Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Scoring Some Big Books

Our knowledge of history is under threat in the United States – especially our accurate knowledge of recent history. An accurate knowledge of recent history and of the role the United States has played in that history might well cause a great deal of unease of conscience among the masses of consumatrons who make up the vast majority of native-born Americans. Therefore, powerful institutions are at work to try to make everyone forget. Their efforts seem to be working. As an example, I was talking to a couple of kids a month ago and found out that they knew very little about the origins of the war in Iraq.

Accurate online histories are also under attack, and false histories abound. Even accurate online histories can be subject to sabotage.

So I am happy to report that I scored a big prize today. I finally got my hands on two copies of Fuel On The Fire: Oil And Politics In Occupied Iraq by Greg Muttitt. The book was devilishly hard to get. I wanted to purchase it by a particular method: namely, walking into a bookstore and handing over cash in exchange for the book. I didn't want to order it online or use a credit card or Paypal account to buy it. (Partly, this was because I don't want to let the U.S. Government know what sorts of books I like to read ;) ). It seems that you can only buy this book in person if you go to bookstores in Britain. In the U.S., Borders Books only offers an e-book version. Barnes and Noble doesn't offer it at all. Amazon sells both paperback and e-book versions, but you have to tell them a bit about yourself (things like credit card numbers, for instance). Powell's Books right here in Portland deserves special mention. Powell's will sell you the book, but their website states that the book is “available for shipping only. Not available for In-store Pickup.” (Powell's has made a name for themselves as “progressive” and “locally owned,” but as far as I am concerned they are just as evil and consumerist as Starbucks.)

Anyway, I circumvented a few roadblocks by getting a very small, locally owned bookshop to order me a couple of copies. The bookshop was happy to take my cash in return. These books are thick (as a former boss of mine used to say, “Enough paper to choke a horse), and chock full of U.S. and British government and industry documents obtained from the British government under their version of the Freedom of Information Act, which is a lot freer than the U.S. version of the FOIA has become. Now that I have them, I'll be sharing some highlights from my reading over the next several months, as well as discussing and reviewing a couple of other books that are pertinent to adaptation to economic contraction and energy descent.

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P.S. I am sad to report that Naomi's Organic Farm Supply will be closing soon. Neil and Naomi Montacre are the proprietors of the place, which includes a large organic garden and greenhouse as well as an organic gardening store. They are situated on a plot of land that is owned by Les Schwab's Tire Stores, and Les Schwab wants to build another store on that plot of land. A Les Schwab store seems a very poor substitute for Naomi's. Wherever Neil and Naomi go from here, I am sure they will enrich the place of their sojourning, as they have done up to now.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Sheep Dogs Of Dissent

I was driving home from work this evening (only a week left to go before I won't have to do that again!), and found myself stuck in a long, slow freeway traffic jam. I wanted to find out why the freeway was so slow, so I turned on the radio, hoping to hear some traffic news from KPOJ.

It wasn't quite the time for news, traffic and weather; like most news/talk stations nowadays, they only give you a smidgeon of news, and that only happens once every half hour. What I got instead was a bit of impassioned commentary from Randi Rhodes regarding the privatization of prisons in the United States. She also played an audio clip of the mother of a young teen sentenced to a juvenile camp by a Pennsylvania judge who was convicted this past February of accepting kickbacks from a private prison corporation operating in the state. Evidently the young teen killed himself as a result of his imprisonment, and so at the sentencing of the former judge, the young man's mother delivered a furious rant when she found out that the judge would remain free until his sentencing.

I found that I couldn't stand to listen to more than three minutes of this, and I shut the radio off and delivered a little soliloquy of my own. I was mad, all right – but for reasons which might not have occurred to Randi Rhodes.

It's not that I'm pleased by the commercialization and corruption of the American criminal justice system. Indeed, I've known about it for a few years now, as I wrote in posts such as “Money and Filthy Hands,” and “The Replacement of Petroleum Slaves,” to name a few. The American criminal justice system is a disgraceful evil whose purpose is increasingly to serve as yet another way of funneling the wealth and labor of poor people into the hands of the rich. Part of what made Randi Rhodes' show so hard to listen to is that it is painful to hear of the miscarriages of justice that are still going on in this country.

Now the fact that rich people profit from locking up youth without cause is nothing new. It was only recently elevated to national attention because of the increasing lockups of non-minority youth. But the minority community (in particular, the Black and Latino communities) have always had to deal with this. (See Color Of Justice and Justice for Some, for instance.) It seems, however, that problems of injustice don't really start to exist until they begin to be experienced by mainstream, apple-pie America. And that I find irritating.

