Todd Walton: Propaganda of Childhood



“What we remember from childhood we remember forever—permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen.” Cynthia Ozick

The propaganda of my childhood said that Santa Claus rewards children for being good by giving them what they want. And long after I figured out that my parents were Santa Claus, I continued to believe that the reason I never got what I wanted was because I was not good. Every year I was given clothing I did not want, books I did not want, and things my father wanted, so that as I unwrapped those gifts he would chortle, “What a coincidence. Just what I needed.”

However, when I was ten-years-old, my parents gave me a real bow and arrows with steel tips, something I had been asking for since I was old enough to ask for something. And when I went outside to shoot that bow and arrows, and found that my father had also bought a bale of hay to which he had affixed a beautiful target, I was more than happy; I was filled to bursting with the sense of being good.

I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.” Shirley Temple

In response to the depressing fact that the latest tax bill signed into law by President Obama actually increases taxes on the poorest 150 million Americans while allowing the super wealthy to pay no taxes at all, a friend remarked, “That doesn’t fit with the propaganda of our childhood.” And her comment struck me as a cogent explanation for why my peers and I continue to be so deeply disappointed by the machinations of the corporate overlords as carried out by their trusty puppets. And her comment also explained why we, the people,

Herb Ruhs: Looting The Country

Anderson Valley

“…ensuring that government of the banks, by the banks, for the banks shall not perish from the Earth.” – from: In Money-Changers We Trust by Robert Scheer

This otherwise great article by Scheer is still pussy footing around the fact of a blatant, and not too concealed, financial conspiracy to loot the country and reinvest overseas by the wealthy of this country led by the banking industry.  The article does come close enough in its analysis and list of perpetrators for folks without blinders to see the general plan and conduct of the greatest looting in history.  US corporations are adding jobs faster than ever, only just not in the US. Looted money seeks a home to invest in and it is not here. I wonder if, a little down the road, it won’t be in the banks interest to just cut the umbilical and collapse the US dollar and do business in other currencies.

For the time being the only thing preventing a total financial abandonment of the nation that is the need for the Military to recruit soldiers in the US. With the current high unemployment of military aged individuals in the US that problem is temporarily solved. However, with its rampant contracting the US military is coming to depend on US recruitment less.  Lots of ruthless mercenaries looking for work out there, and the support services, always a large proportion of any force as compared to combat units, are already filled by non-US citizens.  So, if you count effectiveness in the way that was done throughout history to include support units, the US Army is ALREADY not a majority native US force.

Historically, when empires reach this point where foreign mercenaries outnumber citizens – in the case of Rome the “barbarian” legions, British the sepoys, Hessians, Gurkas, etc. –  the empire is overextended and doomed. The book Sorrows of Empire

WikiLeaks does what journalists are supposed to do — piss off powerful people.

Thanks to Anna Taylor

Truth Telling and the End of Democracy

[…] Put simply, Wikileaks is a journalistic organization. They serve as a clearinghouse for whistleblowers from public and private organizations around the world to leak documents into the public domain. Unlike more traditional news organizations, however, Wikileaks collects, categorizes, and releases raw data, unprocessed by spin. By skipping the value-laden contextualization we commonly associate with, and recognize as, journalism, Wikileaks is as close as it gets to being an unbiased source of news—with their only biases coming in the form of what they chose to release…

Wikileaks isn’t particularly about government documents. It’s about raw data. Their sourcing and verification of raw data has earned them awards for investigative reporting—a reporting that often leaves its analysis to readers or other reporters. Much of what they’ve reported since their 2007 launch has focused on corporate crime. For example, they’ve taken on the private entity that collects highway tolls in Germany and that country’s private health insurance providers. They’ve exposed labor problems at a private, for-profit education corporation in the US. They’ve exposed illegal, immoral, or reckless dealings by banks in Britain, Switzerland, Iceland, the Cayman Islands, and the US. They’ve exposed illegal toxic dumping, suppressed details on a leaky Japanese nuclear reactor, and the so-called “climate-gate” emails that were embraced by Republican climate-change deniers.

Wikileaks has also exposed government corruption in Kenya, East Timor, and the Turks and Caicos Islands, to name a few examples. They laid bare the nuts and bolts of Internet censorship in China and Thailand. They released documents investigating alleged corruption in Shriners hospitals,

**Greater Ukiah Transition Meeting


The time has come for those of us in the Ukiah area to join together and begin the work of transitioning to a future beyond fossil fuels.  This is a grassroots movement that seeks to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis.  It empowers people in the community to work together to strengthen it against the effects of these challenges, resulting in a life that is more sustainable, equitable and socially connected.  This meeting is for those who would like to learn more about the Transition Movement and who are interested in becoming part of the core group to help lead this effort.

Meeting time, Tuesday, January 11th, 5:15 – 6:45 PM, Saturday Afternoon Clubhouse, 107 S. Oak St., Ukiah.  Optional potluck.

Contact, Debora, 462-9392, if you plan to attend.

Bring your vision, passion, and commitment to help create the change we know is possible.

Will Parrish: California — Epicenter of the Great Unraveling


When the Great Unraveling of the world financial system began in earnest three years ago, the the term “Wall Street” instantly emerged as the main shorthand for big business interests that pull the strings of global politics and the economy. In the US’ increasingly impoverished political discourse, the phrase is often used interchangeably with “Corporate America” now.

Politicians from both major parties have recently issued forth countless verbal blusters about the undue economic influence wielded by “Wall Street” mega-firms — all the while helping enrich those same firms with nearly every figurative stroke of their legislative pens, as with the “tax cut” compromise measure just passed by the US Congress.

