I had an email from architect Rodney Pfotenhauer today saying that he has a new web site: here. I know there are a lot of Pfotenhauer fans who come to this blog and who appreciate Pfotenhauer’s imaginative but practical designs.
Archive for July, 2012
Microsoft is dead. Vanity Fair has written its obituary. I’ll have a link to its obituary a little later in this post.
I actually can remember a time when I did not hate Microsoft. It was 1983, when I bought a TRS-80 Model 100 portable computer. Microsoft wrote the Model 100’s operating system. It was pretty good. But that was 1983, and the Model 100 was a pretty simple little device.
Since 1983, at home and in my job as editorial systems director for three different newspapers, I’ve used computers running on many different operating systems — AT&T’s System 5 Unix, DEC PDP-11, Tandem, Linux, Sun Solaris (the most highly evolved Unix, in my opinion), and of course lots of Macintoshes. I never touched a Windows box unless I had no choice. Not only were Microsoft operating systems primitive, but they were designed to promote Microsoft’s monopoly, to force you to do things Microsoft’s way. Windows 95 even refused to support the emerging TCP/IP standard (which now runs the Internet), because Microsoft — always fighting standards — hoped to kill TCP/IP and replace it with something from Microsoft. Microsoft did not innovate. They simply tried to extend their monopoly and to force people and corporations to upgrade to the next version of Microsoft’s crap. Sure, some people loved Microsoft. But that was because they’d never known anything else, and because they’d bought a bit of Microsoft stock.
No monopoly lasts for forever. Sooner or later it was inevitable that someone would bury Microsoft. The big moment was in May 2010, when Apple’s market capitalization exceeded Microsoft’s. Microsoft is now a zombie, stumbling around stupidly until the day comes when its head is finally smashed.
But zombie or not, we do now have its obituary, in the August issue of Vanity Fair. It’s a must read for anyone who wants to dance on Microsoft’s grave. Don’t miss some of the comments by the Microsoft apologists, who still can’t believe that Microsoft has lost and still don’t understand why, since they’ve never known anything but Microsoft.
Steve Ballmer had a great deal to do with the death of Microsoft, mainly because he’s not a technology person but rather a salesman, aggressive to the point of evil. The Vanity Fair piece reports on an outburst by Ballmer when Ballmer learned that a Microsoft employee was going to Google:
He threw a chair against the wall. “Fucking Eric Schmidt is a fucking pussy!” Ballmer yelled, according to the court document. “I’m going to fucking bury that guy! I have done it before and I will do it again. I’m going to fucking kill Google.”
That is a very succinct distillation of Microsoft’s business strategy — use its monopoly power to kill the competition. Microsoft software was that very attitude converted to code.
Contrast this quote from the late Steve Jobs, who created Apple and made Apple the enormous company that it is today:
Most interesting, however, is that Jobs put the ultimate blame on Bill Gates: “They were never as ambitious product-wise as they should have been. Bill likes to portray himself as a man of the product, but he’s really not. He’s a businessperson. Winning business was more important than making great products. Microsoft never had the humanities and liberal arts in its DNA.”
There you have it — a CEO talking about the humanities and the liberal arts as the key to success in business and technology. That’s worth meditating on. And let’s also hope that, now that Steve Jobs is dead, Apple never forgets.
Just over a month ago I did a terrible, consumerist thing. I leased a 2013 Smart car ForTwo. I can’t say that I feel remorse — I believe it was a good decision. But I do admit to a certain amount of guilt, especially at taking on a lease after having lived debt-free for so many years.
Here is how I justified the cost of leasing a Smart car:
1. Smart cars aren’t selling very well, so Smart is offering good terms on a lease: $1,299 due at signing and $99 a month. The actual numbers will be a little higher because of certain local costs, but I found my local Mercedes dealership to be very honest and very easy to deal with. (Smart cars are made by Mercedes and are sold at Mercedes dealerships.)
2. Even though I drive only about 6,000 miles a year, the savings on gas between my Jeep Wrangler and the Smart car is about $50 a month — almost half the monthly cost of the lease.
3. The Smart car has an air conditioner, and my Jeep doesn’t. The Smart car also is much quieter and more comfortable to ride in.
