Monday, December 21, 2009

You go Obama

The verdict is still out on the Copenhagen summit. Did we save the planet? Did Obama win a political victory? Or was it a shambles showing that international consensus is impossible on such a complex issue, never mind the exhortations that Armageddon was at hand?

Environmentalists, particularly the well organized European green NGOS, as well as poorer nations in line to bear the brunt of the worst effects of climate change in the next 50 to 100 years, took the position that only verifiable and legally binding commitments from the world's worst polluters that would ensure warming limited to 2 degrees centigrade by the century's end would do. For them Copenhagen was absolutely the last chance to square things before time runs out on our efforts to turn things around. I worked for Friends of the Earth in the early nineties, and I know the painstaking work that is involved in arriving at consensus positions for these negotiations. The line is always maintained to the bitter end and anything less is accounted as failure. But in the real world, democracy is messy and involves continual compromise and refinement, and from this perspective, I think there is great reason for rejoicing from the outcome in Copenhagen, and more proof of Obama's prescient and dexterous hand at achieving the best possible outcome at any given moment. In almost a year we've gone from a decade of impasse and dangerous drift, with the United States seemingly stuck with its head in the sand perpetually on this issue, to an agreement with the leading generator of carbon - China, along with emerging economic and regional political giants India, Brazil and South Africa on the need to cap and bring down CO2 to safe levels in the atmosphere, for making funds available to poorer nations for climate change adaptations,
and on establishing international verification of measures to maintain a level playing field in the world economy. This is a huge step forward for the foundations of a sustainable global economy and for advancing the adoption of a cap and trade regime by the US Congress in the coming year. Dinosaurs like Oklahoma Republican James Inhoffe, who travelled to Copenhagen to spread his absurd version that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by renegade scientists on the world to secure funding for their projects, have been appropriately sidelined. Talk about drinking the Kool Aid, only in his case it must have been the same vat of white lightning shared with Merle Haggard before he sang I'm Proud to be an Oakie from Muskogee. With his popularity in the polls sinking, it is ironic that Obama is turning lemons into lemonade all around the block; as usual, the media soaked American public is lagging behind the reality of the situation, or at least the poll numbers are.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Fool's Wager

The Climategate saga goes on, mostly in the conspiracy-fueled imaginations of right wingers who would like to seize on the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia as an excuse to drag through the mud the scientific community's consensus around the theory that anthropogenic global warming could force shifts in climate in the next 50 to 100 years not seen in the entire 10,000 years of human civilization. What the emails do show is that scientists are capable of imagining and even conspiring to misbehave. They do not show that the science behind global warming is off in its entirety at all. There is always a range of scenarios that scientists consider, and in the last ten years the evidence, from institutions and scientists around the world including NASA's esteemed Jim Hansen, not just the above-mentioned Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, has consistently shown that business-as-usual emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas emitted by burning fossil fuels that traps heat in the atmosphere, have the potential of at worst ushering in a temperature regime that would make uninhabitable large parts of the world, and at best lead to increased sea levels, flooding, droughts, increased prevalence of disease, famine, collapse and disappearance of entire nations including the South Pacific islands.
Typical of the commentary is this from Tom Karst, editor of The Packer, the trade journal of the mainstream produce industry:

"But do we really have to do something, NOW, about climate change?

What’s the rush? Let’s leave room for some skepticism.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Frank Lucas, R-Okla., recently released a statement that American agriculture can’t afford the higher energy prices and operating costs associated with the “cap and tax” climate change bill.

I tend to agree with Lucas. Agriculture and fruit and vegetable growers should not go along to get along.

If Obama is hell-bent on making carbon based fuels prohibitively expensive, let him show the commitment to develop a new generation of nuclear power plants in the U.S."

Notice the whining, NOW? So like the 10 year-old who doesn't want to clean his room because he's playing video games at the moment and what could be more important? So the whole point of raising doubts about the science seems to be to protect the short-term profitability of whatever business. There seems to be a fool's wager going on that makes my blood boil for one because if I was Dante and designing a new Inferno I would reserve a special circle in hell for people who are willing to put my children's future on the line for the sake of their comfort and profit.

Like St. Peter, I prefer this bet: if people like me are wrong, and we invest billions to shift to renewable energy, advanced public transport, denser urban communities, organic agriculture, etc. only to discover years down the road that Mother Nature could in fact take care of herself and had inbuilt negative feedback in the form of clouds or volcanic eruptions or something, then what have we lost? It's just money. But if people like Mr. Karst are wrong and we do nothing because we prefer business as usual than having to get off our backsides and it turns out that we blew it - the ice shelves melt, the permafrost releases its load of methane stored for 50,000 years in a year or two and Earth is no longer blue from outer space - then what have we lost? It was just our planet. It's a no-brainer, folks. We need to do something now a) while we still can, and b) while its relatively affordable and doable to make the switch.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Played with the kids after dinner in the living room last night. We were telling each other's fortunes, pretending to read palms.
"You're going to flunk out of high school, be really bad at everything and then work at McDonald's. Then you'll live in a dumpster and move to Nevada where you'll discover a new source of energy and be rich and live in a boat until you're 92 when you get mauled by a panther and die." Michael forecasting his sister's life was quick, certain and big on disaster.
I tried the more traditional route, numbers of kids, lifeline, career, a lot of romance for the girls and motorized toys for Michael. But I kept saying they'd all live near the ocean, preferably somewhere warm where they would invite their parents to visit every year. Then I realized the odds of them living near the ocean were just increased, as scientists are predicting a 2 meter rise in sea levels by 2100.
I'm thinking how desperate this forecast, this real life prognostication is. What happens when Bangladesh goes under is not just lost beach frontage; it's not just the extinction of human and animal life and untold misery of refugees. It's not even just genocide. We don't have a word for the extent of criminality this event implies. It dwarfs colonialism, slavery, all previous inhumanities. What could be worse than condemning entire swaths of the planet, entire nations of people and entire species of animal and plant life to death? I think even the notion of inter-generational equity, which is the result of struggling with how to deal with the implications of what is happening, falls short of the mark.
And then there's the front page headlines made by hacked emails showing the animosity of some climate scientists towards their colleagues, termed skeptics by the press. Many of them are worse than skeptics. Just like the tobacco industry did for many years, paying off so-called scientists to produce reports diminishing the health impacts of nicotine and tobacco smoke, the oil industry has for years now been attempting to "spin" the science to their advantage. And who can blame anybody for feeling a little bit of anger. Scientists are human, too. And sure there must be disagreement on many aspects of the science, the levels of magnitude of change, etc. Certainly there are many variables to consider. But there is one fact that is not variable. Like the hedgehog we must know one thing well in order to survive. Our children only get one planet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reflections on a Shooting Spree

