Monday, May 28, 2007

Ship of State

Photo: Diego Fernandes 2007

Sitting down with a friend yesterday to just share time and conversation after watching a bad movie was a relief.

Since my computer literacy still has a very steep learning curve she helped me flatten part of that curve with suggestions about how to best use certain programs and applications.

As a fairly geeky person she communicates the solutions of cyberspeak easily and actually makes it kind of fun. Recently she decided she was going to try to spend less time online and watching TV to give herself some reflection space-time, so after she helped me solve my Quicken problems, we progressed eventually into talking about the world as it seems to be.

Her latest reading had been a book called Confessions of an Economic Hit Man written by John Perkins, and the book had made a deep impression on her. She loaned me the book and I've begun to read it and while nothing so far has surprised me, it made me wonder if Upton Sinclair's old EPIC political party might be worth trying to re-form. (For a short look at Sinclair's part in this movement

I first read of this movement in Science-Fiction author Robert Heinlein's For Us the Living, his first and worst novel. The forward to the book mentions that Heinlein was an active member in EPIC (End Poverty In California) and an unsuccessful candidate for State Assembly. (For more about Robert Heinlein, his politics and his writing go to The novel is worth reading because it contains the seeds for literally everything he wrote later including his Future History series, but the storyline is very thin. The book is mostly an economic and political lecture giving chapter and verse about why the economies of the U.S. and actually, the world, were ultimately doomed to collapse. The book was written in 1939.

Now it is clear that whatever economy existed in 1939 and before was probably destroyed by the "Great Depression" and all the wars following. Political, economic and technological tools have been altered to prevent any precipitous collapse that might have occured prior to the world war. Those alterations have, I think, slowed a world economic collapse, however I am not sure they have prevented one. An economy based on increasing consumption of resources still exists and a little logic applied even on a simple level seems to indicate the impossibility of continued expansion. I am neither an economist nor a business owner so I would gladly welcome argument or comment to that statement; even my conservative friends say, and quite frequently, "not everyone can get in the boat."

Not everyone can get in the boat.

An interesting metaphor. It seems to infer that there is a vehicle which carries a few to prosperity and the size of the vehicle is limited or there is a reason why everyone can not be in the vehicle. Who then is to be left on the shore? These conservatives have also stated that resources are limited, which may indeed be why they call themselves conservative. In the current political atmosphere I do not hear very many voices calling for less consumption and I do not see how, constructed as it is, the present economy could bear the strain of diminishing activity.

There are any number of books available to anyone who wants to read about the economy of the "American" empire. I put quotation marks around empire's descriptor because I hesitantly suggest that the ongoing economic empire is more corporate or corporately transnational than American. I might go so far as to suggest that it is un-American. I do not see the values of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution in the activities of these organizations, but then, I am also not a social scientist, a historian, a psychologist nor a policy wonk.

What I read and see is an acceleration of consumption promoted by transnational business interests with techniques as wide apart as mass media advertising and assassination. I have no sympathy for dictators of any stripe because they work actively to prevent the advance of wisdom. They are traitors to their species and bear more resemblance to cancers than humans, and to me they have confused competition with cannibalism.

Perhaps there is more room on the boat than we think.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pacific Postings

Photo: Diego Fernandes 2007

A couple of days before Memorial Day, an appointment with a dentist for a second opinion and I want a trip to the beach. I need a trip to the beach. So my friend and I pack up our camera stuff and jump in his car and head for Point Reyes National Seashore.

My agitation from the dental appointment is so great I forget to bring sunblock. When we finally arrive at Point Reyes I realize this and my friend pulls out something that looks like a roll-on deodorant which I laugh at and turn down but my friend insists that it is not deodorant, it's a hiking lubricant with sunblock in it.

A hiking lubricant. Something you apply where something might chafe. With sunblock. If clothing is chafing somewhere, that means it's rubbing on your body and irritating it. If clothing is irritating your body wouldn't it be covering the part of the bady that's being chafed? If it's covered why does it need sunblock? Doesn't matter, the sunblock worked even though it smelled kind of funny.

As we drove through the Olema Valley, which sits atop the San Andreas Fault, I couldn't help but notice the beauty of this place. The Point Reyes National Seashore to the west with its conifers, California bay-laurel trees, oaks and wildflowers rather promiscuously showing themselves to the bees and tourists like myself, always gives me a sense of anticipation. That sense is exceptional in the spring when sunlight has a crisp quality which has attracted painters for a couple of centuries.

We took Limantour Beach road over the ridge-top of Point Reyes and parked in one of those lots that have been created a few hundred yards from the ocean. We had to wait for a woman with four children, unloading her van with beach paraphernalia to close her door so we could park. While she was unloading and we were getting our camera stuff together her children took off at high speed for the water in a comic follow-the-leader kind of full-tilt run. It was nice to see them filled with the same sort of anticipation I felt.

