Category Archives: Politics

Hard to Keep Up With How Much the World Sucks

Maybe my blog posts are so depressing and fatalistic because it seems like I live behind a veil of privelige that screens me from the things that are happening in the world. Nay, the things my country is doing in the world.
Activist lawyer Bill Quigley recently emailed us a long story about the thirty-three mistakes of Katrina, deliberate or otherwise. Briefing them is beyond the scope of this blog, but you may read them for yourself at Counterpunch: How to Destroy an African American City in 33 Steps.
But this is not the miscarriage of justice that makes me feel the veil is lifted momentarily. I Stumbled Upon an article about the things they don’t show in the pictures of Abu Ghraib. Charges of children being held at the camp, children being rapedand tortured so that their parents might confess to crimes. Women were passing out messages “saying ‘Please come and kill me, because of what’s happened’ and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling.”

The writers of these articles and blogs thought that many of these things that were supposedly caught on tape will soon see the light of day.

That was in 2004.

I remember when this whole travesty happened, the pictures they showed were anti-climactic. And I remember waiting for the American public to get a look at all those darker home movies that would rip open the veil and reveal the Iraqi quagmire up to the elbows in shame. I remember casual mention of children at the camps but no mention of torture of children. And if this did come up, is this the maximum outrage our culture can muster? Is it too late for me to be outraged by these things now? I feel like a Jewish child just being taught about the Holocaust for the first time.

Did I miss something? No, really, please tell me: has anyone reading ever heard anything about this? Or do I have to read newspapers written in German to get the whole story?

We Are Not At the Center

This blog is in response to Joysette’s beautiful blog “On the Passivity of a Generation” summarized briefly:
Have we become so comfortable, with our “on demand” society, that we’ve failed to struggle for the things that are truly important? Too distracted by the 47 ways to manipulate something as simple as coffee to understand the complexity of human nature?..I believe there was a time that people cared. I’m beginning to think that it’s not en vogue anymore. It’s not plastered on the cover of a magazine, nor can I sense that any periodical is telling the true story of our generation.

But what about the Zapatistas in Mexico, holding back the state with pitchforks and emails? What about the activists in India staging a worldwide boycott of Coca-cola for what they have done to their water supply? What about the 150,000 Australians that marched against climate changeon November 11th? Or the Cananea miners who have been striking for half a year? What about the tens of thousands mobilizing against free trade in Columbia? Or the 100,000 Burmese on the streets of Rangoon, demanding freedom from military rule as soldiers shoot people in the street. Or the undocumented immigrants on hunger strike in France?

We are the powdered ladies that play kroquet. We live like children and only know the world (death, struggle) from books. We are the ones who throw ourselves into activism like a timid child dipping it’s toe into the water. We cannot help ourselves. Our lives are comfortable. The desperation that we face to improve the world is no greater than the desperation to be beautiful or buy a house or pass the test or live out whatever dreams we realized before we knew the cruelty of the world is a call to action.

This is what it means to be middle class. Because if your water supply is privatized there is nothing more important to you than getting it back. If there are soldiers on every corner and tension and gun smoke in the air, what else do you think about but tension and gun smoke?

Maslow would explain it best: in the hierarchy of needs, people who are in fear for their own survival make that their fist priority. And those of us who have food, shelter, clothes, income — we worry about making sense of the world. So for different reasons, the peasant and the scholar may lay there body on the line. But when the scholars’ need for approval, when their job is threatened, when their life is uncomfortable, they are the ones to leave the movement.

You are right that many are blind, distracted, led-astray, unaware. As were the Yankees that didn’t lift a finger to help the slaves. As were the Americans that went along with the murder of the native population or didn’t blink at the phrase “manifest destiny.” So were the Germans as millions of their citizens were slaughtered by the Nazis.

There have always been people that fought back, just as there has always been a privileged class that didn’t have to.

