by Gilles d'Aymery
"The world only goes forward because of those who oppose it."
(Swans - January 14, 2008) MUTUAL SUPPORT: In his current contribution Phil Greenspan refers to a friend of his, George Houser, a nonagenarian peace and social justice activist. For the 265th time George and Phil, in the company of dozens other war dissenters, have gathered at "the northwest corner of Route 59 and Middletown Road in Nanuet in Rockland County, New York, to protest the war in Iraq." (Read Peter Applebome's article in the December 2, 2007, New York Times.) Rain, snow, icy weather, sunny times, each and every Saturday, there they are. Only death, imprisonment, or bad illness would stop them from being there. Martin Murie and wife Alison, armed with their home-made signs ("No Mr. President, We Are The Deciders," or "Bush Doesn't Care About Our Troops, But We Do. Bring Them Home," or again, "No $$$ For War -- This War Is Destroying America") do the same in their neck of the woods in Franklin County, far north New York State. What do these youthful octogenarians have in common with George Houser, their elder? That "a small group of people with an idea can have a huge impact over the long stretch of history," and that "you have to take the first steps even if you don't know where they will lead." (cf. Applebome's article.)
MOREOVER they share something that the baby boomer generation by in large lacks, an endless sense of hope -- with good reason. Children of the Great Depression, they helped their Russian brothers to defeat Nazism; they, in the wake of their own elders, understood that unity of purpose could make the elites tremble, and thus were, with many fighting comrades, instrumental in the greatest gains the working class experienced in ages; they joined, oftentimes preceded, MLK in the long fight for Civil Rights; they contributed to the decolonization era... They've been an integral part of the long and arduous struggle toward social justice. And they keep telling us that in an historical period when the forces of reaction have the upper hand we should not despair but keep fighting, because History is on our side, that whether the "promised land" is to be reached in our lifetime has little consequence on the ongoing struggle. The Promised Land will be reached. Reaction will be defeated, time and again, at whatever cost (and too often blood) it takes.
THE OLD, YET YOUTHFUL GUARD keeps hammering the same message: Be hopeful. Not the kind of vaporous and opaque hope that the post-partisanship "black Reagan" is distilling through great oratory on the campaign trail, not the kind of change based on frozen thought processes that seem to have enthralled the country into Obama-mania, but hope coupled with actions. "Agitate, agitate, agitate," Phil Greenspan reminds us time and again. But, like Martin, he will quickly add that agitation must have a purpose (don't agitate in the name of agitation only) and be based on clear-headed and mindful objectives -- you cannot demand a change in course without offering an alternative. And, damn it, if this is not a time for alternatives, then will there be ever a time? To wit:
BIOFUEL DISASTER IN THE MAKING. Both Michael Doliner and Martin Murie address once again the tragedy of the commons that is upon us in the form of misguided, profit-driven energy policies. Congress, before going into recess last month, passed a bill signed into law by the president (The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007), which mandates that the U.S. produce 36 billion gallons of biofuel annually by the year 2022. I've repeatedly broached that issue. (See, among many articles of mine, "Deceitful Solutions To America's Energy Dependence," March 2007.) I won't repeat the case I made last year and you can read Michael and Martin's pieces for their take on the matter, but I'd like to bring your attention to a statistical analysis made by Stuart Staniford in "Fermenting the Food Supply" (The Oil Drum, January 7, 2008). According to Michael, Staniford is "one of the best researchers on peak oil." His paper shows the correlation between the prices of oil and ethanol, the plateauing of oil production (the world is consuming more oil than it can replace through new discoveries...aside from the consequences of burning fossil fuels on the global environment), and the direct relationship between these so-called "renewable energies" and starvation in the poor world. (Michael has more to say in his article.) Here is a perfect case that calls for clear-headed and mindful actions.
AT LEAST THE US AIR FORCE is not buying into the biofuel charade. In Nellis, Nevada, the Air Force has just completed the biggest solar plant in the U.S. -- 72,000 solar panels covering 140 acres of land that will generate more than 30 million kilowatt-hours, enough electricity to support a quarter of the 12,000 personnel's energy needs (our taxes at work!). The US Navy is developing the first all-electric warship. As always, the Department of Death (err, Defense) is leading the way toward non-fossil energies. Imagine what could happen society-wide were we diverting financial resources from pro-death to pro-life (not in the anti-abortion sense of the word) research...
