Archive for November, 2011

Michael’s trouble, Naomi’s hope

November 26, 2011

This is an eye-opener, although parts of it may disturb you. But Americans can not operate a democratic republic with heads in the sand.
Whether you”re with them or against them, the Occupyers are now fanning out a spectrum of ideological strategies, and our nation will be changed as a result. The societal inequalities they protest will not be easily disposed of. We must consider and analyze their complaints if our nation is to get over the polarizing hurdles that now obstruct our governing urgencies.

Although law enforcement agencies in cities throughout our nation have undertaken, for the most part appropriately, some restrictive measures to contain the Occupy campers, these people are not going away. They live among us, as does the Tea Party whose signs were raised before them.
To glean some understanding of where this thing is headed, I recommend a listen to this one-hour panel discussion:

The New School/New York City meeting of minds was sponsored by The Nation magazine,  and recorded at the above link for Democracy Now!. Michael Moore and Naomi Klein are positioned, as it were, at the two bookends of the discussion, with three other well-spoken panelists between them. The troublesome film-maker’s controversial presence is appropriately seated on the left. Naomi’s seasoned optimism later provides a constructive balance on the other end of the table.

Compare Michael’s grudge to Naomi’s hope.
On one end of unfolding Occupy Wherever drama, Michael Moore says, with an odd excitement in his voice, he’d like to overhear the fearful trepidations now being uttered nightly in the bedrooms of the 1%.
On the other end, Naomi Klein admonishes the Occupyers to move beyond the “outrage phase” to a new phase of hope.
Which way will the Occupy movement move?
The way of the American revolution, or the way of the French revolution?
The way of constructive democracy, or the way of a vindictive reign of terror?

Michael Moore is a genius of video programming, and he certainly expresses in his work a powerful advocacy for underpriveleged people, but he does have some problems, mostly that he presents everything in good vs evil terms. But ourmaterial world, including capitalism, is constituted in  shades of gray everywhere you look, whether you’re facing left or facing right. Here are just a few of the key phrases that indicate his judgemental attitude:

~ the “beginning of the end of an evil system”
~ deficit/debt ceiling as a “distraction”, as if fiscal responsibility were not a real issue
~ “they (the 1%) created this…all the pain and suffering,” as if pain and suffering had not existed before corporatocracy
Michael Moore prefaces his caustic assessments somewhat with a hopeful observation that the Occupy movement has “aleviated despair in this country” and “killed apathy.” This is true. But here is what’s worrisome about Michael Moore:

Toward the end of the program, he mentions the inspiration that he imbibes when contemplating that a mere two people, Marx and Engels,  occupied unbroken ideological ground over a century ago. Unfortunately for the world at large, what Marx and Engels could not foresee was the onslaught of oppressive state power, through the cruel manipulations of  Stalin, Mao and others, that would later be perpetrated in the name of their theoretical wealth and power redistributions. Someone should remind Michael Moore and his comrades just how the Stalin and Mao movements turned out after their early revolutionary phases. Contemporary protesters would do well to remember the words of one of their patron saints, John Lennon, who sang, “…but if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.” While that Beatlish warning may be politically incorrect in China, it surely applies here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In contrast to Michael Moore’s hyper-critical inputs, Naomi Klein got her turn, later, at the other end of the 5-member panel. Her well-prepared spiel included a listing of positive changes, “a track record of developing alternatives” that have manifested in practical applications since the Seattle WTO protests in 1999:

~ solutions to the ecological crisis becoming solutions to the economic crisis
~ green co-ops, as in Cleveland
~ farmers’ markets
~ community-supported agriculture
~ community renewable energy
~ localizing economies
~ devolving power to community levels, decentralization

These last two or three are the ironically dubious components of an evolving Occupy agenda, insofar as this: the federal/statist interventions required for implementing egalitarian measures are inherently contrary to decentralizing reforms, unless the federal actions are  at some point withdrawn or minimized. How likely is that?

The happiest item on Naomi Klein’s constructive list was her mention of the 14 bicycle-powered generators being used to fulfill electrical needs at Occupy Wall Street. This happened after the police had removed their gas-powered generators, which was a blessing in disguise since the campers needed some incentives to overcome their own fossil-fuel dependencies. I’ll commend them for investing some innovative sweat equity to capitalize  their dream of green energy.

At moderator Richard Kim’s direction, Naomi Klein addressed directly the issue of federal/state involvement. (I know for a fact, this is the biggest objection that arises from our conservative factions, especially since government programs are funded by taxes.) Naomi tempers the session’s wonky explorations with an appropriate admonition: “State power can be just as alienating, as corrupt as corporate power.”

