by Gilles d'Aymery
"Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long."
—Ogden Nash (1902-1971)"Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things.
—Russell Baker (1925-)
(Swans - August 10, 2009) IT'S HERE AND NOT TO BE MISSED! The August-September '09 issue of The Canyon Country Zephyr, Planet Earth Edition is on line at canyoncountryzephyr.com -- 43+ pages of attention-getting prose and fun-filled cartoons, one of the latter you will not want to overlook (more on this later). With this third Web-only edition of the famed bi-monthly magazine, Jim Stiles, its publisher and editor, has come up with a trove of new features. You can either read the magazine in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format or in HTML, though the HTML format is an embedded version of the PDF files that in my opinion is not yet properly optimized and makes scrolling down an exercise in futility or frustration (I recommend the PDF format). He also has added a Blog on the front page, which uses one of those "widgets" that have become so prevalent on Web pages. In his "Take It or Leave It" editorial (pp. 2-3), Jim takes on the Twitterati in the Twitterworld, whom he calls "twits" (remember, that was the term used by Charles Marowitz in his genial assault on that moronic, brainless multitude in his May 4, 2009, column, "Trivia Triumphant") and wonders whether publications like The Zephyr (and, for that matter, Swans) will be able to survive in the Age of Twitter and other misnamed "social networks." (Personally, I would not worry. We'll survive until we are dead, and in the meantime remain willing to work for naught, financially speaking). Meanwhile, to my disbelief, Jim has created a "FOZ" (Friends of [The] Zephyr) on Facebook. So, it's fair to say that The Z, with its mix of PDF files, HTML, Blog, and Facebook, has joined the 21st century in a hurry! I'm afraid this cannot be said of poor old me and Swans as I am, to use Jim's old adage regarding his worthy endeavor, "clinging hopelessly to the past"....of simple, proper HTML formatting, few graphics, and sheer, undiluted content that keeps promoting text in the age of Kindle and the digital age. But, then, one wonders, does text make any sense in the dominion of the Cyborgs?
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY ASIDE, The Z has its fill of excellent substance. Get a sip of your favorite beer or French wine and just go to the Letters on page 5. You will find out, among other gems, that:
...We have been sold the idea that technology advances will solve all our problems. We just need to switch to renewable energy and everything will be fine! Just support the correct political party and you can go back to watching Survivor and not worry.
I did some quick calculations the other day with some numbers I got off the Web [writes Mark on July 6], so I can't say the results reflect the best available renewable energy generation systems. With that disclaimer, if the sun is shining it requires 10 ft by 10 ft surface area of solar panels to power a 50 inch plasma TV. Then after the sun goes down and if the wind is blowing at 20 mph you would need 5 home wind power generators to keep that big screen TV running so you don't miss tonight's episode of American Idol.
THEN, JUMP to pp. 8-9 and read the Canyon Country Watchdog whereby Doug Meyer and Jim take on the "ethically challenged" environmental movement (or whatever is left of it). While their methodology is substantially different from Michael Barker's approach and research, they certainly come to the same conclusion: "Progressive" environmentos have been bought by capitalist interests! There is much more in this edition including the reminiscences of our own Martin Murie about Jackson Hole (pp. 18-19) and Jim's personal "Vintage Zephyr Cartoon Store." It's up to you to go and discover. Once there, consider sending Jim a few buckaroos. Okay, I'd rather have you spend your hard-earned money on Swans, (sorry Jim!) but there is no better second choice than The Z. Thinking of it, why not send a few bucks to both of us!!!
AH YES, THE CARTOON: Turn your attention to the bottom of page 5. You'll see a cartoon of yours truly drawn by Jim, who made me an honorary member of the Zephyr Backbone for having supported his valiant efforts in the past and in the present. I sent him a full-size color picture, which I've used in a smaller B&W format in our Coin français. I also suggested that he use Jan, who's definitely much prettier than me, but his resulting cartoon is more real than reality itself. You can even see the Boonville logo on my cap. Thank you, Jim. I'll have to ask permission to use the cartoon on Swans now that I'm finally famous! In the meantime, go read The Zephyr and support it.
