DROP YOUR GUN AND STEP AWAY FROM THE CAR

13 10 2012

I heard quite an earful from some of my readers and listeners about last month’s post “Meddling in the Affairs of Dragons.”

“Give us something positive,” my friends told me, and they were kind enough to point out to me that various Green Party policy wonks in the United States and Canada have written detailed, well-documented “energy descent plans,” showing how the “(over) developed world”  (that’s us) can step back from the brink of planetary suicide on which we are, in fact, currently teetering.  The Green Party of Canada ends the “Averting Climate Catastrophe” section of their platform with the following quote from Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

“We are risking the ability of the human race to survive.”

The IPCC, as you may be aware, has consistently underestimated the rate of climate change–that is, reality has almost always moved faster than their projections.  So, if they think we are “risking the ability of the human race to survive,” we must, indeed, be in peril.

The best way to extricate ourselves from this peril could be summed up in a chestnut from crime movies–we’re at the point where the police tell a cornered suspect, “Drop your gun and step away from the car.”  Yep, it’s our military spending and our car culture that have us in deep doo doo. What follows is largely borrowed from the Green Party of  New York’s platform , with input from “Vision Green,” a highly detailed energy descent plan put together by the Green Party of Canada–thanks, fellow Greens, for doing so much of my homework for me! Read the rest of this entry »





ODDS AND ENDS AT THE END OF AN ODD WINTER

11 03 2012

I had intended to spend some time this month talking about the unreliability of touch-screen voting machines and other perils of the voting process, which seems like an especially relevant topic now that the Green Party has a ballot line in Tennessee, but the herb issue just would not shut up, and I don’t have time left in the radio show to give elections their proper due.  Anyway, I had finished reading a report on the poor dependability of the computerized, touch-screen voting machines our state depends on, when my friend Bernie Ellis sent me a link to his Martin Luther King Day speech on that subject, which he expanded  into the many nefarious methods that Republicans are using to cut down on the ability of people who are likely to vote for Democrats to register and vote at all.  Bernie lead me to a report from the NAACP on that subject which is pretty hot, but I haven’t finished reading it yet.  So next month, the plan is to integrate those, plus explain why the Greens should be concerned about the Repubs ripping off the Dems, if it really is just two competing crime families, as we so often say.  (Short answer:  an injury to one is an injury to all, and we’re all in this together.  If the Dems were siphoning off Republican votes, we’d raise hell, too, but given the abuser-enabler nature of the relationship between Repubs and Dems, that’s unlikely to happen outside of, maybe, Chicago.)  Anyway, that’s for next month–unless, of course, something more exciting and currently unexpected bumps it.  The future is wide open.  You just never know what will happen next.

Speaking of wide open, a big patch of the Arctic Ocean that usually freezes during the winter, and which, a decade or so ago, just stayed frozen–didn’t freeze this winter.  Evaporation from this patch of open water created never-before-seen weather patterns that pushed Siberian air masses, far more loaded with moisture than usual, down over Europe, resulting in one of the coldest, snowiest winters recorded there since the “Little Ice Age” that resulted when large parts of North and South America reforested themselves after the humans who had cleared them died from diseases transmitted by the earliest Europeans to make contact with the native people of this hemisphere.  That was then, but this is now.  In a wintertime echo of the torrential rains that have scoured Pakistan, Columbia, Thailand, parts of the U.S.,  and other locations too numerous to mention, a single storm in central Europe dumped six feet of snow on the ground in just four days.  One begins to get an understanding of what happens when the Earth enters a glacial age, even as the planet inexorably grows warmer.

Meanwhile, even though 2011-12 has been one of the mildest winters in U.S. history, climate denialism by those who are making money from the causes of climate change continues unabated. For just one example, Senator Jim Inhofe, who has long denounced global warming as a hoax, has received someplace between eight hundred thousand and 1.35 million dollars from oil, gas, and other energy industry companies.   Somehow, people continue to take him seriously, and the phrase “political prostitute” is not commonly associated with his name.

Numerous other “big lies” are being forced down the throat of the American public, which is more or less bound and gagged by the corporatocracy, but, due to the effect of the Stockholm Syndrome, enough people still love the rough treatment we are receiving to keep it coming.

There’s the big lie that the Keystone XL pipeline will provide lots of jobs and keep America afloat in gasoline, when the real reason Canada’s oil diggers/carbon releasers/environmental destroyers want to pipe their poison to Houston is so they can put in tankers and send it to the Chinese, who are rapidly approaching the point at which they will be able to outbid the U.S. for petroleum products–but hey, Bill McKibben is not lying when he says that Keystone XL would be “game over” for preventing catastrophic climate change.

There’s the big lie that fracking for natural gas is going to provide us with at least a century of low-carbon fuel.  Fracking for natural gas is looking more and more like a bubble that’s going to pop any year now.  There’s not nearly as much recoverable natural gas as initially promised, it does result in major carbon emissions, it permanently pollutes the water table often enough that it should be called into question, it turns the countryside into an industrial zone,  proven reserves are more like eleven years worth than a hundred, and, hey–what are we going to do when the gas runs out? President Obama proudly proclaiming that natural gas will provide “600,000 jobs” is a campaign lie, er, promise, and his support of fracking is as much a crime against humanity as his sabotage of the Copenhagen climate talks or targeted assassinations.  The truth is, fracking for natural gas is not a solution to our energy overdraw. Reducing our usage is the only possible path forward.

