Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Indigo Bunting
Originally uploaded by hart_curt

Yesterday I saw an Indigo Bunting. I see these brightly colored birds about once a year, a rare treat. There's another bird species I see with infrequent regularity and that's a Baltimore Oriel. Oriels are rather shy forest birds, rarely nesting near houses. But in more than one year in the autumn when the leaves have fallen I've discovered their distinctive hanging nests in a Buckeye tree by the barn. That's made me think that not seeing the birds has more to do with my lack of observation than genuine scarcity. Still, it's a rare day in the summer when I see an Indigo Bunting or a Baltimore Oriel.

I saw the Indigo Bunting where I always see them. On my road, just about a mile from my house is an old cemetery where the road makes a hairpin turn. From the top of the hill by the cemetery is a nice view of the surrounding countryside. I'm always struck by the beauty of the place. Just a mile further down the road is a suburban housing development. While the road is an old route, even on maps more than a hundred fifty years old, it's a minor road. More trafficked now as a short cut to the recent development and urban sprawl.

The other evening just at dusk I stepped outside and noticed a police car with lights blaring heading down the road and then a fire engine. I walked to the end of our driveway marveling at the dark canopy provided by the woods. Twenty years ago those trees were just saplings reclaiming a farm field. The woods were full with the sounds of birds settling in for the night. When I got to the end of the driveway I saw the fire trucks just at the bottom of the hill. There's a small bridge there and I suspected a car hadn't negotiated the curve in the road and had run off into the ditch. A red pickup truck sped forwards breaking just short of the fire truck. A woman who I didn't recognize got out and shouted: "That's my son in that car!"

I walked back to the house and told my father there had been an accident. We heard the sound of a helicopter over head and knew someone had been injured badly. We walked back out to the end of the driveway together; mostly out of curiosity, I suppose. A helicopter went overhead, and we wondered if it indeed had landed, and if so where?

The fire department is a volunteer department, our connection to it is limited to a yearly donation and going to the firehouse to vote. The firefighters are my neighbors and one day I may well depend on them, but I don't even know their names.

Volunteer fire departments are common in this region. Not so long ago the local economy was centered on a huge steel industry that's mostly gone now. Shift work was much more common than it is now. So fire companies are finding it hard to find enough volunteers. I've given passing thought to volunteering myself, but as mousy as it sounds, I really don't think that's where my talents lie. But watching them in action prompted me to think I really owe some of my skills and efforts in service to my community.

John Robb is a former Air Force officer, technologist, counter-terrorism expert and author of the book Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization. Growing up military stuff was a subject of great interest to some of my friends. Like my utter lack of interest in sports, I never shared their interest. That is until the militarism of recent years. So I read Robb's blogs and from this one found a link to James Kunstler speaking at TED a couple of years ago. Kunstler makes the point that in the way we live and in the buildings we create place we don't care anything about.

Yeah, I agree with Kunstler, but what can I do about it? James Howard Kunstler's style seems to be brutally honest, osmething that doesn't always endear him to others. More than the tone, it's the message that's so hard to embrace. Consider this from his recent piece in Orion Magazine:
AS THE AMERICAN PUBLIC CONTINUES sleepwalking into a future of energy scarcity, climate change, and geopolitical turmoil, we have also continued dreaming. Our collective dream is one of those super-vivid ones people have just before awakening. It is a particularly American dream on a particularly American theme: how to keep all the cars running by some other means than gasoline. We’ll run them on ethanol! We’ll run them on biodiesel, on synthesized coal liquids, on hydrogen, on methane gas, on electricity, on used French-fry oil . . . !
Kunstler recently temporarily shut down his blog Clusterfuck Nation until he can find a way of controlling the obnoxious comments of trolls--good luck with that! Just the name of the blog gets at this issue of tone. I've been known to use the "f" word, but have a hard time writing it. So let's go with the euphemism clusterCheney. The clusterCheney of which he speaks is "a future of energy scarcity, climate change, and geopolitical turmoil..." We're not listening because we don't want to hear it.

