Friday, November 13, 2020

The Water Heater Analogy -- or is it a Metaphor?

 The other day we had to have our water heater replaced. We knew it was coming. A repairman came a couple of years ago to fix the gas inlet and he couldn't do it. The problem was that the water heater was so old that his parts didn't fit and he didn't know where to find ones that did. He called in to his company and they didn't know where to get parts either. I said I'd try to find something since I have some contacts in the old appliance realm. I checked with the local hardware store -- which used to have lots of old stuff. Well, no. They'd got rid of most of their old stock, and the parts they have now were the same as the plumber had, and they wouldn't fit. Try a place in town (Albuquerque) they said. A couple of them still have old stock.

So I go into town. At the recommended place. they said yes they had the part I needed (a reverse thread nut) but they only sold it with a complete replacement kit for the firebox. Oh. How much? $108. The part I needed was about $1.35, but what the hey? So I got the kit, called the plumber -- who was shocked I found the parts -- and he came back and put the whole kit in the water heater, and it worked fine, better than ever. But he said at max, the WH would last maybe three more years, and I'd better start saving up for a new one. How much, I asked. He said at least $1,500, probably closer to $1,800 to $2,000.


Well, but that's the way it goes.

So maybe 2.5 years go by, and by golly, the pressure relief valve goes out, water -- hot water -- spraying everywhere, and there's no way to stop it. Nowadays, it wouldn't happen quite that way, but I'll get to that.

You see, this is an old house, and things have been cobbled together, often self-built and repaired over more than 100 years, and so things aren't necessarily well-planned or thought through. For one thing, even though the water heater was installed in 2005, it was an older model, and it wasn't put in properly -- though it was supposedly done by professionals. There was no shut off valve, for example, and there were other issues. So in order to stop the water spraying all over the laundry room, I had to go out to the driveway and dig out the meter box which was buried in gravel. Initially, I couldn't find it. But then I did and dug and scraped until the cover emerged, and I couldn't find the tool to open it. I used to do it with a big screwdriver, but I couldn't find that either. So I called the city (yes, though we live in a rural area, we are technically in a city, and the city provides water to our section.) They sent a guy within 10 minutes and he had to struggle some to get the water off, but he finally did, and we started cleaning up the... mess...

I called the new plumbers we'd been using, asking if they could send somebody. Well, yes. They could but it might not be until late, maybe 5p or even later. Would that be all right?

I said I'd check locally, and if I could get somebody sooner, I would. Fine. I called several local plumbers, and as I expected, the answer was nope, or there was no answer at all or no call back. One didn't even have a phone number listed. What fun. 

So I called the other plumber back. I knew they were more expensive, but if they could get somebody out here, that would be cool. 

I'd called at 8:00am. At 1:00pm the plumber assigned to us calls, and we discuss what's wrong, and he says welp, he can fix the pressure relief valve ($7-800) or he can replace the whole thing ($2100). What did I think? I said welp, it's old, and we'll have to replace it soon anyway, let's do the whole thing. Can he put a shut off valve on it? Yup. Everything to code, and a very high-end water heater. 

Wow. That's more money than we've got on hand, but you do what you gotta. 

So after several more conversations about household heating and cooling, how much room he will to work and what size the heater is, he says he'll pick up a water heater and parts and be here in about an hour. Sure enough, he shows right on time, and after checking out the situation gets right to work. 

About 3 hours later, the city worker comes out and turns on the water at the meter, and ta da, a fancy new water heater is installed, with a shut off valve, a drip tray, a copper line from the pressure relief valve to the outside, an alarm if it leaks, and all sorts of other things which I wasn't expecting, including the fanciest earthquake restraints I'd ever seen. The water heater works electronically, no pilot light, and there are special instructions for shutting the dang thing off. Not at all like the old one. Steep learning curve for me. But oh well. 

He walked me through the basics and pointed out the instruction manual. It's guaranteed 6 years, he said, installation guaranteed for a year. If anything goes wrong, no charge for parts or labor for the first year, then labor only for the next five years. He said it would probably last for 15 to 20 years, but we should think about replacing it before that.

Otherwise, the price complete was indeed $2,100. 

We chit-chat a bit while he's preparing the bill, and it turns out he's from South Africa and he came to the US in 2016. Whoa, mercy. Got in just in time. He did an excellent and very thorough job. He asked if we wanted him to clean up the water which was still puddled here and there in the laundry room, and the mud he'd tracked in from outside. I said no, he'd done his part. We'd take care of it.

And so, we thank him profusely and at about 6:00pm, he drives away to his next job, a broken refrigerator water line. Time to start cleaning up.

We now have hot water to clean up with. Everything works except one faucet in the bathroom which now leaks which it didn't before. Hm. Well, I can fix that, eventually. 

Now why is this a metaphor for our national condition? 

For one thing, the last four years have been a mess and the government is partially -- some would say completely -- broken. There's crap all over the place, and a big part of the project for the Biden regime (yes, they're all regimes now) is repairing what's broken, replacing what doesn't work any more, and cleaning up the mess left by Trump and his fans. No easy task.

Biden and Harris seem ready to start. But there's so much work to do, and whatever gets done is going to be different than we expect. It's going to be more complicated, better in some ways, not so much in others. It'll look good, probably, but it may not last very long. It'll take professionals, not grifters, to get done. 

We've known this would happen, would have to happen, sooner or later, and we've been prepping, somewhat, not very well, but still...

What needs doing -- like replacing the water heater -- will take care of a little bit of what ultimately needs to be done. Biden and Harris say they are focused on controlling the virus, rebuilding the economy and fixing broken institutions. OK. That's really a much bigger job than I think they can handle, but what do I know? There is so much that's gone sideways, not just since the advent of Orange Man Bad in the White House, but for a very long time. Fixing it isn't going to happen overnight, and the crew coming in is more like a restoration effort, not a renovation/repair/rehabilitation outfit. But again, we may be in for surprises. 

A simple fix of the water heater would have made me happy. We got a deluxe fix. But it's not going to last forever. Nothing does. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Some Thoughts on the Presidential "Debates" -- and the presidency in general

The final presidential candidate "debate" was held on Thursday in Nashville moderated by Kristen Welker, an African American NBC News personality -- which inspired plenty of pre-game fireworks and insults from Mr. Trump.

The performance by Mr. Trump was less of an imitation of the Tasmanian Devil from Warner Brothers cartoons than the first "debate" but he did little to reassure the haters and the leery that he was at all well-wrapped and capable of understanding anything that wasn't entirely about him. The man's id and ego dominates everything and spills over into the real world with sometimes devastating consequences. He's a destroyer -- at least his public persona is. He has become Death, Destroyer of Worlds.

I got to thinking about that some time ago, because he has long had a reputation (however often sullied) in the real estate business as preservationist and builder. You look at his performance as president and that seems impossible. The man could not build anything if his life depended on it. As for preservation, his contempt and chaos would destroy anything in his path. Wouldn't it?

Well, I don't know. Apparently certain signature properties of his -- Mar a Lago, the DC Post Office building, the Plaza Hotel and several other historic buildings in NYC  -- are worthy preservation and adaptive re-use efforts that he was set on doing and did with considerable brio. How they were done is not the question. That they were done and still stand as relatively well-done examples of the genre -- and with his name on them -- is the point. 

None of it could have been easy and watching him as president you would think it wouldn't have been possible for him to do it at all. He's too out of it, too crazy, to chaotic. And yet... somehow these projects and many others got done.

There was nothing in the "debate" on Thursday that let me see or know that part of him. Maybe it's gone, I don't know. There was certainly nothing that convinced me that he even remotely understood the devastating and continuing effects of the Virus on American lives and livelihoods, or that the devastation is in large part due to the failures of his administration to adequately address the situation. Blank stares is about all you'll ever get from them.

Trump's demands that everybody just go back to work and school and shop till they drop again while they "learn to live with it" -- the Virus -- seems hollow and bizarre. The premise is that everything is up to the individual and the market, and if things go south, oh well, too bad, so sad, there's nothing to be done. 

That's the status quo right now, and he won't deviate a jot or a tittle from it.

Meanwhile, there's Old Joe Biden. Sigh. I was convinced Democrats would not nominate him simply because I didn't think the political situation would be stable enough to put up such a tired retread against the Destroyer. But in spite of all the objections, they did it anyway. Oh. Dear.

Joe is not as feeble as he's been made out to be by his critics and haters, but he's not entirely there either. He's old. And it shows. During the performance on Thursday, he lost track and misspoke several times, and he seemed to fade out as the evening wore on. Assuming he wins, he'll have to be molly-coddled through his reign, much like Reagan had to be and Wilson had to be toward the end, and probably lots of others had to be, but that's not always a bad thing. What bothered me is that from a policy standpoint, he seems to be trying to revive the early '90s, and I got the willies. No, we can't go back, we have to go forward, a direction he and his handlers don't seem to recognize. 

Oh. Dear.

That means to me that things are not going to get better with either old man on the throne. And that is apparently the policy of our rulers regardless of party. No. That's their watchword. No.

So we sleepwalk into the Darkness... 

The presidency itself has been jokified by Trump and his antics, and I don't see Biden somehow reverting it to dignity. Yet the presidency has too much power and too much deference is granted to presidential bullshit. There's no sign of reining in the powers of the presidency (just the opposite) nor of restoring some sense of monkish  propriety to the office holder. We're going down another path of ever wilder and obnoxious presidents it seems. 

