Archive for December, 2009

Desert Island

Posted: December 19, 2009 in Culture, Debate, Idle Nonsense, Taste

In the course of riding around en route to some endeavor with a friend — someone whose judgment, intelligence, and sensibilities I trust implicitly — we indulged in some idle banter during which he asked what my desert island drink would be. Everyone is familiar with this sort of question. What is your favorite color? Who is the one person in history you would most like to talk to? Who is your favorite rock band or composer? What is your favorite food? What are your desert island book and movie? The added limitation of the desert island focuses the answerer on the choice he or she can live with until the end. The whole genre isn’t so far removed from the top ten list or the best of year and best of decade lists that should start appearing any day now. Best of all time lists have the built-in weakness that one can’t glimpse the future and know if something better won’t come along.

I don’t normally feel obliged to have answers for these questions, as they (questions and answers) seem to me rather arbitrary — the stuff of long summer holidays from school in the early teens spent lying on one’s back, staring at clouds, and filling time with meaningless, nonbinding contemplation. The answers can’t be wrong, really, but often lead to lighthearted justifications and some feigned disbelief in another’s answers. My friend was taken aback that I didn’t have answers at the ready and that the questions didn’t especially interest me. Perhaps that’s because I’m often accused of snobbery with respect to my tastes. (Do colors plot on a snob scale?)

We didn’t get far into these questions as I got side-tracked with the nature of the questions themselves. My friend chose Coke as his desert island drink; I chose orange juice. We agreed on Richard Strauss as a desert island composer with hardly any justification necessary. Of course, in hindsight, I’m wondering if I made the right choices and can I live with them?

Batmobile Limo

Posted: December 16, 2009 in Culture, Idle Nonsense, Tacky

One of my first blog posts at The Spiral Staircase was about the LimoJet, which I found tacky beyond belief. Well, a new contender has appeared: the Batmobile Limo.

OK, so this transgression against all things holy isn’t exactly killin’ babies or anything, but as I wrote before, there is something deeply wrong about a culture that celebrates this sort of junk, which we do. It goes without saying that if you build the tackiest possible limo, someone will rent it. So bring on the “lighten up!” remarks in the comments. I’m ready.

I have struggled from time to time to describe to friends and acquaintances why I’m disinclined to travel these days. They reply with the same blank incomprehension upon learning that I don’t watch TV: “Wha? How can you not …?!” If this blog were ever truly destined to help me work out my ideas rather than using it to proselytize to a vast, silent readership, this is probably the time.

If you’ve read more than a couple posts after being directed here following some heedless Google search about skyscrapers, the night sky, or living among refuse (which continue to drive perusal readers my way), or you’re merely curious about me from some comment I made on someone else’s blog, you know already that I’m twisted about prospects for the future, namely, foreseeable calamities as industrial collapse and climate change get rolling. Of the many bloggers facing down these issues, Dave Pollard expresses better than most the sense of horror and mourning I share over anticipated losses — not our ridiculous standard of living or institutions that have outlived their usefulness but the billions of people in what will be a great cull of human population. I have friends who believe in this eventuality and those who don’t, both camps being largely unconcerned. I haven’t arrived at that attitude yet.

In the meantime, I’ve been rather selective and probably more than a bit irrational about how I deal with my foreknowledge of some really bad things. For example, permaculture and sustainability activists frequently advocate becoming a locavore, or consuming only foods produced locally. This behavior represents a commitment to live in place in some small respect and is an ethical response to the growing awareness that transporting foods thousands of miles, often out of season, is a destructive practice, though perhaps necessary for now. It’s not unlike so many vegetarians who can’t bear in good conscience to consume animal flesh after learning of the horrible treatment animals endure before being fed to us. I recognize both issues as honest and well intentioned, yet I’ve embraced neither.

If foods gathered from all compass points and transported to the local grocery don’t bother me, how about household and lifestyle goods? When it’s suggested that Americans should buy American, it’s usually a labor and employment issue. The rhetoric is that our hard-earned money (is there another kind?) should not be exported for the benefit of (gasp!) foreigners or foreign-owned companies. Considering how American companies have been outsourcing fabrication for decades now, it’s often difficult to find a product of American manufacture without going considerably out of your way. Everything comes to us these days on ocean-going vessels laden with shipping containers full of consumer goods. Interestingly, I’ve read of Americans being compared fairly accurately to cargo cults, South Pacific islanders who formed a religion of sorts following their initial exposure to technologically advanced cultures. Consumerism in the U.S. has achieved religious status, and it’s based in large measure on cargo coming from overseas. On this issue, I’m half-in, half-out. Whereas I don’t care about source of origin, a profligate lifestyle is for me an embarrassment, so it’s easy to forego creature comforts, pointless electronic gadgetry, and overpriced designer nonsense. Even still, I recognize that I enjoy an opulent lifestyle compared to most of the rest of planet’s denizens, though fairly modest compared to my friends and acquaintances who are untroubled by thoughtless purchase-and-discard consumption.

Let me return to my disdain for travel. For years, I had the same wanderlust and yen for travel that many Americans feel. (That sense is not universal, as many Murricans are so provincial in their attitudes they have utterly no interest in traveling beyond their immediate confines.) I’ve been overseas numerous times and done road trips through many U.S. states. Various discounts and professional obligations provided ample incentive to travel, and I didn’t hesitate to hop a plane or hit the road. I’ve even ridden the rails on occasion. However, in the wake of learning how historically exceptional our lives are compared not just to our contemporaries but to our forebears, and yes, our descendants — all because of an energy binge that will be impossible to repeat — travel is the one aspect of resource consumption I’ve taken most to heart. Why, I can’t say. But the enjoyment of travel and desire to see unfamiliar places has drained out of me. Before long, a couple decades perhaps, I suspect that we’ll all be forced to accept far more austere food options, abandon our worship of cargo, and stay put. Transportation costs in the post-Peak Oil era will require that we learn how to better live in place.

Lots of joke memes develop at, some of which make it into the mainstream while most appear to live and die at that website alone. One that always tickles me goes something to the effect “let it go, man, ’cause it’s [already] gone.” The newsbit to which it’s attached is typically someone chasing after a dropped cellphone, but the kicker is that he or she goes down a sewer pipe with a lighter or into an animal habitat at the zoo, both with predictable results. It’s unlikely that most of these Darwin Awards candidates believe they’re risking life and limb for some easily replaceable piece of electronics. Rather, it’s that they’re asleep at the switch, lulled into a false security that nothing can go wrong. In other cases, I suspect what’s at work is an adamant refusal to accept what is obvious to nearly anyone else, namely, that it’s irretrievably gone, whatever it is. That’s the launching point for a list of things — all institutions — that are all beyond their use-by date but continue to creak along on momentum, unable to muster the grace of acceptance that their time under the sun has come and gone. (more…)