Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

The Lie of Supply and Demand

December 16, 2015

Every time I get involved in some kind of conversation or debate over economic justice, there’s always some guy who will jump in to invoke the “Law of Supply and Demand.” Invariably, he steps back then to see if any of us are dumb enough to continue. It’s a law, man, a settled issue, something that only an idiot would challenge. But supply and demand is not a law. A law is something that absolutely must happen. But no one has any obligation to follow this supposed law in any transaction they control. If I have the only loaf of bread and I’m surrounded by hungry people, I can give the bread away if I so choose. Supply and demand is a syndrome—a philosophical justification for greed. One of the assumptions behind supply and demand is that people naturally want to get as much as they can and will play every angle they can in order to get it. A further assumption is, that’s okay. The only law involved then is the Law of the Jungle. But it’s not okay. Greed is killing us. It’s been sanctioned for a long time and the ill-effects are mounting. Climate change is one of them. Another is the cost of housing. We have to change our approach to how we exist and survive. We don’t need so much stuff. We’re heading for the cliff, and the cliff isn’t that far away now. If we don’t stop soon, we’re going over it.

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Progress Report #96

February 20, 2015

The world is going crazy so fast that it’s impossible to keep up with all the developments. Every time I plan a post, it’s made obsolete by something new. Putin and the Ukraine, the Islamic State, Climate Change, Greece vs. Germany, Republican (as in GOP) insanity, fracking. It never ends. You have to arrive at a deep point of view to say something that can’t be washed away by our contemporary lunacy. Maybe if I could post every day…But I’ve been hard at work on my book, and I’m going to confine myself to that for the moment.  I do have an idea for something I want to say that can’t be washed away by the madness. And I do hope to get to it soon. As for Street Song

I recently finished Chapter Four. Finished. I’m making real progress now. I have found my approach and my voice. All I need to do now is to keep moving forward. I’ve just had to abandon the sequential order of the chapters for a little while, though. My agent wants me to work up some sample chapters from the latter half of the book so she can have something to shop around. I’ve already started that work. The first one I’m working on deals with my first days as a street singer in Berkeley, which was the point where I began to stake my life on making it as a musician. I had a firm rule: I was not going to make any money other than through my music. I would sink or swim with it. The other chapter will begin from a point some time after I sank, namely my first weeks on the streets of North Beach in San Francisco with no money, no home, and no job—not even any ID. Some of that material is in the book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. So after all these years, Street Song is finally moving forward in a real way. There will be no going back, no prolonging of the work. My aim is to get it finished.

I recently received a copy of the Japanese edition of Wild Parrots. I don’t understand a thing, but it’s nice to look at. I’m having some friends who can read Japanese look at it for me. The only thing I know right now is that the credentials of the translator are impeccable. I’m told that he’s the Japanese equivalent of a Harvard professor.

More on My Visit with Mother

September 3, 2014

There’s a short piece near the end of my book The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill where I go for a swim in San Francisco Bay and then join the South End Rowing Club. The piece was intended to symbolize my finally arriving in San Francisco after living here for more than 20 years, yet always feeling that I was just passing through. At the time I wrote that, it felt like a bit of a stretch, and it may still be. But I have gotten more into swimming this year. The water temperature in the bay has been unusually warm this year — probably not a good sign, although swimmers love it. (All the starfish have disappeared. All of them.) In the past the temp has rarely gotten above 63 degrees, but this year it has hit 66 degrees consistently, and occasionally even higher.

The South End Rowing Club was founded in 1873. It’s old blue-collar San Francisco—not fancy or expensive. The name is deceptive. Not only is the club at the north end of San Francisco, it caters mostly to swimmers. Originally, the club was at the south end of the city and catered to rowers. At some point, they moved the entire building from its original location to Aquatic Park. If you’ve ever been to the Hyde Street Pier near Fisherman’s Wharf or visited the old sailing ship the Balclutha, you’ve seen the club building. It sits on the beach of a protected cove. Most club swimmers never get out of the cove, and up until now, I’ve been one of those. My wife Judy on the other hand does the Alcatraz swim almost every year. Before I met her, I couldn’t swim—not properly at least. She taught me how to do “the crawl,” but I’ve never felt strong enough to do any out-of-the-cove swims. They’re a little scary. If you get into trouble, you’re way out in the bay, far from land. The club out-of-cove swims are done in groups and have pilots in boats, but it’s still a little intimidating for a weak swimmer. (Contrary to myth, there are no dangerous sharks in the bay.) There is one club swim, the Coghlan Beach Swim, that I’ve always sworn I’d do if all my conditions were met: They had to do it during the summer or fall when the water was warmer, it had to be non-competitive, and I had to have plenty of company. This year the club put together a special Coghlan Beach swim for newbies. So I started training.

Coghlan_Beach

Coghlan Beach with Alcatraz to the right in the background

The beach, named after an old time South End swimmer, Frank Coghlan, is a small spit of sand that has gathered against an artificial breakwater a mile west of the club. They drive you to the beach in a car and then all you have to do is swim out into the bay 20 yards or so, which puts you right out in the current. But it’s not as though you don’t have to do anything. If all you did was float, it would take you a long time to get back to the club. The morning of the swim, conditions were perfect. There was a strong flood tide, and the air was warm, but the sky overcast. People told me that on sunny mornings the sun can blind you. Judy swam with me and I had my own pilot in a row boat, a friend, David Kennedy. I’d expected to be at least a little nervous, but I wasn’t at all. It was fun watching the city float by, and, as I say, I was busy stroking, too busy to feel any anxiety. One technique I used to ease my fears was to look at my watch when my arm was underwater. I’d trained on up to a 53 minute swim, and I could see that I was going to get in earlier than that. The water looks and feels silky right now—deliciously so.

