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Category Archives: environment

Soylent Green Is…

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soylent green

(Photo credit: vj_pdx)

********SPOILER ALERT********

Forty years after the movie premiered, I’d hazard a guess that most film goers know that Soylent Green is (GASP!) people! People….People eating people

I vaguely remembered hearing this, but I’d never seen the movie–until last night. Great experience. Forget for 90 minutes who Charlton Heston became in his

English: Actor Charlton Heston at the Civil Ri...

Charlton Heston at Civil Rights March, Washington, D.C., August 1963  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

later years, and see him as the great actor he was; also sexy as hell. If you’re a sci-fi fan you’ll love SG, and if you aren’t, you’ll love it too. As intelligent as any Twilight Zone playlet, as gripping–even with the ending suspected or known–as any detective story (which it is) and as visually grand as today’s super special effects, Soylent Green kept me in and on the edge of my seat from start to finish. And what a finish!

English: Publicity still of actor Edward G. Ro...

Edward G. Robinson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throw in Edward G. Robinson, deviating from his usual gangster persona, in his 101st–and last–movie role, and SG is a feast for the mind and senses.

It’s always fun to return to predictions of the future in old sci-fi movies or books, and SG is no exception. The year is 2022 (not so far off) and the most salient futurism, besides the food, is climate change: it’s hot all the time. So hot that vegetables don’t grow, and sweat pours down the actors’ faces. There’s no air-conditioning relief, either: like everything else, it just doesn’t work. Overpopulation is the next biggie: at night the streets and stairways are full of sleeping people one on top of the other.

The world of SG  includes voluntary suicide booths. These have appeared in at least one TZ episode, a Kurt Vonnegut story, and several other works of fiction both pre- and post-Kevorkian. When I was younger these seemed horrifying; now they look like a great way to go. You get to plan the time of your death, choose the lighting and the music, and watch gorgeous films of nature–which the deprived denizens of SG have never seen in real life. In 20 blissful minutes it’s all over. Better than cancer, no?

Soylent is a manufactured food that comes in more benign colors than green, and it’s all anyone except the super-rich gets to eat. Brings to mind Monsanto and genetically engineered food. Lest we forget, vigilance now and in the future is the order of the day.  Never has it been so literally true that You Are What You Eat!

I give Soylent Greenthe movie, that is5 big fat stars. If you’ve never seen it, rent it. And if you have, I’m probably inspiring a re-run.

An Open Letter To AC Transit

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During the months of January and February I traveled back and forth from Oakland to Alameda nearly every day. Although I don’t have a car and use public transportation on a regular basis, and I’ve had many reasons to complain before now, riding the bus every single day to the same destination, under difficult circumstances and time considerations, caused me a great degree of psychological and physical stress.

My disabled adult son was in a rehab/nursing facility in Alameda, having been hit by a car that necessitated surgery on his broken ankle; I went to visit almost every day. The situation was highly stressful, especially since the facility was not all I would have hoped for. AC Transit, however, contributed greatly to my emotional upheaval.

I had to take two buses, and at first used a route that took two hours, until I discovered a way to go that took half that time. On the longer route, the driver of the second bus took a 15-minute break when she arrived at my stop, and then, upon arrival at the Fruitvale BART stop, ended her shift, to be replaced by another driver—a process taking anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. I cannot for the life of me figure out why someone who is about to end their shift in ten minutes needs to take a break (and this is partly why the trip took so much time).

Besides this daily annoyance, every few days there’d be some disaster: once a windshield cracked and they had to send another bus; another time the relief driver didn’t show up for over 20 minutes. Also, drivers completely ignore passengers who misbehave—for instance, on the way home one day three teenage

kids fight

girls stood in the front of the bus and danced around during the ride, until one of them actually fell on top of me. The driver never told her and her friends  to sit down, and I was left to fend for myself. I got the distinct impression the driver was afraid to exert authority, and he’s not that unusual among AC Transit drivers. (Because of this, I try to time my trips so as not to be on a bus at the same time teenagers are let out of school.)