The Revolution doesn't come. But the transformation isn't delayed. 

Buckle up. 

Friday, October 23, 2020


 ASMR is something I'd never heard of before a few months ago, even though I'd been experiencing it for several months (maybe years) before I found out about it. I'd seen and subscribed to videos of fine art restoration by Julian Baumgartner and came to discover that they are considered among the finest ASMR videos out there. I'd also seen urbex videos by Bros of Decay, a couple of Dutch speaking Belgian brothers who travel around Europe (and sojourned in Japan) exploring abandoned castles, mansions, and houses and telling tales about them -- in English. Come to find out they too are considered ASMR by many of their fans. 

Then finally, while scrolling through some of the food videos, I came across numerous Korean Street Food videos (made and posted by various people) showing the process of creating and serving a range of so-called street foods in Korea -- though often the videos are obviously not of street vendors but of indoor restaurant cooks. ASMR. All of it.

But what is it?

Well, that took some digging. Apparently it's been a Thing online especially at YouTube for some time, and it comes from some sort of fringe psychology research. A.S.M.R. stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response which in turn refers to a physical and psychological response in many people to auditory and visual stimuli. 

"Basically, it feels like the amazing chills you get when someone plays with your hair or traces your back with their fingertips," says Heather Feather, a popular "ASMRtist" with nearly 400,000 YouTube subscribers. The dulcet tones of famed soft-spoken painter Bob Ross are among the most common ASMR triggers. Indeed, "Bob Ross" is among the terms most frequently associated with ASMR—and so are "Heather Feather" and "GentleWhispering," another top ASMRtist on YouTube.

Julian Baumgartner has well over a million YouTube subscribers, and each video he produces generally gets hundreds of thousands or millions of views. He conserves and restores fine art in a vast loft cum restoration studio in Chicago. He acts with extreme precision and care, taking as much time and resources as necessary to repair and recondition the works of art (mostly paintings) his clients send him. He describes every step and comments on the work in great detail using his "ASMR voice" speaking softly and carefully and precisely, never becoming either over excited or bored, but staying always positive and intrigued by his discoveries. Some of his videos are released with commentary, some without -- and the ones that have no commentary are referred to by him as ASMR while the ones with commentary are not, but his viewers see both as different forms of ASMR. He says he produces the videos mostly by himself, moving the camera from place to place in the studio, doing the setups, doing the restoration work both on camera and off, then editing and doing voiceovers. Occasionally, he'll ask someone else to record part of a video if he needs a tracking shot while he moves a work from one part of the studio to another. But we never see anyone else in the studio. It's never quite clear how long it takes to restore a particular piece, nor are costs ever mentioned, but those are minor details to most of his viewers. They focus, as does Julian, on the process of fine art restoration, the detail of the work, the many steps and stages that must be taken and followed, the sequence of assessment, cleaning, repair, retouching and restoration, and... the Washi Kozo paper he uses to protect and maintain the integrity of the piece while he works on it.

It's all fascinating. Seeing it done, seeing it done so well and so consistently, is rewarding in and of itself. I don't know that I experience a tingling sensation from my scalp to the tips of my fingers and toes as I watch -- which is supposedly the definition of ASMR -- but I'm always intrigued and pleased when I see the process, which is an experience I have rarely had in real life (I have on occasion witnessed conservation and restoration work in museums, but it's typically been very brief glimpses and without much or any explanation.) 

Likewise Korean Street Food videos are process oriented, usually with no talking at all, just the sounds of the work being done. The what and how of creating dozens of (say) egg toast sandwiches at one time is shown in video after video -- the skills and dexterity of the cook are featured -- while the setup and ingredients vary from place to place and the results are showcased sometimes including someone taking a bite, but often not. 

That there are so many different people posting Korean street food videos, all of which are similar, makes me wonder if there is a central clearing house for the genre. I don't know -- or particularly care. But it's one of several mysteries of where these videos come from, who produces them and how they are distributed. But those are minor questions. The process is what's important and what is on show.  

There's another set of process videos that come from a production factory in Cyprus. 5 Minute Crafts is one of their brands. Their videos have millions of subscribers and get millions of views. They purport to show "hacks" -- food hacks, household hacks, pet hacks, and on and on. Many of them, apparently, don't work or are falsely presented, but few seem to mind. And in some circles, they are considered ASMR. 

So it's out there, lots of it. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Kitchen Vernacular and ASMR

 [Once again a diversion from the multiple crises afflicting our fair globe and nation, crises I believe we can do little about. The pandemic still keeps me mostly at home; if I go out it's for groceries and supplies, or to various medical appointments. So I spend at least some of my time exploring the YouTubes and reading glossy magazines where I make discoveries.]

Kitchen design has evolved somewhat during my lifetime. Above is a picture of a typical kitchen in what I suspect is a farmhouse c. 1930. It's large and square and "unfitted." Ie, without built in cabinets. This means the house and kitchen probably date from around 1900, but the equipment is newer. The stove is probably from the mid-1920s or even 1930, and the refrigerator is a 1930 or later GE Monitor Top. 

Though I don't remember it clearly, this is probably similar to the kitchen in my father's house in Iowa where I only lived a few months after I was born and returned to for a few months in the summers of 1961 and 1962. The house was old, parts of it very old (c.1845-50), but the kitchen was an add-on around 1900 when my grandfather bought it and had it expanded. When I visited in the summers of 1961 and 62, the kitchen was modernized somewhat. I remember there was one of those steel cabinet sinks under the bank of windows on one side and a newer stove and refrigerator but beyond that, I don't remember much.

The first house we lived in in California was built in 1930 and had a very plain and simple kitchen. It was a narrow corridor along the back of the house (actually it was a duplex). There was a black stove up on legs (c. 1930) and a small refrigerator (flat-top c. 1935) on one wall. The other side was a built-in cabinet with sink under the tiny window and tile drainboards on either side. There were upper cabinets for dishes and dry foods. And by the side door, there was a broom closet. There wasn't room for much else, though there might have been a "California Cooler" on the same wall as the sink and the broom closet might have been on the wall with the stove and refrigerator. There was a single overhead light (might even have been a bare bulb), and I remember the room seemed dark and cramped -- even when I was just a toddler. The flooring was varied gray linoleum with a small figure and a border.

We moved from there to another bigger house when I was three. I don't remember the kitchen or much of the interior of that house at all. The house itself was practically new, built as Post War housing on a lot next to a high water Victorian. I remember the kitchen in that Victorian house better than the one next door where I lived. The Victorian one was plain and unfitted except for the steel cabinet sink -- those seemed to have been ubiquitous for a while -- and had a round table and chairs at one end, newer stove and refrigerator at the other. There was a dish cabinet, too. It wasn't a Hoosier, but was simpler, with an upper section with glass doors and a lower section with drawers on one side and a wood-doored section next to the drawers. I believe the cabinet was on wheels. There was one electric light on a dangling cord in the center of the room and there may have been another one over the stove but I'm not sure. 

After that, we lived in a succession of pre-and-post-War houses in Los Angeles County, only one of which left much of an impression on me. It was a very cozy and homey house in West Covina built around 1939 or so, with a corridor kitchen. Built in cabinets, sink under the window, blue and white tiled counter tops, an older but functional stove and refrigerator, both dating from about the time the house was built, and an eating area in a bay window at the back. There was ivy-decorated white wall paper. The room was light and bright -- I remember the sunlight in the breakfast area well -- and I liked it. 

We moved from there to a brand new house a few miles away. It also had a corridor kitchen, but without the charm of the one we'd left. There was the usual sink and tile drainboard built-in cabinet on one side with the usual upper cabinets on either side of the window over the sink and a stove and refrigerator on the other side. We went through a succession of used refrigerators dating from the mid-thirties to the late forties, none of which lasted very long (the longest lasting was a Servel gas refrigerator) before getting a new Kenmore refrigerator which we kept for at least ten or even fifteen years and hauled around to a number of different houses. The stove, however, was an indestructible Wedgewood that had been purchased with the house, and which stayed with the house when we moved again five years later. 

At the far end of this corridor kitchen was an eating area with a window (no bay window) that also served as a laundry area. We had a Kenmore automatic washer but no dryer, and there was no room for a dryer anyway. Laundry was hung on the clothes line out in the side yard or on one of those folding wooden racks indoors when the weather was bad.

The flooring was linoleum with an overall pattern, no border, and I think it was green like the tile border on the countertops. There was a cabinet next to the stove that held the water heater and some brooms and such.  There was one overhead light in the kitchen proper and one in the eating/laundry area.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Cooking Shows

Since we've been mostly confined to home due to the virus, I've spent quite a bit of time watching the cooking shows on Create TV (we don't have cable, and I resist the cooking shows on Netflix and Roku). I've noticed a consistent visual, equipment, and action vocabulary that is practically inviolable across all the shows.

 1) Nobody measures anything. All ingredients are pre-prepared and preset for use in recipes, a form of mise en place, that is never explained, never shown being prepared, never indicated as a professional kitchen shortcut.

Back in the day, by contrast, Julia Child measured everything. She even sifted her flour! Something unheard of these days.

2) Everyone uses only Kitchen Aid stand mixers and Cuisinart food processors. If another brand creeps in (as sometimes happens in early episodes of a particular cooking show) they will be replaced with the official brands shortly.

3) Everyone sprinkles salt and pepper and other dry seasonings with their fingers from on high; no one ever uses a salt or pepper shaker under any circumstances.

