September 27, 2009

Little Scotland

It's starting to look like Scottish independence referendum time again, and, as always, I'm forced to think about where I fit into things like this. Not about the Big Picture (the Union's been pretty good for Scotland over the centuries, despite the latter-day wingeing, and the push for independence often has a faint whiff of belligerent self-pitying Little Scotland Scottishry about it), but about my own nationality. I'm that deeply-unfashionable thing, a Briton, and "British" is probably all you could really call me (you could have plausibly called me a Londoner as well in the past, but not nowadays). I still have no idea what I'll do if I'm forced to chose a specific nationality rather than leave it "British". (On the other hand, if I were forced to chose between California and the US, that would be no choice at all: I'm unequivocally a Californian, but not at all an American).

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September 20, 2009

The Fall

Off Ramshorn Road, somewhere around here, I fall a couple of metres over a dry riverbank while taking a photo some distance away from my car and the "road" (a rough dirt track, in reality). I land on mixed sand and rock, and sprain my right wrist and ankle, bruise my shoulder, cut my arm, graze my leg, and tear my jeans (and just avoid destroying my camera, somehow, which was all that really mattered at the time). I can't seem to use my right arm properly to get me back up to the car (it's partially paralyzed). When I do get back up I sit on the dirt road in the shade next to the car thinking I'm the dumbest guy I know: I just casually broke every one of my own rules for wilderness work on my own, and damn nearly ended up with a bunch of broken bones (or worse) in the middle of nowhere without anyone having a clue I was even in the area; and it's possible no one would have come across me for days.

I drive very slowly back out over the bumpy dirt road towards civilisation and just as slowly the shoulder and right arm start working again, and by the time I'm back in Mt Shasta, I feel sore but fine, and I can joke about it to the supermarket checker as I'm buying bandages and antiseptic. I must look a sight — I have blood on my shirt, and my hair's a matted mess of sweat and blood (mostly from my arm as I brushed the sweat away). I've bought some Hello Kitty bandages along with the more serious stuff, just to cheer me (and anyone who sees me) up. The checker — a woman about my age — looks at the HK package and then up at me, and says conspiratorially "Hello Kitty will fix anything, won't she?".

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September 18, 2009

Less Than Zero

"The electric car will account for 10% of the global market in 10 years," predicts Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of alliance partners Renault and Nissan in a BBC interview. "It is time for zero emission motoring."

Indeed. But electric cars don't typically have zero-emissions: the emissions just happen elsewhere, usually at the (massive) power plant that supplies the energy to power the car. That may be a reasonable tradeoff and a real improvement (in the absence of the more useful cutting back on personal mobility and energy consumption in general), but in the usual way of these things, sometime down the line we'll wake up to the fact that all these electric vehicles require more and larger power plants… with more and larger emissions and transmission lines. And more and larger protests at the building of such power plants and transmission lines. All together now: "Not In My Back Yard (or Garage)!".

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September 15, 2009

Who He?

Today's San Francisco Chronicle made front (business) page news out of local company Chevron's Gorgon venture off Western Australia with an above-the-fold article and a photo of "Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd" and a Chevron functionary in hard hats looking at plans on-site. But they identified the wrong guy in the pic as Rudd, an easy error in a newspaper that probably doesn't have a single editor or staff writer who'd know what the Australian Prime Minister actually looks like. But as always, why should the Chron know something like that? Maybe that other Australian, our Governator, might care, but to the rest of the US, it's all a bit of a puzzle, I guess.

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September 12, 2009

It's All About US (Refrain)

In an otherwise mostly well-aimed and thoughtful NYT OpEd article a few days ago about Afghanistan, Bob Herbert writes "It's obscene what we're doing to the [US] men and women who have volunteered for the armed forces [...]".

Well, yes; but the real obscenity is what's being done to the men and women (and children) of Afghanistan, often enough in the name of the US. It's diagnostic that Herbert — a voice of what passes for the soft left here in the US — couches his jeremiad almost entirely in terms of the financial, moral, and human costs of the war to the US. As with the Vietnam war (the war he uses as a cautionary comparison), where US commentators (and movies, books, etc.) so often completely left out the Vietnamese, and the later debates on the Iraq war which did the same, in US debates on the Afghan war the Afghanis seem little more than ghostly abstractions if they're mentioned at all.

Like it or not, the US and allies chose to invade Afghanistan, and have a responsibility to the Afghan people that transcends pure self-interest; as with Iraq earlier, though, more and more the public calculus on the Afghan war is being discussed purely in terms of what's best for the US. Foreign war as continuation of domestic politics, I guess (yes, I've said that before, too).

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September 04, 2009

What's Going On?

In the hot dawn air on that ragged block of East 7th up past 23rd, someone's playing Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" loudly through the open windows of a parked car, that smooth deliberate fluid propulsive drive and repeated gunshot crack reverberating off the idling trucks and half-lit cinderblock workshops and ramshackle houses, sending shivers up my spine.

One of those Oakland moments, I guess…

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