Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Waiting For Disaster

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

water tank

(This article appeared in the drought October 2014)

“There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” Henry Kissinger

As the drought continues and a weakening El Niño lessens the chance of a good wet winter in California, we are having a second water tank installed to give us five thousand gallons of storage capacity. So far, knock on redwood, our well continues to provide us with sufficient water for our basic needs. Sadly, more and more of our neighbors are experiencing water shortages, and if we have another dry winter or two or three, even the most draconian conservation measures won’t keep our well from running dry for at least part of the year.

Thus we want that greater storage capacity for several reasons.

First, the water delivery companies in the Mendocino-Fort Bragg area deliver with trucks carrying 3500 gallons, and if you have less than a 3500-gallon storage capacity they still charge you for the entire 3500 gallons. Should we need to buy water, we want to be able to receive the full load.

Second, five thousand gallons provides us with two months of water for our minimalist needs, and those two months might carry us through the driest months of the year to a resurgence of our well.

Third, we will be more emboldened to plant a larger vegetable garden and water the orchard more generously if we know we have sufficient water for our basic needs and plenty more for our vegetables and fruit trees. We can monitor our supply, and when the well gives signs of waning, we can curtail water to the plants. This year, not having that extra capacity, we reigned in the size of our garden and were perhaps too sparing in watering the fruit trees we inherited and the five new apple trees we’ve planted since moving onto this property two years ago.

“


Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Alan Lakein

When our new storage tank arrived (it has yet to be coupled with our old tank) several neighbors inquired about what we were doing. Lively discussions ensued, and every single neighbor I spoke to said either, “We should get another tank, too,” or “We don’t even have a storage tank and really should get one.”

When I encouraged them to do so as soon as possible, they all acted somewhat sheepish (ashamed?) because they probably aren’t going to get a storage tank or a second tank until their wells run completely dry and they are forced by dire necessity to get those tanks—their body language saying, “Why spend the money when we might have a wet winter?”

Buckminster Fuller wrote that human evolution and human history are essentially records of people reacting to crises. His hope was that the vast stores of information made available to everyone on earth via computers would usher in an era of humans taking actions to avert disasters before such disasters engulfed them. Alas, his hope has not been realized. Humans, it turns out, are hard-wired creatures of crisis and rarely take sufficient pre-emptive actions to avoid disasters.

 “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” George Washington Carver

Speaking of thinking ahead, higher education in Germany is once again absolutely free throughout that socialist country, and that goes for international students, too. “We got rid of tuition fees because we do not want a higher education system dependent on the wealth of the parents,” said Gabrielle Heinen-Kjajic, the minister for science and culture in Lower Saxony.

“Tuition fees are unjust,” said Hamburg’s senator for science Dorothee Stapelfeldt. “They discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

Wow. Imagine if ensuring free higher education and excellent lower education were core tasks of politics in America, along with ensuring excellent free healthcare for all? For a fraction of the annual military budget we could have all three. But that is not going to happen because the American people are now thoroughly entrained to believe we are not a collective of people working for the greater good, but a vast list of individuals, each with the inalienable right to have piles of stuff we never have to share with anyone else if we don’t want to. And we don’t want to share our stuff because sharing is…yucky.

However, deep in our genetic memories is the fundamental truth of our evolution, which is that we would never have survived as a species had we not developed the ability to form and maintain highly cooperative groups of individuals living and working for the good of the entire group. This is why during crises, large populations of theretofore selfish, separate, disconnected individuals often become highly cooperative in order to enhance everyone’s chances of survival.

One of our neighbors came to take a look at our new water tank and said with a twinkle in her eye, “I know where I’m coming when I run out of water.”

And it occurs to me that we ought not only be outfitting our separate homes with more water tanks, we should be looking into creating a community water storage capacity, and a community solar electric system, and a community ride sharing system, and…hold that thought, my favorite television show is about to start and we’ve got enough water and food and stuff for at least another week, so I’ll talk to you later.

What’s New?

