WHAT I’D LIKE FOR MY BIRTHDAY

9 09 2018

I passed my 70th birthday last month. There was no party. Nobody sent me a card, though lots of people posted on my Facebook page, and nobody gave me any presents, which is OK, because I have no lack of the kinds of things people usually give as birthday gifts. But if somebody had inquired as to what I’d like for my birthday, here’s what I would have told them.

I’d like for a significant portion (as in, “enough to change the direction we’re heading”) of the humans on this planet, all over the planet and at all levels of age and society, to have, as they say, “a turning about in the deepest seat of consciousness” that causes them/us (I’m a willing candidate for such a turning. Some people would even say I’m badly in need of it!) to real-ize that we’re all in this together, that it’s inappropriate for a few to have so much when so many have so little, that we need to shut down all fossil fuel extraction and use, including plastic and fertilizer manufacture, as well as all uranium extraction and use, immediately, and just deal with the difficulties that will arise from that. Whatever they may be, they will be far less difficult than what we will encounter, and already are, by staying on the fossil fuel-nuclear energy path. Yes, we won’t have all the marvellous toys we have become so used to—but we, our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren (I’ve got two) will have at least the possibility of a livable planet. That beats extinction, toys firmly in hand and foot on the gas, any day, at least in my book.

I’d like to see all human enterprises—communities and businesses alike–managed democratically, by the input of those involved in them— workers, customers, residents. No more domination, either by patriarchs or capitalists. (Is there a difference?)

And, while I’m asking for big things, I’d like to see the seven billion humans on this planet split among ten different alternate Earths. I think that a 90% cut in the human population would return us to a relatively stable ecosystem. We are seriously overgrazing this planet, with quite predictable results, just as our ancestors’ goats overgrazed the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East, turning them from “The Garden of Eden” into scrubby desert and near-desert. I think 700 million people with a societal awareness that “we’re all in it together,” including the non-human members of our ecosystem, would be smart enough to not overgrow their/our habitat.

I know that splitting us off onto ten alternate Earths sounds awfully magical, but it’s the only compassionate way I can think of to get our population back to sane numbers as fast as it needs to happen without invoking either horrid calamities or an untenable culture with ten very old people for every young one. On the other hand, we could navigate a generation of full-time elder care more easily than we could violate the known laws of physics.

That’s what I would like for my birthday, in order to rest easy through whatever time I have left on this planet.

Hey, you’re saying, your birthday is about YOU—what do you want for yourself? Read the rest of this entry »





TRUMP, LOOSE NUKES, THE RUSSIAN MAFIA, SEYMOUR HERSH, AND THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING LINK

9 09 2018

Recently, I went looking for something authoritative about Russia during “the lawless years” that followed the fall of the USSR. After doing some internet searching, I found that Seymour Hersh, whose reputation is reasonably impeccable, had written a story, entitled “The Wild East,” on that subject in 1994. Yes, I know there are those who attack him, but if you’re reporting on things that annoy those in power, or who aspire to power, you will be attacked. Hersh has won plenty of recognition for his work, and this particular piece was published in The Atlantic, which does not put its support behind dicey reporting.

The page was so discouraging to look at that I almost gave up without reading it. It was in that old-style 90’s internet format–wall-to-wall words, no margins, no pictures, no skipped lines between paragraphs. At the top of the page were an underlined 1 and a 2, indicating that it was the second page of an article, since the 2 was black and the one was blue. Might as well start at the beginning, I said to myself, and jumped to page one.

The US embassy in Moscow

Hersh began his story with an account of the unsolved murder of a staff member of the American Embassy in Moscow: Read the rest of this entry »





STARTING THE REVOLUTION WITH….GOURMET HOT CHICKEN?

