October 14, 2010
We’re going down, baby. We’re going down. I knew it, but I couldn’t really face it until I read The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age. Author John Michael Greer, a certified Master Conserver and Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, helped me see the truth by explaining that coming to the end of oil won’t feel like an apocalypse, but rather more like a slow-motion fall.
Mr. Greer, who writes at The Archdruid Report is extremely knowledgeable and sensible. He explains that the time of peak oil is past, and that a post-peak world will come into being, whether we are prepared for it or not. He suggests that we do prepare. He also notes that our government did not prepare.
During the 1970s, Greer states, was the time to respond to indications that the Age of Petroleum was not eternal. But America fell under the spell of the “myth of progress,” which dictates that human civilization never goes backward. It’s called a myth because it is a myth. And backward we will go.
The Long Descent does a fine job of explaining that any post-oil energy production systems we create will not be able to generate the same amount of energy that oil did. Think of it as being fifty years old and trying to perform as you did when you were twenty years old; it’s not going to work.
But Americans won’t accept that, because, as Greer writes, “the predicaments that define what used to be called ‘the human condition’ have been reframed as a set of problems to be solved.” We cannot solve the fact that other forms of energy are not as efficient as oil, or the fact that oil will continue to be more scarce, or the fact that someday in the far future oil will be gone. But we can work at ways to live within this predicament.
Greer calls for frugality; an increase in individual physical labor; and the use of durable, independent, replicable, and transparent low-tech tools instead of disposable, interconnected, unique, and difficult-to-repair tools. In other words, use less nonrenewable energy, get up off the couch and use your body to do work instead of using a machine to do it, and learn or relearn to use tools you can depend on without electricity or a means of mass production.
Greer presents these ideas without sounding gloomy. He confidently declares that we do have a future, that we will survive:
. . . the chance to turn aside from the Long Descent lies back among the missed opportunities of past decades. Much can still be done, though, to cushion the way down, to preserve cultural and natural resources for the future, and to hand on to the builders of future societies the ideas and tools they will need to help build a more humane and sustainable world.
We’re going down, baby, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world—just the end of the world as we know it, which could be a good thing in the long run.
October 13, 2010
I am very grateful to PoliPointPress for sending me a copy of Over the Cliff: How Obama’s Election Drove the American Right Insane. You see, I watched it all happen, but I didn’t write it all down. Luckily, authors John Amato and David Neiwert did, so there now exists a permanent record of the post-2008 craziness without which the upcoming Rally to Restore Sanity would be unnecessary.
Not only do Amato and Neiwert provide documentation of the journey over the cliff; they also contextualize and explain the reprehensible far-right GOP tactics used to attempt to discredit President Barack Obama during his first year in office: the “birther” attacks, the health care town hall disruptions, the “czars,” and the Tea Party—a “grassroots” movement that one could say sprang fully formed from the head of Dick Armey.
And let’s not forget Fox News. While many of the tactics described in Over the Cliff are standard operating procedure for the GOP (e.g., drumming up racial prejudice and culture wars), the fact that, as the authors put it, “Fox had declared war on the Obama White House from the day of the president’s inauguration,” is a postmodern addition to the American Right’s list of vile deeds. The book discusses the “greatest hits” of falsehoods deployed by Beck, Hannity, and O’Reilly, as well as others of their ilk, and—in doing so—does us all a great service.
Once you’ve read Over the Cliff, you can no longer say that any of the atrocities against truth and democracy it outlines didn’t happen. The book tells the real story behind each GOP fabrication, thereby exposing the ultimate insanity of the party’s actions. In the face of that insanity, any progressive-minded American can only be inspired to fight back, which is what Amato and Neiwert want us to do.
Over the Cliff ends with this entreaty:
The millions of ordinary people who elected Barack Obama president need to be called back to the fray, engaged anew, and empowered to take the nation down another road, one that guides us far away from the cliffs of fear.
What beautiful words to read as we approach November 2, 2010. So, please read, think, and VOTE. Let’s not allow this election to end in a cliffhanger.
October 7, 2010
When you have a health problem, the Internet can be both a blessing and a curse. Web sites can provide a multitude of factual knowledge about your condition and help you decide how to treat it, but they can can also lead you to advertiser-tinted pseudo-facts and dubious treatments. And then there are the forums: some people post useful anecdotes about how they handled having X disease, while others—many whose own treatment was botched—tell a tale of gloom and doom for anyone who suffers from X.
In other words, information about health care is complex and often subjective. To utilize it best, one needs to be quite good at discerning a fact from a claim, and a piece of research from a sales ad. In today’s consumer culture, that task keeps getting more difficult.
