Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Battle for the Minds of the Young

Every 16 year old in China is dreaming of owning their own car.
Traffic In Shanghai
AAA estimates that 43.6 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home for the Thanksgiving weekend. Of the 43.6 million, 90 percent will drive to Thanksgiving destinations and 7 percent will fly.

When  I awoke today I upped the thermostat to 70 which kicked on the gas fired furnace in my house. I had fried eggs for breakfast cooked over my electric stove. I drove my 20 mpg auto to the market and bought 3 pounds of salmon from Norway. I watched a little of the LSU game on my LCD TV and wrote some of this post on my computer. I did a crossword puzzle under a reading lamp. The weather warmed up and we took the opportunity to visit the beach 8 miles away.  I don't intend to stop any of the above. I wouldn't presume to ask anyone else to either. I was not coerced by any corporation to consume any of the energy that sustained me today.

Bill McKibben and company have been on the road staging events intended to rally troops in a battle against the agents of climate change. They know who the enemy is: "Rogue, Criminal, Fossil Fuel Corporations." 
The following is from their web site
"We’re hitting the road to jumpstart a new movement".
"It’s simple math: we can burn 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming — anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, five times the safe amount. And they’re planning to burn it all — unless we rise up to stop them.
This November, Bill McKibben and are hitting the road to build the movement that will change the terrifying math of the climate crisis.
Activists and All-Stars
As he travels the country in a sustainable bus, Bill will be joined by a rotating cast of committed artists, actors, and musicians — each dedicated to spreading the message of the challenge before us. Every event will be a full evening of music, interactive video, and thought-provoking ideas. By the time you leave, you’ll be fired up and equipped with the tools, strategies, and resources you need to take on the fossil fuel industry."

Here is how this tour played out in Boston on Nov 16. 

Short bumper sticker versions of the "Do The Math" show:

We've got one chance left.  Let's not blow it.
Fossil fuel corporations are civilizational criminals.
To hit them where it counts, cut off their money supply.
We're All In This Together.

So who goes, buys tickets to these events, and joins the mob think? Reminiscent of rock and roll concerts to me. 

At the very time they were charging people $10 to get on-board, a kid in Dorchester was whipping his tricked up Scion bT with those flashing  spinners through the Micky D lot. He was looking for his squeeze, to take her to Best Buy for a pre Black Friday sale of a mobile she's been craving.
Naomi Kline, a partner in the Movement,  identified the problem source as "rogue corporations" when interviewed on Bill Moyers show.

How convenient. These hucksters of climate change have identified the bad guys, and they are "them".   I am going to find and share indy sources of counter think. 

An excerpt here:
"There is a crucial and obvious need for a real movement to tackle the climate chaos juggernaut.  But this movement will not be based on math-based reform.  Reform what?  Can we have friendly Capitalism?  Can the very markets that have led us to the brink of the abyss now provide our parachute? McKibben points out that under this system, those with the money have all the power.  Then why are we trying to reform this system?  Why are we not transforming it?
And this brings me to the final trap that McKibben falls into in his Rolling Stone piece: compartmentalization.  Scientists are trained to compartmentalize–to see things in their individual tiny boxes and not connected to anything else.  Geneticists have dangerously perfected this science.  But everything on this planet is connected to everything else on this planet, and as Dr. Smolker points out, if you focus solely on eliminating fossil fuels without changing the underlying system, then very bad things will take their place because it is the system itself that is unsustainable.  It is a system designed to transform “natural capital” and human labor into gargantuan profits for an elite few: the so-called “1%”. Whether its driven by fossil fuels or biofuels or even massive solar and wind installations, the system will continue to devour ecosystems, displace forest-based communities, Indigenous Peoples and subsistence farmers from their lands, crush labor unions and generally make life hell for the vast majority of the world’s peoples.  That is what it does.
To eliminate fossil fuels, you have to transform the system that empowers the fossil fuels industry.  In diversity is strength, any ecologist knows this, and our movements for change are no exception.  The more we understand that the roots of the issues we are fighting are intertwined, the better we can cooperate to change the system driving them.
System Change, Not Climate Change."
Anne Petermann is the Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project.  She has worked for climate justice since 2004, and is a founding member of the Durban Group for Climate Justice, Climate Justice Now! and Climate Justice Action. 

When Ms Petermann speaks of transformation she doesn't go so far as to describe the impact of what she is thinking. I will. If you cut back or out of the "business"  model of human organization lots of people are going to lose their jobs, others are going to be less rich, and the catechism of growth will be erased.  These facts are understood by the "right" which vehemently opposes any change in status-quo and labels the activity socialist.
The system that underlies the "fossil fuel industry"  she identifies is utterly and totally dependent on consumption. When will we accept responsibility for the creation of the problem, and when will we begin the rather simple process of changing it? Not through mass movements, or political organization, or demonizing the so-called bad guys, but by accepting the simple truth that every drop of oil burned was bought by people like you and me who use it. 

Here is how we use it: The following excerpt gives you some perspective on the generators of CO2 emissions. Energy-Related Emissions: Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions account for more than 80 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. EIA breaks energy use into four end-use sectors (Table 6 below), and emissions from the electric power sector are attributed to the end-use sectors. Growth in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions since 1990 has resulted largely from increases associated with electric power generation and transportation fuel use. All other energy-related carbon dioxide emissions (from direct fuel use in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors) have been either flat or declining in recent years (Figure 8 on the right). In 2008, however, emissions from both electric power and transportation fuel use were down—by 2.1 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. Reasons for the long-term growth in electric power and transportation sector emissions include: increased demand for electricity for computers and electronics in homes and offices; strong growth in demand for commercial lighting and cooling; substitution of new electricity-intensive technologies, such as electric arc furnaces for steelmaking, in the industrial sector; and increased demand for transportation services as a result of relatively low fuel prices and robust economic growth in the 1990s and early 2000s. Likewise, the recent declines in emissions from both the transportation and electric power sectors are tied to the economy, with people driving less and consuming less electricity in 2008 than in 2007. Other U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have remained flat or declined, for reasons that include increased efficiencies in heating technologies, declining activity in older “smokestack” industries, and the growth of less energy-intensive industries, such as computers and electronics. 