To the extent that this overriding focus on the activities of Wall Street bankers reflects some sort of new class struggle in the US, it is a fine and righteous tendency. In recent decades, America’s class war has been almost entirely one-sided. Two-thirds of the income gains made between 2002 and 2007 went to the top one percent of U.S. households. By contrast, real wealth among the bottom half shrank in that same period, having stagnated since the mid-1970s. To say that most people would benefit from a renaissance of American working class militancy, ala the massive upheavals in the fields and factories of the 1930s, would be a gross understatement — particularly with Medicare and Social Security now inching ever closer to the chopping block.

But the popular narrative that suggests “Wall Street” as the source of all global economic woes obscures more compelling explanations for the financial crisis. It also serves to disempower those who might otherwise strive to combat the ongoing

William Greider’s critique of the traditional media’s Social Security failure

From digby

Nyhan Prize winner and political reporter William Greider discusses why the traditional media has failed so drastically on reporting Social Security with CJR’s Trudy Lieberman.

Trudy Lieberman: What are we to make of this consensus on fixes to Social Security that some in the media tell us has been reached?

William Greider: This is a staggering scandal for the media. I have yet to see a straightforward, non-ideological, non-argumentative piece in any major paper that describes the actual condition of Social Security. The core fact is that Social Security has not contributed a dime to the deficit, but has piled up trillions in surpluses, which the government has borrowed and spent. Social Security’s surpluses have actually offset the impact of the deficit, beginning with Reagan.

TL: Why don’t reporters report this?

WG: They identify with the wisdom of the elites who don’t want to talk about this—because if people understand that Social Security has a $2.5 trillion surplus, building toward more than $4 trillion, people will ask why are politicians trying to cut Social Security benefits?

TL: Is that why coverage has been so one-sided?

WG: Most reporters, with few exceptions, assume the respectables are telling the truth about Social Security, when it is really propaganda. What elites are saying is deeply misleading, and they deliberately are distorting the story. But reporters think they are smart people and must know what they are talking about….

WG: Most reporters who cover difficult areas typically develop sources, and they write for those sources. They don’t want to offend them

10 Great MoJo Long Reads


Conventional wisdom is that people don’t read long magazine stories online, but Mother Jones readers regularly prove otherwise. Every time we run a compelling, multipage article on our website, we find that many of you read all the way to the end…and comment, tweet, Facebook, and Tumble enthusiastically about details deep into the story. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over a long weekend (including you lucky ones with new iPads)? Below, a selection of our (and our readers’) best-loved MoJo long reads from 2010.

What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?
A nighttime raid. A reality TV crew. A sleeping seven-year-old. What one tragedy can teach us about the unraveling of America’s middle class.
By Charlie LeDuff

Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason
Glenn Beck loves them. Tea Partiers court them. Congressmen listen to them. Meet the fast-growing “patriot” group that’s recruiting soldiers to resist the Obama administration.
By Justine Sharrock

The Ongoing Mysteries of the Elizabeth Smart Case
The verdict is in. But questions—about polygamy, prophecy, and insanity—remain.
By Scott Carrier

The Deadly Corruption of Clinical Trials
When you risk life and limb to help test a drug, are you helping science—or Big Pharma? One patient’s tragic, and telling, story.
By Carl Elliott

Glenn Beck’s Golden Fleece
How Beck and other right-wing talkers turned paranoia into a pitch for Goldline, the gold dealer one congressman says is conspiring to “cheat consumers.”
By Stephanie Mencimer

What Does It Matter?


We are living in the most destructive and, hence, the most stupid period of the history of our species. The list of its undeniable abominations is long and hardly bearable. And these abominations are not balanced or compensated or atoned for by the list, endlessly reiterated, of our scientific achievements. Some people are moved, now and again, to deplore one abomination or another. Others – and Hayden Carruth is one – deplore the whole list and its causes. Much protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protesters who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence. – Wendell Berry “A Poem of Difficult Hope”

In the circles I run and write in, it is a common device to claim that other thinkers and writers have failed to understand the real, deepest cause of our problems, and have instead embarked upon too superficial a narrative. What’s fascinating about this is that the thinkers doing so are almost always correct – that is, they nearly always right that someone has missed a deep underlying cause. The reason for this is that causes are nearly as ample as effects. Thus, the person who laments America’s dependence on foreign oil sources can be usefully corrected by someone who observes that the problem is everyone’s dependence on a finite resource, rather than a geopolitical error of resource development. The same person, speaking of finite resources can be accurately corrected by someone who observes that a growing population is the “real problem”

Book Review: The Witch of Hebron


A good novel is one that conjures images that linger. It creates characters that you feel a variety of emotions toward. The person stands in front of you and you can imagine interacting with them. You know whether you’d invite them to dinner or bar the door when they come knocking. A good novel does more than have a plot, an adventure, a tale. It brings you into the lives and times of the characters and gives you a chance to feel what they must feel, share their wishes and dreams, and hope along with them for the best (or the worst) as you move through the story. You sympathize, feel anger toward, want to comfort or hold your breath saying to yourself “No, don’t do that!” knowing quite well that the character will in fact do that very thing.

And you understand why.