THOUGH TO BE FAIR to the US armed forces, they are not the only ones who deal in the managing of death. Take Toshiba, for instance: The Japanese company has developed a 200 kilowatt, 20 feet by 6 feet micro nuclear reactor that could provide enough electricity for small rural communities, city blocks, and wealthy McMansions for up to 40 years at a cost of 5 cents per kilowatt hour. Should be available at your neighborhood corner store next year. Only wealthy dwellers need apply. For more on our brave new world, make sure to visit the Next Energy News Web site. You'll even learn, among many other projects, that a French inventor, former Formula I engineer, has developed a car that runs on compressed air. The largest Indian carmaker, Tata Motors Ltd., has reportedly agreed to invest 20 million Euros ($30 million, more or less) in the new venture. However, what you will not find on the site are projects that power down our energy-guzzling societies. More remains the MO of our culture.
THE NEW DIRECTION CONGRESS: We've received a "Dear Friend" letter from Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House and Representative of the California 8th District in San Francisco, where we rent an apartment. Pelosi repeats the New Direction Congress mantra no less than 18 times in the two-page letter (paid for by us, taxpayers). According to the gentle lady with the Tiffany-cum-Frankenstein smile, the New Direction Congress has made America safer, recommended the findings of the 9/11 commission (scam), worked for a responsible redeployment of our troops in Iraq, funded the veterans, increased energy security (cf. biofuels and other renewable energy) to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, restored the American Dream, covered more health care for children, made college affordable, increased the minimum wage, funded innovation, restored accountability and fiscal discipline, and reformed ethical rules. Pelosi concludes her feel-good letter thus:
In our first year, we are taking our country in a New Direction worthy of the sacrifice of our troops, the vision of the Founding Fathers, and the aspirations of our children. The New Direction Congress will continue to fight for legislation that will make our nation more secure, opportunities more abundant and our government more trustworthy.
READING PELOSI'S POPPYCOCK reminded me of one Revolutionary for Democrats that I covered in November 2006 in "The Democratic Salvation And The Idiotic Left" -- namely Andrew Austin, an intellectually and ethically challenged (the buffoon stole Jan Baughman's cartoon and reposted it on his diminutive blog without, evidently, any permission -- that from an associate professor of Social Change and Development and Chair of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, no less) and self-described rational Marxist. That clown argued last July that he voted for Democrats to save Iraqi lives. He also demonstrated yet another perfect example of typical logical double fallacy, Do you believe that sticking it to Democrats and protesting the two-party system is more important than saving lives in Iraq? Err, some of us did not want to "stick it to the Dems." We just wanted to vote for whoever was closest to our political convictions. And evidently, voting for the Democrats did not save Iraqi lives, did it? But, as political convictions goes, Andrew Austin states, "revolutionary work occurs throughout the two years between elections," thus confirming the very point I made in November 2006 (and many times over), that these idiots cannot be taken seriously: Their egos (check out how he sees himself, and only himself, depicted in the cartoon) have long taken over their atrophied brains. If that's the measure of American curricula, the country and its future are in big doodoo. I suppose Austin will vote for the "black Reagan" or the "DLC Chick" after having sung hosannas on behalf of the UFO, pro-Obama, vegan spiritualist, and moved, once discomfited, to the Edwards rank. This moron has no backbone.
FOOT IN MOUTH: There's nothing more embarrassing to proud editors than letting a typo go by in plain view of the readership, though, possibly due to the spirit of the holidays, no one sent us a caught'ya message. That darn little gremlin could not have found a better place to show its ugly face, in the Note from the Editors, no less. The guilty party (myself) wrote, "Kristol's opinion that the paper of the East Cost Establishment 'is irredeemable.'" COST??? And we let it pass??? Arghh!
THANKFULLY, co-Editor Jan Baughman caught the critter within 15 or 20 minutes of the posting. "Gilles, there's a typo." Oh, well, we manage to find a couple of typos in each issue, or the wrong placement of a comma, and the like. I usually fix the booboos within the next day or so. "Okay, no big deal," I said. "Err, it's on the Front Page, in the Note from the Editors...," she almost whispered, expecting a burst of Gallic temper. "East Cost" should read "East Coast," she carried on with sureness. Darn! Not in an article, but on the Front Page, in the Note from the Editors... What will the company think? We've lost all credibility, we are dead, I thought in my typical Latin hypochondriacal tendency to make a mountain out of a molehill. Rush to the file, correct the error, reload the page. It took no longer than 2 minutes. Ouf, I am breathing better. Problem is, the Note from the Editors was, as usual, included in our bi-weekly "Swans Release" E-mail, and I had sent it. No way to get it back...