Let's get more specific.
Concrete Abstract: The cement industry contributes about 5% to global anthropogenic CO2 emissions, making the cement industry an important sector for CO2-emission mitigation strategies. CO2 is emitted from the calcination process of limestone, from combustion of fuels in the kiln, as well as from power generation.

 Are you ready to tell the people of the world that they can't live in solid structures?
 A breakdown of emissions among sources shows that solid, liquid, and gas fuels contributed (for 2000–2004) ≈35%, 36%, and 20%, respectively, to global emissions (Eq. 1). However, this distribution varied strongly among regions: solid (mainly coal) fuels made up a larger and more rapidly growing share of emissions in developing regions (the sum of China, India, D2, and D3) than in developed regions (U.S., EU, Japan, and D1), and the FSU region had a much stronger reliance on gas than the world average.

Ready to tell the people of the world that they can't heat their homes?

The food industry accounts for about 25 % of the total CO2 emissions in the Western World. The CO2 emissions derive from raw materials, production, waste, energy consumption, transport, etc. If the entire value chain is included, emissions from trade, consumption and disposal should be added to the above amount as well. At the same time, consumers, retailers and authorities focus increasingly on resource utilization, ethics and environmental protection.  

Here are some numbers to consider after having just gone through our consumption orgy of Thanksgiving eating.
"This Thanksgiving, Americans will toss a whopping $282 million of uneaten turkey and about 204 million pounds of that turkey meat into the trash, attributing to the $165 billion in uneaten food Americans waste every year."
All of this copy is in consideration of one meal. Which corporation can I blame for this?  

Ready to tell the people of the world they they will starve while we throw away or burn their food for fuel?

 The headlines read; "Sandy is a wakeup call" regarding the effects of climate change. "Do the Math" people refer to Sandy and take the opportunity to demonize the fuel industry as causal agents.

I chose to live on a barrier island in Florida. I now live less than two blocks from an ocean cove on the coast of Maine. I chose to live in harms way. I have been lucky. 

These folks are not so lucky. Who do we demonize for their poor choices? These people are not working on docks moving the world's goods along a string of ports. These people were enjoying the seashore. If Sandy reinforces any message it is that people should not live in the paths of destruction. They do so at their own risk. 

This pic inspires another set of questions not considered by "Do The Math". 
Imagine they win. They deny the industry the money they need to develop the fuel we seem to need. Imagine the gas lines. Imagine the crisis. Imagine the acts of war to restore the fuel stream. 

The battle for Colton, a precious metal used in the making of cell phones, seems to be behind the war in Congo.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Undated file photo of Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, who was wounded in a gun attack in Swat Valley northwest Pakistan

This the face of resistance. Why doesn't every woman in the world demonstrate solidarity with Malala. Pick a day, December 1, gives us a month to communicate.

On December 1, 2012 Every woman in the world walks out. 

Every Walmart worker walks out. 
Every teacher walks out
Every nurse, caregiver, health care provider, walks out
Every travel and leisure industry staff person walks out
Every stay at home mom walks to the park with her kids
Every entertainer walks out
Every cashier walks out
Every University employee walks out
Every news talking head walks out
Every sex trade worker walks out
Every woman bus driver walks out
Every armed service employee lays down her rifle and walks out
Every elected official walks out
Every sales person walks out

Every woman with a sexual partner says no (Lysistrata

The world stops. No speeches, no rallies, no sense of inferiority.
Every woman in the world unites. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happy New Year

I reacted to the most disgusting cartoon published in a small local press. I could no longer bear silent witness. 

I wondered what the definition of hate speech actually was and of course there is no clear definition, or international standard. Wiki's entry.

With this summary in hand I had a focus for this posting, or so I thought. In protest of the depiction of Arabs in the most hateful and provocative images imaginable, I would collect the historical evidence of the hateful cartoons that have decorated our media. I would post some of these images.

 I would try to provoke the persons responsible for the containment of the current hate speech to draw a line somewhere and stop hiding behind the so-called first amendment right to abuse minorities. We have no such right and I try to imagine what would happen if such cartoons were published today. Actually they are. Anti-gay hysteria is alive and well, and vicious anti-Obama cartoons stand in for blacks everywhere. Or do we pretend there is no racism implied? 

And then. And then in my research I discovered the double standard that Israelis go on about. First this appeared last Sunday: Sunday, 16 September 2012 
"An amateur 2012 film titled Innocence of Muslims was produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian. Nevertheless, the Arab world was quick to publish cartoons accusing Israel and the Jews as being behind the film."

Then I read of an International Holocaust Cartoon Contest sponsored by Iranian newspaper Hamshahri. This is the winning entry:

Then, I found Jon Stewart's send up of anti-Semitic cartoons:

The summary of this glancing view of mine is available in this headline and story from the BBC in 2006: 
"Contradiction in Arab cartoon views 
 Blatantly anti-Semitic literature is on sale in Cairo, just like many other Arab capitals. The BBC News website's Martin Patience reports on the apparent inconsistency in the Egyptian reaction to the Danish cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad."
The story ends with an interview with the shop-keeper:
"Shop manager Mustapha Said insists that he is respectful of all religions including Judaism...He adds that Jews should take to the streets in protest about the Protocols."

