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29 August, 2011

Fear and Loathing (and bliss?!) in the San Juans.

Last week, I traveled to one of the San Juan Islands. Sounds like a place in Latino Latitudes, but they are our northernmost islands, ever since I stopped counting Alaska. After S. Palin said she could see Russia from there, oligarchniks have quietly been buying back pieces of it, and they now own enough land, oil futures, and moorages to have reversed Seward's Folly.

Meanwhile, down south, I sat on the deck of a small workboat, skimming o'er glassy waters on the way to my favorite island this side of Kaua'i. It was an international expedition, more or less, there being employees of two sovereign nations aboard, but tensions were low. My coffee buzz, borne of a 4AM wake-up and 2 or 3 hours of not-quite-as-fast-as-that-douchebag-in-the-BMW driving, was gone by then, and the remainder were northwesterners, cool enough not to let their 30% caffeine bloodstream affect their behavior. 

My job was to make sure a little hilltop was an OK place--archaeologically speaking--to plant a small weather station. I knew this would only take a few minutes, but was interested in what the reps of this other nation had to say about the whereabouts of a place that all of us agree exists, but none of us has been able to locate on a map, much less on the ground. Or, too many people have been able to locate it on a map, but they don't agree. Not violently, or even vehemently, more in the manner of a loss collective.

So there was no drama. No conflict. No more to write about.

So I ambled over to a place where some workers had been, uh, working. With big machines. And they'd gone where they were not supposed to. And obliterated some stuff. 

Irrevocably. Done. Nothing more to say.

So I continued to the south beach. Solo, toward the solace of data collection. The home of a man who invented a particular kind of mill saw, reduced for the time being to notes and numbers. Measured, sketched, GPS'd, until there are hours to rediscover the stories and graft them back to this bare limbwork. Sounds dull as it gets, but the uncreative busy work soothed me just then.

Moving on, it was time to climb. 600 or so feet up is the summit of a hill called Olivine, and for part of the way I followed old miners' roads, weaving twixt boulders loosed from earth but not barged away. Higher still, heading for a bald patch where I might have left a bag carrying camera and binocs, lost on the last trip here. In the camera, a memory card holding the only images of that place that had been torn away by machines. In the binocular lenses and dark interior, lagging photons showing 21 years of birds and cliffs, of places unreachable and just plain look-worthy. Memory and data, at waypoint 680. Maybe.

But only after crumbly cliffs and a final steep ascent under a sun as glaring as it gets in these northern islands (Not saying that much, Hawaiians, but acclimated me felt hot.) And there, in the place I had sat: nothing. No camera, no binoculars. Oh well. A pretty day, views down to the island (and a camera to catch 'em), the channels, more islands and straits, ocean. Boats unzipping wakes. A bell clanging in its language, inscrutably charming to my ignorant ears.

It was all downhill from there, beginning easily enough with a trail. Becoming a trace. Then just places less tangled than others. Then ever more precipitous slope, alternating between slick bedrock and loose talus made one by a moss skin over a skeleton of roots and rot. One leg carefully lowering my entire weight, then the other. Zig-zag switch-back, starting to wonder if I'd be back to the dock on time at this gastropodean pace.

On the other hand, it gave me time to appreciate the ancient fire-scarred trees scattered in this slanted forest. Occasional grandfathers, gnarled and interesting, surrounded by young'uns. 

I was looking up at one, it's branches akimbo with codgerhood and a disregard for verticality not tolerated in the tree farms and young forests I usually travel. Hunter S. had gotten that way in his old age, and years earlier had been nearly as curmudgeonly in his dismissal of amateurs one toke over the line, scoffing that until they'd dealt with the acid bats descending near Barstow, they had nothing to whine about.

And maybe getting all worked up over a hallucination is not that big a deal either. Imaginary bats swooping from the sky may be bad, but real yellow-jackets swarming up from their nest in the depths of hell ain't no picnic either. I'd been strung three times  before my body responded. They never really entered my vision, barely nicked my consciousness as anything other than pain when I took off in a clumsy cetacean approximation of running. Another sting, and realization that I'd be stung to death and devoured by the yellow-jackets at this rate.