The truth is that reviving the U.S. auto industry was the moral equivalent of giving a junkie another fix.  The private automobile is, like everything else Obama has lent his charisma to, part of the problem and not part of the solution.  Detroit’s underused industrial capacity could have ben retooled to create mass transit and intercity rail service–but then again, automobile culture has decentralized America to the point where few people are actually in a position to make use of mass transit even if it existed, and the continuing economic collapse of our country means that fewer and fewer of us will have a reason, or the financial means, to travel across town, let alone across the country.

I don’t want to close this show on quite that sour note–so let me conclude with this:  we still have the option to get with our friends and neighbors and start building relationships that will enable us to share skills and resources as things spiral down into post-empire America.  It’s never too late for that.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Great Correction

down on the corner of ruin and grace
I’m growin weary of the human race
hold my lamp up in everyone’s face
lookin for an honest man
everyone tied to the turnin wheel
everyone hidin from the things they feel
well the truth’s so hard it just don’t seem real
the shadow across this land
people round here don’t know what it means
to suffer at the hands of our american dreams
they turn their backs on the grisly scenes
traced to the privileged sons
they got their god they got their guns
got their armies and the chosen ones
but we’ll all be burnin in the same big sun
when the great correction comes
down through the ages lovers of the mystery
been sayin people let your love light shine
poets and sages all throughout history
say the light burns brightest in the darkest times
it’s the bitter end we’ve come down to
the eye of the needle that we gotta get through
but the end could be the start of something new
when the great correction comes
down through the ages….
down to the wire runnin out of time
still got hope in this heart of mine
but the future waits on the horizon line
for our daughters and our sons
I don’t know where this train’s bound
whole lotta people tryin to turn it around
gonna shout til the walls come tumblin down
and the great correction comes
don’t let me down
when the great correction comes

–copyright eliza gilksyon





SYRIA–6,000 DEATHS AND (NOT) COUNTING

11 02 2012

Bertolt Brecht reputedly asked,”If the government doesn’t trust the people, why doesn’t it dissolve them and elect a new people?” While Robert Anton Wilson may have been the only person who knows where and under what circumstances Brecht coined this cynical bon mot, and Brecht certainly saw plenty of efforts by Nazi and Communist governments alike to put it into practice, word that a government is undertaking this program never loses its appall, and the latest place where this practice appalls me is Syria, where the government has so far killed around 6,000 people in an attempt to “continue the beatings until morale improves,” and the UN has said things are so chaotic that it is not going to even attempt to keep track of the number of dead.

Syria, like the rest of the Middle East, is no stranger to such campaigns.  When the Ottomans wanted to kill mass numbers of Armenians without having to work too hard, they just sent them out into the Syrian desert to starve.  The population of Syria’s neighbor, Palestine, has been the subject of slow-motion strangulation by the Israelis for over sixty years, and plenty of Middle Easterners would be only too happy to see that karma rebound onto the Israelis.   In classical times, the Romans crucified Maccabean rebels by the thousands, ultimately killing somewhere between a quarter-million and a million Jewish Palestinians–and now the survivors’ descendants, osmosed into Muslims through the years, are now under the heel of their brethren who remained Jewish.  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.

More recently, in Syria’s neighbor Iraq,  ten years of American sanctions in the 90’s resulted in the deaths of over half a million Iraqis, mostly children, termed “an acceptable cost” by Democrat Secretary of State Madeline Albright, whose own children were not among the victims.  Our government’s 2003 invasion is responsible for the deaths of a million and a quarter more Iraqi civilians.   So, from a certain perspective, a mere six thousand casualties is chump change.   Meanwhile, the U.S. won’t fund abortions because so many people in our Congress and our country profess a “respect for life.”  Do I detect a disconnect here?  “Protect the unborn, but once you’re out of your momma, tough nuggies”?  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today, either.

Perhaps a more apt comparison, at least for the time being, can be found in the situation in Libya last Spring, when rebels there, with the eventual help of NATO, threw out Col. Qadhafi, at the cost of  5-10,000 lives.  By that standard, the six thousand known deaths in Syria could almost be called par for the course, but there are important internal and external differences between the two situations. There are four times more Syrians than Libyans, in a country only 1/9 the size of Libya.  The populated part of Libya is the long, narrow coastal strip, which made it easier for the initial protesters to have some territorial integrity and create an alternative government in the far east of the country right from the beginning.  The Libyan rebels were able, in effect, to barricade one end of the hall and fight with their backs to the wall of the Egyptian border.  In little, triangular Syria, the population is in the situation of a hapless amateur trapped in the wrestling ring with Hulk Hogan, who keeps attacking again and again, from any and all angles, at any time. It’s enough to get a person nervous, ya know?

Another big difference is the two countries’ standing in the international community.  Qadhafi had gone his own way, using Libya’s oil wealth to maintain its political independence.  For this reason, and because he did in fact spend a fair amount of money on social programs that actually did improve the lives of most Libyans, as long as they were willing to kowtow to him, Qadhafi had a certain cachet in international radical political circles, especially when he proposed to start asking for gold, rather than dollars, as payment for his country’s oil.  But that made him a major pariah in the West.  Threatening to deny the dollar was a far more unforgivable sin than the Lockerbie bombing or murdering his own people, and with no major power to watch his back, his fall was inevitable.