There's the picture I want to see. Tens of thousands of Jews rampaging through the streets, burning embassies, killing diplomates. Demanding an end to the double standard, the proliferation of hate, and the scapegoating, the endless scapegoating.
L'shanah tovah!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


We have lived in a succession of places that were also tourist destinations. It is troubling. Yesterday we were in a traffic jam, in the Old Port of downtown Portland, Me. Thousands of tote bag wielding small spenders criss-cross the streets in search of; the perfect lobsta lunch (lobster from Canada), the memorable tchotchke (made in China), the "real" Maine (starts one mile inland). 

We grew up In Washington, D.C. Markie sent me the following article from the POST,  in which the author, a D.C. native, bemoans the fact that venues are opening that market to blacks, in traditionally black neighborhoods, that scrub the "reality" of the black experience, off the block. 

When we lived in LA I came to know that Universal City, Los Angeles has a "ride" called Hollywood, that simulated the real Hollywood Blvd less than a mile away.  Of course the girls and the players, the junkies and the gangsters have all gone missing from the "city-walk experience".

Let's chalk it all up to bumpkin travel. Though we may disdain this kind of activity it is the fastest growing economic development activity on the planet. 

We can ratchet up a notch and rationalize other forms of tourism that appeal to a more sophisticated traveler. The eco-tour, the adventure tour, or the special event. The Olympics certainly qualify. Those of us that watch on TV notice the towers in the long shots of the venues. Those towers are council housing and you can bet that NBC is not going to take you on a tour of the real East End experience. The following is an excerpt from a Reuters piece filed last week from the games 

"Millions of foreign visitors descending on London this month may not notice, but within sight of the gleaming Olympic venues are some of the city's most troubled neighbourhoods where the unattainable glamour of the Games has only fuelled resentment.
It was here, in worrying proximity to the Olympic sites, that gangs of masked teenagers went on the rampage last year, looting shops and turning streets into battle zones - a trauma that still hangs heavily over the socially segregated area.
People in big cities complain the world over and London is no exception but in the British capital problems are confounded by the proximity with which the rich live next to the poor.
In contrast to the million-pound town houses of London's plush West End, the East End is a scruffy, post-industrial world where alienated youths live side by side with immigrants, young aspirational families and artists squatting in old warehouses.
And with the Olympic bandwagon rolling into town, complete with electric fences and soldiers, many are struggling to see how they will benefit from the regeneration of east London". 

We start to get a glimpse that our indulgence in travel may have consequences beyond the minor inconvenience of a traffic jam. This disconnect between the classes is made all the more hurtful when busloads of tourists choose to look past the reality of the situation to indulge in their personal fantasies. We validate the exploitation of the indigenous to serve our needs for security, comfort, and a decent cup of coffee. 

This article  highlights the facts that despite the economic disaster that befalls Spain, their tourism is actually up this year. Ironically some of the increase is attributed to the Arab Spring making those nations in turmoil no-longer suitable destinations. I can't imagine the feeling that the formerly middle class Spaniard suffers on watching the more fortunate frolic in his homeland.

The same disconnect between the tourists and the population they are rumbling through is just as exquisite in Greece, Italy, France, the zone on the brink of economic collapse. We are revisiting the days of Weimar, and it didn't end well. 

Of all of the forms of travel that are insensitive to their impacts is the self righteous, the journey of discovery, the march through the bad lands, camera in hand. The process of enlightenment. This article re. Henry Rollins advice on travel was brought to my attention:
   "You’re going to see that global climate change is very real. And that for some people, their day consists of walking 12 miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight. "Your showers will become shorter."
Imagine, don't dig a well, or volunteer to help alleviate the problem, or do anything other than document how the other 9/10 live and then take a shower. This kind of behavior is so well documented, and historically criticized,  it is a wonder that it still exists. Not only exists, but is growing. We see films like Slumdog Millionaire, or Exotic Marigold Hotel extol the splendor of Mumbai while millions of its residents are starving. The Rollins piece provoked the following comment: Davis Says: 
"It is difficult to learn anything about a place when you are passing through, even as close to the ground as a backpacker. You will have no idea what caused the things you see or what they mean to the people there. You will be insulated by your language and culture and comparative wealth and the natural limitations of your observations. You will privilege the few conversations you have with locals and have no good way to judge whether what they tell you is accurate. You will, for these reasons, tend to see what you expect to see or what you are told you are seeing. You may see a poor person, but can you really see the cause of his poverty? You will return home convinced that you have seen much more than you really have seen, and convinced that you have seen the proof of things that may not be so. So many of the important thing that shape our life are invisible to the eye.
Let me propose an experiment that cancels out the gross problems of language, culture and wealth: Imagine someone from New York City spending three months on the ground, not in India, but in Indiana. Would he, after three months, understand the Indianans, their values and view on life and the forces that shaped their existence to the same extent he might imagine he did of the Indians he passed on the streets of Delhi?"

Nor will the sybarite sipping her Negroni by the pool in Tuscany, or the students taking the side trips to the "Great Houses" of Britain have a clue to the meaning of their experience. Or, the consequences of their acts.

Friday, June 22, 2012


I am reproducing the following letter to the editor printed in the current issue of The New Yorker in which the author hits a new note in the on-going discussion regarding the "value" of college education. More to my purposes is to point out his concern regarding the vast numbers who won't live as "prosperous" as their parents. This has become such an accepted proposition that it needs to be examined.
A letter in response to Nicholas Lemann’s article (May 28, 2012)
JUNE 25, 2012
Nicholas Lemann concludes his piece on student debt with a few words extolling the societal benefits of higher education (Comment, May 28th). Perhaps, but the dollar value of a college degree for many students is not clear. While there is considerable debate over the numbers, it seems that about half of all jobs in the foreseeable future will require a four-year college degree. If our society needs half our workers to do skilled work that doesn’t require four-year degrees, our obsession with making college available to all seems destined to disappoint. There’s a flip side to the studies that promote the benefits of college: if college-educated workers are now making eighty-four per cent more than high-school graduates, up from forty per cent more in 1983, it means that those who can’t afford a college degree have fallen radically behind. We need to respect the fifty per cent of workers who do so many essential jobs, and we need to pay them a living wage. Part of the desperation for a college education is that the gap between the rich and the rest of society has grown so large that everyone except the very few winners in our brave new economy will lead lives that are much less prosperous than those of their parents.
Tim Butterworth,Associate Fellow.Institute for Policy Studies,Chesterfield, N.H.

