Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Great American Bubble Machine - Something You Need to Read

Matt Taibbi is a name I've heard around, but never paid a great deal of attention to. I probably should have been.
He recently penned an article for Rolling Stone called The Great American Bubble Machine, detailing the "behavior" of investment bank Goldman-Sachs that has created (or at the least helped to) the largest financial bubbles in American history, starting with the Trusts bubble that, upon bursting, lead to the Great Depression, and on through the Tech Stocks bubble, the Housing Market, and Oil Futures.
It is a brief history of manipulation and general scum-fuckery. Nothing in it should be surprising to anyone who has been paying attention, at least the history. But, this is an incredibly complex area, and I know for a fact that most people aren't paying attention (I barely do).
Taibbi's article is worth reading, to know whats gone on, and also for a critical look at what is coming.
The next major bubble is being passed along as something truly good for everyone, and it may be the biggest swindle yet.

This is long, unhappy and probably boring - Read it anyway.
The Great American Swindle by Matt Taibbi

Monday, June 29, 2009


Rain washes and pools across the tarmac
beyond the café windows that reflect everything
Staring into the sodium phosphor dark
lights and reflections indistinct against my own thoughts
Behind and outside a car moves, reflecting on the window
a mirage of itself - A ghost through which rain falls
and light shines as it rolls and disappears
the reflection unmade by angles and movement
The water slick, reflecting, blackness remains
constant in the wake of the ghost
I cannot help but think that this must be the playground
of the dead, their ghosts whispering
I look for someone, another ghost
among what is bound to become a crowd
and finding them to remain unseen
I turn, unsatisfied and mourning, back to the table
and the living

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Something I Will Teach my Children

When I was about 12, my father set forth a household edict. Every night, we would gather in the kitchen, and by the flickering light of a kerosene lamp (for this was before we had commercial power way out here), he would read aloud. The book we begin with was Farnhams Freehold, by Robert Heinlein. A modest story, about a man and his family, locked in their bomb shelter and thrown into an unknown world by the startling power of nuclear war.
I don't think we ever got to another book after we finished Farnham's Freehold. Things changed, attitudes changed. Within a year we had commercial power, and the bright, harsh, light of electric lamps lacks a certain something. It encourages families to gather, independent of one another across couches and recliners, around the television.
But, my father started something - By the time I was 15, I had read almost everything Heinlein wrote. I have, since then, re-read about all of it at least once. Heinlein is one of my favorite authors, and two of his books in particular have had a great influence on me, my desires, drives and attitudes. Those two would be Tunnel in the Sky, and Glory Road. Both are deserving of their own entries, and I'll get to that eventually.
There is another Heinlein work which means a great deal to me, an essay taken from a speech given to a graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy, titled The Pragmatics of Patriotism.
It is a bit dated, and some of the specific hopes and fears alike are far from occurring today, but the overall idea is, as it has forever been, sound. It is something everyone should read.
The essay was published in a collection of Heinlein's non-fiction work, titled Expanded Universe, and was for a long time unavailable online. I sat down and transcribed it once, so I could share it with a select few people, but my digital copy has since been lost. Earlier tonight I was curious to see if I could possibly find it online, and viola, I see it is indeed now widely available.
I post it, so that those unaware of it can read it - As it is something everyone should read.

The Pragmatics of Patriotism, by Robert Anson Heinlein

"I said that 'Patriotism' is a way of saying 'Women and children first.' And that no one can force a man to feel this way. Instead he must embrace it freely. I want to tell about one such man. He wore no uniform and no one knows his name, or where he came from; all we know is what he did.

In my home town sixty years ago when I was a child, my mother and father used to take me and my brothers and sisters out to Swope Park on Sunday afternoons. It was a wonderful place for kids, with picnic grounds and lakes and a zoo. But a railroad line cut straight through it.

