Starting from the question
name a piece of culture (book, movie, album, TV show, etc.) that "exemplifies what it was like to be alive in the age of George W. Bush"Phil Ford notes that
Historical epochs do have deep structures of sensibility...I resolve to keep an eye peeled for others. Not irrelevant: my own posting from January of James McMurtry's "We Can't Make It Here"
So we can all see how the torture apologetics of 24 play into the Bush II zeitgeist. I'm not going to argue against that -- any future study of American culture in the Bush II era will doubtless (and correctly) point to 24 as Exhibit A of an America scared shitless and consoling itself with the spectacle of tough guys torturing bad guys.
from Mike "Mish" Shedlock, a "registered investment advisor" with what look to me like Libertarian predilections:
In total, the Treasury has now committed to squander $700 billion and that is before Obama squanders anywhere from $750 billion to $1 trillion trying to prop up a dying consumer-based economy that really can't be propped up.More or less the same analysis of the overall plight as Jim Kunstler, though I'm not sure on which points the two would disagree. Kunstler (in his Forecast for 2009) is focused on the upshots of what he summarizes as the Happy Motoring fallacy, which is of course not just about cars:
Happy Motoring is at the core of our unsustainability trap. The car system is going to fail in manifold ways whether we like it or not, and it will fail due to circumstances already underway...Another voice with some of the same tidings is NYU economist Nouriel Roubini:
But the worst is still ahead of us. In the next few months, the macroeconomic news and earnings/profits reports from around the world will be much worse than expected, putting further downward pressure on prices of risky assets, because equity analysts are still deluding themselves that the economic contraction will be mild and short... The credit crunch will get worse; deleveraging will continue, as hedge funds and other leveraged players are forced to sell assets into illiquid and distressed markets, thus causing more price falls and driving more insolvent financial institutions out of business. A few emerging-market economies will certainly enter a full-blown financial crisis.
Kate Beaton's work is just PERfect. Look at today's posting. Man, I want the first 4 panels as a t-shirt.
Here's what Jim Kunstler said in his Forecast for 2008 (Jan 1 2008):
Has there ever been a society so exquisitely rigged for implosion? The whole listing, creaking, reeking edifice stands like one of those obsolete Las Vegas pleasure palaces awaiting a mere pulse of electrons to ignite a thousand explosive charges perfectly placed to blow away the structural supports.Sorta makes you curious what he predicts for 2009, dunnit? Look here for that, in this overall context:
I have long maintained that life is essentially tragic in the sense that history won't care if we succeed or fail at carrying on the project of civilization.You don't have to believe every word, but here and there are bits of astute observation and palpable truth (palp it yourself, you'll see):
The tragic part of all this, of course, is that the temporary plunge in oil prices has prompted an incurious American public to assume, once again, that the global oil predicament is some kind of a fraud. Given the flood tide of fraud they have been subject to in banking and investment matters, I suppose you can't blame them from thinking that everything is some kind of a scam...So read it and file it where you can find it next year end...
The over-arching geopolitical theme of 2009 will be the end of robust globalism as we've known it for some time. Reduced trade, competition for energy resources, sore feelings over debts and currencies will drive the nations inward or, at least, direct their energies toward their own regions.
About halfway through Berry's essay one comes upon this perhaps-puzzling sentence:
The present scientific quest for odourless hog manure should give us sufficient proof that the specialist is no longer with us.I reckon that this is an allusion to Chic Sale's Lem Putt, introduced to the world in The Specialist (1929), a classic that should be better known. If it's new to you, the whole text (including William Kermode's illustrations) is available, and it won't take you 10 minutes to read her. The first paragraph may convince you that you should:
YOU'VE heard a lot of pratin' and prattlin' about this bein' the age of specialization. I'm a carpenter by trade. At one time I could of built a house, barn, church, or chicken coop. But I seen the need of a specialist in my line, so I studied her. I got her, she's mine. Gentlemen, you are face to face with the champion privy builder of Sangamon County.The book is full of Berryesque advice, grounded in good rural precedent and practice:
No, sir, I sez, put her in a straight line with the house and, if it's all the same to you have her go past the woodpile. I'll tell you why.See? Classic, like I said. And I'll bet that Wendell Berry knows all about Lem Putt --see the Humanure page.