 4) Related: Only kosher or sea salt is ever used, never iodized table salt. Black pepper is always "freshly ground" even though it may be pulled by the fingers full from a dish like the kosher/sea salt.

5) Herbs are almost always fresh cut like flowers from the garden. Dried herbs are rarely seen let alone used, but when they are, they are almost always from some artisinal outfit, never from a commonly known commercial spice company. Ever!

6) Primary cooking is frequently done in an enamel coated cast iron Le Creuset dutch oven. This is a multi-hundred dollar kitchen item that few home cooks can afford let alone use. Electric cooking appliances are almost never seen. Deep fat frying is done in the dutch oven on top of the stove with a thermometer stuck to the side of the pan. An electric deep fat fryer which can maintain a set temperature without an attached thermometer would violate some code of operation. You will never see an electric skillet, griddle, or even waffle iron. Common utensils are rarely seen, replaced with expensive specialty items like specialized fish turners and the like. You never even see a can opener or a toaster.

7) The only canned items used on television cooking shows are imported (generally from Italy) and they are primarily confined to certain specially grown tomatoes. The cans are already opened when their contents are called for in the recipe.

8) Ingredients in general are almost always hard to obtain for most home cooks and require expeditions to high end and specialty grocers, often requiring visits to multiple stores before all ingredients can be obtained. Everything will be expensive, one meal, sometimes one dish costing as much as the weekly food budget for a family.

9) Multi-step recipes that can require a whole day or more of preparation -- brining, rubbing, marinating, sus vide pre-cooking, grilling, etc. -- before serving. If anything is cut or chopped on air it is either done with a mandolin, food processor, or "crazy knife skills." Pressure cookers are never used or seen, although I once heard mention of such devices. 

10) Plating and serving is often an entire production in itself, requiring special plates, tools, and techniques. Foods are stacked or set at intricate angles. There may be a bed of some exotic grain or uniquely prepared potatoes (purple and yellow are favored) or unusual rice. Just as often, there may be a vegetable base of unusual greens or chopped and 'caramelized' something or other. A delicate sauce and dots of foamed stuff are drizzled around the portion, which itself glistens and sparkles under the studio lights as if glazed with something unmentioned in the recipe. In fact, there often is an extra glaze on the finished dish added just for the cameras, or so I'm told.

11) Plating and serving is done slowly, reverently, with the cook/chef bent over close to the plate, placing micro greens with precise micro tongs, dusting with seasoning, sesame, or what have you, adding a sprig of violets or other edible flowers at the end, and carefully wiping the rim of the plate with a handy towel before actually presenting the dish. 

12) If the dish is sampled on air, it is done as slowly and reverently with much mmming and ohhhing, and "that is SO good"-ing. Words like "AMAZING!" are required. You hear "amazing, caramelized, and umami" frequently used throughout the preparation, serving, and sampling of the dish or meal. "Brown bits," "fond," "pan sauce," "deglazing".... and on and on, the specialized cooking vocabulary keeps expanding, often without explanation. "Umami" suddenly became the it-word often used without any definition or explanation, just assuming the audience would know it refers to savory flavors in Japanese.

13) The Big Idea of most of these cooking shows is to 1) bring high end restaurant techniques and ingredients into the home cook's frame of reference; 2) sell very expensive equipment and ingredients to home cooks who are expected to diligently search out these items; 3) make it possible to make the "impossible" restaurant dish at home (maybe); 4) present and maintain food fantasies for the masses. Alternatively, make home cooking equivalent to specialty cooking, and make it a race to accomplish the "impossible" within a half-hour or hour format. 

Contrast this contemporary television cooking with what was common in early days of these shows (think Julia Child in her first incarnation but not just her) and go back even farther to when home cooking was presented as an exercise in precision and science, but always respecting budgets. Healthy meals at reasonable cost prepared carefully and often quickly with modern but not excessive appliances.

In the old days, restaurant techniques -- whether high end or diner -- were often simply ignored in order to present what could reasonably be done at home. Julia went to the Cordon Bleu in Paris and so she knew full well how to do fine French cooking in the highest and most intricate manner, but the whole point of the show was to do something not necessarily "fine cooking" at all, but something adapted to the home, to standard ingredients and appliances, and something that might actually be found in a country French home rather than a high end Parisian restaurant. Her close friend Jacques Pepin offered much the same idea of French cooking in his own shows later. It doesn't have to be "impossible." 

Yet today, apparently, what's truly "impossible" is television cooking shows geared to households whose money is tight, whose time constraints ensure they can't constantly seek out the rarest of ingredients and super-luxe equipment, and where quick, nutritious and tasty meals are more important than being able to spend all day attempting to duplicate a restaurant meal that the household will never experience in the flesh. 

It's a mystery.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Once Again, the Revolution Stalls

Months after the start of this rebellion -- triggered by the murder-by-police of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May -- the spirit of the movement for change seems to have been put on pause as people start to come to grips with both the reality of the situation and what a revolutionary future might mean. The field is left open for the triumph -- once again -- of fascist authoritarianism. 

Extremely modest reform efforts have been put forth here and there, the idea being to curb the enthusiasm of the rabble for defunding or otherwise interfering with the institution (and profit center) of modern policing. A ban on chokeholds should be enough to quiet the masses, right? Well, except for the fact that that isn't how George Floyd was killed, and such holds are already banned in most places, it's great. It's symbolic but great.

The defund the police movement is so far failing almost everywhere, not because it's the wrong thing to do but because it is not understood much beyond its advocates, and where some efforts to redirect police funding toward social services have been attempted, the police unions (primarily) have fought bitterly and as so often happens have sabotaged such efforts. 

It's a stalemate in which the forces of maintaining "order" at all costs (that is, dominance by the police) run roughshod over practically everything else, and the rise of pro-police vigilantism -- such as in Kenosha, Portland and elsewhere -- complicates efforts to build something better on the ruins of the present. 

Previous efforts have faced just such a stalemate and just such reaction. Revolution stalls out every time. 

I've said in other fora that it's partly because there's no Marx, no Kropotkin, for our era, and none of the high and mighty would be nobles and oligarchs who rule us and own the government and the police have the slightest interest in serving the People. We, the People, rabble that we are, exist to serve them. Period. 

And they are terrified of what might happen to them if the rabble not only gets the guillotine but figures out how to use it. Preventing revolution then becomes a primary objective -- while exploiting and looting the rubes when not consigning them to "disappear."

For its part, it appears that Black Lives Matter as an organization heavily funded by certain oligarchic interests has largely turned away from the more radical proposals and demands which gave energy to the early protests. They haven't entirely turned against the anarchist activists (aka: "Antifa" the Dreaded) who act up and act as a vanguard in many cities around the country, but they disagree with the tactics employed and dismiss the largely white youth who throw themselves on the line night after night. What are they accomplishing on behalf of the larger movement?

Not enough, apparently. 

I think we're beyond the point at which a "movement" of any type is sufficient to deal with the existential problems we face. It's no longer about movements, politics, or traditions. For many millions, it's about survival. 

The systems and institutions people have relied on during times of trouble are breaking down. Lack of income means that hunger and homelessness are becoming the fate of many more people every day. The failures of government are partially responsible for making matters worse rather than better, but there's a failure of vision as well. 

What kind of world do we want? And what will it take to get there?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Kropotkin: The Coming Revolution

23 minute film from Magazin on Vimeo. I first posted this film (in German with English subtitles) in 2012. Been a long time coming, no?!

(Apparently Blogger no longer allows embed videos from Vimeo)

Be Like Water

Been following some of the hundreds and thousands of daily/nightly/constant protests around the world with a focus on Portland, Oregon. I want to see whether any of this is going to amount to anything good. So far, I can't say.

What I can say from what I've been seeing on the various livestreams is that there are far too many police, and most of them are doing nothing useful at all. Their primary task in Portland and many other places is protection of their fortresses. That's it. Nothing else. Night after night, day after day, the police assemble in multitudes while the public assembles their on their own account, and then they do battle in the streets. Or not. All to protect and defend the police and (in)justice offices, courts, jails, headquarters, fortresses.

They march. They run. They pant. They brutalize. They run. They halt and catch their breaths. They run and brutalize. They tumble and fall over people running away from them. They halt. They pant. They yell. They thwack people who don't run fast enough. They confiscate bicycles, umbrellas, back packs, water. They pop the tires of the Snack Van, over and over and over again. They run. They pant. They yell.

This is Portland, but it's also hundreds of cities and countries around the world. Minsk. Paris. Beirut. Bolivia. Thailand. Hong Kong. Chicago. Baltimore. Washington, DC. Seattle. Los Angeles. On and on.

The protest movement is like water. Everywhere. Nowhere. All at once. Intermittent.

The issues: Dignity. Justice. Community. Peace. The issues: corruption, injustice, racism, no-future. Increasing suffering. Hunger. Homelessness. Debt. Illness and death.

And most police do nothing useful at all. They are emblems, symbols of a useless, death-dealing ruling class, united against the people they fear and despise.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Garbage Fire -- A Metaphor

Last night in Portland, the scene was different than before, but strangely the same. A huge crowd assembled at the Multnomah County Justice Center on the next block over from the federal courthouse. They were, as they are every night, primarily focused on the Black Lives Matter movement and supporting the de-racialization of police, justice and society. It's festive, angry and determined. There were upwards of two thousand people in attendance; I'd say closer to four or five thousand, but it was impossible for me to see the edges of the crowd from the live-streamers' pov.