Syria, on the other hand, enjoys a fairly close relationship with several world powers.  Its relationship with Russia dates back to Soviet days, when the current dictator’s father cultivated close ties.  Many Syrians go to Russia for advanced studies, but most importantly, the Syrian army uses Russian-made weapons, purchased with their oil cash, and Russia has continued to supply Syria with killing devices even as the rest of the civilized world has attempted an arms embargo on Syria.   (Just for the record, Syria’s oil production is declining sharply.) Russia’s only military base outside the borders of the former Soviet Union is on the Syrian coast.  The Russians do not want to see this relationship upset, if at all possible, especially since they gave their Chechen population similar treatment.  If they have to do something similar to some other would-be breakaway republic, they don’t want to help set the precedent of international intervention.

China, too, is more inclined to support Syria, where it has major oil interests.  Like Russia, China also has a strong interest in discouraging internal revolts in China, where the Uyghurs and Tibetans have suffered fates similar to what Russia visited on the Chechens.  Like Russia, China does not want to give the U.N. any precedent for poking around in what it regards as its internal business, nossir.

Iran is yet a third country that is watching Assad’s back.  Iran and Syria have a longstanding close relationship, going back to Biblical days, really, but most lately renewed over the Iran-Iraq war, and Syria’s provision of a refuge for Hezbollah, which both countries employ as a proxy to keep pressure on Israel.  While the Russians provide diplomatic support, the Iranians have “boots on the ground,” providing support, training, and reputedly troops to help the Assad government kill dissenters, or anybody who lives in the same neighborhood as somebody who might be a dissenter.

Add to this the fact that Russia is the source of much of Western Europe’s fuel supply, and that China is a source of just about everything for everybody, and that makes the Europeans (and Americans) shy about jumping into a situation that might turn out to involve tightening a noose around their own necks.  Now, throw in the many similar pogroms the U.S. has countenanced–the slaughter of half a million alleged “communists” in Indonesia in the mid-sixties and the elimination of around a hundred thousand citizens of East Timor who happened to object to the seizure of their country by Indonesia are just two further examples of U.S. government-approved mass murder, in addition to the ones I mentioned above, that deny our leaders any ability to claim the moral high ground on this issue.  There are many, many more.  There is blood on Uncle Sam’s hands, and it ain’t “the blood of the lamb.”

OK, just one more example of mass deaths caused by U.S. government policy–it is now estimated that about thirty thousand Mexicans have been killed in just the last four years due to the “war on drugs” (or, in this case, the war over drug profits)–that’s a kill rate similar to what we are seeing in Syria, albeit in a country with five times Syria’s population.  The war over drug profits would be over tomorrow if marijuana were legalized and thus inexpensive enough to out-compete crack and meth.  Coca?  Talk to the Bolivians–they’ve got a plan.  But, I digress.

What the Syrian situation adds up to is a dangerous pile of kindling with the potential to spark something like World War III if it is dealt with crudely.  It looks to me like the U.S. couldn’t go in there with guns blazing to protect the civilian population without our blazing guns setting fires that cause far more damage than the intervention might prevent.  Mere hand wringing is not an acceptable alternative, either.  What would a Green foreign policy on this issue look like?

I need to preface what I am about to say by remarking that it is a  very easy for me, sitting here in the safety of America, to proclaim, and not necessarily so easy for a citizen of Homs or Damascus.

First and foremost, I believe, a Green foreign policy would support the essential nonviolence of the Syrian movement.  Bashir Assad’s brutal response to his people’s peaceful protests will, ultimately, undermine him,  but only if the protestors can maintain the moral high ground.  This is where the rubber meets the road for nonviolent resistance, the place where the bombs and artillery shells start to fall–and yet fail to instill fear in the people at whom they are aimed.  Non-violent resistance is not easy, and it is carried out with no guarantee of the personal safety, much less the success, of those who undertake it.   But if we are going to create an alternative to mass murder as a government policy, we have got to start by rejecting mass murder as a way to change governments.  That is the great challenge, and the great hope, of the situation in Syria.  A non-violent revolution there will take the wind out of the sails of Russian, Chinese, Iranian, American, Israeli and Palestinian peddlers of repression alike, and mark a new, peaceful direction for unraveling the tangled knot of Mideast tension.  Violent intervention, at best, will fuel more old scores than it settles, and at worst create a regional or even global conflagration that we can ill afford at this time of planetary environmental peril.  If the essence of the Syrian uprising can remain nonviolent, and replace Assad with a truly populist movement, it would mark a major turning point in world politics.  We need a major turning point much more than we need more violence.  It’s time for a change.

music:  Judy Collins, “Carry It On”





THE LONG, HOT NUCLEAR SUMMER

9 07 2011

In the short space of the last three months, we have had three major nuclear crises.  The one-two punch of an earthquake and tsunami smashed the Fukushima  power station in Japan, flooding on the Missouri River is threatening two nuclear power plants near Omaha, Nebraska, and a runaway forest fire nearly burned Los Alamos National Laboratory.

So far, Fukushima has been the most disastrous, at least in nuclear terms.  Government and electric company officials at first denied that there had been any meltdown or serious release of radioactivity, but have since admitted that both occurred.   Were they misinformed or lying?  Probably lying, figuring it was best to prevent panic.   After all, once people are dying of radiation poisoning, they are generally too sick to put up much of a fuss when they learn the truth.

The truth, in this case, is that three of the nuclear reactors at Fukushima  did melt down, probably even before the tsunami hit them, and it will take years, not to mention technology yet to be invented, to clean up the mess.