For me then, as a clinical psychologist, a good novel is all about character development, even more so than it is about the demographics, diversity, or employment opportunities of those characters. Like a good meal, it leaves you satisfied after you finish it and haunts your thoughts. It may also bring lively debate…

The Witch of Hebron

Let me state for the record that I love the last two novels by James Howard Kunstler, and I’ll read every upcoming one eagerly. The characters have stayed with me, like friends I know, and I care about. I find no misstep in Kunstler’s novel for his lack of full-blown, in-depth female characters. Okay, so Jim’s women are courtesans, mystics/magicians, or wives, but I look at it this way: If you want vivid female characters, write your own novel. Or wait for his next installment. I don’t slam people for what they don’t write, I prefer to look at the stories they do tell, and this is a great continuing tale. Both books are a very entertaining

The merger of journalists and government officials


[…] (1) Over the last month, I’ve done many television and radio segments about WikiLeaks and what always strikes me is how indistinguishable — identical — are the political figures and the journalists. There’s just no difference in how they think, what their values and priorities are, how completely they’ve ingested and how eagerly they recite the same anti-WikiLeaks, “Assange = Saddam” script.  So absolute is the WikiLeaks-is-Evil bipartisan orthodoxy among the Beltway political and media class (forever cemented by the joint Biden/McConnell decree that Assange is a “high-tech Terrorist,”) that you’re viewed as being from another planet if you don’t spout it.  It’s the equivalent of questioning Saddam’s WMD stockpile in early 2003.

It’s not news that establishment journalists identify with, are merged into, serve as spokespeople for, the political class:  that’s what makes them establishment journalists.  But even knowing that, it’s just amazing, to me at least, how so many of these “debates” I’ve done involving one anti-WikiLeaks political figure and one ostensibly “neutral” journalist — on MSNBC with The Washington Post‘s Jonathan Capehart and former GOP Congresswoman Susan Molinari, on NPR with The New York Times‘ John Burns and former Clinton State Department official James Rubin, and last night on CNN with Yellin and Townsend — entail no daylight at all between the “journalists” and the political figures.  They don’t even bother any longer with the pretense that they’re distinct or play different assigned roles.  I’m not complaining here — Yellin was perfectly fair and gave me ample time — but merely observing how inseparable are most American journalists from the political officials they “cover.”

Peak Oil Association: Predictions for 2011

Click on Post Title to expand cartoon

Via Energy Bulletin

Everyone in the Peak Oil Community knows the danger of making predictions. As the poet Burns framed it, “The best-laid schemes o’Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley.” What gang aft agley more often than our energy and environmental situation these days? Trying to call the future is a challenging project. But ASPO-USA and Peak Oil Review have combined to pull together predictions about what we can expect in 2011 from a wide range of thinkers, writers, scholars and experts, who graciously agreed to risk being wrong so that you can have the inside scoop!

I believe that oil prices in the US will average $88-92 a barrel in 2011 but may climb toward $100 by the end of the year, while natural gas prices in the US will average $4.00-4.25 in 2011 but may climb toward $5.00 by the end of the year. I believe that much of the “shale gale” euphoria will begin to unravel in 2011 and there may be some important distress situations or even bankruptcies that will underscore the risk of these ventures. I suspect that the rush to “liquids-rich” gas plays in the US will be exposed as low-resource potential ventures rather than another Saudi Arabia of crude oil. I imagine that the miracle of Chinese growth will begin to show some weakness in 2011 as state-directed economics becomes unstable. The PBC has been artificially keeping inflation low by buying dollars and creating bonds to keep the money supply low. The loans for big infrastructure projects will not uniformly perform. This cannot last. True inflation is higher than revealed and, when it is known, will show the vulnerability of the economy because the rural sector is not sharing prosperity with the urban sector. Sovereign debt problems in Europe

Rebooting the American Dream — Chapter Seven: Cool Our Fever

Article with footnotes here

We live in a democracy and policies represent our collective will. We cannot blame others. If we allow the planet to pass tipping points…it will be hard to explain our role to our children. We cannot claim…that “we didn’t know.”

– Jim Hansen, Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

I have taken the four-hour train ride from the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, to the Bavarian town of Stadtsteinach in the Frankenwald often enough to know it by heart. I look out the window and see the familiar sights – the towns, the rivers, the houses.

I have visited Stadtsteinach many times over the past 30 years, working with Salem International, a relief organization headquartered in that town. The community for abused kids that Louise and I founded in New Hampshire is based on its family-oriented model, and we have helped start Salem programs in Australia, Colombia, India, Israel, Peru, Russia, and Uganda, among others. So at least once a year I’ve made it back to Germany, and we lived there for a year in the mid-1980s.

But during the past decade, as the train rolls along eastward from Frankfurt, I’ve seen a dramatic change in the scenery and the landscape. First there were just a few: purplish-blue reflections, almost like deep, still water, covering large parts of the south-facing roofs as I looked north out the window of the train. Solar panels.

Then, over the next few years, the purplish-blue chunks began to spread all over, so now when I travel that route it seems like about a third—and in many towns even more—of all the roofs

Reading Archaeologically

Author, The Creative Habit

I read for a lot of reasons, pleasure being the least of them.

I read competitively, remembering Mark Twain’s admonition that “the man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.

Mostly, I read for inspiration. But what inspires me is probably not the same as what inspires or pleases the general populace. Although I’m interested in characters and story line and sheer information, I usually read with a specific purpose. I’m searching for patterns and archetypes, concepts and situations that are so basic to the human condition that they’ll connect with an audience in a fundamental way, whether or not the audience is aware of the connection.

I tend to read “archaeologically.” Meaning, I read backwards in time. I’ll start with a contemporary book and then move on to a text that predates that book, and so on until I’m reading the most ancient texts and the most primitive ideas. For example, when I was casting about for the project that ultimately became the Bacche piece, I began by reading Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy. That hooked me on Dionysus, and led me back to Carl Kerenyi’s study of Dionysos, which explained the place of goats as part of the worship of Dionysus, and the connection to the development of Greek tragedy. From there it was back to Euripides, and the text of The Baccae, at last turning to a source that Jerome Robbins had suggested to me years earlier.

I don’t know if many people read archaeologically. A lot of people I know read chronologically: if they’re tackling all of Dostoyevsky, they start with his earliest works and plow through to his last writings, in much the same fashion as they did in school.

What is a Feasible Living Situation for Future Humans?