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Hungry For Color note card by Todd Walton

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2012)

“Life is full of obstacle illusions.” Grant Frazier

A recent San Francisco 49ers game ended in a tie with the St. Louis Rams, the first professional football game to end in a tie in four years. I’m still not used to the Rams being the St. Louis Rams because they were the Los Angeles Rams for all of my youth and for decades thereafter, which made them our dread rivals along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Lakers and all things Los Angeles. The Lakers, by the way, are called the Lakers because they were originally the Minneapolis Lakers, Minnesota having lakes whereas Los Angeles has viaducts; but the Los Angeles Viaducts would have been a silly name for a basketball team, so…the Dodgers were originally the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Golden State (Oakland) Warriors were originally the Philadelphia Warriors, and soon the San Francisco 49ers will be playing their games in Santa Clara and…nowadays professional sports franchises move ever more frequently from city-state to city-state at the whim of their billionaire owners.

This year, for instance, the Brooklyn Nets played their first games with that moniker having been moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey by their new multi-billionaire Russian owner who just built a billion-dollar sports complex in Brooklyn to house his new team. The Nets are the first professional sports franchise to call Brooklyn home since the Brooklyn Dodgers fled to Los Angeles in the 1950’s, and now New Jersey is without a professional basketball or football or baseball franchise. Oh well.

Anyway, that 49er’s game ending in a tie took me back to my senior year of high school when I was the goalie of the Woodside High soccer team and we were playing Sequoia High for the league championship. The year was 1967 and a long time before soccer would become the major American institution it is today. There were no such things as soccer moms in those days because there were no soccer leagues for children to be driven to. In fact, very few American high schools in 1967 had soccer teams, soccer being of such little interest to most Americans that we never had more than a handful of spectators at our games, and most of those were girlfriends of the players.

When we played for the league championship against the perennial champion Sequoia, there were perhaps fifty people in the stands, most of them the fathers and mothers and siblings of Sequoia’s many Mexican players, the large Mexican population of Redwood City being the basis for Sequoia’s perennial dominance of a soccer league otherwise composed of white kids, most of whom had played soccer for a few years at most, while the Mexican kids had been kicking balls around since they began to walk.

Miracle of miracles, and largely due to our stifling defensive play, that championship game ended in a 1-1 tie, and in those days penalty kick shootouts were a thing of the future. Ties happened and that’s just the way it was. I do remember that most of my teammates and all the Sequoia players were angry that the coaches wouldn’t let us play on until one team or the other scored a winning goal, but our anger quickly morphed into relief. After all, we probably would have lost had the game continued, and what was wrong with being co-champions? Nothing. Nowadays every sport from the peewee leagues to the pros has elaborate protocols for coming up with a winner in the event of a tie at the end of regulation, and I’ll wager this latest 49ers tie will set off a flurry of demands for rule changes to eradicate tie games in professional football forever.

It is never too late to be who you might have been.” George Eliot

As I was musing about why tie games have become so unacceptable in America, I happened to catch a few minutes of a radio program featuring the president of the California Teachers’ Association and two other well-informed educators talking about the educational holocaust created by Bush’s No Child Left Behind, a program Obama has continued under the new name Race To The Top. This asinine system has severely damaged an entire generation of students (and teachers) by teaching the kids absolutely nothing while insisting they memorize and regurgitate masses of useless information in order to be tested on how much useless information they can memorize and regurgitate. These millions and millions of brilliant young people were not taught to write well or how to think critically or how to create art or how to invent things or how to solve problems or how to play musical instruments, and most importantly, as far as I’m concerned—and this relates to our new cultural taboo against games ending in ties—students were not taught to work together, to help each other, to cooperate, to share, and to undertake group projects that end in ties with everyone winning.

Race to the top? The top of what? The societal pyramid, right? And doesn’t that imply that if a tiny percentage of the people race to the top of the pyramid (or more likely are born there and jealously guard their lofty domain) that many more people will be on the bottom of the pyramid or near the bottom? Most people? Of course it does. We have the newest fangled gadgets and phones and computers and cars, but we have a fundamental design flaw in the organization of our society, a flaw we teach and preach as the law of the land. Race to the top, sucker, and you’d better get to the top or you will lose, no tie games allowed.

“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.” Henry David Thoreau

One of the things I greatly appreciate about living in Mendocino is that most of the full time residents I’ve gotten to know could care less about racing to the top of any sort of social or economic pyramid or heap, and that’s one of the reasons they’ve chosen to live here. After abiding for eleven years in Berkeley where such racing and clawing and competing is endemic and exhausting, I am greatly relieved to live somewhere where I am liked or disliked for who I am rather than for who I know or where I live or how much money I have or don’t have. That racing clawing competing energy visits Mendocino on weekends and during the summer months when folks from the Bay Area come up to recreate or occupy their second (or third) homes; and whenever I find myself in the line of such unfriendly psychic fire, I escape post haste and thank my lucky stars I don’t live in Berkeley anymore.