"But on the whole, the life of Ivan Ilich now flowed the way he felt his life should flow -- easily, pleasantly, respectably." The Death of Ivan Ilich, Leo Tolstoy

In this portrait of a stolid Russian magistrate, Tolstoy tried to show the way we brick ourselves off from human feelings as a way of advancement, the way middle class life tends to anesthetize the pain until we are numb, all in the name of comfort. Ilich was a success, but it was at the cost of any meaningful relationships, including with his family. Of course he lived in a time and a country that was very different from ours, but was it? We pride ourselves for our meritocratic ways and our freedoms, but the aim, still, is to insulate ourselves from suffering, to escape the hoi polloi, to live in walled-off compounds of luxury and security, to insure ourselves and our families against calamity, to innoculate ourselves from disease and catastrophe, and to vote into power leaders strong enough to protect us from the enemy hordes, the other that wants to take it away, that rages at the gate. In short, we want our cake and eat it too. We want to be strong, free, comfortable, and yet we want to live in solidarity with the promise of Emma Lazarus. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. We want to be rich and we want to be popular. Somehow we straddle the fence, offering the world the two-faced specter of our political shufflings, here George, there Barack, not sure ourselves what country we live in. Is it red, blue, something in between? It takes faith, sometimes a lunatic faith to keep faith with the old red, white and blue, and there is pain, the pain that is expressed in the lunatic, murderous shooting rampage of an Army doctor that reminds me of a character in a tragic Russian novel.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Striking the Balance

As easy as breathing, the in and out rhythm, there and back again, over and over. Or swinging: parents push on the playground and then the children learn that by pumping their legs they can get as high as they can, higher and higher. Until finally the older ones they're ejecting, jumping at the highest point of the arc to see who can get the farthest, flying off into space until gravity brings them down with a dull thud in the wood chips.
We're entering the dark side of the year, the diastole half of the beat of life, when the short days and long nights give rise to reflective taking of bearings and anxiety about the end game. The forest looks naked but somehow more mysterious, the grey hardwoods like clouds mingling in a valley with the deep green pines, all suffused with mists. I'm always hungrier, my dinners suffering a lack of portion control that I justify as seasonally driven. I crave meats and thick, rich sauces. This is the animal part of the brain, remembering shortfall, famine, scarcity and cold. As we evolved we began to hoard other prizes, and now, when hardship means having an old car and losing face in the parking lot, we wonder how to strike the right balance. George Bush promised we fulfilled duty when we shopped, and we all know the malls fill up this time of year. But call it residual guilt, there is a gnawing sense that we must be called to do more. Produce or perish. Those who believe in eternity want to produce a higher self through prayer or good deeds, those who don't still believe that work is the lot of all humanity. My tenant, Chris, has been out of work since July. He was a fork lift driver with MacLanes, the warehouse chain that handles all the Walmart traffic in northern New England. I saw him yesterday when he came over and he'd grown a belly and said he was hoping to be taken back on for some seasonal shifts.
"It must be tough," I said. God knows I've been there before.
"Oh, yeah. I'm looking forward to having a purpose," he said.
Unemployment, like the winter, has a rise and fall. If only we knew how to strike the right balance, as easy as breathing, or children swinging.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Unreconstructed Krauthammer

I shouldn't be surprised by the unaccountability of right-wing blowhards for the positions they took on a host of issues during the Bush years. But given the demise of the Republican Party leadership as signified by the rise within the GOP of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk as serious spokesmen and not just media puppeteers, it behooves sober-minded individuals to pay close attention to the rants of fascistas of the airwaves such as Charles Krauthammer. I read his interview in Der Spiegel today on-line and was struck by the clear-minded, yet lunatic espousal of two relics of Bush era dogma, namely the requirement for unilateral exertion of imperial power in order to bring peace to the world, and the scientific uncertainty surrounding and therefore as-yet unclear need to do anything about global warming. Along with these was the underlying, rabid need to belittle any Obama administration leverage on reforming the country. Krauthammer cannot bear to concede the transformative effects of an Obama presidency so far and insists it's all about celebrity hype. Yes, he does foresee some sort of health care reform going forward, but that's the work of an "average" president. The big Maginot line, apparently, in the Republican psyche, is now the global warming crisis, where Obama's efforts to bring US carbon emissions down to acceptable levels must be doomed to failure. I hate to tell him, the writing is on the wall there as well. Cap and trade, baby, bring it on. There is an unfortunate bunch of chatter about geo-engineering from uninformed sources, and the right-wing continues to love the Dr. Strangelove allure of nuclear power, but the simple fact remains that the hard work of avoiding catastrophic climate change involves switching the global industrial economy onto the twin tracks of energy efficiency and renewables.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Global Protest Puts Science at the Fore -- Sheep Don't Care

This Saturday, activists staged protests and actions in over 4,000 cities around the world designed to highlight the need to bring carbon emissions way below present levels in the atmosphere in order to safeguard a habitable planet beyond the end of this century. The movement behind the protests is spearheaded by New England environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, but the science that inspired McKibben is the mainstream view that carbon levels beyond 350 parts per million in the atmosphere will push global average warming beyond the two degree rise from pre-industrial levels that is considered safe for civilization. At the moment our levels stand at about 383 parts per million. Leaders meeting in Copenhagen late this year are expected to hammer out a treaty aimed at reducing present carbon levels, but many fear that politics as usual, even with the United States on board for the first time in the history of climate negotiations, will cloud long-term thinking. Hence the need for giving leaders a shove in the language of international street theater. The results were inspiring. See for a slide show of the day.
Here in New Hampshire, a warm Indian summer following the heavy rain Saturday brought out out the Asian lady bugs from their burrows to hover on the tree trunks of our young apple trees. Nature tries to find a balance with the insects leading the way. On my drive to work I still love to see the strings of Canada geese forming vees in the sky westward and southward. A family of skunks, attracted by a neighbor's bird feeder, has attempted to set up winter residence, and our sheep, in protective mode, have been hit, one of the young ewes right in the face. Sunday I spent a good few hours shearing the thistle burrs out of their fleeces. I put them on the winter pasture and thought I'd mowed down the thistles, but enough of them, their royal purple blooms long gone, were still standing like petrified sentinels in the deeper grass around the old paddock, and of course that's straight where the sheep went, getting thoroughly covered on their faces and flanks with the brown little velcro life bombs that get so embedded they ruin the fleece if left to overwinter.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Eve Turns Eight

"Mothers for miles around worried about Zuckerman's swing. They feared some child would fall off. But no child ever did. Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will."
Charlote's Web
by E.B. White

