Monthly Archives: November 2009

Got Junk?

A month from the credit-fueled evergreen orgy, time for a contrarian view of the earth and the billions stripping and poisoning the planet via this “developed world” consumption model.  My unapologetic path was sparked when as a child I queried an elder in the economic/manufacturing sector: what were we collectively to do about the inevitable depletion of the ingredients of our society, specifically petroleum.

“Oh, we’ll just go find more,” the elder responded confidently. That didn’t git it.

My world-onion grew another lamella during an NCSU Design School critique of my bench grinder housing.

“What’s the duty cycle of this motor,” I asked Mr. GM about his crummy Delco.

“50 hours.”

Pause. “Two days! A bench grinder?”

“It’s a marketing thing,” he parried during the ensuing verbal altercation. “Once you get out in the field, you’ll see.”

Despite my best efforts following graduation, somehow a corporate headhunter found me and dragged me into the “field.” Following that career, lo, I stumbled upon a grinder I had designed while still in that so-called career at a Manhattan hardware store.

“So what do you think?” I asked excitedly.

“Looks great,” the guy said, popping his gum. “It’s a fookin’ piece of shit. The old one was here for 60 years.”

My bench grinders are subject of international discourse — along with the mountains of similar discards. These tangible artifacts are what can be measured and observed without instrumentation unlike more ephemeral, irreplaceable substance of air, water/vapor and material/fuel stocks.

Consider nesting the sensational 2012 hoopla (correctly December 24, 2011) with James Lovelock’s “Gaia” theory, that the Earth is a single, living, self-regulating, self-healing ecological entity. While Lovelock’s theory remains theory, firmly rooted in somber fact is the terminal, extractive method we killer apes have perversely perfected, ordained and supplied with any number of psychologically defended, unvisualized and unsubstantiated magic parachutes. “Consensual” reality muscles millions into “normal,” the word tellingly (or hilariously) derived from a Roman carpenter’s square. Contrasted to our celebrated scientific rationality based, we are told, on the pure process of theory, statements based on theories of equal or greater validity than prevailing ideas frequently ignite a sort of politico/religious anger.  Bearers of contrary “theory” should prepare for insults and raised voices for merely thinking and expressing reservations about the status quo.

The extractive paradigm of Industrial Revolution and skillful use of media ordained and finalized our virtual divorce from the natural world, a daft concept heralded by industrial theorists at one point, a tidy display of the bankruptcy of the holy growth economy.

What to do in lieu of the wait for some outside entity to fix things, a “them”? One of the more immediate methods is a collective, individual use of the all-mighty market, illustrated by two thousand bucks worth of suits who entered this tiny, local beer joint.

“You guys ain’t cops are you?” asked one of the regulars finally.

“Naaa. Bud reps,” one said, taking a thoughtful sip. “This place serves more Anheuser Busch products than anywhere in the region. We had to have a look.” Vis the power of the individual within a macro system.

One reaction to the ills of modernity could be a heightened monitoring of the exchange with the earth. What one acquires, eats, how you travel … where the ex-stuff goes, a version of the turning off the lamp thing to the nth degree can become as absorbing and meditative as a fountain, the ripples of life on the pond of existence with neither beginning nor endings; “geoethics” or the “low wake” lifestyle. Being just as good to the earth as one can requires attention to every mote of nonrenewable material, every joule of fossil or nuclear energy. “Peak oil” might not be enough to slow the spigot. The late Anthony Sutton of Stanford University, presented convincing and documented analysis that the depletion gambit is a shell game allowing producers control over supply and prices. The earth could well harbor what should be called “terminal” reserves — enough poison to finish off the biosphere. Think of a global Los Angles, that toxic, petroleum fueled coastal empire still perched on an underground sea of petroleum.

All sorts of minuscule, tiny, related acts help create a world, composting, parking the car and vacuum cleaner in lieu of the bicycle and broom, extracting every shred of commodity from sturdy, well-made objects before recycling or discarding. Our primary vote, this “freedom of choice” has become a commercial exchange, the purchase (or not) of items via carefully considered reasons. A personal example would be my need of a scrub brush, the search for which uncovered at least one brand, Libman, that isn’t shipped halfway around the earth. A spur to that pitch is an underreported push to adjust policies and allow products of child and prison labor to be sold in the US.

A variant read on 2011 in contrast to the sensational Hollywood “end of the world,” scenario is that humanity is spinning toward a spontaneous mass evolution of consciousness away from a coarse, materialistic, industrial world-cancer back toward what has been understood and practiced since the “beginning” by most of the shrinking number of indigenes of the planet. For an example, global petroleum supplies are up, prices down, mirroring a drop in global consumption. While a measure of this is clearly economic, there are components of the market that defy analysis. People are using less and the skies are somewhat cleaner. Maybe just maybe at a time when we seem perched on an abyss, the academically accepted human-led “sixth extinction” now underway, eerily and coincidentally attending the emergence of the Mayan “Sixth World.” Humans may be beginning to re-accept our inseparability from nature.