12 08 2018

My attention was attracted by a headline in a recent Nashville Scene:

H*t Chicken Sh**t Addresses Gentrification in North Nashville

The event, which I’m not sure how to pronounce—“Hot Chicken Shoot”? “Hit Chicken Shi..”….well, never mind–was an effort by Nigerian-American gourmet chef Tunde Wey to call together some movers and shakers to not merely discuss gentrification over a “gentrification priced” $55 dinner, but to actually start funding a community land trust that will “allow residents to buy affordable homes while the land is owned by a non-profit in the community.”

I think this is really good news. I’ve been one of those beating the drum for community land trusts as a way to address gentrification  and was happy to see it featured so prominently at the Co-op Nashville conference a few years back. Recently I’ve been wondering what happened to all the positive energy that was generated at that gathering, so it was very sweet to get an answer without even having to go look.

I wish Tunde Wey and his friends every success in this venture. I hope to send some money  their way, and I hope you will, too. But, being a “deep green perspective” kind of guy, I also have some further thoughts about this project, and that’s what I want to share with you.

This story kind of reminds me of the peace activist slogan “”It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” Here in Nashville, we just went through a massive campaign to pass additional taxes for a public transit system that was widely, and correctly, perceived as a tool for further gentrification of the city. “I’ve already got developers calling me about property (along the proposed light rail route)” one advocate of the plan said, on camera.  (Oops!) This plan was defeated, largely by those who realized it was going to gentrify them right out of town. Something that does seem to be going through, on the other hand, is a “major-league soccer stadium” that will undoubtedly raise property values in its neighborhood, which happens to be one of the remaining pockets of affordable housing. The good news is that the soccer stadium plan is structured to listen and respond to input from the surrounding community. The relevant part of this story, however, is that Metro Nashville is issuing $275M in bonds to pay for the project, with the expectation that the stadium will do well enough financially to pay that back.

Read the rest of this entry »





DISRUPTION

8 07 2018

prettyswiftThis is a chapter from Charles Eisenstein’s 2013 book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.” Due to this chapter’s length, I am only reading part of it this month. The beginning of the chapter, and the end of this month’s reading, are reproduced below. You can find the whole chapter here.

It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.

—Jonathan Swift

The world as we know it is built on a story. To be a change agent is, first, to disrupt the existing Story of the World, and second, to tell a new Story of the World so that those entering the space between stories have a place to go. Often, these two functions merge into one, since the actions we take that are part of the telling of a new story are also disruptive to the old.

This is how I see my work, the work of activists, and even on some level the work of artists and healers. Many of the stories I have told in this book exemplify the disruption of the old story: Pancho’s interaction with the policeman, for instance. I will share some more examples soon, but let’s start by considering a class of people that is the source of the greatest despair for many people I know. It is the class of “people who just don’t get it.”……

…..I believe the conversation must go deeper still. What that Nestlé VP did to justify her company, others can do to justify our whole civilization, as long as we grant them certain premises about the nature of life, self, and reality. For example, if we grant the premise that primitive life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” then any doubts about the overall beneficence of technology run into a brick wall. Similarly, if we grant the premise that nature bears no inherent tendency toward organization and that life is just a random collocation of lifeless, generic building blocks bumped around by purposeless forces, then clearly we need have no scruples about seeking to conquer nature and turn it toward human ends. And finally, if we grant the premise that each of us is a discrete, separate self seeking to maximize genetic self-interest, then ultimately there is no arguing over the broad legal and economic parameters of our society, which seek to overcome that wanton nature and channel it toward pro-social ends.

The Nestlé VP’s views are more or less sound within the framework I have described above, the framework of “making life better through technology,” of the progressive conquest of inner and outer nature. Her views will not change until that framework crumbles. They are completely at home within the Story of Ascent.

I have to note that I take issue with what I regard as Eisenstein’s overly generous characterization of climate change deniers, since we now know, much more clearly now than when this book was written, that the big oil companies became aware of the profoundly dangerous consequences of their business back in the 70’s, and chose to hide what they knew and dispute the revelations of others in the interests of short-term profits. Back then, it would have been much easier to change course than it is now, both because so much polluting infrastructure has been built and because we are now running out of time before the changes wrought by our use of oil and coal send the planet’s climate too far out of control for anything but a crash landing.