Many thought that the appointment of a right-wing president would be the kick in the tush the country needed to wake it up to the problems of the world. And for some, it has been. But what do we expect from a country that still mocks the serious left-wing movements, has little clue how to organize, is afraid of the power of labor unions and thinks their only empowerment comes once a year at the ballot box? We are soft, like the late Romans. Perhaps it will be our downfall. Perhaps it is time for our downfall. But this–the struggle, the solution–is not about us. It is only about us in that we are the problem.

Your confusion is due to a lack of perspective. The struggle around us is carried out by armchair revolutionaries when it is convenient to do so. They are dedicated. They care deeply. But their lives do not depend upon it. The glaciers may be melting, but it is hard to feel that while we still have broadband and surround sound. But I do not think for a second that there are not people right now whose whole lives are wrapped up in altering the course of history.

The history of the world is struggle and it is not slowing now. If anything, it is accelerating at a deafening pace to what will possibly be the ultimate (anti)climax. It is not that less people care. All over the world, people are knee-deep in the thick of life or death altercations. Perhaps the great tragedy is that there are not enough of them.

And what are we doing? There are so many things I want to do. I want to start a website to measure the hope of the world. At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, I am privileged to hunger for truth. I want to paint it and poeticize it and blog it. I want to stand on a soapbox and shout speeches to the stunned masses. I want to start a radio station and prop my soapbox there. I want to wheatpaste and spray paint and sticker it all over the city. And there is time only for a fraction of these things. And yet even these things are not *real* in the same way destroying dams and tearing down cell phone towers is real. Partly I feel that my gift is one of truth and lies are what are poisoning this country so these are my remedies. But the truth is, I am too comfortable to take those kinds of risks. If I have shown a few people the seeds of truth then I will sleep well at night. Fortunately, I am not at the center of the fighting, the famine and thirst, the cacophonous brutality that keeps many, many, restless.

Voting With My Vagina?

When I lived in Atlanta, I was sitting at the bus stop when I got into a conversation with a man who stands on the side of the road holding a sign for a living. Things quickly turned to who we would and wouldn’t support in the coming election. I wish I could remember his exact words but, just as the bus was arriving, he said something along the lines of: “Even if she is a woman, I would vote for Hillary.” No, I think it was even worse, he said something like, “Hillary’s the only woman I would vote for.” And he said it like it was a compliment, a concession of goodwill! As if being a woman were some kind of handicap that he couldn’t support except in the most spectacular and generous cases. I had half a mind not to get on the bus but instead to pick a friendly argument with this man, to waste half an hour of my day standing around on the road while he was getting paid minimum wage to prop up a sign that reads “CELL PHONES.” Sense got the better of me, but it was this man who sealed my decision of who I was going to vote for in the upcoming primary two years before people where even whispering the name Obama.

The very idea that there are still people out there who think that women are inherently unfit to command is a shock and an outrage. Putting this up to the obvious litmus test of black-white race relations, (as contentious as race is in this country it is always the easiest marker) there is no doubt he would be deeply offended if I responded that the only black person I would vote for is Oprah. Perhaps this outrage goes without saying. Yet the fact that people still think this way emphasizes how much we deeply need a woman president. We need to erase all doubt that this is a woman’s job as much as a man’s.

Most people I have spoken with are disgusted with the idea that I might vote for Hillary because she is a woman, as if they were voting strictly on issues. But they’re not. These people are hard-core lefties and if they really voted on the issues they would be backing Kucinich or Richardson. And, yes, I would love for Obama to win the race and become the first black president.  But I am still bitter that African-Americans got the vote more than fifty years before women. This is not to say that black folks didn’t face terrible oppression an addition to voter discrimination (I have no wish to play Opression Olympics). It is only to say that it is time for a woman president. While it is a shame that a minority group that makes up 13.4% of the population has never been represented in our nation’s highest office it is absurd that a group which makes up more than half the U.S. population has not held the title.

As a little girl, I never thought that I could be president one day. I could dream of being a senator or a governor but president was simply not an option. *Clinton articulated this argument brilliantly October 22 during an appearance in front of the Washington State Democrats at Benaroya Hall. “There are two groups that inspire me to keep going,”Clinton said. “One is women in their 90s who come to my events… They all say something like, ‘I’m 95 years old. I was born before women could vote in this country and I’m going to live long enough to see a woman in the White House.’ The other group is the children who come… I see a parent lean over to a daughter and say, ‘See, honey? In this country you can be anything you want to be.'”