And there’s the rub, America. As a wise creature of the forest once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Glass half-Full

Papa gave us a shovel

November 24, 2011

you gave us a shovel so we could dig a well.
you gave us seeds to plant, and hands to excel.
you gave us some tools so we that can build.
you gave us a bowl and a cup that’s filled.
you gave us a deed on an acre or two.
you gave us a smile and a list whats to do.
Oh Daughter,
we help you and give you our love.
Oh Son,
we give you our life from above.

Oh Land of the free,
you gave us opportunity.
Oh Home of the brave,
you gave us freedom to save.
Oh friends and ye neighbors,
thanks for this and for that.
O almighty God,
thanks for this turkey so fat.

Glass half-Full

Rascals, Scoundrels, and Settlers

November 19, 2011

Rascals rock the boat. Scoundrels would sink it, but Settlers stabilize it.

The boat, in this case, is the USS America.

The Rascals have sensed that something is rotten in Denver, or in Dallas or Detroit, or in anyTown USA. This is certainly true. But hey….they don’t know what to do about it. And since their unemployed, or underemployed, or uneducated or unsettled condition renders the rascals relatively impotent to reshape the world according their tender sense of injustice, they take to the streets in protest. I can relate to it. I was out in the streets when we were in VietNam. Getting out there to make a stand seems like a cathartic something to do;  it is exciting, with all the comraderie and the shared suffering– until the nearby residents, shopkeepers, and civic leaders start upping the ante on the physical consequences of Occupation. Then the cops hype their heretofore patient vigilance into riot-gear insensibility.

Behind the scenes, chronic malcontents would manipulate the wandering rascals, maneuvering their newfound funk toward some kind of revolution, as yet unfocused. Maybe its Lennon’s revolution, or Lenin’s, or Marx’s, or Stephen Lerner’s, Naomi’s, or David’s, who knows.

There is a lot to be upset about, for sure. The rascals are enraged about the greedy corporations, mad at the mediocre politicians, intimidated by the police, yeah yeah. They screw you, yeah yeah yeah. A witch’s brew of issues boil up here: the destabilizing consequences of  competing globalized economies, inequality, outsourcing, bailouts for the 1%, outlandish executive bonuses, unpayable student loans, epidemic foreclosures, environmental degradation, polluted groundwaters, obsessive plastic lifestyles, plastic garbage in the Pacific, filthy pipelines, fracking, fricking…

It is true that we Americans need to be roused, before it is too late, out of our hydrocarbon/carbohydrate stupor, part of which is our self-immolating oil addiction. Our petrochemical habit is a dependency that has economically castrated this formerly-great nation’s independence, and greased us down into a red-light slow-idle energy complacency, comfortably numbed by an obsessive compulsion for visual and audial stimulation.

Up on Capitol Hill– where the WallStreet lobbying 1% conduct their dissonant orchestrations of unfunded mediocrity, the politicians pontificate about a lot of smokescreen issues. For instance, the so-called Solyndra-gate.

This is political grandstanding is dangerous. Their disengenuous inquisitions distract us from some imminent good news: New American job-creating possibilities  are actually being worked on, even as we speak, if the government does not obstruct.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, somewhere in America a few enterprising business people have, believe it or not, quietly settled into the tasks of doing what needs to be done.

… like, heating up technologies to elevate us out self-destructive oil addiction.

Yesterday, while up on a roof clearing gutters, I heard on the radio about two trailblazing west coast solar-tech  producers. Although Solar World and Solaria are not the the only two companies breaking new industrial ground, they are quietly settling us into a homesteading path that leads to real solar-tech cost-reduction productivity. Very soon (if not already), these manufacturers will, with a little help from their many power-hungry friends (US consumers), mass-produce photovoltaic roof- panels on an unprecedented scale. Affordability for John and Jane Doe will be the outcome.

I tuned into the ear-opening update about Solar World and Solaria yesterday while listening to NPR’s ScienceFriday. As it happened, Ira Flatow’s enquiry to the companies’ respective spokesmen, Gordon Binser and Dan Shugar, focused largely on a side issue; the issue was what Gordon Binser calls “illegally subsidized” Chinese dumping of artificially cheapened solar panels. But the entirety of thieir podcast discussion reveals far more than a cordial dispute between two industry leaders about trade strategies.  A half-hour listen draws us into a persuasive force field of updated solar capabilities. For instance, according to Dan Shugar and Gordon Binser:

~100,000 people are employed in US solar industry today. That’s more folks than are working in coal mines, and more than in steel mills.