The truth is, that in the first week of the accident, “two or three times more radiation” was released than earlier accounts had admitted to in the entire three months since the accident–do the math, that’s 25 times more radiation per week than the original official estimates.  Doesn’t that make you feel confident about your government and utility company?  Sure, you can be confident that they will lie through their teeth in the event of a nuclear accident.  Now they’re admitting that this accident has probably released as much radiation into the environment as Chernobyl did–so far.  But there’s a lot more nuclear material at Fukushima than there was at Chernobyl, and things ain’t under control yet.

Beyond that dismal news, Scientific American reported that

a trial run of the new filtration system (designed to remove radiation from the plant so workers could clean it up) was halted on June 18 in less than five hours when it captured as much radioactive cesium 137 in that span as was expected to be filtered in a month.

Do the math again–that’s 120 times more radiation that officials initially admitted was spewing from the plant.

Can you say, “Oops,” boys and girls?  How about “glow in the dark”?

OK, maybe they weren’t lying after all.  Maybe the Japanese government and Tokyo Power Company officials were just criminally ignorant.  Does that make you feel better?  I thought not.

Chernobyl occurred in the middle of a continent, which became widely contaminated.   The good news is, land stays put.   Fukushima is spilling radiation into the Pacific Ocean, which circulates at a fairly brisk pace, spreading radiation everywhere the current flows.  With radiation, the solution to pollution is not dilution.  It only takes one radioactive molecule in the wrong place at the wrong time to  create mutation or cancer.  The reactors also released radioactivity into the atmosphere, where it was soon detected on the Pacific Coast of the U.S.  Is it only coincidence that the US Center for Disease Control reported a 35% increase in infant mortality in Washington, Oregon, and California in the months since the Fukushima accident?  There’s no way to “prove” this spike in dead babies is connected to Fukushima.  None at all, nosir.  Not traceable atall.

So, in spite of the best technology available, Fukushima continues to spill radiation into the Pacific Ocean and the island of Honshu.  Some of it is short-lived, some quite long-lived, but it’s all quite invisible.  More about that later.

Meanwhile, back in Omaha, Nebraska, record flooding of the Missouri River is threatening two nuclear power stations and a nuclear waste dump site in Missouri..  The flooding is likely to continue through the Summer, and, while Summer is traditionally a drier season on the Great Plains, we have entered a time when the weather patterns have become increasingly unpredictable.  Maybe the nuclear power plants will ride out the flood–this time.  And the next time?  Will we lose the lower Missouri and Mississippi valleys to nuclear pollution?

This time, so far,  the nearly flooded nuke plants in Nebraska are a sideshow–the important part this year is that farmers along the Missouri River are not going to be able to plant crops in what just happens to be America’s agricultural heartland.  The world is hungry, and getting hungrier.  The food that will not be grown this year will be expensively, and sorely, missed.

And then there’s the fire this time–out in New Mexico, a fire has burned nearly 200 square miles of what used to be pine forest around the town and nuclear weapons lab of Los Alamos.  Apparently, the fire did not cause any radiation releases or actually burn any of the buildings at the weapons lab.  Unlike the Missouri River’s flooding, it’s unlikely that there will be another fire of this magnitude this close to Los Alamos.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that there won’t be a fire because it’s quite likely that there won’t be another forest to burn in this location.  Between pine bark blister beetles and a long-term drought, the prospects for re-establishing the burned-out forests of the Southwestern US are, sadly, dim.  With fewer trees to hold and circulate water, the region will become even drier, making it even harder to keep large population centers supplied with water and electricity.  Goodbye, Phoenix, goodbye, Tucson– Sahara, here we come!

I’ve been referring to Chernobyl a lot…so, how’s things at Chernobyl?   Here’s  a quote from one recent news account:

The reactor is encased in a deteriorating shell and internationally funded work to replace it is far behind schedule.

And that gets us to “the deep green perspective” on all these disorderly nuclear power plants and laboratories:  We are currently at, or perhaps just past, our peak ability to finance, deploy, control, and safeguard this technology.  We face a future of diminished resources and increasing challenges.  The events of the last three months are unlikely to be unique.  There will undoubtedly be more natural disasters, more frequently, and we will not always be even as lucky as we have been so far, if you want to call our current situation lucky.

Hey, you got a roof over your head, three square meals a day, a hot shower, internet, cable?  Globally speaking, historically speaking, you are incredibly wealthy–and lucky!  But, I digress.

There are 435 nuclear power plants on the planet; their average age is 27 years.

90 percent of the 104 nuclear power plants in the US are already more than 20 years old and half have been operating for more than 30 years. …Taking into account that the average life span of a nuclear power station is estimated by both the IEA (International Energy Agency) and the plant operators to be 40 to 50 years, this means that …90 percent of U.S. reactors are in the last half of their operating life.

Europe’s only a little behind–or is it ahead? of us, with about 75% of their nuclear power plants in the last half of their life.  How likely is it that, in twenty or thirty years, we will still possess the industrial infrastructure necessary to maintain, let alone replace, these multi-billion dollar, high-tech, deteriorating power plants?