At a certain point, many of the demonstrators moved over to the federal courthouse on the adjacent block. It had been surrounded by a high metal mesh fence, much like the one deployed in DC to keep the rabble away from the White House and out of Lafayette Park. Point of interest: it may actually be the same one, transported by DHS over the past few weeks. Maybe they'll take it all around the country as to "quell" protests.

The fence appeared to surround the whole building, but that wasn't entirely clear. There are sally ports on the sides and rear of the building, and you'd think the feds would want to keep access to them open, but who knows? The fencing had obviously been erected sometime after the previous night's festivities, and it appeared that while the fencing was being put up, all the trash and debris collected under the portico in front of the building had been removed. The cleanup made things look a little less gross, but the graffiti decorating the building remained to remind us of what was going on.

As the crowd assembled in front of the courthouse, there was no sign of federal officers (or whatever they are) protecting the building. Someone pointed out however that the front entrance sally port was open, so no doubt at some point, the feds would get to work and "quell" the protests.

There were gates in the fence, and apparently it was easy enough to open them and wander around inside the barricade. Some chose to do so while others collected trash (from the park across the street?) and placed it in bags along the perimeter of the fence. At some point, the trash was thrown over the fence and lit on fire. Multiple garbage fires burned inside the fence, not threatening the building, but certainly serving as an emblem of the disaster the federal "law enforcement" presence was in Portland.

As the fires burned, protesters wandered in and out of the barricaded area, and the feds finally bestirred themselves to do something about it. While some chased the protesters out of the barricaded area, others tackled protesters (one woman was caught and screamed lustily as she was dragged inside by the feds), others shot teargas and impact munitions at the crowd outside (every tear gas canister I saw was thrown back) and one used a fire extinguisher to put out some of the fires. Others kept burning.

Tear gas was shot outside the fence and was immediately thrown back. Clouds of teargas were dispersed with leaf blowers, fireworks were shot at the building, some exploding very loudly, others flashing brightly.

A riot was declared, and protesters ordered to disperse. They did not. Mutual fire went back and forth between the feds and the protesters for some time. Teargas, fireworks, bottles, impact munitions, and so on, and the crowd outside the barricade did not seem to diminish. It looked to be close to a thousand. Many were hit, yet because of the fence, not as many were hurt as in previous confrontations.

Eventually, things calmed down as they tend to do. The crowd went home, the fires were out, and the feds retreated into their fortress.

What was different was that the feds did not go beyond their fenced perimeter -- at least I didn't see them do so. The Federal Protective Service made several announcements that damaging the fence would lead to tear gas and impact munitions, but damaging that fence was pretty much impossible, and there was abundant tear gas and impact munitions fired no matter. The declaration of riot and dispersal orders came from the Portland Police -- and they were ignored. So far as I could tell, the PPB did not enforce their orders, but maybe they did. Hard to say.

Did I mention the mayor was there? Oh yes, he got lustily insulted by the crowd and was told to resign. He also got teargassed by the feds. Lucky him. It was sort of like seeing Minneapolis's boy-mayor get humiliated by the BLM crowd back in the day.

Now if the feds have secured a defensible perimeter around the courthouse -- just that, nothing else -- and they stay inside it, I would be willing to guess that the protests will continue but not as intensely. After all, it was the feds going wilding on the streets of Portland that led to the huge protests we've seen since Sunday. If they stay inside their fortress, I think nobody will much care anymore. I imagine garbage fires will be set now and then -- metaphorically stating the case that the federal government is a garbage fire that will keep burning and flaring up until substantial change is made.

It's being called a revolution, and the protests in Portland certainly evoke the uprisings in many other countries, but a revolution, no. Not yet, perhaps not possible. Demands are being made, and some are being met. That's about as far as it will go.

De-policing, de-racializing policing, dignity, community, justice in all forms, these are among the demands. Will they be achieved? Some, yes. But not easily, and not soon.

Trump's days on the throne are numbered. His reality show is being canceled. Aw too bad. His surge of law enforcement in Portland has been a disaster. The notion that he can bypass local authorities and dictate what and how law enforcement will be done (and by whom) is ludicrous. It appears that in the Chicago and Albuquerque "surges" his agents are working directly with police unions, cutting out local electeds altogether. This won't end well. But we've been saying that about the Trump regime for years.

And it's not ending well.

Not well at all...

Much of what I saw of last night's actions in Portland came from Sergio Olmos's and Cory Elia's coverage.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Murder Holes and Sally Ports

I've been watching some of the independent media coverage of the "Portland Insurrection." The coverage is very good and very extensive and gives one a much better understanding of what's going on than anything you'll see in the major mass media. Most of it is not politically shaded. They just want people to see for themselves and come to their own conclusions.

The uprising is somewhat evocative of Occupy but not really. There's a park across the street from the Federal Courthouse which is used as a staging and rest area by the protesters. There's food, water, medical supplies, and many helpers to look after the needs of the protesters and anyone who is injured by the forces arrayed against them. People don't camp out in the park, however. It's not being used to house people, though I suppose it could be. Nevertheless, the various stations in the park look to be semi-permanent, even though they are partially destroyed by the "secret police" whoever they are every night.

The protests go on day and night, but it is at night when things become chaotic and often violent. The courthouse itself has been heavily fortified and heavily vandalized. Layers and layers of graffiti cover the walls and pillars and plywood protective coverings of the building. Many fires have been set in the front portico of the building, none of which have done any particular damage. They can't. The building is concrete and stone and glass and is in essence a fortified castle. Inside are some dozens of defenders, said to be from ICE, CBP, Marshal's Service and other federal law enforcement agencies, none of which can be sorted out by the public. Officers wear camo and try to look badass like military -- much to the objection of the military -- while some wear black uniforms that look identical to the Portland Police (and have been mistaken for them). Nobody knows though, because there is no identification of who is actually defending the building from the protesters at any given time or instance.

They're afraid you see. Oh yes. They're terrified of the "mob" -- of moms and dads and black folks.

The crowds of protesters have been growing every night since the deployment of feds to "proactively" arrest and drag away in unmarked vans people they choose on the streets. From a few hundred a week ago, the crowds have grown to maybe five thousand last night, the biggest so far, and signs are they will keep growing at least until the feds are neutered or removed. It's a diverse lot of people, that's for sure, and it's becoming more diverse every night.

What there aren't many of is older people. That's wise. The protests are intense, they're loud and long, and often, protesters are crowded very close together. Though most everyone wears face coverings -- often gas masks -- the close quarters and much shouting puts oldsters at risk of the virus. Not to mention all the tear gas, pepper balls and spray, and other munitions shot and thrown at the protesters.

One thing to note: the building defenders are heavily armed and armored. They carry and use "less lethal" as well as lethal weapons, and they are not particularly hesitant to use them -- though I'm not aware of anyone who's been killed. Hundreds in the crowds have been injured, some severely. Perhaps some of the feds have been injured too. It's hard to tell. What they say cannot be relied on because they lie. All the time.

They lie in wait inside the building while the crowds outside chant and sing and whatnot, the usual protest business. The crowds are not armed -- at least so far as we know -- and not armored, though some have made make-shift shields and many wear gas masks when things get rough. Their weapons, such as they are, consist mostly of plastic water bottles which get tossed at the building with some regularity. Also trash. Which gets tossed but then is often cleaned up. Water bottles are also thrown at the feds when they come out of their sally ports, but they rarely connect with individuals. Sometimes they do, it's true, and the whiny little bitches moan and groan about it as if they'd been shot with bullets.

The feds use lots of tear gas, flash bangs, pepper rounds, rubber bullets and other "less lethal" munitions on the crowds when they emerge from their hidey holes -- which they do periodically without announcement. They have sally ports on the front, the sides and the rear of the building and they have what are called "murder holes" from which they can watch the crowds and fire munitions at them without taking water bottle fire in return.

It all seems quite patterned, and those who have been protesting for any length of time know the drill.

But something changed last night, and it was quite astonishing to watch. The feds were attempting to expand their perimeter beyond the building, clear the park in front, and push the crowd farther and farther away from the blocks near the court house. Well, they got a surprise.

According to Sergio Olmos, one of the independent media observing and reporting on all this, activist used colored smoke grenades (red in this case) to obscure what the crowd (assembled about a block away from the feds) was doing. When the smoke was thick, someone shot fireworks into the midst of the feds. The fireworks exploded spectacularly -- but probably (?) harmlessly -- and the crowd started moving back toward the park. It wasn't immediately clear, but the fireworks caused the feds to retreat immediately -- they must have run back to their fortress because they were gone completely by the time the crowd reached the park. It was then a clear path back to the courthouse for the protesters.


I've seen fireworks used in other demonstrations. In Spain, for example, protesters used fireworks rockets shot directly at police, which caused panic and apparently injuries among them. They were quite deliberate in their aim, too. In Kiev, on the other hand, protesters set police on fire with gasoline and molotov cocktails, and ran them over with bulldozers. Dozens of police were killed, hundreds injured. Fire bombs of various kinds were used against police in Athens, and there have been many other examples of protesters using lethal force against police throughout the protest seasons world wide, but that's not been the case in the United States. Last night, the protest came close, I'd say, to becoming lethal for police or at least it looked like it.

They say that the DHS employees are becoming alarmed and demoralized by all this. I would imagine so. It will go on until it is stopped. And the wonder is that nobody has yet attempted an intervention to stop it.

