Thursday, January 26, 2012

Life Without a Car

I know I don't get too personal very often on this blog, and for good reason.  My life is often dull.  Additionally, I also don't want to burden you with my personal problems.  But when something is pertinent to the mission of this blog, I guess I should feel obligated to share.  It's also helpful to vent. 

I live without a car, in the most heavily car-dependent part of the world.  That is, the U.S. of A.  Unless you live in a metropolitan area, like Manhattan or San Francisco, getting around via car is pretty much non-negotiable.  I live on Long Island, which has public transit, but it usually isn't very good.  In fact, it can be downright unreliable, which makes it a real bitch if you are using it to get to and from work.  Not only do I not have a car, I also do not have a driver's license.  I have some disabilities, that discouraged me from trying to get a license.  In hindsight, this was a mistake, perhaps a fatal one.  

There are countless ways in which your life is affected without access to a car.  I'll share one story with you.  After a lengthy period of inactivity in terms of looking for work, I decided to get back on my horse and try to make a real effort once again.  A colleague of mine referred me to a state civil exam to be a legal assistant.  This was a good fit for me, as I had a certification in paralegal studies that I am hoping will come of some use.  So I ponied up the application fee, and began to study. 

The day came, and a lot of snow came down.  But not enough snow for the state to cancel their exams  (I don't think any amount of snow would have been enough; in any event, the state will still hold the exams, and hope that enough people will not show up, that way they can pocket the application fees without people taking the exam).  I live with my mom and brother, so those were my only two options to get to the school where the exam was being held (the bus wasn't an option; I would have to walk nearly 2 miles in the snow, and in any event, the stop probably wouldn't have been anywhere near the school).  My mom is getting old and does not feel comfortable driving in adverse conditions.  That left my brother.  Initially, he decided not to take me.  Of course, I felt dejected and withdrawn.  In the end, he relented and took me.  I know that my brother cares for me very much.  But in a lot of ways, I don't think that I'm understood very well by either him or my mother. 

He told me that he took me, partly because he didn't want me to sulk all day.  But it would have went beyond sulking.  I would have felt a profound sense of despair, it was already beginning to sink in when I woke up and saw the weather.  I want to do things and go places, particularly if it will help me from a career perspective.  I also know that a lot of these goals are next to impossible to meet without a car.  I have family, but they can only help so much. 

A few days later, my mom and father spoke.  A few years ago, they split and divorced, so he doesn't live with us anymore.  I don't think too highly of him; he never gave us a reason to be proud of him, and he would never sacrifice anything for me or anyone else.  Anyway, my mom told him that I took a state exam, and he said (according to Mom), "he wouldn't be able to get a job anyway, he doesn't drive".  My mom and brother were fixated on how cruel he was for saying this, and yeah, he does come off as a dick.  But I keep asking myself, "dick or not, is he wrong?"

A lot of times, I try to rationalize my ongoing failure in finding work by saying that the job market sucks.  That the U.S. economy is in freefall and that even white-collar jobs are moving offshore.  All of that is true.  But I also know that a key reason of why I haven't been able to find work, is because I don't drive.  A weak job market may hurt you, but if you do not drive, it is a death sentence.  I am competing with countless graduates who do not have the restrictions that I do.  Many times, I would see a job that would be an ideal fit for me, that would at least be worth applying to.  But it is either out of my way (also, outside the realm of either bus or train service), or it requires a car, since you have to travel to a courthouse or client's homes and so forth).  So I don't apply, and lessen my chances of getting work.  In this economy, again, between those two factors, it means career suicide.  I'm trying again, but I fear that I'm always going to hit this brick wall.  

But it's not just from a career perspective that not having a car hurts me.  It's also a huge social stigma.  I've told people this, in casual conversation, and I get looks; you'd think that I just told them that I have AIDS.  I come off as a third-world man.  Also, if I want to go out at night, to have a drink or mingle, again, next to impossible.  After 7 PM or so, the public transit stops running. 