My father owned a succession of Jew Canoes. His last was that 1972 Eldorado which he kept in its own house in Florida. When I met Carrie her daddy drove a 1956 Coupe-deville. Her grandfather drove a Chrysler 300. They all consumed an average of 7 mpg. Our first vehicle was a Lambretta motor scooter. Our first car, a Fiat 500. 

My father was a home builder. His house was a 2400 square foot rambler. He built much larger houses. Today they would be called McMansions. He referred to them as "Big-Mothas". Carrie's parents built a three level split with a two car garage.

My father would answer when asked, "how was the restaurant?" "It was fantastic, the steaks fell off the sides of the plate." My parents favorite restaurant was Momma Leones in NYC where you could order an antipasto that just kept coming, "and the shrimp. they never stopped bringing those shrimp". They lived large. It was the motif of their generations' lives."Do you want to be Queen for a Day?"

We met in college. Carrie stopped after her second year to earn the bread to keep us going. We studied liberal arts. I majored in American Thought. We were the first people in our families to go to college. We borrowed the money and paid our own way. 

Our first apartment was advertised in the Washington Post as a studio at a very uptown address for $75 a month. It was on the ground floor, past the laundry. A dentist had offices on this floor and controlled more space then he needed. He sub-leased a triangular space to us. The walls were 17 ft long leading to a bathroom at the apex. No kitchen. We put a "bar" piece in as a room divider and stored a hot plate, rotisserie (which blew fuses on the entire floor), and pots and pans on the one shelf. We did dishes in the shower. We had a cat. When we invited our parents over the first time, we cued the doorman to help with the joke. This building had a turnaround drive. It is still a prestigious address. Neither set of parents could believe we lived here. The doorman showed them in. They entered the apartment, "living room" and when they asked to see the rest, were led into the tiny bathroom. I remember my father's reaction, "people can't live like this."  We did until the city insisted that it was a non-conforming space and we had to leave to move into our next one room studio. 

When we bought a house it was 768 sq ft.We had a dog, a cat, and a child.   We expanded it to 1100 sq ft. over the thirty years we owned it. 
We ate ramen, mac and cheese, and a lot of iceberg. We never, here comes the cliche', ever, felt poor. Our fortunes rose and fell, we moved. We ate better. I don't know how to measure our "prosperity". Clearly we didn't share our parents life style. Today you would measure our btu footprint as a fraction of our parents and it would be celebrated in some quarters as ecologically correct.

It is critical that we challenge the generally accepted definitions of "prosperity". The facts are that all over the world, the desire to live large as individuals, and to grow as nations looks all too similar to how our parents, and most of my gen live. We can't sustain that life-style. We have to change the paradigm. It begins by challenging the terms that set the tone, for what constitutes a prosperous life. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Latkes by any other name

Potato pancakes are commonly associated with traditional cuisines of Luxembourg (gromperekichelcher), Latvia(as kartupeļu pankūkas), Lithuania (as bulviniai blynai), Austria, Belarus (as draniki), Germany (e. g. as Kartoffelpuffer), Poland (as placki ziemniaczane), Ukraine (as deruny), Ashkenazi Jewry (as latkes or latkas (Yiddish: לאַטקעס, Hebrew: לביבה levivah, plural לביבות levivot)), Hungary, Slovakia, Persia and the Czech Rep. (as bramborák or cmunda), although other cuisines (including those of India and Korea) have similar dishes, such as Gamjajeon. It is also the national dish of Belarus. In Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian cuisines, potato pancakes are commonly known as deruny (Ukrainian: деруни) or draniki (Russian: драники, Belarusian: дранікі). Throughout Germany, potato pancakes are also very common under the names Reibekuchen or Kartoffelpuffer, and they are eaten either salty (as a side dish) or sweet with apple sauce, blueberries, sugar and cinnamon; they are a very common menu item during outdoor markets and festivals in colder seasons; a traditional favorite in southern Indiana during holiday festivities.

The Rösti from Swiss cuisine differs insofar as it never contains egg or flour.

In the North-East of England (particularly County Durham), there is a popular dish known as tattie fish- "tattie" being the local slang for potato, and "fish" because the pancake resembles a deep fried piece of fish. The pancake consists of flour, eggs, shredded potatoes and onions. Some people add tomato or cheese to the mix, depending on taste.

A form of potato pancake known as boxty is a popular traditional dish in most of Ireland. It is made in a similar way but using more starch.

The Swedish version of unbound potato pancakes is called rårakor. When prepared with a batter of wheat flour, milk, egg, and shredded potatoes and fried like thin pancakes, they are called raggmunk, the word "ragg" means crispy and "munk" derives from the Swedish "munkpanna", which is literally translated as donutpan. Both kinds are enjoyed with fried pork and lingonberry jam.

As I was perusing an otherwise great food book, "From Harvest to Heat", I came  upon a recipe for "hash browns" that resembled latkes. I know hash browns and as you read in the above there are many variants of latkes but hash browns ain't one of them. To further the insult the recipe has you grate the potatoes. I found that many recipes for potato pancakes begin with; grate some potatoes. Think of the difference between a shredded carrot and grated parmesan and you get my point. You want to shred your potatoes. There is a shredding disk in most food processors. The manual square steel combo kitchen tool has a shredding side, a slicer, and a grater. Use the shredder for long, an inch or so, crispy threads. 