And it’s not just the plants, it’s what remains of the fuel that powers them.   Since no safe, long-term storage plan for spent fuel has ever been devised, most nuclear power plants retain this “spent” fuel, which, while it is no longer radioactive enough to power a reactor, remains lethal for hundreds, or in some cases, thousands, of years.  For much of that time, it needs to be cooled.  If a spent nuclear fuel storage pond is cut off from electricity, and the water that removes excess heat from the fuel rods can’t be circulated and cooled, the water will quickly pass the boiling point, and vaporize–spreading radiation.  Or maybe the nuke plant’s water supply dries up or becomes too warm to be useful.  Without a protective pool of cold water, the fuel rods will heat up and burn, spreading more radiation.  By building nuclear power plants, the human race has made a bet that we will be able to maintain a stable, high-level technological civilization for hundreds, possibly thousands of years.  At this point, unfortunately, the odds do not look good on us winning that bet.

Can you say, “hubris,” boys and girls?

There is the further complication that, since they need a steady supply of cold water to cool down not just the spent fuel but also the nuclear reaction (“A Hell of a way to boil water,” Albert Einstein commented),  a great many nuclear power plants have been built next to the ocean–which is rising.  Even if a given power plant is actually on a high enough bluff that it is not inundated, the worldwide commercial web on which such large industrial projects depend will be grinding to a halt over the next century as all the world’s port cities are inexorably inundated and petroleum-based fuels for ships and airplanes alike become first exorbitantly expensive and then simply unavailable.  The poisoning of the planet has, alas, only just begun.

As a footnote to that, some testimony on how shortsighted Homo sapiens really is, the Chinese are building their much vaunted, “safer, cleaner, simpler” fourth-generation nuclear reactor–on the seacoast.  Well, what were they gonna do?  All their rivers are drying up!

So, here we are, enthusiastically poisoning the planet with the invisible scourge of radiation–and let’s not forget that, in the technologically limited future we likely face, radiation detection devices are unlikely to be widely available. Such a thoughtful gift for our children, not to mention all sentient life on the planet–and yet, somehow, not an issue for most of those who want to ban abortion because of “the sanctity of life.”  What self-righteous frauds they are!

Cheerful little earful, eh?  Not only are we facing self-inflicted global warming, resource depletion, climate disruption, and sea level rise, we’re also arranging a widely, and undetectably, irradiated future.

“The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades!”

Indeed.

music:  Timbuk3, “The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades”  .





THE NEW BARBARIANS

16 04 2011

We passed the equinox on the last full moon, replete with a once-every-twenty-years “super moon.” and my wife and I observed the occasion with our neighbor Ed Haggard and his posse of drummers, singers, and dancers, who are known around Nashville as “The Love Drums.”

The gathering was very sweet, if a little bizarre–it was held at a private hunting reserve about an hour and a half west of Nashville, in a well-appointed lodge decorated with stuffed animals, isolated in the middle of 2,000 hilly, wooded acres, very private and quite lovely.  I suspected, and our hostess confirmed, that this was unlike any other gathering the lodge had  ever  witnessed.  It felt like a tribe of barbarians partying in a Roman villa.

But there was nothing debauchy, raunchy, or even uncouth going on, just several dozen people celebrating life, the end of a long, cold winter, and the beginning of a wide-open spring, as we enter a time when it is increasingly obvious that unintended environmental effects are snowballing and there is no telling what once-in-a-thousand-years catastrophe will surprise us next.  In that situation, the best way to be prepared is to stay loose, and dancing and other forms of celebration are an important part of staying loose.

A huge, sturdy coffee table  the size of a small stage dominated the “dance floor,” and the first dancers on it were perhaps a half-dozen 7-8 year old children, gradually joined by adults.  This all-ages, inclusive vibe (there was plenty of silver hair present, too, and all ages in between) is one of the things I enjoy most about Ed’s “Whizbangs,” as he calls them, and one of the reasons I feel much happier dancing at a “Whizbang” than at a bar–and, believe me, I’ve done my share of dancing in establishments that sell alcohol.  (One of my favorite singer-songwriters, James McMurtry, says of himself, “I’m not a musician, I’m a beer salesman.”)

Ed and the central core of the Love Drummers were at one end of the room, but many “audience” members also drummed, adding their own flourishes to the music.  That’s one of the things I appreciate most about the Love Drums–the all-too-common separation into “audience” and “musicians” is blurred, if not erased.  This is not “entertainment,” in which a passive audience hopes to be impressed by the performers’ charisma.  This is a participatory  event, a–dare I say it?–communion.   Of course, rock n’ roll has long delighted in the energy that cuts loose when an audience gets up and dances.  That’s some of the magic of the Grateful Dead, just to name one band strongly affected by their audience.  In the Dead’s case, the scene outside the venue frequently turned into a heavily countercultural “temporary autonomous zone,”  and was as much a part of the show as the music.  At the Love Drums’ equinox gathering, I felt that same sense of community.

Here’s a story for you.  In the late summer of 1970, I went to a Grateful Dead show in San Francisco, and was dismayed to find most of the audience sitting on their asses, expecting to watch the Dead play.  I got yelled at by people behind me when I stood up to dance.  They were mad because they couldn’t see the band.  (There’s a word for people who like to look but not participate.  Not my kink, thanks.)

The Dead settled into “Lovelight,” and who popped out on stage to duet with Pigpen, but–Janis Joplin.  And what did she and Mr. McKernan do?  They chewed the audience up and down for not dancing, but to no avail.  I finally migrated to the back of the room where a few people were moving to the music and enjoyed the last half of the show, anyway.  Just a couple of weeks later, Janis was dead from a heroin overdose, a broken heart, and too much, too soon.

That was forty-one years ago.  Janis, Pigpen, and Jerry are all gone, but the Love Drums remain, and ya gotta work with whatcha got.  So there we were, one big happy family, dancing the night away.