~The industry grew by 69% last year.

~5000 companies are involved in solar technology here today.

~Labor expense is only 10% of the cost of solar panels. So the issue of Chinese (or developing nations) competition is not as difficult as we might at first think.

~The relative fragility of glass panels reinforces the logic of domestic production and distribution.

~Actual production levels of rooftop electricity are approaching (or already at) a scale that is competitive with other power-generating sources such as nuclear and coal.

~Last year, the solar industry in USA installed, operated and delivered 17 Gigawatts of electricity, the equivalent of 17 nuclear power plants in the middle of a day.

~In the summertime, there is a direct, favorable correlation between solar energy supply and the peak power demand occasioned by widespread air-conditioning.

~When smartly integrated, individual home installations (or institutional ones) can be connected to our existing power infrastructure (with modifications)  to inject electricity into the cumulative power grid. Thus, consumers can become net PRODUCERS of electrical power at certain times of the day, thus lowering their electric bills.

~As demand for solar installations has grown, the cost-reduction curve has followed the same pattern of cell phones, computers, and dvd players. Bet you didn’t know that, huh?

~Solar World has over 1000 employees in Oregon, and has been making photovoltaic panels for over 35 years.

~In Germany, there are some peak-demand times when 40% of contributed electrical input is being generated by solar panels.

I was quite impressed with all these statistics, both yesterday as I heard Dan and Gordon list them for Ira on the radio, and this morning when I replayed the ScienceFriday podcast.

So hey! In the turbidity of all this stir-crazy Occupy controversy, and right in the middle of the bad banking news and European woes, here we find some very real, very timely good news about newfound American industrial innovation, and developing job opportunities on the dark-cloud horizon, maybe even on your community’s own rooftops.

What Dan and Gordon communicated to Ira really comes down to this: the time for cost-effective solar design and application is no longer future. It is now. This is one sector of manufacturing that the Chinese will not be able to dominate, because our automated capabilities can effectively competetive with developing-world low-wage production expense (which is only 10% of a solar panels cost).

And everybody needs a little sustainable wattage.

So, all you angst-ridden discontented shivering souls out there–

Before you Occupy the frigid streets and possibly get thereby injured, infected or arrested, think about a productive alternative:

Occupy, for an hour or two while you fill out the application, the human resources foyer of your local appropriate technology producer. If you don’t find one locally, maybe you’d become the entrepreneur-installer to heat up this movement in your community. Perhaps you’d  be the first one in your community to capitalize on this work–work that really needs to be done if America is going to continue to Occupy its Can-do legacy. The time to Occupy energy independence is now.

Think about it. Like Ira mused yesterday: we Americans invented the light bulb; we invented the energy-generating solar roof panel.

What’s the next thing (or process, or service) we need to invent to light our way out of this oil-pit we’ve dug ourselves into?

Glass half-Full

Why I am a Republocrat

November 17, 2011

The other night Pat and I were enjoying a meal in our home with a couple of dear friends. Our after-dinner conversation turned to heartfelt expressions about past, present and future. In the midst of some shared recollections about previous phases of our life, I wondered aloud about how this idealistic young McGovernite college kid could now find myself, at age sixty, running with a bunch of Republicans.

Then last night, Pat asked me why I am uncomfortable being a Republican. I found myself unable to offer an answer. But today, after some mulling the question over, I collected a few thoughts.

I am in fact not a Republican at heart, although I am registered to vote that way. But that’s because I’m not a dam Democrat either, and wouldn’t want to be caught dead anywhere near their gov’ment-take-all way of doing things.

Here is why:

I believe in the power, proven in our American history, of a free people to do great works. I believe in the limitless possibilities of a free people who, with their individual liberties constitutionally assured, can do what needs to be done, and prosper while performing it, both individually and collectively.

I believe in free enterprise, free markets, free trade, the invisible hand, Main Street, and God.

I believe human life, from its earliest inception , is worthy to receive the protection of the law.

These days, although I empathize with the opportunity-challenged. underemployed Occupy wall street 99% crowd, I also have no complaint with the so-called 1% gathering as much wealth as they can accumulate. The rich cats can only squander so much of the gravy before spreading some of that prosperity around as expenditures and investments, whereby the rest of us 99% can catch a little of the action.

Philosophically, I do not favor the practice of governmental income redistribution, and I surely do not want to see government take over everything– not health care, not business, not philanthropy, not any of that stuff that good citizens ought to be doing from the abundance of their own hard-earned resources.

Now perhaps you can see why I am not a Democrat, and here’s why I am not really a Republican either.

