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Liberals and Their Uppity Enemies

March 16th, 2014 - 9:58 pm

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Why do liberals hate Sarah Palin? She has made far fewer gaffes than has Joe Biden, whose verbal mishaps have often been racist in nature. Is dropping your g’s worse than saying “corpse-men“? She does not believe that Canadians speak Canadian in the way the president thinks Austrians speak Austrian. Her life story is inspirational — working mom, without inherited privilege or capital, a successful pre-2008 tenure as an Alaska politician.

I think the animus — as opposed to just disagreement with her views — derives in part from the fact that she is vivacious and attractive in a fresh Sally Field sort of way, unlike the cheek-boned refinement of an Audrey Hepburn or Jackie Onassis. Or is it because her diction, syntax, and grammar (especially the use of the passive voice) resonate slightly lower middle-class America? She is what white grandees with real white privilege castigate as a beneficiary of white privilege that she never really had.

Much of the dislike is also because she is upbeat and unapologetic. She thinks America is a rare, good place and far better than the alternative. She is blunt about her values and politics, and does not seem to be skeptical, cynical, or ambivalent. Her “oh gosh” world is one of undisguised belief; she does not roll her eyes in David Letterman boredom. Nor does Palin adopt the Clinton on spec bite-the-lip, feel-your-pain anguish, clear evidence of the costs of feeling moral ambiguity.

To the degree she has any facial artifice, it is more likely a wink (but not in Jon Stewart fashion that you and she share private superiority over the yokels) than a John Kerry long face or the pained stutter of Barack Obama as his vast mind works so fast that his only too human lips cannot catch up.

In other words, to the liberal, who as Atlas carries the burdens of the world on his shoulders, she is one-dimensional, without nuance, and one of the clueless class in need of some pity — unless she dares rise up on her hind legs and walk with her betters. Palin so exasperates liberals that they are reduced to very illiberal, very aristocratic disdain for the way she dresses, the places she lives, and the sort of children she has raised. Middle-class white conservative Christian moms from Alaska are not what liberals mean when they talk of diversity. Palin is simply too uppity in liberal eyes.

Why do liberals despise Rush Limbaugh more so than, say, conservatives hate Bill Maher or Chris Matthews? Yes, he is vastly more successful and influential, and does them, as the president so frequently whines, a lot of political damage. Of course, the Left hates the fact that Limbaugh went from middle-class to a billionaire, and without the proper educational credentials and anguish along the way to contextualize his wealth. (Keeping millions of listeners entertained for three hours, 250 days a year, is supposedly easy; in contrast, teaching a graduate seminar fifteen times a semester on your dissertation is an ordeal, full of deep thinking and contemplative heavy lifting.)

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We keep hearing that Vladimir Putin is stupid. Does he not get that this is now the 21st century? No, he doesn’t.

The fool seems mired either in the 19th of the czars, or the 20th of Bolsheviks. He certainly does.

Didn’t Putin have to act to shore up falling domestic opinion? Maybe.

Does he not understand that he is alienating Europe? Who knows?

Does he know that absorbing the Crimea is a quagmire? Hardly at all.

Or that he has missed out on common areas of concern between Russia and the U.S.? Probably not.

Does he grasp that sanctions will hurt his vulnerable petrol kleptocracy? Or that what is left of the Ukraine will only become more pro-Western? Perhaps he will, at some far-off day.

Rightly call the Putins of the world thugs, short-sided, nihilistic, and savage. But all that and more do not necessarily translate into stupidity, at least as they see their Hobbesian world.

Can’t he see that we are well-intentioned?

How odd that we alone can fathom how this thug has squandered what little good accrued from his tropical winter Olympics. We alone know that his own planned summit might be spoiled, and needlessly so given his gratuitous invasion of Ukrainian territory. In short, by all our Western liberal calculations, if we were Putin we certainly would not do something not just renegade, but also so abjectly stupid as to enter the Ukraine.