Next day, when I opened myself up to news from the big bad world outside, I found out that Aashid Himons, best known as the focus of a band called “Afrikan Dreamland” here in Nashville back in the eighties, had died on that full moon day.  He had been ill for years and hadn’t played in public in a very long time, but in many ways he was the spiritual father of Ed and the Love Drums, and a great practitioner of informal, participatory music.

“African Dreamland” consisted of Aashid playing guitar or keyboard and singing, backed up only by a couple of drummers, for most of the history of the band.  This made for very simple but deeply moving music, music that benefited from, but did not depend on, the modern miracle of amplification.  Another dimension of their music was its subject matter. Aashid liked to say that he played “message music” rather than “mating and dating” music–not that a fair amount of mating and dating didn’t go on to the infectious grooves he laid down, but his music helped propagate his vision of a just and peaceful future, not just the continuation of the species.

Music: Afrikan Dreamland, “Apartheid”  (excerpt)

And that’s where we get to yet another core difference between music like The Love Drums, Aashid, and the Grateful Dead, and the music you are likely to hear in a bar on a Saturday night.  Most popular music is unreflectively about “mating and dating,” but some musicians are aware of the close link between music and magic, that songs are not just poems set to music, they are also incantations, spells that help create a certain state of mind, for better or for worse.  To me, it was not coincidental that Janis Joplin, for example, who sang so many songs about heartbreak, died young, or why somebody was killed at Altamont while Mick Jagger sang “Sympathy for the Devil.”  What you pay attention to, you get more of, as a teacher of mine used to like to say.

These qualities, conscious intention in  the music and conscious fusion between the musicians and the crowd, are, to me, defining qualities of the music of “the new paradigm.”  And, as I said, those of us who play and appreciate this new paradigm music are, in a sense, barbarians to America’s Roman Empire.

The Empire depends on people who are willing to be cogs in a vast machine.  We are not.

The Empire depends on people who will not challenge its authority and priorities.  We do.

The Empire depends on people being good consumers.  We realize that “consumption” is a fatal disease, and do not look for happiness through the accumulation of material goods.  Whoever dies with the most toys is not the winner.

The Empire depends on people accepting shallow, dysfunctional relationships and mediating their emotional pain with pharmaceuticals.  We insist on listening, expressing, and feeling deeply, and on giving people the room they need to go through their changes, even if it means they get a little weird for a while.

Differences such as these are very threatening to an empire whose established religion is, as I have said many times before, radical fundamentalist materialism.  The Empire fights back  by finding material ways to push  against the influx of barbarian sensibilities.  One way they do this is through building codes, such as the complaints that have just trashed Sizwe Herring’s Earth Matters community garden.  (More on that next month!) Another way the Empire fights back is through the war on some drugs.

Let’s face it.  The real reason our government is so unswervingly, unscientifically opposed to the legalization of marijuana, mushrooms, mescaline, ecstasy,and LSD is because these are the portals through which barbarians enter and undermine the Empire.  These substances unleash the unfettered inner barbarian in those who take them, and that is more terrifying  to the empire than bomb-toting Middle Easterners..

For instance, in the 80’s and 90’s, our government spent 10 years infiltrating a circle of chemists who were making LSD and ultimately sent them all to jail.  The government has not exhibited this kind of diligence against the alleged threat from Al-Qaeda.  If that had been the case, those airplanes would never have hit the twin towers. Similarly, the DEA massively infiltrated those “temporary autonomous  zones” at Grateful Dead concerts, sold people blotter paper with no LSD on it, and then arrested them for intending to buy an illegal substance.

The DEA’s entrapment of young, open-minded, overly trusting American youth sent tens of thousands to jail, where some of them remain to this day.  Even the ones who are no longer incarcerated remain scarred and scared, “rendered infamous,” often unable to vote or find employment because of their “criminal record,” their life paths thrown into disarray by the time and money sucked from them by the legal system.

Since “the war on some drugs” was declared, America’s prison population has quintupled, with nearly half a million prisoners incarcerated for drug related “crimes.”  We’re talking about 2.3 million people behind bars, with an additional five million on probation.  The US now has a higher percentage of its  population jailed than any other country in the world, although I suppose you could argue that some highly repressive societies, like China, North Korea, Burma, and Singapore have effectively incarcerated their entire populations.

I would like to submit that the many voices who urge an end to America’s Inquisition against the inquisitive because it has ruined so many people’s lives don’t understand the Empire’s logic.  The Empire wants to ruin the lives of the inquisitive, because it’s easier and cheaper to simply exclude people than it is to actively imprison them.  Just as China periodically “lets a thousand flowers bloom” in order to identify and silence dissident voices, so the Empire has a vested interest in using the “war on drugs” to identify and neutralize those who oppose its policies.  Even if someone who appreciates the virtues of marijuana manages to avoid legal strictures, he or she is effectively barred from running for public office because of the danger should an opponent uncover the candidate’s “dirty little secret.”

The Empire’s offensive against our barbarian invasion will, I believe, ultimately be in vain.  As radical fundamentalist materialists, the Empire’s minions don’t understand that the material substances they have outlawed are, in a way, merely catalysts, catalysts that have set a process in motion that cannot be stopped by even the most draconian enforcement of the drug laws.  (By the way, I have never seen or smelled any marijuana at a Love Drums Whizbang.)  Once it has been opened, a human mind is almost impossible to close, because the memory, the feeling, of openness persists, and never stops protesting any attempt to shut it down or close it off.  The “barbarian” mindset, I believe, is of a higher order of being than the anthill, cog-in-a-machine state of mind demanded by the Empire, whether in English or Chinese.  “Barbarianism”will out.