WORSE, our own Peter Byrne, who has the uncanny habit to fine-tooth-comb each and every new posting (Isidor Saslav is another one who peels through the work, though he limits his talent to his personal production, which he corrects in abundance!), alerted me that in the Donate page I had spelled Richard Maguire, our most generous financial supporter, improperly. Who ever said that someone's name was the most important word in the English language?
NO ONE CARES, sings the crowd in unison. This is not the age of spelling and tutti quanti. We are in the 21st century now, the age of YouTube and FaceBook, not Aquarium or Aristotle. Nobody gives a hoot. Get on with life. One ought to reluctantly acknowledge, if not concede, another inescapable reality: In a world made of 0s and 1s, where iPhones, Blackberries, online social networks, and the like dominate the nether sphere and the Blogalaxy, where anonymity reigns and messages or videos are shot without second thought, another "culture" is being born, which has little patience with crossing the t's and dotting the i's. Somehow, it makes sense. The t's and the i's, being unbecoming to the commoditization of our age, should simply be ignored and disposed in the garbage dumps of our new and improved modernity.
THE GEORGIC LIFE: During the holidays, young Mestor went for one of his promenades. He usually frolics around the hills for an hour of so before returning home. This time, hours passed and we began to worry. I called him (whistle, name...) as we walked to a higher spot where finally we heard him bark. I kept calling him and he kept barking from what seemed to be the same location high in the hills on the neighbor's property. We went home thinking he'd come back soon. He didn't. While I was staying warm and comfy Jan went out again, back and forth. A couple more hours later she literally forced me to get out and go look for the dog. I reluctantly relented. I went out and called him back again, and again he barked from what looked like the same distanced location. We called the neighbor and asked him permission to enter his property and go search for our dog. Permission was kindly granted with an offer to help if help was needed. Hiking boots on and having cut the wire fence, we embarked on a 20-minute rescue mission uphill and through ravines. I called Mestor repeatedly but he was strangely remaining silent. We kept walking up till Jan suddenly said she had heard him -- a slight whine. A minute later, she saw him. He was lying next to a big 8'-tall fence. I told him, "je viens, je viens..." (I'm coming, I'm coming...). I had to slide down a short but steep ravine and up the other side before I could finally reach him. It took several minutes. Mestor was just looking at me intensely as though he wanted to ask, "hey, man, what took you so long? I've been calling you for hours!" He did not move until I touched him. He then tried to jump on me, but could not. His right front leg was caught in a snare. Priam, our older dog, had come with us. I was hoping he would help find Mestor. He did not, but that did not stop him from starting a brawl that as an immediate flashback reminded me of their December 2006 fight in San Francisco, which resulted in a bloody wounded left hand -- the nerves of my annular (third, or ring finger) remain painful to this day. Darn, I thought, I really did not need this aggravation, as I was screaming at Priam and hitting him as hard as I could (sorry). He let go. Mestor quieted down immediately. I cut the snare. You should have seen him jump all over me, run down and up the ravine to greet Jan, come back to me, zipping around in a frenzy. The four of us headed home safely. His leg was slightly swollen but not hurt.
I CALLED THE NEIGHBOR to tell him we had found the dog, to thank him for letting us go on his property, and let him know that I had had to cut his fence and would repair it. He was (and always is) quite friendly and conciliatory. No problem. He asked what happened and I told him about the snare. According to him, a neighbor killed a fox a few weeks back. The fox had berries and grapes in its bowels. So, says he, they called animal control and snares were installed. In other words, to keep animals away from his grapes (he has a small vineyard -- hence the 8'-tall wire fence...in addition to the smaller fence surrounding his 100+ acres of land, and even electrified wiring on both sides of the entrance to his driveway) he felt the necessity to endanger natural life. He assured me that this kind of snare was designed not to hurt dogs... I did not say much more, but wondered, what would have happened to Mestor had we not heard him, and what happens to a trapped fox that has no one around to rescue it? And what would have happened had the snare caught Mestor's neck instead of his leg? We all know, don't we? Besides being luckily rescued, an ensnared animal can only a) gnaw its leg to set itself free, b) be attacked and killed by another animal (or predator), or c) die out of thirst and lack of food.