I make latkes from any potato but russets which are just too starchy. Gather a pound, three or four medium or two large potatoes. Shred them and cover the shreds in a bowl of water. Swirl with your hands for a few seconds and drain into a sieve. Dump the shreds into a large clean tea towel. Gather up the corners and form a tight ball. Over the sink, squeeze the towel until most of the water is expelled from the potatoes. 

In a large mixing bowl crack and stir an egg. Add a tablespoon of flour. Now things get interesting. I add a couple tablespoons of my favorite dried thai shallots, you can add shredded onion raw or fried, scallions, a shredded carrot, some shredded celeriac or zucchini,  crumbled cheese, s/p. paprika, garlic, herb, you get the idea. Add the potatoes to your bowl and stir throughly. We use two non stick pans so we can do many at once. Crank to medium high heat and add lipid of choice. We use duck fat but any fat will do. Gather a large spoonful or ice-cream scoop of mix and gently plop into pan, press with spatula. Repeat leaving space between to make flipping easier.

 When edges start to turn brown (the crispy bits are critical) flip and let finish, browned. Drain on a paper towel, place in warm oven while you finish the rest.
 I double this recipe and have leftovers refried with a poached egg for breakfast. As many variants as there are for flavoring you can have just as much fun with toppings. Sour cream and applesauce are standard. Consider minced corned beef, or bacon, smoked salmon, caviar & creme fraiche,  melted cheese topping, or a burger (an open faced sandwich). And for a real open ended option consider using any shreddable veg; beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes, for the pancake. Or, and I do this, make some spaghetti, drain it, season it and cook as above. 
Recession, what recession?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Occupy Facebook

 "Devil or Angel I can't make up my mind"

Wing makers and diadem polishers are busy, glow sticks are being fueled as new members of the pantheon of Mammon are about to be welcomed into the fold. What's most difficult for me is my inability to be clear about their belief system. The same people whom we sanctify as good guys, known by their support for OWS, expanded democracy, and the redistribution of wealth, are this very minute checking their insider status, their stock allocations, and lock-up dates for their soon to be public shares of Facebook. Many new members of the soon to be fabulously wealthy are exploiting the very systems that they decried last MayDay. 

Those not lucky enough to be insiders are calling their brokers looking for shares, checking the institutions that they own in their 401s to see if they are going to get any shares, and planning to get the jump on the trading as soon as it starts. Warren Buffett isn't going to play. He can't place a value on the company but he knows that all the noise is creating a "sense of value" that has no intrinsic worth. ( "Bubbles" aren't revealed when they burst. Bubbles are the everyday nature of a stock market that makes prices on a multiple of  expectations of unpredictable future activity). He may also have noted that insiders are selling nearly half of the offering shares. It is usually a negative sign when insiders express so little faith in the future fortunes of their company that they want to rush to the doors to sell their shares. 

Many of the so called "good guy funds", for this post I took Calvert, an early and successful cluster of funds that markets that they invest in sustainable and moral corporations, if history is any guide (they own Google, Apple, and many other new media cos) will be at the trough buying from Morgan Stanley (lead underwriter). JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS),Bank of America Corp., Barclays Plc (BARC) and Allen & Co. also will help with the IPO, Facebook said in the filing. 

The story of Sheryl Sandberg's migration from the Treasury Dept under President Clinton, who she worked for along the way before becoming COO of Facebook, is documented on Bloomberg here
So now, if you have clicked away, you know that Facebook is Wall-Street and that only the most naive believe that Facebook is in the social change business, here or abroad. The temporary exploitation of Facebook as a tool to organize a meet-up, should not be confused with the greater and longer lasting function of Facebook as a means to expand through their advertising sales, the ever increasing materialism of new markets. 

"Money for nothing, chicks for free"

As for the expansion of democracy, the implicit understanding that shareholders after all control the companies they invest in, is contradicted by Facebook  using a little known means to retain control: Zuckerberg adopted a dual-class structure in 2009. He has 10 votes for every other shareholder’s single ballot. 

The larger picture is just as morally confusing. What does it mean when we invest almost 100 billion dollars in an activity as vacuous as Facebook. Discussions of the policy of less or more government, investment in infrastructure or education, or the military for that matter, become meaningless against the backdrop of a culture that expresses its true sentiment, aspirations and dreams, by entering the casino and betting up the value of Facebook. Cuz that is what you are doing. Investors have become suckers in the largest ponzi scheme on earth. 

The shortest course in the mechanics of an IPO: An individual or group begins some form of activity that has economic value, or the potential of profit. They can organize that activity in a variety of forms. One could form a partnership, a co-op, a non-profit, or a closely held corporation. Facebook chose stock corporation. Lawyers develop documents which register the company formally, describe the activity, where it will function and the initial owners and board members of that company. Other docs spell out meetings and elections, formats etc. Stock is registered and distributed. Most is kept "on the shelf". In the case of Facebook there are 2.48 billion shares registered at a value of 6 cents a piece. (337.4 million are going to be sold through this IPO). When an insider is awarded shares in lieu of salary, or for a bonus, that 6 cents is their basis price. At some point, enough activity has taken place that someone initiates a conversation about taking the company public. That is selling shares either from the shelf, or from insiders to raise capital. That capital might be used to expand the company, liquidate debt, make acquisitions, or enrich insiders who decide to sell their shares. A set of sell side "bankers" goes through a process of due diligence and writes up the findings. The corporation and their bankers make judgements about how they might price these shares, and how they are going to word the "red herring" the offering document to the public. If you ever read a red herring you will note that they say nothing but the worst about the fortunes of said company. They are not allowed to hype without evidence. It is the wink in the process. The company goes on a road show attracting investors to the IPO and obtaining subscriptions, commitments to purchase x shares. On a date specific the company under the auspices of the SEC offers the shares. The initial shares are distributed and then trading moves to the markets where those less fortunate are allowed to buy and sell shares. There is often a pop created by either a perfectly legal agreement on the part of the bankers to commit to purchase shares in the after market, or a purposeful shortage of shares available determined by bankers guessing the demand, and then not satisfying it. Insiders whose shares are not part of the initial IPO are locked out of sales for 6 months. Their sales into the market after lockout are the first wave of dilution, that is selling more shares of a company into a market after a price per share is being determined on a trading platform. Remember those millions of shares that Facebook retained on the shelf. They too can and will be sold in "secondaries" to raise yet more money and dilute the shares further. 