One Sunday afternoon a young married couple were crossing these tracks. She apparently did not watch her step, for she managed to catch her foot in the frog of a switch to a siding and could not pull it free. Her husband stopped to help her. But try as they might they could not get her foot loose. While they were working at it, a tramp showed up, walking the ties. He joined the husband in trying to pull the young woman's foot loose. No luck.

Out of sight around the curve a train whistled. Perhaps there would have been time to run and flag it down, perhaps not. In any case both men went right ahead trying to pull her free... and the train hit them. The wife was killed, the husband was mortally injured and died later, the tramp was killed - and testimony showed that neither man made the slightest effort to save himself. The husband's behavior was heroic... but what we expect of a husband toward his wife: his right, and his proud privilege, to die for his woman. But what of this nameless stranger? Up to the very last second he could have jumped clear. He did not. He was still trying to save this woman he had never seen before in his life, right up to the very instant the train killed him. And that's all we'll ever know about him.

THIS is how a man dies. This is how a MAN . . . lives"

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tobacco & Guns - A Road to Self Sufficiency, Green Communities and a Cleaner Earth

I’ve been smoking too much. It’s time to back off it for a few weeks, return it to the rare pleasure it used to be. Just, not today. I packed my pipe short and walked outside for a quick smoke while I contemplated my pile of raw steel and scrap metal for blacksmithing. During my think, I heard a flapping and rustling from the garden and went trotting over thinking I might catch some devious bastard bird devastating one of the plants. Rather I found a fat Thrasher, sitting on the barb-wire fence where the hose nozzle was hung, misting gentle over a bed of flowers. The Thrasher had inserted himself in the path of the mist-stream, and was taking the bath to end all baths. I watched him for a good ten minutes, before he finally hopped off the fence, fluffed and finally flew.
In that process, I lost track of my idea that had warranted an inspection of the great rusting heap of steel. No great loss, I’m sure, as ideas are dime a dozen recently. Money, resources or time to act on them is frighteningly short, but ideas I’ve got a’plenty. I’m ajumble with ideas.