The middle child, Eve holds the magnetic center - the Higgs Boson particle of the family - imparting mass and gravitational attraction. She does it unwittingly, as if by naming her we let in some archetypal grain to her nature; she seems to have a deeper understanding of things, not as quick to come to a conclusion, measuring and sifting for the level beyond the appearance of things. Although what do I know about an eight year old girl's mind? Maybe I'm just romanticizing. What does anyone know? But there is an impetus now to protect our girls, a recognition that the forces out there are toxifying their childhoods beyond recognition.
She wanted her ears pierced, at the threshold of some kind of discovery about herself. She held a teddy bear at the Piercing Pagoda at the Concord Mall lent to her by the girl behind the counter just opening on a late Sunday morning. The girl was heavy set, blond, and she marked her ears and swabbed the earlobes with an antiseptic wipe, stepping back and asking me for my opinion. Did the markings look level. Don't want to get this wrong. I looked and squinted and nodded affirmatively. Eve looked serious, as if about to set off on a journey into herself, into her own destiny apart from her brother and sister and I. Then at the party she played on the trampoline with her friends Molly and Cody, swinging the styrofoam tubes at each other like swords.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stacking Wood

We began the stack of wood last weekend, the kids and Susan and I. A yearly ritual, it is not joyful, but dutiful. We haven't learned the art of making beauty out of our necessity, but it's hard when there are so many other things we could and probably should be doing. We throw the wood in the trailer and then I drive in reverse, back to the house and there we try to make a neat stack, one of the five cords we will put in by the time we are done. We make a relay, from me to Susan and the two girls and Michael, and in this way it goes pretty quickly. When we are done, it will be satisfying to see the wood and know we will be okay.

But we aren't simple people yet, informed by the work we do. Instead we are distracted, and this is just one of the many aspects of the busyness that defines us. In October, the trees are at the height of their splendor, this year better than most. But I drive down the road, lost in the petty thoughts of the morning commute, little notice paid to the migrating geese overhead or the expressive palette in the birch, beech and sugar maples. This is wrong, I know; it's killing me without a doubt. Certainly and with impeccable timing, a moment arrives in the fall when I am ticking over and little else. Cooked.

It's called survival, keeping a head above water. I just listened to a podcast about the disappearance of languages, part of the massive extinction of surviving native cultures around the world. When a language dies, a way of looking, thinking and remembering goes down also. The ways of our impoverishment will be a mystery to us. But we can't drown in sorrow. In a way, this may be a kind of joy, this survival, with the grain of sorrow in it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Red leaves in the sunshine

I'm dizzy if I look down and notice the spinning planet I'm standing on. The leaves are turning, but a couple of warm days have brought back the gnats and no-see-ums and haunting humidity of summer. The clarity of elevation does me little good, although on this hike up Mt. Cardigan it was reassuring to scramble on the basaltic upper slopes veined with quartz and the carved monograms of ancient Eastern mountain men and women before the days of Lonely Planet and globalized virtual virtuosity. There is a change, even on a mild hike like this, that comes upon you when you climb. There is an intimation of getting closer to the source, and a fellow hiker looks you in the eyes as if he knows you from somewhere. The collective unconscious breathes the rarefied air of mountain heights.

In the garden this evening we cleared away the overgrown pumpkins that had taken over the potato rows. A skunk has crawled under the wood shed, hoping for a winter bunk. Work teaching has taken over the days and my body feels a need for strenous activity. I tried to run with the seventh and eighth grade soccer team, during a practice the coaches covering defensive positions, and popped three muscles in my legs. There is nothing gracious about this.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Health Care For All

At this point it looks grim. Health care might just be the Afghanistan of domestic policy. You can wade in, but it's going to be a fight to get back out alive. Just look at what happened to the Clintons when they set up camp here early in their administration. The Republicans hopped on the fright machine and sent them packing in defeat. You can turn on the radio and listen to the Republican "base" pick on Joe Wilson for apologizing, itching for a fight. And the truth is the morass of health care policy, the complications of our unique patchwork of a health care system, defy easy analysis and reform. A public option might just increase costs as well as save money, and the art of forecasting these outcomes is far from exact. But one thing is clear for me. Health care is a right, just as much as education and security from aggression. We count on the government to provide us with police and defense forces and public schools. Although there is a place for the private sector in all of these fields, the government cannot hesitate to step in and level the playing field in the name of the weak and less able to fend for themselves. To say that we can't afford it, while spending billions every day on the unnecessary adventures of Iraq and Afghanistan, is plainly immoral. We need to cross this Rubicon for once and get on with it.
(image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images. September 9, 2009 in Miami, Florida)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Visit to the Hay House in Newbury, New Hampshire

We drove up this morning to see the Hay house and gardens in Newbury. John Hay was a friend and secretary to President Lincoln and also served under McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. He married into money and bought land on Lake Sunapee at a time when New Hampshire was trying to lure wealthy tourists to buy up the abandoned farms left behind by the exodus to the western states. His son Clarence studied landscaping and forestry at Yale and created an outstanding rock garden, which, along with the perennial flowerbeds in the front of the house, have been brought back to life by the trust which now runs the property. The house itself is interesting to see, and there is an informative video on the Hay family which is part of the guided tour. There are whimsical sculptures dotting the garden and a fairy garden where children can build their own rock cairns and fairy houses.
Today there was a wedding being prepared for on the grounds and cars rolling down the gravel drive with suited guests and caterers. A woman in a maid's uniform came out from the kitchen, her hair up in braids, with a cake in her arms, and ducked behind the honeysuckle.
Some of the titles in the library were the collected works of Tolstoy, the life of Thomas Howard Fourth Duke of Norfolk, an account of the sack of Paris during the Napoleonic wars, and the volumes written by Hay about Lincoln, his mentor. The woman giving the tour opened up a door on the halls and let me have a peek at an entire wing which was left in a decrepit state by the family before the state took it over. The bare lathe and ribs of the rafters were a testament to the mortality of houses. The tour guide, an older woman, had built a house herself in the 1950s in Massachusetts, she told me, using the old lathe and horse hair plaster for the walls in the days before sheet rock was mass produced. You can't find people any more who know how to build a wall this way.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Crossroads in the Crosshairs of the Dog Days