I was stunned last night to see former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond on PBS's Nightly Business Report saying, well, you know, there just might be a problem with energy supply. Raymond was adamant that he was not speaking as former Exxon CEO, but as head of the National Petroleum Council. That organization provided a report made public yesterday to energy secretary Samuel Bodman who asked the question: “What does the future hold for oil and natural gas supply?”

Lee Raymond's appearance is often compared to the Austin Powers character Fat Bastard or to Star Wars Jabba the Hut. And in his tenure as Exxon CEO was know for his vigorous denial about global climate change and his rosy predictions about the supplies of fossil fuels. So as this piece in treehugger suggests nobody was expecting Raymond and the National Petroleum Council to seriously answer Bodman's question. So seeing him on the TV saying we've got real trouble made me exclaim "Holy Cheney!" so to speak ;-)

Speaking of Cheney, the list of people in on the discussions of his 2001 Energy Task Force which he was able to keep secret were leaked to the press this week. At The Next Hurrah emptywheel asks: "Why Hide the Energy Task Force?" The remarakable thing is the oil company executives were telling him then that conservation was priority number one!

Which brings me back to the question what to do about it. Here's how the often harsh, but always clear Kunstler ends that Orion article--go ahead and read the whole thing:
It’s a daunting agenda, all right. And some of you are probably wondering how you are supposed to remain hopeful in the face of these enormous tasks. Here’s the plain truth, folks: Hope is not a consumer product. You have to generate your own hope. You do that by demonstrating to yourself that you are brave enough to face reality and competent enough to deal with the circumstances that it presents. How we will manage to uphold a decent society in the face of extraordinary change will depend on our creativity, our generosity, and our kindness, and I am confident that we can find these resources within our own hearts, and collectively in our communities.
Some of us can be firefighters, but all of us must ask what we can do for our communities. The Buckminster Fuller Institute is conducting The Buckminster Fuller Challenge. I hope some of you have good ideas along those lines. Like being a volunteer firefighter, I don't think I'm much good at design on that scale. But the quotation from Fuller they're using:
"If success or failure of the planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do ... How would I be? What would I do?"
asks the questions I've got to seek answers to. I do love my home. I agree with Kunstler that "our creativity, our generosity, and our kindness," are the best sources for hope.

Monday, July 02, 2007

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

On Sunday I went with my dad to a concert performance by Jean-Luc Ponty at Hartwood Acres, a county park. The free concerts at Hartwood are joyful occasions with picnicking, children and dogs. Along with friends we had good food and the weather was cool. What a great band too. Ponty's remarks about most the most recent album, The Acatama Experience:
The Acatama Experience was conceived as a musical journey starting with a Paris street ambiance (Intro) followed by 13 songs, taking us through different lands, through a variety of impressions and emotions, through the past and present. This is also the first album that I produced in such 'on and off' manner, between January 2006 and February 2007. During that time period I also traveled and performed with my band on different continents, from South America to Europe, from Russia to Venezuela, from the U.S.A. to India, returning to this album project each time with fresh ears and new insight.
The band : percussionist Moustapha Cisse, drummer Theierry Arpino, bassist Guy Nsangue Akwa, and keyboardist William Lecomte blend their conservatory training with West African rhythms into brilliant music.

It turns out there's a Summer of Love connection with Jean-Luc Ponty in that he was first introduced to American musical audiences at the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival. The Monterey Pop Festival, as can be seen by the image of Tom Wilkes memorable poster snatched from the Wikipedia article, was in June around the time of the Summer Solstice. The Monterey Jazz Festival was held on the same fairgrounds in September around the time of the Autumnal Solstice.

Time flies and it is hard to keep everything straight in mind. Thinking about music for my own Summer of Love anniversary party I decided to make a mix tape. Yes a cassette tape. Most of the little music I own is on cassette, at least music that dates back to the sixties. Mixing musical genres is an art, and also my collection of sixties music is predominately Soul anyway. That's appropriate because while in 1967 I did listen to The Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow album, and The Mamas and Papas album, and Simon and Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme--all of them my brother's albums--mostly what I heard was Soul music on the car radio. It took me a while longer to discover the music of Monterey Pop and Monterey Jazz festivals.