Now, many people will say, “This all sounds very noble, but you doped-out hippiedippies aren’t the real barbarians, you’re just play-acting, spoiled, naive, children of the Empire.  The real barbarians are in the slums of Mexico City, Rio, Lagos, Cairo, Kolkata, Beijing, and Capetown, and if they have half a chance they will eat your vegetarian lunch and then barbecue you for the meat course.  Face it, without that ‘Empire’ you love to hate, you’d be toast.”

I think that’s off-base in several directions.  The first thing we have to understand is the interplay and differences between “third world” and “fourth world.”  Fourth world people are tribal, and live in balance with nature.  There aren’t a lot of them left, but, in the best-case scenario, that’s what we barbarians will recreate here in the heart of the Empire.

Most traditional fourth-world people have been sucked out of the fourth world into the third world, which is the vast belt of urban and rural poverty that characterizes human life on those parts of Earth’s landmass that lie, roughly, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn—that part of the world where you don’t need a well-insulated house to survive the winter, and are thus free to live in greater poverty than you can get away with in colder climates.

But, as so often happens, I am digressing.  Fourth world people don’t have much money, but don’t feel poor.  Third world people don’t have much money and do feel poor.  Many of these third-world people retain the social and survival skills of their fourth-world heritage.  Give them half a chance and they’ll go back to fourth-world life.  They all know they were happier that way. It’s just that the Empire, the first world, pushed them out of their sustainable lives by expropriating their tribal lands and forcing them into a money economy.  I believe that, if they were ever given the choice, the people of the third world would rather grow, hunt, or herd their own lunch than eat yours or mine.

What the Empire fears when it looks at the third world is not the people, but its own greed and suppressed guilty conscience.  When we who are undermining the Empire complete our mission, the Empire will release its hoarded and ill-gotten wealth and the people of the third world will be able to transition, in place, not backwards but forwards into a new, even more fully conscious, fourth world.

I wish I could say I think the process will be all rosy and peaceful, but there are so many people, and so many resources that have become so depleted, that I think widespread strife and loss of life will be part of the great readjustment.  I’m not happy about that.  Every human being is precious, unique, and capable of deep insight, and it is a tragedy when a life is extinguished, with or without those amazing capabilities being realized.

Does it seem as if we have wandered a long way from The Love Drums and the equinox, from Aashid and Earth Matters?  From a “Deep Green Perspective,” we haven’t moved an inch.  We’re just gazing in (hopefully!) wonder at the macrocosm that contains those microcosms.  You can’t look at it this way all the time, but it’s important to see it this way some of the time.

music:  Ed Haggard and the Love Drums–“Haitian Bolero”





IT’S THE OIL, STUPID!

16 04 2011

Once upon a time, I thought Moammar Qadhafi was cool, a twentieth century Barbary pirate who gleefully steered an independent course, used his country’s oil money to benefit the Libyan people, and thumbed his nose at Moscow and Washington alike.  I soured on him a long time ago, though, as it became apparent that he was pocketing most of the oil money himself, and his regime was blowing up airliners and assassinating exiled Libyan dissidents.  His visit to Rome in February was little short of bizarre, as he suggested that Europeans should convert en masse to Islam, abolish all political parties, and that the etymology of the word “democracy” had to do with people sitting on chairs, not to mention quotes like these:

I am not a dictator to close facebook… But I will be arresting anyone who enters it!

Demonstrate all you want, but do not go to the streets and squares!!

So, I was thrilled when a revolt broke out in Libya that seemed to have the strength to kick his crazy ass out of the country.  I mean, the guy reminds me of Michael Jackson–way cool in the eighties, nuts in the twenty-first century.  But Qadhafi, while he may be as crazy as Michael Jackson, is a lot less musically talented and a lot more dangerous.  It became obvious that he was going to use every means at his disposal to destroy the rebellion, and he definitely had the resources to do it:  modern weaponry, 6.5 billion dollars worth of gold to buy supplies, and a porous southern border with sub-Saharan Africa, a region where money talks and anything goes.  It looked like ol’ Qadhafi Duck was gonna crush the rebellion and give any rebels who survived reason to envy the dead.  But then, but then–instead of hanging these rebels out to dry, as the West has almost invariably done, NATO came to their aid.  Wow!   The empire was doing the right thing for a change!

So why, I wondered, were Cindy Sheehan and the Green Party and a lot of my usual cohorts going ape about this?  Did they actually support Qadhafi?  Did they know something I didn’t?

It didn’t take long for the truth to come out.  First came the disclosure that there had been a quid pro quo to gain Arab support for the intervention:   the U.S. agreed not to squawk about suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain in exchange for co-operation.  It was fine with the Saudis–Qadhafi Duck has long been a loose cannon in the Middle East, and they would be happy to see him replaced with someone more tractable.  Second, I found out that Qadhafi had recently decided to start selling Libya’s oil to India and China, rather than the West.  As Saddam Hussein found out when he tried to ask for Euros instead of dollars for his oil, defections will not be tolerated.