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” H.G. Wells

Speaking of what’s new, one of the best things to become established in America in my lifetime is the popularity of bicycles and bicycling. When I moved to Sacramento in 1980, my main means of transportation was a bicycle, and so few people rode bicycles in those days that I was soon known in midtown and downtown as “the guy who rides a bike.” Seriously. I’m not kidding. I walked all over town, too, and dozens of times I was greeted by complete strangers with, “Hey, where’s your bike?” or “Hey, it’s the bike guy.”

“You know what I always dreamed of? That with the greenhouse effect, one day Estonia can be what Los Angeles is right now. I always thought when the end of the world comes, I want to be in Estonia. I think then I’d survive.” Carmen Kass

Speaking of bicycles, things, as in the projected changes in the earth’s climate, based on actual measurable data, are not looking good for the survival of humanity beyond another couple of generations unless we dramatically fantastically and heroically shrink our carbon footprints to almost nothing, and soon. “Oh, dear,” we Americans collectively respond to the irrefutable information about what’s happening on earth at this very moment, “but how can we reduce our carbon footprints even a little if the powers that be won’t provide us with groovalicious mass transit and spacious sturdy solar electric cars made from recycled plastic and inexpensive renewable energy and stuff like that? How can we change the way we live if someone else doesn’t provide convenient and excellent alternatives to the way we’re living now?”

The answer is that we, you and I, are extremely intelligent and resourceful people, and there is no doubt whatsoever that we can figure out myriads ways to dramatically fantastically and heroically shrink our individual and collective carbon footprints to a perfectly reasonable level if we set our minds and hearts to the task. Not only that, but we are so resourceful and creative that we can dramatically reduce our carbon footprints and have fun at the same time. To get your imaginative juices flowing in that direction, think about walking, bicycles, insulation, potluck dinners, ride sharing, solar power, wind power, buying local, thermal underwear, driving less, candlelight, darkness, vegetable gardens…

And think about what Thomas Hedges just reported for Truthdig:

Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to “energy transformation,” estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.

Germans are baffled that the United States has not taken the same path. Not only is the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world, but it’s also credited with jump-starting Germany’s green movement 40 years ago.

“This is a very American idea,” Arne Jungjohann, a director at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation (HBSF), said at a news conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. “We got this from Jimmy Carter.”

Indeed, the only thing stopping Americans from inventing and implementing wonderful new carbon-lite lives is our unwillingness to believe that such changes are truly necessary.

What’s Going On?

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

(This article first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2011)

“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” Malcolm X

One of my guilty pleasures is watching sports highlights on my computer, many of which are prefaced by thirty-second ads for shoes, cars, beer, and the Army. I have become adept at turning off the volume and relaxing for those thirty seconds before each highlight, but occasionally a new ad grabs me and I’ll watch and marvel at the senseless inventiveness of capitalism. The last Army recruitment ad I watched began with a video-game-animation of Caucasian American soldiers morphing into actual Caucasian American soldiers interdicting and arresting impoverished American black men, brutally and at gunpoint.

I haven’t the slightest doubt that twenty years ago such an ad would have caused a huge public outcry for its racist violence and for the implication that American armed forces are servants of a racist police state. But this ad, I have since been informed, has been running for several weeks through several mainstream media outlets, and no outcries are being reported (which, of course, doesn’t mean outcrying isn’t going on.)

“I think I’m an actor because I have a very strong imagination and empathy. I never studied acting, but those two qualities are exactly the qualities that make for an activist.” Susan Sarandon

As I was pondering this latest indication of the thorough conquest of our media by the corporate state, my brother sent me a link to an article about a large new study by the American Red Cross that reveals nearly sixty percent of American teenagers (both male and female) think brutal torture of suspected enemies is acceptable. And more than fifty percent of teenagers also approve of killing captured enemies on the spot in situations where the enemy is thought to have killed Americans. If that doesn’t creep you out, consider that forty-one percent of American teens thought it was fine for our enemies to torture Americans.