4. I intend to make my Jeep last for the rest of my life. I bought it new in 2001 and paid cash for it. It has 69,000 miles on it and has never given me a bit of trouble. It’s well-maintained and has had nothing but the finest synthetic oils in its engine and drive train. I’ll have no trouble making it last for the rest of my life as long as I keep the miles off of it. I haven’t started the Jeep in a month — something I really need to do soon, to keep it charged up and such.
5. The Smart car has safety systems that my 2001 Jeep does not have, including anti-lock brakes, a stability control system, and lots of air bags. I would not want to be in a head-on collision in any vehicle, but I believe the Smart car is as safe as any small car.
6. Maintenance avoidance. The Smart car is under warranty, and the Jeep will be driven only when I need it as a beast of burden, or in bad weather. So my costs for car maintenance for the next three years should be very, very low.
Before I review the Smart car
Before I leased the Smart car, I read lots of reviews. I also read a lot of what Smart car owners have written in on-line forums. The owners are mostly sensible, and their experience so far is in accord with mine. However, the reviews of the Smart car have been mostly — and often grossly — unfair. So first we need to explore why that is the case.
Why the Smart car reviews are unfair
Americans are completely insane when it comes to cars, petroleum, and highways. I mean this not as a rhetorical flourish, I literally mean it. Americans are insane. Anyone should be able to perceive this insanity merely by driving for five minutes on a Los Angeles freeway. But Americans have so normalized the insanity of their attitudes toward cars, highways, and driving, and the insanity is so universal, they they are unable to perceive it. It just seems normal. People who review cars are just as insane as everyone else, probably more so in many cases.
Americans also considers cheap gasoline to be an entitlement. If the price of gasoline rises as much as 50 cents a gallon, there is a risk of political crisis. The insane, unconscious assumption is that Washington’s main job is to keep the cheap gasoline flowing. Americans show some interest in fuel-efficient cars if the price of gasoline is high, but they forget it completely when the price of gasoline goes back to its expected range.
As for reviewer insanity, if a Smart car reviewer complains that the Smart car lacks the power to avoid slowing down on a steep hill, what does that reveal? It reveals that, to Americans, it’s an entitlement to ride in vehicles that can whisk whale-size drivers and their whale-size passengers (if any) up steep hills at 70 mph without slowing down. The power required to do that, and the huge amount of energy it takes, is seen as normal. It is not normal. It’s insane.
If a Smart car reviewer complains that the transmission in the Smart car is sometimes “rough” when it shifts, what does that mean? It means that, to an American, it’s an entitlement to take steep hills at 70 mph and feel absolutely nothing when the transmission downshifts, so that the sugar water in their super-size cup doesn’t show the slightest sign of sloshing onto their XXL T-shirt. That is not normal. It’s insane.
In short, Americans, and American car reviewers, don’t understand the Smart car and what it’s engineered for. They just don’t get it, and that’s why Smart car sales in the U.S. have been poor after the initial excitement when American importing began. It takes a European — or a sane American, of which there are far too few — to understand a Smart car.
You also can find car forums in which lovers of gas-guzzlers express absolute contempt for the Smart car, just as they express absolute contempt for hybrids such as the Prius. They think such vehicles are ridiculous, and they think that only smugness can explain why anyone would buy such a car. They see a Smart car or a hybrid as an expression of self-righteousness on the part of the owner. That is typical of Americans, to think that one’s car is a form of self-expression. But it isn’t a form of self-expression at all. It’s just a large purchase, and it ought to be based primarily on one’s needs and how the vehicle will be used. Few Americans are willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the environment. I am. But getting good gas mileage is not a sacrifice, it’s a savings. The issue of smugness is just another facet of Americans’ insanity. How dare anyone not participate in their excess? How dare anyone draw their attention to the environmental consequences of their massive consumption by appearing on the roadway in something small? They say my Smart car makes me smug? Well I say their Lincoln Navigator makes them insane.
The average American uses more than twice as much total energy as the average person in Great Britain, more than five times as much as the average Mexican, and more than 25 times as much as the average person in India. That is insane. Anyone who cannot grasp the insanity of that will not understand the Smart car.
Some reviewers have had criticism of the Smart car that I do think is valid, though. I will get into that in my review.