I recently read a forum thread on one of the many fora I visit, in which someone was talking about the tobacco tax increase of this spring. He was saying that, rather than continue his long time cigar hobby and funnel a dollar on every tobacco product purchased into the pockets of the federal government, he was going to start using that money to buy guns, ammunition and related supplies.
In spirit, I very much like this idea. They (that grand, smirking, scheming, federal “they” – In fact, a gaggle of morons, mass greed and stupidity masquerading as conspiracy) have been waging a war on smoking for longer than I’ve been alive, and they’re finally doing some real damage. On one hand, I’m fine with not having to be choked by second hand smoke in restaurants, or in shops where the owner smokes. On the other, I’d like to enjoy my cancer with a beer and some live music in my favorite dive bar. On the gripping hand, I can live without that, but that’s not good enough, and smoking on the back patio of said dive is frowned upon by many (even where it’s legal). And now, there is this ridiculous tax increase. So yes, why not stop buying tobacco, and instead invest that money into something that “they” hate even more – Guns. Lots and lots and lots of guns and ammunition.
Well… Because I like tobacco. I truly enjoy it.
The obvious solution is to simply order Cuban cigars from Canadian shops who’re experienced in shipping such contraband into the US (replacing Cuban boxes with Dominican, Nicaraguan, boxes and box labels, careful labeling of the shipments, etc). This both avoids paying the ridiculous American taxes on tobacco, and delivers an extremely high quality smoke. Don’t tell me this is bad because it doesn’t stimulate the American economy, haven’t you been listening? It’s a Global economy now stupid. As for violating US law due to the embargo and what not, so what? The entire point of this exercise is sticking it to the federal government, yes?
The less obvious solution is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Self sufficiency. Growing my own tobacco, aging it, rolling it, smoking it. Never selling it, never getting into the mountainous bullshit that surrounds tobacco commerce - Simply growing it for my own use. I’ve considered doing this in the past, more for the shits-and-grins factor of breaking out a really choice cigar, and then informing my aficionado friends that it is in fact one I grew and rolled myself but also for the experimentation factor of being able to do my own combinations of tobaccos for filler and wrapper. I hadn’t, until now, considered it as a serious effort at self sufficiency and cutting back on “feeding the machine”.
That topic, self sufficiency, has been on my mind a lot lately. There’s been some good stuff being said over at Querencia about increasing personal sufficiency via gardens etc. Plus, spending several hours a day in the garden has had my mind on such topics as well.
The more I think about it the more convinced I become of the utter necessity of developing self sufficiency – If not entirely, then to a high degree.
Having been, until a year ago-ish, a full time student, and being in that peer group of 20-30-something not-yet professionals and young professionals, I see a lot of people setting up their life. They are getting an education, building resumes, working the first “real” jobs, dating and partnering – Setting the foundations for their lives. The foundations that will be responsible for their success, and conversely, for their failure depending on how things go, how well they built. In doing this we (as I am one of them) either need to take into consideration the way things have changed, and how they’re going to continue changing, or we have to go with the model mom and dad used, and hope that it’ll hold out just long enough. The latter has already proven itself to be a no-go, and those who refuse to accept it are blind. Those of us who have even the slightest amount of vision (I always feel like there’s something I just can’t see) need to make some pretty serious adjustments from the Nuclear American Dream (American Dream 2.0, the post-war edition, whatever you want to call it).
Among the goals we set for ourselves, the things we aspire and desire toward, achieving a high level of self sufficiency should be prime in peoples minds. Their life plan, their degree plan, job plan, family plan, should all involve that. We've already seen the fallacies in the white picket fence, house, 2.5 kids model, and are slowly coming to grips, changing the model for the ideal life - A strong degree of self sufficiency needs to be part of this new model.
Self sufficiency leads to community sufficiency. Not everyone can grow cattle, but they can do something that’s’ of benefit to someone who can. I may not be able to grow something here, at 6500+ feet, that can be grown down in the Rio Grande river valley, but I can grow cattle, and hunt deer, rabbits, elk, pronghorn. I can harvest “tunas” (prickly pear fruits). In exchanging something I can provide, for something I cannot, I am meeting my needs at the same time as I am providing for my communities needs. This is the logical extension of thinking globally but acting locally. Acting locally, with global good intentions is acting globally. Acting personally, with good intentions toward your neighbor, is acting locally. And so on, and so forth.
One of my philosophy professors has repeatedly told me I changed her life with a comment I made in a Philosophy of BioEthics class. I wish I could remember exactly what I said, as it was a very well put and eloquent expression of a simple idea. The idea being; if everyone would work first to take care of themselves, before they start trying to fix their neighbors problem or beg their neighbors to fix theirs, we’d all be a lot better off. If people put the energy into their own lives and welfare that they put into busy-bodying their neighbor, and begging, there would be far less global need for begging, or people to intervene in others problems. Freeing up resources to actually focus on and make a difference in places which actually need a little help, or a little minding. This starts at home, with meeting your own needs first – Self sufficiency, leading to community sufficiency, and so on and so forth.
A highly technological society does not (can not, we're finding) be separate from an agrarian producer culture - To retain any degree of sufficiency, they have to be integrated. This enforced separation, the great chasm that exists between consumers and producers, must end – The consumer must be the producer.

For all my reactionary anarcho-primativism, I will say this - Technology is not anathema to sustainability or self-sufficiency. Technology, if we use it correctly, will actually make this more possible than it’s ever been. The resources of the network enable producers to more rapidly share information and disseminate innovation. Consumers can more rapidly network with producers for an exchange. People who have, and people who need (being the same people) can rapidly identify one another and work something out.
Modern preparation, processing and storage solutions will mean that even less of what we produce, has to go to waste. Someone can hunt rabbits all winter, vacuum pack and freeze the meat and trade it all summer. Ecologically sound practices, preventing devastation of species, land, natural resources can be used, thanks to being able to store what is needed longer, instead of constantly sucking on, draining and eventually destroying the resources.
And so on, and so on, and so on. I haven’t the room, exuberance or time to detail it all. I don’t even have a full enough grasp of it to do so, yet. But it is possible. People have but to actually act, build their lives on these new models.