Take a woman, fer instance -- out she goes. On the way she'll gather five sticks of wood, and the average woman will make four or five trips a day. There's twenty sticks in the wood box without any trouble. On the other hand, take a timid woman: if she sees any men folks around, she's too bashful to go direct out so she'll go to the woodpile, pick up the wood, go back to the house and watch her chance. The average timid woman -- especially a new hired girl -- I've knowed to make as many as ten trips to the woodpile before she goes in, regardless. On a good day you'll have the wood box filled by noon, and right there is a savin' of time.
"Now, about the diggin' of her. You can't be too careful about that," I sez; "dig her deep and dig her wide. It's a mighty sight better to have a little privy over a big hole than a big privy over a little hole. Another thing; when you dig her deep you've got 'er dug; and you ain't got that disconcertin' thought stealin' over you that sooner or later you'll have to dig again.
"And when it comes to construction," I sez, "I can give you joists or beams. Joists make a good job. Beams cost a bit more, but they're worth it. Beams, you might say, will last forever. 'Course I could give you joists, but take your Aunt Emmy: she ain't gettin' a mite lighter. Some day she might be out there when them joists give way and there she'd be -- catched. Another thing you've go to figger on, Elmer," I sez, "is that Odd Fellows picnic in the fall. Them boys is goin' to get in there in four and sixes, singin' and drinkin' and the like, and I want to tell you there's nothin' breaks up an Odd Fellows picnic quicker than a diggin' party. Beams, I say, every time, and rest secure.
Wendell Berry's writing surely exemplifies the phrase "clarion call", though I've often felt that it's just not possible to live up to his level of ecological and economic rectitude. Still, there's often a shiver of Right On! as I read his commentaries on what we're missing through inattention. Today Tim O'Reilly links to Berry's essay In Distrust of Movements (2000) and I'll quote my favorite bits:
...I must declare my dissatisfaction with movements to promote soil conservation or clean water or clean air or wilderness preservation or sustainable agriculture or community health or the welfare of children. Worthy as these and other goals may be, they cannot be achieved alone. I am dissatisfied with such efforts because they are too specialized, they are not comprehensive enough, they are not radical enough, they virtually predict their own failure by implying that we can remedy or control effects while leaving causes in place. Ultimately, I think, they are insincere; they propose that the trouble is caused by other people; they would like to change policy but not behaviour...
We are involved now in a profound failure of imagination. Most of us cannot imagine the wheat beyond the bread, or the farmer beyond the wheat, or the farm beyond the farmer, or the history beyond the farm. Most people cannot imagine the forest and the forest economy that produced their houses and furniture and paper; or the landscapes, the streams and the weather that fill their pitchers and bathtubs and swimming pools with water. Most people appear to assume that when they have paid their money for these things they have entirely met their obligations.
These things seem to keep happening, this time as I thought about where to begin in laying out a landscape of African musics that I've been accumulating in mp3 form since the spring.
It all connects
and the trick is to choose
among branching paths
or perhaps it's to
unwind the thread
as you sally forth
so as to be able
That reconstruction is a tale
a narrative of Tolkien proportions
though without the necessity
of any end to the hero's quest
and indeed with no heroes
or deus ex machina
just the progress of discovery
And what does the Argonaut seek?