And now, my review of the Smart car
Every time I get out of the Smart car and look at it, I’m shocked how small it looks. Because when you’re inside it and driving it, you don’t feel like you’re in a small car. If you’re accustomed to driving a Lincoln Navigator, you may feel differently. But the Smart car rides high with a good view of the road, and both passengers have plenty of space. To me it feels about the same as riding in my Jeep Wrangler. My lifestyle, luckily, does not normally include freeways, but I’ve had it up to 70 mph a couple of times on six-lane highways. It feels perfectly stable at those speeds. It is not buffeted by nearby trucks. I have no particular sensation of being in such a small car. On two-lane roads, I find that, rather than driving in the center of the lane, I tend to keep more to the right. This feels safer to me, because oncoming traffic is farther to my left, giving me more time to react if an oncoming car strays into my lane. Smallness does have certain safety advantages, so one ought to use those advantages.
Some reviewers have said the car is noisy. That is not true. I don’t even hear the engine while cruising. I can hear a quiet engine noise when accelerating or climbing a hill, but it’s not very noticeable. There is some minor carriage noise, but the level of carriage noise depends greatly on the quality of the pavement you’re on. I have a simple test for noise level. I extend my right arm so that my hand is as far from my ear as possible and swish two fingers together. If I can clearly hear the swishing sound, then the environment I’m in is not noisy. The Smart car is not a noisy car.
Some reviewers have complained about the transmission. It’s a five-speed transmission. It’s automatic, but I believe it uses a clutch similar to the clutch in cars with a manual transmission. However, the clutch is controlled by the car’s computer using servo motors. There is no clutch pedal; anyone can drive it. Having driven with this transmission for a thousand miles now, I like it a lot. You can use the transmission in two different ways. The first is just to put the car in “Drive” and not worry about it. A second mode permits manual control of the automatic clutch. You tap the lever forward to shift up; you tap it backward to shift down. I usually drive this way, because the computer can’t anticipate the driver’s intentions, and the computer can’t know anything about the road just ahead. Some reviewers claimed that the Smart car “lurched” while shifting. It will lurch only if someone doesn’t know how to drive, or under difficult conditions such as shifting down when acceleration is suddenly demanded on a steep hill. That would be a tough shift with any transmission. On normal roadways with normal acceleration, the Smart car’s transmission is very smooth and quiet. It purrs.
I’ve never had to make any kind of evasive maneuver with the Smart car, but some owners have testified in Smart car forums that the agility and smallness of the car has permitted them to evade collisions in a way that would not be possible with bigger cars. The Smart car is very polite in its handling. It takes curves like a sports car. It is relatively wide. It corners nicely and often can make left or right turns in third gear. Compared to the awful ride I get in my Jeep Wrangler, the Smart car feels more like a Jaguar. However, it does not like rough pavement.
Some reviewers seem to think that the three-cylinder engine in the Smart car has to run at a high rpm and work too hard. If that’s the case, they must be driving very aggressively and trying to accelerate at sports-car rates. At a reasonable, fuel-efficient rate of acceleration, engine rpm actually remains quite low. The transmission likes to shift at the lowest speed possible and keep engine rpm down. By any reasonable — as opposed to American — expectation, there’s more than enough engine power back there. (The engine is in the back so that the front of the car could be engineered as a collision crumple zone.)
As I mentioned earlier, almost all the interior space is available to the two passengers. The seats are staggered so that the two passengers are not shoulder-to-shoulder, giving a bit more room. There’s room for lots of groceries in the back. The right-side seat can be folded down for more grocery space if needed. The grocery space in the back is easily accessible through the rear hatch. There is a hidden lockable area in the lower rear door.
The model that is available for the $99 lease includes an air conditioner, an AM/FM radio (with USB and audio inputs), and remote-controlled electric locks. The rear hatch can be opened with the remote. There is a wiper and defroster on the rear window. The headlights are awesome, with a long-range high beam that I really appreciate on country roads.
With the 2013 model, the EPA highway fuel economy rating went from 40 to 38 miles per gallon. There was much discussion about this in Smart car forums, but the explanation seems to be that this was because the EPA changed its rating methods, not because anything in the Smart car changed. Many Smart car owners report that the car gets poorer mileage when the engine is new, but that the mileage increases after the engine is broken in well. Some report mileage jumps around 7,000 or even 30,000 miles on the odometer.
I was disappointed to be getting only around 37 miles a gallon on my first three tankfuls of gas. However, when the odometer reached 1,000 miles, I got 41 miles per gallon on my fourth fill-up. I’m good at driving in a way that saves gas. My Jeep, for example, is rated for 19 miles per gallon, but I can get better than 23 out of it. So I expect my Smart car mileage to improve as the engine continues to break in. Even now, I think I could get 45 miles per gallon on a road trip involving extended cruising at 55 mph. Even my 41-mpg tankful included some city driving for shopping trips to Whole Foods.