The thing about change is that it's not easy. We live in interesting times. The hypersensitive, decentralized nature of the media means that we are all observers and participants, acutely aware of the shifting sands beneath our collective feet as we struggle to balance and maintain our sight on our individual goals. The placid late summer mood could be shattered in an instant with the ugliness of a town hall meeting. An in-your-face wingnut living in that echo chamber we call the popular culture pulls out his or her automatic weapon and decides to become a hero. Who thinks that is inconceivable? Why are the Secret Service even putting up with that b----t?
Sometimes I listen to the country music stations that blossomed on the air waves a few years back, a product of some corporate consolidation that meant the "Nashville" sound, sanitized and sterilized, was deemed ready to go mainstream. The surprising thing, and I'm not sure what this reflects, either my deteriorating sensibilities, the dearth of good rock music, or my age, but I find some of it is pretty good, with an honesty and lack of pretension that is a refreshing change from an uber-hipster sound or the pop muzak of the rest of the spectrum. Of course some of it is trash, utterly unredeemable, formulaic, tugging at the worst, reptilian heartstrings of national and Southern pride. But here's a song by Pat Green which reminded me of why the best of what we do as artists, musicians, creators, needs to transcend barriers and get us on the same page of what is really important.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cape Cod Redux

Twenty eight years ago I left Cape Cod in disgrace. Brad Hill was my buddy and he got into a scrape involving a local girl and the son of a powerful road contractor. He was advised by the police to get out of town. Our landlady kicked us out of the room because we disobeyed her edict not to sit out on the balcony overlooking the main street of Chatham and drink beers. And frankly I was sick of my job in the fish store shucking clams and cleaning fish. I took my kids back to see the site of my former glory days. They actually got excited about the Chatham pier and the boats and sea gulls and tourists. There were some seals in the water but we couldn't get a good photo of them. Two old guys on bicycles - they looked like old gay lovers, but one also bore an uncanny resemblance to Willard Nickerson, my former boss at the fish store, who if he was gay did a good job hiding it, (he constantly nagged me about my poor posture and the only reason he hired me in the first place is my Aunt Alicia and Uncle Wright were old family in Chatham, but I liked him and his wife), sat next to us on the bench in front of the store while we ate fish and chips with fresh fish, you bet your bass, and offered to take this picture.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tropiburger Boy -- Excerpt of work in progress

The bus set off through the coastal mountains and then the sugarcane fields and the dusty plains of the dry season, and finally, in the distance, the purple mountains of the Colombian border. It was a seven-hour marathon, and by the end when we'd climbed off in Merida, we were both exhausted.
We had no real plan, but walked around by the bus depot until we found a hotel advertising itself in a half-lit neon sign above a restaurant. In the restaurant we ate some fried chicken and yuca, a potato-like tuber made palatable by dipping in a green sauce, and drank beers, ice cold bottles of Polar, a forbidden pleasure. I explained to Eric about my father.
"Leave him be," advised Eric. He was too old to change. His father was no prize either. This bit of wisdom impressed me, but it would be years before I could put it into practice. But that's why I loved Eric; he seemed light years ahead of me in maturity and poise. We slept fitfully on the thin mattresses while the music blared until dawn from the restaurant jukebox.
The next day we hiked along the highway out of Merida into the mountains. A man in a jeep gave us a ride on the switchbacks heading into a national reserve. He was a biologist and taught in the university. He approved of our plans for fishing and pointed us in the right direction as we clambered out in a fog . It was almost noon but dark inside the cloud. He had the headlights of the jeep on.
"Go that way," he said, pointing with his lower lip. "You'll find the river. Follow it. You'll see."
"Nos vemos. Hasta luego. Buena suerte."
He gunned the accelerator and sped off into the dark, disappearing within seconds. Eric and I looked at each other and then he jumped the guard rail and began to jog down the hill, pack bouncing wildly on his back.
"Wait for me," I called, running to catch him before he too disappeared.
We hiked up and down the rough terrain of the paramo all morning looking for the river. I stopped to examine the leaves of the frailejon plants all around us, thick and hairy to withstand the season of drought, just then coming to an end, and the extreme cold. Then at last we found the water bubbling its way down the eastern slope of the continental divide. It was about ten feet wide, running clear over gravel beds and deeper rock pools. We slipped off our packs and took out our rods and Eric began to cast, working quickly and purposefully upstream. You could see the pencil thin silhouettes of the fish in the water under the riffles of the current. I followed along the bank, fishing the spots I thought Eric had ignored. There were a couple of times I thought I had a bite, reeling in over the rocks, but nothing. Then at last I hooked one, about six inches, and a couple of hours later I had another. I was thinking of starting back. It had begun to rain, a thin drizzle. Eric jumped out from behind a rock. He'd been taking a short cut back to where we'd left our packs. He carried a string of four or five similar sized fish as mine. I told him I'd caught two.
"Where are they?"
I showed him where they were in the tall grass above a pool. He added them to the string, pushing it through their barely palpitating gills with his fingers.
We hiked silently back down river in the steadily increasing rain. Our packs were sitting on a patch of dry earth while the rain washed down the slope and into the river all around them.
"Here," said Eric, carrying his pack and the string of fish up to some level dry ground a distance from the river. We got out the tent and managed to assemble it despite cold, sore fingers. We were both beginning to shiver. Eric took the fish down to the river bank and gutted them. Then we wrapped them in the useless map of Merida that had been of no help to us and crawled inside the tent to try and get warm. I fell asleep in my coat, head on my pack, breathing the warm, clammy air of the small pup tent.
It had stopped raining, and in the half light of dusk outside Eric was gathering brush, breaking off dead branches from the few small bushes growing along the river, and piling them in a fire pit he'd managed to dig with his knife. We'd had the foresight to pack a box of matches in a soap dish. I went through almost the entire box before some old ticket stubs in my wallet and a small stick finally burst into flame, and slowly, a smoldering fire grew.
Then it was dark and we were crazily running in our wet boots over the rocks, gathering whatever burnable material we could find, most of it either too wet or too small, but somehow the fire was growing, and eventually we put on the mother lode, an entire small tree, blown over years previous, that Eric and I had dragged from a ravine.
Taking some long branches from this tree and impaling the fish on them, we managed to cook ourselves some food. Nothing tasted better than the half burnt, half raw, searing hot, dripping, extremely bone-filled and scaly meat of these fingerling trout cooked over our bonfire. By the time we were done eating, we went down to the river, naked, and immersed ourselves in water to wash off the grease, charcoal and scales from ourselves. Then we crawled into the tent and tried to sleep again, the fire flickering outside.
At some point in the night, I was woken by rustling sounds. Unzipping the tent, I could see men poking at the fire with machetes. I crawled out of the tent, and behind me came Eric. We stood in the cold, shivering, pulling on our pants, while a troop of four or five wraithlike men in odd hats pulled down over their heads and machetes confronted us in the dark.
"Buscamos una vaca," said one in a muffled, thick, barely discernible voice.
"They're looking for a cow," I said, translating for Eric.
"No por aqui no esta," I said. We hadn't seen a cow, that was for sure.
There were some words said among them that could have been Spanish but more likely was in Mucuchies, the indigenous language of that region of the Andes. They went off without a sound, as if floating above ground, one man, or boy, straggling, poking at things with his machete. With relief we got back inside the tent and talked hesitantly about what we'd just seen.
"Did you ever see Deliverance?" asked Eric.
"Let's get out of here," I said.
"Yeah," said Eric, agreeing with my precautionary assessment.
We may have overreacted to the sight of the men looking for a cow, but it is no exaggeration to say that it took us no more than ten minutes to break down the tent, pack up and march away from that spot.
We circled in the dark, lost, with no stars or celestial guides because of the cloud cover. The hills and valleys all looked like somewhere we'd been before, and we forded the river, or different rivers like a dream, or a barely remembered memory of a dream. We were both very tired. But we never gave up hope, instead vying to see which one of us would be the one to get us unlost. At last, the sky lightening in a broad patch to the obvious but unhelpful east, Eric motioned for me to stop and cocked an ear. There was the sound of an engine doing a distant Doppler effect.
"Up there," said Eric.
"Okay," I said, agreeable to a new tack, although this one led up a particularly steep and scrabbly slope.
And there it was - the beautiful guard rail and the equally as stunning blacktop behind it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Spiritus Mundi