I either stumbled or decided to jump, who knows? In any case, I looked down-slope and saw my feet before me, plowing downhill as I slid my butt across moss and logs, bouncing off rocks, pawing and clutching at whatever could help me steer this descent, maybe keep it from accelerating out of control (any more than it was). Extreme luge...sleds and ice are for panty-wastes. My mind thinking only of getting away from bees. Eyes pitching in by trying to spot a precipice before it was too late, and managing to do so.

Stop. Stand. Stung.

Again with the mad down-ward dash. Hop and lope, slide and hope. Managing to stick most of the landings and surf over a salal patch without it clutching me. Finally finding myself having covered a lot of ground, much closer to my destination. More importantly, out of the airspace of the squadron scrambled to chase me away. Not long after, I walked onto another old road, ambling calmly dockward. About 5 stings big enough to qualify, but no gashes, serious bruises, or broken bones sticking out of my skin. 

All in all, not a bad day.

08 August, 2011


Why did Congress not insert a line into the budget for paying off the US credit rating agencies?

It worked for the financial firms who were busy trading toxic products that companies--including Standard and Poors, which just downgraded the US rating--winked at and rated highly, causing the economic crisis we are now in. Nobody went to jail over that, and the corrupt bastards who put in the fix made out like the bandits they are.

Reporters spill ink and bits over the rationale for the downgrade, while pundits conjure up whatever consequences will entertain their audiences. Here's a basic article from the Washington Post; you may not agree with that organization's politics, but the story mostly limits itself to the facts of the case.

While missing the point almost entirely.

The downgrade is a perfect metaphor for our government's demise. Ever since Reagan, the Depublican Party has wanted the government to shrink (in the case of ideologically driven zealots) or at least demur to The Market (in the case of the business wing). Now, a company whose complicity in massive fraud should have resulted in a decimation as the culpable employees were hauled off to prison is instead punishing the government (and along with it, the local governments and commoners who have run of the mill investments, and who must borrow money on the open market). The administration reportedly objected, but was as impotent in maintaining AAA status as it was in negotiating with the GOP.

Is there any question who is in charge?

Decades of de-regulation gave big business the freedom to make more money than ever, with less obligation than ever to society at large. The "too big to fail" myth and some well-timed extortion gave them a windfall when their filthy house of cards fell, a massive transfer of wealth from public coffers (I chipped in, and so did you, most likely) to corporations and companies. And now, just to let the government know who is in charge, the perpetrators decide it's time to downgrade the government and let the stock market dive.

Well, not entirely to punish the government. 

Because if you follow the money, you see some interesting side benefits, and maybe some structural change that makes the upper hand that business already enjoys that much stronger. The stock market was probably due for a correction anyway, having gained value more on the basis of speculation than the anemic and jobless "recovery." With no major corporate welfare on the horizon, the smart money jumped out at the opportune moment when it would punish the administration (after all, Obama only gives them 95% of what they want) and, oh yeah, make a pile of money while the suckers flounder and panic.

And now, with its less than pristine bond rating, the US government can expect to pay more to borrow that money. This is one arena where trickle down theory is likely to come true. States, counties, and municipalities are likely to see interest rates rise as well. Consumers (the name for what used to be called "citizens" in quaint times gone by), if and when financial institutions decide to start loaning more openly from their enormous reserves, can also count on paying more. 

It infuriates me to see the mastery with which this has been played by the wealthy few. They own enough representatives and senators to make sure that they are never substantially constrained in their practices, and mock the ability of regulators to keep up with their sophisticated larcenous financial instruments. When their more ridiculous gambles go awry, they demand that the government bail them out. If populist anger should tempt the congressional puppets to think twice, actions like the downgrade remind them of the big capitalist thumb holding them down.

The stated basis for the S & P downgrade--that the debt ceiling debate brinksmanship reeks of dysfunction, that there is no reason for confidence that the same clowns will come up with the majority of cuts promised, and so on--is entirely plausible. But then why did they not come to similarly wise conclusions before the private sector imploded our economy?

The takeover is complete. Now, maybe Wall Street solons will be freed from having to spend tours of duty in the cramped and underpaid offices at Treasury, Commerce, and the Federal Reserve, and just issue their orders from the board rooms where power truly resides. Unless the people demand it (and that seems unlikely so far), the government has been downgraded, and the financial leaders are fully in charge.