RECOVERY, WHAT RECOVERY? Social behaviorism has been a mainstay of government and business since WWI, whether you call it propaganda or some refined application of the Coué method (English, French). What counts is to make people believe whatever is the issue of the day -- going to Afghanistan to defeat evil and terrorists, getting rid of Saddam Hussein in the name of freedom and democracy, having the best sick care in the world, living in a post-racial world, and on, and on. The latest spin peddled 24/7 is that the economy has turned the corner. We are not out of the woods yet, but we are slowly getting into clear skies again. It's just a matter of months before the recovery sets in. The message being sublimely instilled to the populace is, "go back to the mall and spend again. Everything's going to be fine." Remember, 70 percent of the GDP is consumption. Never mind that the public debt is drowning in red ink; never mind that $1 trillion in credit card debt is keeping consumers under water; never mind that foreclosures are increasing -- not decreasing (16 million homeowners are underwater -- they owe more on their mortgage than the value of their homes...Fannie Mae just reported another $15 billion quarterly loss); never mind that job losses keep accumulating ("only" 247,000 in July); never mind that wages have fallen by over 4 percent; never mind that 48 out of 50 states are facing budget deficits in the order of almost $170 billion or that the state of California is by all sound measures insolvent (the 8th biggest economic power in the world) and had to resort to financial gimmicks in order to allegedly balance its budget, once again kicking the ball down the road; never mind that there's been about 60 bank failures so far in 2009; never mind the game. Still, here is a question:
RECOVERY TO WHAT? Two weeks ago, on a Saturday, we drove to Ukiah, the northern California Mendocino County seat. I had not been there in months. Parking lots were deserted, even at the big box stores like Home Depot. Store fronts were closed, plywood-walled. Weeds were growing on abandoned car lots. The only place that saw substantial traffic was Wal*Mart, two-thirds (if not more) of whose products are made in China. (Talk about blind suicidal wishes!) The county offices are now closed on Fridays. Post offices also have a weekly furlough day. There's talk in D.C. about closing one-third of all post offices nationwide. The overall economic activity of the entire country that is devoted to manufacturing is less than 14 percent (the lowest of all industrial nations except, I'm sorry to admit, France). Industrial production has fallen over 17 percent in the past couple of years. Two million manufacturing jobs have disappeared in the past 19 months. At the end of last year General Motors had 91,000 employees. By the end of this year, it expects to have 64,000. These jobs are not coming back. Though keep in mind that GM continues to develop its overseas operations, especially in India and China. A new factory was recently completed in Talegaon, 110 miles south in Mumbai, India. It will build Chevrolets to be exported to the American market. The difference between Talegaon and Detroit? The per capita income in India is less than $800 a year (!), which brings me to:
CASH FOR CLUNKERS (or C4C): Note that the first car GM rolled off its production lines as it emerged from bankruptcy was a muscle car, a Camaro, which is attracting excited consumers who want to get back to the good old days. Following in the steps of Germany, France, Spain, and Austria, the Obama administration has devised another gimmick on the road to recovery. Trade in your old clunker and buy a new car. Here is the summary of the terms, which I received in the mail from a local dealer and which began with the question: "Do you qualify for up to $12,000** of dealer, factory and government assistance on your next vehicle purchase?" (The two ** refer to an announcement at the bottom of the page that reads: "** $12,000 savings on all new 2009 Chevy Silverado Crew Cab [a gas-guzzler par excellence] in stock. $4,000 Factory Assistance. $3,500 Dealer Assistance. $4,500 with qualifying trade." Here are the terms of C4C (unedited):