Not fleeces or immured maidens
gloriously slain foes
or vanquished enemies
It's the link, the nexus,
the skein of allusion
the journey and not
the joys of finding and telling
Perhaps it was something in the water:
This was in my mind when I awoke today, dunno exactly where it came from but I suspect it's because I've been reading Mary Jo Salter's A Phone Call to the Future: New and Selected Poems:
One's life isI blogged about Chris Lydon's interview with Mary Jo Salter back in May, and it's still worth a listen.
a hive of debts
humming to one another
their unexpected linkages
as interest grows
Revere (be it one person or more than one, hardly matters) is always worth reading, and is pretty sure to please either because (1) my own sentiments are more clearly expressed than I could manage myself, and/or (2) some new vista of the world's complexities is opened and eloquently articulated, and/or (3) something is brought to my attention that I'd otherwise never have given house room. And just because "Public Health" is such a broad and vital canvas... Anyhow, today's On being inspired by the preface of a philosophy book quotes at some length from Michael Dummett's Preface to his Frege: The Philosophy of Language (1973/1981) --a book I'd never have picked up, let alone read the Preface to. Revere's posting sucked me right in, and occasioned a cascade of thoughts, memories, mental asides, and personal resolutions for the future (among them: always read the Preface...). Can't ask much more of a blog posting, can you?
Nice big heaps of logs by the stoves, and the plow will arrive sometime in the morning. No worries.
Over at Jyri Zengestrom's blog I happened upon this statement:
The most disruptive social objects articulate something masses of people urgently feel, but lack a way to express....and it fits nicely with a number of things I've been reading lately. Not everyone will share my enthusiasm for Warren Ellis's Freak Angels (a serialized graphic novel, dark and violent), or for the near-future (and alternate-past) genres like Cyberpunk and Steampunk, but it's obvious that authors in these realms are working with materials that are highly relevant to the present. And I'm reminded of the John Brunner masterpieces Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up that I used in courses 30-some years ago, to get students thinking about possible futures and different views of the present...
I've been following Jim Kunstler's blog for a while now, and his World Made By Hand arrived a couple of days ago and has been inhaled. The novel is interesting on several levels, but especially as an exercise in imagining the contingencies of an all-too-plausible future --that is, as a sort of projective anthropology. A visit to the World Made By Hand website will reward in a number of ways. It's the first time I've seen a trailer for a novel:and there's an interview with Jim Kunstler in which he talks about how he wrote the book. Two bits that jumped out at me:
the footing underneath reality is not quite what we've been used to...As I read World Made By Hand I found myself marking bits of text that serve as technological and sociological mise en scène, and I feel compelled to lay at least some of them out here. Why? Hmmmm. I suppose it's an exercise in "projective anthropology" but it's also part of my own continuing rumination on what-all underpins the lives we lead in the ethnographic present --the unexamined assumptions and contingencies that support our material lives. Anthropology is, after all, one of the means to wrestle with the question: where does structure come from for people's lives? So here's a passel of short extracts, with pages noted, each of them a potential jumping-off place for thought and discussion:
...when you're composing a novel like this, you set certain elements in motion and they end up dictating how things will play out --it's an emergent, self-organizing process
since we didn't have news reporters anymore and you barely knew what was going on five miles away (3)I'm sure that a lot of this material is handled in more expository fashion in Kunstler's The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, which I haven't read. Suppose I should, and his earlier writings too.
The turbines and metal parts had long since been sold for scrap and every other useful thing was scavenged out. We couldn't replace them anymore. (4)
Now, in the new times, there were far fewer people, and many of the houses outside town were being taken down for their materials. Farming was back. That was the only way we got food. (5)
You could still find rubber tires here and there, but you couldn't get patch kits or the kinds of adhesives that would stand up to a repair job anymore (5)
The strip mall stores were vacant. Spiky mulleins and sumacs erupted through the broken pavement of the parking lot. The plate glass was gone and the aluminum sashes, and everything else worth scavenging was stripped out. (11)
People are on the move again (12)
Being so few in numbers, children no longer enjoyed solidarity in rebellion, and our society was too fragile to indulge much symbolic misbehavior (13)
The various shifting factions worked hard at managing the news even as the TV, newspapers, and Internet were failing in one way or another from irregular electric service (15)
the federal government was little more than a figment of the collective memory. Everything was local now. (15)
We had trouble getting wheat latelybecause trade had fallen off, and we couldn't grow it locally because of a persistent wheat rust in the soil that returned no matter how you rested a field. Mostly we had to rely on corn and buckwheat, with some barley, rye, and oats (16)
"It's not all bad now," I said.