This is not to propose deprivation. One can choose to participate as one can, negating the robotic inserted zeal for stuff and creating a world based more on what we have already gathered or can produce via renewable sources. Practically, the simplified life can greatly extend resources and money.

Start this x-mas. Shatter a stigma and give good used stuff along with a note informing the recipient which entity in need received the savings. We have a lot we can give.

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Filed under Economics

Pathways through the bike-car conflict

Group human systems frequently behave in a fashion akin to the mechanism of the human brain, wherein that marvelously complicated and flexible device adapts to situations utilizing so-called neural pathways. These electrochemical connections that appear spontaneously between multiple regions of the brain from neuron to neuron in response to a situation, existing for as long as the situation presents itself and when the situation is re-experienced conjured via memory.

Neural pathways are in a sense similar to a path through the woods commenced at the outset simply by a person’s need to get from one place to another. Perhaps not fully cognizant as to how to get to the destination, one uses geolocation and direction to calculate the best way to attain the destination, factoring in obstructions and temporal conditions. We are all subject to the choices that favor the familiar, even when the familiar is not the best decision. Fear, prejudice, etc. can cause a less-than-avantageous pathway to become the favored one. the path of the familiar becoming trod so often as to become worn down to the very bedrock. Sometimes it just takes a bit of repositioning to gain the all important view of a new perspective.

Raleigh’s relationship with the bicycle brings this bit of mental architecture to mind. We collectively seem reluctant or unable to strike out toward a direction that can enhance and revalue this readily available and irreplaceable component of the transportation matrix to a more utilitarian, everyday mode. It is incumbent on all of us to make this happen. There is no other group resource better positioned to begin to devolve what passes for “normalcy”: the hegemony of the petroleum-driven automobile, the economic, environmental and social ills that stem from its ubiquity. The bicycle.

bike v car

For the bicycle to attain the status of just another means of transportation that it is given in other nations, it first requires a primary repositioning above the purely recreational, hence “not serious” vector of transit common to Raleigh. And indeed across the US in comparison to its more respected and essential position in other nations. In the US, the bicycle is often considered some species of toy. Therein lies the roots of a conflict that plays itself out daily on the streets, sometimes with disastrous and deadly consequences.

A primary factor could negate the conflict is the commonality of the motorist’s and cyclist’s  pursuits. When intent and purpose become stripped away, the both are simply trying to get from one place to another and are granted a theoretical equality in that pursuit. In practice, that commonality becomes often distanced and submerged in the semantic layers and sense of privilege. All the theoretical and legal niceties fall away, in its place come beeping horns and raised fingers. Given the vaunted cultural position the automobile enjoys, visible in mass media or wherever else one cares to look, the relationship exacerbated by the fact of the physical disparities between a two hundred pound vehicle and payload meeting another weighing in at two tons. In this construct, anything other than another automobile becomes a competitive but ultimately inconsequential pest.

There is a fundamental binary sort of factoring where the relationship is heading playing out vis-à-vis the bike lane movement, especially in regards to Hillsborough Street. I have lived in places that have accommodated bicycles and I would enjoin all parties to look at this matter from as many angles as there are to insure that the fundamental shifts are injected gently and in a non-threatening fashion. The world is preparing to undergo some essential changes in how we utilize energy. The more realistically and with a sense of commonality we absorb the changes, the better served will we all be.

The only system of bike/car I have seen that really worked was in the places in Europe where bicycles have a dedicated, segregated network integrating only in town centers. European city planner and governments recognize that segregated system presents the only truly safe means for the two to move together. The drawbacks for the US are a (current) lack of will and perceived value needed to justify the cost. The other, less effective means of integrating are segregated lanes enforced by statute and fines, something that just isn’t possible in the case of Hillsborough Street given the commercial nature of the street and the need for parking.

Not to kowtow to the automobile, but the simple fact is that we bicyclists are likely going to end up with a shared lane, not the best of worlds but one that with some nurturing could form the basis of a new relationship based on the shared purpose mentioned above. The biggest risk to the shared lane is, of course, the door strike that that may well form the basis of the commonality of purpose v. risk. If we can achieve a sense of consensus in that one key factor, a courtesy lane we could call it, denoted by a unique paint scheme, we could go far in enhancing the shared experience of car and bicycle.

This unifying purpose of transportation will require reeducation and is one served best by calm heads. No matter what satisfaction anger conjures upon point of application, rage serves no positive purpose. Cyclists take note: when one resorts to aggression, hard words carve mental pathways that color future perception. A friendly exchange will do more for fellow bicyclists down the road. As difficult as it may be in terms of one’s pride/ego, let it go with as cheery a wave as possible. If you can get in a calm word of explanation, so much the better. We on two wheels are ambassadors for the rest. The more gently we can conduct ourselves with motorists, the better for us all.

To enhance the visibility of the bicycle in this changing world, it is time for the city to begin accommodating bicycles, starting with a rack in front of the Upchurch building. As to gain maximum attention from the public and press, I suggest a competition.

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Filed under Bicycles