I recently read in the newspaper that AC Transit is planning to reduce fares for a few months in order to attract more riders, and then raise the fares even higher after that. Such manipulation is almost as disgraceful as the level of service the company provides. It astounds me how little they care about the people who use their services. Believe me, I have a lot better things to do right now than write this letter, and if I didn’t feel strongly about how abused I was by AC Transit I wouldn’t bother.

As I said, I ride the buses regularly, even though it takes four times longer to do anything than it does when using a car. I come from New York City, where bus service is excellent. I felt good about getting rid of my car back in 2005, because I was no longer contributing to the destruction of the planet. Besides, I would much rather read, or listen to music, than fight traffic. I believe in public transportation. For environmental reasons everyone ought to ride public transportation whenever possible—but with this kind of service, I ask you, how can we be expected to do it?


Just Enough For The Inner City

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I don’t live in the worst neighborhood in the world, but I do live along the edge of a gang-ridden, inner city ‘hood. Crime and the forces that are supposed to keep them under control here are so dysfunctional — and have been for a long time — that the Federal government is slated to take over management of the Oakland Police Department any day now.

Since I moved here some 3+ years ago I’ve complained non-stop—but  then, I’ve always complained. I went from being raised as a 1950s middle class kid, married slightly up, left that life in part for political reasons, and began moving gradually downward ‘til I landed here.  At 66, I won’t be purposely moving any further down if I can help it. Should the Republicans come into full power again I could easily end up homeless–but I’m no longer moving, even subconsciously, in a downward direction. Yes, it’s true: the long slide down was in large part intentional.

I wanted to experience life, and since I couldn’t afford to experience the high life I went for the low. I wanted to learn things, and that I have. Problem is, when things get tough I forget that I chose the road less traveled, so I whine and blame the political structure for how hard my life is. Glimpsing the truth means I’ve stopped resisting it. You cannot learn when you’re resisting. Doris Lessing says you  learn nothing until you work through “what you’re landed with.” I think it’s the same sort of idea.

And I’m learning–have been learning all this time—the way poverty can be a central and integrated part of a human being, whether one is born or grows into it. I’m not observing or reading about it either: I’m learning it on a cellular level.

My neighbors complain about the smallest thing anyone does that might infringe the least little bit on their mental or physical space. “When you ain’t got nuthin’ you got nuthin’ to lose” seems to be a truth they resist, refusing to admit they have nothing to lose anymore. Neighbors yell at me when I let out a cheer during a ball game. They shout insults through the open windows if I sing a song while cooking dinner. I can’t shake out my dust mop: from one window the dust allegedly flies into the apartment under mine; on the fire escape it hits the allegedly “clean” cars in the parking lot; and the hall window overlooks a narrow alley shared with the building next door, whose residents told me to stop dirtying their space. We’re talking about dust on a mop, floating up towards the sky, drifting over sidewalks full of candy wrappers, cigarette butts, and used condoms. Turf. Doesn’t matter if it’s dirty, it’s still someone’s turf.

When a person outside the train station asks me for 63 cents exactly, just 63 cents to get them on the train, I no longer dismiss it as a cock-and-bull story: I have occasionally needed 63 cents—or 26, or 85–for bus fare to reach my bank so I can withdraw from the Social Security check just deposited that morning, buy a little food and a ride home, maybe even a cuppa coffee.

The inferior health care and the lifestyle that brings greater health problems is more than political theory. I had COPD for five years without it worsening in the least, until I moved here, lived and walked every day on hot dusty streets that have very few trees, near the freeway overpass I cross on my way to the nearest dumpy, ill-equipped—but cheap—supermarket. Four months after quitting smoking my breath still hasn’t rebounded, what with my lungs inhaling vehicle smoke on normally hot days and fireplace smoke on cooler Bad Air Days. I did a little research and found out how to get the city to plant more trees in a ‘hood—individual homeowners must agree to care for a tree planted in front of their house, and I just can’t imagine the homeowners around here going for it.  I mean, if residents leave plastic bags full of old clothes piled up on sidewalks and in yards for weeks, are they going to promise to water trees on schedule? Besides, the information flyers would have to be in too many languages—Spanish of course, but also several different Asian dialects. I tried telling someone who was planting flowers in her yard about the trees—but she didn’t understand English, or even want to try. Am I being racist? I ask myself anxiously …

Hell, I can’t stand to live on this friggin’ planet any longer, much less in my own damn neighborhood!