The study further reveals that a large majority of older Americans are opposed to torture under any circumstances. So what’s going on? We might simply blame television, but the parents of today’s teenagers watched as much television as their children, and they, the parents, do not largely approve of torture. So perhaps it is the nature of television and mass media today in contrast to how it was twenty years ago. Or we might blame the new generation of extremely realistic video games, most of which require the player to slaughter as many enemies as he or she can slaughter before they, the enemies, slaughter the player.

However, I think it is naïve to say that too much television and too many violent video games are the causes of our teenagers lacking empathy for others. For though television and video games certainly may influence our thinking and behavior, to a much larger degree television and video games reflect the larger social and political scenarios into which today’s teenagers were born. I think it is crucial to remember that virtually all of our individual prejudices and emotional inclinations are thoroughly hardwired by the end of the first four years of our lives, long before most kids make their first video kills.

What I and many others theorize is that the social fabrics woven of direct human connections and human interdependencies that have defined and supported people for millennia have been largely replaced by a technological fabric purporting to connect us, but that in reality keeps us terribly isolated and starving for emotional fulfillment. I view the cell phone/computer as close kin to the tracking devices affixed to convicted felons serving their sentences at home. Indeed, a growing number of people I know have become so neurotically attached to their mobile phones that their lives seem to be little more than extensions of that attachment.

“Touch has a memory.” John Keats

When I was a young man, an older man I knew and admired was convicted of statutory rape and sent to prison. I was so devastated by this wholly unexpected (by me) turn of events that I sought solace in reading everything I could get my hands on about rapists and criminals and prisons. And in almost every book and study I read, there were two points made again and again that struck me as most telling: that the vast majority of those who are sent to prison were deprived of loving touch as children, and rapists in particular were, for the most part, extremely unimaginative and had great difficulty satisfying themselves sexually through fantasy and autoeroticism.

Well, you probably see where I’m going with this. If instead of love and lots of physical and emotional interaction with us and other people, we give our children gadgets and videos that take the place of and inhibit the development of their imaginations, and we isolate them so they grow up socially and verbally inept, and we ourselves are hooked into our computers and phones, thus modeling for them what it is to be a human being, the scene is set for a collective criminality, if you will, criminality defined as a lack of empathy and compassion for others—a wholly self-serving mode of survival.

“How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.” Buckminster Fuller

This may seem like an unlikely segway, but have you noticed that the ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan has suddenly vanished from the news? The same folks running recruitment ads using violent racism as bait for desperate teenagers without imaginations have decided that in-depth news about the multiple nuclear meltdowns might interfere with corporate profits both in the short and long term so…

But in Germany, as a result of the Fukushima disaster and ensuing public and electoral protests, the German government has announced they are going to phase out all their nuclear power plants as soon as possible and aim those billions of Euros instead at energy efficiency and the development of alternative energy sources. And I guarantee you that when their shift away from nuclear power proves to be wildly successful and surprisingly profitable, we won’t hear a word about that success on NPR or ABC, just as we don’t hear any words about the marvelous success of Single Payer healthcare in Canada and England and Europe.

Who are these people controlling what we get to hear and see? Weren’t they, too, sweet innocent babies in the beginning? How come they grew up so angry and disconnected and cruel?

“Either war is obsolete, or men are.” Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller suggests that there are two massive forces competing for supremacy on earth at this time in our human and planetary evolution. He called them the forces of Weaponry and Livingry. Bucky coined the word livingry, a word my computer’s dictionary does not recognize as legitimate, but what does it know? Only what it was told to know.

These forces of Weaponry and Livingry are fueled by the actions of people, and as events in Germany demonstrate, people can change a nation’s course in almost no time at all if they are permitted to express their collective will. This is the vision I am holding right now; that despite the sudden news blackout in America about what’s really going on in Japan regarding the Fukushima nuclear power plants and the irradiation of an entire nation (and to a lesser extent the entire world), the forces of Livingry have been given a great gift, and the forces of Weaponry are now more vulnerable than ever.

And the other vision I’m holding is that out of the ongoing economic devastation visited upon this country by the criminal overlords (criminal as in unloved sad lonely emotionally starved insatiably greedy) will come a revival of the ancient and natural way of living that requires no microwave cell towers, no nuclear power plants, and absolutely no torture. Bucky called this Livingry, but I’m confident we can come up with even more beautiful words for what he meant, along with dances and songs and ceremonies and celebrations.

Todd’s web site is Underthetablebooks.com