomas Jefferson envisioned as our natural state of optimal health?

I'd say chances are pretty good, if our survival depends on it.

Industry in the U.S. has either collapsed or been moved offshore, but we're still one of the world's great agricultural giants. Our agricultural template is a deformed vestige of its former self, however, and is no longer working. Much of the best land, great swaths of California's central valley for example, lies in ruins, butchered by mono-cropping, salinization due to excessive irrigation, and overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This situation is largely the result of the corrupt policy by which the largest agribusinesses buy influence in Congress, and in return are heavily subsidized with taxpayers' money. They are paid to continue pursuing their destructive methods and to manufacture the products, especially high-fructose corn syrup, which are killing us.

As with so much else in American life, we need a new paradigm; we need to choose life, and reject death.

As if on cue, small farms and family-based agricultural enterprise have been making a big comeback in the Pacific Northwest over the past few years. For the entrepreneurs entering this business, and even for family members born into it who choose to adopt new methods and new crops, innovation is key and learning never stops. The "Back 40" blog tells the fascinating story of Richard Sakuma, a Western Washington berry farmer who decided to experiment with a new crop -- tea -- and succeeded, but not without effort and sacrifice.

As the ancient Latin adage reminds us, Ad astra, per asperam: to the stars, with difficulty.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


A couple days ago I found out via the internet that the old Franciscan mission church at San Miguel, CA has reopened.

It was closed by extensive earthquake damage occurring shortly before Christmas, 2003 in the Paso Robles quake of December 22. Prior to that I visited the church frequently, as I found it to be a place which, despite its complex colonial history, exuded an aura of peace, spiritual healing, and deep mystery.

The church at San Miguel opened in 1797, the 16th in the string of California's 21 missions, but it changed locations a couple of times before the old adobe chapel which now houses it was constructed and decorated in 1818-19. Of all the Spanish mission churches in North America, this one and one other, a small adobe chapel at Trampas, New Mexico which dates from 1776, are the most perfectly preserved, and both appear much the same as they did 200 years ago.

The walls of San Miguel have never been repainted, and are covered with frescoes executed by Native American craftsmen under the direction of the Spanish artist Estevan Munras, who cut wall-size stencils for them to use in applying the paints they made themselves from local plants and minerals. Munras was responsible for the over-all design of the chapel interior, including the statue of the Saint behind the altar and the beautiful wooden and cardboard God's eye and accompanying decorations above the wooden statue.

It took millions of dollars and six years to restore this national treasure, which was designated a national historic landmark while the restoration process was ongoing. It was re-dedicated on the saint's feast day, September 29, 2009, and reopened to the public a couple days later, on October 2.

San Miguel and San Jose de Gracia, the old adobe church at Trampas, New Mexico lie nearly on the same latitude, separated by approximately 1,000 miles, most of which is occupied by highway Interstate 40. I should begin planning now for making that trip, from Seattle to San Miguel and thence to Trampas, in the spring of 2011.

Click on the images for larger views.

Monday, September 13, 2010

handwriting on the wall

What the current national conversation is ultimately about is our collective failure to deal adequately and realistically with the situation we find ourselves in. It's about the failure of American leadership at all levels, and especially the failure of the national political system.

No one has written about this situation more perceptively or with greater urgency than Jim Kunstler, and his once-weekly blog post this morning is better than usual. In the most concise possible way, he describes the crisis of the present: The most striking feature of the current scene is the absence of a coherent vision of our multiple related predicaments and how they add up to a valid picture of reality. To be precise, I mean our predicaments of 1.) energy resources, 2.) vanishing capital, and 3.) ecocide. This inability to decode the clear and present dangers to civilized life is a failure of leadership and authority without precedent in the American story.

