Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Portland Hangover

I don't have one, technically - but I think a lot in Portland must after the long weekend.

There was a Blues Festival just outside the hotel, on the waterfront. In a partly successful attempt to stay awake to readjust my body clock, I went there. The hard cranberryade was only about 3% alcohol by volume, but one cup was enough so that by 8pm I had to hit the hay. And went out like the proverbial light.

I did score some lovely silver rings (in my size!) for $25 though. I wish I had more time - and more money - the handcrafted jewelry, the pottery, the fabrics... there's a lot to be said for being in a place where Weird is what they do best. Not techno-weird as I'm used to, more tree-hugging weird. I think that for either to be successful in the future, we'll need to form a synthesis of both.

A return to the Good Old Days (sic) of low planetary population, kept in check by starvation, disease, child mortality, ignorance, etc is not in our future - because some smart-alec will always come up with a high-tech solution to prey on the low-tech "sustainable development" types and take their carefully husbanded resources by force. But I'm not sure just how many people at the festival realised just how different it was from the Third World it superficially resembled.

The water was clean; there were few beggars or indigents. People were well-fed, well-clothed, and the prices were low. Much of the transport was people-powered, despite the hilly topography: but many of the cycles were hi-tech mag alloy or titanium, not heavy mild steel. I doubt that the energy saved by their use came remotely close to the energy needed to produce them.

The combination of something like 60 hours with only 2 hours sleep, a cup of hard cranberryade, being in a place that was alternately familiar and different - definitely substituted for a more conventional means of attaining an altered state of consciousness.

I was acutely aware of the industry, the factories and power plants, the transportation infrastructure, and the means of allocating and distributing the fruits of applied knowledge and effort that we all depend on. Just the fact that there are no water restrictions here was jarring, we've lived with those in Canberra for many years. No constant reminders, the illuminated signs by the side of each major road giving water usage targets, current consumption, and dam storage (now nearly 60% at last, after many years).

It takes a high-tech civilisation to support a low-tech society in the manner to which it's become accustomed. We can't afford though some of the excesses of the past. Excesses caused because distortions of the market have made the price of many things completely different from the costs.

From the number of TO LET signs in downtown Portland, I think the US, and the World, Economy is in for one heck of a shakeup in the next six months, and will be suffering the effects for at least a decade. Many of the Financial Movers and Shakers have partied like there's no tomorrow - or possibly getting theirs while they can and salting it away somewhere safe in expectation of the economic storm about to hit. In the USA, bipartisan porkbarreling and funneling of billions to the "well connected" (not to mention sheer cluelessness) has led to some real disasters, and the chickens are coming home to roost. Don't get me started on the new head of NASA, and it's new missions which have nothing to do with aeronautics or space.

I have friends in the US military (no names, no pack drill) engaged in nation-building in failed states. Trying to help others get their society healthy. One problem they've always had is ridding such places of the corruption and peculation that such places cannot afford. But their efforts have recently been stymied by what's going on back home. When the guy in charge of the IRS doesn't pay his taxes - and gets away with it, without even an investigation - when the politicians don't even bother to hide their corruption any more - when obvious voter intimidation happens at polling places, with records on film, and the investigation is quashed through political pressure - then the Americans trying to persuade others to act in their long-term best interests, rather than short-term gain, no longer have the high ground. Worst of all, left-leaning media ignores peculation by "their team", just as right-leaning commentators ignored peculation by theirs during the previous administration.

The USA is rich enough, in resources, in infrastructure, and most of all in human capital, that it has been able to afford the luxury of such leeching on the body politick. I think a hangover's coming though.

Rather than seeing inexorable Doom coming towards us, I see just how vast the US's reserves of wealth are. Such "corrections" will be most painful to many, but the basics of clean water, food, information, shelter and power are still there, and there's enough for everyone. This isn't like the 1930's. It will seem as painful - but only because our expectations have grown so very much higher. It won't last as long either, a decade at most.

We have a lot more to fear than fear itself though. Incompetence, and corruption that is endemic in systems that encourage pork-barrelling.