But if I weren’t here I’d miss Marc Maron…

While I’m here spewing I’m reminding myself of Mark Maron…If you’ve never heard his podcast WTF, I envy you madly: you’re in for a world-class treat. Maron’s a standup comic in his late 40’s who’s apparently been searching for years to find his niche, and a couple of years ago he did. Twice a week he interviews quirky or famous or talented or lunatic people, most of them comics but sometimes singers or writers, mostly not famous but sometimes as big as Jimmy Fallon or Robin Williams.

The big appeal though isn’t the interview subjects; it’s Maron himself. This is a comic who doesn’t “tell jokes” but who raps, mostly about himself, with little plan or foresight, digging and scratching until he reaches universal truths. I am not too embarrassed to admit I’m in love with him—unfortunately he’s in a committed relationship (his third) and I’m too old for him anyway. I’m sure most of his listeners, both men and women, feel the same. It’s because we feel so connected to him: you can’t help it, when someone places his finger exactly on that spot that aches so badly, that place that’s been longing for a human touch, and he pushes and twists until pain floods your consciousness, much the way a masseur hits a sore and knotted muscle and kneads it smooth. That’s the way Maron operates: he’s a genius. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and/or visit the website at WTF .

Climate Change Threatens Coffee Production

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Risks and Impacts of Global Warming

Image via Wikipedia

Okay, now they’ve gone too far, they really have! According to a story on NPR’s Morning Edition, the dramatic changes in weather are interfering with the growth of coffee beans. At the same time, the good citizens of China and India have, after centuries of tea-drinking, discovered the superior joys of coffee. I doubt coffee will entirely disappear–they’ll find ways to keep up production. Ah, but at what cost? You guessed it: Prices are rising even as I write this.

You’d think this would be the last straw, that it would get those people who don’t believe in climate change off their butts. I don’t understand how we—and I include myself–aren’t working ‘round the clock doing all we possibly can to save the planet  from disintegrating. At this very moment, uranium, and even plutonium, is oozing deep into the subterranean layers of the earth over in Japan, and dribbling into the ocean a few feet away.They say we’re not in danger, that it will all just “dissipate” in the vastness of the sea —  but back in the anti-nuke days, I learned this stuff never dissipates (Plutonium is Forever)!

Meanwhile, the medical establishment (whatever that might be) is finally admitting a link between the scourge of cancer and all the chemicals we eat, drink, breathe, touch, sit on, lie in, store our food in, etc etc ad nauseum. Most intelligent people figured this out a long time ago.

When I did temp work in New York decades ago, I put in a week at the law firm of a major clothing manufacturer. Their big issue at the time – mid-70s—was lawsuits because their kids’ pajamas sometimes caught fire; the company was now subjecting every scrap of flannel to heavy-duty flame retardants. I was always dragging these guys I worked for into debates – I fancied this as political work on my part – and so I asked if flame retardants caused cancer, something I had read about. His response was, “Well, we’ve never been sued for cancer.” Ah, and you probably never will be, either!

I imagine in 30 years or so they’ll confess that the rising incidence of autism has to do with some chemical or other. More new diseases will come along – if we’re around to get them. I don’t mean me personally, of course, but the human species. Which is why we ought to be doing something about it 24/7.

The first thing we should do is change that phrase global warming! It lets the naysayers point to snowstorms as proof of their argument it doesn’t exist. It ought to be called what it is: climate change – and it’s killing our coffee beans, friends, so you’d better re-evaluate that belief system.

If the coffee shortage doesn’t move you to action, try this on for size: gasoline at six bucks a gallon by summer. I’d get all superior about this, not having a car anymore myself  – except that I pay the equivalent for a pack of cigarettes, as deadly to people and other living creatures as gas fumes. Six bucks a gallon, six bucks a pack, and six bucks a cuppa: coming soon to a planet near you. If you’re lucky.

Birthday Blog

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Illumination of the Earth by the Sun on the da...

Image via Wikipedia

“The Spring Equinox now happens exclusively on March 20, but the Church officially and unvaryingly uses March 21.”

Who would’ve thought I’d be in solid agreement with the Catholic Church? I am pleased to see that someone still counts the day I was born as the first day of Spring. It used to vary between March 20th and 21st, but god help anyone who said Spring came on the 20th in my presence. I clung to the idea of my birthday bearing the distinction of being the first full day of Spring, no matter what.

Why should it be so important to me? Even as a kid I derived satisfaction from feeling special because of it, and I’d brag that, “I brought the flowers.” What an egomaniac.

The year of my birth also bodes well: 1946, the year WWII ended. It all made sense when, in my late 20′s, I had my chart done, and the astrologer told me my planetary lineup was “a perfect reflection” of the universe; whatever was going on with me was totally in sync with world events, as interpreted in the sky.

Well people, I’m here to say that what’s going on with me ain’t so grand, and we can all see what’s going on in the world. I woke up this morning thinking, “The end is coming. It really is the end.” The disasters and wars have speeded up, and I do believe apocalypse is on the way, if not already here. This is how it happens, according to every doomsday story I’ve ever read: more and more displaced people, more and greater struggle just to survive; the population dwindles, species disappear as new, more threatening species, materialize (killer bees, feral pigs) and finally time’s up for the  human species.

Not a great message for my birthday, or for Spring, or for any time.  The one thing I’ve stuck to my whole life long, though, is honesty.  I’m not about to change now.

So Happy Spring everyone. And, just as Jews on Yom Kippor say “May you have an easy fast” — May you have an easier time on the way out.

(For a dash of hope, read the related article, “Spring Equinox,” listed below, in which the blogger notes, “Isn’t it comforting to know that no matter what Man does on Earth some things just won’t ever change?”

Just Another Rant

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Cover of "Back to the Future"

Cover of Back to the Future

Inhospitable. I’ve been chewing this word around lately: it best describes the world in which I find myself. I really do mean “find myself,” with all the implications of that phrase: confusion, surprise or even shock, a daily sense of “how did I get here?” or, more accurately, “How did this place get to be like this?” How did the planet become so inhospitable in just 65 years? It was different in the years during which I grew up, and even when I first became an adult. I cannot, of course, pinpoint the moment or year that the planet turned from a somewhat challenging landscape into one of absolute inhospitability: it occurred gradually. I am only partly speaking of environmental change; that’s not the only aspect of life that’s become inhospitable.

People like me, born many decades ago, came into an environment very different from the one we’re currently surrounded by, and therefore we are experiencing, to varying degrees, culture shock. Maybe this happens to every generation – I certainly saw it happen to my mother – but now the changes are speeding up. Some of my peers – I’d say maybe half  —  hide from the new: they still listen to “the oldies” from the 1950’s and nothing else, have carved out lives as similar to those of their parents as they could possibly manage, have little or nothing to do with the Internet much less “social networking,” and are bewildered when forced to confront anything outside the zone of comfort they’ve created. Who can blame them? It’s scary as hell out here.

Remember the scene in Back to the Future, when a car pulls into a gas station and three uniformed guys run outside to cheerfully provide service? Funny it was – but it was no joke. On one level, the scene signifies the novelty of the automobile at the time, but on another level that scene captures precisely what I’m talking about. I wonder if younger people can even begin to imagine what a mindfuck this can be – although I must admit that even those in their 40s are going through it too, what with the culture changing so rapidly. Culture shock keeps hitting us in waves, rolling over one generation, then the next, with barely a pause in between.

In this inhospitable environment, each day is a struggle. The smallest task – paying the cable bill, ordering a prescription refill – takes hours, despite the ability to accomplish them by pushing buttons on a telephone. That’s because, after all the button pushing, it turns out that the cable company lost your phone number and declares you don’t exist, or they think you’re another customer, or…any number of mixups. The refill needs your doctor’s permission, or the insurance company won’t pay for the scrip anymore, or the pharmacist decides it’s too soon for a refill. The first hour of the day, at the very least, is eaten up with these hassles, by the end of which you’re in no condition to sit down and write as planned, so you decide to go out to do the food shopping and write when you get back. Except that the bank won’t cash your check until tomorrow, and the store is out of your brand of whatever, or the car won’t start, or the bus doesn’t come, and the temperature takes a sudden dive and you’re freezing and can’t stay outside in your shorts and sandals one more minute.