Hillary Clinton is an exceptional woman, not only because she has political savvy and the skills to lead the free world but because she looked at what Bill did on a day-to-day basis and thought Heck, I could do that. And a nation full of people are looking at Hillary, sign-holders and execs alike, and they aren’t seeing the ultimate glass ceiling. They see her standing on the other side of it and they are ready to hand her the vote. Maybe it won’t shatter the glass ceiling but it will certainly make a mighty splinter. Additionally, women candidates usually sprinkle their staff with more women which means more women in leadership positions all the way down to the campaign volunteers.

If liberals can admit that not having had a woman president is in fact an impediment to having a woman president, perhaps they can see where this will benefit all democrats. A woman president means more women will see politics as their arena and enter the playing field, which will disproportionally fall to the party that supports women’s rights, childcare, the impoverished, gun control, and a sensible foreign policy. Because let’s face it, most women are not Ann Coulter. This is true for other “minority groups” but women are not in the minority. If the democratic party can bring more women to politics then they are fleshing out not a quarter or a third but fifty percent of their ranks.

Despite all this, I am the only woman I know (and I know a lot of feminists) who is openly backing Clinton. These are people who have made very convincing arguments in favor of affirmative action (which, contrary to popular opinion, primarily benefits women). But if you are working in an office with ten men on staff and that office has gender parity by-laws then they will consider only qualified women for the job. Well the office of the presidency has had a tired string of 42 men in the position. So the only question I must ask myself is, is Hillary Clinton a qualified candidate for the presidency?

And I think the answer to this is obvious. Though they may not like Guliani, no one is questioning whether the Mayor of New York is qualified, though Clinton held the higher position of New York senator. She is a far more appealing candidate than Kerry ever was and half the country was in line to back him. Let’s get real: a good chunk of the people joking about supporting comedian Stephen Colbert aren’t really joking. The very thing that many lefties don’t like about Clinton, her ability to give the canned, moderate answer to every question, is a sign of her political aptitude. Yes, she talks like a politician, and it’s because she knows how to appeal to both voters and party leaders. She is not the perfect radical candidate but she is an ideal moderate candidate. Americans can imagine her handling delicate diplomatic situations, something that was woefully assumed of lesser men that held the office.

If other voters want to plaster their cars with the latest liberal white guy for president, I respect that. For once, there are many fantastic candidates on the primary ticket and I will support whichever one wins it. I am in the minority in voting with my vagina and that’s okay. But please don’t roll your eyes. If there had never been a male president, you can bet men would be indignantly towing penis placards outside the oval office. “It’s about time!” they would shout; and I’m not too shy to say the same.

An Open Letter to Al Gore


I know you’re busy so I’ll keep it short. Now that you’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize (congrats!), more folks are asking you to toss your hat in the presidential ring.

I’d like to counter that opinion. First of all — and please don’t take this personally — you’re a white guy. Isn’t it about time we had someone for president that isn’t a WASP (yeah, Kennedy was Catholic: we’re so diverse!). There is no affirmative action policy up in the White House, but I think it’s time for a change from the same ole same old.

Second, and far more importantly, there are a lot of folks that don’t take you seriously. I know, it’s sad that people don’t want to accept that climate change is real. But those people justify their skepticism by claiming all your good work is just a vy for the presidency. Don’t feed into this way of thinking.

I know lots of people are saying that being president would give you the power to implement the changes that need to be made. But think of all you have accomplished in the last four years. Do you really want to stop all your good work and start fundraising? Do you want to talk about social security and learn how to laugh in such a way that the media does not find offensive? Then, once elected, you cannot focus exclusively on global warming. You would have to meet foreign dictators and do photo-ops with crippled puppies and sign or veto bills. Not to mention getting entangled in this war, dealing with Korea and Iran.

Wouldn’t you rather keep hanging out with Polar scientists and spreading the good gospel of truth?
The American people didn’t really get to know you until you “lost” (I was in Florida; I know the truth) the presidency and devoted yourself whole-heartedly to your true calling.