But here's a yet more irritating thing. I admit that I didn't finish listening to Randi Rhodes, but I think I can guess how her commentary was structured: first, to inflame passion and anger among certain listeners with so-called “progressive” political views, then to make impassioned appeals to “work to try to change the system!” Why “work to change the system”? “Because we're all in this together, and we're under the system, so we gotta change it to make the system work better and more fairly!”

The truth is that the “system” under which all but the richest Americans live and operate can no longer be changed by ordinary people of small means. It is evil, predatory, sociopathic and unfair precisely because its masters are evil, predatory, sociopathic and unfair. Its masters are also very powerful. To me, it really seems that there's nothing we can do about this short of disengaging ourselves from the system.

This disengagement may seem like a small act, but it is the one thing we can do to weaken the system. Don't like American public education? Disengage from it. Don't like American for-profit health care? Learn to take care of yourself. Don't like the way most of us get our food? Create alternative means of feeding yourself. But don't tell the world what you're up to. Disengagement may well be the most effective act of sabotage any individual can commit.

You won't find that sort of solution discussed on KPOJ, “Portland's only progressive talk station!” If the KPOJ talking heads seriously discussed how people can disengage themselves from the predatory and corrupt systems under which they now live, Clear Channel would instantly pull the plug. Instead, we get impassioned talk designed to inflame us to go out and vote, or to support one political candidate over another, or "be ethical consumers," or in any of a number of other ways to continue to lend our support to a corrupt and failing system. And every fifteen minutes, there is a station break into which five or six commercials are jammed, telling us to go out and consume even more. Those talking heads who are good at what they do are able to keep their audiences hooked so that they soak up everything, including the commercials.

Meanwhile, the masters of commercialized, faux-progressive mass media in this country do their best to shift their audience base ever so slightly to the right, day by day. How many KPOJ talking heads supported NATO intervention in Libya? Why did Rachel Maddow ask a couple of years ago what the United States should be doing to make the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan “behave”? It seems sometimes that the main job of the faux-progressives is to turn genuine outrage into ineffectual channels that pose no threat to their real masters.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

An American Chimera

Over the last year or so, I've almost stopped following the mainstream news. Occasionally I scan newspaper headlines, but that's about all I do unless I happen to be listening to the now ubiquitous “news/talk” radio (with the emphasis on the talk) to find out what tomorrow's weather will be.

An outside observer might have expected my disinterest to change last Sunday when I heard that the United States had assassinated Osama Bin Laden. Such an observer would have been disappointed.

To be sure, I picked up small scraps, bits and pieces of the story. I guess U.S. operatives were supposed to have located and shot Mr. Bin Laden this past Sunday, and to have buried his body in the sea. Bin Laden has provided the U.S. with a convenient excuse for some interesting policies and actions on the international stage over the last decade. These policies and actions have led to the destruction of two national governments, the death of over a million civilians and the attempt to steal the oil of at least two countries.

Now it seems that his death offers more political and propaganda capital than his life did for the leaders of America. What better way to commemorate the ten year anniversary of the September 11 attacks than to announce the death of the so-called perpetrator of those attacks? This will be a big year for the wealthy and powerful leaders of American society, as well as their media mouthpieces. I am sure they will make all sorts of appeals to patriotism via carefully choreographed propaganda stunts and commemorations. Their message will be, “God bless America! And let no one question the sustainability or morality of the American way of life: the unrestrained freedom to pursue material wealth! Support our troops, for they fight to maintain the American way! And let no one question the morality of their fight or the rights of those against whom they are fighting!”

Pardon my skepticism, but the story of Bin Laden's death seems to hold a lot less water than a corpse buried at sea should. “The operation to remove him was so hush-hush, see, that we can't release any photos of his corpse...” For the last few years, Bin Laden has seemed to me to be merely a manufactured distraction from one of the main real issues facing this country, namely the insistence of most of the nation and of all of its wealthiest and most powerful members that America is entitled to control and consume all of the world's resources, regardless of the cost to other peoples or the fact that those resources are now running out.

This issue seems to be too painful for us to bear looking at it for very long. So we look for distractions as we have been trained to by our media, and the media happily dishes up distractions. A week ago it was a certain wedding of two extremely spoiled people in England. (I don't give two cents and a stick of chewing gum about the “Royal Wedding.” He's not the prince of Oregon, is he?!) This week it's Bin Laden. But I'm not distracted.

I care far more about things that our mainstream media continues to ignore – questions like, what's a sievert? How many sieverts does it take to kill you? How many millisieverts does it take to ruin your health for good? How many millisieverts have we in the Pacific Northwest received since the 11th of March? Will the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster ever be satisfactorily mitigated? How many people know about the gasoline shortages sweeping many parts of the globe right now (including shortages in parts of Georgia and Pittsburgh in the U.S.)? What geopolitical games of robbery will the United States play as global resource shortages intensify? Who will be the next chimera?