Me? I’m starting with tobacco. And using every dollar I don’t spend on tobacco taxes for ammo and guns. Someone’s got to do the hunting. And there will still be those who refuse to participate, but will demand to take. They’ll always need to be dealt with.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Fragment

This is part of a... manifesto? Extended thesis statement? A something I haven't quite figured out what is yet. I wrote this in a burst, and its been sitting there ever since, more than a year now. It is the inspiration for an attempted novel, still in the early stages, but beyond that it is a nothing. Yet.

We are middle children of the west – Not members of the new west fraternity, and not the new immigrant whose bottom-up cultural revolution is more and more successful every day. Our parents worked hard jobs, to give us good lives, working other hard jobs – And the industry disappeared. Cattle, logging, you name it. Skills valuable in todays west do not use strong backs, or toughened hands, they use cunning and false mirth, to plan and plot and sell. And what is being sold is our birthright. It is being sold to others who have not felt the back breaking strain that has been put into the west by the original generations, but who want to buy a piece of a mythology. A mythology created by observers, branded to sell the very acts, and places they were observing, to people even further removed. And in their eyes, it cost the people already there nothing, they can benefit from the increased economic flow, the trickle down. The developers and land-sellers, these priests of an insincere telephone-game mythology, they see themselves as putting in the money, writing the sales pitches, doing the work to sell the west. And they fail to see that what they are selling is the... I don't know if there is a word for it, a single word that encompasses land rich for farming, growing grasses good for cattle, that has been worked and built upon and channeled by hard working believers, disciples of an earned life. Land imbued with all that is, not just their dreams, but the blood of their failures, spirit of their successes, and ideals of existence. What word is there for that? Land does not cover it. Culture does not cover it.

No one who's family has been in the west more than a hundred years has not had ancestors who paid into this. No one who can claim two generations history, was ever expected by their parents and grandparents, to not have access to the full scope of western opportunity, in earth and livestock and timber and hard, hard, work.

What we want to say is, “It is not yours. You cannot buy it”, and instead we pump gas, wait tables, cook meth, work the last holdouts of industries bankrupted by the dreams of new-westerners, or sell out, give in, and start hocking the corporeal elements of our past, our forefathers guarantee of blood and sweat.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

2100 – A World of Cooperation, Greenery, and Sustainability, One Way or Another.

“In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.” Tyler Durden

“Everyone believes in a world of sunshine, happiness and peace. Half believe it sounds like a wonderful place to live. The other half of us, think it sounds like a wonderful place to pillage.” Mick Strider