"Weve lost our world."
"Only the part that the machines lived in." (18)
commercial entertainment as we knew it was no more, and its handmaiden, advertising, had gone with it (21)
milk was more difficult to keep in high summer because we lacked refrigeration (22)
...after the bomb went off in Los Angeles. That act of jihad was extraordinarily successful. The authorities finally had to start inspecting every shipping container that entered every harbor in the nation. Freighters anchored for weeks off Seattle, Norfolk, Baltimore, the Jersey terminals, Boston, and every other port of entry. Many of them eventually turned around and went home with their cargoes undelivered. (23)
...it was obvious there would be no return to "normality." The economy wouldn't be coming back. Globalism was over. (24)
We didn't have coffee anymore, or any caffeinated substitutes for it (24)
...in the absence of complex polymers and advanced cements...(25)
When every last useful thing in town had been stripped from the Kmart and the United Auto, the CVS drugstore, and other trading establishments of the bygone national chain-store economy, daily life became a perpetual flea market centered on the old town dump, which had been capped over in the 1990s (28)
By then the justice system had ground to a halt like so many things that had once seemed woven into the fabric of regular life (29)
There were no distant markets to send it to because shipping anything was slow at best and often unreliable, and traveling was something you just didn't do anymore (30)
with the population so far down, and many empty houses in town itself, and the oil gone, and no ability to drive heroic distances, these buildings had no value except for salvage (31)
Agriculture had changed completely without oil. We'd gone from a few people using machines to grow monoculture crops and process them for everybody else, to a society in which at least half the people used tools skillfully with human and animal muscle to feed the other half (35)
With the electricity off, you didn't hear recorded music anymore. You had to make it yourself (36)
There were still plenty of guns around, but manufactured ammunition was nearly impossible to get (49)
No one years ago would have anticipated how much production moved back into the home when the machine age ended (57)
There were no official safety nets in our little society, no more social services, no life insurance, nothing but the goodwill of neighbors. (70)
A lot of what had been forsaken, leftover terrain in the old days, was coming back into cultivation (74)
"...all these individuals in the town trying to live like it's still old times, each on its own, each family alone against the world. You can't have that in these new times or things will fall apart..." (90)
As the world changed, we reverted to social divisions that we'd thought were obsolete. The egalitarian pretenses of the high-octane decades had dissolved and nobody even debated it anymore (101)
In a world without electric powered saws, you had to take care with hand tools (112)
You never knew the weather in advance anymore. You might be said to have a good weather eye but nobody knew anything for sure and some were just better guessers than others (115)
You couldn't be too careful about infected wounds when there were no more antibiotic medicines (134)
Less pollution of all kinds ran into the river, no more factory fertilizers and pest control poisons, no more detergents. So the fish had returned in numbers not seen in anyone's memory (135)
"There's grievances and vendettas all around at every level. Poor against what rich are left. Black against white. English-speaking against the Spanish. More than one bunch on the Jews. You name it, there's a fight on. Groups in flight everywhere..." (149)
"This is just a time when nobody seems to know how to do anything, to get things done. A fellow makes a few things happen, and the world falls at his feet..." (162)
...a talented fellow whose fix-it shop was vital in a society that was forced to recycle virtually everything (199-200)
...going back to the old days, when television and all the other bygone diversions held people hostage in their homes after the sun went down, and you could hardly pry people out of their living rooms --as we used to call the place where the TVs lived (208)
"Even back in the old days, in the big hospitals, the docs lost patients," I said. "What they gained in technological magic, they lost in bureaucracy and inattention and sloppiness." (229)
"The car wrecked the southland. It wrecked Atlanta worse than Sherman ever did. It paved over my Virginia. they made themselves slaves to the car and everything connected with it, and it destroyed them in the end." (305)
The immense overburden of skyscrapers in Manhattan had proven unuseable without electric service (317)
I got to poking around on the Coraline site and found THIS one:
This is just TOO wonderful:
Geeking out in the shop... (via Bruce Sterling's blog)
via Neil Gaiman's Journal, this wonderful bit of urban kinetic sculpture, with simply PERfect music:
...and you'll probably want to explore others from CoralineFilms too!
