Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sanity Poised for Comeback? Maybe! Maybe Not!

“A new civilization is emerging in our lives, and blind men everywhere are trying to suppress it. This new civilization brings with it new family styles; changed ways of working, loving, and living; new political conflicts; and beyond all this an altered consciousness ...” —Alvin Toffler

Toffler’s quote is especially prescient in that it describes, with concise precision, exactly why our country’s most cherished institutions have run off the rails and why there seems to be so much difficulty in getting things back on track. The big culprit here is stagnation caused by fear of change, lack of imagination, and a dearth of critical-thinking skills. Oh, yeah, and an overabundance of greed.

Only by thinking “outside the box” (to run an oft-used cliché deeper into the ground) can we begin to effect recoveries of the environment, the economy, and the decaying social infrastructures that most of us depend on. I’d say “thinking outside the buns,” but that would probably offend our leaders—and the wealthy corporatists that pull their strings—because their leadership style depends on keeping their collective head inserted rather far into their collective anal orifice.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Stopping the Slide

Unless we employ a miraculous new source of energy that is at once safe, sustainable, abundant and cheap, life in most first-world nations will, over the next two or three decades, come to more closely resemble life as it existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries rather than that which is visualized by conventional 21st-century futurists. Sorry, no flying car for you.

While the current socioeconomic system collapses beneath the weight of its own deficiencies and inertia, people wonder how things got so bad and clamor for government to do something. What many people don’t realize (or won’t admit to) is that they, too, are complicit in creating the problems that now threaten to disrupt life as we’ve known it. No one wants to face reality when it challenges the perceived safety of personal comfort zones and threatens the American way of life.

Nor do many people seem to realize that government has been co-opted by the same corporate interests that led us all astray, so that any expectation of real help arising out of government action amounts to little more than wishful thinking. If past performances are indicative of government’s capabilities of delivering help to the common people in times of crisis, then whatever effort government puts forth on our behalf to deal with current crises will either be wrong or a case of too little too late.

Our dying economy is based on the false premise that it can grow indefinitely, but ours is a finite world that long ago exceeded its carrying capacity, and the resources that fuel the economy exist only in finite amounts. There is nothing in all of reality to suggest that our current economic system is in any way sustainable.

Precious little time remains in which to stop this slide into utter chaos. While politicians, Wall Street titans and corporate CEOs debate endlessly about the relative merits of this stimulus plan versus that stimulus plan and quibble over which group of elites is the rightful heir to all the proposed taxpayer largesse—and whether or not to pay bonuses to the very executives that created this financial debacle—the likelihood of bailing out the economy before it hits rock bottom grows ever more remote.

No amount of money injected into the economy at the top end will aid in economic recovery. Anything that serves to make wealthy people wealthier without first passing through the hands of the working class will do nothing to lift the working class. Because money always finds its way to the top (and rarely vice versa), the only way to kick-start a stalled economy is to inject the money at the bottom and let nature run its course.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dim Bulbs & Bright Ideas

The warm feeling I get whenever I’m yet again reminded that morons still occupy—and exert undue influence in—the higher levels of government hierarchy is not, in reality, related to the warm fuzzies, but is more akin to “heat of anger” of the kind that has a high probability of ending in homicidal violence. Are you following this, Representatives Krieger, Esquivel, Garrard and Schaufler?

What these geniuses want to do is register the bikes of Oregonians who are over 18 years old. Using the same fee schedule as applied to cars—$54 every two years. Making bikes more expensive to register than motorcycles. Killing incentives for people to ride bikes. Hindering efforts to clean up the environment, get a handle on global climate change, and achieve energy independence. Leaving the originators of this ill-conceived plan open to the criticism they so richly deserve.

The problems with H.B. 3008 are varied and many. Not only does this bill suck like a Dyson on steroids, if it becomes law the potential for unintended consequences is huge. What if, on your morning commute across the Hawthorne Bridge, you found your way impeded by hundreds of horses and riders? And think of the parking problems that would ensue once all those horses and riders reach their downtown destinations. Okay, not too likely a scenario, I admit, but hey, anyone twisted enough to zoo bomb on a fixie at midnight is probably twisted enough to swap out a bike for a horse just to prove a point.

Might not bicyclists, forced to pay the same rate as automobile drivers for the right of access to the state’s network of streets, roads and highways, begin to insist on their right to unrestricted lane use? If you thought that following some oblivious twit traveling at 55 mph in the passing lane was slow, how are you gonna feel when you find yourself following an obstinate cyclist, who’s only trying to make a point, at 20 mph? Can you say “road rage”? Can you say “murder”? Can you say “guilty, your honor”? Can you say “how do I get this shit out of my grill”?

Are all of the possible unintended consequences of the negative kind? Not necessarily. There’s a slim possibility that we’ll see a decline in identity theft as professional identity thieves rush to fill the burgeoning market for identity forgers. Picture, if you will, the senior citizen bike rider who’s just been detained by an overzealous traffic cop. “Honest, officer, I’m only 15-and-a-half. Says so right there on my learner’s permit.”

There’s a better, more equitable way to fund the public thoroughfares we all depend on. Rather than dump a disproportionate amount of the burden on bicycles that cause relatively little damage to road surfaces—compared to their four-wheeled counterparts—and which, unlike their four-wheeled counterparts, put exactly zero carbon emissions into the atmosphere, legislators should rethink the whole concept of vehicle registration.

A “one size fits all” vehicle registration fee schedule is not the ideal method for raising money for roadway maintenance; it has a tendency to punish frugal people and reward extravagant ones. A far better method would base its fee schedule on vehicle weight, which is the primary causative factor in road surface destruction; the higher the weight, the higher the fee.

All vehicles, including motorcycles, bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades—in effect, anything with wheels—should be weighed “light,” i.e., without operator, passengers or cargo, to arrive at the appropriate fee for each specific vehicle. A progressive fee schedule would be determined by weight brackets, say in 100 lb. or 500 lb. increments, and fees assessed accordingly.

And, as a concession to all vehicle owners, the State of Oregon could make an allowance for each vehicle—say the first 100 lbs. for free.

Sounds fair to me.