Passenger cars from 1984-2001 with combined miles per gallon ratings of 18 or less are eligible. Owners could get a $3,500 voucher if they trade for a new car rated at least 4 mpg higher or $4,500 if they buy a car that gets 10 mpg more. SUVs, pickups or minivans 1984-1999 that get 18 mpg or less could earn a voucher for $3,500 if their new SUV, truck or minivan gets at least 2 mpg more than their old vehicle or $4,500 if the new truck or SUV gets at least 5 mpg more. In either case, the owner of the trade-in must have had it at least a year, and it must be drivable. Dealer must provide assurance the trade-in then is scrapped.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? Ignore the ridiculously small mpg spread between old and new. The program was not devised to save energy. According to Matthew Wald in "Doing the 'Clunker' Calculus" (The New York Times, August 7, 2009) "the Transportation Department said 245,384 vehicles had been sold by Friday morning, with rebates totaling $1.03 billion." Wald estimates that a new car owner may save about 270 gallons over a year of driving an average of 12,000 miles. Writes Wald: "Multiply by 245,000, the number of vehicles purchased using the first $1 billion of incentives, and the country burns 66.2 million fewer gallons of gasoline a year, or about 1.6 million barrels. At the rate America burns oil, that is about a two-hour supply." The federal C4C program was extended last week with an additional $2 billion. So, all in all, C4C will save the country a 6-hour supply of gasoline! What C4C brings to the table is a boost to the car manufacturers (and dealerships) with an eye solidly fixated on the impact upon GDP -- the much heralded leitmotiv that economic recovery is on its way, which by the same token boosts the financial markets. But this is a cruel joke both from an environmental and financial perspective.
TO UNDERSTAND THE SCAM, you need to go back to my March 14, 2005, Blips #14 in which I related this little-advertised fact: "According to Martin Sereno, a professor of Cognitive Science at UCSD, 'The amount of oil needed to *make* a new car is about equivalent to the amount it will use during the lifetime of the car. Thus, from the perspective of running the oil down and adding to greenhouse gases, it's probably worse to get rid of a currently running, less-fuel-efficient car (provided it's not a super-size SUV), and replace it with a hybrid, than it is to just drive your less efficient car into the ground.'" To this disturbing tidbit one has to also take into consideration the energy used to scrap the clunkers, a consideration the government seems to have either ignored or kept quiet, especially because the scrap-metal market is currently almost nonexistent. So the clunkers will be scrapped all right but they won't be recycled. Hence, the ecological footprint of this entire program looks like another environmental boondoggle in the making.
GO ONE STEP FURTHER. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were about 251 million registered vehicles in the U.S. in 2006, of which about 200 million were passenger vehicles (cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, vans). So, if the overall C4C program covers about 750,000 vehicles, the incidence on the total fleet will be a miniscule 0.375 percent, at a cost for the taxpayers of over $3 billion, which Treasury will have to borrow and pay back with interest, thus adding to the already abysmal public debt -- that's a public subsidy that's most unwelcome. Worse, the car owners who participate in the program will more likely than not take a loan to purchase the new cars. Thus once again we are witnessing a recurring and systemic approach to inflate both public and private debt. And that does not even take into account that "according to market experts, nearly everyone who bought new cars would have done so at some point anyway." (See Matthew Wald's article.)
IN CONCLUSION, C4C will have a long-term negative environmental impact and will further inflate the debt, but the short-term impact will help the economic "recovery," that myth being peddled on daily basis on CNBC and the corridors of power. Undiluted nonsense. Better laugh than cry, I suppose.