I offered to help their mother carry her beach things which she refused but I felt better for the attempt. After this semi-charitable effort we walked out to the beach and began to take photos. I had taken a few when I finally figured out the timing on the digital camera I was using. It is an older Olympus with an amazing zoom but its speed of response needs a different kind of understanding than my film cameras.

It was one of those moments when everything comes together. I was looking through the viewfinder at breaking waves and thinking "if only I could catch one of those at the right moment", and then I pressed the camera trigger half way to focus the zoom lens which worked the way it was supposed to, then watched as the wave started to break and in a moment of emotional overload pressed the trigger all the way and heard the digital shutter beep and voilá I had a picture of a breaking wave. My first successful shot of something moving.

The big success here was not the wave; the big success was the understanding I got for the timing of the camera. I have been trying to capture action shots with no success. I almost had an inner glow; my anticipation completely paid off with an "ah-hah, so that's the way it works!"

Maybe timing is everything.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Water of Life

Throughout my life I have felt a certain affinity for the character of California's seasons. Their unusual nature seems to affect the commentary made by residents and non-residents. I have heard on many occasions individuals protest that it would be hard for them to live in California because it has "no seasons". I have also heard individuals state that they wouldn't live in any other place. Famously, when Julia Child moved back to her native Santa Barbara and someone asked her if she wouldn't miss New England's seasons she replied, "no, I like it just like this every day."

It is a mistake to think that California has no seasons. The entire thousand mile length has seasons aplenty for anyone who cares to notice but sometimes those periods are strangely at odds with the calendar. It is true in California that you could drive from one end of the state to the other and find in any given month the weather of any given season. It is also true that a season in California may last only a month, or a week. You have to enjoy and experience them when they happen. Here the seasons encourage an enjoyment of the moment.

In the eastern part of the United States there is a saying that if you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes. I have often told eastern friends in California that if they didn't like the weather they would have to wait...and wait. There is sometimes a sameness about how the weather plays out but it is also true that my state is a true study in contrasts. I have often walked out my door on a beautifully clear and sunny day in January that looks like it ought to be a day in April or May only to be greeted by frigid air and frozen ground or looked outside at a bleak gray day in the same month thinking it would be cold only to step outside the same door to be wrapped in near tropical heat. These are surprises that I genuinely love.

I frequently wonder how global warming will change California's character. We are certainly a state hungry for water over which residents have fought real battles; and I mean with real guns. California's water law is very complicated. Very, very complicated. The problem has always been getting the water from where it is to where it is needed (or wanted). The obvious corollary to that problem is who wants it. The character of global warming seems to be most of all a change in the behavior of water, as ice, as snow, as rain, as ocean.

Water is necessary for life; this is a truism. Every plant from lichens to giant redwoods and creatures from single cell amoebas to blue whales must have water in one form or another. Life needs water. People are living creatures and they need water also, and while they are not the only creature to work up ways to control water, they certainly produce the most complicated ways of controlling it, and in California we have probably produced the most complicated system on the planet for accessing, storing and transporting and processing water.

What if California experiences a longer drought than experienced historically? What if we experience greatly wetter years? What if we get one of those combinations in contrast that I mentioned earlier: a very, very wet season and a very, very dry hot season? What if we get say (and I am sure it could happen) a reversal of when dry and wet "normally" occur? I don't believe our political system is set up very well to handle such events. I don't believe any political system is set up to handle such events.

Anyone that knows me would say this sounds strange coming from me but I put a lot of faith in the systems as they are, mostly because there isn't anything else. I also know that kind of belief is not well founded. It is just that I hope that the systems in place will work when there is a crisis. The California Office of Emergency Preparedness encourages individuals and families to keep emergency supplies on hand for earthquakes and similar natural disasters. COEP will gladly send anyone a list of what they consider necessary for such emergencies. So far I don't believe they have given any public announcements about possible global warming effects. How could they?

Could a possible effect be a major alteration of seasonal characteristics? The answer seems to be an unequivocal yes. Might those changes in seasons affect some parts of the world and leave other parts untouched, at least climatically? Possibly, but wouldn't changes elsewhere put unbelievable stresses on "untouched" climates? My guess is, very probably.

For instance, California can not help but be affected by changes to sea level. A change in sea level in any direction will alter coastlines. Harbors and bays, beaches, wetlands like those around San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta could all be inundated with a small rise or dessicated with a drop in sea level. Most, if not all of California's waterways are already major areas of contention and acrimony between agriculture, developers, environmental groups, recreational interests, government offices and bureaus at both state and federal levels, corporate interests and ordinary citizens who depend in one way or another on these resources. What should the priorities be and who should set them? Who indeed, is setting them now?

I can not help but think preventative discussions and action such as Governor Schwarzenegger's attempts at levee repair are truly in order. It does not matter who gets the credit although politicians and corporate interests would have us believe so; someone must start the discussion.