I suspect that many corporate executives like the one Eisenstein writes about in this chapter may likewise be well aware that the one percent is quite consciously sucking the rest of us, and the planet, dry. Be that as it may, however, they are human beings like us, and if we are going to create, as I said earlier in this show, “a culture that is equitable, ecological, responsible, visionary, and tolerant,” it is going to have to find a way to include these people. That is exactly the issue Eisenstein is addressing here, so tune in next month for the next exciting instalment–or read the book yourself, if you can’t stand to wait.

music: “Pulled Up,” Talking Heads

Am,” Umar Bin Hassan

On the August “Green Hour,” I began reading with this, and concluded with the end of the chapter:

I heard another smart guy one morning on The Diane Rehm Show, an energy industry consultant. One of the topics was the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, intended to transport Albertan tar sands oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The consultant made the following point, which I will paraphrase: “Look, if we don’t build the pipeline, the refineries on the Gulf Coast are just going to refine heavy crude from somewhere else, and the tar sands will send their oil to Asia instead of the United States. Stopping the pipeline won’t have any impact on climate change or ecosystem destruction. That oil is going to be extracted and refined anyway, so it might as well be done in a way that brings jobs to the United States.”

Philosophers of ethics would have fun demolishing these arguments, which would apply just as well to selling body parts from the Nazi concentration camps. Whether I sell them or not, the camps are still operating, so I might as well put those body parts to good use, right? The point here, though, isn’t to expose the logical flaws in the justifications for the Keystone XL pipeline or plastic bottles, but to show how the things we take for granted determine our moral choices. In the reality bubble they inhabit, their arguments make perfect sense. If it is indeed an unalterable fact of the universe that the tar sands will be extracted, then it would be vain and counterproductive to disdainfully refuse to engage that fact. If our current petroleum-based civilization is unalterable, then we might commend Nestlé for putting its waste to good use. If we take the growing busyness of people’s lives for granted, then we must welcome the conveniences that make modern life tolerable. Within their operating paradigms, both these smart people are doing good……..

…..

Years later, he says, he still gets emails from those participants, telling him that their lives have never been the same since. “Tell me when you give another seminar,” they say. “I don’t care what the topic is.”

The power of that act of generosity was far beyond the mere economic impact on the working-class janitors. Its power lay in its violation of the laws of reality as the janitors, their supervisor, and the seminar participants had known them. The impossible happened, that day. Experiences like that tell us, “The world doesn’t work the way you thought it did. The realm of the possible is greater than you believed it was.”

Music: “Money” — Pink Floyd

Waiting for a Miracle” –Jerry Garcia Band





PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE OLIGARCH(S) BEHIND THE CURTAIN

17 06 2018

In 2014, a pair of highly respected political scientists at Princeton and Northwestern Universities jointly researched and published a study on the influence of the extremely wealthy in American politics, which confirmed what a great many of us political activists knew in our guts: the United States is an oligarchy, a country whose political process is controlled by, and largely benefits, the wealthiest Americans, be they flesh-and-blood or corporate persons, or whether they are American or Saudi citizens. It was kind of a “duh” moment for most of us. It’s been obvious for decades that corporate capture of our government is fairly, or should I say unfairly, all-encompassing.  It takes money to win elections, and the corporate sector’s ability to accumulate money, and use the power of that money to change the laws and enable them to accumulate even more money and exert even more influence just keeps growing, like the balance on your credit card debt. As I said last month, accumulating money tends to be extremely addictive.

Another way the corporations have sought to consolidate their hold on the country is through ownership of our news media. All those big corporations that advertise on TV? Those ads are like the brand on a cow, telling the world “we own and control this station.”

And then, there’s the “brands” they advertise. Brands of cars, or beer, or whatever, are a little different from brands on cows. The difference is, the cow brand is seared onto the cow, while the product brand is seared into your mind, if you are exposed to it often enough. But I digress….  When the news sources most readily available to the average citizen spout nothing but approval for the corporate agenda even though they may report critically on some of the effects of the corporate agenda, but never question the validity of that agenda, it becomes difficult for those average citizens to imagine that there might be any more equitable alternatives. You know, like what the US says North Korea does to its people.