Think of all the oppressive situations the Empire has ignored.  Repression in Iran, Syria, Turkish actions against the Kurds, the civil wars in Sudan and the Congo, the genocide in Rwanda, brutal regimes in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians, the concentration camps known as North Korea and Burma, China’s crushing of Tibet and Tiananmen Square, “dirty wars” in Chile and Argentina–the list goes on and on.  The US has tsk-tsked, turned a blind eye to, or actively assisted in the crushing of one popular revolt after another–but Libya–Libya we can, and will, do something about–and why?  It’s small enough to beat and rich enough to be worth taking.  This is not about freedom and democracy, it’s about greed and hypocrisy, about getting our people in there and taking over from the amateurs who started the revolt. I would like to see those amateurs succeed, but it’s not about freedom any more, it’s about their blood for our oil–again.

My bad, Ms. Sheehan.  You called it right.

The Clash:  “Rock the Casbah





WORM WAR ONE

12 02 2011

A very unusual and deeply significant event happened last Fall, but largely escaped notice in the media. The significance of this story is that we have crossed a threshold, entered a new territory, and there is no telling what will happen next. Sometimes that’s a good thing. In the long run, this particular event may be beneficial, but I have a feeling it is going to raise a lot of hell along the way.

I’m not even talking about climate change here. The event was the infection of the control system for Iran’s nuclear program with a computer worm called “Stuxnet.”

Stuxnet is a very carefully designed worm. It won’t use your computer to send spam. It won’t eat your hard drive. But, if your computer is one that controls certain kinds of industrial equipment, especially nuclear centrifuges, Stuxnet will cause the centrifuges to malfunction, while it shields the malfunction from monitoring equipment. Nuclear centrifuges have to spin at a certain speed in order to properly separate out the uranium isotopes. If the speed varies, they don’t do the job right, and the end product will not function properly in a nuclear reactor–or an atomic bomb.

That is not the kind of worm that is designed by bored teenage hackers in LA.  It is a highly sophisticated computer program that could only have been designed by a very big business or a government. “Dissection” of the worm uncovered several clues that seem to point to Israeli involvement.

I’m not big on either nuclear reactors or nuclear weapons.  To me, they are both clear examples of technologies that a truly wise and intelligent species would have theorized about but not actually created, due to the inherent dangers.  But we are not a truly wise and intelligent species, and we have gone ahead and created hundreds of nuclear reactors and, according to once source, 23,000 nuclear weapons.  (Twenty-three again!  Who’s writing this script?)

Iran claims its nuclear program is intended for peaceful uses only.  But most of its neighbors have nuclear arsenals–the Russians on the north, the Pakistanis to the east, the Israelis to the west, (although we’re supposed to act as if they don’t!), and the US on its south, in the Persian Gulf.  When you’re surrounded by mean monkeys with big sticks, it’s a natural monkey reaction to grab the biggest stick you can and look as threatening as you can.  If the US really wants Iran not to reach for a big stick, we should stop harassing them.  That, however, is unlikely to happen.

There has been a great deal of speculation that, via its proxy, Israel, the US would act to take out Iran’s nuclear program with an air strike, similar to the Israeli attacks on an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and a mysterious target in Syria last fall.

Iran, however, is a much more problematic target for this kind of violence.  It’s further away from Israel than Syria or Iraq and has  more sophisticated air defense systems, leading to a greater possibility of failure.  With its superior resources and the experience of Israel’s attacks on its neighbors, Iran has doubtless “hardened” its nuclear facilities, making them less vulnerable to bombing.  Because the facilities are up and running, attacking them would also be more likely to involve considerable loss of life and widespread nuclear contamination, not to mention condemnation.  And then there’s blowback; Israel has repeatedly beat the crap out of Syria, so that its response to the Israeli attack was largely bluff and bluster; but Iran has much more capacity and willingness to retaliate.  An Israeli air strike on Iran could well have the same effect as throwing a lit match into a very large pool of gasoline.

So, attacking Iran’s nuclear program with a computer worm is, in many ways, a far more sensible choice than sending in the bombers.  And, from a realpolitik viewpoint, the accompanying assassinations of several top Iranian nuclear scientists is more compassionate, or maybe just less uncompassionate, than dropping a bunker-buster on the site and spreading radioactive debris all over the surrounding countryside.

I can understand Israel’s skittishness.  There is a genocidal holocaust in their past, and they want to do all they can to make sure there isn’t another, nuclear, holocaust in their future.  If they’re serious about that, maybe they should just give up on Palestine and move to Nevada or Utah.  But that’s another story.

My guess is that we have not heard the last of this exchange.  You can be sure Iran is looking for a way to retaliate, some back-door, plausible-deniability m.o. that will cripple US and/or Israeli infrastructure without being blatant.  China is apparently actively researching ways to cripple American computer networks.  Perhaps Iran can serve China in the same way that Israel serves America?

It doesn’t have to be high-tech.  It’s long been known that a few tons of gravel, launched into the same low-earth orbit as communications and spy satellites, would rapidly take out every one of those vital links in our communication network.  Bye-bye internet, bye-bye cell phones, bye-bye credit card transactions, bye-bye military communications. Sure, putting gravel in outer space is “rocket science,”  as well as a bad pun, but it’s pretty simple rocket science.  The North Koreans could probably pull that one off.

The worm war is on.  Its campaigns are  well disguised and waged in secret, and there’s no telling when, or what, the next attack will be.  Make hard copies of your favorite data and keep plenty of cash on hand.  Things could get primitive in the blink of an eye–or the launch of a rock.  Taking down communications satellites with rocks–back to the stone age, eh?

music:  Medeski, Martin, and Wood, “Bloody Oil”








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