I chatted with a young musician, FredAlfred online recently and when it came to my age he asked: "Were you a hippie?" By this account, The Death of Hippie occurred in October of 1967. But you only have to read the document to understand the reality isn't quite as neat as the report suggests. The old joke follows: "If you remember the sixties, you weren't there." No, I was too young to be a hippie in 1967, but I still think it was the beginning of something. If celebrating the Summer of Love is worth it, then that "something" that was beginning has to be fleshed out a bit.

An obstacle to fleshing this out from my personal experience is one way of looking at it is that it's the beginning of one blunder after another. I not alone in seeing my own blunders and those of a wide swath of my generation, but it seems there's a minority of us who rather not repudiate the zeitgeist of the time.

Darn it! I never can seem to get to the point of anything. The reason I started with this whole Summer of Love thread was as a way of explaining a long lapse in posting to Bazungu Bucks. The reasons, as best I can tell, have to do with an upwelling of despair about present events. The reality of my local and personal circumstances are quite pleasant. Oh that so many more of us were so blessed! The rub is that the systems which serve my comfort and well-being contribute substantially to the misery of many people around the world. And these systems eat the world's resources in ways that cannot sustain even my local conditions. That's something my generation figured out long ago when we were young, but rather fully put that "inconvenient truth" out of our minds as we "grew-up."

Al Gore, an elder voice of our generation, keeps reminding us that we ignore inconvenient truths at our peril. He gets a lot of laughs, but keeps--it seems quite patiently--to remind us of the point. He penned an Op-Ed in Sunday's New York Times, Moving Beyond Kyoto.

Back in April, I was working hard in my garden. I had also been wondering how to begin local conversations about the the state of things and what we could do about it. Oh and I see by this post at Hats For Health I've been thinking about the Summer of Love for a while. In April, most probably April 29th, shovel in hand, the enormity of the challenge which global climate change hit me like a 2 X 4 to the head. The previous evening I'd read Alex Steffen's review of paleontologist Peter Ward's book, Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future. Steffen quotes from the book:
In other words, despite what some conservative pundits have written, you might not want to vacation in an extreme greenhouse world, after all. Forget "breeding couples" camping out in the Arctic, we may not have flowering plants or any but the toughest insects left (the cockroaches from my first apartment will almost certainly make it).
And in my garden with multitudes of flowering plants around me, imagining a world without them filled me with grief.

Jim Kunstler minces few words about "the Castor-and-Pollux of Clusterfuck Nation, Global Warming and Peak Oil." The hue and cry "We want solutions! scares him. He makes the point:
let's stop talking about making better cars and start talking about occupying the landscape differently -- which we're going to have to do anyway.
What's really depressing to me is a famous observation ofUpton Sinclair :
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.
While I think Kunstler is exactly right that we really must begin talking about "occupying the land differently," I find the talk about solutions reassuring, at least so far as it seems an improvement over shear and utter denial. It's not at all easy to cast a cold eye upon what our livelihoods depend.

No, my generation is no longer young. Yes, looking back over my years so many things that seemed like good ideas at the time, certainly weren't very good. Maybe in a long line of foolishness, the idea of commemorating the Summer of Love provides a glimmer of hope. Because once my generation earnestly wanted to expand our minds to imagine a better way of being. We were hardly imaginative enough. But we took a step in the right direction.

Gore's editorial highlights LiveEarth twenty four hours of music in concert across seven continents on 7.7.07. No doubt the effort seems a bit besides the point to Kunstler and others with it's call "to be part of the solution." But we've all got to start some place if we are indeed going to begin to occupy the land differently.

Central to the idea of Bazungu Bucks is the idea that people outside Africa can be of service to African people. I don't believe we can be of much service unless we alter first our thinking about how we live and ultimately begin changing how we live. We, people around the world, are bound together by this existential challenge of energy descent and global warming. Much of what we in the Global North think we know is profoundly wrong. And in so many ways undertaking the the challenges of the poorest in the world provides the essential keys to our own survival.