I watched an ABC News, 20/20 special tonight called Earth: 2100. It told the (fictional, duh) story of a woman born today, 02 June 2009, who lived past the year 2100, and what she saw. A short overview of events: Continued economic depression. Massive resource depletion. Abandonment of suburban sprawl in favor of concentrating in major urban centers closer to resources, leading to eventual abandonment of entire unsustainable areas of the country (the SouthWest). Continued war, primarily over resources, and Balkanization and anarchic breakdown of regions of the former first world. Rise in global temperatures, increasing storm ferocity, polar ice melt, rising sea levels and flooded cities. Breakdown, slow at first then nearly complete, of social and public services. Epidemics and pandemics of emergent viruses, and viruses long thought eradicated, due to overcrowding and poor health and sanitation. Massive human die off in the billions (global population drop from a rise to above ten billion, to below four billion). A general, continued, decline in the human condition from modernity into a nearly primitive existence.
The end result of this story was the majority of the United States, and presumably the world, being reduced to small, isolated, subsistence communities living a hardscrabble agrarian lifestyle, with only a few pockets of “civilization” remaining in highly guarded/fortified cities.
The last fifteen minutes of this TV special were spent talking about how to avoid this horrible fate. How to ensure that we could maintain our major communities, ensure that cities like Las Vegas which shouldn’t even exist due to lack of water can keep on trucking, and that we never have to do without every modern convenience, without doing damage to the environment. While some of these suggestions are great (each city being responsible for producing to meet its own needs, food/water/energy), I was left with one overarching question from the whole affair.
What is so truly terrible about the world population dying off to approximately half of what it is today, and breaking apart into (at least semi-)primitive communities?
Small, independent, producing and self-sustaining communities are a much more appealing society, to me, than giant urban sprawl of skyscrapers and carbon nanotube superstructures rising miles into the sky.
Since when is a hardscrabble life a bad one?
Why is a life of privation and hardship necessarily horrible?
More importantly, when did “going green” and “sustainability” become about maintaining our plush lifestyles? When did this become about maintaining the spoiled middle class delusion? That mindset was a major factor in getting us to this point already. If all we’re looking to do is maintain, sustain, our attitudes and habits that have gotten us into this position, then we are without a doubt going to take a very hard, very brutal fall. No matter what we do, no matter how we act, we will end up in the 2100 predicted by the story (although it will probably be closer to 2050).
Sustainability, being green, saving the planet, whatever you want to call it, shouldn’t be about upholding the bourgeoisie sensibilities that demand material satiation and pretty, trendy, hip places to get it. I’m all for making saving the world trendy, but can we trend away from the senseless materialism of the American Dream 2.0? Perhaps a return to American Dream 1.0, the hard working immigrants agrarian dream in lieu of the post-War Nuclear Family American Dream. Plow shares and dusty, hot, days on the land, instead of picket fences and a bright shiny new washer dryer.
We need a much more practicable and pragmatic approach to these initiatives.
Simply because we have all this stuff now, all this luxury and comfort, doesn’t mean our single minded goal should be retention of both it and the ability to get more of it. Frankly, the same must be said for our population numbers as well. Just because our population has reached its current point does not mean we need to encourage a view that supports attempting to sustain a greater-than six billion global population. We do not need to support the extended growth of a population that size. We do not need to, because we cannot afford to. There is nothing to offer them of value. There is a distinct difference between the privation of a life of abject poverty, starvation and desperation, and the privation of a hardscrabble producers life. The former, and the brutal bitter end of it, is inevitable with such a gross human density on the face of the planet. The latter is what we should be encouraging. Part of our practicability and pragmatism, must be to recognize that the population must stop growing. Efforts towards zero-population growth, and a simple (if cold) acceptance that some people, some places, are going to die. This is, of course, difficult for anyone who isn’t an utter misanthrope. Slowing or stopping population growth, if not turning it around, raises some tricky questions. Disease, war, famine both at home and abroad are disasters and pose great danger to human life, but at what point do we treat these things like wildfires and let them burn? Where do we do this? How do we decide what losses of life can be prevented, what actions are within our scope, and which are beyond our resources? And in doing that, in deciding what strength is had, and what sacrifice must be made, what do we lose? Can we retain our morality, our philosophies of care and concern for every member of the human tribe, when we’re willing to shrug off the deaths of a hundred thousand, hundred million, or a billion?
More importantly, can we retain our morality, when our philosophies support the continued cycle of reproduction and overpopulation with billions of “precious human lives”, in excess of the available resources?

I’ll admit, my misanthropic anarcho-primitive side is showing. Though it is somewhat hampered by my anarcho-capitalist/technologist and humanist leanings. I like my modern, globalized, trade and my internet access and I’m loathe to enter into a system without them. More importantly, I like my friends and my family, and I don’t want to see anything happen to them just as I don’t want to see (greater) widespread human suffering. But that’s the dilemma isn’t it? The things we’re all going to have to get figured out to go anywhere.