The New York Times offers an insightful piece about Sharecare.com, “an interactive social Q.& A. platform to provide consumers with what they want to know on health and wellness subjects.” Stop right there. What consumers want to know is not necessarily what consumers need to know.
And that’s not the worst of it. According to the Times, Sharecare.com will include content from such entities as The American Cancer Society and AARP, as well as such “experts” as Dr. Oz, who, according to his very busy web site, has a blog, a television program, and a radio show, in addition to being one of Oprah Winfrey’s darlings. It would seem that he has a vested interest in telling consumers what they want to know.
The scariest part of the Times article tells about the “knowledge partners”:
marketers that are paying an estimated $1 million to $7 million to become sponsors of Sharecare.com. The initial roster is composed of Colgate-Palmolive, for Colgate oral care products; the Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals division of Johnson & Johnson; the Medicines Company, a drug maker; Pfizer; Unilever, for Dove skin-care products; UnitedHealthcare, the health insurer; and Walgreen, for its Walgreens drug stores.
When will consumers wake up? Information offered by salepeople is inherently suspicious. The common good and big business are an unhealthy mix. While the home page of Sharecare.com may look tempting—shifting boxes with such labels as “How can I get my kids off of junk food?” and “What is a rebounder?”—the plot thickens once you click on a box. For example, in addition to telling you what a rebounder is, the answer, from a doctor whose Sharecare.com page you can access with a click, includes links to that doctor’s books, which you can purchase with yet another click!
Information plus an opportunity to purchase products may be the current American way, but I don’t think it’s the right way. When you have a health problem, you need uncluttered facts first. The decision to buy anything should come later, once you’ve completely educated yourself about what’s happening to your body. Combining the power of knowledge with purchasing power is an unhealthy mix. Shame on you, Sharecare.com.
September 28, 2010
I am currently doing volunteer work for two candidates for office in November: one for my town, and one for my state. Some of my relatives and friends wonder why I do this. Here’s why (and why you should think about doing it, too).
- It’s tangible. If you are the kind of person who thinks about politics, and reads about politics, and talks (or complains) about politics, volunteering for a campaign is a way to actually do something about politics. Come Election Day, you will be have tangible actions to look back on, not just abstract ideas about what your candidate should or should not have done. Regardless of the results, you personally will have made a difference and met a goal.
- It’s educational. You may not be the chair of the DNC, but you can feel like a big fish in a local campaign office pond. You can learn about how politics really happens—the meetings, the phone banks, the door-to-door contacts, and the data collection. Did you know that each town has its own law about how many days before an election residents can display political yard signs? I learned that at my local campaign headquarters.
- It’s a social activity. How many times a day do you hold your tongue when you hear other people discussing politics? At your local campaign office, you are always among friends. You can speak your mind and know that the heads surrounding you will nod in agreement. At least on the big issues.
- It’s important. Getting out the vote is the be-all and end-all. Voting is the single most important way to change what you want changed in government. Sometimes, a vote is a total thumbs-up. Sometimes, it’s more of a lesser-of-two-evils affair. But voting is always better than not voting. So, volunteering to help get out the vote is like voting times two. You vote yourself, and you help ensure that other people vote, too.
- It has fringe benefits. When you volunteer at a campaign office, the people who work for the campaign are very nice to you. They need you, and they want you to want to come to the office and help out. Volunteering can be an ego booster if that’s what you need. And you might even wind up on You Tube.
September 21, 2010
I keep thinking it’s the 1970s. High school boys have long hair again, just as they did when I went to high school in the 70s, and the clothes in the junior department look like the clothes I wore to high school. But it goes deeper than fashion. Our country is currently embroiled in 70s-like divisions over such social issues, as gay rights, and over energy conservation, as exemplified by the above picture of the solar panels placed in the White House roof by President Jimmy Carter and removed by President Ronald Reagan, whose administration cited cost efficiency as the reason at the time.
Thirty-five years after I graduated from high school, I expect the fashions to return; I don’t expect the bigotry and ignorance of an energy crisis to persist. Bill McKibben recently wrote this about the those iconic solar panels, and National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Michael Mitchell had this to say today about the GOP’s plan to filibuster the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”:
To the GOP: Enough is enough. There’s political gamesmanship and there’s just plain lying.
Enough is more than enough—with the Muslim-hating, gay-hating, and climate-change-hating. And I could do without the platform shoes again, too.
Now, in all its glory, here is the September edition of the Carnival of Progressive Politics.
Scott Neigh writes about how Challenging Masculinity Is About Much More Than “Unloading This Junk” at A Canadian Lefty in Occupied Land.