Thanks for your time.

The Fire in My Kitchen, My Belly

As a birthday present to myself, I bought a copy of Poet’s Market 2008. I’ve put my novel aside for a bit but a sudden fire under my bum has been lit to get some of my other stuff published. I think Evan set this fire, by mentioning in his blog that he is interning with Sharon Olds, who is my favorite living poet. Or maybe it is this thing stirring in my belly, this turmoil about the state of the world and a desire to express that in writing. A lot of people ask me where the best places are to go dancing, etc, but I am not really interested in that. I want to go to poetry readings or stay at home and write.

The other day when I posted that article about global warming, wherein a scientist said that in one week the arctic had lost an area of ice almost twice the size of the United Kingdom, another interesting thing happened. My boss came back to work from his basketball game. The game ended early. Why? Because two players got into an argument over a foul. Not usually a game-ending event, but in this case one of the players left the game and came back half an hour letter and put a case full of bullets in the other guy. Somehow no one felt like playing basketball when one of their teammates was lying on the court full of more holes than blood. My boss seemed to be taking this pretty well.

The most striking to me about this was its insignifigance in the grand scheme of things. Oakland has a serious problem with the whole shooting thing (maybe you’ve heard about it). I’m not playing that down by any means, nor the suffering of the family. But the high murder rate in Oakland is not going to kill as many people as global warming, not even close.

This is what I want to capture in my writing: this feeling that the issues humanity is facing right now are huge, but they don’t feel huge. The day of the shooting, I also set a fire in the kitchen. I remember the exhileration of that moment, the thrill of the temporary emergency. No matter how much perspective I have intellectually, it is hard to feel the difference, it is hard to feel the suffereing of the vicitims of the shooting or global warming when that fire is the danger in front of me. And that same fire is a thousand other things, social conflicts or career concerns or a packed to-do list and on and on.

It seems that the only way people can reach these higher, more important concerns, is through art. Books and music allow us to feel, rather than only think about, these problems. And you can hear a lot of artists now are immeshed in it, this compulsion to capture the direction the world is heading. The Besnard Lakes, in a recent interview, explained it as the reason their new album is so dark. And Tom Morello described it recently in an interview on Sound Opinions, “Its preaching to the converted, well I strongly believe the converted need a kick in the ass. Why the White House is not ringed by pitchforks and torches I don’t know.” And the new (and frankly, the previous) Modest Mouse record captures that spirit as well.

This juxtaposition of what we are feeling and what we should be feeling is my new obsession. I know how to capture it artistically and maybe that’s why I have been so interested in drawing lately. I am only just beginning to explore what it means for me as a writer. I am very interested in how this conflict between the struggles of day-to-day life and the larger problems facing the world have affected the rest of you. Does it change your passion for the things you are pursuing? Some days, it makes my desire to be a writer feel like empty egoism.
On other days, that same desire seems like the only power I have to affect the world at all.

Update On the Neighbors

I am classist after all!

I was saying hi to my neighbor the other day, he is about my age, Mexican, drives an SUV.
I got up the will to confront him about throwing away furniture. I told him about the place up the street where they take furniture donations.

He said that that wasn’t their furniture at all. Random people had been dumping it by our trash. That is why they had started locking the gate at night (another thing they were doing that was really annoying because it doesn’t make me any safer and it takes extra time).

All it took was a little communication. Now to figure out why he’s driving that gas-guzzler.

To make matters worse, I found out that their aunt used to live in this apartment before she died. So at that time they had this whole complex all to themselves, one big happy extended family. I feel like an intruder. No wonder they are polite. We are like a ghost in the attic; they are stuck with us.