Question Everything
Via Our Finite World

How Do We Establish Feasible Sustainable Living?

The peaking of oil extraction and refining appears to be upon humanity. The evidence is quite strong (if you want to follow this story I recommend you regularly read The Oil Drum for news and updates as well as technical reports). Because the cost of oil reflects to a large degree the imbalance between supply and demand, and has been pushing higher for the last several years, this has had a dampening effect on demand and a depressing effect on the economy. Thus, instead of an actual peak due to geophysical issues alone (the basis of the original peak oil theories) and subsequent decline, we are witnessing a bumpy plateau. Demand destruction leads to lower production in response and that means some oil is not being pumped out of the ground that would have been otherwise. But the overall trend is basically the same. Oil production will go down leading to upward pressure on the price we pay for each unit that is pumped. The feedback between the economy and oil production will mean that the process of decline will be stretched out a bit longer.

Nevertheless, oil is now on a depleting slope and however long it takes there is only one direction it can go. Just as problematic for civilization is that oil is the “king pin” energy source for modern industrial society. It takes oil to produce diesel fuel and gasoline, both needed to drive the equipment required for the extraction of other fossil fuels and all other natural resources. Oil is required for agriculture, transportation, and some heating. Natural gas, methane, comes closest to oil in terms of being able to replace oil derivatives for these purposes, but not without extensive retrofitting of the prime movers. That probably isn’t going to happen overnight simply because it will take a significant amount of oil-based energy and materials (lubricants and plastics) to produce the retrofits.

Courage is Contagious: David Frost Interviews Julian Assange


10 most hopeful stories of 2010


There was plenty of disappointment and hardship this year. But the year also brought opportunities for transformation.

It was a tough year. The economy continued its so-called jobless recovery with Wall Street anticipating another year of record bonuses while most Americans struggle to get work and hold on to their homes. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued, and spilled over into Pakistan and Yemen, and more American soldiers died by suicide than fighting in Afghanistan. And it was a year of big disasters, some of them indicators of the growing climate crisis.

World leaders, under the sway of powerful corporations and banks, have been unable to confront our most pressing challenges, and one crisis follows another.

Nonetheless, events from 2010 also contain the seeds of transformation. None of the following stories is enough on its own to change the momentum. But if we the people build and strengthen social movements, each of of these stories points to a piece of the solution.

1. Climate Crisis Response Takes a New Direction. After the failure of Copenhagen, Bolivia hosted a gathering of indigenous people, climate activists, and grassroots leaders from the global South—those left out of the UN-sponsored talks. Their solution to the climate crisis is based on a new recognition of the rights of Mother Earth. Gone are notions of trading the right to pollute (which gives a whole new meaning to the term “toxic assets”). Instead, life has rights, and we can learn ways to live a good life that doesn’t require degrading our home.

The official climate agreement that came out of Cancún was weak and disappointing, although it did represent a continued commitment to work to address the challenge.

How much further will Mendo home prices fall? Ukiah 10-Year Drop


[You won’t see the above graph in our local Friday Real Estate supplements… -DS]

[…] Our economies run on credit, it’s their lifeblood. Take it away, and they will stop running. Not altogether, but to a very large extent. Shipping letters of credit are getting harder to procure; the Baltic Dry Index is once more tumbling as we speak. Nearly everything you find in your stores is bought with credit; if storeowners would have to pay in advance for what they haven’t sold yet, they wouldn’t be able to.

Now imagine that coming to a grinding halt.

Similarly, real estate purchases practically all involve the use of credit. For anyone to be able to afford a home with the cash they have, home prices will have to come down a lot. Which is precisely what they will do. However, by that time, those among us who do have the cash will think twice before using it to buy a home. Home purchases will never go down to zero, but they can come down a lot. Like prices, purchases can also fall by 90%. There’s a solid link between the two. What we have been predicting for the past five-odd years is first and foremost a credit crunch and collapse, across the western world. That is, available credit will decrease ever more, until there’s hardly any of it left. And that in turn will have grave consequences across economies, including real estate markets…

In the US, the picture is deliberately kept as murky as possible. Official U3 unemployment is at 9.8%, but when tens if not hundreds of thousands of workers every single month are moved into the “no longer in the workforce” category, following the U6 number, which is 17-18%, might paint a more truthful picture.

The problem that emerges form this is that even if the banks would be willing and able to lend, which they’re not

Will Parrish: The North Coast Wine Industry’s Latest Coup De Grace — Draining Our Rivers Dry


The latest in the North Coast wine oligarchy’s long series of legislative coups de grace occurs on December 14th. In what will surely be a 5-0 vote, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will rubber-stamp new regulations on frost protection in the Russian River water basin, now in its death throes after having been continuously ravaged by several generations of extractive enterprise.

In recent decades, the once-simple act of protecting new bud growth on grape vines from frigid temperatures has become tantamount to a war on rivers. The predominantly corporate alcohol farmers who wield executive authority over the North Coast’s land and politics almost universally combat frost damage via systems of overhead sprinklers that sprawl out across each row of grapes, dowsing them with a continuous coat of water on spring nights when local temperatures drop into the 20s.

Due to the sheer volume of water this advanced industrial system of frost management requires, the growers opt not to draw their water from wells — which would be harmful enough to the level of the water table — but instead pump straight from streams, creeks, and rivers. According to an estimate by David Koball of Fetzer Vineyards, a subsidiary of the multi-billion dollar multi-national alcohol conglomerate Brown-Forman, a 20-acre vineyard requires 1,000 gallons per minute for frost protection.