It is getting so hard to maintain even the semblance of liberalism in the face of such temptation. Before you sell your soul, or wish that you had I think it is important to consider one small excerpt from Wendell Barry's Jefferson lecture: excerpt from Wendell Berry's 2012 Jefferson Lecture 

"That we live now in an economy that is not sustainable is not the fault only of a few mongers of power and heavy equipment. We all are implicated. We all, in the course of our daily economic life, consent to it, whether or not we approve of it. This is because of the increasing abstraction and unconsciousness of our connection to our economic sources in the land, the land-communities, and the land-use economies. In my region and within my memory, for example, human life has become less creaturely and more engineered, less familiar and more remote from local places, pleasures, and associations. Our knowledge, in short, has become increasingly statistical.
Statistical knowledge once was rare. It was a property of the minds of great rulers, conquerors, and generals, people who succeeded or failed by the manipulation of large quantities that remained, to them, unimagined because unimaginable: merely accountable quantities of land, treasure, people, soldiers, and workers. This is the sort of knowledge we now call “data” or “facts” or “information.” Or we call it “objective knowledge,” supposedly untainted by personal attachment, but nonetheless available for industrial and commercial exploitation. By means of such knowledge a category assumes dominion over its parts or members. With the coming of industrialism, the great industrialists, like kings and conquerors, become exploiters of statistical knowledge. And finally virtually all of us, in order to participate and survive in their system, have had to agree to their substitution of statistical knowledge for personal knowledge. Virtually all of us now share with the most powerful industrialists their remoteness from actual experience of the actual world. Like them, we participate in an absentee economy, which makes us effectively absent even from our own dwelling places."

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May 2

Greeks protest their government's austerity measures, May 2011

Last October the far-right party Chrysi Avgi, also known as Golden Dawn, won its first seat in Athens city council. Since then it has held several anti-immigrant rallies in areas with large migrant communities. Fascist activists are also alleged to have carried out random revenge attacks on innocent migrants after a Greek man was stabbed to death in central Athens in March.
‘I never come out of the house during the night, because I’m afraid of the fascists,’ says Abolzar Jalily. ‘I came from Afghanistan to be safe.’ Jalily left his home after receiving death threats because he worked as an interpreter for foreign forces. Now he faces a fresh threat from a violent fascist movement operating with near impunity in downtown Athens, where Jalily lives with his family.
‘In one attack the fascists killed some refugees and injured more than 150 people. They beat them very badly and they could not go to the police because they would do nothing for them,’ he says.
Tania, a Bulgarian immigrant who has lived in Greece for 10 years, says she is too afraid to travel downtown after hearing stories about Albanians being randomly attacked. ‘There are some fascist organizations that are trying to blame foreigners for many things that happen here, one is taking their [Greeks’] jobs.’
Conditions for migrants in Greece are likely to deteriorate further. The new austerity measures will mean greater penury for those who are already last in line for state support and living wage jobs.
‘I am a single mum and I have no help from the government,’ explains Tania, who is a maths and physics graduate, but works as a cleaner and nail technician. If you are a foreigner here, you have no social services to help you.’

Sound familiar? Far right candidate Marie Le Pen garners 6 million French votes in the latest national election. Alabama, Arizona, and other states implement punitive anti-immigration laws. All of this has the effect of diverting our attention away from the looming debt crisis that will consume us all.  How quickly we forget. 

Pundits and politicians like to send up the Greek example as one to be avoided. Here is an excerpt from ABC news intended to enlighten us.

 Why is Greece in debt?
Like any state (or person, for that matter), it spent more money than it took in. After the switch to the euro, the traditionally strong Greek public sector saw wages rise to ultimately unsustainable levels. To compound this, the retirement age in the country is low (by Western standards) and benefits are generous.
But that alone is not enough to sink an economy.
Mass tax evasion, on the other hand, can certainly do the trick. And it did in Greece. When people and businesses don’t pay their taxes, it limits revenue. So when the money inevitably ran out, Athens turned to European banks for loans. Soon, the government was borrowing billions and those debts, like subprime mortgages in the United States, were often repackaged as complex commodities  and sold off around the continent. Everyone, especially banks in France and Germany, wanted a piece. Now they have it.

They had help. From wiki: (Goldman is being criticized for its involvement in the 2010 European sovereign debt crisis. Goldman Sachs is reported to have systematically helped the Greek government mask the true facts concerning its national debt between the years 1998 and 2009.[71] In September 2009, Goldman Sachs, among others, created a special credit default swap (CDS) index to cover of high risk of Greece's national debt.[72] The interest-rates of Greek national bonds have soared to a very high level, leading the Greek economy very close to bankruptcy in March and May 2010 and again in June 2011.[73] Lucas Papademos, Greece's new prime minister, ran the Central Bank of Greece at the time of the controversial derivates deals with Goldman Sachs that enabled Greece to hide the size of its debt.[74] Petros Christodoulou, head of Greece's debt management agency began his career at Goldman Sachs.[74] Mario Monti, Italy's new prime minister and finance minister, who heads the new government that took over after Berlusconi's resignation, is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.[74] So is Otmar Issing, former board member of the Bundesbank and the Executive Board of the European Bank.[74] Mario Draghi, the new head of the European Central Bank, is the former managing director of Goldman Sachs International.[74] António Borges, formerly head of the IMF's European Department is a former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.[74] Peter Sutherland, former Attorney General of Ireland is a non-executive director of Goldman Sachs International. Karel van Miert, former EU Competition Commissioner is an ex-international adviser to Goldman Sachs.[74] These ties between Goldman Sachs and European leaders is an ongoing source of controversy.[74] )

Why does Europe — indeed, the world — care so much about Greece’s debts?
One of the perceived perks when Europe got together on a single currency (Greeks, for instance, gave up the drachma for the euro) was that a strong Europe could prop up an individual state in a time of need. But what’s happened is that Europe itself has become too weak, in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown, to bite the bullet on a country like Greece. A default would shatter otherwise monetarily strong countries like Germany. The Germans, like the Americans, would be left with a host of “too big to fail” banks ready to do just that. 