Summer means music, pop music in all its variants on the radio, for me as long as I can remember. From Three Dog Night to Sugar Magnolia, my preteen and teenage summers seem in my mind set to a rock score - a highlight would have to be Meat Loaf playing on the stereo in the Chatham home of Sue Macomber. I was in love with Sue of course and the fact that Meat Loaf was no musical genius didn't matter. That and The Who. Teenage Wasteland. We were celebrating not so much the lyrics as the emotional impact of being young and capable of being in love and realizing that we were. In love. And popular music was the unvarnished truth. It was the opposite of the sugar coated falsehoods, the conformity that was so evidently being shaken off like an old skin all around us, in the media, in schools, in our own families. In that way it was the Internet of our younger days, the way people communicated in a new push to celebrate the truth as opposed to the verities pushed by power and the status quo. The search for the authentic seems to be the impetus for new cultural forms; and technology is the latest manifestation of this.
Our opinions were so rigid on which songs and groups mattered because it was all about what was real. We had the Hemingway bullshit detectors on red alert for anybody with the slightest whiff of pandering to sentiment. My sisters liked a song, Seasons in the Sun, which I hated, and I let them know my feelings to their great discomfiture, because they loved it. It was about a family and the passage of time and the sadness of mortality, all concerns which I equated with anesthesia. You couldn't talk about it in a pop song. It was all wrong.
Ironically, that song reminds me today of my own family and present moment. We had one of those days. We must have presented a spectacle bicycling in a convoy down to the beach at Elm Brook State Park, Michael on his red BMX and skateboard helmet, Eve on her pink Starfish with the Dayglo streamers coming out of the handlebars, and Grace in the bike trailer pulled behind me. We got down to the lake, swam, played, and realizing it was late left for home, but not before the sun went down behind the dam and the stand of white pine. The Mexican campers were celebrating in full bore. I learned later when I got home that their team had wiped out the US 5 nil in the Gold Cup.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Faith and Food

Farm Journal July 2009

It's that point in the summer when the heat has set in, the long slow bake that'll take us into the harvest season. This is the time for the quickening of the crops around here, the spurt of growth in the corn, the tomatoes going from yellow blossom to fruit in the next two or three weeks. We've had our garlic scrapes and need to get around to pulling up the bulbs and hang them in the wood shed to dry. In this tremendous rush for fulfillment before death in the short Northern growing season, we are in plain battle with weeds and insect pests for the raspberry, apple, blueberry and grape. I put garlic juice in the back pack sprayer to keep off the Asian and Japanese beetles that will strip a young tree of its leaves in a day or two. The healthy apple trees we planted out in the spring have already outgrown the attacks of the leaf rollers and the scab. Some of them have died back, unable to fight back, but not many. The trees we planted out as two year old transplants from Fedco in Maine have struggled in comparison to the grafts, native born as it were on this land, especially the tenderer-leafed varieties such as Honeycrisp and Starkey.
The lambs are also getting infusions of garlic to fight off the mid-summer parasites once every two weeks which seem to be working so far. They browse and play, and one of the rams has begun to behave strangely around the older women and young girls of the herd, which is always unnerving, another sign that the season of spring-like innocence has passed.
One of the attractions of having a small farm is the way the life around you corresponds to the larger cycle of seasons. It makes sense, this correspondence, in a way that much of contemporary life does not. Michael Jackson is dead, Frank McCourt has passed away also. Obama's health care initiative is stalled in the halls of Congress. How much of this matters, how much of it seems to wash away at our sensibilities like some spore-laden rain, curdling the leaves and tendrils of our nervous system until we no longer hear anything or feel anybody? Not everybody can or should have a farm, but the farmer shares more than the food he grows. He shares an insight, a sense that there is meaning, and he shares his insight, this intuition of correspondence, with all of life, struggling upward toward the shortening hours of light in the sun. To make sense implies that there is sense, that we live in an ordered universe, and without the faith imparted by this intuitive grasping at sense, it is doubtful that the generations before us would have soldiered on, farming and growing food, measuring progress by whether one plant lived, one sheep grew fatter, one pig was ready for market. That faith is just as necessary today and as in short supply as good, healthy food.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Paul and Ellen Connett came down Sunday night, arriving close to midnight after the drive from upstate New York. They are full of stories, people who have travelled the world fighting against trash burning, recently in Mauritius, but big in Italy. Breakfast with Susan and me around the kitchen table with the kids still asleep upstairs, preparing for the Title V appeal hearing. Paul was my witness. They lived in Camden Town in the eighties, met as Biafra activists, then he got a PhD in chemistry at Dartmouth and began lecturing on the dangers of incineration, the dioxins, fine particulates. He is a tall man and once in Spain was approached by an old man who told him he looked more like a priest than a scientist. He stood and blessing the old man with the sign of the Cross said "God recycles, my son. The devil burns," translated for him by the Greenpeace translator at the event. The audience loved it.
Not so much the Air Resources Council, sleepy industry representatives who didn't want to hear his lecture on dioxin formation and fetuses. I suppose it assumes a certain level of interest. I gave them a run for their money, debating with the silverhaired lawyer for Wheelabrator on the statutory basis for my appeal, which I insisted was the primary legal duty to protect public health, not monitor emissions compliance, and of course he insisisted on the process, intended to narrow the focus so that citizen participation is minimized to non-existence. After five hours the hearing was adjourned. Katy Lajoie hugged me. You broke it wide open, she said. Then we gathered outside, laughing and recalling some of the exchanges, releasing pent up nerves. After a celebratory lunch downtown in Concord, we said goodbye, vowing to meet up again soon. Then I saw the front page story in the Monitor and bought the last two copies from the machine on the corner. They sound-bited me, typical dumbing down story. I felt like I'd been through the shredder, and this somewhat false version of me, like the coffee grinds from the morning breakfast in the sink at home, was all that was left. Thank God for the blog, letting me digest it, filter it through my own words

