Saturday, August 30, 2008

World Made By Hand

I've been intending to blog about this, but time has been at a preminium for me lately. I just wanted to share a good book with all of you. It's called "World Made by Hand", by James Howard Kunstler. It was published earlier this year. I have talked about Kunstler before, he is the author of an outstanding book called "The Long Emergency", which introduced me to the theory (and some would say a reality, a near-future one at that) of peak oil, and the many consequences the world will face as a result. "World Made By Hand" is Kunstler's fictional interpretation of a post-Peak Oil world. While reading "The Long Emergency" isn't necessary to enjoy "World Made By Hand", I'd still recommend reading it first if you haven't done so.

I have trouble categorizing WMBH. Some might say that it's science fiction, since it takes place in the future, but what science fiction takes place in a future without electricity or gadgetry?

Anyway, WMBH takes place in upstate New York, in a post-apocalyptic future, in which our wars in the Middle East have resulted in the annhiliation of several American cities, including L.A. and D.C. It revolves around the former president of a software company turned carpenter in a small town, and his everday interactions and trials with the town's inhabitants. As a result of peak oil, the town has reverted back to a 19th century way of life. There's no automotives, no electricity, so as a result, people walk everywhere (or ride horses, which are very expensive since they can't be bred fast enough) and often work on farms for one or two employers. Serfdom is back in this future, and farming is big again too, obviously. What I found striking was how Kunstler identified many characters by what they'd done before Peak Oil hit. The main character was a president of a software company who flew everywhere, other characters were insurance agents, lawyers, one managed a drugstore, etc. Positions that are considered by Kunstler to be pretty much useless in a post-Peak Oil world.

Anyway, the story takes place in the course of one summer, and the town is trying to survive a gang of criminals on the outskirts of town, an even bigger gang of extortionists in the former capital of Albany, and a new religious sect that has taken up occupancy in the town's old high school, whose motives appear to be just, but also possess a tendency to make the town's inhabitants live just as they do.

I know I'm doing a shitty job of explaining this. It'd been over a week since I finished the book, and it isn't as fresh in my mind. But it's really good. I don't judge a book by its prose or even its story, but rather on its ability to hook me. To say "I had trouble putting this down" is the highest compliment that I can pay a book, and I had that experience with both "WMBH" and "The Long Emergency".

BTW, at the end of the book, Kunstler states the fate of other areas in the New York region, including Long Island. He says something to the effect of, "Due to the effects of brutal weather (presumably hurricanes) and dengue fever, Long Island's population is at 1800 levels. This means that there's plenty of free parking"> Ouch.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I'm Voting For Obama

What a difference a few years makes. In the last election, 2004, I was a political animal. I spent most of every day keeping up on the latest news, and was also an activist. I was the director of the Suffolk leg of a presidential campaign, Dennis Kucinich's. Albeit, Kucinich was on the margins of the primary campaign, way in the shadow of Howard Dean, John Edwards, and the eventual nominee, John Kerry, but I believed strongly in his platform to campaign for him. I registered as a Democrat just to work for his campaign and spread the word. I voted for him in the primary, and also for myself as a delegate.

Fast forward four years later. I've long since burned out as an activist. I really miss it sometimes, but I found out something important. Just because there are people who believe in the same things that you do, that being progressive ideals and causes that you generally consider to be just and righteous, it doesn't make them good people. That was true both for the campaign I worked for and later on, when I was directing a more general organization.

I wasn't planning to vote in this year's general election. I feel that it's the same old story, that of the two major candidates being Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum, along with a variety of third-party candidates who, while having a really good platform and message, don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of having even a minor impact in the election. I used to vote third-party as more of a protest vote, but I figure that just staying home and not voting at all is as strong a protest vote as any.

But over the past few days, I've been doing some thinking, and now, I'm pretty certain that I will vote in the general election, and for Obama. It's not because I like him as a candidate. I find him to be the lesser of two evils compared to McCain, and he's already wavering on things that he's previously said. However, I also realize that he is the first black candidate who has a realistic chance to win the presidency, and if he does win, it will be a very significant moment in this nation's history. And I want to be a part of that.

Also, it's nice to have a candidate who people are genuinely excited about. I don't really see what there is to be excited about, other than him being black as I just mentioned, but for whatever reason, it's a rare sight and it is nice to see it. In 2004, no one wanted John Kerry. No one could get excited about John Kerry. No one could tell you why he would be a good president, only that he wasn't the other guy. 4 years before that, no one cared whether Bush or Gore won.

I think that this election will be a landslide for Obama. Not like the Reagan landslide of '84, but still a very impressive showing. He's running against an old candidate who's running on an issue that no one cares about in this age of foreclosures and a sagging economy, and states (primarily southern ones) that have long been GOP strongholds can come into play due to record turnout of black voters. I feel that if McCain wins, there should be no more naysayers on the issue of electoral fraud, since that's the only way I see him winning at this moment.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Death of Globalization?

I am beginning to notice that the mass media (by mass media, I mean outlets like the Times and the Post, not television media so much) is starting to catch on to the peak oil phenomenon. They aren't saying "peak oil", but they've caught on to the fact that the days of cheap oil are over, and that the current price of a barrel is due to the sensible theory of supply-and-demand, not the nonsensical "speculation" that's been making the rounds for months.

A possible consequence of peak oil, voiced by Kunstler but also others, will be the death (or at least, dramatic downsizing) of what is known as globalization. And this article in the Times seems to bear this out. What fueled the emergence of globalization (pun not intended) was cheap oil. And with globalization came many changes, among them the propensity to catch fish in the Western Hemisphere, ship it to China to be filleted, and then shipped back to be sold and consumed. I don't know what name this goes by, but suffice to say, it doesn't really make a lot of sense. But what made it doable at the time was cheap oil. Now that PO is upon us, major companies are beginning to relocate their factories from Asia to closer to home.

Global warming, lost jobs, and all the other consequences of globalism probably were not going to doom it in the long-term, but peak oil just might.