Everywhere we go we run into mobs of people. We jockey for parking places, or we wait half an hour for a bus with no empty seats. We wait on long lines to pay for things.The people paid to wait on us are idiots or annoying or nasty. We make a phone call and are put on hold before we even say hello.

Most of these problems are connected to overpopulation. Too many of us compete for fewer and fewer resources, and our poor depleted planet is less and less able to accommodate the hordes of hungry humans. Why we never talk about overpopulation as Ground Zero of the planetary crisis I don’t know, unless it’s because we’re so busy trying to protect our right and access to birth control and abortion. O, the supreme irony of it all!

Coda: After I posted this, I left my house and proceeded to have one of the worst days of my life, which included several of the above named hassles. I almost deleted this, afraid I’d spooked myself. Then I figured, nah: I’m not superstitious. But if tomorrow isn’t better, it’s comin’ down!

Pity The Pedestrian

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I Pity the Pedestrian
(To the tune of  “I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” with apologies to Bobby D.)

I pity the pedestrian
who wishes he would’ve stayed home
who uses his feet to go everywhere
and ends up tired and alone.
That man who must outrun the cars,
who’s always out of breath
who passionately hates traffic
and likewise fears his death.

I’ve said it before, I’ll probably be saying it until the day I die: walking around these California streets is a dangerous business. We’re never going to resolve the carbon emissions problem until everyone gets out of their cars – but they won’t get out of their cars as long as walking and public transit remains inconvenient and dangerous.

I have many pet peeves relating to drivers, traffic, and the organization of a state and society geared towards the pleasure and efficiency of individual travel by wheel. One of these is the practice of parking a car at the end of a driveway so it takes up the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians into the street to pass. The other day I was on my way to the bus stop in the rain when a man parked his car, blocking the entire sidewalk, just as I approached. When he got out of the car, I asked, “Do you have to park on the sidewalk?” I admit this wasn’t the most tactful way I could have put it – but it wasn’t the nastiest either. Certainly it did not warrant his immediate response, which was : “Fuck you! Fuck you! I got kids in the house! Fuck you!”

Is this any way to speak to a lady? An old lady, at that? And what was he implying? That he didn’t want kids to have to walk in the street, I suppose – but the hell with the old lady? Fuck him! “Pig!” I shouted back.

Other threats to walkers are bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk. I’m reluctant to ‘dis bicyclists, who are doing their part to save the planet – but they’re supposed to use bicycle lanes. True, not every street or road has a bicycle lane – another travesty – but plenty of bikes have whizzed past me, grazing my arm or leg, even in places where lanes were clearly defined. Bicyclists are considered a vehicle, like a car, and subject to the same traffic laws. The Oakland Municipal Code, Section 10.16.150, prohibits sidewalk riding:

“No person shall ride a bicycle which has wheels of twenty (20) inches or greater in diameter or a frame of fourteen (14) inches or greater in length on any sidewalk within the city.

This prohibition shall not be applicable to Oakland police officers operating a bicycle while engaged in their assigned duties.”

(Note that state law does not regulate bicycle riding on sidewalks—this is left up to individual cities.)

To report violations, call the Public Works Agency at (510) 238-3983 or visit their website.

Finally, this isnt exactly a complaint, but I wish we had more trees in my neighborhood. Trees give us shade and improve air quality, especially helpful in the summer. It turns out that the city will plant a tree upon request, something most people aren’t aware of. Online I discovered that the City of Oakland will plant a free sidewalk tree to any homeowner willing to care for it. Visit their website for more information and to download the tree planting request form. Or contact Robert Zahn at Oakland Public Works Agency Tree Section, (510) 615-5852.

Let’s Make the World Safer for Pedestrians!


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