There are more than 3,000 of these 20-acre swaths of wine-grapes in the Russian River basin alone (60,000 acres). In other words,

A Pattern Language — Rob Hopkins Interviews Christopher Alexander

Transition Culture

About 3 weeks ago, I travelled to a snow-covered West Sussex to meet one of my heroes.  Christopher Alexander, architect, thinker, designer, author of the seminal ‘A Pattern Language’ and of the more recent extraordinary ‘The Nature of Order’ series of books, has long been someone whose work I have admired greatly.  It is sometimes said that it is generally best not to meet your heroes as they usually disappoint, but that wasn’t the case here.  I met Chris and his wife Maggie in their beautiful old home (I’m starting to sound like a writer for Hello! magazine), and after lunch and a general chat about the Transition approach (about which Chris knew very little in advance of our conversation), we did the following interview.  I am deeply grateful to them both for a fascinating and illuminating afternoon.

The first question is, how did A Pattern Language come about?  Where did the idea come from?

Oh that I can tell you very simply.  In 1961 I went to India – lived in a village.  I was a fellow at Harvard and I just wanted to go to India, I always wanted to go there.  I had Indian friends from all over the shop but I’d never been there.  So the Society Fellows were kind enough to send me out there.  I was living in this village – just mud huts, there was only one brick building which was vaguely temple-ish….at a scale and finish of a porch in a cow barn.  I actually did something quite similar to what I was describing to you, in one of my books – it contains that analysis – and they’re all about issues pertaining to a simple Indian village.  I made a set of diagrams – it was very early on in my career, it was one of the first projects I ever did.

A world made by hand needn’t wait

New Leaf Gardens, Denver
Via Energy Bulletin

The “growing season” is over at New Leaf Gardens. Considering our location on the eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains, at an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet, it is remarkable that temperatures have only just begun to occasionally dip below freezing. Most of the time we still enjoy lows in the 40s. But the few frosty nights we’ve had were enough to hang a closed sign on the last of the warm-loving plants. Fortunately we saw it coming and last week harvested the remaining zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, green tomatoes, bell peppers, and jalapeños. The tough guys—broccoli, cabbage, carrots, spinach, and arugula—just shrugged off the cold. Fuhgeddaboutit.

Shorter days and less to do in autumn means more time for reading, and I just finished The Witch of Hebron, the wonderful sequel to James Howard Kunstler’s novel, World Made by Hand. The story is set in Union Grove, once a rural bedroom community in upstate New York that had fallen prey, like everywhere else, to the faux culture of “happy motoring” suburbanization: strip malls, tract housing, big box retail, lots and lots of cars, and the roads they drive on. But when Kunstler begins his tale–“Sometime in the not-distant future…”—times have changed, a lot.

And then again, not so much.

Not long from now, the inevitable breakdown of globalized civilization has occurred. Kunstler wisely wastes no time explaining exactly how. Who cares? Plausible triggers abound. Pick one and pull it—and the result is the same: The web of everyday life goes from stretching half way around the world, connecting us to Saudi oil fields and Chinese sweat shops, to having strands no longer than a few miles from home. The word “local” takes on new meaning,

Urban Right To Farm Laws

Causaubon’s Book

This is a lightly revised version of a previous essay of mine from ’09, but I wanted to run it again because I have more to say about this subject after the holidays, in part because this is starting to become an emerging reality, with several muncipalities trying create model urban-right-to-farm laws, and a legal conference last year taking up the subject. In parallel, in Britain, there’s an emerging movement to create “Transition-Friendly” legislation that would open up possibilities for a wide range of Transition activities without requiring legal challenges for each, and barring nuisance law suits. There is an emerging recognition that one of the things we need is to remove barriers to small scale subsistence activities in urban and suburban areas. So I’m re-running this piece, in part as background, for another essay refining this idea in early January.

One of the things I’ve been saying for a long time is that we’re going to need to address zoning questions early in the process of adaptation. Our world has so many people, and the global north tends to hold uncritical assumptions that subsistance activities are dangerous, unattractive nuisances that should be removed as much as possible from places where people live. At the extremes are barriers to things like clotheslines or even food plants in front yards, things that require us to consume more resources and pollute more.

Over the last few decades, rural areas, in response to suburbanization and an influx of new residents who enjoyed rural vistas but weren’t comfortable with the realities of rural life like manure, slow hay wagons and other material realities, have found themselves fighting these battles.

What began to emerge in the 1970s were right-to-farm laws, which protected existing farms from common-law nuisance suits

Are we ruled by the rich?

The American Interest
Thanks to Ron Epstein

The answer to the question “Is America a plutocracy?” might seem either trivial or obvious depending on how one defines the term. Plutocracy, says the dictionary, simply means “rule by the rich.” If the query is taken literally to mean that the non-rich—the vast majority of American citizens—have no influence in American democracy, or that the country is self-consciously ruled by some hidden collusive elite, the answer is obviously “no.” On the other hand, if the question is taken to mean, “Do the wealthy have disproportionate political influence in the United States?” then the answer is obviously “yes”, and that answer would qualify as one of the most unsurprising imaginable. Wealthy people have had disproportionate influence in most polities at most times in history.

Of course, one can argue endlessly over who qualifies as being rich, whether the rich constitute a social class capable of collective action, how open or closed that class is, what constitutes real political power in today’s America, and so on. But if the question remains as simple as those articulated above, the basic answer will not change or be of much interest.

This is not, however, what this issue of The American Interest means by plutocracy. We mean not just rule by the rich, but rule by and for the rich. We mean, in other words, a state of affairs in which the rich influence government in such a way as to protect and expand their own wealth and influence, often at the expense of others. As the introductory essay to this issue shows, this influence may be exercised in four basic ways: lobbying to shift regulatory costs and other burdens away from corporations and onto the public at large; lobbying to affect the tax code so that the wealthy pay less;…

Full article here

Gene Logsdon: It Does My Heart Good


[This one’s for Doug Mosel… -DS]

This is not a Christmas story exactly, but it makes a wonderful way to pass along glad tidings of the year. Brock McLeod and Heather Walker operate Makaria Farm in Duncan, British Columbia ( and what they have been doing the past two years is just eye-poppingly, unbelievably, overwhelmingly, audaciously amazing.  They decided to take small scale grain raising to the very high level of accomplishment— beyond the wildest dreams I had when I wrote my book by that name.