It's both a curse and a blessing that I'm so easily diverted... this morning, mention of Alan Lomax's Cantometrics (in Ned Sublette's Cuba and Its Music) got me hunting for the various resources I already have and could find to augment what I have. Alas, Lomax's Cantometrics: An approach to the anthropology of music (1978, audiocassettes and a handbook) is long out of print and seemingly unavailable via the usual sources (though WorldCat tells me that Colby and University of Maine at Orono have it). A Google search led to Tim O'Brien's posting of a talk by Armand Leroi A New Science of Music: Digital Cantometrics and the Evolution of Music, a 30+-minute YouTube video which I want to listen to (but don't want to take the time to watch at the moment --though O'Brien provides a transcript). I remembered that Rob Kehler had found a conversion utility that (among other things) extracts YouTube audio to an mp3, so I found his reference in an email message and tried out vixy.net on that video. It stalled at 74% of the conversion, so I tried VidtoMP3.com, but its conversion dead-ended with no MP3 file. So I fired up Audacity to capture the sound in real time, for listening as I walk or drive. Meanwhile, a trip to the file drawers in the barn did locate the Cantometrics folder, with some photocopies and course handout materials from 20-odd years ago, so I added a few more bits of paper, and more than an hour later I'm ready to go on to something else. So it goes.
What a tale! A continuation of the Dumneazu saga noted yesterday, with (1) a food tidbit and (2) a video. Whatever will happen NEXT?
James Lileks (author of some ESSENTIAL books) is always entertaining and sometimes downright percipient in fingering the squirmiest aspects of American culture. In a recent posting he unreels Peter Lorre's Mr. Moto's Last Warning (1939 --and available via Amazon) and includes some wonderful stills:
of which he notes
Augh! It's like a blow-up love toy for a planet of mimesYou might also enjoy his Coffee and Chrome: restaurants from the days before the chains among other things on the Menu at his site, like Fargo 1950 and The Institute of Official Cheer.
Not everybody shares my interest in the further fringes of cultural expression, so not everybody will be diverted by today's WFMU vinyl finds posting, on stuff from the ummm woolier side of Oz. It did lead me to one of the more magnificent intersections of band-name/album-title/cover-art:
I can state pretty authoritatively that you shouldn't play any of the items on offer, and be warned that travel to Sydney would be a baaaad idea...
Funny how stuff comes up and then is echoed. At dinner tonight I was asked about how I happened to do dissertation research in Nova Scotia, and that led to the tale of how in the late 1960s I'd wanted to return to Sarawak to study the effects of infrastructure projects on communities and regions, but at that time there was no interest in and certainly no money to support such research. So here's an interesting post from Doc Searls, Rethinking out loud about infrastructure:
I’m here to suggest that two overlapping subjects — infrastructure and internet — are not well understood, even though both are made by humans and can be studied within the human timescale. The term "infrastructure" has been in common use only since the 1970s. While widely used, there are relatively few books about the subject itself. I’d say, in fact, that is more a subject in many fields than a field in itself. And I think it needs to be. Same with the Internet. Look it up on Google and see how many different definitions you get. Yet nothing could be more infrastructural without being physical, which the Internet is not.Doc links to Stephen Lewis on The Etymology of Infrastructure and the Infrastructure of the Internet which notes that
Infrastructure indeed entered the English language as a loan word from French in which it had been a railroad engineering term. A 1927 edition of the Oxford indeed mentioned the word in the context of "… the tunnels, bridges, culverts, and 'infrastructure work' of the French railroads." After World War II, "infrastructure" reemerged as in-house jargon within NATO, this time referring to fixed installations necessary for the operations of armed forces and to capital investments considered necessary to secure the security of Europe.My own use of the term had specifically to do with consequences of what the 1960s labelled as Development, essentially the first steps toward the social and economic transformations that were eventually labelled as Globalization. Much more to say about all of that...