If any of our political leaders in either party have the slightest notion what's happening, and of the kind of changes the future is going to require from us, they're keeping their knowledge secret, no doubt because they realize that "the voters don't want to hear this; they won't like it." So they keep talking about "growth" and "recovery," but they clearly don't have the slightest idea what they're talking about. If they did, they'd be leading the huge effort that's going to be necessary for us to deal effectively with the changed landscape, characterized by much more expensive energy, much less available credit, and the need to salvage what's left of a livable habitat.

As above, so below, and in recent conversations I've had on this topic, I've seen the usual reluctance to even consider changing present arrangements. The response I keep getting is, "We like doing it the way we're doing it now." Unfortunately, that's not an option.

Instead of dealing with their real problems, which are coming at them like an oncoming train, the American people on the whole are childishly and unconsciously expressing their fear and uncertainty about the future by indulging in an orgy of hysterical xenophobic hatred. Instead of coping with reality, we're either scapegoating Muslims, or giving vent to thinly-disguised, blatantly racist attacks against the guy in the White House, expressed indirectly with stupid assertions about his religion or country of origin.

I have never felt such contempt and disgust for the mass of my fellow citizens as I do today. It's embarrassing, to think we're standing naked and revealed to the rest of the world possessing no more dignity or self-respect than the illiterate hicks in the novel "Tobacco Road," who occupy themselves in the first chapter of that book in a ditch fighting over a sack of turnips. Maybe we could be a little better than this, and deal with reality a little more effectively if we had any leadership at all worthy of the name.

Can't we do any better than this?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

the crucifixion

From Jim Otterstrom's wonderful and remarkable "Earth Home Garden" blog in Big Bear, CA, comes this memorable photograph of a late-summer dragonfly transfixed on the crossbar of a Jeep Cherokee's plastic grille.

I've written about road kill before, for example here and here. But I've never seen the full implications of our casually homicidal lifeways dealt with so thoroughly as by the poet and visionary Otterstrom, who has been living with his wife in their mountain cabin and without a car for the past 14 years. His is an eye that sees the widest possible ramifications in the smallest observable details, as when he accurately observes that this miniature death tableaux is "reminiscent of familiar images of a more well-known crucifixion."

Most bugs splat unceremoniously into oblivion when they're hit by several thousand pounds of machinery speeding down a highway, leaving us not much to think about except cleaning up the mess, but somehow this magnificent little creature, even after death, has managed to tell us something about the beauty of its existence, and the tragedy of its passing.

Yes, it's just another bug, one of billions lost each day to the unintentional recklessness of human activity.

Yet, perhaps this tiny innocent member of earth's living community has also died for our sins, by our hands, so that we might once again be patiently reminded by Mother Nature of the destructiveness of our way of life.

How many messengers does Nature's Creation need to send us before we finally get the message?"

That's the question, of course, and on the answer hangs the eventual fate not just of our own species, but that of most of the varieties of animal and vegetable life on this planet, which could just as easily continue to travel in its annual orbit around our local star, the sun, as a bare rock as it does an inhabited ecosystem.

Photo and all quotations ©2010 by Jim Otterstrom.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

what, me worry?

That's right; don't worry. Nobody ever made his or her life one day longer by worrying. And don't panic. I doubt whether panic has ever helped one single person deal with a dire situation.

But do act, calmly, deliberately, methodically. You don't need a crystal ball at this point to know that you're going on a long journey. What will you need to take with you, and what will you need to leave behind?

Act every day, and do the most important thing first. Then, after that's done, don't rest, but move on to the next indicated change that will improve your own life, for in doing so you might also improve someone else's chances of prospering in a changed landscape. Everyone now living is now directly involved in this undertaking called transition, and for the rest of our lives, so even though panic is not helpful, there's no time to waste.

Remember the past, but don't try to hang on to it. Revere the ancestors, but don't try to learn from them, since they lived in a different world and have little to teach us other than the most universal truths.

Ultimately, your work in transition couldn't possibly be more local, as first and foremost all of us will be working to improve ourselves, to make our own lives better, more independent, more graceful, and scaled appropriately. In doing so we may be able to create a viable community.