But I'm pretty sure there will have to be one. Or... well, let's stay positive.

A good overview of the protests is provided by Veteran for Peace on YouTube. His camera is held on high so you can see a much wider view of what's going on. He's been shot numerous times with rubber bullets and pepper balls, clearly targeted. But he keeps coming back.

There is lots of other independent media coverage, #pdxprotest will start you on your journey if you're interested, but warning, there is so much, it quickly becomes protest porn.

This is something different for the US. Whether it will last and be transformative, I don't know. But it is certainly worth paying attention to.

Monday, July 6, 2020


July 5, 2020 was my father's 119th birthday. I sometimes ponder how far back in time my parents and grandparents go. My father was born in 1901, my mother in 1911. My (half) sister was born in 1933. My (half) brother in 1935.

My mother's father was born in 1878. Her mother was born in 1889. My father's father was born in 1869 and his mother was born in 1875. Their parents were born in the 1830s, their grandparents right around 1800.

My ancestry is Irish, German, French (they say), and English with the addition of a supposed Indian Princess back in the 1700s. Well, some of her descendants dispute that she was Native American at all, as the stories of her being who it was said she was (the daughter of King Nummi of the Lenappe of New Jersey) only emerged in the 1850s, long after she died, and the competing story was that she was actually a mulatto slave of the man she eventually married, a British soldier who changed sides and fought for the Americans in the Revolution. Of course, that might not be true, either. Americans, made up stories of their ancestors and tended to glamorize them when truth might be better left unsaid.

That was certainly what my father told me about his ancestors. There was a standard story that apparently was passed down through the generations that "we" were descended from a prominent Irish Catholic colonial family from Maryland. The story was surprisingly detailed -- and utterly false. Made up. In researching the Irish side of my ancestry, I found that they weren't related to the Maryland family at all -- at least not after the late 1600s, if they were related to them even then. My ancestors were not descendants of the Maryland family at any rate, since they emigrated from Ireland in 1849, the height of the Famine, and the Maryland family was settled by 1710 or so, and had cut off ties with Ireland. The story of how my ancestors got to Iowa was mostly false. The only true thing was that they sojourned in Ohio until about 1855 when they moved permanently to Iowa. The rest of it, traveling by rail and wagon from Maryland, through Virginia to Ohio was false. In fact, it seems the Irish ancestors arrived in New Orleans in 1849, went up the Mississippi to the Ohio, then traveled by riverboat to around Springfield where they tried to settle in 1850. Didn't work. As Irish and Catholics they were harried and harassed and ultimately driven out. None of that was ever mentioned in the stories I heard.

Some of my father's German ancestors were already in Iowa when his Irish ancestors arrived. His German grandfather, though, didn't arrive until 1863. But he had left Germany -- the principality of Baden -- in 1854, when he was (apparently) 14. He arrived in New York the next year, and he stayed in Brooklyn as a bookbinder's apprentice until the Civil War broke out when he hightailed it to Iowa and hooked up with the German Catholic community there. He became a carpenter on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, a job he held until he died two weeks after my father was born.

My father told me almost nothing about the German side of his family. He didn't tell me, for example, that his mother was deaf or that her mother didn't speak English. I learned these things from a cousin I didn't know I had (the daughter of one of my father's sisters).

I've tried, but I haven't been able to nail down when my father's Irish grandfather arrived in the US. Most of his family -- parents and several siblings -- arrived together in 1849, but he doesn't show up in any records until 1856 in Iowa. He doesn't seem to have any records in Ireland after his birth in 1835. My father knew him (he died in 1913) but seemed to know little or nothing about him, or rather what he did know, he kept to himself.

My cousin, for example, didn't know that her Irish great grandfather was married to an Irish woman who died shortly after our grandfather's birth in 1869. He married another Irish woman in 1873, and it was she who my cousin had been told about and who she thought was our grandfather's mother. But no, she was the mother of the youngest brother only.

My father knew these things, but apparently those stories weren't shared with his sisters.

And I begin to think all this was so very long ago. Does any of it matter now?

Saturday, June 27, 2020

So beautiful! Amazing! Creamy! Caramelized! Umami!

What you hear on the cooking shows. All. The. Time.

(Consequence of spending too much time at home!)

Monday, June 22, 2020


We're still pretty much confining ourselves to home. Not that we can't go out if we want, and I go out for supplies or to get the mail fairly regularly, but we still don't do or go places like we used to. I notice, too, that we're spending more than we did before the pandemic-shut down, even though we're not eating out or traveling. It seems to me, though I can't be certain, that basic food and supplies are costing 20%-30% more, and that's the main reason why our expenses are higher.

There is still no hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, isopropyl alcohol, disposable gloves or face masks to be had locally. It's not because people are still hoarding -- though they certainly did at the beginning. The lack of these essential supplies is due almost entirely now to the fact that they are not being delivered or are being delivered in such small quantities the supplies are immediately sold out. Everything is back-ordered, and those orders are not being filled, and may not be for months to come. I suspected this was happening at the beginning when people were panicking. Merchants put out what stock they had, sold it -- in part to hoarders -- and that was it. Weren't no more to be had.

Toilet paper and other paper products have reappeared in limited quantities, and washing products like soaps and bleach are available, though we're still sometimes seeing unfamiliar brands and prices are sometimes high. This is true of flour, sugar and other baking supplies as well. Yeast is still not seen all the time, though it does periodically appear on the shelves. In some cases, prices are double or even triple pre-pandemic prices for some essentials.

I don't know what it's like in more populous places. We don't go shopping out of town. We get some things online, but there are problems with delivery that can sometimes be complicated. When we order, we don't necessarily know how the items will be shipped and we can't find out until after the shipment is processed. Sometimes, merchants will say they use UPS or FedEx, for which we must provide a street address. Then we find out they are actually using SurePost, which means the items go to the post office for final delivery. Trouble is, the post office here doesn't deliver to street addresses, only to PO Boxes. Every time this happens, items risk being returned to sender. Some people we know have not received packages they ordered because of this quirk, and the post office is no help much of the time. On the other hand, even when things are shipped UPS or FedEx, skipping the post office, the street addresses can be tricky for drivers, and boxes wind up on our porch that we didn't order and we wind up being the final delivery service to neighbors who did order the items. So we confine ordering online to things we're certain we need and can't get any other way.

And for the record, free Target's "two day shipping" is a cruel joke. Ordinarily it takes a week, on occasion, it will take two weeks. I think only once was shipping actually "2 days" -- from Albuquerque.

All of these things are minor annoyances magnified by the fact that we're focused on them because we are at home most of the time. I think that factor had something to do with the armed "Haircut Rebellions" that swept the nation a while back and seemed to force the immediate "reopening" of some businesses that had been shuttered during the lockdowns. It was really amazing how suddenly state and local governments complied with the demands of "Haircut Rebels."

Antsy. People were getting antsy at having to stay home so much. They still are. Even though many or most restrictions on movement and activity are lifted in most places. And in many of those places, the virus is having a party.

Of course it needs to be said that the armed rebels who stormed around were not met with force by the authorities. Far from it. There were few rebels, for one thing, and their firearm fetish didn't result in more than empty and/or implied threats. Nevertheless, most of their demands were instantly met.

On the other hand the mass marches in the streets against the lethal brutality of the police have been met with -- more and worse brutality. Dozens of people have had their eyes shot out by so-called "less lethal" projectiles, and uncounted thousands have been injured, some severely. No count has yet been made of the dead but police killings continue apace. Police have been killed, too, but so far, all of them have died at the hands of "Boogaloo" and other rightist bands of brothers. Interesting, then, that police action is almost entirely focused on suppressing what they think of as "leftist" rebellion. And simply put, US police forces in too many places too often outdo their Hong Kong colleagues in brutality and vicious tactics. It's gotten so bad that there are international calls for US police to be condemned for egregious human rights violations.

It's still surprising that "Defund the Police" is a seriously considered thing, that it is being done in some places, and that pissed off police are refusing to go to work unless they are "appreciated."

Oh my.

Police are being fired right and left, police chiefs are resigning, some police are being charged with assault, manslaughter, even murder, far faster and in far greater numbers than ever before. We've never seen anything like this shake up of police forces, and the suddenness of it is shocking. What is going on?

Obviously, people who matter are calling the shots, and they are simultaneously demanding that "leftist" rebellion be suppressed and that misbehaving police be held to account immediately, not years down the road which had long been the protocol. Police are in shock, but so is the public. What is going on?

The more the situation devolves, the more antsy the public becomes. Limited police "reforms" are being far more widely instituted than ever before, but the brutal suppression efforts and police killings continue almost as if "reform" was not happening. Like it hasn't happened so many times before. Cosmetic changes aren't enough, but maybe that's all we'll get this time, just as in the past.

I've referred to this period as a paradigm shift, but it's looking more and more like a generational shift. We're entering a different era and doing so with considerable difficulty. People my age are mostly not going to be around to see the outcome, "bye-bye Boomer!", but some of us had something to do with setting the stage for what's to come. Let's hope it's better for everyone.

Friday, June 5, 2020

"The Police Just Went Nuts"

I've been reviewing some of the stories of police abuse coming out of literally everywhere since the start of the George Floyd protests. I thought I had been shocked to the core by police misconduct years and years ago and that nothing would come close to events I'd witnessed in person or virtually in years gone by. Little did I know.