The Pier and the Opening

1) Alcatraz 2) The Pier 3) The Opening to the Cove

Just before the cove is a long pier, and the current really picks up when you get there. It was astonishing to see how fast we were flying past the pylons.

The Opening between Muni Pier and the Breakwater

The Opening between Muni Pier and the Breakwater

At the opening to the cove, I swam through and started making my way to the club beach. It took me 38 minutes to complete. I wasn’t tired at all. Actually, I wanted to do it again.

The South End Rowing Club Building

The South End Rowing Club Building

 

The Beach with the Opening in the background

The Beach with the Opening (1) in the background

It was good to have something take my mind off my obsession with my book for a while. I’ve never pictured myself trying it, but I now see swimming from Alcatraz as a real possibility. Judy will make sure I’m ready and get through it okay. Not this year, though.

I feel a little odd talking about my personal enjoyment at a time when the world seems to be heading straight to hell. I find the news hideous reading these days. But it is reality, and we do have to deal with it. I don’t see anyone saying what I think needs to be said, so I’ll be heading back in the direction of religion and politics soon enough. Meanwhile, back to the book.

We Don’t Want to Know

March 20, 2014

Yesterday I was returning home on my bicycle from an anti-growth rally, rolling quickly downhill, when a runner suddenly burst out into the street from between two parked cars. She was simultaneously running and talking on her cell phone and didn’t see me. I came very close to hitting her. It strikes me as a near perfect image of something I see happening.

I believe we’re heading for catastrophe. Not just America, but this whole global system that we’ve promulgated — insisted upon, really. Everyone’s hooked now. They talk about revolutions in communication, finance, energy, education, entertainment, and blah blah blah. Everything is happening very, very quickly. We’re making all these changes without carefully considering them. Anyone who would suggest that we slow it down and think it over first is a Luddite. It’s inevitable that one of these so-called revolutions is going to get us. You can’t keep running forward blindly, obsessed with your gadget, and not have a big accident at some point. For example, if cell phones do cause brain cancer, it’s not something most users — let alone manufacturers — want to know. Most people dismiss any evidence that suggests this is happening without even looking at it. This is what always happens before a catastrophe: People become deaf to warnings. This is happening with climate change, the weirdness of the financial world, energy usage, as well as our addiction to technology. I don’t know where it will come from, but something is going to get us.

This Creepy Election

October 31, 2012

I haven’t been writing about the election. I find the level of debate extraordinarily discouraging, which reflects, I think, a certain naïveté on my part. For years, I’ve been watching the intelligence of the American people go downhill. What’s there to be shocked about? When you have this kind of worship of celebrity and wealth—classic decadent empire—it’s to be expected.  Self-government requires intelligence and engagement. We’re facing some extremely serious issues, none of which are being addressed. One example is human-caused climate change, which most scientists seem to agree does exist. Not to discuss it is crazy and dangerous. But neither candidate dares to touch it. Another example is the economy. It’s discussed, but not the real underlying problem. The truth is that we’re seeing the end of a fantasy belief, that of constant economic growth for generation after generation. It was always a logical fallacy, an utter impossibility. Neither candidate can save the economy—at least not the old-style economy that we’re used to. We’re entering a new era and we need to start looking at it realistically. Does Obama need to lose so that Romney can demonstrate that the Republicans’ ideas won’t work either? I have little doubt that if either candidate told the truth about what’s really going on, the people—who claim to want their politicians to tell them the truth—would turn on him. So democracy—self-government—is failing in America. If it were working it wouldn’t matter how much money any particular candidate raised. People would have seriously studied the issues and would judge a candidate on the clarity and truth of his or her ideas, not on their ad campaigns. Money would be irrelevant. I blame much of our current state on computers and the Internet. We have not gotten any smarter since their introduction. To the contrary. (I’ll be writing more about this in the future.)

In any case, I’ve already voted, and I voted for Obama. I have to wonder if the worst happens and Romney does win, will the Republicans, given the last four years, be so hypocritical as to demand national unity? I’m sure they will. All the old insanity, all the old lines like “why do you hate America?,” and talk of non-Republicans being treasonous will once again tiresomely fill the air. Our only solution is to step back and take a non-ideological, objective-as-possible look at who we are and what we believe. What we believe must correspond to what is true, not what we’d like to be true. We can still do it. It may take another economic crash and a few more monster storms, but we can still do it. It’s not too late.

A Perfect Storm

February 1, 2011

What was intended as a little break from writing and an opportunity to explore New York City has turned into a big setback. I loved the snow in New York, but I spent so much time out in it that I got worn down. Now I have a nasty cold and I can’t write. To make matters worse, Judy flew down to Florida to visit her mother and she’s having trouble getting a flight back home due to an “historic” storm that is just getting started and is expected to last several days. News about the storm is being buried by the news about Egypt, but it’s supposed to affect over 100 million Americans. This winter, New York has been getting hit by one snowstorm after another, and New Yorkers are weary of it. Snow removal is busting the budgets of a lot of cities on the East Coast and the Midwest.

Judy and I were staying in midtown Manhattan, at Park and 38th, just a few blocks down from Grand Central Station and right in between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Walking down the sidewalks, I was constantly overhearing fragments of businessmen’s conversations. The most interesting one by far involved a guy who worked for an insurance company and who was explaining to his friend that his company has been forced to accept that climate change is real and that they are adjusting their business decisions accordingly. Not knowing much about the subject, I’ve been staying away from it. I’ve read two books, both of which I had trouble understanding. I’ve never had much enthusiasm for science. But I stand openly now with those who say that we’ve got a big mess on our hands and that we’re largely, if not entirely, responsible for it. We’ve been unwisely profligate, and it makes perfect sense that we should have to pay a price for it.