I was concerned that other drivers might want to bully such a small car and beat up on me for my smugness. I have not found that to be the case. Only once have I had an angry, aggressive driver behind me, annoyed because I was driving at exactly the speed limit. I pulled over and let him pass. I’m used to that, as is anyone who drives at the speed limit.
I think that professional reviewers and others have had some criticisms of the Smart car that may be be valid.
The first is the question of value, whether the Smart car is priced too high for the amount of car you get. That may be. I had also considered a Kia Soul, which is probably more car for not much more money. However, I could not negotiate a lease with my local Kia dealer. They wanted to play games. I won’t do that. In any case, I do think that the Smart car is a surprisingly sophisticated and polite little car. It is a Mercedes. It is built in Germany and France, not Asia. It may seem overpriced compared with a Kia, but if you keep in mind that it’s a Mercedes and compare it instead with, say, a Mini Cooper, then the price doesn’t seem so harsh. The low-price lease is a very fair deal, in my opinion, and resolves the value question.
The second is the question of gas mileage. Shouldn’t such a small car get better mileage than the 38 mpg rating? All I can say is that a good driver can easily get more than 40 mpg. And we can hope for a time when the diesel version, which is popular in Europe, is available in the United States. The diesel Smart car, one hears, gets more than 60 miles per gallon.
The third criticism is that Mercedes recommends the use of premium gas of at least 93 octane. I believe that Mercedes recommends premium gasoline in all its cars. Owners report that the Smart car runs perfectly well on regular gas (apparently the computer adapts the engine to whatever is in the tank), but mileage is reduced on cheaper gas. The owner’s manual says that, because mileage is reduced on cheaper gas, premium gas is the most cost-efficient fuel for the Smart car.
I really like this little car. After a month, I’m still always looking for an excuse to go somewhere. The cost of driving is low; the comfort level is high compared with my Jeep; and unless I drive it too much I’m reducing the amount of carbon I pour into the atmosphere. I’ll confess to being smug about my Smart car if the heavy-footed driver of the gas-guzzler behind me will confess to being insane.
I don’t have cable or satellite, so I was not able to watch HBO’s Game of Thrones until it came out on DVD. It was quickly apparent that Game of Thrones is good fantasy — a rare thing. The HBO series is based on five books (so far) by George R. R. Martin:
– A Game of Thrones (1996)
– A Clash of Kings (1999)
– A Storm of Swords (2000)
– A Feast for Crows (2005)
– A Dance With Dragons (2011)
HBO broadcast a second season of Game of Thrones this spring. It is not yet available on DVD. A third season is now filming.
Of course I had to buy the first book and see if Martin’s story reads as well as it films. It reads even better. I’ve read the first three books, and I just started on book four.
It’s impossible not to compare this fantasy world with Tolkien’s. In my opinion, no fantasy writer has come close to equaling the depth of Tolkien’s story or the maturity of Tolkien’s prose. But Martin comes closer than any fantasy writer I’ve ever read. Most fantasy writers are unbearably terrible writers, but Martin almost hits the mark. I often find myself wishing that Martin had an editor, someone in England with an education like Tolkien’s, who could give Martin’s writing the tweaks it needs to hit the mark. Books these days are poorly edited, and Martin’s books are no exception, though clearly they got more work than most books since they’re a guaranteed money-maker. They are long books. I’m reading the Kindle editions. Books one and two are about 900 pages; book three is 1,200 pages. Don’t be intimidated. After you’re hooked, you’ll be glad there’s lots of it to read.
All the ingredients are there — appealing worlds, highly lovable characters, highly hatable characters, a complex plot with lots of twists and turns, writing that is easy on the ears, and atmosphere. I could do without the zombie theme, but it seems that’s a theme every writer must include these days if he wants to sell books — that or something about vampires. The zombie theme notwithstanding, these are novels good enough for adults.
When good books are made into movies, it’s always best to read the books first. So you have almost a year to get started on these books and get ahead of HBO.
Right-wingers cracked up on right-wing propaganda make much of the fact that almost half (around 46 percent) of Americans pay no federal income tax. It is true. The Wall Street Journal often calls these people the “lucky duckies,” and all right-wingers just know that the lucky duckies are getting a free ride off the rest of us and that it’s the lucky duckies who are eating the lunch of the middle class. What right-wingers don’t know, though, because their propaganda machine doesn’t tell them the rest of the story, is that almost all of those lucky duckies are living at or below the poverty line (defined as an income of $23,350 or less for a family of four including two children). They pay a high proportion of their income in other taxes, but they don’t pay any federal income tax because their income is so low and they have dependents. The highest income for qualifying as one of these lucky duckies is $26,400 for a couple with two children. But many of these people make less than $15,000 a year. The reason that so many Americans pay no federal income tax is that poverty is so widespread — measured as either income or assets.
(By the way, in 2011, 78,000 taxpayers with incomes between $211,000 and $533,000 paid no federal income tax. Worse, 24,000 filers with incomes between $533,000 and $2.2 million paid no federal income tax. And not only that, but 3,000 filers with incomes above $2.2 million paid no federal income tax. What were we saying about lucky duckies? You can be sure that the Wall Street Journal hasn’t reported on these lucky duckies. And it is generally assumed by those who bother to think about it for a second that the reason Mitt Romney won’t release his tax returns is that he paid no federal income tax for one or more years.)
Americans, in their bottomless ignorance and eagerness to be deceived, hold extremely warped notions of just how poor the poor are and how rich the rich are. Middle-class Americans also have a been fooled into believing that they get a much larger piece of the pie than they actually get.
My old colleague Dan Froomkin, in the Huffington Post, reports today on a study by the Congressional Research Service that shows that half of Americans hold 1 percent of the nation’s wealth. The top 1 percent hold 34.5 percent, and the top 10 percent hold 74.5 percent.
A study in 2010 by academics from Harvard University and Duke University surveyed Americans on how Americans think wealth is distributed. On average, Americans thought that the richest 20 percent hold 59 percent of the wealth. The real number is closer to 84 percent. Americans were shown pie charts showing the distribution of wealth in different countries and were asked which country they would prefer to live in. They chose Sweden, where the top 20 percent control only 36 percent of the wealth. Distribution of wealth in the United States actually is similar to Latin American countries such as Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Guyana.
Each year since the late 1970s, the rich have been eating more and more of our lunch. There are two main ways they have done this. First, they have drastically changed taxation, so that the rich pay are now paying taxes at the lowest rate in 80 years, while increasing the tax burden on the middle class. Part of the reason the right-wing propaganda machine goes on and on so loudly about taxes is to obscure those facts. Second, they have been scooping up almost all the gains from increased productivity, as this chart shows:
The most important task of Fox News and the right-wing propaganda machine is to keep Americans ignorant of these basic facts. If you keep ‘em angry at the lucky duckies, they won’t notice who actually is eating their lunch.
Another peculiarity of Americans is that they have the oddest tendency to identify with the rich, even when they’re barely getting by, falling farther behind each year, and are utterly dependent on the safety net — such things as Social Security and Medicare. It’s an excellent exercise in propaganda analysis, actually, to try to figure out how this is accomplished. I believe that the two biggest factors are television (including not only the propaganda channels but entertainment channels as well) and the “prosperity gospel” prevalent among evangelicals. This “gospel” teaches people that the poor are to be blamed for their situation, that god wants them to be rich, and that giving money to the church is the first step to prosperity. It also teaches them to love war and to hate anyone who isn’t just like them, but that’s a different rant. My point is that it’s as sorry a theology as has ever been devised, which is saying something, since there are so many sorry theologies out there. But it does pack ‘em in on Sundays, because they love to hear that god wants them to be rich and to consume voraciously.
But this is nothing new. John Steinbeck was aware of it:
Note: I am aware (because I always try to diligently check my facts to avoid being corrected in a comment) that some have disputed this Steinbeck quote, but whether Steinbeck said those exact words or not, the observation is a true one.
After several brutal summers, the summer of 2012 is going pretty well at the abbey. While 60 percent of the country is in drought, the abbey lies in a narrow no-drought area of western North Carolina. There was a period in early July when the temperature went over 100 degrees for four days in a row, but after that hot spell let up, friendlier weather followed. It’s been almost a month since I had to irrigate the garden. Rainfall has been doing the job.