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Probably nobody freedom born can appreciate it properly. Those who have been deprived wave the flag more knowingly, and those of us who wave it loudest, safe to say are hiding something, maybe even from themselves.
After 9-11 the orgy of flag waving made me sick, but it made others feel good, to be a part of something that was big and was going to kick some ass on their behalf. Sort of like the phenomenon of SUVs and small women drivers behind the wheel feeling safe tucked in their metal cocoons.
Now with Obama it's just another day and I'm glad the weather is good. That is a kindness I am grateful for. No need for patriotism when you are barbecuing. Bin Laden probably hates us for barbecuing, but who cares about him?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Boogie Boarding While the World Turns

The news from Iran continues to boil over with the shifting upheaval that always breaks out where least expected. And we watch from our vaulted perches and hope and pray for a decent outcome. However, that is not what consumes me at the moment. I wanted to write about my day at the beach yesterday with my two daughters and Susan, and how nice it was to catch the cold waves and walk along the sand looking for shells. The day started off foggy. We could see the outline of a cargo ship off in the distance moving ever so slowly northward, so slowly we thought it might be some looming landmass. Then it cleared and we all got sunburnt by the afternoon. The best thing was the large piece of kelp like a flag Grace picked up in the surf. We brought it home in a bucket, a memento of the day, something to hang onto. It was so much like a banner except grey green and slippery and it spiraled like a whorl, like surf. At night, eating dinner, Eve felt like she was moving and I told her that's what happens when you spend a day at the beach, you feel like you're still riding the waves. It was so fun. We didn't even realize Michael Jackson had died. Rest in peace, MJ.
My advice to fathers: Teach your daughters to boogie board.
"There is nothing in the world worth caring about." Dolly Madison.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fatherhood and Apple Pie

People who proclaim we are in the midst of some pivotal moment in history live in an eternal present, heedlessly and recklessly discounting the many previous pivotal moments that have come and gone throughout time. Then there are the mystics who will tell you our every action has infinite repercussions; the beating of a butterfly's wing will set off ripples that will echo throughout eternity. Let's say for argument's sake that reality works somewhere in the middle range between these two extremes: there are some moments that are more important than others, but by and large they are impossible to identify without the benefit of hindsight. However, this Father's Day I am going out on a limb and proclaiming that something Big is Happening Out There. I'm not exactly sure of what it is, but I think we can agree that the spectacle of Obama proclaiming the importance of mentoring and fatherhood from the lawn of the White House is an image that redefines how we see ourselves as a nation. I've always wondered if America is a fatherland in the way of Germany and say Iran, or a motherland in the way of Russia, and say Ireland. We are really neither and that has advantages and disadvantages, but one of the disadvantages is that the disadvantaged have no place to go when the going gets tough except by dint of their own or others exceptionality. That is the crisis of fatherlessness in the black community in a nutshell, that we are both motherless and fatherless in an explicitly cultural way and rely on purely legalistic loyalties (to the Constitution) or popular affiliations (to the Red Sox or the Black Hawks) to hold us together through those moments that are less pivotal, in other words most of the time. That we needed a day of national attentiveness to the perils of an epidemic of fatherlessness speaks to the lack of community, the lack of solidarity throughout the land.
The mullahs in Iran must be gagging in their beards at this extremely unflattering irony, that this half black President of a deracinated people in a Godless outpost of Hell should be pedalling fatherhood while their fatherhood is being rudely called into question by the compliant children of Persia.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Digital Conversion Blues

I've got to confess, we are having trouble with the digital conversion. We, my family, are not tuning in to the stuff on offer. Ironically we were among the first to acquire the digital converter, clipping the government coupons back in the fall and cashing them in at Best Buy one rainy weekend. And we had great hopes for a miraculous and free immediate conversion to the fast lane, or at least my son and I did, visions of the Cartoon Network and Disney and for me the History Channel and ESPN. My wife is the television czar and I know she's right; we're better off without it, more family time, better engagement with each other and our imaginations, more motivation to read, but still we hoped. The thing is, it's not happening. We live in an old farmhouse with an old school antennae on the roof that has been whacked what with retiling the roof and several recent massive storms. The message on the screen says we need a new HDTV antennae and cable. All we're getting is ABC and NPR from Concord, not even the Boston NPR station which is a good one. So not even the fuzzy signal we were getting from the CBS and NBC affiliates, which means flicking through the crime shows and basketball games on slow winter nights is gone unless we do something. How likely is it that we will do something? I ask myself rhetorically. Again we face a crossroads where our determination to forge our own independent sense of identity, I'm talking my wife and I, runs smack into the children's - namely my oldest son Michael's - need for melding with the mainstream American sense of culture, which has everything to do with soaking up as much media as possible. I've got to say, he does all right for himself with his Ipod, downloading from the computer. He can tell me things I didn't know about what type of switchblades were used in the Godfather movies, essential stuff to know at any age. He is light years ahead of where I was at his age, growing up overseas in a veritable wasteland of media and consequently in the absence of any ability to claim an American identity. It may seem superficial, but it is the currency of brotherhood in our times, references to Bonanza and the Gong Show for those of a certain age, Star Trek and Monty Python for others.
My wife and I, living all over the place for the first decade of our married lives, seeing a movie was a big deal. For awhile in St. Johnsbury we frequented the art movie house there, the Star Theater, and saw some stuff we thought was poignant and alive. And then the night she went into labor we were watching Manon of the Springs, which I'd seen in New York in the eighties. But we missed the entire run of Seinfeld, for instance, and there is no way we can get that back. We are the people who are not good at making small talk summertimes at the lake when the grownups are barbecuing and drinking beer around the picnic tables and trying to find the sense of connection with each other they haven't felt since college and the kids are running around and diving in the water or making sand castles and pretending. It's a pretty painful confession, but it is a fact. We are not connected. We need a better antennae. Or maybe not. Maybe we're just fine without it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Green with envy

You may have shared my once favorable opinion of the man, George Will. Like many conservative opinionators, he cultivates an air of objectivity and moderation. He's the guy who ostensibly would calmly explain to a bunch of feuding third graders that might does not lead to right, but only to further blows. Over the years, he has stood by and defended our role in Iraq, the widening gap between the rich and the poor in our country and around the world, the deteriorating state of the environment, torture, treason of the American dream, etc., and made it seem that in the end, the ideology of individual freedoms above social responsibilities deemed it so. And I don't watch the talk shows so I can't say with any fine grained detail how his world view may have been evolving most recently in the face of the collapse of all his most cherished verities. But the recent op-ed piece George wrote made it seem obvious to me that if I could get a close up view I would see some seriously pinwheeling eyes a la Disney cartoon evil bad guy.  In it, George is cheered by the fact that hard economic times may drive people to reject what he terms"greenness", the culture wars ally of "gayness", or "diversity". Seriously, he reminds me of the New Yorker cartoon of the two old people on the front porch as the rising flood waters wash away their yard, town, world, etc. In the cartoon one geezer turns to the other and says with great schadenfreude something like, "At least the tree-huggers across the street are going down." I will share my email response to George and encourage you to also contact him,, and help him "reengage with reality."