It is critical that we remember how we got here. We can't be blinded by big numbers. We can't scapegoat the 'immigrant" as the walls of our institutions collapse around us. They didn't create this monster. They didn't benefit from it. The pigs who did are being driven to work where they continue to push this horrific system to the breaking point.  And most of us live in the false sense of security that it won't effect us. It has, it is, and it has only just begun. The very same forces and institutions that are foreclosing on homes are foreclosing on countries. The "bond vultures " as they are known in the trade will be paid. An example:

 In the past three months, US asset managers Loomis Sayles and BlackRock, Swiss private bank Julius Baer, French asset manager Natixis, German investment fund StarCap and Luxembourg-based Ethenea Independent Investors were among a raft of funds to have bought Greek sovereign debt in the secondary market.
Between them, they acquired around €150m (£133m) of Greek debt, public filings on Bloomberg show. Market sources said there is still a lot of activity in Greek debt, despite the crisis, with data from public filings just the tip of the iceberg.
On average, Greek debt is trading at around 50% of face value, but markdowns are smaller for short-dated bonds and larger for longer-term debt. If bonds are redeemed at par as part of a second bail-out, vulture funds may as much as double their money, debt traders said. The Telegraph. 
In plain English:  These vultures win if the government pays the bond holders at face value. The government is desperate to satisfy these bond holders demands because if they don't, if they default, it takes them out of the system for the future. But lets name it. There is no "government entity" that pays as we are witnessing. It is the Greek people who are out the money. They will sacrifice jobs, pensions, health care so that these vultures can feed. The profits of these vultures is at the expense of the Greek citizenry. It is of course perfectly legal. It is what capitalism is all about.

This is one tiny trade. Imagine when the calls come in ( the bonds are due) to retire the outstanding debt ( bonds) that is on the books. The Economist publishes a debt clock here.  This indicator of where the 40 trillion dollars of debt is located only identifies the numbers on the books.  
Read the story of the 300 trillion dollars worth of derivitives here.  No one knows who holds these instruments nor,  how they will be cleared. 

OWS organizers bristle when outsiders tell them what they might want to focus on, what are the issues to be addressed, and what they might propose to alleviate the problems.  They want to keep the movement amorphous, open and horizontal. May Day is over. The "black block"  has wreaked its havoc, peaceful demonstrators have made their presence felt,  and nothing, nothing has been done to alleviate the problem. Turn away, leave it to the bankers to be the only ones who know how this game is played, and we will be consumed by their greed.  We have to get smarter. We have to do the hard work of averting  this disaster. It isn't going to happen as a result of a one day protest. We have to build a new economy. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

9 Museums, 30 Days

We had clear objectives when we plotted the roll-around. We had known of the work of George Ohr, the mad potter of Biloxi, but had missed the opportunity to visit his studio before Katrina struck. We were elated to hear that a new studio rose on the shore and retained examples of his work. That was our intended end point. The best laid plans are always subject to change and so it was.

The first stop was Asheville, N.C. Carrie had made the Skyline Drive potter's studio tour some 20 years ago. Now there were collection points where galleries have assembled works from those studios making the work more accessible. The most impressive gallery, in scale, in Asheville is Blue Spiral 1. The story is told of a John Cram who comes to town when it is broke and buys a lot of real estate. He opens the store fronts individually and then integrates the second stories creating a gallery of enormous proportions. This space defies easy description as it is as much museum as gallery. In that regard we were blindsided by the discovery of an artist that we mooned over. Will Henry Stevens

is finally gaining some recognition and the curators of the gallery made us feel less ignorant by screening a movie for us of the man considered the greatest unrecognized artist in the country. We were told that they were the controllers of his estate and that a major portion of his work was held by the Ogden Museum in NOLA. More later.

We had planned to stop in Chattanooga Tn. but the weather closed in around us so we hightailed it to Texas. The cliches are easy. Big Texas money, buys big art, and if you stop there you miss the point. Yep downtown Dallas is dominated by big money museums, but, as you know, the entire country is developing communities with art district themes. In Dallas the hot new gathering place for the young, the hip, and the creative class is the Bishop Arts District.

There we met people, in the great tradition of the best travel is a pinball game, who touted us onto FT Worth. Cowtown? Really? Off we went. Let wiki describe the overview of what it feels like to be on the campus of the: Ft. Worth Cultural district