Some things are looking a little shabby — whether from heat, the work of insects, or other pests I’m not sure. But for the most part, everything is doing what everything ought to do in summer — growing like crazy. I’m particularly happy to see my young trees growing. Previous years have been very hard on newly planted trees. I could never carry enough water. But the rainfall has been sufficient this year to keep all the young trees growing nicely.
In short, I’m not complaining. The long-range forecast doesn’t look too bad. For those of you who are in parts of the country that are being hit hard by heat and drought, I am very sorry. I know what that’s like.
I put up seven quarts of dill pickles today. Big ugly cucumbers make big ugly pickles, but they’ll be fine. When I’m canning, I think how nice it will be for Ken to get to eat some of what he planted. He’s in Alaska at the moment.
One of the many reasons I don’t eat out much is that there aren’t many places to go. One comes across places that you really want to like — like Tuggle’s Gap restaurant near Floyd, Virginia, near the Blue Ridge Parkway — but almost always you’re disappointed.
As late as the 1970s, there were still good roadside restaurants. They had honest foods cooked from scratch. Some of them are still in business. They’re nothing like they used to be. I’m not sure why this is. One possibility is that the food service industry has pushed a lot of labor-saving institutional food off on them, and now every place is the same. The individuality and adventure is lost. Another reason, I think, is that in these parts restaurants compete on price, not quality. When I was in San Francisco, friends visiting from back east were often shocked at the cost of eating out. But there is a big difference. In a good food city like San Francisco, restaurants compete on quality, not price. Price doesn’t matter. In these parts, that’s too small a niche. Take pizza, for example. I had a visitor in San Francisco who, upon taking the first bite of home-delivered North Beach pizza, raved about how good it was and said she’d never had such good pizza in her life. Yep. That pizza probably cost 22 bucks. Around here, pizza is worse than pathetic, because the price point is closer to 10 bucks that 20.
Southern eateries rarely — very rarely — produce edible homestyle Southern cooking anymore. Again, I think this is partly because of the intrusion of the food service industry, partly the fact that they have to keep prices low, and partly because there just aren’t as many good cooks as there used to be. One exception is Hillbilly Hideaway near Walnut Cove, which has done a pretty good job of keeping its standard up. I’ll review Hillbilly Hideaway sometime.
But back to Tuggle’s Gap. Tuggle’s Gap ought to do better, because its closeness to the tourist traffic on the Blue Ridge Parkway allows it to get away with charging higher prices. But I had an enchilada plate there yesterday that was pathetic. The enchiladas were hard and bland. The plate was decorated with sorry-looking iceberg lettuce and sorrier tomatoes. The rice wasn’t seasoned, it was just red. Have I mentioned that Southerners are terrified of spices other than pepper and cinnamon? And you’d think that they’d at least be able to do pinto beans right, but the beans were undercooked. Doesn’t every Southern cook know the blow test? If you blow on a spoonful of beans while they’re cooking, if any of the skin curls, the beans are NOT DONE. The skins must be completely softened, and there will be a soupy broth that is starting to thicken. How thick you make the broth is a matter of personal preference, but it absolutely must not be watery.
I should have known better than to order Mexican, but I was deceived into thinking that because Tuggle’s Gap aims at a fancier standard, they’d know what they were doing. Wrong. It is a common syndrome in these parts. You can get Chinese food that obviously was cooked by someone who has never eaten Chinese food. And you can get Mexican food cooked by someone who obviously has never eaten Mexican food, someone who has never eaten more than 20 miles from home. So what you get is a kind of white trash concept of what those foods would be like. At $9 a plate, there is no excuse.
By the way, when I use the term “white trash,” I speak proudly of my own ethnicity. I’m also thinking fondly of the White Trash cookbook, which I fondly recall was part of the countertop reading at the Lighthouse Restaurant in Sausalito, California. The lighthouse usually had cooks trained at the Culinary Institute of America (or, CIA cooks, as they call them). If you know your stuff, you probably also know stuff about white trash cooking.
Anyway, if you go to Tuggle’s Gap, order a burger with fries or onion rings. They can understand that. They weren’t trained by the CIA. They don’t understand anything else.
For months, tens of thousands of grassroots voters in North Carolina have been working to convince the legislature and the governor that fracking is a bad idea. We apparently succeeded. And yet we woke up this morning to find that fracking is now legal in North Carolina. How did this happen?
Well, they say that Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, hit the wrong button when she voted. They wouldn’t let her change her vote (though you can be sure they’d have let her change her vote if the “accident” had happened the other way around). Carney says she feels just terrible about it. Sure she does.