They recently sent me a sort of homemade scrapbook telling the story of their adventures with small scale grain, complete with pictures. Once they realized that it was not that difficult to make their own bread from scratch— the ultimate scratch of growing the grain and grinding the flour, their imagination and vitality went into overdrive. They already ran a CSA and raised fruit along with seasonal vegetables, so adding grain to their farming menu was just another step up the ladder. What makes their grain adventure so endearing is that they involved the community of people around their farm. They started “Island Grains” and invited others to learn about small scale grain-raising with them. Fifty signed up with another twenty on the wait list. They tried to get me to come out for the first workshop but since I no longer can do much long distance travel,

Studying gratitude

Click on Post Title to Enlarge


Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Mike McCullough of the University of Miami examined the impact of keeping a gratitude journal. All participants in their study were asked to write a few sentences each week, focusing on five things. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily hassles or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on hassles.

Gratitude is a way to step off the hedonic treadmill, appreciating what you have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make you happier, or thinking you can’t feel satisfied until your every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps you refocus on what you have instead of what you lack.

Try keeping a gratitude journal and make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one the gifts you’ve received each day.

Rebooting the American Dream — Chapter Six: Make Members of Congress Wear NASCAR Patches

Article with footnotes here

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

I started my first business at the age of 17 with $25. I paid that amount to rent a shelf in a head shop (which sold mostly pipes, bongs, and cigarette papers) across the street from Michigan State University in East Lansing. The shelf had a sign: “The Electronics Joint—leave your stereo or TV here for repair, and we’ll return it fixed within a week. Free estimate of charges before work is done.” The guy who ran the head shop managed the shelf for 10 percent of our revenues plus the $25-per-month shelf rental; within two years the venture had grown to include five employees, and we moved into our own storefront down the street.

As the business grew, however, I didn’t manage it wisely and ended up about $3,000 in debt, which was a lot of money in 1968 for a part-time student and part-time DJ. Ultimately, I had to shut the company down and go to work full-time as a radio DJ.

That didn’t turn out so well either. I got fired when I played two black female artists back-to-back, a violation of station policy at the time, and then refused to promise to never do it again. With my unemployment check, I bought some herbs at a local General Nutrition Center store and started an herbal tea company—Woodley Herber—that grew over the next six years to having 19 employees. One of our products that contained ginseng (which was then hot as an aphrodisiac) was picked up by Larry Flynt to market through his brand-new magazine,

Don Sanderson: Honey from a Weed


They [the Tarahumara] know that every step forward, every convenience acquired through the mastery of a purely physical civilization, also implies a loss, a regression. – Antonin Artaud, “The Peyote Dance”

Patience Gray, the author of “Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades, and Apulia”, 1986, writes that Artaud’s saying had graced her workshop for many years. For twenty years, she followed her sculptor companion searching for the next perfect block of marble in wilder regions of the Mediterranean that were yet hardly touched by modern conveniences. The foods and lifestyles about which she reminisces were very conservative, according to the old meaning of that term, hardly changed over hundreds of years but now nearing their last gasp. These people were closely tied to the land, the olive groves, the vineyards, the vegetable gardens, and fruit orchards chopped out of rocky soils yet thriving. Goats, sheep, and pigs were commonly raised and cheese produced. We would think of these peoples as very poor, yet they were nearly self-sufficient and life was often a communal celebration.

Gray characterized foods in each of these areas as being of wondrous complexity that had been developed over generations stretching beyond memory. The recipes she records and meals she describes are quite wonderful. Every aspect was made from scratch with the simplest equipment, especially with no electricity. A typical stove was a grill raised across a wood fire that had originated from gathered brush or chopped branches. Often there was a hook above the fire on which a covered pot could be hung. A domed earthen oven was also usually available for baking bread and various dishes. Water was typically hand carried from a not necessarily nearby cistern.

The internet is being captured by organized trolls. It’s time we fought back.

Thanks to Mendo Listserv

[This is exactly what some of us experienced this past campaign season when our local cyber-commons was assaulted by wingnut trolls supporting the Wendy Roberts campaign. And because she and her Republican campaign organizers from outside the county refused to disinherit these cowardly attacks, it seemed obvious that these stooges were coordinated. Happily, they were smoked out, identified, and rejected by an alert community. Now, having failed miserably, these democracy-haters are attempting to shut down the listserv itself. -DS]

They are the online equivalent of enclosure riots: the rick-burning, fence-toppling protests by English peasants losing their rights to the land. When MasterCard, Visa, Paypal and Amazon tried to shut WikiLeaks out of the cyber-commons, an army of hackers responded by trying to smash their way into these great estates and pull down their fences.

In the Wikileaks punch-up the commoners appear to have the upper hand. But it’s just one battle. There’s a wider cyberwar being fought, of which you hear much less. And in most cases the landlords, with the help of a mercenary army, are winning.

I’m not talking here about threats to net neutrality and the danger of a two-tier internet developing, though these are real. I’m talking about the daily attempts to control and influence content in the interests of the state and corporations: attempts in which money talks.