Left unsaid, of course, is that we know that our own erstwhile “reset” intentions were designed to help Putin, so it is doubly maddening that he bites the outreached Western hand. A disappointed Barack Obama has dismissed Putin’s various photo-ups and melodramatic fits as “macho shtick” and analogous to the bored kid slouching in the back of the room — as if the frustrated teacher could not draw out the gangbanger who once showed so much hidden promise.

The problem with all this condescending advice about and to Putin is not just the conceit that he obviously must see the world — not to mention traditional Russian interests — as we quite understandably do, but that he must also see the U.S. and Europe as we see ourselves. I wish that he would, but I know of no evidence that he does or ever will.

No doubt Putin has shared interests in putting down radical Islamic terror. No doubt that a friendly EU means that his gas and oil exports have reliable markets. No doubt that friendship with the U.S. means one less danger from a nuclear-armed power.

But does Putin agree with such reasoned logic? Probably not.

How Putin sees us

He believes that the U.S. and Europe are wealthy and powerful, but also vulnerable societies who spend what they don’t have and either won’t invest in defense commensurately with their economic wealth or won’t necessarily use the power that they have invested in. Putin suspects that our media-hyped outrages usually subside in a few days, as Westerners move on to the next psychodramatic crisis.

It does not matter that those are gross distortions, unfair, or Neanderthal, it only matters that Putin seems to think them, and that he is not disabused of such conclusions by any evidence that we can adduce to the contrary — despite our rich menu of sermons, sanctions, boycotts, freezes, ostracisms, and shaming.

If there is a downside in alienating world opinion, or even if his new acquisitions cost more than they are worth, such calculations pale in comparison with his perceptions of an upside. Putin assumes the world, for all its pretensions, is amoral. He assumes it  looks up to states that show power and confidence rather than fairness and justice.

It matters little that his repulsive cynicism may well be wrong, only that such realpolitik guides his calculations. He thinks crudely slicing away portions of the former Soviet Union and adding them to the Russian Federation projects strength and concretely adds to the size of his own mostly failed state.

If these gambles may prove to be unwise long-term investments, to Putin — and no doubt to the Russian people who seems to admire his audacity — they are certainly wise short-term gambles. In Putin’s calculus, a vast and miserable but swaggering Russia is a far superior place to a small, humble, humane, prosperous Switzerland or Denmark.

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Meet President Bucky Brewster. You’ll like his style, even if MSNBC, NPR, PBS, CNN and Time magazine won’t.

Imagine if a hard-right-wing president were to follow Barack Obama and embrace the new precedents that Obama himself has established for the presidency. Would he then be seen as an unusually polarizing figure, who abused the power of his office? Let’s call him Bucky Brewster, the new Republican President from Montana.

Settled law?

President Bucky Brewster announces that he finds most of the Affordable Care Act patently unconstitutional. So he suspends all its timetables of implementation, stops the employer and individual mandates, and gives exemptions to big corporations, Tea Party groups, and the NRA. Brewster goes on to throw out Obama’s recently passed “comprehensive immigration reform” act, deporting at once four million illegal aliens and cancelling the Dream Act, remarking: “It contradicts prior law. The federal immigration law is the law.”

Brewster worries about the EPA a lot. So he decides that the Endangered Species Act is unconstitutional and a threat to property rights. He suspends enforcement of it indefinitely. Brewster also orders a regulatory raid on liberal Solaris, alleging that its solar panels will cause too much glare for private aviation pilots and are made of rare imported silica, and so shuts the company down. Brewster also advises Boeing that, if it were smart, it should leave Washington and go to a right-to-work state like Mississippi. Brewster also reminds that the Defense of Marriage Act has never been repealed and thus he outlaws all gay marriages “in accordance with settled law.”

What will MSNBC say? The abuse of power? Unconstitutional? Impeachment?

Appointments?