FLASH BACK TO 1969: On July 31, 2009, the space shuttle Endeavour landed at Cape Canaveral in Florida, the culmination of a 6.5-million-mile mission to the International Space Station that took 15 days, 16 hours, 45 minutes, and 11 seconds. It barely made the news. I watched it all on the NASA channel with excitement and a slight level of anxiety, keeping in mind the loss of the Challenger in 1986 and that of the Columbia in 2003. We take these repeated achievements for granted (until disaster occurs). It has almost become non-news news except for a minority of aficionados. What a difference 40 years make. I vividly recall where I was on July 20, 1969, as we watched on TV the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was in a small weekend home called "Le Moulin," which was owned by Simone Alié-Daram and her first husband Bob Biermé (Simone is a contributor to our French Corner) and was located near my grandparents' home in Prunet, near Caraman, in the Haute Garonne, about 28 kilometers from Toulouse. We were stupefied by the exploit and watched again and again for hours on end. It was a wonderful summer and 1969 a vintage year. I turned 19 four days later. In the fall, on October 11, 1969, I obtained my license and soon would be driving a second-hand Citroën 2 CV (2 HP), whose license plate number was 666 QZ 31 (if my memory does not fail me.) The country was bursting with economic activity as we were nonchalantly entering the end of the Trente Glorieuses that turn into years of stagflation in the wake of the first energy crisis in 1973-74. Following the May 1968 events, never had we known so much autonomy and lack of restrictions. The future looked bright to this young idealist. These were in many ways the happiest years of my youth (1969-1972). It was also a year filled with remarkable -- though not all positive -- events. In March, the Anglo-French supersonic plane, the Concorde, took off from the Toulouse Blagnac airport for its historical first 42-minute flight -- a project that turned out to be a failure due to the 1973 oil crisis and the plane's gas guzzling consumption -- one metric ton of jet fuel per passenger on the Paris-New York flight.
OUR AMERICAN FRIENDS had to face the gruesome and bloody carnage of the Sharon Tate-LaBianca murders by the Charles Manson cult "Family," but also enjoyed the great Woodstock festival, which coincided with Apollo 11's landing on the moon (the Brits had their Beatles' Abbey Road moment). Far away in Indonesia war was raging ever more violently, a war waged against a country that had never attacked the U.S. and whose leader's nationalism had taken for model that of the US Founding Fathers. That very year, on September 2, Uncle Hô (Hô Chi Minh -- literally "he who enlightens") died without having the satisfaction of witnessing the independence and reunification of his beloved country, Vietnam, and the defeat of the American violent and vicious aggressors. One day earlier, a 27-year-old colonel, Muammar Khadafi, took power in Libya through a coup, one which followed the May 25 coup in Khartoum, Sudan, by General Nemeiry.
BACK HOME, or what was then home, a stupendous and potent event, which I did not fully grasp at the time, took place in the spring. Following the loss of a nationwide referendum on French decentralization, le Grand Charles (le Général de Gaulle, president of France, 1958-1969, and the mastermind of the Fifth Republic) abruptly resigned from the presidency on April 28, 1969, in a terse communiqué: "Je cesse d'exercer mes fonctions de président de la République. Cette décision prend effet aujourd'hui à midi." ("I stop exercising my functions of president of the Republic. This decision will take effect at noon today." He was 79 years old. He never again appeared publicly or addressed the nation, and died a year and a half later on November 9, 1970. It may well have been his time to leave the scene, but with his abrupt departure, I've come to realize in later years that a proud page of French history had been turned, sadly replaced by, starting with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, second-rated politicians that are now epitomized by the current resident of the Elysée Palace, the culturally-impaired, neoliberal, Christian-fundamentalist Islamophobe, greed-lover, Nicolas Sarkozy.
INDEED, what a difference 40 years make! One constant along those four decades: The U.S. is still warring all over the world as though the country could not survive without destroying everything that keeps us all alive. The other constant, of course, is that I too am still alive...though barely. Comes to mind Frank Sinatra's song, "It Was A Very Good Year," except that I was neither 17 nor 21 nor 35. I was a 19-year-old who believed in a better world. I cherish those memories and still believe in the life-long aspiration of a better world, even if the last 30-some years have seen the resurgence of religious irrationality, reactionary ideologies, concentration of power and wealth among the few, and the seemingly end of hope. But the flame is still there. Only it needs to be rekindled by our and future generations.
. . . . .
C'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.