Beginning about 200 years ago our pioneering American spirit began to focus on settling and developing the north American continent. Figuratively speaking, yankee industry, southern agronomy, widespread entrepreneurship and nascent capitalism took on the challenges of capitalizing and developing this exceptional experiment in democratic/republican nationhood that we call the United States of America.

Led by wealth-seeking industrialists and prosperity-seeking workers, we built in short order an amazing infrastructure of railroads, electricity grids, highways, airways and communication networks. Thousands,  yea I say unto thee millions, of folks got in on the action and got a slice of the copious wealth. We were in high cotton for 150 years or so, in spite of a depression or recession or two.

But now we’ve gotten lazy. And I’m not just talking about couch-potato consumers. Now, American business, unwilling to take on the risks—and the sweat and the toil and the uncertainty—of capitalizing the upgraded prerequisite infrastructure  for 21st-century prosperity, dithers with profit-obsessive derivatives and credit default swap schemes, instead of venturing out into the new frontiers of what really needs to be done.

The infamous, phantasmic Wall Street, whatever that is, refuses to capitalize for us a way out of the self-destructive oil addiction rut in which we find ourselves cluelessly  bogged down. I can’t blame the Dems for taking a stab at these dependencies when our famous free enterprise entities won’t, or can’t,  take a chance on it. So the self-appointed prophets and the planners and the socialists and the gov’ment do-gooders and the democrats and the intellectual elites  want to take on the burdens of what unbridled industry used to do. Maybe they’ve overregulated the captains of industry into neutralized industrial impotence, I don’t know, but now it seems that the Dems want the government to initiate everything. Meanwhile, the Repubs are still dreaming in lala land about  bonuses, unfettered capitalism and tax shelters.

If I could, I would cast out  both the demonDemo bureaucrats and the corporatublican devils.

What has happened to our business leadership in this country? Have they abdicated the wealth-generating mantle of industrial innovation?

President Reagan, patron saint of the Repubs, said that government IS the problem. But now, thirty years later, that’s only half the picture. We’ve got a new problem: business.

Business is the problem—not enough of it. Why has business shrunk from the profit-possibility challenges of the 21st century? Why have the capitalists conceded the venture-risking function to government? Why? Because there’s not enough money to be made, and too much risk and expense required to do the work that needs to be done. Call uncle Sam, even if he’s broke busted and his mother can’t be trusted. He”ll take the risk; he’s got a pump-priming Fed to back him up.

Where are the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Edisons, Fords, Morgans and Watsons of our era? For that matter, where is the Gates, or Jobs, of the next generation?

In Congressional hearings today… Solyndra? Hey, I don’t care about the rhetorical politicized blameshifting and fault-finding. Solyndra was attempting to do the work that needs to be done, before wily Chinese competition cut them out of the emerging solar collector market.  Where’s the company that will, Henry Ford-like, put a solar collector on every roof by capitalizing mass-produced affordability in that sector? Where’s the UAW that’s willing to cut a deal so that every half-prosperous American can afford to put an electric vehicle in their garage? Where’s the bold corporation that will take a chance on new-tech American bullet trains?

It almost appears that American business, labor and industry has outlived its usefulness. How can that great trail-blazing entrepreneurial thrust of ages gone by be recovered, and recycled?

Don’t get me started; I’m a Republocrat, and dam proud of it.