Anonymous said...

Zoe DeTocqueville's America. :)

Zoe Brain said...

With a touch of Alistair Cooke, and perhaps a smidgin of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on Virginia.

Those three should be required reading, not just in the USA, but elsewhere. I could teach a History course - not US history, but how to do history - using those three works alone.

Thanks for the compliment, BTW.

I really need to read Beaumont's book on Ireland as well. So much to do, so little time!

Unknown said...

Ah, there's nothing like allegations that haven't been followed up on, cheap nonsense, vulgar innuendo and of course blatherskites uttering the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Nope. Nothing like it at all.

Sure, there are some corrupt politicians in the United States: do you think Australia and Great Britain have a monopoly on such antics?

Glad you're having a good time in the good old USA, despite all that rampant corruption and biased justice. Personally, I love it here. But then again, I've been here a little longer than a day or two.

Carolyn Ann

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm glad you enjoyed my hometown (alas I no longer live there) but you do know that the Pacific Northwest has a certain reputation for rain so that, unless its really bad, there are usually not water restrictions during the summer?

Anyhoo, Portland is probably a bit too left leaning for your political tastes, but its a lovely, very liveable city (except for the mother@#$#@%$ Californians moving there).


Anonymous said...

You're welcome, Zoe. But this piece comes as no surprise, alas. After all, you were the only one to turn a full 180 degrees around and exclaim, A Rail Turnabout! Right over the middle of the St. Lawrence river! Incredible! For the first few seconds nobody had any idea what you were talking about. And then we saw what you had seen all too clearly. I can see the title now, Zoe Brain's America. Could be a best seller, I reckon. :)

Anonymous said...

"Incompetence, and corruption that is endemic in systems "
It comes with power. You can not expect humans to have power and use it with virtue. The main reason for not having global government and control. Smaller is better. Being able to shake the hand and look the person in the eye as you vote for them is the only way democracy works. Everything else is propaganda.


Zimbel said...

What does "peculation" mean?

While I don't like Geither for other reasons, he did pay his back taxes. What he didn't pay was a punitive fine (i.e. he wasn't fined) - nor did he pay the back taxes that would have been owed save for the statue of limitations. In my opinion, there are far larger issues with Geither than the IRS choosing not to fine him, or that a few thousand dollars were never paid by him.

I'm also unclear that the "voter intimidation" case you refer to was triable in court as a criminal act under the Voting Act of 1965. If you look at the hearing, you may note that a civil action was filed: "The Department did, however, file a civil action on January 7th, 2009, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief under 11(b) against four defendants."

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

My apologies: some of my words were uncalled for.

Peculation means embezzlement. It's either a verb or a noun, depending on which dictionary you use. (Zoe uses it as a noun). M-W says it's a verb, wordreference.com asserts that it's a noun.

Zoe Brain said...

Carolyn Anne - Honestly held opinion, not based on malice but on seeing different facets of reality, is *never* uncalled for. Do you wish me to restore your words? OK, they were a tadge undiplomatic, but Australians don't do nuance or diplomacy. It's wasted on us.

If no-one tells me when I'm full of it - and *why* so they can convince me - how am I to learn when I'm wrong?

Hugs, Zoe

wreckage said...

I dunno, I see corruption here of sorts: if a business pays the necessary bribes in, say, the middle east or China, it's evil, but if a government creates a department with essentially totally illegal powers (WorkCover NSW, who have legislative, judicial AND police powers AND are funded by the fines they levy AND can bring prosecution without any burden of proof OR a jury of peers....)

..well that's Taking Politics Out of It and Getting the Job Done.

Pay attention: has anyone ever said "taking the politics out of it" and not meant in effect making their own view into law and putting the administration of that law out of reach of reform or rejection by the voter? In short, taking the Democracy out of it, in favour of rule by fiat?

That seems like corruption to me. Maybe I'm just dense.

Cameron said...

Hi Zoe!
I'd like to draw your attention to one of my favorite musicians - Alexander James Adams, based in and near the Portland Oregon area...he is FTM transgender and his music blow the roof off!
And a fast search on Youtube will turn up concert and interview footage...well worth the time!