President Bucky Brewster wants to fundamentally transform America and so his appointments must reflect his conservative ideology. So he taps as green jobs czar an ad man for the oil companies who, we learn, is a “birther.” His new NASA director gives an interview pledging that the chief aim of the space agency is now to reach out to Christians abroad.

One of his communications directors praises the efficiency of Mussolini, who, she says, has always been her role model. His EPA director, who is a big Keystone pipeline booster, opens a fake email account to take the pulse of the pipeline debate — and has the EPA give an award to her alias!  He appoints as Treasury secretary Donald Trump, who confesses that he wrote off his kids’ camp fees as tax deductions and pocketed his FICA allotments. His new energy secretary, Billy Bob Fella, who drives a Hummer, announces: “We want gas prices to get down to around 70 cents a gallon, right down there to those Saudi or Kuwaiti levels. What a great way to save the planet by returning a little cash to the poor driver’s pocket.”

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Meet the Richerals

February 24th, 2014 - 1:41 pm

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The new millennium has also given us a new American profile — the hip richeral. Richerals are, of course, well off. But they are even more cool and liberal. The two facts are not so much incompatible, as complementary.

For some, big money allows three things: wealth’s cocoon enables you to dream safely about utopia rather than being laid off and broke; it exempts you from worrying much about the high taxes and regulations needed to pay for your redistributionist fantasy agendas; and it gives you the influence, capital, and opportunities to flee from the messy ramifications of your own ideology.

The other side of being liberal is just as important for the richerals. Guilt is a primordial human emotion — usually in civilization’s history assuaged by religion and the accompanying fear of damnation in the hereafter. But richerals are more likely than average to be either agnostic or atheistic. Yet that fact does not mean that they feel any less guilty about unfairness and inequality. So they do have deities of sorts — a hip Olympic pantheon of race, class, gender, and environmental gods. Their own privilege — be it the techie lifestyle of the Silicon Valley, the Ivy League quad, the Malibu gated estate, the Montana getaway, the Upper West Side ambiance — even under Obama just cannot yet be extended to everyone.

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? How can a richeral be redistributionist and statist when such ideologies are targeted at one’s own cherished lifestyle? So penance, medieval exemption, and confessions step in as civilization’s age-old remedies for the guilt of such a pious sinner.

Wear jeans as you board your jet. Listen to rap as you review your stock options. Champion a baitfish. Hate Sarah Palin. Make Travyon into a symbol of resistance. Amnesty for your gardener and nannie alike. Being a richeral apparently means you never have to say you are sorry about the means you used to get your cash, why you mean to keep and expand it, and how you plan to pass it on to your richeral kids.

Barack Obama came to Fresno last week to address the drought. He did not mention the diversions over the last five years of precious irrigation water out to sea. Nor did he talk of any possible funding to build new mountain reservoirs. Instead, he talked mostly of climate change and some new federal loans to address it. We were to assume that both the record cold, ice, and snow back east (that the president fled from) and the record lack of rain here in the West were due to man-made global warming. In terms of “climate change” reductionism, anything counts — a drought or a monsoon, ice or fire, the doldrums or hurricanes, occurring on average, below average, or above average.

In other words, for Obama the drought was sort of like pushing radical new gun control laws in reaction to the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy: another occasion to demagogue a political agenda that most likely has nothing to do with addressing the problem at hand.

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Let’s Save California Now!

February 16th, 2014 - 3:41 pm

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Just a handful of legislative acts might still save California. Here are 12 brief examples:

1. The Hetch Hetchy Smelt and Salmon Act

This so-called “Skip a Shower, Save a Smelt Act” would transfer control of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir releases from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The legislation would dismantle sections of the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct west beyond the San Joaquin River, stop the present unnatural diversion of fresh water to San Francisco, and allow instead Hetch Hetchy fresh water to resume natural flows to the San Joaquin River — thus allowing the San Joaquin River and Tuolumne River to recover their salmon populations.