  • The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, founded in 1892, is the oldest art museum in Texas. Its permanent collection consists of some 2,600 works of post-war art. In 2002, the museum moved into a new home designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.
  • The Kimbell Art Museum houses works from antiquity to the 20th century. Artists represented in its holdings include Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, Picasso, Vigée-Lebrun, Matisse,Cézanne, El Greco, and Rembrandt. The museum's home was designed by American architect Louis Kahn.
  • The Amon Carter Museum of American Art focuses on 19th and 20th century American artists. It houses an extensive collection of works by Western artists Frederic Remingtonand Charles M. Russell, as well as an impressive collection of 30,000 exhibition-quality photographs. It also includes works by Alexander Calder, Thomas Cole, Stuart Davis,Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Georgia O'Keeffe, John Singer Sargent, and Alfred Stieglitz. American architect Philip Johnson designed the museum's home, including its expansion.
  • The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame is the only museum in the world that is solely dedicated to honoring women of the American West who have demonstrated extraordinary courage and pioneer spirit in their trail blazing efforts.
  • The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History - One of the largest Science and History Museums in the Southwest. It includes the Noble Planetarium and the Omni Theater.
  • Will Rogers Memorial Center - a multi-purpose entertainment complex and world-class equestrian center housed under 45 acres (180,000 m2) of roof spread over 85 acres (340,000 m2) in the heart of the Fort Worth Cultural District. Each year approximately 800,000 people attend the three week event known as the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, formerly called the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.
  • Casa Mañana - The nation's first theater designed for musicals "in the round". A controversial renovation completed in 2003 turned the once unique "House of Tomorrow" into a traditional theater and abandoned the round design. The building's unique silver dome remains.
  • Museum Place is an 11-acre (45,000 m2), mixed-use development in construction that includes ground level retail, office space, and residential space. The main buildings in this development will be an eight-story brick and glass low rise, a modernized flatiron style building and a new post office that will feature damaged metal from the 2000 tornado as an art display.
  • 7th Street is the main street for the cultural district, since it will feature the Museum Place development, the existing residential So7 and Montgomery Plaza, West 7th (another mixed-use development which will feature office, residential, retail, hotel, and a movie theater), and there are even talks of a streetcar route in the near future.

We stopped in the Amon Carter.

What happened there proved to be indicative of what happened throughout the journey. The employees, volunteers, the staffs of these spaces all, to a person, went out of their way to approach us, assist us, engage us in discussions of what we were about. They were as interested in us as we them. So in the case of the Amon Carter which was mounting a huge installation of Charles Russell watercolors, the curator and author of the book/catalogue of this show was bulk signing copies for later sale. He stopped what he was doing and we talked about the rigors of mounting such an exhibition. He had time for us.

Years ago, when we all lived in D.C. Walter Hopps was as approachable as he was affable. When he got the commission to curate the Menil in Houston in the late seventies we all pledged we would visit. It took us 30 years to fulfill the promise. The deMenils intended this collection of buildings to be in and of the neighborhood.

They achieved that end by buying most of it and retaining the character of the housing stock which includes studios, study centers, and lecture spaces. The effect is to integrate their collections into the city in a way I have never experienced. The world class architecture doesn't promote ART is here and you are smaller, it levels the viewing field, making the art all the more democratic. It is also free.

Off to Louisiana, MardiGras, Lafayette style, a living, breathing, collection of many arts in many forms. Of the people, for the people, by the people.

The exhibition Hard Truths, the works of Thorton Dial had travelled from Indiana to the NOMA.

All, so called outsider art, challenges you to think hard about what the process of art making, collecting, and what the business is all about. Mr. Dial was the subject of a 60 minutes interview years ago and when it was over he hit the roof because of what he interpreted as the slight of having so called experts pigeon hole him as naive, or uneducated. He withheld his work for years.

The Ogden

in downtown NOLA had a few paintings by Stevens on exhibition but not as many as we had hoped. It seems they don't respect him as much as they might given history of his life in New Orleans. So it goes. And then the second aha! Why had I, a minor in American art history, never heard of Enrique Alferez. Once before the art market had been explained to me as having limits. When discussing the colorists of Washington D.C. of whom 6 were prominent, I was made aware there were others but no room for them in important exhibitions. So while we know of the top three Mexican born muralists we know less of Mr. Alferez. We are thrilled to fill in the gap.

Down the road a piece and we were finally at the Ohr-O'Keefe museum. Do click here as no still pic can do justice to what you find along the road. I'll skip Bilbao Spain for Biloxi. A four acre campus of American Museums designed by Frank Gehry. Oh Yeah.

Finally to Chattanooga to see if the hype that another major industrial disaster area can be reborn. Don't take my word for it. For me the magic of America writ large is the ability for and the execution of second acts. Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, Oakland. Now add Chattanooga to the list.. It would do better if it was named Ile something, or Casa something. It will have to stand on its American roots. And stand it does. Flying off a cliff above the Tennessee River is the Hunter Museum. The new wings clearly owe a dept to the Gehry look as stainless steel clads the building and bent wood defines the interior spaces. A fabulous collection of American art graces these walls and gives the town an identity that vaults it squarely into the 21st century.

For all of highs, the oohs and aahs, the discovery of new places and spaces, I am still burdened by a gnawing knowledge of how this world operates, and how little the majority of us realize that what we experienced was built on the backs of the American taxpayer. Read this brief history of Andrew Mellon, the benefactor the National Gallery of Art. What you are not told is that he was being pursued by the fed on tax evasion charges regarding art. It may just be a coincidence that he endowed the Gallery at exactly the same time a grand jury was convened, and that subsequently the charges were dropped. What we do know is the tax code allows the following: A member of the 1% buys a collection of works of art by a relatively unknown artist. Of course the art is on the cheap. He prevails upon a museum to accept a piece as a gift. The painting will appear in a new acquisitions exhibit. The artist's value is now enhanced as is the collection of the buyer. The buyer waits. Other museums want to own work by this artist. His portfolio grows. The original buyer watches as his collection's value skyrockets. He has choices. One of the most profound is to donate a big chunk either in his lifetime or upon his death and gain the tax deductible value of the gift, at its current value. So let's use real numbers. Painting bought for 1000 dollars. Painting donated at value determined by museum (the beneficiary) is now 250 thousand dollars. Tax benefit now applies to other income to the tune of 250K. We make up the difference.

In addition we are asked to pay admission to most of these institutions. It is one thing for a modern deMedici to commission a work, pay for it, enjoy the market value appreciation, or the self aggrandizing. It is quite another for us to run to the museums and reinforce the process of making all of them yet wealthier. Leave a buck at the MET. Don't feel guilty.