Unknown said...

No, I'm happy with apologizing for my words, Zoe.

I'll agree that those twits you referenced inhabit a different reality. It's just not the reality that actually exists.

Why are those fools wrong? Because they cherry pick their facts, haven't followed through on their facile charges and basically are doing a fair emulation of the little boy who holds his breath until he turns blue. One or two stamp their feet, as well. Hysterical accusations don't amount to much; they do add up to a tantrum that would make a two year old jealous.

I appreciate that you don't particularly like Mr Obama, his administration or his policies. As you might recall, I'm all for free speech. I don't care that you hold an opinion that's informed by hysterical tantrum, facetious manipulation and malicious, ill-informed, whimsy. I have no objection to anyone criticizing a nation, or its leaders. I do know that patriotism is not an abstract concept, here.

Here's what you said, rephrased: "Hi! Wow, you guys sure know how to be hypocritical! And that leader you're in love with? Man is he ever a dog! As corrupt as they come, and his cronies embezzle like crazy! Can you tell me how to get to my hotel?"

You might as well walk up to a man and his wife and start telling the guy his wife is as ugly as sin, and stupid, to boot! Or just tell some random stranger that, based on a moments' observation, their kid is obviously going to end up in jail. Probably before the day is out.

Criticize all you want, but you might want to think about that, next time you begin your visit to the US by criticizing the place.

Carolyn Ann <-No "e" on the end.

Zimbel said...

CATO appears to be an institution that's primarily designed to protect the interests of the rich. A number of their reports have been... bizarre from an economic theory standpoint. In this article, for example, he appears to be blaming Keynesian theory for governmental actions that were ignoring (i.e. contrary to the advice from) Keynesian theory.

NASA has always been very political, both nationally and internationally, since before I was born. Many of the changes in NASA you note year-to year, or between administrations are based on local, state, national and international politics. While the program you reference is new, There have been similar programs (focusing on international cooperation) rolled out at least since the Regan administration - and one can easily argue that the reason we went to the moon in the first place is that it was a relatively non-violent way to beat the U.S.S.R. at something.

I have no familiarity with Judicial Watch. However, I note that their list of corrupt politicians tilts suspiciously towards Democratic leadership and highly contested Democratic seats, and I note a number of inaccuracies on their site that are typical of right-wing media (ex: conflating Black Panther Party - a now largely defunct group which fought for Black civil rights in the 1960s with New Black Panther Party - a modern splinter hate group from the Nation of Islam). So I'm highly skeptical that these are the "most corrupt" politicians - heck, I'm pretty certain I could come up with a few from each party that are worse. Take John McCain, for example - if I wanted to list him as a corrupt politician, I'd note that he was a member of the Keating Five, that he helped create anti-American propaganda, he was a racist who opposed the creation of a holiday honoring a Civil Rights martyr, and he authored a bill (The 1974 Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act) that resulted in an alleged genocide of the Dineh people in Black Mesa. Mind you, you'd need a pretty stilted view of reality to believe that there's lots of corruption here, even if the precise statements are accurate (example: I omit the fact that the propaganda was done while he was a tortured prisoner of war).

I am, though, curious about the embezzlement accusations. My perception has been that usually the party (either one) defends the person at first, then tries to get rid of the person if they think that the charges have merit. Politicians who are openly known to have embezzled don't have high re-election rates.

Honestly, other than helping win some wars, I'm not certain why the U.S.A. should have a moral high ground. I view us more like the biggest bully in the playground - great if we're defending you, but really mean when we aren't.

Justine Valinotti said...

Carl Sagan believed that it is the destiny (Yes, he used that word.) to inhabit the cosmos. But he resigned from NASA because he believed that the agency's work had nothing to do with actually learning more about the universe. Rather, it was about militarization and public relations. The latter was exemplified by putting humans in spacecraft and landing them on the moon. He said that humans on those missions were basically cargo: They didn't do anything robots couldn't have done.