As always, I do not necessarily agree with all writing on a contributor’s blog. If a post appears here, it is because I consider it worth reading.
September 10, 2010
On September 11, 2001, I was the most frightened I have ever been in my life. It had never occurred to me that a large-scale attack on high-profile symbols of my country would ever occur and, when it happened, I was filled with panic at the revelation of this completely new piece of life’s puzzle. I was alone with my seven-year-old child, in a mostly empty condominium development (it was a work day, after all) and I was pouring Lucky Charms cereal, for heaven’s sake. Within an hour, I was wondering if a police vehicle would soon be circling the development, with an officer holding a bullhorn, telling me how to evacuate the war zone.
As the day turned to night, and my husband came home, and the towers fell endlessly on television, my fear ebbed and flowed. It returned to its peak when my husband began to get his clothes ready for work the next day: “You’re going to work?!” I cried. “We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow!”
My fear level dropped significantly the next day, when he did in fact go to work, and I discovered that no more buildings had been violated during the night and no more lives lost. I talked to friends and relatives, repeating the same anecdotes about the previous day, while, on the television set, the towers continued to fall, again and again and again, until the sight of them falling didn’t produce as much adrenaline in my system as it had just twenty-four hours previously.
By September 13th, I was only experiencing brief moments of fear: the quietness of a department store parking lot, due to the lack of airplanes flying overhead, gave me a chill. But sadness was seeping into the hole that fear had blasted open inside me. I cried while watching an interview with the man who ran Cantor Fitzgerald, a business that lost hundreds of employees on September 11th. I cried at a local church service for victims of the tragedy who lived in my area.
In light of the recent activities designed by extremists to stoke fear in the average American, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between fear and September 11th. I don’t think that fear is designed to stick around. It exists to get your blood up, get you moving, make you flee or make you fight, and then it cuts out. It’s too exhausting an emotion to maintain for a very long time. Just as we don’t remember pain—I can tell a fantastic story about passing my kidney stone, but none of the pain I felt at the time is accessible to me now—I don’t think we can remember fear. We can remember that we were afraid, but the actual terror, the sensation of panic—I don’t think that’s accessible to us after the fact.
So, according to my theory, maintaining fear takes effort, and that effort is what the aforementioned extremists are ready and willing to provide. “Never forget.” “Always remember.” I know that these “9/11” phrases refer to the dead, and I honor that. But, I also believe that, for some people, they are a code for “Never forget the fear.” “Always remember the fear.”
When people are afraid, they don’t think clearly. They are prone to quick judgment. They are easily unhinged. They can be led astray.
Instead of seeing September 11th as a day on which to feed our fear, I hope that Americans will see it as a sad day, a day on which people with grievances (whether justified or not) made a very, very wrong choice about how to express their anger. As Timothy McVeigh did on another sad day. As Richard Speck did on yet another sad day. I could, of course, go on and on, back to the man the Bible calls Cain.
Fear does not deserve to be maintained; love does. Love is an emotion human beings can remember and conjure at will. This September 11th, act with love. Love never leads you astray.
August 21, 2010
Last August was all about health care reform, and this August is the summer of the Mosque (that isn’t really a mosque) at Ground Zero (that isn’t really at Ground Zero). My opinions about all this hoopla are mirrored by Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek magazine.
How I wish for a “Cone of Rationality”—like the “Cone of Silence” on the television show Get Smart. When issues spiral out of control, as this one has, the cone could drop over everyone involved, and rational thought would occur.
Rational minds would then most certainly agree that:
The Constitution guarantees the right of the Cordoba Initiative to construct a house of worship on private land without any interference from the government, “Muslims” as a whole did not attack “us” on 9/11, Feisal Abdul Rauf is a well-respected, progressive imam with a history of performing outreach for the Bush administration, and even if the project was a “ground zero mosque,” celebrating its construction would demonstrate an admirable commitment to the founding ideals that we are supposedly fighting for Over There. At a time when Islamophobia appears to be on the rise, in part because xenophobia always tends to get louder during periods of economic uncertainty, liberals and progressives should be forcefully making the case for tolerance and liberty.
The above slice of beautiful rationality was written by Alex Pareene for Salon.com.
In keeping with the idea of “forcefully making the case for tolerance and liberty,” I now present the much-delayed, but worth-the-wait July/August edition of the Carnival of Progressive Politics.
This category is perhaps closest to my heart, and so it warms my heart to have a large number of posts to include.
As always, I do not necessarily agree with all writing on a contributor’s blog. If a post appears here, it is because I consider it worth reading.