You lost me here, buddy. Your celebration of the bursting of the "green bubble" shows what a bubble head you've become. Thank God that the powers that be no longer are channeled into your version of reality or your right wing brand of fear mongering. Yes, it is true that much of what passes for green consumerism is mainly a reaction to guilt and the confusion produced by misinformation and ignorance of the issues. But there is no doubt that the crisis we face with global warming, climate change and the meltdown of our speculative, shell game of an economy has sparked a sea change in American spending habits and in our political culture --which has left you and your ilk hankering after the good old days when environmentalists could be dismissed as tree huggers in the public eye.

Reengagement with reality is indeed what is happening, as our country once again takes up its rightful place at the forefront of responsible nations seeking the path to a sustainable future, joined, I might add, in its efforts at establishing a new cap and trade system for carbon emissions by a list of large corporations that must make you swoon. But George, instead of joining with the forces of good and admitting you were wrong all these years, you are prematurely and backwardly braying, brandishing the widely discredited shibboleth of economic growth versus "greenness", whatever that vague term could mean (synonymous with redness perchance; you old red-baiter?).  Instead you will find that most people with any sense of objective reality will be celebrating the rationality which would lead us to a saner, scaled down version of the American dream. And yes, it is true that we are going through hard economic times, George. But to try to tie that in some vague way to the current greening of our culture (as seen most visibly in the Obama administration's recent policy proposals for higher fuel mileage in our cars and trucks) is to fight a rear guard action with lies. Give it up. I used to respect you as the voice of moderation. Now I see you are as crooked and unrepentant as Limbaugh.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunday Early Summer in the Life of the Weakened Warrior

Sunday, a day of rest and contemplation, a pause for reflection and refreshment. Not around this place. Not for the last month. The garden is in after many hours of digging beds, manuring, seeding, putting up pea fences and bean teepees, tomato trellises for the seedlings on the window sills. Then the two nights of late frost and Susan and I in the fields after putting the kids to bed scything off the grass and carrying arm-fulls of rich green sappy grass stalks, summer riches, up to the potato beds to cover up the frost tender plants. And then of course lacrosse and track seasons coming to an end and nothing could take the place of cheering your son on in the last lap of his 1600 meter race at the Connecticut Valley League Middle School championships in Lebanon yesterday. And watching his face strain with concentration as he sprinted down the runway and leaped 12.5 feet in the long jump. Never mind what you could have been doing with that day. The girls and I steal time together when we can. This morning it took me two hours to get the flooded mower started while Susan took a turn at a lacrosse game, and in between that and taking calls from prospective tenants on the rental cottage, Grace, Eve and I played Billalufa tag, which is where the monster Billalufa played by me tries to tag you. Billalufa always runs out of gas too soon. It will plague his memory to the girl's old age, I fear.
The garlic is two feet high now and we're eating salads from the greens, but then the sheep need shearing and hoof trimming and deworming and one of them, Snow White, the best mother of the bunch and one of the original six bought from the farm in Gilmanton Iron Works, is limping and we need to figure out if it's hoof rot or something incurred while shearing, some mysterious sheep lameness. They say things run in waves, and there does seem to be a pattern to the entropy that quickens with the longer sunlight hours. One of the kittens, Prancer, got hit by a car one evening a week ago and dragged herself to the front door with a broken leg. The vet, a kind guy building a house in the Mink Hills, and now I know how, manipulated the shattered femur bones back together for $500. Money well spent if you could see the excitement in the girl's eyes as we carried the cat carrier back to the car after Prancer's two days away from home. And he is sitting on my lap as I write this and slipping away between my legs with his useless leg, poor thing. 
Somebody asked me what all keeps you so busy and it's difficult to enumerate the many chores that go into keeping the farm running. The deeper underlying question, implicit it seems to me sometimes in the ignorance, is: Why do you do it? The cost benefit analysis would have to include the health of the larger organism, the farm, the family, the land, maybe even some planetary mojo of which we remain ignorant but necessarily bound up with. Man does not live by bread alone but by the Word of God, here taken to mean those values which go beyond the purely economic and neoliberal. Oh yes, and I've got work tomorrow again.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The human person fully alive

Yesterday we went for a family hike in the Mink Hills. The class VI road was mostly washed away. Beavers had improvised dams at several spots to keep the rush of spring melt on the land a little longer. At one fording Michael helped me pull a birch tree the beavers had cut down the hill and lay it across the bubbling stream as a make-do bridge. Clouds whipped overhead. We were trying to get to the Devil's Bowl, a rock formation that is fun to climb, but only got as far as the old small family cemetery with the weathered head stones at the junction of what are now several snowmobile trails before cold, wet feet forced us to turn around and try to get back down the snow-packed, muddy and washed out trail to our car.

Today it is sunny, milder, but that could change. Our first lamb, a black one, dozes beside its grazing mother on the hillside.

I spent Friday home, pulling together a response in an appeal of the Wheelabrator Concord's Title V permit. The state DES is being represented by the Attorney General's office and theyd sent in a motion to deny me standing, so hopefully my response will prove that I have standing in the case to appeal. This is a large municipal waste incinerator that handles garbage from around the state and many out of state haulers. We're 15 miles away as the crow flies. I'll include a link to the appeal here on the DES website. Click on the Mink Hills Center.

It's Palm Sunday. I have not been very good at observing Lenten vows to fast and pray, but I am reading a book on early Christianity and have liked a quote attributed to Irenaeus: "For the glory of God is the human person fully alive." Will try to get the kids to church today, which they hate. But they are always calmer and somehow closer to me after church.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Dialectic - From Boom to Bust to Healing

As Roy Morrison told us yesterday at the New England College Renewable Energy Forum, there is a dialectic at work today, the same one referred to in this essay by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, The Inflection is Near.  Never before has it been so clear that the biosphere and the social sphere are interdependent and that our planetary impact as a species has to be reconciled with the need for planetary healing. In other words, we've got to tune in to Mother Earth, people. We tree huggers are right, have been right, and now is our moment to proclaim at last. WE TOLD YOU SO. Loud and clear. All at once.