03 August, 2011

Omigod Man

Aside from the online POTA (Planet of the Apes) crowd, almost nobody looks to me for film criticism. Maybe because I know so little, and don't know any of the names to drop or references to make.  Also, I like to review movies way after they come out; I'm averaging nearly 4 decades after release, for I am The Procrastacritic.

In 1970 (+/-3), Heston embarked on a trio (plus the POTA sequel, if you wanna count that, which I don't) of sci-fi flicks, each set in an earthly future rendered dark and dystopian by human folly: the Hestopian Trilogy. Planet of the Apes kicked it off, and Soylent Green finished it. In my usual shiftless way I arrive last at the middle: Omega Man, a post-apocalyptic costume drama. Like the others in this triptych of hubristic humanity gone awry, OM returns to certain aspects of the species Homo hestonii: his journey from adventurous gay man to abusive heterosexual, pathological criminalism, and race relations.

We begin with the decked out in sweaty suave, epaulettes rippling in the breeze as he speeds though an abandoned city in a big red caddy (Hunter Thompson appropriated the caddy and sense of doom for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). The stylish safari look was judged just right for the character, Robert Neville, indulging in his twin passions of looting and shooting, and was so popular with audiences that studio execs green-lighted the epaulettes' re-appearance in Soylent Green.

He is alone, Colonel Neville, the reward and curse for having saved himself from a man-made plague while all around him perished (not having had the Hestonian wisdom to be germ warfare scientists themselves). Now, he must spend days hunting down and killing zombies. At night, he plays chess with a bust of Julius Caesar, and furthers the costume aspect of the movie by saying "I dress for dinner on Sundays," sporting a green velour jacket and ruffled blouses.

But let us not dwell on sartoriality, let us get to the point of the movie, which is…I'm not sure. So why not just make fun of the oddities? Three years after everyone died and presumably failed to produce more food, and Neville's got a fresh fruit platter and a string of bratwurst; there's always ice in the silver bucket. Car and flashlight batteries remain fresh forever in this miraculous world, different than the 1978 I lived through, where we had crappy batteries that lasted six months. Finally, in a world full of stores, Heston's natural looting mania seems to be focused mainly on clothes, expressing his every mood (to whom?) with a new outfit for every occasion.

Then there's The Family, a multiracial zombie-ish coven (disaster strikes a few years after the big race riots, so of course the first thing the survivors to is get together in harmony, right?). Well, almost harmony, because the black guy in The Family is dishonest and violent. So much for progess: the innovation of the movie is to have black people in white-face make-up. The strangest thing is that after three years of intensive searching, Neville has not found them, even though the first kid he meets knows exactly where they are.

He(ston) wants to root out their nest, kill them all before they kill him. Were they really trying to kill him before he took to shooting them on sight? I'm not so sure, but  as usual when encountering the Other in Hestopia, the only solution is to shoot, for god's sake, SHOOT! Oh, and drive like a fucking maniac (because when you are the last man on earth, every car is a rental). Costume-wise: he usually chooses something militaryey looking for ops like this, like when time was of the essence and he managed to slip into a form-fitting blue rayon flight suit.

Eventually, Neville trips across a group of survivor children (awww), protected by an aspiring germ warfare doctor (no, no stretching the limits of plausibility there), who he should have taught how to make the anti-zombification serum. But instead, he goes to the only other healthy adult, so that he can have The Kiss That Changed The World (sorta,...OK, not really).

For she is African American. Yeah. And Chuck Heston is as white a Moses as you'll ever see. Of course, this shocking romance occurred years after Poitier and Hepburn had made the move on the big screen; even Shatner and Uhuru had blazed the trail on TV while Heston was avoiding women altogether on POTA. So Omega Man kisses a black woman, subject to certain rules: there must be a false start, the kiss itself must not be lit well enough to see, and she must die before there is an issue with, uh, shall we say, issue. The costume for this scene is an pirate shirt with understated puffy sleeves.

