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Plastic Bag Legislation

Muppt judges
The time has come to speak my mind on a subject of great consequence to us all as individuals, as a nation, and as citizens of Planet Earth. The subject I refer to is plastic bags, toxic to birds, fish, and other living creatures. It seems to have reached the tipping point, what with cities and counties throughout the country passing piecemeal legislation banning them.

In California, legislation to ban plastic bag usage has been debated for several years. In 2010, a bill backed by grocers and then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t make it past the legislature due to opposition from—who else?– the plastics industry. The first state to ban plastic bags was Hawaii. San Francisco was the first city, in 2007.

In Alameda County where I live a law took effect this January 1st prohibiting food stores from packaging goods in plastic bags. A good law, a sensible law; who doesn’t want to save the poor little fishies who mistake these bags for food and choke to death on them? It’s a kind law, a progressive law. Or so I thought. Like most people I didn’t pay attention to other aspects of the law. Either that or I have a more simple mind than I thought I had. It never occurred to me that banning a product would mean doing anything besides removing it. As it turns out, in addition to the plastic bag taboo—in food SaveWorldstores, that is—customers who forget their tote bags or don’t have any or for any reason don’t wish to hang their purchases  around their necks are welcome to a paper bag—for ten cents. I asked one cashier where the money goes. To the state, she said uncertainly. For what? Nobody seems to know. As I’ve so often observed, most Californians don’t care about small inconveniences; it hadn’t even occurred to them to raise the question.

But I am still a die-hard New Yorker, and I care. I would like to know the rationale behind this fee for paper! One cashier said she thought it was a way of encouraging consumers to recycle by bringing their own bags. I ask you: when did ten cents ever change anyone’s behavior? Those who’ve been recycling bags all along will continue to do so, and those who haven’t are unlikely to start doing so for the money.

Another thing: I’ve always used the plastic bags I get from stores–when I forget to bring my totes–as garbage bags. I cannot understand people who carry on about the dangers of these bags, yet go out and buy plastic garbage bags. Where’s the logic here?

And one final irony: When I bought a mug and some other chatchkalas at Pier One, they put my tissue-wrapped purchases into a plastic bag.

“I thought you can’t use plastic,” I said to the cashier.

“That’s only in food stores,” she replied.bluemeany

If this is true, then the whole thing is just plain absurd.

If it’s not, well, where are the Plastic Police when we need them? Never mind the plague of violence in Oakland—they’re pushing plastic at Pier One! For the sake of the fish, get an undercover team out to Emeryville post-haste!

Climate Change

Someday we may look back at the superstorm known as Sandy with immense gratitude. Yeah, she took the boardwalks at Rockaway, Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore; most East Coast beach communities have been forever altered; and some people’s lives took a severe blow. However, because of all this, and the rest of Sandy’s antics, people are finally talking about climate change as a serious issue.

Nothing I have to say on this blog or anywhere else and nothing on any other blog matters the teensiest bit if we end up without Planet Earth, an outcome that might occur if we don’t act asap. Therefore I direct my readers to a slide show and article on Huffington Post that, in 53 photos with explanations, identifies the losses we’re going to face in the near future if we continue on the same path. It’s scary–but it’s important. It’s of the awful/wonderful genre that will, hopefully, light a fire under a few more asses. Click. Read. Act.


Climate Change Threatens Coffee Production

Posted on
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.

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!

Personal Politics

The Personal is Political we always said, and I believe it. Life experience has shown me that the reverse is also true, that The Political is Personal. By this I mean that politics affects our lives, and in deeply profound ways. When I talk about politics I’m not talking about who got elected last Tuesday, but about the distribution of power and wealth – the two being synonymous in our culture.  The degree to which we each have power shapes our life’s circumstances in almost every conceivable area. For nobody is this more true than it is for those with little or none.