A LOCAL, level-headed friendly acquaintance who happens to raise a few head of sheep reminded me that we were responsible for our dogs. He's correct, of course. Dogs are known to run after sheep and kill (or hurt) them for fun. So do the coyotes, mountain lions, and foxes, though these wild animals whose territory we have stolen and whose ranging grounds we have drastically limited, do their hunt as much out of atavism as of feeding frenzy. We are at the top of the food chain (we do eat the food that is raised by the ranchers, don't we?), and while no one likes to shoot or ensnare a dog, the food chain (our daily plates) and the right to make a living (let's not forget property rights) take precedence over the well-being of our canine friends, notwithstanding the facts that these critters will save our lives at a moment notice or give their lives away on our behalf.
STRANGE WORLD, NO? Still, Mestor is alive and well, and the darn dog has already gone on a couple of new "promenades" during which he most enjoys rubbing himself in smelly dung. Our neighbor was most understanding and friendly. We sent him a thank you note. What's beyond me is that we -- the human species at the top of the food chain -- seem unable to design a natural space that takes into account our needs and those of The Others. I'd tell my sheep-raising local acquaintance that I'd be glad to host his 40-head herd on our small land, were he willing to fence it properly and naturally. Properly means that he and I would fence the enclosure in a way that animals (aka, sheep predators, be they wild or domesticated) can't dig below or jump over the fence. "Naturally" means that the design of the fence would allow wild life to roam around, except within the fenced area. It's so utterly possible, so long as one is willing to make it happen. Problem is, that possibility costs more money than we are willing to pay. The solution, hence, is evident. Bring money into the equation. Absent of that effort, which means a higher cost at our local stores, the Mestors of this world will be killed and so will the sheep -- and the foxes. It's abundantly clear that we need to change the way we operate because, to paraphrase Martin Murie, if we can't retrain ourselves to treat other living beings with a modicum of respect and give them generously of earthly habitats, they will die out, and so will we.
MORE RURAL LIFE: A week ago Californians saw their prayers answered in the form of heavy rains. The trouble with prayers is that the modulation of their realization is uncontrollable. We go through long and hard dry spells and, suddenly, we get a Pacific Northwest storm (or two, or three) in a matter of days. Year in and year out it lays mayhem on the inhabitants. Landslides, fallen trees, destroyed or damaged homes, run-away, wasted water, electrical outages become the local news mainstay. The first storm of the season was no exception: Over two million customers lost power in Central and Northern California, including our home.
I was ready though, or as ready as one could be. I cleaned all the gutters; parked the old truck and the tractor under the carports; checked and started the backup generator; laid plywood sheets on top of the deck where the leak in our bathroom ceiling most probably originates; covered the plywood with a huge tarp held down with wood boards and bricks; inspected our three culverts and cleaned any debris that could hinder the flow of expected gushing water; grabbed the caulk gun should a new leak develop; got the flashlights and candles ready; brought wood in for the stove; stored the heavy boots, rain gear, gloves, water-resistant hat, and the chainsaw in the mudroom; made sure that there was enough bottled water for the household; saved all computer files; fed the cats and dogs, and retired to bed.
Early the next morning, I was awaken by the sound of gusting winds and heavy rains. Electricity was still on. Got my coffee and listened to the local radio station. Noticed a leak on the top of the door in our main bedroom. (Waited till the rain receded much later in the day to caulk the periphery of the bedroom door, with good results -- that spot has not been the object of any more leaks in the past week.) Felt uneasy and went to the computer room and shut down everything. The uneasiness was called for. The electricity went down. It was about 6:20 AM, pitch dark outside. I turned on the battery-operated radio. The entire valley was powerless. I sat on the couch in the living room and patted the dogs. When daylight showed up the house was still so dark that I could not even read a book. I was kind of philosophical though -- there was nothing that I could really do but be patient. I talked to Jan over the old ATT phone. Finally, after over 4 hours without power I decided to start the generator in order to, at least, save the foodstuff in the fridge. And that's when the electricity was reestablished here and in most of the valley. We were lucky. Many people had to wait one to five days before getting the power back to their homes. Jan decided to drive up from San Francisco in spite of the dreadful conditions -- the power was out there too, winds were blowing at 70 miles per hour, and the road conditions were only going to get worse. It took her five hours to reach Boonville -- 115 miles!
And it snowed in Baghdad for the first time in memory...
. . . . .
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.