I voted today, in the gym of a local elementary school. Overall it went very smoothly. There was a sense of standing in line for a long time, but it fact we were home just about an hour after we left the house.

Why is it important to vote? Isn’t it just an empty ritual, rigged from the start, with candidates that are all just corporate puppets? If I were true to my youthful anarchist and later Marxist influences, I’d probably be memorizing Noam Chomsky and agreeing with that statement. But I was also raised by politically-active, liberal Jews, who believe that society is made of people, and that improvement of the world by people is not only possible but imperative.

I’m in no position to moralize; my civic involvement is generally limited to voting on election day, and recycling. I even missed my party’s primary. I’m not proud of that. I’ve made an effort to be informed, by studying the candidates on Project Vote Smart (where you can find detailed information about the candidates’ positions on a whole list of issues) and my state’s League of Women Voters site. Yes, I took the time to research whom I was going to vote for, albeit the night before the election.

If you enjoy any modicum of benefit from living in American society, why not participate in the process? It’s not about whether the person you voted for wins, it’s about paying attention — even just a little — and showing up. You don’t have to subscribe to some naive myth that you’re single-handedly changing the world. Just show up. Cynicism in defense of your own non-participation does not make you appear more intelligent. It just seems like an excuse for laziness.

What people forget is that most elections are not just about the hot-button, big-name races. The local campaigns might be less interesting, but the closer you get to home, the more connection there is between your life and the operation of government. It’s one thing to be cynical about someone running for Congress — but what about State senators, county executives, city council members, sheriff, judges? I don’t know these people any better, except what I’ve learned through reading. But I feel like these people are going to have a more immediate impact on my life. You could also argue that your vote counts more in a local election, since the overall number of votes is smaller.

What’s my point? I guess that I’m still an optimist (albeit an apocalyptic optimist). Chaos theory reminds us that even the smallest change can alter the course of a storm. And even if History is spiraling down a giant vortex into confusion, I’d rather be paddling with or against the current than just getting dragged along. Any takers?

In the news

A man named Adam Gadahn is in the news today, because he’s been charged with treason for issuing threats against the U.S. as a member of Al Qaeda. People reading about him and searching the Web might find another article, one which has been online for awhile now.

The article I’m referring to [has been taken down], though [it was] re-posted in a couple of other places as well. About halfway down the page, Abrupt is mentioned in a short list of “dissident organizations” in a way that groups it with Al Qaeda. Previously, that struck us merely as an anomaly. Now it demands a response.

Abrupt condemns the taking of human life, in the strongest terms. Our goal has always been the changing of perceptions, because in a democratic society, the perceptions people hold presumeably influence their political decisions. However much we may like criticisms of the media, of consumer society, of the Administration, we are still a humanist enterprise.

Abrupt believes that alleigances to country, race, and religion must become secondary to an appreciation for humanity as a species. We believe that solutions to human problems must be constructive, not destructive. To survive the cataclysm of the inevitable, we must become smarter, not more militant. Fools like Gadahn have chosen the comfort and simplicity of ideology over the terror of not knowing what is right.

Unlike Gadahn and his friends in Al Qaeda, we do not have easy answers. I intend to live with that.


Cities come together to address climate change

On an optimistic note:

The leaders of more than 20 world cities are meeting in London to swap ideas on combating climate change.

“Climate change is the biggest problem facing us, and cities have special issues such as the heat island effect and flash floods,” [London’s deputy mayor, Nicky Gavron] told the BBC news website.

It’s good to see spontaneous action on the part of cities, especially at an international level. Also interesting how some cities have adapted technologies to their local environment and topology to save energy or reduce emissions. Does the term “green city” have to be a contradiction?

Terence McKenna once related a dream he had of New York City covered in ivy — not because it was in ruins but because it had learned to coexist with the natural environment. A fanciful idea, no doubt, but as Bush would say we need to leave all options on the table.

Peer-to-Peer Energy

Microgrids as peer-to-peer energy
“Small networks of power generators in ‘microgrids’ could transform the electricity network in the way that the net changed distributed communication.

… “the microgrids could work like peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies, such as BitTorrents, where demand is split up and shared around the network of ‘users’.

…”Micro-CHP units work by turning heat which would normally escape through flues into electricity. Homeowners then sell any surplus electricity back to the national grid.

…”‘In a traditional system, you have the power station and electricity flows from power station to users – it is unidirectional. The whole network is constructed around that unidirectional power flow.’

Young woman campaigns in Afghanistan

BBC News has an interesting Photo Journal about Sabrina Sagheb, a 24-year-old woman running in Afghanistan’s parliamentary election.

The photos and associated text reveal a startling mix of currents within today’s Afghan society. I hope she survives until the election.

Sabrina is campaigning on a platform of liberal reform and gender equality.

She hopes to make the wearing of the burkha a matter of choice for all women and advocates an end to forced marriages.

Waking up to climate change

More U.S. companies weighing climate risks [Reuters]

Over the past three years the investors group, the London-based Carbon Disclosure Project, has sent questionnaires to the world’s largest companies by market capitalization, asking them to quantify the greenhouse gases they produce. It also asks them how they plan to manage their greenhouse risks.

This year 60 percent of more than 250 U.S. companies responded to the CDP, up from 42 percent last year. The results were revealed in New York on Wednesday.

You can view the responses from different companies here:

I thought the General Electric response was interesting. But Apple declined to participate — c’mon guys!!