The George Floyd murder-by-cop in Minneapolis triggered mass demonstrations in the streets all over the country and all over the world. It was an egregious -- and very deliberate -- act of police power over the black body of a man pleading for his life while that life was being crushed out of him by one officer whose knee on his neck wouldn't be removed until George Floyd was good and dead. Three other officers either participated in the murder or idled nearby doing nothing to intervene. All captured on video taken by bystanders, some of whom attempted to intervene but were blocked by officers.

I've seen similar scenes before, many times, but nothing quite as appalling in its tortuousness and murderous intent. Second and third degree murder charges have been laid against the officer whose knee eventually killed George Floyd and the other officers have been charged as accessories aiding and abetting, but the calls for first degree intentional murder charges have only increased as the anger against police brutality has led to massive demonstrations that continue to this day.

The police response in many cities has been grotesquely out of control. That lack of discipline and control is the essence of what is being protested, the reason why so many people are marching against police brutality, and over and over and over again, day in and day out, police are showing themselves to be unworthy of public trust or support.

One of numerous incidents in Philadelphia involved police firing chemical weapons and rubber bullets at thousands of protesters, many trapped on an embankment with nowhere to retreat, injuring hundreds, and arresting "dozens." The fourteen minute overhead video captures much of the scene, but doesn't really show the affect on so many.

This was perhaps the worst of what I've seen so far, but it's by no means unique. The police in many cities have adopted a hostile and deliberately cruel attitude toward protesters leading to constant abuse of the public, much of it documented on video, far too much of it defended by police chiefs and elected officials because somebody did something somewhere at some point, and order must be maintained.

We see this justification from the White House practically daily as the blowback from the "clearance" of protesters from DC's Lafayette Square on Monday using tear gas, munitions, mounted officers and brutality intensifies. All so Trump could pose in front of St. John's Church, holding aloft a book he claimed was a bible and then assemble his sycophants for more pictures before shambling back to the White House bunkers.


There have been a few contrasting scenes of police trying to show solidarity with the protesters by marching with them, kneeling with them, expressing outrage at the murder of George Floyd, etc. But those are rare compared to the violence and yes, murder by police committed too often in too many places as unrest continues.

Our rulers like to try to shame China for the treatment of demonstrators in Hong Kong, but truly, Chinese police and troops in Hong Kong have been utterly restrained compared to the US. The world looks on in bemused horror.

I don't know how this episode of police outrage will be resolved, if it will. But many see it as the death rattle of a failed regime -- not simply the Trump regime, but the general apparatus of neoliberal rule. Maybe. We'll see.

In the meantime, given everything that's going on -- pandemic disease, economic collapse, wilding by police, looting by the overclass -- the next few months will be somewhat more than "interesting."

Stay well and safe.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Riots This Time

They say it's different this time. The uprisings in the cities over the last few days show no signs of abating any time soon. Much damage and destruction so far, but observers say it's just the beginning. The rage has been building for years, the outlets are few, and a lot of people aren't going to take it any more. Well...

Those of us who have been down this road a few times aren't convinced yet that these uprisings will accomplish much in the end, at least not much that we could call positive. You never know, though. We live in interesting times. And chaos has reigned in this country for years. The riots are inevitable given the conditions and situation so many Americans endure. I think our rulers knew, too, that any spark could set off a conflagration.

Well the spark came in Minneapolis with the police murder on video of yet another black man, George Floyd. It was so egregious, I sometimes thought it was a deliberate provocation. The officer knew his actions were being recorded. He knew the video(s) would go viral. He knew he was killing his captive as he witnessed George Floyd's life slipping away beneath his crushing knee. He should have known, and I believe he did know, that his actions would trigger outrage and likely insurrection and riots.

Add in the widespread burden of the virus and economic collapse on marginal communities -- young people, non-white people, poor and near poor people especially in cities, etc -- and the wonder is that it hasn't happened before now.

But it is happening now.

Where and how it will end is anyone's guess.

I could speculate but for now, no. There will be time enough for that.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

How Will Things Change Going Forward?

The virus continues to wreak its havoc in the US and all over the world, and as it does the governing paradigms stress and shift. We're entering a new era, a "brave new world" of sorts, and the outlines of it are beginning to be revealed.

The US imperial juggernaut is shuddering to a halt. "The World" cannot rely on the US for leadership or guidance but only for whining, complaints and chaos. "The World" has to go it alone without the US. This is a monumental strategic collapse, something eagerly longed for by the widespread nihilist contingent online, but like so much that passes for erudite opinion these days, the consequences are not thought through. Instead, the collapse of the Empire -- however you describe it -- is a Good Thing in and of itself, bugger the consequences.

This collapse, such as it is, may ultimately be attributed to the internal chaos of the Trump regime, but most observers and participants probably recognize the seeds were planted long before the advent of the Orange Shitgibbon, and symptoms of systems instability leading to eventual collapse were inbuilt long prior to Trump's election and installation.

I've maintained that our rulers have prepared for just this set of circumstances, and they're not too frightened of it. They knew it was coming. Some not only anticipated, they actively helped precipitate it. Crisis is opportunity after all.

The virus arose and spread, and here we are.

About half The World seems to have a handle on dealing with the virus positively; the other half does not. The US is in the latter category, but our rulers seem to think everything is going well enough. They, after all, are protected (for the most part) and do not witness nor do they suffer the losses of everyone else. They see a partial sketch of what's happening and think it's pretty good, all in all.

1) The stock market is doing OK thanks to enormous injections of "free money" for the rich and well-connected to play with.

2) Illness and death due to the virus is largely being confined to the Lower Orders where it belongs, reducing the population of useless eaters -- the old, the disabled, those with pre-existing conditions, the homeless, the mentally defective, the poor, the brown... yadda, yadda... with almost surgical precision. What's not to like if you're rich and well connected?

3) Government is now overtly authoritarian almost everywhere, and look, The People by and large are OK with it. There are periodic staged "revolts" -- the yowling moblets at state capitols, for example -- but it's mostly kayfabe, show business. The rightist mobs are helping to keep the Vox Populi from being heard at all. We can see that the efforts at mitigating the effects of the virus are limited, very limited, and to the extent they are working, they are merely slowing the impact of the virus and the chaos, not stopping or diverting it.

4) Illness and death rates are flattening or slowing in some places, rising and accelerating in others, and overall, the US is on course to witness a hundred million or more infections, a million or more deaths by the end of the year. And modeling predictions now suggest this rate of infection and death could continue for two or three years, even with a vaccine. Details of the virus aren't well known yet, but it doesn't matter. It's been established that the virus is "vicious" and "virulent" and does much damage among about 20% of the population. It hardly affects the other 80%. Even if 20% of the population dies (they won't) would it be a bad thing? Especially if the illness and death can be concentrated among the classes of useless eaters already identified? Sure enough, it looks like it can be, so what, exactly, is there to worry about? This is how our rulers are thinking about this thing. It's time we came to grips with it.

5) Main Street is being wiped clean yet again. As if the collapse of 2008 didn't do a good enough job. It took more than ten years to partially recover from that collapse. It appears that there won't be a recovery from this one. The Economy as we knew it isn't coming back. What will take its place is barely recognized as yet, but we have some clues.

  • The death of Main Street (again) tells us that a handful of giant ("essential") corporations will dominate The Economy going forward. Independent enterpreneurship will all but vanish.
  • A handful of banking giants will determine the economic status of everyone, and once determined that's where you'll stay for the rest of your (shortened) life. 
  • New Deal social programs will go away. 
  • Great Society social programs will go away.
  • Public education will probably go away.
  • Charity will take the place of some programs for some people. Otherwise, too bad so sad.
  • Religion will become the universal opiate of the people, along with plenty of opiates.
  • Typical lifespan will decline further.
  • Typical income will decline further.
  • Status will determine reward. Those who can't make it on their own won't make it at all unless they are of high enough status -- thus constantly winnowing the herd.
  • Work will be transformed into something akin to "patriotic slavery." Once assigned to a status and function, that's where you'll stay until... well, the end.
  • Accustomed accouterments of "civilization" such as electricity, running water, transportation, internet access, etc. will be gradually restricted only to those of high enough status to "deserve" them. As for the rest, oh well!
  • A sham democracy may endure, but ultimately the uselessness of the practice will be clear. 
  • Borders will be strictly controlled as the ruling interest is to reduce population, not increase it. 
    • What used to be isn't coming back. There will be no 'better future' for most Americans. 
The End.

It didn't have to be this way.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

As the Toll Mounts

Very strange. I went on an expedition yesterday to collect enough cat food to hold us for a week or so. I usually buy it at the Walmart in the next town over because they have the large bags (when they aren't sold out) and the kind of canned food the house cats like. But yesterday I got to the parking lot and turned around. The place was mobbed -- after weeks of lower than normal traffic through the store. So much lower that sometimes kids were skateboarding in the aisles.

What happened? I dunno. New Mexico is still on semi-lockdown, Gallup is shut completely. Most people have been unhappy about the restrictions, but they're unhappier about the virus, especially now in Indian Country where the virus seems to have free rein.

So I came back to our little town and pulled into the Dollar General parking lot. I can get cat food in smaller quantities there, and usually there's not a crowd. On the way, I passed the hardware store, and its parking lot was full -- the first time I'd ever seen that. There was a social-distancing line out the door. My doG, what's going on?