A seven mile walk is, well, easier if there's an audio stream accompanying the relentless fall of the feet. I usually load up the MP3 player with something fairly current --recently acquired music or podcastery-- but this morning I looked in the Archives and (thinking about recent bloggery) pulled out James Kunstler's 14 July 2006 appearance on BazookaJoe's Small World, mostly concerned with issues raised in Kunstler's The Long Emergency: Surviving the converging catastrophes of the 21st century (2005). I recall listening to this when it first appeared, and thinking Kunstler a bit alarmist, but one time's alarmism is another time's prescience... For example:
[since the book's publication in 2005] The one thing that really has yet to occur is that the bottom hasn't fallen out of the American consumer economy, but I think that we're very close to seeing that, and that the inertia of the last couple of decades has been tremendous and is sort of carrying things onward, you know, running on fumes. But I think we're on the verge of seeing a great deal of trouble in the... among the homeowners who have bought houses in the last 5 years, using creative mortgages, and they're going to get in trouble I think with their mortgage payments, and we'll see a great deal of carnage out on the real estate scene, where a lot of American individual wealth is invested. You know, that's going to be reflected in this consumer economy, which is 70% of our economy, so I don't think we're far from seeing trouble with that, and as that occurs, you know, the political trouble is going to ramp up... [41:30-42:28](The podcast is archived here and makes an interesting hour, whether one's motivations are Schadenfreudian or social-historical)
The question of Who Gets It Right is always vexing, and the search usually involves dabblings at the fringes of opinion, be it in realms of food, of music, of politics, of education or whatever. As a lifelong adventurer in interstices, such territory is pretty familiar to me. I'm probably a contrarian by preference, though I'm fairly closeted in terms of expressing my views to audiences who don't already know (and, mostly, share...) my predilections.
One of the writers I seem to be in pretty close agreement with is Jim Kunstler, author of (among others) The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape and the recent novel World Made By Hand (which I haven't read yet) and a lively blog. From the penultimate paragraph of today's posting:
The only "change" that America really wants to hear about is evicting George Bush from the White House. They're sick of him and all the disturbance he has caused in their financial affairs. But beyond that, the American public is deathly afraid of the kind of changes we actually face -- such as, the end of consumer culture, the gross loss of value in suburban real estate (which forms the bulk of the middle class's private wealth), the prospect of food and fuel scarcities, the need to re-localize our lives, the need to physically shape up to stop the costly and unnecessary drain on our medical resources, to grow more of our own food, to work harder at things that actually matter, and to save whatever we can for a difficult future.The whole posting (couched as a list "Does Mr. O know?" that's heavy on the subject of the prospects of oil) is surely worth reading, and should be filed in the Look Again in 6 Months file. That one is beginning to bulge... and might well be turned into a blog of its own, which would deliver stuff for re-reading at a later date. Wonder if there's any software out there to facilitate such a service?
Eddie Thomas & Carl Scott - Tomorrow (November 21, 1928)
There's tons more via PegLegSam's offerings on YouTube, which include a lot of Pete Seeger TV (with various guests).
And (while we're at it, and because I invoked his name a couple of days ago) here's Rev. Gary Davis, playing in his all-but-inimitable style:
...and that led me to Skip James: