Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Goodbye, Fb

Recently I deactivated my Facebook account.  I did so because it was occupying what I considered an inordinate amount of my free time, which was not really so free; and I found that, typically, most people respond to pictures of children and animals but do not respond to any attempts at discussion of serious issues.  Links to articles on AGW or energy or government surveillance and the like seem to be generally ignored.

I don't know that I will be gone permanently from Facebook, but so far I do not miss it too much.  There are moments when I want to see what my Facebook "friends" are up to, but I resist the urge.  I want a more firm grounding in reality (at least, what constitutes reality for me).  In addition, I have found more energy for time devoted to The Gable Grey, which has been languishing during the past couple of years of personal upheaval.  I hope to turn that trend around, or at least to halt it somewhat.  This blog may still have use as a means of personal expression for me.

Wassail, friends. -- C.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"America" ("In Quotes")


(Reprinted from PeakOil.com. -- C.)

Orlov: “American” exceptionalism

Orlov: “American” exceptionalism thumbnail
The term “American exceptionalism” has been receiving more than its fair share of play recently. It was pressed into service in the vapid banter that passes for political discourse in the US, with the Republicans accusing Obama of not believing in it. More recently, it surfaced as a term in international relations, when Russian president V. Putin chastised the US for believing it in a NY Times editorial, equating it with chauvinism and lack of respect for the rule of international law. It seems that it is Putin’s dream to extend his cherished concept of “dictatorship of the law” to encompass even the US.
I feel that “American exceptionalism” does exist, and is, in fact, quite pervasive, but not in the way politicians and politicos in the US wish to think. This term, as those in the US are currently attempting to use it, is yet another of their attempts to mangle the language, along with “Libertarianism” that isn’t libertarian (i.e., socialist) and “football” that isn’t football (the entire planet’s favorite team sport). This sort of mangling of international terminology is rather exceptionally obnoxious.
The term “American exceptionalism” was born during a meeting which took place in the spring of 1929 between Joseph Stalin and the US Communist Party leader Jay Lovestone, during which Lovestone argued that workers in the US weren’t interested in socialist revolution. In response, Stalin the seminary drop-out demanded to put an end to this “heresy of American exceptionalism.” Stalin used the term in a mocking way, and something important was lost in translation from Russian “исключительность”, which is closer to “abnormality,” to English “exceptionalism” which has a few positive connotations, whereas in Russian, with the verb “исключить” (to expel) as its base, it is altogether non-aspirational.
Stalin’s taking an exception to “American exceptionalism” aside, Lovestone may at the time have had a valid point. At that time, the US could have been considered to stand a good chance of mitigating the negative effects of capitalism and advancing in the direction of a just and equitable society without resorting to brutal class struggle and violent revolution. The reasons for this had to do with luck: the US had the natural resources, the industrial capacity, a well-organized labor movement and an immigrant population that hadn’t had the time to develop rigid class distinctions.
But just a year later, at the 1930 American Communist convention, it was proclaimed that “the storm of the economic crisis in the United States blew down the house of cards of American exceptionalism.” While the USSR surged forward, the US wallowed in the mire of the Great Depression and recovered economically only thanks to the gigantic windfall of Word War II, at the end of which it remained as the only industrial nation that hadn’t been bombed to smithereens, flush with natural resources, and with a new-found egalitarian attitude borne of wartime patriotism and a newfound ability to understand each other thanks to the installation of Dayton, Ohio English as the nation’s official dialect. The US reaped another, much smaller windfall with the peaceful collapse and dismantlement of the USSR in 1990, extending its life expectancy by perhaps a decade.
But now this period is well and truly over: the resource base is depleted, the industrial base is in shambles, and society is rapidly degenerating from a class society to a caste society, with a disappearing middle class, an unbridgeable chasm between the haves and the have-nots and the lowest social mobility of any developed nation. If and when the revolution finally comes, I imagine Stalin’s embalmed corpse, resting in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, smiling ever so sweetly.
So much for “exceptionalism” (in quotes); what about “American” (also in quotes)? I am currently working from an undisclosed location south of the US border, where temperatures hover around 85°F, the ocean is pleasantly warm, fresh fruit comes from a nearby jungle, the Internet is high-speed and rent is quite a lot cheaper than what it cost me to heat the boat in Boston. I am still very much in America (without the quotes)—as former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez put it “We are all Americans.”
America, you see, is the term the entire world uses to describe the major land mass of the planet’s western hemisphere comprising some 43 million km2, grouped, for convenience, into North America and South America, and containing 36 countries. But then there is one country that controls well under a quarter of the total landmass and contains just over a third of the population, but which has the gall to call itself “The United States of America.” It is not the only “united states” in America; it is not even the only “united states” in North America because there is also Estados Unidos Mexicanos.
People south of the US border use a different intonation or roll their eyes ever so slightly to signal the difference between America the geographic term and “America” the country that had the impertinence to appropriate it. “Americans” themselves should probably use finger-quotes, to be polite, when they mean to say “America” rather than America.
Getting back to the subject of “American exceptionalism”: I believe that “America” (in quotes) is in some ways exceptional (in Stalin’s original sense of “abnormal”). I will therefore move “exceptionalism” outside the quotes and say a few more things about “American” exceptionalism.
First, “America” has an exceptionally bad government. There is fervent insistence that “America” is a democracy, but a look into the details of the matter discloses a decrepit political structure whose sole purpose is to legitimize privilege, wealth and aggression.
Starting with Congress, its two houses are both founded on systemic corruption. The Senate has two members from each state, be it a huge state like California or a tiny one like North Dakota, making it rather cheap for lobbyists to purchase roughly half the Senate, the rest being somewhat more expensive but still affordable. The House of Representatives is formed by a process called “gerrymandering,” whereby electoral districts are formed in ways that disadvantage the groups which the ruling elite wishes to see underrepresented. The result of this is that, according to numerous opinion polls, members of US Congress are now less popular than lice, cockroaches, colonoscopies, Hitler or Genghis Khan. This august body has been essentially incapable of governing. Its main activity involves enacting legislation which runs into thousands of pages, most of them written by lobbyists, which none of the members can either read or understand.
As a result, President Obama has recently announced his intention to ignore Congress and to start ruling by decree (the local euphemism for “decree” being “executive order”). This is rather typical of presidential régimes that are burdened by a morbid legislature, and, as such, is a step in the right direction. Turning ever so briefly to the supposedly independent judiciary, the US Supreme Court has consistently decided that justice is a matter of wealth and privilege, judging that “free speech” amounts to the right to spend money, and that “corporate persons” have more rights and fewer responsibilities than human ones. And so “America” is no longer a democracy, and although one never hears it from corporate-owned or corporate-funded “American” media, the “Americans” themselves seem well aware of the fact, which is why so few of them bother to vote. Why should powerless people participate in a humiliating face designed to legitimize the power of those who oppress them?
Second, “America” also has an exceptionally bad health care system. The rot started with a very bad mistake—the idea that health care should be tied to employment. It has now degenerated to a point where the medical system eats up a fifth of the country’s economic output, and is drifting in the direction of socialized medicine administered by a powerful group of profit-seeking companies. It produces outcomes that are slightly worse than those of Cuba, where per capita expenditure on health care is just 5% of that in “America.”
Life at an “American” hospital is a non-stop macabre comedy where sleep-deprived interns compulsively poke away at computers while ignoring the patients, and where the hospital profits from their numerous mistakes. Every “American” should know the term nosocomial, which designates medical problems caused by medical care itself. While “American” truck drivers must by law pull over and rest after ten hours behind the wheel, “American” doctors are often required to work 24-hour shifts, not because the decisions they make are so much less important than those made by truck drivers, but because their mistakes drive up profits by causing complications that require additional treatment. The sine qua non of “American” health care is emergency medicine, much of it devoted to keeping elderly patients alive for no good reason, and often against their will—until the money runs out. How much money? Well, a great deal of it, but how much anything costs is kept as a great mystery which is disclosed to patients only after the fact, often as part of a legal effort to bankrupt them.
This is why many “Americans” are discovering that their favorite doctor is, as the saying goes, is “Dr. Blue—Jet Blue.” A quick flight to America proper takes you out of the hands of “American” medical establishment and puts you in the hands of proper American doctors, who tell you how much your treatment will cost beforehand, charge reasonable rates and achieve reasonable results with reasonable effort.
There are other areas in which “America” is exceptional. For the sake of brevity, I will only touch upon one of them, briefly.
“America” has an exceptionally bad foreign policy. A key aspect of “American” foreign policy is that “America” is a sore loser: once defeated and expelled, it goes into a passive-aggressive mode of trying to rewrite history using economic sanctions and covert activities. Cuba overthrew the “American” dictator Fulgencio Batista 55 years ago, but sanctions are still in effect. Similarly with Iran: 35 years after its “American” shah was overthrown, it is still being portrayed as the enemy. Another key aspect of “American” foreign policy is its complete lack of compunction in resorting to political assassination. Luckily, “America” seems to be losing its ability to project power beyond its borders. It ran roughshod over Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan unopposed, it was checked in Libya, and, if all goes well, it will be checkmated in Syria and Iran.
I could go on and on and talk about exceptionally high prison population, exceptionally expensive and ineffective education, exceptionally weak national infrastructure, exceptionally high levels of surveillance, exceptionally high murder rate and so on and so forth, but I hope I have made it clear: “American” exceptionalism is not something for “Americans” to be proud of. How it came about is by no means the fault of the vast majority of “Americans.” If it is anyone’s fault, it is the fault of their ruling class, with its faulty, self-serving, and ultimately self-defeating ideas. There are some impediments making the transition from being “Americans” in quotes to becoming Americans proper—and to accept their birthright as inhabitants of the American continent—but these impediments are mostly mental, cultural and organizational. All of them will have to make that journey sooner or later, as “America” breaks up and disappears in a maelstrom of national bankruptcy, repudiation of federal authority and open revolt.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Your Soil Is Your Bank Account


(Reprinted from Survivalblog. -- C.)

Growing Without Pests And Without Pesticides, by T.D.

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Chemical free gardening for organic food and ornamentals is no harder or more expensive than conventional growing. Remineralization by adding rock powder is perhaps the most important component, bringing the soil back up to the balance of trace elements the plants require to naturally resist pests on their own.
Long before there was agriculture, there were plants that managed to grow, thrive, reproduce, and survive to the end of their natural life. They lived and died, and anything that ate them lived and died, all in the same neighborhood. This pattern continued until the last hundred years or so. The trace minerals taken from the soil by the plants were returned to the soil through decomposition.
A potato, with help from its ecosystem, refines and carries out of the soil, potassium, iron, phoshporus, magnesium, calcium, zinc, copper, and many more minerals that we know, and likely much we don't yet know of. When modern gardeners and agriculturalists haul that potato away, with it goes a wealth of minerals, which are permanently removed from that patch of soil. The story is pretty much the same if it is broccoli, beef, or begonias. When the plant or animal is hauled away, the minerals go with it.
Readily available for replenishment of some departed elements is the air. Containing 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide, and smaller amounts of other gases. Ma Nature has many strategies for extracting those into organic forms to fuel more plant life. I'll discuss some of those a bit more later. The point here is that the heavy stuff those plants collected is now gone. Do this very often and subsequent generations of plants simply don't have enough of some minerals to live as designed.
Early refined-additive agriculture discovered that supplemental nitrogen pumped the plants up. Later they found phosphorus to be helpful too. Then along came added potassium, followed by calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Recently the soil chemists have discovered advantages of adding boron, iron, molybdenum, and zinc. You might notice that nearly all of these are heavy elements neither commonly found in the air, nor coming back to the land of its own accord when what grew there is hauled away.
There are two really big problems with this method of feeding the soil. One is the egotistical assumption that today's soil scientists know for certain every mineral needed and in the right balance, as if it has all been discovered at this date NOW, and nothing new will be discovered tomorrow. (If so, shall we shut down the universities and put research scientists out to pasture?) Secondly, we know quite clearly that these individual refined elements are poisonous at certain levels and must be applied in carefully metered quantities. Get the balance wrong and everything dies.
A bit more subtle, because they have no lobby, the plants and microbes of the soil don't like this system at all. "No balance" they complain. "We need gold, silver, antimony, cuprite, malachite, stibnite, halite, and so much more. You ignorant, pompous, foolish humans. How do you expect us to resist pests when we don't have the minerals we need to make ourselves complete-- the materials we use to fabricate our shields?"
They cannot be in balance because their soil is not in balance. It, in turn, has no hope no matter how long you leave it alone because the trace mineral balance has been permanently altered. So these imbalanced plants cannot be all they could be; they succumb to pests, die young, and don't deliver to their consumers all the nutrition they could have in a better world-- in a whole soil.
Ah, but the scientists have an answer. We'll prop them up on life support systems and cover their earth in chemicals to kill off anything that attacks our staggering, malnourished plants. "Cool beans" they say. "We got these things to market looking very much like the product people expected." Wash any chemical residue off the surface of the plant, and it's all good, right? 96% of the farmers agree. I have long-ago outgrown arguing against the vast majority. However, I do continue to follow my own path.
That path brought remineralization, rock powder, rock dust, and a couple of other names for it to my attention. This is not new and not mine, but also not common knowledge. At the time, I was a provider of custom tractor work for gardeners, farmers, and homeowners. I provided rock powder along with my tillage and cover crop planting; this was a great match. The problem was there were no commercial sources in my area.
Thus began an interesting journey of forming a California corporation, selling stock, building production equipment, leasing a facility, establishing, and servicing a new rock powder market. In the next several years I produced and sold hundreds of tons in pails, bags, and bulk throughout an 11-county area of Northern California. I directly and indirectly converted gardens, vinyards, and orchards to healthy, pest-free, and pesticide-free growing.
With a severely limited budget, establishing a market for an unknown product of fantastic claims was probably my best trick. (Keep in mind this was pre-Internet). I went and talked to every nursery owner in the 11 counties. "Will you run an experiment growing some plants with and others without rock powder?" Those willing to do a side-by-side experiment were given a free 50-pound bag of my rock powder, a brochure, price list, and my contact information.
My reasoning was that I couldn't be there to sell it to their customers, but they would IF they believed in it. I was right. The orders came in for an unlikely, unknown product with rather incredible claims.
I want to stop right here to point out this is exactly what I want you to do. Run a side-by-side experiment on whatever you are growing. Do not believe me. Believe what you can see and prove for yourself. Trust me and this essay only enough to try it for yourself. Then and only then will you KNOW.
I personally ran, assisted in, and supplied rock powder growing experiments all with similar results. The rock powder soil quite clearly had bigger, healthier plants that did not suffer pest problems like their counterparts did.
Luana's home was in the middle of an old, decrepit apple orchard. She hired me to mow the weeds down at the beginning of "fire season". As I putted the acreage I grabbed apples off the trees one after another. Not particularly squeemish about such, all I needed was a belmish-free mouthful regardless of the rest of the apple. I could not find ONE BITE in the whole orchard. She hired me to fix it.
Ten tons of rock powder per acre, radical pruning, rip, disc, and cover crop were the core of my prescription. Two years later I was hard-pressed to find ONE BLEMISHED APPLE in the entire orchard.
"Dad, what's wrong with this broccoli?" I knelt down to see the plant at the end of my 100-foot row completely white with a coating of aphids. Close inspection found it kinked horizontal like an old garden hose at ground level, then curving back towards the sun. Nutrients couldn't properly flow through the defective stalk. Nature sent the aphids to return the plant's components to the soil. Neither the adjacent broccoli nor any others in that row had a single aphid on them. The one had been stepped on early in its life. The rest had no problem defending themselves in spite of the presence of a reproducing swarm of aphids... not to mention total absence of interference in this dance of nature's elements.
I have a great number of examples from a 20-acre cemetery-prep lawn, grandma's rose garden, an organic high-end Sonoma County vineyard, 100-cubic-yards of amazing compost, a berry farm, and many more. I'll close with a great one:
A University of California research scientist wanted to run an experiment. I met him in a massive Central Valley commercial tomato field. Upon arrival I immediately regretted the trip. The soil was so depleted there could be nothing left alive in it to digest the minerals and grow healthy plants. I gamely spread 50 pounds in the area he had marked off for this trial. I heard nothing from him ever again in spite of his promises to keep me appraised of the progress and conclusions.
Curiousity compelled me to call him late in the summer. "Oh there was a definite improvement; significant superiority in the rock powder treated plants, but we have no way to determine WHICH ELEMENT in the rock powder was responsible for it. Therefore we gained no useful information from this experiment." Sigh.
I first began screening raw rock powder down to the finest particles in my yard. Every time it rained, I had to put a lot of time and effort into drying my pile back out before I could bag it or spread it in bulk. In that process, throughout the moist rock powder, I found lots of big, fat earthworms loving it.
This is a crucial bit of information. Try that with a pile of any refined soil additive; it will be death to earthworms and most other soil inhabitants. The rock powder has a huge variety of mineral elements in a non-toxic, harmonic balance. You cannot put too much on any soil. In practical terms there simply isn't a toxic amount.
Before I move on, I need to mention sources of rock powder. I went to every rock crushing operation within a reasonable distance and got 5-gallon samples of what quarry operators consider to be mostly a waste product they usually call "crusher fines". The more surface area (smaller pieces) the better.
It has to be crushed rock rather than screened river sand. The river dissolved and carried away all the softer minerals leaving behind mostly silica and a few hard minerals with very little microscopic surface area. Sand is cheap, plentiful, and nearly useless as a source of trace minerals. Rock powder is harder to find, but still cheap and plentiful. You just have to find someone crushing rock for gravel roads, cement plants, and such.
Get what you can get within reasonable travel distance. Try it on your plants. Make a grid with rows of plants going one direction and marked rows of rock powder enriched zones going the other. If you pay close attention, you will be surprised that you can see differences quite early in the plant growth, and it just gets better after that.
I know some will be curious. Three years into my growing rock powder business a man stopped by claiming to have multi-million dollars behind him to enter the rock powder market I had established. I had no way to judge his credibility, but was put off by his love for claiming that their rock's cosmic, geo-magnetic energies from this special place near Las Vegas made it much more magical than ordinary rock powders. I figured you couldn't ask for better performance than my plain old local minerals, and he felt like a snake-oil salesman to me. I soon found my share of the market I built too small to support my operation. Oops.
Remineralization is the key difference between my growing methods and those of many chemical-free growers. The rest of the life in the soil is extremely important and cannot be neglected. I was about to write this next bit, but found it already composed and much more thorough. North Carolina State University has done an excellent job using the same exact lead-off sentence I was going to write, so I'll post it here.
There is more life below the soil surface than there is above. This includes the burrowing animals such as moles and earthworms. Many soil creatures are not much bigger than the head of a pin. They include mites, springtails, nematodes, virus, algae, bacteria, yeast, actinomyetes, and protozoa. There are about 50 billion microbes in 1 tablespoon of soil. A typical soil may contain the following estimated number of organisms in each gram of soil:
Bacteria3,000,000 to 500,000,000
Actinnomycetes1,000,000 to 20,000,000
Fungi 5,000 to 1,000,000
Yeast 1,000 to 1,000,000
Protozoa 1,000 to 500,000
Algae 1,000 to 500,000
Nematodes 10 to 5,000

1 gram of soil is the approximate weight of a standard paper clip.
As soil life forms move through the soil they create channels that improve aeration and drainage. Nematodes and protozoa swim in the film of water around soil particles and feed on bacteria. Mites eat fungi; fungi decompose soil organic matter. The microorganisms' primary role is to break down organic matter to obtain energy. They help release essential nutrients and carbon dioxide, perform key roles in nitrogen fixation, the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, denitrification, immobilization, and mineralization. Microbes must have a constant supply of organic matter or their numbers will decline. Conditions that favor soil life also promotes plant growth.
When the soil is tilled and left bare, soil life can be injured by high temperatures. To promote soil organisms; incorporate organic matter, till as little as possible, minimize soil compaction, maintain favorable soil pH and fertility, and use an organic mulch on the soil surface.
Don't treat your soil like dirt.
Healthy soil is dark with organic carbon, soft when dry, spongy when wet, very easy to push a shovel deep down into, and absolutely teeming with life. Your soil is your bank account. Properly tend the soil and the plants will take care of themselves.
My mentor would tell the class that he could turn a parking lot into a healthy garden. Not that I didn't believe him, but it did seem like more of a long-term challenge than I would want. Since then I have literally done it several times, and in one season. The biggest problem is also the most common problem I faced when doing my custom farming: compacted soil.
Nature will eventually do the job starting with tough, spiney plants to break up the compaction, moving on through different tools decade-after-decade until finally whatever the climate allows could grow there. If it is your space, you can shortcut that process.
Mechanically break up the soil deep. Healthy plant roots, even annuals can go many feet deep. Help them get there with a ripper. This is the highest weight and horsepower requirement tool I had by far. Don't buy a tractor to do this as you will never need to do it again. Just hire it done at least 2-feet deep; 3-feet is better. More is nice if it is affordable, but with a good head start, plants and soil organisms can do the rest in a few years.
Before any more tilling, spread 10 tons of rock powder per acre (15 pounds per 100 square feet). I always added 1,000 pounds of oyster shell flour too as an awesome source of additional calcium, but it isn't crucial in most cases. Don't let its absence stop you, but do stay away from calcium sources your local organic growers wouldn't recommend.
Rare is the soil with plenty of organic matter. I add a 4" to 6" layer of it before pre-plant tilling. Yes, that's a LOT. You can wait and grow your own, but adding a thick layer will make it happen this year. If you have more time than money or means, cultivate and plant a deep-rooting cover crop mix.
In Northern California I used 50% oats, 25% vetch and 25% bell beans. In my orchard the three plants would grow way-deep into the ground and over 7-feet tall above. I would mulch-mow it, leaving a thick mat on the surface. Windfall fruit would land unbrused on it to be collected ready-to-eat. The next spring I would till it in, plant again and repeat. The deep decomposing annual roots were an integral part of the soil ecosystem.
I'm going to skip the where to plant, what to plant, and how to plant parts. That is local information, can easily take years of experimentation to get right and fill multiple books.
My final important point is that you must NEVER leave your soil naked. It hates sun, wind, and erosion. If you don't have a cover crop, find an affordable, local source of organic mulch. By “mulch” I mean shavings, chopped straw, compost, and such.
Stay away from tree leaves. They are mostly allelopathic; they like to keep plants from growing at the base of the tree and, thus, in your garden if used as mulch. Leaves are great for weed suppression, but the only functional difference between weeds and your desired plants are your desires.
Cover crops are a great answer. I have had vegetable gardens where I simply 'mowed whatever growed' in between my crop rows. Never naked, never muddy and quite good looking. My mentor used shortened-blade scythes to great effect keeping the cover crop plants nature put there slightly lower and disadvantaged when compared to his money crop. Organic vineyards went from dead dirt tilling to cover crops between the vines a decade or more ago.
The life of your soil is your real growers bank account.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Full Spectrum Peeping Tomisim: An Essay by Linh Dinh

(Note:  I follow Linh Dinh's photoblog.  This essay was posted to Countercurrents yesterday.  I thought it worthy of reposting here. -- C.)
08 February, 2014
In 1928, Ho Chi Minh was in Thailand while his Chinese wife, Zeng Xueming, remained in Canton . He sent her this letter:

“From the day we parted, already more than a year.
I miss you with such anguish, it needn't be said.
Borrowing rosy wings, I send a few lines to reassure you.
Such is my desire, and I wish your mother ten thousand good lucks.
Clumsily yours.”

Translating, I've kept intact Ho's tone and “rosy wings” image, which indicates a high flying, red colored bird, but also implies rose petals. Though it sounds weird in English, it does convey his sweetness and anguish. Ho's letter never made it to his beloved, however, for it was intercepted by French intelligence and is now stored at the Centre des Archives d'Outre-Mer in Aix-en-Provence.
Ho never saw his wife again. Considering all the turbulences and dangers Ho encountered, this episode may come across as so minor, an interesting footnote in a life defined by cataclysmic upheavals, but it is still a disturbing example of how the state, with its despotic power, guns and spooks, can so casually yet completely disrupt lives. Zeng Xueming simply assumed her husband had abandoned her. After reading this intercepted letter, the French could still allow it to be sent, but why bother? Ho was their enemy, after all, and though this missive had no value as intelligence, it was still carefully stashed away, while in Canton , a young woman pined. She never remarried, by the way.

If a lawless outfit will laugh as it kills, then even piss on the corpses afterwards, then of course it will intercept your stupid letters, or goofy emails, to bring things up to date. The unprecedented reach of this criminal gang will also allow it to monitor and harass an unprecedented number of people. If it doesn't like you, specifically, it can sabotage not just your personal life, but your financial and professional well being as well. A job offer or job application can be intercepted, then tossed out. An important business communication can be deleted or tampered with. These goons can implode your entire existence, in short. And let's us be clear about this: You don't have to be a world class revolutionary to warrant their attention. With their unprecedented budget, humongous staff and state of the art equipments, they have more than enough resources to tail, electronically or physically, anything on this earth that can grumble, shout or wave a fist. They can even crush you by mistake and not worry about it.

With its army of hackers, the NSA can penetrate just about any computer, but occasionally a more direct molestation is required. In a December 30, 2013 article, Der Spiegel points out that the NSA sometimes intercept brand new computers as they're being delivered, so malicious software and/or hardware can be inserted into them. These are then used to track targeted individuals. Of course, our criminally complicit media ignored this bombshell completely, as if it's Norman Rockwell-OK that our postal service is in cahoots with the monstrous NSA, and that our possessions can be tampered with by our sneeringly lawless government.
We're still in the early stage of our Fascist transformation, so until the jackboots step on their ituned heads, many Americans will dismiss talks of Big Brother as mere paranoia. To these folks, systematic evil is always somewhere else, in Iran , Syria , China , North Korea or Russia , not here, and so any closer look at who killed Gary Webb or Michael Hasting, for example, is instantly dismissed as conspiracy lunacy. Other regimes harass, arrest, torture or kill truth seekers, but somehow not this one, they will insist, and so they would not believe that Tom Feely of Information Clearing House was threatened by two thugs in a parking lot, with one saying, “You need to stop what you are doing on the web,” or that three well-dressed men barged into Tom's house to terrorize his wife. Again, the message was that he must “stop what he is doing on the Internet, NOW!” Reporting this 2008 incident, Mike Whitney said that Tom's wife then contacted the FBI, but of course they did nothing. I'm inclined to think that all of these enforcers were from the FBI, or at least one of our other intelligence agencies. We've got so damn many. For his part, Tom wondered why “They are reaching down SO far to get someone who just runs a web site.”
The more oppressive a government, the more it seeks to monopolize information, but totalitarianism has progressed from simple censorship to one that relies mostly on nonstop distraction. With so much crap addling each brain, a dissident doesn't necessarily have to be arrested, since he's already being ignored by nearly everyone. The trouble maker still needs to be watched, however, and since any oppressive government is essentially a control freak, it will monitor an irrationally huge number of people, and will reach very far down indeed. None, however, has attempted such a comprehensive dragnet as the United States of America , for it's attempting to spy on, literally, the entire world, and won't stop until it has achieved full spectrum peeping tomism.
This past week, there was some irregularity with my email account. On Wednesday, Press TV sent me an email before noon , but it only arrived seven hours later. I thus missed my interview with the Iranian station. That same day, an organizer of a poetry festival at the Lincoln Center sent me an invitation to participate, but this email only showed up 26 hours later and, most curiously, it came as a “Forwarded message.” When I asked the sender how this could happen, she couldn't answer. Now, these two instances might just be technical glitches, but perhaps not, especially the delayed message from Press TV. A thorn in the side of the US Empire, Press TV has been removed from the American, European and even East Asian markets, and it's fair to assume that all communications to and from Press TV are being monitored by American intelligence, and since I've been providing political commentaries on Press TV for over three years now, it's a safe bet that I'm also on the NSA's radar. In fact, it would be very naïve of me to think otherwise.
When I ruminated on my blog about the NSA, Press TV and your lowly self, I received this comment, “Is this a sly attempt at humor? Do you think US Intelligence agencies really would jam up your email based on your intelligent writing and commentary on world events? You're not that important in the multi-decade schemes of these systems.” His mocking tone made me suspect he might be a government troll, for they will routinely mock all opponents while taking them very seriously. Just think of Occupy, for example. Even as the government spent lots of money and time to infiltrate that movement, it made them out to be incoherent freaks with poor hygiene whose ideas should just be ignored. Every protest movement in the US has been mocked and caricatured. Left or right, it doesn't matter, they have all been turned into freaks should they dare to doubt the righteousness of their criminal rulers, but this can only mean the government takes dissent most seriously, with trolls even sent into forums to disrupt debates among ordinary, “unimportant” citizens.
Though only a bottom feeding fish lurking in the darkest water, I nevertheless attracted the spooks' attention when I was living in Saigon from 1999 to 2001. I will recount my experience there since it echoes some of what we're going through here, and even prefigures what we will encounter. Most of my friends in Saigon were poets, a group that has become increasingly irrelevant in every postmodern society. With almost no one reading them, there was no longer a need to arrest poets, but still we were being watched, just in case. As a translator of Vietnamese literature into English, I also elicited extra scrutiny since I was a kind of gateway, not unlike, say, an editor of a dissident webzine. I had already published Night, Again, an anthology of fiction that included a number of banned writers.
Under that impossibly hot sun, we would often meet to drink iced beer and talk about everything. There was one among us whom everyone suspected to be an undercover cop, so the conversation had to be curbed whenever this sly dude was around. After so many decades under totalitarianism, people had well internalized which subjects, or even words, to avoid, at least in suspect company. That too will happen here, if we don't veer from our current vector, and Americans will also learn to become more suspicious of nearly everything and everyone. The currency of any oppressive government is a steady stream of lies, so in that sense, we're well on our way down that septic whirlpool. These days, almost every sentence that's burped up by an American official is a bald lie, with not even a farcical comb over, but here's the most insidious part to all this. Being lied to all the time, many of us will also learn to routinely pervert truth ourselves. Even our children will do this. You watch.
So I was definitely being watched, you see, but to what extent I didn't really know until 2001, when I was invited by the Lannan Foundation to give a poetry reading back in the States. Thinking I might not be allowed to return to Vietnam , I paid a corrupt cop $500 for a businessman's visa, since this afforded me multiple entries. Done with my little song and dance in Santa Fe , plus additional readings in Boston and New York , I flew back to Saigon with a large bag of books for my friends. Toting the contrabands, I readied myself to bribe the airport official, but luckily, he never even noticed them. The lateness of my arrival, past 2AM , might have had something to do with his negligence, but I was more than glad to save a few bucks.
After a day-long flight, I barely slept but was up by 8:30 , such was my excitement to give books to my friends, so I called to arrange a meeting that very morning. Soon as I hung up the phone, however, it rang, and I mean immediately, with barely a second in between, and the guy on the other end was, you guess it, the cop assigned to monitor me. I still remember his first name, "Viet," which is as patriotic as you can get. Very tersely, Viet huffed that he was coming over to chat with me. Though he was clearly furious to find out that I had left the country without his knowledge, he didn't mention this fact when he showed up, but merely asked about my trip in a pseudo friendly way. Before he arrived, though, I had hidden the most incriminating books under my bed, but leaving enough on my desk so he had enough to frown at. Viet opened a volume on Balthus, looked at the reproductions of the languorous and budding nude teens, voiced his mild disapproval, but did not confiscate it. After staying for at least half an hour, Viet left.
Speaking of confiscation, the Saigon post office had already seized my short story collection, Fake House, when this was sent to me earlier that year. I still have the receipt somewhere. On it, the reason given for the confiscation is that the book is "decadent and reactionary." I remember trying to argue with the post office official. I tried to reason that since the book was in English, it wouldn't have any impact whatsoever in Vietnam , but the lady didn't buy it. I also joked that since I was the author of the book, I couldn't corrupt myself. She didn't laugh.
Even after I left Vietnam in 2001, I was not done with its friendly and thorough intelligence service, for my writing in Vietnamese has several times provoked their irritated reaction. They'd send me a fake email accompanied by a virus, for example. Let's say I have a friend named WXYZ, with a WXYZ@yahoo.com email account. The Vietnamese intelligence would set up a nearly identical account, _WXYZ@yahoo.com . See the difference? Just a _ before the other email address. Using this fake account, they would send me an email purportedly from WXYZ but with a virus in the attachment.
A Vietnamese-Australian academic returning to Saigon on a visit was called several times to the police station. At these interrogations, he would be asked about his associates inside the country and overseas, including me. Now, there is something very old school about these Vietnamese tactics, but don't think that America won't resort to them also, for when it comes to intimidation and violence, we can be as crude and naked as they come.
I won't bore you with more of these Vietnam incidents, but suffice it to say that even a lowly critic of the regime will be tracked by the government, for polemics and insights still matter, in spite of everything. Moreover, a government that feels itself vulnerable will naturally increase suppression. Look for a heavy crackdown on voices of dissent as our society becomes more unstable from the impending financial collapse, and as our economy deteriorates further from its already wretched condition. That, my fellow targets, is our true state of the union.
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union .

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Water in the Glass

"When all the world darkens, looking on the bright side is not a virtue but a sign of irrationality." -- Robert Jensen

It never ceases to amaze me:  the bliss of the ignorant.  Knowledge is dangerous, for multiple reasons; but not least because it can invite despair.  I do not despair, though I choose knowledge.  I am not an optimist, nor a pessimist:  I am a realist.  I cannot afford to be otherwise.


Photo:  B. W. Carlisle

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

And Today's WTI Price Is... [UPDATE]


I'm having a hard time believing the loss of control at a decades-old platform off the Louisiana coast has THAT much to do with the surge.  The WTI/Brent spread is now a little over two dollars.

(Photo:  B.W. Carlisle)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

And today's WTI price is...

$103.74/barrel at the moment.

The last time WTI prices were this high?  February-April 2012.  Before that, March-May 2011.  And before that, March-September, 2008. 

(Photo:  B.W. Carlisle)
Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"