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February 26, 2007

Hey, Haven't We Been To This Town Before?

“Hey, haven't we been to this town before?” Bullwinkle repeatedly asks as he and Rocky drive through endless vacuous, chain-store ridden towns in the 2000 movie, “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle."

It's All Good
James Howard Kunstler

This mind-numbing repetition of soulless contemporary American landscapes is described by James Kunstler in his 1993 book, “The Geography of Nowhere.” Last weekend, I crossed paths with Kunstler again when I read his article, “Making Other Arrangements,” in the January/February issue of Orion Magazine. I encourage you to read the article. Below are a few excerpts:

“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 . . . !

“the widespread wish persists that some combination of alternative fuels will rescue us from this oil and gas predicament and allow us to continue enjoying by some other means what Vice-President Cheney has called the "non-negotiable" American way of life.

“If you really want to understand the U.S. public's penchant for wishful thinking, consider this: We invested most of our late twentieth-century wealth in a living arrangement with no future. American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. The far-flung housing subdivisions, commercial highway strips, big-box stores, and all the other furnishings and accessories of extreme car dependence will function poorly, if at all, in an oil-scarce future. Period.

“The key to understanding the challenge we face is admitting that we have to comprehensively make other arrangements for all the normal activities of everyday life.

“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.”

Read the complete article, “Making Other Arrangements.”


February 05, 2007

Living With War

Winter weather has slowed the progress of Gypsy Rose. For those readers who’ve come to these pages in search of updates, I won’t have much in the way of new construction efforts to share until the temperatures begin to warm a bit. In the meantime, I will pass along some insights from the life of the person swinging the hammer.

Jackson in NYC
My son, Jackson, waiting to march in New York - April 2006

 Living With War

When I was a teen, I was a fan of Neil Young. I still enjoy his music today, but the recent release, "Living With War," left me wondering why some things don't change.

I grew up in the Vietnam era. The first U.S. Military personnel were sent to that country before I was born, but the war did not end until two months prior to my graduation from high school. It was a war that spanned the entirety of my youth.

I have vivid memories of television news in my pre-teen years. I still recall the daily body counts and the images of war on the screen. At a young age, I watched with curiosity the drama of a war and its politics that seemed so far removed from my rural Vermont home. I remember the images of anti-war protests in our nation’s capital. I still have a mental image of innocent students being shot and killed at Kent State. I remember the clips of multiple presidents, stiffly seated behind the oval office desk, presenting rationalizations for why we needed to escalate our involvement in Southeast Asia. I watched as our military numbers in Vietnam increased from 16,000 in 1964 to over 550,000 by 1969. If we couldn’t win by “advising” the South Vietnamese, we’d do it ourselves, with brute force (sound familiar?). In 1969 the U.S. began a 14-month bombing campaign during which we dropped 2.75 million tons of bombs – an amount greater than all the bombs dropped by the Allies during the entirety of World War II. Countless lives were lost, but the war did not end.

By the time I entered high school, I began to get very worried. I’d been listening in on the talk among young men not that many years older than me. They’d been getting their draft notices. As I grew older, the realities of war began permeating my rural Vermont life and threatened to directly involve me. I remember taking a strong interest in the Paris negotiations. “They’ve got to get this thing over,” I kept telling myself, “They’ve got to get this thing over!”

In the end, we had those memorable images of helicopters airlifting South Vietnamese officials, civilians, and Marines from the roof of the embassy building in Saigon on April 30th, 1975, moments before the South Vietnamese surrendered, and just a little more than a month before I graduated high school. When all was said and done, over 50,000 American lives had been lost. I ask the question to this day, “For what?”

Blood on his hands

Skip ahead thirty two years. I am now the father of eleven and thirteen year-old sons. Like me, they are growing up with war. Just as Vietnam was part of my childhood, the Iraq war is part of theirs. Our nation is nearly four years into a bungled war with no resolution in sight, and our president has recently announced plans to send in 20,000 more troops, against the will of Congress and the majority of the American people.

As I see it, the Bush administration continuously insults the intelligence of the American people with its insistence that we are fighting a war against terrorist threats and WMD’s.  Americans have always known the real reason why we are sending troops to die in Iraq. We’re protecting the “American Way,” but not because of a threat to freedom, democracy, and civil liberties. Instead, we are losing thousands of unnecessary lives in Iraq to protect the lifeblood of our consumption based, growth-oriented, throw away culture. We are killing and dying for oil. We are in Iraq to secure the future of U.S. energy supplies.

To make matters worse, the war has begun to show the potential for expansion throughout the region, with the very real possibility of escalating to global proportions. For what? For oil!

I will not participate in a war to secure foreign energy supplies, nor will I ask my own children to give their lives for such a reason. That said, I must ask, “What can I do?”

Among the answers to that question, here are just a few. Become informed. Speak out. Vote. Live by example.

Getting ready to march

Last April, I took my sons to New York City where we marched down Broadway with hundreds of thousands of protesters to send our collective voices to the Bush administration. Participation in the sea of humanity flowing down the avenues of that city was powerful, indeed, but my responsibility goes far beyond just chanting “no more war." I must acknowledge my role in our nation's oil dependency, and do something about it. We did not become the world’s largest consumer of the Earth’s resources as the result of a single administration’s errant policies. We have come to this place through the cumulative impact of individual decisions and actions. In order to bring about change, we can demand that our elected officials lead the way (2008?), but ultimately it will be individual actions that take us in a new direction.

I strongly disagree with sending troops to die for oil in Iraq. I do not want to see my children’s future squandered so that we may sustain a way of life that this planet cannot support. That said, I must do everything that I can to insure that my own individual actions are not contributing unduly to the problem. I need to learn how to best live within the very real constraints of our one Earth. That means breaking the addiction to oil - the sooner the better.