This Blogger’s White Privilege is Showing

My Mexican neighbors keep throwing away their furniture. I don’t know how they go through it so quickly, but once a month or so I will see sofas and pillows and dining chairs stacked by the trash, like a big-boned house of cards.
I wonder how many tissues, crushed soda cans and credit card offers I can fit in the space these will take up in the landfill.
If they were white, I would ask them about it. I would ask whether they knew there was a thrift store three blocks up that will sell their furniture for the benefit of disabled children. I would say that I know a guy there who would walk the three blocks with a dolly to come get the stuff.
But they are not white. They are first generation immigrants living the American dream: a gas-guzzler in the driveway and furniture that matches the carpeting.
Herein lies the disconnect between us: conservation activism is a luxury. It is only conceptualized in a world of abundance. How can one think about the impact of all they have when all along the most glaring truth is all they have not? Those who cannot afford new clothes aren’t thinking about organic cotton. It is the middle class people that are replacing the innefficient bulbs in their house with longer-lasting ones. And I confess that as a poor college student I bought the cheapest ones because renters don’t stay long enough to see the economic benefits of the earth friendly light bulb.
I’m not saying poor people don’t struggle, on the contrary, their lives are defined by it. But it seems like the struggle of the poor is one for survival. They sure as hell aren’t going to feel guilty for not recycling when there are corporations privatizing their water supply.
Maybe I am wrong about this. After all, my neighbors are paying the same rent that I am. Maybe they are just typical Americans and I am blinded by white guilt. Surely there are no excuses, now that conservation is a matter of survival for everyone. But our exchanges now are smiles and nods and I want to keep it that way. Who am I to give them a lecture?
I threatened this balance the other day while murdering the kudzu in my backyard. There was so much of it that I couldn’t have told you what the fence beneath it was made of. This created quite a pile of lawn clippings. A young man and old woman come out of the apartment above while I am dragging branches to a heap half as tall as I am and just as wide. They look at me inexplicably. I ask if they know where the compost bin is (in Oakland, they have a recycle bin for compost). More confusion, some head shaking. You know, the bin that you put leaves in. The bisabuela points to the dumpster. No, I want the one for recycling. I wonder if she speaks English. But surely he speaks English. I can’t help but think that as a result of this exchange they gather that I am simply too lazy to walk the extra five feet to the trash. I vow to call the Oakland Recycling Center. They smile and nod. I smile and nod.
And isn’t this very same conundrum happening on an international level? Excuse me, China, but I can’t help but noticing that the smog in Beijeng is so bad it would be safest to never leave the house. Our Olympic athletes are precious assets and we’d rather not have them damaged by breathing in all your smog. But then someone comes along and reminds us: China is just getting the hang of the “first world,” give a country a break! And don’t get them started on the banana republics and African countries that are raping the oceans of what’s left of the big game fish. Don’t they get to have economies, too?

Psst…My Dollar Has A Secret

Beneath her cobwebby exterior and obscure, Masonic symbols, we know the dollar likes to keep things to herself. But this is too much.

I found a scary article in my email the other day. It frigtens me because it is not from a political blog, not from a left-leaning alarmist group, not from a group with any kind of alarmist bias. It was from a list-serve I am on, “Publisher’s Lunch” that is distributed to people who work in the publishing industry. Most of the stories are either “who got hired” and “big book contracts”. That’s why I was surprised to see this lead sentence:

Canada continues to grapple with the consequences of the ever-weaker US dollar.

From the article:

Prices [of books sold to bookstores] were adjusted once last fall, but as the dollar has continued to decline, that change is insufficient…The Globe and Mail reports that dominant chain Indigo plans to “imminently” pass on savings in the form of discounts or promotions. Random House Canada president Brad Martin indicates they “will give booksellers a 5-per-cent discount on U.S. books until the end of the year.” Penguin Canada will reduce prices 5 percent on their new fall books and on some backlist hits.

Ouch. Next time you pick up a book, imagine the Canadian and U.S. prices reversed to get a more realistic idea of the current value of the dollar. And that’s what its worth today. But what’s in store for the future of our currency?

Project Censored every year releases a top ten list of important stories that were buried by the corporate media. I heard on a podcast that OPEC is trading its dollars into Euros. According to the site, the value of our dollar has been a big white lie, which we have been able to get away with because it is tied to the price of oil. Which works out fine for us, as long as that continues. Then it is certainly bad news to hear that “Russia, Venezuela, and some members of OPEC have expressed interest in moving towards a petroeuro system for oil transactions.”