Bruce Patterson: The Darkest Night

4Mules Blog
Anderson Valley

“When steam first began to puff. . .the wild child humanity was caught and put in a harness. What we call business habits were invented to make the life of man harmonious with the steam engine, and his movements rival the train in punctuality. The factory system was invented and it was an instantaneous success. Men were clothed in cheapness and uniformity. Their minds grew numerously alike, cheap and uniform also.”
–G.W. Russell (1867-1935)

Maybe 30 years ago, back when my wife and I were living “off the grid” (back then we called it living without electricity and indoor plumbing) up near Mountain House, a friend told me of a tribe of people—I think they were Patagonian highlanders—who navigated by the night sky but without using the stars. Instead of focusing on the stars, galaxies and constellations, war chariots, Greek gods and wild animals, they used their peripheral vision to see the web work of black pathways connecting them. Myself having always been a stargazer—under High Sierra skies, Mojave skies, Montana skies—I was skeptical because I’d never noticed such a thing.

Yet my friend was well schooled in life’s mysteries and so I decided to put it to the test. It was a hot August night, clouds were about as scarce as January tourists, and after the last of the sunset’s afterglow had gone out to sea, and before the moon had risen, and in order to get away from the glare of our cabin’s kerosene lamps, my wife and I followed a sheep trail to a nearby a point of land.

The wet blanket of hot air was stone still and, while we were getting settled on our sitting spot, we heard the faint echoing chugging of a locomotive pulling a train up the Russian River Canyon.

Michael Laybourn: Unsmart Meters and Mismanaged Utilities


Tip of the fedora to Greg Krause in Philo, who has an article about this same issue in the 12/15 AVA. I recently contacted a group called TURN (The Utility Reform Network) who keeps a close watch on utility energy companies. I first became aware of the group when PG&E tried to stuff that constitutional amendment down California’s throat so they could be a complete monopoly and not be bothered with other competition. TURN worked hard with almost no money to fight the proposition. And won.

Now, in a rush to take advantage of U.S. stimulus money, utilities across the country are quickly installing thousands of smart meters to homes each day. Projects in the U.S. are being accelerated because of the $3.4 billion in the stimulus funds set aside for ‘smart-grid’ technologies. PG&E is now sticking smart meters to Mendocino County and anywhere the company operates in California. Many California cities and counties, including San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Marin counties, have decided to reject “Smart” Meters. Cities declining include Sebastopol, Berkeley, Cotati, Fairfax, Santa Cruz, Piedmont, Scotts Valley, Capitola, Watsonville, Sausalito, San Anselmo and others.

What’s so bad about these ‘smart’ meters?
The main issues are:

1. Security of data and private information. Billions [of dollars] are on the table, so they are moving forward with metering projects and they’re spending money as fast as they can,” said Jonathan Pollet, founder of Red Tiger Security which tests security features in SCADA systems. “The security isn’t where it should be, but the vendors aren’t going to turn down orders.” So there is little security built

Aurora Borealis Timelapse

Full screen video: Aurora Borealis timelapse HD – Tromsø 2010 from Tor Even Mathisen on Vimeo.

Will Parrish: Sonoma County, Banana Republic of Wine-Grapes


In 1993, American wine industry goliath E&J Gallo (annual revenue: $2 billion) founded its first subsidiary dedicated solely to producing high-end, “premium” vintages: Gallo of Sonoma. The move reflected a dramatic shift for the Gallo empire, which accounts for one in four bottles sold in the US wine market.

For several decades, Gallo’s forte was cheap, fortified jug wines such as Thunderbird and Night Train — each at least 18 percent alcohol by volume. The company initially cornered this dubious market in the ’50s and ’60s, via clever ad campaigns complemented by aggressive promotions in so-called inner-city “colored bars” (a process described by journalist Ellen Hawkes in her book Blood and Wine) and off-reservation American Indian communities. The dislocation, poverty, and alienation endemic to many of these areas provided fertile grounds for alcoholism, which the Gallo patriarchs Ernest and Julio shamelessly bred and profited from.

By the early-’90s, the American wine market was moving increasingly upscale. With its wide variety of favorable microclimates and soils, as well as relatively low land prices vis-a-vis Napa County to the east, Sonoma County emerged as the epicenter of the “premium grape rush,” a finance-driven speculative bubble that has accompanied the shift in consumer taste. In keeping with the prevailing market trend toward high-end varietal wines — that is, those made from a single named grape variety — Gallo moved its center of gravity out of the urban ghettos once and for all, and into the sleepy north county town of Healdsburg, a 17 mile drive up Route 101 from Santa Rosa.

Before long, Gallo of Sonoma had amassed a collection of sprawling

Todd Walton: Slow Going

Under The Table Books

“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.” Lily Tomlin

Five years ago, a few weeks before I made my move from Berkeley to Mendocino, I came within a few inches of being killed by a young man who was driving his pickup truck very fast while simultaneously using his mobile phone. I had just stepped into the crosswalk at the intersection of San Pablo Avenue and Gilman Avenue, having been given the go ahead to cross by the illuminated symbol of a human being taking a walk. The young man who was driving his pickup very fast apparently did not see the red light or me or possibly anything as he sped through the intersection with his phone pressed to his ear. I don’t know if he was talking to someone or listening to someone else talking, or perhaps he was listening to music; I am only certain he was pressing his phone to his ear as his two-ton missile shot by within inches of my puny little flesh and blood body. And whether there is such a thing as fate or whether life is a muddle of meaningless happenstance, had I been one step further along at that moment, I would have been smashed to smithereens.

So today I’m driving our old truck into our soggy hamlet to get the mail and groceries, a cold rain falling, and because I am the unelected president of Mendocino Drivers Not In A Hurry To Get Anywhere, I’ve only gotten a few hundred yards down the Comptche-Ukiah straightaway before my rearview mirror is filled with the sight of a pickup closing fast upon me. As is my custom in these situations, I move to the outer edge of the road and slow to a crawl, timing my move so that whoever is driving that oncoming pickup will have an easy time passing me—the road ahead empty, the broken yellow line entirely on our side. But this particular pickup (going at least seventy miles per hour) zooms to within a few feet of my bumper

Gene Logsdon: Fertilizer prices putting manure in the limelight


People talk about Peak Oil, but we’re also at Peak Fertilizer.