One reason it’s so hard to get people to look clearly at the way things work is that nobody wants to identify themselves as powerless – it’s a creepy feeling; who’d want to confess to it? I don’t like saying so, believe me, but in order to talk about personal politics I must. During the course of my lifetime I’ve experienced a steady diminishment of power – after childhood, that is, when we have absolutely none (other than what we can manipulate with tantrums and other devious methods). As an adult I’ve gone from being young, sexy/pretty, and upper-middle-class to being old and poor (also un-pretty and un-sexy as an elder according to social standards). Having taken this backwards journey — we used to call it “downward mobility,”  I know a thing or two about power, or lack of same. Armed with this perspective, I’ve been thinking I want to do more political analysis, as I did back in the days of feminism. Not that I haven’t done any of it since, but the fact that my blog was rejected from inclusion in a list of women political bloggers tells you something.

The state of politics today is what’s compelling me to focus more attention on it. We’ve moved so far right that Barack Obama, the ultimate capitalist advocate, is labeled socialist. We almost put a gal into the House of Reps whose platform includes ending masturbation. Okay, that’s a joke, sort of;  but it’s undisputed fact that everything’s moved rightward.

Chris Hedges, author of Death of the Liberal Class, was on Talk of the Nation the other day, blaming liberals for the current state of affairs. A proud lifelong liberal himself, he says that liberals have basically dropped out, that there aren’t any great liberal groups and institutions around anymore to keep our capitalist democracy in balance. Hedges sees the liberal class as a necessary element of our democracy, one that should be respected for having brought us the five-day work week and minimum wage, among other humanizing practices, but instead it’s become a dirty word. Hedges believes that if things continue going in the same direction we’re facing a barbaric future; barbarism is his exact word, and he doesn’t toss it around lightly. If we don’t address “the ecological emergency,” (another great phrase) which is tied to the economic emergency, if we keep on exploiting people and the planet to exhaustion, he warns, we’re facing willful suicide.

What he’s saying makes sense to me. Recently I read Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood and am now reading Oryx and Crake, a sort of prequel. Atwood describes a dystopia in which the failure to address the ecological emergency, plus scientific experimentation gone amok, lead directly to utter barbarism. My worldview has been immersed in Atwood’s since I began reading these books, and everywhere I see the seeds of her envisioned future. It’s scary as hell, but I can’t shake it: Atwood’s world is materializing before my eyes. That more than half the Republicans in power do not “believe in” the ecological emergency fills me with despair.

I see global climate change in every incident, from mudslides to forest fires to the BP oil spill, and I see it moving faster all the time. Change seems to be increasing exponentially: instead of just one change happening and then another, each change affects the whole organism, so that many changes occur, one on top of the other. I used to think the apocolypse wasn’t going to come in my lifetime, but I’m not so sure anymore, given that it’s already happening. For some in particular – those evacuating low-lying islands as the warming ocean rises and erodes their homeland; those driven off their lands by floods or erupting volcanoes – the worst is happening right now. For those with very little power, like me, survival becomes more and more difficult as resources become more and more scarce. Meanwhile, the people with more power, and certainly those with all the power, aren’t yet being affected.

I try not to debate people about politics, because I tend to get overly emotional, and sometimes even cry, as I dissolve into incoherence. That’s because this stuff is personal to me. When someone declares that only losers need government help, they are saying I’m a loser. I take that very personally.

One example illustrates everything I’m talking about: Hurricane Katrina was an emblematic event that revealed everything about what’s happening to our country. The people who got through nearly unscathed left New Orleans before the hurricane by turning the ignition key in their dependable cars. Those who had no way of leaving either perished or went through hell, and many still have not recovered. We all saw the crowds in the SuperDome, saw the color of the people’s skin, the conditions of their lives writ large upon their tired faces, in their broken and missing teeth. These were powerless people. Many of them survived but lost their homes, were “relocated,” and still have not been able to get where they want to be: back home. I understand the pain of being unable to go home: I long for New York and would go back if I could, but I don’t have the resources – and it takes a shitload of resources. I well remember how easy it was to move around 40 or 50 years ago. As things have gone increasingly dog-eat-dog it takes more and more money and power to move around, to make changes, to shape and control the circumstances of our lives. It’s all about power. It’s all about politics. The personal is still political – and the political is very, very personal.