At the Dollar General, the parking lot wasn't full, but there were few carts outside, and when I went in, there were more people inside than I think I've ever seen. Only one was wearing a mask, and it was nearly impossible to "social distance." There was plenty of cat food, so I loaded up and waited interminably to check out. There were so many people. Most were buying just a few things but some had full carts of groceries and sundries -- as if they'd finally run out or hadn't bought much for weeks. Maybe that's what had happened. We and folks we know have mostly been getting groceries and supplies once a week, sometimes once every two weeks if we don't need anything fresh. But this was a case where people, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in groups (saw one group of teens numbering five or six) just out for a lark, picking up soda or sweet rolls, were jamming the store.

Very few wore masks or kept their distance.

So. We know that this thing is far from done and that the restrictions on businesses and social life have slowed the infection rate significantly. But still. Tens of thousands are dead -- officially up around 70,000; likely double or triple that given the deficiencies in testing and reporting. And the numbers are not declining. Expectations are for another spike as states "open up." And our rulers don't seem to care as long as the illness and deaths are confined to the old folks' homes, the prisons and jails, the Indian reservations, immigrants, the working class schlubs and so on. Herd culling. As they say.

We like to think of what's going on as some sort of accident, act of God, or what have you, but in fact deliberate policies are being implemented, though often badly. Some observers have pointed out that because of those policies, the ultimate death toll a year or two from the start of the Outbreak is liable to be in the million plus range in the US alone.

Given the way things have been going, that is widespread policy. "Let them die." The activity and business restrictions were put in place to control the spread of the virus, and they've pretty much worked. But if you listen carefully to R pols, they're nearly of one voice: "You can't stop the virus. You've got to learn to live with it." And studies have apparently shown that 80% or so of those who get it do "live" with it. Only 20% die, you see. And the deaths have been concentrated within the Lower Orders. As long as that's the case, what's the problem? Right?

It's interesting that the rightist activists clamoring for the re-opening of business are a relatively small bunch of loudmouths -- almost all white, some strutting around with their guns and camo -- and practically everywhere they appear, summoned by rightist media and organizations, states "re-open" almost immediately, or at least parts of the business and recreation sectors do. Yet over the years we've seen massive popular movements and demonstrations, literally millions in the streets over and over, be ignored (ie: anti-war, women's marches, March for Our Lives, etc) and/or be violently suppressed (ie: Occupy, Black Lives Matter, etc,)  by our rulers. Get the picture yet?

In December of 2000, the Supreme Court yielded the presidency to the same radicals who are out yelling at capitols today.

The rightist demonstrators are not our rulers, but our rulers inevitably yield to them, no matter what they want.

So in effect, their demands are policy, while the people's righteous demands, no matter what they are, are routinely ignored or denied.

That in a nutshell is how this nation operates.

Clarifying, no?

Monday, April 6, 2020

"Let Them Die"

As shit gets real with this Outbreak, we're seeing the consequences of decades of diminution of the notion of public service and duty and the triumph of greed and cruelty. The heroes of the moment are the littlest of the little people, those who keep the wheels turning, working the farms, staffing warehouses, the open stores and shops, driving trucks, cooking, serving, cleaning, staffing hospitals, keeping the skeleton of government running, and dying on the front lines while their betters dither and dither and figure out ways to better profit from the crisis.

Given the logarithmic scale of the calamity, "Save yourself and let them die" has become the generally agreed-upon path forward among the High and the Mighty. Pernicious, yes, but not at all surprising. We've been allowed to see the models which offer a best-case scenario of up to 240,000 dead from the Outbreak in the US alone. Best-case. Realistically, the toll will be much higher; ten times as much is possible, and if there are many waves of infection yet to come, the eventual toll in the US could be multiple tens of millions. Too bad so sad, right?

Not to our betters, no. The loss of so many lives would probably fill them with delight -- so long as they themselves survive.

I expect the death toll to stop being reported when it reaches 100,000 or so, simply because reporting more dead will serve no useful purpose anymore. Of course, people will still be dying, but further death beyond the low best-case estimate won't matter much to the overclass -- so long as it's not them dying, of course.

But it will be partly them. And their managers and administrators. Nevertheless, most of the dead will be as ever among the lower orders.

Of which, always, there are too many. "Let them die."

On the other hand, the Queen's message to Britain yesterday climaxed with her startling reference to that WWII anthem, "We'll Meet Again."

Also, and maybe more apropos, the ending theme music to "Dr. Strangelove" :

Another version for those who need a bit more...

This too shall pass...

Wednesday, April 1, 2020


One of the ways previous generations got through the tribulations of their times was through the same kinds of dismissal and denial our rulers like to propose to excuse their inability or unwillingness to deal with the current Outbreak. "Hoocoodanode" things would or could get this bad this quick or that so many people would get sick and die and hospitals would be overwhelmed and it couldn't be controlled as easily as flu?" Hoocoodanode??

Of course, practically everybody who should have known did know. The fact is they didn't properly prepare, didn't act quickly enough, didn't care enough to think it was all that important, and the truth is some still don't think it's all that important in the vast, eternal scheme.

To many of them, nothing is as important as making and keeping ever more money and ruling the lives and deaths of their serfs.

It's all about the money and power, not about people. I thought the furious push back against the Trumpist/money-maker notion that the country should be "reopened for business" by Easter was interesting. The idea, broached by several people who shoulda knowed better, at least one in the medical profession, was that we shouldn't let the fight against the virus be worse than the disease caused by the virus, and that, in the end, we would do well to let some of the ill die so as to make a better life for the survivors possible. Ummm, bad optics. Underlying the notion was the thought that the Economy (as it was) is ultimately more important to the future than the lives of old people and defectives.

Let them die. Compassionately, of course, but let them die nonetheless.

This is in no way different than the arguments to dispose of all sorts of people during the terrible times of the 1930s and 40s. It wasn't just the Nazis who thought this way. Genocides were practiced as a matter of course by the US and many imperial powers of the time as their right and duty as powers. The Nazis took it too far, but they didn't invent the idea.

Now we're seeing a revival of these ideas as a means to cope with the Outbreak. Part of the reason why is that the virus is running rampant through Western society and is strongly affecting the High and the Mighty, where it apparently first took hold outside China. When members of European royalty, the prime minister of Britain, the wives of the prime ministers of Canada and Spain, members of the US Congress, White House staff, guests at Mar-a-lago and so on all fall ill with the virus, and it spreads uncontrolled through the halls of power, priorities must be set.

As there is a serious lack of medical personnel, equipment and beds, no vaccine or cure, and people who matter are facing financial ruin because of the shut-downs of their usual economic exploitation and looting, something has to be done. Human sacrifice is always appropriate. But in times like these, large-scale human sacrifice, particularly of the Useless Eaters, is of paramount importance to preserve, protect, and defend a way of life that should never have been allowed and enabled in the first place.

Yesterday's conventional wisdom (thanks to Dr. Fauci, what a dude!) was that we should prepare ourselves for millions of infected cases and at least 100,000 deaths in the US alone, because why not get used to it now?

Trump even puffed himself up and beat his chest about it: coulda been millions dead if not for his brilliance and compassion. Bow down!

All kinds of other fallout is likely, on top of the direct consequences of the virus. We'll see shortages well beyond those of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Worker strikes are likely to spread and become more disruptive. The systems we've lived with -- and often loathed -- are trembling and parts will collapse.

We're seeing constant reminders of how soulless and disinterested, let alone incompetent, our rulers and their sponsors are.

How bad our circumstances will become is still a mystery, but BAD is the correct pre-assessment of the temporarily unknown future. "Hoocoodanode?"

We all shoulda.

Saturday, March 28, 2020


Covid cases in New Mexico may have begun their exponential rise. The confirmed number of cases stands at 191 as of yesterday, a rise of 55 over the day before, quite a jump after a week or more of no more than a couple of dozen new cases daily. So far, about 10,000 people with symptoms have been tested.

The first death connected to Covid in New Mexico happened on March 22. However, it was not identified as a Covid death until March 24, and it was reported on March 25. The 70 year old man with underlying conditions took sick and was transported to the hospital on March 22. He died in the hospital later that day. As I understand it, a test was not administered until after he died. But I could be wrong about that -- he may have been tested before he died but results were not received until afterwards.

This suggests to me that there are asymptomatic cases or mildly symptomatic cases that quite suddenly become life threatening and they are devilishly hard to identify -- until it's too late.

But it also suggests that comparatively speaking they are very few in the overall universe of symptomatic New Mexicans, let alone in the population as a whole.

Nevertheless, as identified cases start an exponential rise, it's pretty clear that the virus has been circulating for some time, weeks at least, and that there are likely to be many asymtomatic or mildly symptomatic individuals spreading it even though initially their numbers might be very low.

The first identified cases in NM were among people who had recently returned from travel to Egypt, Italy and New York. These people were isolated, their contacts were traced and isolated, and initially it seemed the virus was contained. But then, community transmission started turning up -- people who had not traveled to or through hot spots and who had to their knowledge not been in contact with anyone who had or was suspected to have Covid-19. At least some of these community spread cases appeared to have connection to the highways in that they appeared near the three interstates that criss-cross New Mexico. Clusters of cases then appeared in the Permian Basin oil fields which are closely connected with the Texas oil fields. Destinations for well off escapees from various hot spots -- destinations like Taos and Santa Fe -- started showing clusters.