The future of people on the leftcoast depend on it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Moving Word

A word, a printed word can't scream, can't emote, can't send out pheromones or wave its serifs in gestures.

Sometimes though, in the hand of a skillful writer, which I someday hope to be, some kind of alphabetic synergetic phenomenon happens and a reader can hear the screams and emotion coming through the printed (or electron bytten) words. I know that the printed word, electronically or otherwise, is a set of symbols contrived to give the decrypting reader a kind of sense of reality. One of my favorite writers, Idries Shah, wrote that reading about reality has about the same relationship to true reality as dried onions have to fresh onions. It's there but you have to use your imagination.

I have been attempting to find this combination when I write about anything. Anything except words. This and all the above feel like symbols of symbols of symbols. I have the feeling that whenever someone writes about an "intellectual" subject this is what happens, which is probably why intellectuals seem so foggy most of the time. They probably keep seeing symbols floating in their heads and as long as the symbol has any relativity to their subject they follow it around until another symbol catches their interest.

Trying to attract my brother's attention from a book he was reading I would have to yell, "hey GG, get up and help me with this!" whatever "this" was and he would slowly, slowly try to tear his eyes away from the words on the page to my increasingly insistent tone. He and my sisters did the same thing; they would seem to crawl inside the book until the only thing showing was their feet by which they would have to be dragged out. After I had their attention it was still divided because their emotional fingers still had to be pried loose from whatever book was providing my competition.

This was a mystery to me because I hated to read for at least the first nine years of my life. The only reason I finally took it up was because the family television, yes, we only had one, had a nervous breakdown and my liberal minded beatnik parents decided we didn't need to replace it. Whenever I complained to them about having nothing to do, my father would say read a book; my mother usually gave me some tedious make work task but she might say read a book, which I thought at the time was pretty much the same thing.

I suppose I should say that because of my liberal minded beatnik parents and an older brother and sister who could read, I was taught to read before I entered Kindergarten. I think the first book I read by myself was one of the "Cowboy Sam" series by the late Edna Walker Chandler and I remember those books having the feel of dusty roads, smokey exhaust and the smell of bacon (which I hate). But the only reason I remember them that way was because Ms. Chandler wrote them for boys my age and more importantly to boys my age. Somehow she knew our "language" so the word symbols she used, assisted by simple illustrations, spoke directly to the little cowboy in me.

Much later than "Cowboy Sam" I took a college creative writing course where the teacher told us to use words that "color" our writing. The example she used was very simple; she wrote on the board "money", "coin" and "doubloon". She also said that if we denied ourselves the usage of profanity we would discover new choices. At the beginning of the semester I really thought she was just being dictatorial and taking the vote for everyone, but when the term had come to a close, I thanked her because what she had said was true. If I took away the automatic and the habitual, I had to find another way to express myself, even though I still have the impulse to write in colorful Mamet-esque street terms.

Borrowing words from Shakespeare, the task now seems to be to find some ability to write for and to some undiscovered country.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Breaking the Surface

For a first post, I told my friend, this is like jumping into the deep end of the pool. She said maybe, but there are way more advanced forms of blogging which are like jumping off the cliff in Acapulco. Now why should it be that just writing down some thoughts is so intimidating? I mean anyone's thoughts, not just mine.

I have sort of made a commitment to myself that if what I write isn't any good at least I like the way the blog looks, at least at this point. I also think that maybe what I am doing requires a rare kind of introspection. Not that I am not introspective, I am, but sometimes I think my introspection is more like really thin, wet spaghetti in a collander with really big holes. Lots of ideas just kind of hanging out here and there and the only thing you can do is let them hang because if you pull them back in they break and if you try to push them through they break. Just stuff you wish you could ignore or take back or fix but you can't. Wasted spaghetti.

I have this idea that mastering something, even blogging, is something I am never going to do because mastering something means taking a task and continuing to find interest in it no matter how much you already know. Not being afraid of being bored by learning little tiny interesting bits about your subject sends you into depths you couldn't conceive when you first began. See, there is that Acapulco metaphor. And maybe once you get down into those depths you will see things you never saw before and maybe some of those things are scary, or maybe it could really be like Acapulco and you take the risk of missing the deep part altogether and break your skull on the rocks.

Why do I want to master something like blogging? I don't even know. I always think that when I solve a problem, the solution might come in handy later, or maybe just the lesson. I like to write and lots of times I read something and I think, Uí, I can do better than that, but then I write something and I look and look and look and think, that sucks! Not always but often enough I have the thought that breaking my skull on the rocks would be less embarrassing.

So every once in a while I pick up my sister's writer's market or one of her writing books or I look at poetry in the New Yorker magazine and I think, yep, this is why they are in the New Yorker. They use all the same words I do, they just put them together differently.