Some, of course, are going to resist the obvious and deny that we are in transition, and there's no helping them. They will be passing through the next century or so in their own way, and I don't envy them. Then there are those who have adopted an attitude of "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," and their position is not too enviable either, as in days to come they and their children and possibly their children's children will be dealing with day-to-day life as an ongoing emergency.

It's time for anyone who has any capacity to lead, in any form whatsoever, to step up and do so. Our well-being very well might depend on our ability to form viable co-operative communities.

--Dave B

Magazine cover art by Mark Frederickson, ©2007.

Friday, September 10, 2010

car talk

During the seven years the Iraq War lasted (so far), the U.S. suffered 4,400 combat deaths, a terrible price to pay for prosecuting a meaningless war to an ambivalent conclusion. How much more meaningless, then, is the daily carnage on our streets and highways, which took 34,000 lives in the U.S. last year alone?

The good news is that the yearly death toll for 2009 is the lowest figure since 1950, when there were far fewer cars on the road. This means that cars are safer today than ever before, streets and highways better engineered, and drivers held to higher standards of behavior, especially with regard to driving while intoxicated.

But it's still an unacceptably high and unnecessarily steep blood sacrifice we choose to make in order to remain slaves to the automobile. Despite the petroleum age clearly coming to an end, as extracting this non-renewable resource daily becomes more difficult and hazardous, the supply more precarious, and the daily dose more expensive, our society remains in bondage to our four-wheeled servants, with our newest cities, suburbs, and neighborhoods continuing to be configured for car dependency rather than walkability or access to public transit.

This state of affairs is imposed on us by law in most places in the U.S., where the aberration of single-use zoning is the norm. That's because some very large, very powerful economic interests are making mucho diñero by maintaining the status quo, and aborting any changes in the configuration of American communities which might naturally be expected to occur because of changing conditions. This is Capitalism 101 in its simplest and most fundamental form, and if it kills you, you have the satisfaction of knowing you will not have died in vain; your name will appear on the roster of citizen heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for BP, Halliburton, and the maintenance of our "free" (ha ha) enterprise system.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

civilization marches on

I learned quite a few previously unknown and in fact never-imagined facts today from an article at AOL (an AOL original, no less) by a Jeff Glucker. It concerned a young man who recently set the new horizontal distance record for launching a so-called "monster truck" off a dirt ramp and into the air.

I learned, for example, that "Lots of folks in this country remember a time when they attended a monster truck event." I'll take Jeff Glucker's word for that, although not only do I not remember such a time, I don't know a single person who does, that I'm aware of anyway. But no matter, I know they're out there.

I also was fascinated to find out that there is a "monster truck industry" and a "monster truck world," the latter of which "may have peaked in September of 1999, when Dan Runte drove the iconic Big Foot off a ramp and over a Boeing 747. That jump put him in the record books when his tires touched down 202 feet from where they left the Earth."

Joe Sylvester, the young man who broke that 11-year-old record a few days ago by launching a 10,200-pound truck off a dirt ramp so that it remained airborne for 208 horizontal feet, is from Boardman, Ohio, where I lived part of my childhood.

The AOL article does a good job of explaining how Sylvester accomplished this noteworthy feat, which is now enshrined in the annals of American civilization, as well as recounting in some detail the amount of work and sacrifice Sylvester and his crew had to make to reach this goal. However, it begs the question, why would anyone want to do such a thing?

From the comments section: "What's the last thing a redneck says before he dies? 'Hey, y'all, watch this.' "

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

me and my goldfish

You got your favorite pets I'm sure. You got your dogs and your cats.

But me and my goldfish, we got a real good thing going. Real good caring, sharing, and relating.

the gilded age

I got into an interesting conversation about Social Security today, which led to a slightly different but very closely-related topic: Timothy Noah has posted an important and informative three-part article at Slate on income inequality in America. As everybody whose head isn't stuck in one of television's various echo chambers knows, the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest Americans has widened dramatically since 1980, and in between the two, the former middle class is getting squeezed out of existence.