According to the article, China is the world’s second largest holder of U.S. currency (you would think the U.S. is number one. Its Japan).

“Maintaining the U.S. as a market for their goods is a pre-eminent goal of Chinese financial policy, but they are increasingly dependent on Iran for their vital oil and gas imports…But the Chinese government has indicated interest in de-linking the dollar-yuan arrangement, which could result in an immediate fall in the dollar. More worrisome is the potentiality of China to abandon its ongoing prolific purchase of U.S. Treasuries/debt—should they become displeased with U.S. policies towards Iran.”

Hmm…how can we displease China?…I know! Let’s go to war with Iran!

I kid, but this is serious busines. I’m accostomed to my currency maintaining its value. What good is the 25 dollars in interest I have earned in my savings account if the dollar itself is worth half what it once was? I don’t like to hear the words “plummet” and “dollar” in the same sentence (truly, “plummet is an unpleasant word. I don’t like to hear it in any sentence). But if you need to know how to spell “plummet” you can look it up in the Project Censored article, their right next to the word “dollar”.

This article is only ranked 9. Makes you wonder what the other, higher-ranking censored stories are, doesn’t it?

I can’t really blame the dollar for being coy. A little rouge on the cheeks, a corset under the bosom. She still wants to get into the swankiest clubs in town. And dance and dance all night. And we see her with rose-colored glasses. Beneath it all, I don’t just hope she is looking fresh tomorrow. I hope she’s still standing.

Life is Beautiful; I do nothing to Stop the Blaze

We go into the city to celebrate my fantastic new job, bar hopping in the Mission with Jeremy and Jenifer.

Jeremy and Jenifer are a bit older than my sweetie and I and they have the kind of financial stability we are striving for and the suburbanism we are trying to avoid.

The bars close at two and we go up to their hotel. It occurs to me that my visits to hotels have mostly been connected to conferences and road trip stopovers. The very idea that my friends are paying to spend the night in the city is exemplary of the kind of luxury that makes me bashful.

At the room, we spend a lot of time bitching about the motion sensor refrigerators. They have fridges in every room but they are already fully stocked with drinks. If you take one, the sensor records it on your bill. This is a good way to take advantage of wasted partiers and it also means that every room has a refrigerator that can’t be used. If one wants to use it, they charge a twenty dollar fee to have its contents removed. This resonates with me as a symbol of what’s fundamentally wrong with this society: the hotel pays for every room to have an unusable fridge while so many people in the world still don’t have refrigeration. It is the same as the empty houses in a city with so many homeless, the same as the wasted, unpurchased food that rots in the trash while so many people starve.
The only word to justify such logic is profit.

I have been reading Derrick Jensen and he is caught up in the idea that the dominant culture is insane. The only way to choose sushi and freeways over birds and tuna and the preservation of the climate, he argues, is to be crazy. It is crazy to destroy one’s landbase for any reason, much less so we can all pay for minibars in our hotel rooms. But I don’t think the dominant culture is crazy. It does not have, as Jensen puts it, a death wish. I believe we are merely short-sighted.

Leaving the hotel room I couldn’t help but see how easy it is to fall into this luxury, how very second-nature it is to me.

Standing in the big glass elevator, I hear its mechanical WOOSH and we are swept past eight floors, each one arranged precisely to be sterile and beautiful and non-offensive. Everywhere I look I am surrounded by artifice. There was no elevator muzak, but in such a moment there should have been. Sean was saying something about how all these hotels are designed the same way, like a formula. Briefly I feel science fiction, like this can’t be real, these smooth and perfect elevators in this smooth and perfect structure. Some day people will look back in awe, trying to imagine living in a world so pristine, in the same way impoverished Cubans wonder at the splendor of Batista’s muraled and gilded palace. Some day this same building will be dark and dirty and people will try to imagine how beautiful it must have been to ride in those glass elevators (It’s the same hotel featured in the 1977 Mel Brooks movie, High Anxiety).