Glass Chimera


Dam infidels at it again

November 12, 2011

Wouldn’t you know it. The people of ancient Israel had a great little kingdom going, with the legendary King David establishing for them an impressive niche among the kingdoms of the earth, and then his venerable son Solomon consolidating their collective labor and wisdom into a golden age of excellence. But then Solomon died, and his sons Rehoboam and Jeroboam couldn’t work together, so Jeroboam took some rebels and they struck out on their own to establish a renegade kingdom of Israel at Samaria.
Those dam infidels.
Solomon’s golden age kingdom was eventually ground into dust by Assyrian and Babylonian conquerors. Jewish kingdom was extinguished, but their worship of Y_h, and identity as a people chosen to document God’s work, survived. After their banishment from Jerusalem, captivity in Bablyon,  and eventual return of  some Hebrew exiles to Jerusalem, the Jewish people managed to maintain a unique culture and precious heritage, in spite of later Greek hegemony and Roman domination. Almost a thousand years after Solomon, Messiah finally came, suffered Roman crucifixion, but then triumphed by rising from the dead. Jesus’ disciples, most notably the upstarts Peter and Paul, forsook Jewish tradition to start a new spiritual work on earth, which became Christianity and spread like wildfire through the Mediterranean world.
Those dam infidels.
After centuries of steady growth, suffering bloody persecutions from heathen Roman emperors, Christianity proliferated in spite of the bloody business of feeding them to the lions and such. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, so we Christians like to say, although I’m not necessarily  volunteering for that role. But then 300 years after Christ, one noble emperor Constantine finally got the light bulb turned on his head and became a Christian. If you can’t kill them, join them, I guess. As lucid as he was, Constantine got the bright idea to require all Roman citizens to be Christians, thus merging the public function of governance with the private practice of worshipping a risen Saviour. It was an idea that looked good on tablets (not ipads though), but it later turned out to be a mistake, although the organizing strategy worked tolerably well for a millenium or so, until Europe-based Christendom ended up splitting in two–Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox.
Those dam infidels again.
Meanwhile back in the mother lands, in 7th-century AD Palestine and Arabia, Mohammed got to looking around and realizing that mankind had a real problem. Even so-called righteous people such as Christians and Jews couldn’t seem to be good and properly serve God, and they had irrepressible reprehensible tendencies toward idolotry and debauchery. So Mohammed took it upon himself a la Allah to straighten the human race out by starting a new religion, which would prove to be more forceful and therefore more effective in its conquest of us unruly humans. So Mohammed and his subsequent imams set out to conquer the world for Allah.
Those dam infidels.
Mohammed and his band of believers did manage to compel a lot of people to their way of worshipping. However, after he died, the surviving leaders of Islam could not agree on who would be the successor, so there were bloody disagreements among them. After a few years, one faction’s acknowledged spiritual leader was recognized as legitimate imam to take up Mohammed’s authority. But by the time some Muslim agreement was reached, the other faction had already recognized three imams. Thus did the first Caliph of the Shi’a become known also as the fourth Caliph of the Sunni. These inceptive infightings resulted eventually in two major branches of Islam. Since the split happened quite early in Islamic history (about 656 AD, just 24 years after Mohammed’s death), the results produced two major branches of Islam–Sunni and Shi’a. This is not unlike the Christian Catholic/Orthodox legacy of two major dogmatic strains.
Those dam infidels again.
Fast forward a thousand years or so, and pan back to Europe, where we’ve got a a Protestant reformation brewing in the northern regions. Eventually Christendom manifests its inability to achieve consensus by morphing to a religion with hundreds, or thousands, of denominations.
Those dam infidels again, and again.
By and by, our perpetual trail of tears and blood gets dammed up into a global reservoir of apostate tragedy. Those dam infidels have been at each other’s throats for millenia. It gets discouraging, not to mention all the oriental religions–Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Zoroastrian, and God only knows how many.
An overview of history makes it appear that we humans will never agree on religion. We’ll be disputing about who God is and what he’s up to, or if he even exists,  until such time as we just blow ourselves to kingdom come.
I believe if God were really among us, he would take a real beating for this refusal to whip us into submission.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act

November 6, 2011

I am a Republican, however…

If Republicans want to see some electoral success next year, they should be willing to accept some moderately appropriate accountability for the disgraced financial industry. A good start would be to muster Republican support for reinstatement of the the Glass-Steagall Act.

Not only does this proprietary wall between commercial banking and investment banking need to be rebuilt, but it also makes good political sense. This concession would politically neutralize the mutinous Occupy crowd and the Dems such as Elizabeth Warren who are slowly gathering political strength from that grassroots movement.

Make reinstatement of Glass-Steagall a plank in the Republican platform before next summer’s convention.

Glass Chimera

Elements of Life, simplified

November 5, 2011

Hydrogen initiates life; oxygen proliferates it; carbon gives life something to hold onto.
While helium laughs at the universe, nitrogen fertilizes it.

Sodium makes living things interact; calcium lends them some structure.
Neon, colorful and spritely, excites life, while cousin chlorine cleans up the messes.

Iron puts life to work; silicon makes it smart.
Nickel enables commerce; silver makes the life shine; gold makes it rich.

Uranium steps up the power exponentially, but then it requires maintenance in perpetuity.

Heat it up, and the whole life experiment becomes volatile; anything can happen, and probably will.
Drop in a little arsenic, and life bites the dust. Pay attention.

You go, George!

November 2, 2011

Bravo! for Greek President George Papandreou, who stands up for democracy in the face of financial bullying from all fronts. You go, George! Take this important decision to your people, as you have announced, with a referendum. In democracy’s birthplace, the practice of government by the people is still alive, with plenty of comedy and some tragedy to go along with it.