In addition, the transfers of fresh Hetch Hetchy water into the delta and beyond to the Pacific Ocean would preserve delta smelt populations.  To make up the losses, the law would set up Bay Area water commissions to monitor mandatory rationing, recycling, and the recovery of sewage and grey water. It would also assess new taxes for wind and solar salinization plants to replace the 265,000 acre feet currently diverted to Bay Area residential use from its proper role in ensuring healthy fish populations. Aim: To synchronize water resources with water-use advocacy. 

2. The Undocumented Immigrant Equity Act

The “I am Juan too Act” would assess all California communities by U.S. Census data to ascertain average per-household income levels as well as diversity percentages. Those counties assessed on average in the top 10% bracket of the state’s per-household income level, and which do not reflect the general ethnic make-up of the state, would be required to provide low-income housing for undocumented immigrants, who by 2020 would by law make up not less than 20% of such targeted communities’ general populations.

There are dozens of empty miles, for example, along the 280 freeway corridor from Palo Alto to Burlingame — an ideal place for high-density, low-income housing, served by high-speed rail. Aim: One, to achieve economic parity for undocumented immigrants by allowing them affordable housing in affluent areas where jobs are plentiful, wages are high, and opportunities exist for mentorships; and, two, to ensure cultural diversity among the non-diverse host community, bringing it into compliance with the state’s ethnic profile.   

3. The Cultivating Diversity Education Equilibrium Act

The “Beverly Hills to the Barrio Act” would ensure that all California school populations reflect the state’s rich ethnic diversity percentages. Schools would lose state aid if their student populations were not commensurate with state ethnic-group target levels. To take one example of the choices available for school districts to partner and find common solutions: School districts in Redwood City or East Palo Alto, for example, would bus more students on those campuses found in numbers out of compliance with statewide percentages to Menlo-Atherton. The latter in turn would bus more of its own students found in excess of state averages to Redwood City and East Palo school districts, until all three campuses reached “diversity equilibrium” and matched the correct racial percentages in the state. Aim: To end disparities in California school testing and performance levels accruing largely due to intrinsic racial and ethnic discrimination.

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An Immigration Morality Tale

February 9th, 2014 - 6:01 pm

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If there are executive orders overriding federal immigration law to extend amnesty to foreign nationals, without legal residence, and to continue their educations, there are also de facto all sorts of un-Dream Acts that simply allow anyone wishing to enter the United States without much audit. In other words, one of the strangest things about illegal immigration is that a nation that is monitored, taped, videoed, and bugged, that is struggling now with the AP, IRS, and NSA scandals whose common theme is excessive government intrusions in our private lives, knows absolutely nothing about those who arrive illegally into the U.S.

The following story is a tragedy, involving the most heartrending of all crimes, the alleged killing of an infant, born into the world entirely dependent on the good will and caring of adults. It reports allegations of murder, not proof of it. Much must be inferred rather than confirmed. But all that said, the preliminary account is emblematic of a deeply sick society, which in its loud protestations of mercy and charity is often heartless and uncharitable:

Madera teen held in death of newborn found in cabinet
The Fresno Bee February 5, 2014

A teenage girl has been arrested on suspicion of killing her newborn girl after the child was found wrapped in plastic and stuffed in a bathroom cabinet, the Madera County Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday.

The 17-year-old girl, whose name was not released, showed up at an area hospital last Friday, where doctors discovered she was suffering from postpartum bleeding, the Sheriff’s Department said.

The girl denied giving birth, and because of a language barrier — she speaks Mixteco Bajo, a dialect spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico — it took doctors and deputies hours to learn where she lived.

Deputies went to the home on Chapin Street near Avenue 16 in Madera, where a resident allowed them to search it. When deputies found the infant, they returned to the hospital and confronted the mother, who admitted giving birth but insisted the child was born dead.

Autopsy results show the baby was delivered alive and then killed, the Sheriff’s Department said. The cause of death was not released.

The girl, who comes from a village in Oaxaca, Mexico, arrived in Madera three days before giving birth, the Sheriff’s Department said. She is being held in Madera County Juvenile Hall on suspicion of murder. Her bail is set at $1 million.

Let’s explore what’s behind the language employed in the above news article, beginning with:

“Showed up at an area hospital last Friday”

I do not know what that means other than someone desperately in need of health care went to a hospital and was given top-flight help, a fact known to anyone who has gone to any San Joaquin Valley emergency room. We should be proud of such charity that does not hinge on one’s financial circumstances, but we should also remember that this has been long true of American culture, including during the Obamacare debate when charges flew that a callous society was turning away the indigent in need of treatment.

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On almost every contemporary issue there is a populist, middle-class argument to be made against elite liberalism. Yet the Republican class in charge seems ossified in its inability to make a counter-argument for the middle class. Never has the liberal agenda been so vulnerable, a logical development when bad ideas have had five years to prove themselves as very bad ideas. When Obama is all done he will have taken high presidential popularity ratings, a supermajority in the Senate, and a large margin in the House and lost them all — if only the Republicans can make an adequate case that they represent the middle class, the Democrats only the very wealthy and the very dependent.

Illegal Immigration

We know the entry of 11 million illegal aliens depresses the wages of the poor and entry-level working class. Illegal immigration overwhelms state services, and that too hurts citizens most in need of help. The lower-middle classes do not have low-paid nannies, gardeners, and house-keepers. We know the illegal influx pleases La Raza activists, most of them second- and third-generation elites in government, politics, journalism and education, who without illegal immigration would not have much of a moral or legal justification for the continuance of affirmative action and identity politics, given that statistically Latinos would soon follow the pattern of other assimilated groups. (For example, is there affirmative action for Armenian immigrants? An Italian Razza movement? Punjabi Studies?)

We also know that cheap labor in the shadows benefits corporate business, eager for low-wage laborers.  So how hard is it for a Republican simply to say, “I oppose illegal immigration because (1) it is illegal. It undermines the sanctity of the law and discriminates against the law-abiding waiting in line to enter the U.S. legally. (2) It benefits corporate grandees at the expense of working people. (3) It is driven by self-serving elites of the ethnic-grievance industry to enhance their own advantage, rather than to help poor folks struggling to find decent wages and schools. Illegal immigration, in short, is the most illiberal issue of our time.

Energy

Fracking and horizontal drilling help the middle class. Stopping them on federal lands or banning Keystone makes the lower classes pay for the pipe dreams of the upper class. The Berkeley Sierra Club professor doesn’t worry whether he can find a job welding on a pipeline. He does not drive along the Westside 50 miles to work and so cares little about the price of gas for his third-hand pick-up. It is about 70 degrees year round in Menlo Park, so it is easy to jack power bills up to subsidize wind and solar, when you don’t need to survive 105 degree temperatures in Bakersfield. Discouraging energy development is a pastime of the rich, who have the money to shield themselves from the consequences of their advocacy, and do not associate with the less well-off, who always seem to suffer from elite pipe dreams. Why not headquarter the Sierra Club in Bakersfield, where the cost of electricity is real for real people? Cannot a Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union simply say, “Mr. President, you are shamelessly taking credit for gas and oil production that you did all in your power to thwart. The middle class is enjoying a temporary cut in gas prices, despite, not because of, you.”

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Eating Our Young

January 26th, 2014 - 4:36 pm

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It is popular now to talk of race, class, and gender oppression. But left out of this focus on supposed victim groups is the one truly targeted cohort — the young. Despite the Obama-era hype, we are not suffering new outbreaks of racism. Wendy Davis is not the poster girl for a resurgent misogyny. There is no epidemic of homophobia. Instead, if this administration’s policies are any guide, we are witnessing a pandemic of ephebiphobia — an utter disregard for young people.

The war against those under 30 — and the unborn — is multifaceted. No one believes that the present payroll deductions leveled on working youth will result in the same levels of support upon their retirements that is now extended to the retiring baby-boom generation. Instead, the probable solutions of raising the retirement age, cutting back the rate of payouts, hiking taxes on benefits, and raising payroll rates are discussed in an environment of après moi le déluge — to come into effect after the boomers are well pensioned off.

The baby-boomer/me generation demands what its “greatest generation” parents got — or, in fact, far more, given its increased rates of longevity. The solution of more taxes and less benefits will fall on young people and the unborn, apparently on the premise that those under 18 do not vote, and those between 18 and 30 either vote less frequently than their grandparents or less knowledgeably about their own self-interest.

The Social Security pyramidal scheme is merely the tip of the ephebiphobic iceberg. Currently student indebtedness exceeds $1 trillion. Many of these loans begin compounding before graduation and are pegged at interest rates far higher than parental mortgages. The cause of this tuition bubble is also not controversial. The prices colleges charge for annual tuition, room and board have for over two decades far exceeded the annual rate of inflation.

There were four causes of such price gouging of students. None of them had anything to do with offering better education for a more competitive price for job-hungry graduates. The first was automatic escalations in the amount of money students could borrow that would be backed by federal guarantees. If campuses hiked their wares at prices consistently twice the rate of inflation, they could assume that students — while in college — could qualify to borrow the needed sums. What happened afterwards was not all that much a concern of the campus, at least as long as it did not affect subsequent admissions.

Second, the size and compensation of the administrative class exploded. Again, the reason why was not difficult to understand. Awash in federally backed loan dollars, hoping to lure students with high-tech and social amenities, and to indoctrinate them with race, class, and gender ideology, campuses created new positions from diversity associate provosts to technology gurus — all to oversee everything from rock-climbing walls to on-campus lectures and paid workshops from fashionable cultural icons.

Third, there was a radical bifurcation among faculty, a sort of divide-and-conquer strategy that rewarded fossilized tenured professors with reduced teaching loads and support for research, while cutting back on new replacement tenure-track billets and upping the percentage of units taught by pastime adjunct teachers. The new younger Morlocks did the grunge 1A work for their more rarefied and contemplative elder Eloi, and the students who paid for it sat through their lectures on fairness and equality.

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Had the Greeks lost at Salamis, Western civilization might easily have been strangled in its adolescence. Had Hitler not invaded the Soviet Union, the European democracies would have probably remained overwhelmed. And had the Japanese just sidestepped the Philippines and Pearl Harbor, as they gobbled up the orphaned Pacific colonies of a defunct Western Europe, the Pacific World as we know it now might be a far different, far darker place.

I am not engaging in pop counterfactual history, as much as reminding us of how thin the thread of civilization sometimes hangs, both in its beginning and full maturity. Something analogous is happening currently in the 21st-century West. But the old alarmist scenarios — a nuclear exchange, global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps, a new lethal AIDS-like virus — should not be our worry.

Rather our way of life is changing not with a bang, but with a whimper, insidiously and self-inflicted, rather than abruptly and from foreign stimuli. Most of the problem is cultural. Unfortunately it was predicted by a host of pessimistic anti-democratic philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Hegel and Spengler. I’ve always hoped that these gloom-and-doomers were wrong about the Western paradigm, but some days it becomes harder.

Over 90 million Americans who could work are not working (the “non-institutionalized” over 16). What we take for granted — our electrical power, fuel, building materials, food, health care, and communications — all hinge on just 144 million getting up in the morning to produce what about 160-170 million others (the sick, the young, and the retired who need assistance along with the 90 million idle) consume.

Every three working Americans provide sustenance for two who are not ill, enfeebled, or too young. The former help the disabled, the latter take resources from them. The gang-banger has only disdain for the geek at the mall — until one Saturday night his liver is shredded by gang gunfire and suddenly he whimpers (who is now the real wimp?) that he needs such a Stanford-trained nerd to do sophisticated surgery to get him back in one piece to the carjackings, muggings, assaults, and knockout games — or lawsuits follow!