Why is this connected to to politics? Because, as another author on another site wrote today, when we look at the American political system today, no matter which party is in power we see "a government captured by the economically powerful in society, as they find a way to convert economic into political power."

And those "economically powerful in society" are more powerful today compared to the rest of us than ever before. The facts, as Noah explains them (and he's done the research to back it up): [I]ncome distribution in the United States is more unequal than in Guyana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and roughly on par with Uruguay, Argentina, and Ecuador. Income inequality is actually declining in Latin America even as it continues to increase in the United States. Economically speaking, the richest nation on earth is starting to resemble a banana republic.

Exactly. Because what, in a typical banana republic, does that elite upper crust of society own, besides all the wealth? All the political power, of course, and with it all the power and apparatus of repression.

As the Gini Coefficient in the U.S., that statistic which measures income inequality in a given society, approaches .5 and the top 10 percent of money earners continues to accumulate an ever-larger share of the national income, their larcenous grab at Social Security is something we should expect. What we need to do now is take strong measures to keep from being cannibalized. The question is, are we capable of that?

Before this is over we'll find out whether ordinary Americans have any capacity any longer for defending themselves and acting in their own interest, or whether they've been lobotomized by the mustard gas cloud of Fox News fascist propaganda, or so hypnotized by the giggling and frivolity that characterizes the worldview of CNN just across the way, that they can no longer help themselves.

Or I should say, "ourselves."

Sunday, September 05, 2010

bad old days

I've been reading some of this blog's archives, and doing so convinces me I ought to give it a rest for a while. It used to be a lot better than it is now.

It was especially good back in the bad old days, when I was going through a very hard time in my life.

See, for example, this entry from two years ago called "Northern Lights."

Saturday, September 04, 2010

pussy on the mat

This song, by Ivor Cutler, has what the French call "that certain quality of I don't know what."

My daughter, whose tastes run to extremes, turned me on to this one. Remember, you heard it here first, folks.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Empires, nations, wars, and alliances come and go. They each rise up in their season, and each eventually reveals an intolerable untruth, a rotten core, or a fatal weakness and passes away, some sooner, some later.

But life persists. When the "Reich to last a thousand years" petered out after only a dozen, life remained on the ground, damaged, but still vigorously breathing in and breathing out.

Life is never the same as it was yesterday, unless the perceiver is stuck in a mental rut. Pay minute attention to your surroundings, and you'll find that absolutely everything changes perceptibly from one day to the next , including the quality of one's perception of that change.

Some say that the odds are becoming greater that life will not persist much longer, that because of the ways we've injured and degraded our environment, human life will most likely be extinguished before another century or two has passed. I say that's enough time for us to stop doing fresh damage and find ways to help the planet to begin to heal.

But if I'm wrong, and if life, like the empire, is doomed to expire soon, there's still time remaining "to see heaven in a wildflower, and eternity in a grain of sand."*

*William Blake

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

short memories

Even though there are still 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and an unknown number of private contractors, President Obama has declared the war ended, and commemorated the declaration in a speech to the nation from the oval office last night, during which he said:

"From this desk, seven-and-a-half years ago, President Bush announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq. Much has changed since that night. A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested.

"These are the rough waters encountered during the course of one of America's longest wars. Yet there has been one constant amidst these shifting tides: At every turn, America's men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve. As commander-in-chief, I am incredibly proud of their service. And like all Americans, I am awed by their sacrifice and by the sacrifices of their families."

Obama's account of the war leaves out a great deal. The three things he should have brought up but never did that concern me most are:

1. Initial public approval of the war was only achieved by the Bush administration lying, blatantly and deliberately.

2. As a result of these lies, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions of dollars were wasted, and Iraq was left a smoking, stinking, ungovernable ruin in a chronic state of low-grade civil war.

3. There is no statute of limitations for murder.