If I don't understand what this movie is about, it's not for lack of trying by the authors and director, who beat me about the head and neck with symbolism. They foreshadow and then at the end indulge in crucifixion, savior Neville arms asplay, passing a vial of his own blood to the future that they might be saved zombification by the Pharisees or Pagans, or whoever those anti germ warfare freaks are.

02 August, 2011

Depublican Hegemony's Money Hedge

First of all: Depublican may look like one of those Republicrat chimera words, combining the two party names, but it is not (even though the percentage of Republican vs Democrat would accurately reflect the current balance of power).

Depublican refers to anti-government sentiment, the desire to de-public the nation. Always a Republican ideal, but adopted by their pliant alleged opposition. Democrats, who as a party once allied themselves with the working class and disadvantaged, have assented to too many assaults on the populace to claim that they believe in serving the public.

The debt ceiling deal just revealed to the public illustrates this. The GOP paraded it's most radical wing again and again during negotiations, while "liberal" democrats (defined as anyone who wants to maintain a shred of social safety net) were silenced and marginalized as the main party engaged in its usual waltz to what is called the "center," but which by any 20th Century definition would have been pretty far right. The "compromise" that emerged consisted of known cuts to domestic social spending, further cuts to be determined, and no rollback of the Bush Dynasty's give-aways and tax breaks to wealthy individuals and corporations. 

Follow the money, and what is it doing? Flowing from the pockets of the working class into the coffers of the investor class, not back to the general public benefit. Pieces of the government are starved as a result. Depublicans are glad to see this, never having liked government, and in the few areas where their dim minds did see some benefit, they feel that privatization of government functions is always the answer: replace public education with charter schools (and if that fails, throw them kids in a for-profit prison), continue replacing military functins with security contractors, and so on. Depublic the gummint.

Depublishing helps smooth the way. Dumb down the 5th estate until all it does is repeat press releases, and make sure it presents both sides of the story, no matter how vacuous or harmful one side may be (if you must skip one side, let it be the "liberal" one). Steer away from facts in black and white, and toward "perspective" on a screen, ready to be deleted and replaced as the situation demands. Replace critical readers with products of an education system geared toward standardized testing and vocational placement. Decrease the percentage of coverage that deals with matters of import, and increase (un)Reality TV and entertainment news. 

Why do all this? Why wreck the country? Being from the South, I recognize part of it as simple racism. Richmond VA and Washington DC are examples. African American majorities elected their own leaders, and whites left, depleting property tax revenue to the point that the new leaders faced financial crisis (sounding familiar yet?). In both cases, whites maintained leverage over what happened in the cities, in DC to a ridiculous and colonialistic extent.

But the real reason to wreck it is not to make white people better off than black people. At least, not all of them. Follow the money, and you will see that a large portion of Euro-Americans get screwed by Depublican policy. Like most everyone else, they are becoming worse off, while the oligarchs (mostly white, for sure, but the main qualification is a heart of pure greed, and that knows no color) are rolling in the cut. The Tea Partiers, the lumpen mass of idiots who heed the commercials and skew the polls ever more to the right, they wll end up just as bad off as the rest. Poor dupes.

The way to mobilize this idiotic army of voters (a necessary evil to the Depublicans until they find a way to eliminate voting) is not all that much different than what Goebbels did during the mid-century German experiment. Cover the airwaves with the Big Lie. Repeat until True. If possible (and it was, thanks to the Bush Dynasty's ever-handy Supreme Court), present the propaganda as free speech, have them open the doors to unlimited corporate spending in a case called "Citizens United," a master stroke of doublespeak. Let the people vote, but make sure they are not actually deciding anything. 

This has gone on long enough that the US now represents the corrupt 3rd world regimes I was told about as a kid. A few rich people run things, fair deals are few and far between, and the great majority of people are kept in place with whatever combination of destitution, drugs, disinformation, and disharmony can be delivered.

Can it be reversed? Sure. It usually is. The Depublicans are protecting themselves by amassing all the wealth, but even the big hedge can fall to the small axe. The problem is that the process can get difficult, ugly, even bloody. And it requires the public to take action. No leader will lift us out. Look at how quickly our president went from Hope and E Pluribus Unum to handing over the keys to the Depublicans. There can be no Of the People, By the People, and For the People if we sit and wait.