I never thought I’d see the day when shit — the bodily kind — would make headlines the way it is right now.

When my book about managing manure, Holy Shit, came out recently, erstwhile friends grinned and remarked, “You’ve been shooting the bull all your life so, sure, why not write a book about it?”

But this time what I’m writing is definitely not B.S. The current fertilizer crisis is real. Chemical fertilizer prices rise and fall with every change of pulse in supply and demand, but they are definitely on a long-term rise — not only because production and transportation costs are increasing, but because of anticipated shorter supplies in the future. People talk about Peak Oil, but we’re also at Peak Fertilizer. Without plenty of some kind of fertilizer, there will not be enough food to go around. The headline hype is not just overreaction from the press: recently farming news sources such as DTN were reporting all over their networks about how international traders in phosphorous and potash are elbowing for bigger chunks of the remaining fertilizer pie.

I would like to puff up and brag about how smart I must be to see this coming, but actually for anyone who has milked cows for a living like I have, it’s a no-brainer. Although I spent an awful lot of time in classrooms studying weird subjects like theology and anthropology, my real education began as a hired man for a dairy farmer in Minnesota, who was very astute and rather wealthy, too. He made money even though the bright boys at the university would say he was backward. He still used horses for much of his farm power, and he didn’t use any “bought” fertilizer. As a farm boy from Ohio who thought he knew a thing or two about farming, I was surprised to see how well his corn grew anyway.

Who Were You?


A year or so ago, I read a book about the collapse of civilizations, and how some just vanished without a trace.  It puzzled me how that could happen among civilizations that were very advanced for their time.  As the peak oil discourse became more widespread, I began to see how that could happen even to us as a society today.  Then I realized it is happening to us individually even today, and we aren’t even aware of it.

I have in one closet or other old photo albums of my grandparents, parents or our own, some with pictures dating back to the late 1800s, of various relatives that have long since departed this life, as well as pictures of my youth and my wife, son, and grandchildren.  Then 10 years ago, technology started changing the way we captured and stored these photos, not as images on paper in albums, but as digital images on hard drives or cds.

One of the aspects of the decline of the oil age that I have not seen addressed is that over the last 5 years or so, we have seen a great move away from hard copy anything; pictures, books, magazines, and even newspapers.  As the decline begins to happen, we will see a sharp decline in imports of non-essential goods, including PCs, IPads, e-readers, and other useful devices.  Even if such a decline wasn’t in the cards, the changing technology may render any stored information about us useless.  What if all your family photos were on 5 ¼ floppy disks right now?  For all practical purposes they would be lost.  Yet 15 years ago, that was a stable and common medium for data storage.  If we begin to see a decrease in availability of equipment to read and display our stored data, it will be like we are slowly vanishing.

We have taken for granted that the information age will survive long into the decline of the oil age.  I don’t think that will be the case.  The economy will decline with the energy shrinkage.  The internet doesn’t just exist because it is useful, it exists because it makes money… lots of it.  As the economies around the world shrink,

Mendo Island Transition: Local Jobs and Infrastructure

Transition Culture

The Challenge

The infrastructure required for a more localised and resilient future, the energy systems, the mills, the food systems and the abbatoirs, has been largely ripped out over the past 50 years as oil made it cheaper to work on an ever-increasingly large scale, and their reinstallation will not arise by accident. They will need to be economically viable, supported by their local communities, owned and operated by people with the appropriate skills, and linked together.

Core Text

“ The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”.

Winston Churchill.

The picture above shows the last working mill to close in Totnes. It was situated in the centre of the town, was powered by the river than runs past it, and deliveries were made to and from it using a horse drawn wagon. How’s that for a low-carbon local food enterprise? Now it is the town’s Tourist Information Office, and a very good one at that., but clearly it is much easier to turn a flour mill into a Tourist Information Office than it is to turn a Tourist Information Office into a mill again.

Much of the infrastructure that would have traditionally supported a more local food economy, and have generated much of the employment in our communities has since been dismantled, converted into flats, converted to other uses. Quite clearly, the infrastructure most settlements have today is completely unequipped for functioning in an energy-scarce context. We aren’t able to grow much of our own food, process the milk from our local fields, turn our local timber into useful things, process milk into cheese,

An Open Appeal to Dan Hamburg and our Supervisors: How Peak Oil Can Save Our County

Transition Voice

[For our new county supervisor, Dan Hamburg, and our supervisors: This essay as written is an appeal to Obama. But since all politics is local, as you read it, please substitute yourselves for Obama, and the ideas herein as the orientation we need here in Mendocino County now: to bravely face our local future. Dan campaigned on this issue. His opponent promoted job creation in the predictable areas rather than facing a very different future. As we move into the new year, and Dan takes on his newly elected duties, what is needed most from our leadership is frank talk and innovative solutions. We’re counting on you, Dan, and our supervisors already in place, to help move us into our local future. Yes, balancing the budget is crucial, but we need to begin pulling out of this bogged-down morass and make meaningful plans. Please! -DS]

E. J. Dionne Jr.’s recent column in the Washington Post, “Can Obama Find His Morning in America?” notes an increasingly widespread domestic view that America is in decline. Dionne argues that such an infectious tumult could either cripple Obama or, alternatively, create an opportunity to right his presidency and recapture the confidence of the American people.

What Obama needs, says Dionne, is a morning in America moment. But what he lacks, Dionne believes, is a compelling narrative around which to rally the people and tap into their latent positive energy about American possibility.

I agree wholeheartedly.