So, one might say, "why don't you get a car now, if you feel this way?"  I answer this, with the mindset that I have to make decisions based on the life that I have, not on the one that I wish I did have.  I think this is how people get in trouble.  In any case, I don't think I can afford it.  I make $12 an hour at Target, and I work around 4 days a week.  I have some savings, but it's slowly depleting (I don't make enough to save money, and after rent and student loans, there's not much left).  If I buy a car, I have to pay the loan on the car, I have to get insurance, I have to pay for gas (which is inching back up to $4/gal).  I would be broke for sure, and I may not even get a job anyway. 

Anyway, I might write more on this later.  Just had to vent, thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What Even Jon Stewart Won't Tell You

This is a funny and terrifying clip from "The Daily Show" about the workers at the Chinese factory Foxconn.  They make many of the electronic entertainment gadgets that we always use, like the iPhone and the Xbox, among other things (full disclosure:  I own an Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, iPod Touch, iPod Shuffle, the PC I'm typing on, a laptop, and numerous other things that were made at either Foxconn or a similar Chinese factory).  The workers also toil under horrific conditions; as is noted here, the average wage is 35 cents an hour, and union organization is punishable by up to 12 years in prison.  Conditions have gotten to where suicides are taking place, and the factory owners have even installed nets in order to prevent them.

Accurately, but predictably, Stewart takes subtle jabs at the many Americans who own these products, and point out that they would cost much more if they were made elsewhere.  True enough.  But what I found most interesting was the very beginning, in which a series of politicians try to point out the job situation in America, why they think it is the way it is, and what they'd do about it if elected President.  They all feel that they need to give endless "incentives" to "the job creators" in order for them to innovate and want to "create jobs" here in America.  The incentives are always the same, they take place in the form of tax cuts.

All one needs to do is view this clip to see that the imperatives of the candidates are full of crap; who knows, maybe that's what Stewart was implying, but he couldn't well say it.  After seeing this clip, one should come away with the impression that in order to bring the jobs back to America, it won't be via tax cuts (many corporations already don't pay taxes).  Jobs will only come back to America, when we are willing to work like the Chinese people work.  When we are willing to work for 35 cents an hour, for up to 34 hours (if not more), with no union representation or collective bargaining rights or child labor laws, that is when the jobs will come back.  Obviously, no politician seeking office will tell us that, but in my mind, it is the truth.  But I do find that they do tell us this, in code.  When they say we have to "be more competitive with the Chinese", many would think that this is meant in terms of innovation or education.  No, I believe that they mean this in terms of living and working standards.

We will rue the day when our politicians signed our jobs away by exporting them via free-trade agreements.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Please Call Your Congressman and Senators to Protest SOPA and PIPA

As I'm sure many of you have heard, there are bills being proposed in Congress to change the Internet as we know it.  Web sites will be regulated to ensure that copyrighted material isn't being transmitted, to the point where a web site can be eradicated out of existence, whether it's linking to copyrighted material or not.  Wikipedia, one of the largest web sites in the world (based on visitor traffic), is blacking out their website until Thursday morning to protest and to raise awareness of this issue.  Other websites I tried to go to this morning, such as Raw Story and Michael Moore's, are also taking part.  Please call your Congressman and Senators to express your opposition.  I don't know how effective it will be; many people called Congress to oppose the bailout, and look how that turned out.  But I'd still call anyway. 

Wikipedia has a great page with a lot of information and a FAQ on the SOPA and PIPA bills.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Grocery Auctions

This article was actually posted a pretty long time ago (nearly 3 years), but I think as the economy has continued on its course of stagnation (soon to be contraction), it is still somewhat timely.  I had never heard of such a thing, but apparently, auctions aren't just for selling art and antiques anymore.  To fulfill the demand of the downwardly mobile, auctions have expanded to include the everyday necessities of life, including groceries.  The savings at these auctions seem to be pretty substantial, and the profit is split between the grocer and the auctioneer.  The grocer even sells "scratch 'n dent" items for auction, which is a lot preferable than just throwing away a perfectly good can or box of food that happens to have a small dent in the box. 