Given that the number of non-working is growing (an additional 10 million were idled in the Obama “recovery” alone), it is likely to keep growing. At some point, we will hit a 50/50 ratio of idle versus active. Then things will get interesting. The percentage of workers’ pay deducted to pay for the non-working will soar even higher. So will the present redistributive schemes and the borrowing from the unborn.

We forget that the obligations of the working to care for the 70-80 million who genuinely cannot work become more difficult, when the 90 million who can work for all sorts of reasons won’t. Note the theme of this essay: the more in humane fashion we provide unemployment insurance, food stamps, subsidized housing, legal advice, health care and disability insurance, the more the recipients find it all inadequate, inherent proof of unfairness and inequality, and always not enough.

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The Rural Way

January 12th, 2014 - 11:22 am

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Hard physical work is still a requisite for a sound outlook on an ever more crazy world. I ride a bike; but such exercise is not quite the same, given that the achievement of doing 35 miles is therapeutic for the body and mind, but does not lead to a sense of accomplishment in the material sense — a 30-foot dead tree cut up, a shed rebuilt, a barn repainted. I never quite understood why all these joggers in Silicon Valley have immigrants from Latin America doing their landscaping. Would not seven hours a week spent raking and pruning be as healthy as jogging in spandex — aside from the idea of autonomy that one receives by taking care of one’s own spread?

On the topic of keeping attuned with the physical world: if it does not rain (and the “rainy” season is about half over with nothing yet to show for it), the Bay Area and Los Angeles will see some strange things that even Apple, Google, and the new transgendered rest room law cannot fix. We have had two-year droughts, but never in my lifetime three years of no rain or much snow — much less in a California now of 39 million people.  I doubt we will hear much for a while about the past wisdom of emptying our reservoirs and letting the great rivers year-round flow to the Bay to restore mythical 19th-century salmon runs and to save the Delta three-inch bait fish. As long as it was a question of shutting down 250,000 irrigated acres in distant and dusty Mendota or Firebaugh, dumping fresh water in the sea was a good thing. When it now comes down to putting grey water or worse on the bougainvilleas in Menlo Park, or cutting back on that evening shower, I think even those of Silicon Valley will wonder, “What in the hell were we thinking?”

I do all the yard work on my three-acre home site and putter around the surrounding 40-acre vineyard. Mowing, chain-sawing, pruning, and hammering clear the head, and remind us that, even in the age of the knockout “game” and nightly TV ads for Trojan sex devices, we still live in a natural world. In the rural landscape, you are responsible for your own water. So you must know about what level resides the water table, and how deeply exactly your pump draws from, and the minutia of well depth, casing size, and type of pump. You know roughly how much sewage you’ve deposited in your cesspool and septic tank, and whether your propane tanks is half or a quarter full. There is no “they” who take care of such things, no department of this, or GS9 that to do it for you. Those who help you keep independent — the well drillers, pump mechanics, cesspool pumpers, asphalt layers, and assorted independent contractors — remind you that muscles and experience, not always degrees and techie know-how, are still important in extremis.

There are no neighbors across the backyard fence. At night there is no one out here, except the dogs that engage in howling wars with the coyotes. Nature abounds, both good and bad: squirrels that undermine the slab under your barn (I have shot them, gassed them, poisoned them for 40 years, and their burrows are larger than ever), and coyotes lingering out of range in the shadows by dusk. But also a red-tailed hawk in your redwood tree stands guard, and a great horned owl skimming across the vineyard that is strangely unafraid of humans. When I ride out in the Michigan countryside, I often stop and stare at octogenarians puttering around huge old clapboard farmhouses, determined in their final days to mow their lawns or paint their porches as if they were newlyweds — “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

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