Maunder Minimum

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break,
When the levee breaks I’ll have no place to stay.
— Led Zeppelin

Another day of horror as History contorts and folds in on itself. We watch in realtime the economic and human ripples spreading out from a disaster which we all saw approaching. For those caught in the middle of it — mostly the poor, who couldn’t escape — the experience is worlds apart from the mediated petri dish you and I enjoy. I watch the weather radar as the giant spider crawls up east and dies in Canada.

What is the point of talking about it? These are just words. But by commanding words I manipulate your mind. Do I use them responsibly? Like CNN does, pretending to be the Id of the nation? 55 KILLED IN MISSISSIPPI scream the headlines. And you watch those reporters. Man they’re having the time of their life. Wading through the sewage, recording the screams. Oh, the humanity, etc. Thanks Katrina, thanks for boosting my career. Thanks 9/11. Thanks Geraldo. You fat FUCKS.

I am inexplicably angry after soaking up coverage today from multiple sources. I hate "coverage" — always have — so I shouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, could I do any better? It’s hard being out there in the field, especially with communications so disrupted, and the sewage and all; so whatever. Cut a poor reporter some slack. Just givin’ the people what they want.

And I am one of those people. Maybe my anger stems from guilt at being attracted to the most gruesome tidbits the news has to offer. Cemetary flooded! Caskets everywhere! Trapped in their attics! I can only imagine. But I haven’t really tried. Why bother, when I can read about it from the safety of my shell, getting off on the novelty of horror?

It is fascinating, though, to watch the mobilization of so many resources to respond to the disaster. The national guard, FEMA, CDC and other persons responding as professionals don’t merit the same condemnation I’m leveling at our corrupt journalists. Hell, if the shit went down here, I’d be one of the schmucks stuck up on their roof (hopefully not in the attic), waiting for the Grid to rescue me, and I’d have nothing but gratitude for that helping hand.

So, tomorrow morning should reveal the fresh extent of the disaster, cause tonight’s going to be bad. Really, really bad.

The X Prize

I found myself reading about the X Prize (now the Ansari X Prize). This is the competition behind last year’s private space flight. Reading their history and mission pages is interesting. They’ve modeled the prize on the aviation prizes of the early 20th Century, which effectively drove the innovation leading to today’s aerospace industry.

These people are using the same model to drive the development of private space flight, and a number of other innovations. It’s really just quite cool.

“The mission of the X PRIZE Foundation is to cause radical breakthroughs in space and other technologies for the benefit of humanity.”

Their motto: Evolution through competition.

And from their Fact Sheet:

Why space?
Space offers adventure
Space provides freedom- a frontier literally without end.
Space can save the Earth

A tiny fraction of the abundant solar energy that flows past the Earth could provide all of our planet’s power needs without greenhouse gasses or nuclear residue-forever. Beyond energy, space offers us unlimited access to the metals and minerals needed for technological expansion and new worlds for our use in developing future societies.

Space flight offers the ultimate personal challenge

Every one of the 500 men and women who have flown in space has said that it was the adventure of a lifetime. They report that viewing the world from higher than the highest mountain is a universally mind-altering experience.

Brave Lions of the Desert

“Suicide Bomber Kills Over 100 in Iraq”

I don’t care what your politics are, or how much US or Israeli foreign policy pisses you off. Driving a car bomb into a crowd of civilians is not brave and it is not noble. Allah PBHN will have demons piss down your throat for all eternity for this crime against his creation. You are not brave. Caring so little about your life or anyone else’s doesn’t mean you stand for anything but yourself, sinner.

WTC: Thoughts

I’ve called most of my friends in New York and so far everyone is accounted for. Family members knew people who were killed.

We’re all kind of shellshocked, like waking up fine in the morning and having your arm amputated by noon. It definitely hits closer to us who have lived there. I feel as if a deep anchor in my subconscious has been cut loose, and it comes at a time when I am feeling a lack of grounding in my own life. It is hard to tell how much these feelings are part of our collective human and American experience right now, and what is tangled up in my own personal story.

Compounding this confusion is my own inherent mistrust of media images, and the statements issued by our government through the media. I have always been critical of taking “coverage” at face value — a stance which was highlighted watching the Branch Davidian compound in Waco burn. Yet in the middle of all this is the incontrovertible fact of the twin towers collapsing. This was a landmark I saw on my way to work every day for years. I’ve been on the top, on the bottom, in the Windows on the World restaurant. To watch planes smashing into it precludes any efforts at simulation, interpretation or spin. There is no room to second-guess these images, unless a hoax of such magnitude has been perpetrated that it would probably take more resources than the act itself. I see footage of dark-skinned people singing and waving the Palestinian flag and am told they are celebrating the attack on America — but I do not know what is really going on. I see the ultimate icon of America’s success crumbling in flames, and there is no need for anyone to interpret this for me. This is the source of the terror — and the success of this terrorist act: that its symbolic force is so direct and so complete.

I have extremely mixed feelings about all of this. The people responsible for this should have their brains slowly scrambled in public, but no human act can compensate for this inhumanity. And yet, I have long been aware that the worldview presented to the American people through our news sources is not the only story. There are people suffering throughout the world as a result of our tax dollars, our civilization and our excess. There is a lot of anger which, though not always well-educated, is not always unjustified. An act of aggression against civilians is unforgiveable — but tell that to a nation who dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. I understand the anger of many in the Middle East against us, to the extent that I know the facts. The problem is I know so little — as little as most Americans. Combine that with my own skepticism of the CNN version, I find it hard to take a position. I fear we are facing times when this noncomittal stance will become untenable, perhaps even criminal, yet the issues involved are not as clear as any side would have us believe.

Our civilization had fancied itself free from History, but History has reached up and grabbed our leg as we were scrambling for the escape hatch. It is resounding all about us, and will continue to do so for some time yet.