Albuquerque is a special case, as it's the only large city in New Mexico. Although there are more cases there than anywhere else in the state, they are still relatively few given the population and the cross-roads nature of the city. People travel to and from and through Albuquerque from everywhere, by air, rail, truck and automobile, and some are no doubt bringing the virus with them largely unbeknownst.

Until yesterday, there were no controls on travel except for the "shelter in place" rules that were implemented as soon as the first community spread case was identified. Those rules were gradually tightened until the schools were closed and eventually all non-essential businesses were ordered shut down, gatherings of more than five were prohibited, and people were told to stay home except for essential trips (groceries, pharmacy and such).

As of yesterday, people arriving by air were ordered to self-isolate for two weeks, and those who came in contact with them were also ordered to self-isolate. There are still no restrictions on highway travelers, however, and it seems to me the virus will continue to spread via the highways as more and more people flee the hot spots. The flight of the wealthy to their resorts, summer homes, and bunkers is one of the primary means of spreading this virus. And they are still fleeing New York and Los Angeles and other hot spots. Some are coming to New Mexico, to their ranches spread around the state, to their pied a terres and estates in Santa Fe and Taos, and some are no doubt bringing it with them.

If New Mexico is on an exponential track for the virus we'll see quick doubling of cases every few days, or maybe not. We'll see.

So far, there are no confirmed cases in my county. The virus may be spreading anyway, and at least for the time being, there's no way for us to avoid going into Albuquerque now and then for meds and such that have to be picked up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Random Speculation

Now that the Outbreak is shutting down New York City, hub of the Universe, and is actively spreading through the Hallowed Halls of Congress and even the White House staff, you would think it would concentrate the minds of Our Rulers. Oddly it doesn't seem to. Instead, they dither the way they always do, and they come up with one Rube Goldberg contraption after another to pretend to do something but actually do nothing but make a ball bounce around in a maze. Entertainment, in other words.

The idea that there has been no preparation for an Outbreak of this potential scale and lethality is silly. Of course there has been, and we're seeing the plans --- such as they are --- implemented day by day. That's where the lockdowns and shelter in place orders come from. The cessation of most business comes from long made plans. The demands of the overclass for MORE MONEY!!!! are all planned in. The lack of medical equipment and supplies has been known for years, and how much time it would take to "ramp up" production is also well understood.

What's happening is no mystery to most of those in charge, and they expect it to get much worse until and unless there is a concerted and sustained effort to reverse the situation. Which may -- or may not -- come in a year. Or more.

In the meantime, tough luck suckers.

The die off so far is interestingly not as high as expected. So far, we're nowhere near the 1% thought likely, let alone the 4% considered probable given the lethality of the virus elsewhere. It's early yet, but not that early, so there must be something mitigating the overall death rate in the US, whether it is under reporting or different treatment or what. The progression of infection seems completely exponential, but not -- so far -- the death rate.

Are we dealing with a mutated virus, one somewhat different than the one ravaging Europe? Maybe.

Has anyone tracked down the US Patient Zero and traced travel and contacts? How many Patients Zero were there? The Outbreak was first noticed in the Seattle area and it was grotesquely lethal as it spread through skilled nursing facilities, carried it seems by a single staff member who worked through a number of them. But though it was first noticed there, was that the original US infection site? Maybe not.

I can look at the way the virus has spread in New Mexico and notice that the first cases were among travelers -- some to Egypt, some to Washington state and New York, and that at least some future cases, not related to the first ones, seem to have been transmitted through Interstate Highway routes.

Then there are some that have mysterious origins. They just seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Could there be a simultaneous domestic origin? Could the virus be something that exists commonly in the background and spontaneously mutates into a more or less lethal version of the Outbreak virus? I don't know. But the theory that all cases have been the result of spread from Wuhan may have some holes. It may take years to find out.

Then there's the question of treatments. Plaquenil, which I take, has apparently disappeared from the market scarfed up like toilet paper and being hoarded. It supposedly can be an effective treatment, and maybe it is, but it has side effects that can be worse than the disease.  I've had to cut back my dosage because I can't get any more, perhaps for the duration, and if I run out, oh well!

There are other treatments being speculated on and tried, and maybe, just maybe, something will be found that's widely effective before the virus mutates again into something else.

Our ruling class is affected perhaps more so at this point than the Rabble, as the virus has spread widely through the Upper Class resorts and hideyholes. So far, I haven't found any reports of death among them, but who knows? Would they tell us?

The Hallowed Halls of Congress are starting to look pretty empty. First they bar tourists and the general public, and then Members started testing positive. Community transmission is going on as they grind the sausage of some kind of bill to give much money to the High and the Mighty, and by the time they get to a compromise, there might not be a quorum. Who would have thought?

Meanwhile the Daily White House Follies and Freak Show continues, the lockdowns spread across the nation, and people continue to get sick.

Failure is more  than possible. Our rulers are following a pattern we've seen over and over again. The question is whether they will get away with it this time.

Maybe not.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

No Cable, Yay!

I probably pay more attention to the news than I should, but we don't have cable teevee, so we aren't inundated by 24/7 screaming and partisan political spin on everything. The news we see on the teevee is almost entirely local broadcast (well, regional, as there is no truly "local" news outlet around here), national PBS, and international DW. We also listen to NPR while driving, but neither of us drive much any more, and not solely because of the Outbreak.

Of course, I check news, opinion and updates on the intertubes constantly, too often, really. But I get a more or less realtime picture of the development of the Outbreak, and it's ugly, yet strangely not as bad as we're led to expect or believe. Number of cases grows startlingly fast; number of deaths and seriously ill, not so much; and despite all the running around screaming about it, hospitals, so far, are not reported to be overwhelmed. Except in some places. Some of the time. "Next week,"  they tell us, will be the tsunami. May be.

I've watched parts of the daily White House Freak Shows and find them practically useless for any purpose. Even as propaganda for the regime, they fall short. The regime acts primarily to protect itself, as regimes are wont to do, but the blather from the podium is so self-contradictory or obfuscatory that it's hard to imagine anyone with a functioning brain believes it. Even Anthony Fauci is caught up in the whirlwind of lies. Not that I ever had that much faith in him. During the AIDS crisis, he was not as up front, honest, medically useful or politically astute as his later narrative would have it, and a lot of people were sacrificed to his and others' dithering. But water under the bridge.

We're here now, and given the company he keeps, he's the sane one. Jeebus.

In this case, it seems that -- like the AIDS crisis and many other crises since then -- the PTB are quite prepared, even in some cases eager, to let a certain proportion of the population perish in the interests of some notions of Greater Good. Perhaps it's always that way, I don't know. I've seen estimates of a 20% die-off in the Western world, and some of our rulers seem to see it as just as well to be done with the excess useless eaters once and for all. In their view, 20% isn't nearly enough. But if predictions are realized, the Outbreak will return again and again, and so... the eventual cull will be much higher.

It may be apocalyptic for the rabble but not at all -- so far -- for the High and the Mighty. Well, perhaps there are some exceptions.

Apparently the Colorado Outbreak is not concentrated among the Christianist enclaves around Colorado Springs as I thought. Nope, according to the NYT, the Colorado Outbreak was focused within the ski resorts, the international destinations, where members of the upper classes have long had their winter revels. For a time, at any rate, there were more cases of COVID-19 in Eagle County than in Denver. And these people travel the world. OK then.

It tends to focus the mind, doesn't it.

Of course there were the cases at Mar-a-Lago, in Congress, at the White House, among the prime ministerial families, and even European royals (oh my!). Apparently, the virus doesn't care who you are or what your position is in the scheme of things.

And so I wonder about the specifics of the Outbreak in New York, where the confirmed cases are so high, they're not even testing the public any more, only health care workers and hospital patients who have significant symptoms. They're assuming anyone else with appropriate symptoms have it. But who are they? What is the infection rate among Our Betters, and what is the outcome? Too soon to know, but we may be surprised.

The Outbreak is spreading in New Mexico. Cases went from 43 to 57 over night an then up to 65 this afternoon with one new county added to the list, and there are now at least 26 cases on the Navajo Nation which straddles New Mexico and Arizona with sections in Utah . It's not quite as fast a rise as we've seen elsewhere, but it's concerning nonetheless. So far no deaths, but it is obvious that there is growing stress in the medical community -- near-panic -- and the regional media, while not going to happy-talk all the time is working to keep people's spirits up rather than focusing on what could go wrong.

The fact that transportation routes have barely been affected is worrying. The virus is introduced via transport from infected areas via the highways and airports primarily. I don't advocate closing them down, but the absence of any controls means that the virus will spread throughout the country, and there is nothing to stop it -- or to even track the spread. This seems to be the current policy. Just let it spread, and clean up afterwards. 

Or not. Our rulers are all about protecting themselves from the filth of the masses, and looky-looky, they're getting contaminated and/or falling one after another. They try to escape to the Hamptons or their bunkers in Idaho and they carry the virus with them. They think they're immune in the Capitol or White House and one by one they test positive, fall ill or what have you. Rand Paul is the latest I saw any news about.

As for the collapsing economy, that may ultimately be more deadly than the virus. I've wondered whether there is already a rise in suicide. As things get worse and supplies dwindle, it'll be tough to get through the period ahead for many, many millions. The potential fallout is not even being acknowledged in public.

This is a perfect opportunity for Disaster Capitalism to work its magic. The problem is that even those who would play that game are vulnerable to the virus. And so, we hunker down and hope for the best.

At least I don't have to see the hysterics on cable teevee!