I discovered an example of concealed corporate propaganda while researching this story. One of the articles that showed up near the top of the list when I did a search on “Princeton oligarchy study” was on Vox, claiming to rebut the Princeton study. I read the Vox story carefully, and noted that it seemed to kind of nibble around the edges of what the Princeton-Northwestern study had claimed, seemed to use its statistics somewhat disingenuously, and it ignored the voluminous real-world evidence that corroborates the Princeton statistical study. I recalled that Vox is part of the same media conglomerate that puts out Daily Kos. This conglomerate, with its many faces, is widely regarded as the voice of the corporate Democratic Party, and one of those “reliable sources” frequently recommended by those who caution us against the kind of “fake news” that does question the validity of corporatism and/or advocate serious alternatives, like cooperative democratic socialism, AKA The Green Party, among others. That Vox should be so eager to rebut the reality of American oligarchy only emphasizes what I have to say in this post. Read the rest of this entry »





SEX, TRANSIT, GLORIA NASHVILLE

11 03 2018

Before I heard the recent news, I was planning to write a story that examined the proposal to create a rail-centered mass transit system in Nashville. When I heard about Mayor Barry’s resignation and guilty plea on the national news (“a rising star in the Democratic Party,” they called her), I decided that I would be remiss not to comment on a situation that reveals so much about our country’s politics, and human nature in general. So, sex first, then transit.

Let’s  begin with the adultery aspect. I see two somewhat opposing dynamics here. On one hand, in order for people to be fully intimate with each other, honesty is essential. The number of people involved in that intimacy doesn’t necessarily matter, as long as they all agree on the same ground rules and are wiling to work through whatever emotional baggage those ground rules may bring to light. For most people, most of the time, the basic ground rule is, “You and me, baby. Two’s company, three’s a crowd.”

On the other hand, enough people have broken their promise of dyadic exclusivity so that we, as a society, should have figured out by now that we’re not necessarily wired that way. Read the rest of this entry »





LARRY NASSAR AND THE BOUNDARIES OF COMPASSION

18 02 2018

Even in the midst of a veritable avalanche of revelations of sexual predation, the case of Larry Nassar sticks out like a gaping, bleeding wound. It’s not just that he took advantage of his position as US Olympic Gymnastics Team doctor to use the bodies of young girls as objects in his sexual fantasies. It’s not just that, apparently, a whole lot of the officials involved with him knew what he was doing, and chose to ignore it. It’s that, in our culture, the objectification of female bodies is, in many ways, the norm, so that, viewed from a certain perspective, what he was doing was not so far out of the ordinary. Our commercial culture uses sexually attractive women’s bodies as a lure to sell things to men, and as a way to shame women, deny their worth, and guilt-trip them into buying things that will, supposedly, make them more worthy. In this world of women-as-objects, sex becomes detached from emotional intimacy. “Sex robots” seem like a reasonable use of technology….hey, they’re just the ultimate sex toy, right? This objectification, and consequent alienation, is a symptom of the normalization of sociopathy in our culture.

not the real thing…just a fantasy

People are rightly horrified by Nassar and what he has done. The father of one of his victims attempted to assault him in the courtroom. He will not be the last person to do so. Child molesters are the very bottom of the social ladder in prison, and often meet violent ends. Whatever thrills Mr. Nassar got from taking advantage of the young girls with whom he was entrusted, he will be paying for them dearly.

But our culture has plenty of Larry Nassars  who have figured out socially acceptable ways to victimize innocent people. I want to examine the case of one man in particular, a man whose initial way of molesting women and children was to drop bombs on them. He didn’t know the children he killed and wounded. He didn’t even see them. He was killing people for what he considered a higher purpose, so that the country he lived in would prevail against the country whose women and children he was killing. Read the rest of this entry »








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