Being a fan of Jim Kunstler, this picture amused me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Most Extreme Configuration of the Jet Stream Ever Recorded"

This winter has been pretty funky thus far; I'm in New York, and there's nary a snowflake in sight, and most days have been in the 50s.  It isn't the first mild winter I've had, and it's been happening more often than not.  A possible culprit is a major shift in the jet stream.  The Icelandic Low blows a strong flow of air over the eastern U.S., preventing arctic air from hitting the U.S. and Europe.  Records are kept of this, of course, and this is said to be the 2nd most extreme December in terms of this, other than 2006.  It's too soon to tell whether this is man-made or natural, although I'd guess it was the former.  Like Bill Maher, I prefer to think of it as "climate change" rather than "global warming", as every time we do get a snowstorm or unusually cold weather, the idiots come out of the woodwork and say "so much for that darned global warming." 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Media Marginalizes Another Candidate

I usually pay at least some attention to the election season, but as I'm not voting this year (and am not planning to as long as the electoral system is in place), my attention on the primaries has been minimal at best.  But there is always one candidate who has a tendency to say what he believes, polls be damned, and would seem to have a capacity to actually shake things up if he were to become president.  And then the media ensures that he won't get anywhere near the White House by ignoring or downplaying his chances as much as possible.  In this particular election cycle, I am speaking of the Republican candidate, Ron Paul.  I know that he also ran in the '08 primaries as well, but his stature and campaign have grown by leaps and bounds since then.  In 2008, he was a marginal candidate who was given no coverage by the mainstream media.  Now, he regularly polls right up there with the frontrunners, like the billionaire Mitt Romney.

I am not necessarily a Ron Paul supporter, although he does give me the impression that he is an honest man who usually stands behind what he says.  His ideas for improving the country are certainly needed.  In the end, his campaign platform is essentially getting the federal government out of the way, and letting the states govern themselves.  And he is a real conservative in that sense, the other candidates will say similar things, but their actions would show that they love a bigger federal government.  And now, even with his popularity growing, the corporate media still continue to marginalize and ignore him.  Just look at this video.  It flashes back to 2008 news coverage, and the reporters and pundits explaining how important Iowa was in choosing the next president.  Then it shows this year's news coverage, and the reporters suddenly deem Iowa irrelevant and not an important state.  The difference?  In 2008, Paul was polling at the margins; this year, he came close to winning (he finished 3rd in a tight race behind Romney and religious extremist Rick Santorum).

In 2004, I volunteered and ran as a regional delegate for the campaign of Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic congressman who ran for President in that year.  Like Paul in 2008, he was a marginal candidate who never made headway in the minds of the media.  But the low expectations and high passion of his supporters made his campaign more efficient, so rather than go all-out in one state (like Iowa or New Hampshire), finish 4th or 5th and drop out, he was able to mount a vigorous campaign in all 50 states.  My hope is that Dr. Paul will be able to do the same.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

An Interview With Another Great Author

Yesterday, I posted a link to an illustrious panel talking about the issues of the day, and today, I found a recently uploaded Youtube video of another of my favorite authors, Chris Hedges.  Hedges had been a war reporter for around 20 years, and is now writing editorials for the website Truthout.  He wrote a great book, "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" and the last book of his that I read, "Empire of Illusion", is pretty incredible as well.  While he does not write about peak oil extensively like Kunstler or Orlov, a key theme of his has become the decline of the American empire.  In his words, "the descent is going to be horrifying."

This interview was originally broadcast on C-SPAN's BookTV, and the interview is 3 hours long.  I think it'll totally be worth it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Panel With Some of my Favorite Writers/Thinkers in One Place

I just found out about this panel and can't wait to listen to them.  It consists of James Howard Kunstler (the man who introduced me to peak oil and economic collapse, via his book "The Long Emergency"), Dimitri Orlov ("Reinventing Collapse", in which he compares and contrasts the collapse of his home country, the Soviet Union, with the pending collapse of that other superpower in which I happen to inhabit, the U.S.A., is one of my favorites), Richard Heinberg (who's written many books on energy issues and economics, including "The Party's Over"), Nicole Foss (who has a very popular blog, The Automatic Earth) and the elder statesman/rock star of the group, Noam Chomsky (I read many of his books when I was in college, and they were a revelation to me). 

Orlov wasn't happy with the discussion of the panel (he titled his blog posting in which he discusses it as "A Dismal Public Affair"; ouch!) and blames Chomsky's tendency to "ramble".  I'm still looking forward to listening to it, though.