Yet this kind of luxury has been omnipresent my entire life. Even as someone that has tried to take a step back and evaluate where my culture has come from, where it is going, the electric glow of the hotel lobby is expected, commonplace. Nature is what’s alien.

Humans are not good at connecting the dots. Even if I can see the connection between eating sushi and the “clear-cutting” of the oceans, it doesn’t touch my life. I have my own dreams, things I’ve been aspiring to as long as I can remember. Everyone does. Rarely does the trajectory of our lives come unhinged by the things we read about in the news. I know the polar bears are dying but there are so many things I want to do with my life that have nothing to do with polar bears. These few who say, “this is more important than my life, more important than anything I have ever wanted for myself,” are far out-numbered by those who are following their dreams in the system that perpetuates the destruction. Not sinister desires: musicians and writers, lawyers and firemen, chefs and film makers all rely on the continuation of the current system. And how could they not? Their dreams are born in it, they have never known anything else.

I am consumed by these thought as we drive home over the bay bridge. Sean is talking about how much he enjoys the ride. It is all downhill and easy turns. The cars speed at 80. The bridge has two levels and we are on the lower. In the distance there is a column of smoke. It goes higher than the concrete ceiling that limits our view. The smoke is so black it stands out against the navy of the night sky. It is four a.m.

As we leave the covered part of the bridge, the traffic slows to gaze at the biggest fire I have ever seen. Flames are easily shooting seventy feet into the air (later figures are 250 feet). The onramp we are passing is on fire. People are pulled over to look and take pictures. A firetruck is arriving at the scene and even the fireman is using his camera phone to take pictures. The fire is on the “maze,” a cluster of ramps that go onto the bridge. It has entirely consumed whatever started it. The lower ramp is broken in two and, as we drive by, the people gawking gasp: there is a crack as the flames consume the higher overpass like so much kindling in a giant campfire.

This awakens me from my daze. Through the glass and steel encasing of the car, the fire beckons, a bright bold reminder of nature, powerful and awesome. It is enormous. The firetrucks are powerless to stop it, at most they can only hope to contain it.

Tomorrow, I will hear radio recordings of of penguins making distress calls because their ice is melting. I will learn that the bluebell flowers are dying and thus so are the orange tipped butterflies and the birds that eat those butterflies (and so on). Just as every day I hear of the disappearance of some frog or the bleaching of the coral reefs. And I will go on singing and blogging and drawing.

But on this night my animal instincts are touched, the blaze attacking my artificial world like a giant pillaging the village. Still, I am civilized. I know there are firemen whose job it is to confront this giant. My job is to stay in my car. This is my place, our place, to sit by and watch as the whole world burns.

The Graduate Was Right

This Sunday is Earth Day and I have an idea for something low-key that folks can do to celebrate.

Choose one day to be obsessed with plastic. Why plastic? Because you can’t make it without oil. Since we’ve used up half the earths supply and are rapidly increasing the rate at which we use it (as other countries industrialize), it is likely that in our lifetimes it will run out. This will impact our lives in many ways besides the fuel to commute from the suburbs, and plastic is one of them.

Take some time to really notice just how much plastic is part of the American life. How much of the food you eat comes shrink-wrapped or in resealable bags? What about the cables and cords that electrify our world? Hospital equipment is often plastic. My printer. My monitor. My stereo.

Whether you see it or not, most things arrive shipped in plastic. Even at the hat shop, every hat we sell comes wrapped in a plastic bag. These don’t get reused or recycled. We fill a trash bag every day. When you buy something new, it probably arrived in a plastic bag and will go home in a different plastic bag.

Take a moment to look around the room and see how many things you can see that are made at least partly of plastic, or used plastic as part of their shipping process. Because that’s something we may not have when oil is finished.

What generally strikes me about this little exercise is not how much I will miss these items. My usual thought is, what a waste. The world is running out of oil and we are wrapping rubber and plastic Barbie’s in paper and plastic boxes. The world is running out of oil and we are eating off of disposable plastic forks. How will we explain to our
children that we used our most precious resource for disposable toothbrushes? When there is no oil, how will we justify glossy magazines with plastic-infused pages?