The same Gaiain mojo that brought us Barack Obama post George W. Bust has brought us to the moment when it is clear we can now begin to turn this ship around.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Today I Heard a New Sound of Ice Cracking

Friday at last. The weight of the week slips from my back like a curse. Free to be me. How's the song go. Don't have to be me 'til Monday. Who is me? Is this me, the tired old soul ruminating for the sake of proving to himself that he exists? When am I most myself? - in my dreams of course. I misspelled it curse, and our course does seem a curse some days, particularly Monday. But on Friday there is an illusion that we can still choose a direction, a style, a persona, and at least until midnight we can dance at the ball and pretend.

Midnight seems long past for many. On my drive home I see men in pickups whose faces seem battered, lined past the point of exhaustion, looking into the sun coming down and into oncoming traffic for a recognition of shared pain and anxiety. But then there's the builder down the road taking vacation week with the wife and kids and heading for Jamaica. I guess he figures he'll go now and worry later about when the economy will come around.

At the Bradford mini mart, the convenience store, (boy does that seem an old-fashioned turn of phrase) - the Indian guy in the back row of strange brandy bottles is tacking up pieces of tape. I ask him if he's got some take-out. A friend of ours told us years ago about the place and just today I get an email from the wife suggesting I stop on the way home. I forgot. When I got home I remembered and offered to run back out down the road the 15 miles to the junction after swinging Eve and Grace around the dining room. Michael's been spending the entire week at Pat's Peak snowboarding with the season pass he got for Christmas.

Anyway, the place fills up while he's serving me chicken curry and vegetable curry into the two tin foil takeout dishes from the plexiglass cart beside the counter. A huge man in Carhart pants and flannel coat is looking over the magazine rack while his son asks about some sugary goo in a toothpaste tube by the cash register.
What's this Daddy
The man laughs a friendly giant baritone and says you don't need it anyhow.
Then a young guy with a sharp face, smiling walks in and loudly greets the Indian owner, now ringing up the giant and his son's potato chips, two bags, one for each. Is that dinner, I wonder. The young guy could be a skin head, he has that look of borderline malevolence that would fit in well on the Edgeware Road. The Indian guy smiles back at him, friendly enough, but I sense just an edge of aggression.
People still gotta eat and drive cars
The Indian guy laughs.
That's what supposed, he answers.
This could go in a lot of different ways, I'm thinking as I pay my eighteen bucks for the curry and pack of frozen Tandoori bread. The young guy next sees someone he knows back in the rows of canned and bagged shit and starts talking about some other mutual aquaintance recently sighted out ice fishing, and again I think this is new, this recession talk tinged with just surviving, a new era in our lives. What will these young guys do if it gets worse. What would anybody do? 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

French Pond Road - Chapter Three

A flashback to 1995 and Angela, Kagan's mother-in-law, is deciding to leave for Venezuela with Mickey.

"Reiss began to choke on a meatball."

Can This Be Real?

I have been following the global warming saga since 1994 when I worked as a campaigner for Friends of the Earth in Europe on energy and atmosphere issues. For over a decade I have felt a growing sense of despair at my country's inability to take on this issue and its responsibility as the world's largest polluter. I turned against Gore at one point because the Clinton White House did nothing about it after taking a beating on Gore's proposed BTU tax. While Bush was in the White House, I did what I could, helping green candidates in their quixotic attempts to run for local office, taking on garbage incinerators when the neighbors said I was misguided. At least, I told myself, I can tell my grandchildren, and my grandparents someday, hopefully, that I tried. I voted for Obama with a hope that at last the tide was turning as we faced down a collapse on all fronts. But now, reading Gore as he speaks to the Senate, there is a giddy sense of a revolution taking place and I can only hope that the dinosaurs are heading to the exits as fast as their big feet can carry them.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Forgive and forget? Pass the amnesia

Why do our instincts for forgiveness and mercy find their highest expression when exercised on behalf of the most powerful in the land? An example - Martha Stewart walks free after a couple of months at a spa that doubles as an incarceration unit for white collar criminals while some unemployed black kid with a couple of marijuana joints for sale gets sent up for twenty years. 

So here is Barack Obama saying he'd rather concentrate on the future then spend time recriminating about the errors of the Bush administration. At first glance, about the time we get to focus on a headline before moving on to other concerns, a ringing cell phone, a child whining for lunch, it seems an admirable decision, in line with Obama's high road political style which has won him so much in so little time. But there's the matter of accountability that gets left out when we rush into the future. On the other hand I believe our easy going democracy is what sets us apart from many nations.  I remember for instance when I lived in England and watched parliamentary dealings on the BBC and couldn't help but cringe when the Honorable George Jones from Merseyside bellowed for someone's hide because the pound had devalued unexpectedly. Here Washington seems so far away it's easy for us to pretend it didn't happen - there never were orders for torture, never was a rush to war based on misinformation and propaganda that made the Soviets seem like amateurs, never was an energy policy drawn up behind closed doors in sessions with oil industry executives. Our ship seems righted once more, so why not get on with things? Don't worry, be happy.

But wouldn't it be great if the rich and powerful were made to actually feel the pain of their decisions? Or is it better to forgive and forget? I believe the criminality of the Bush administration, carried over from past Republican administrations, needs to be dealt with in a more serious manner if we aren't intending to suffer historical amnesia. Do I think there will be commissions appointed, war crimes trials and the like in Washington any time in the future? Not any more likely than the revolution of the powerless. A better bet is a black guy getting the death penalty for shooting a cop. If you want a morality play go to the movies. Every thing else is also anesthesia.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

French Pond Road - Chapter Two - No Man's Land

Mickey and Cata burning up the road on a Kawasaki 650. Listen to Mickey's thoughts as they find a place to camp for the night.

In the new year I could use a little escape myself, but am at the stage in life where there's no going back, and the way ahead looks long and arduous. That's why writing this was fun, because I could look back on my teenage years when burning up the road was the imperative need, felt right, was right was the code to live by, and didn't have many people I needed to apologize to at any one time. Now, it's a different brand of coffee I drink. But that's another story, another conversation. 

Not that I'm having many good conversations, either. This blog is an interesting theoretical construct in that it resembles a void. But there is a sense that there must be some consciousness touched somewhere on some level, even if it's just some large machine, some form of groupthink that's being raised. And let's not kid ourselves, entire careers can be spent in the dark. Down all the days.