All over the country, state legislatures have been passing laws to prevent election fraud, even though election fraud by ordinary voters is very rare. Now we have a vote by those who make the laws that stinks to high heaven. If you believe this was an unfortunate mistake, then I’ve got a government in Raleigh I want to sell you. They will get away with this. They’ll say, too bad. Get over it. Move on.
Well, we won’t get over it, and we won’t move on.
I have been active in the county and state campaigns opposed to fracking in North Carolina. I have learned a lot. As a progressive, I’ve also seen how the people of this conservative county (65 percent Republican) have learned a lot. They’ve learned what progressives have been saying for years: that our politicians, our Congress, and our state legislatures have been taken over by corporate money and power — Democrats and Republicans alike. The word “oligarchy” is not just a rhetorical grenade. It’s a word that accurately describes American government at the national level and, increasingly, at the state level. More and more, the United States looks like Russia and corrupt countries in South America.
As a progressive, I’ve also learned how sensible conservatives can be, as long as they’re not just repeating what they’ve heard on the TV.
The conservative people of Stokes County have learned other things, too, that are not so bleak. They’ve learned that local government can still work, because the distance between politicians and the people is much shorter. We can actually pick up the phone and call our county commissioners, or our representative in the state legislature. This local process worked. Our state representative, Bryan Holloway, changed his mind and opposed fracking after he heard from the people. And our all-Republican board of commissioners unanimously passed a resolution opposing fracking after it heard from the people. Holloway’s vote alone would have kept fracking illegal in North Carolina, had there not been a “mistake” in our state House of Representatives. Had the “mistake” not happened in Raleigh, it could have been said that we in Stokes County, by raising our voices in good faith and changing the mind of our elected state House representative, turned the tide on fracking in North Carolina. That is the way the process is supposed to work. We followed the rules, expecting our elected representatives to also follow the rules.
But a law is now on the the books in North Carolina that the people clearly opposed and which our governor and legislature claim to oppose. WTF??
Sometimes it seems the only sensible response is despair and futile anger. How in the world can those of us who care, those of us who bother to be informed, stand up to the hordes who don’t care, to the lazy ignorati whose views are based on mass-media blather? How can we stand up to corrupt politicians, or to politicians like Becky Carney from the ugly, money-grubbing city of Charlotte who is either stupid enough to hit the wrong button or stupid enough to think we’ll believe it was a mistake.
In short, how can honest people who believe in the American system of government take back their own government?
One of my moments of greatest despair came when representatives of the Stokes County “Tea Party” joined the Facebook group set up by county people opposed to fracking. This Tea Party person posted a message in the No Fracking group inviting people to a meeting to talk about fracking at the same public library where the No Fracking people met. The “Tea Party” people, of course, believe the propaganda from the oil and gas industry. They think fracking is marvelous and squeaky clean. We raised no objection to their posting an invitation in the No Fracking group. We believe in free speech, and we believe — or do our best to believe — in the democratic process.
A couple of No Fracking people went to the Tea Party meeting. As expected, the Tea Party people knew nothing and simply recited gas-industry talking points. When the No Fracking people spoke up to challenge this misinformation, they were told that the meeting was a closed, private meeting. The Tea Partiers were so wrongheaded about the way American government works that they don’t understand that you can’t have closed, private meetings at the public library. They think government is their own private stick to use to beat down the people and views that they don’t like.
The people who think you can have closed, private meetings at the public library also got the fracking law they wanted — even though they had only a small following and they changed no minds.
And there you have it. There are people in this country who think that our supposedly democratic institutions are their private club. To disagree with them is tyranny. If the democratic process doesn’t give them what they want, they will simply take what they want. And why not? They always get away with it.
I don’t know what the hell we are going to do about it. But here’s a suggestion for getting started: Go to your local election board right now, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, and change your registration to no party. Let’s ignore the party machines that have betrayed the people and sold out — Democrats and Republicans equally — to big money. Let’s turn off our televisions, talk with our neighbors, think for ourselves, and remind them what democracy is all about.
After this post was written, we learned that Rep. Susi Hamilton, a Democrat from New Hanover County, sold her vote on fracking for a budget amendment that gives $60 million worth of tax breaks to her pet industry, the film industry in Wilmington. As always, corporations get the profits, taxpayers get the bills. In this case taxpayers even paid for a $60 million bribe.