Monday, June 11, 2007

2 yellow books

On Christmas Eve, 1967, in a club called The Magic Mushroom in a suburb of Los Angeles, Peter Bergman told his radio audience and the folks in the club about a dream he'd just had about the coming of The Electrician. Not surprisingly, the Firesign Theatre's first album, already recorded but not released until early 1968, was called Waiting For The Electrician, or Someone Like Him. In his dream, Bergman imagined a giant, Jim Morrison-like Electrician striding toward a giant plug that controlled all the electricity in the world, and then pulling the plug...
"and all the lights went out all over the world, and all the radios went out and all the tvs went off and all the movies stopped playing, and all the lights went out on the freeways and all the lights went out in this club went out, but we didn't care, see, because we don't need this microphone, we don't need these lights because we can do it on our own." "...One reason they're gonna pull that plug is so that we're gonna have to start living very closely together in very small communities so that everybody has a very important function and there won't be anymore of that, I think we call it, disrespect."
Reading The Long Emergency is like finding oneself in Bergman's dream from 40 years ago. The end is near! I used to hear that a lot. It was actually true when I was growing up. If Kennedy and Kruschev had pushed their respective buttons, the village world Bergman dreamed of would probably be the world we live in now. I had thought those days of imminent catastrophe were gone. I guess I wasn't thinking of Peak Oil.
Another "Firesign" album, this one written by Bergman's Firesign pal David Ossman and called How Time Flies came out in 1973 and also predicted a retirement of the US government and its replacement by the North American village movement. James Howard Kunstler is dreaming/predicting the same thing in his book The Long Emergency. Without oil, our civilization will collapse, he warns us, and we better all get really good at growing our own food and building everything we need. Well, I spent the 50s/60s worrying about imminent catastrophe so I've paid my dues worrying and have better things to do this decade. Not that it isnt a good idea to make some preparations....
In Armed Madhouse, Greg Palast poo poo's Peak Oil. Is Greg or James right? One certainly wants to cheer for Greg. Working for the BBC, he has uncovered scandal after scandal that should have brought down the Bush regime if there were any justice left in the US. Maybe justice is just as much a hallucination as Kunstler says our belief in surviving the absence of oil is. Rove brags about the fact that American media have ignored Palast. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Reading Armed Madhouse, one finds oneself constantly rooting for him as an underdog. Come on, Charlie Brown, kick that football, finally. American politics has so degenerated since Watergate, the current regime can get away with things that previous administrations were shattered over. If the bad old days of drop drills and imminent Russian missiles are indeed distant, the good old days when politicians found trampling on the Constitution were booted from office are just as distant. If we are in the end times of our oil slicked civiliation, the last to go down, the criminal politicians and captains of industry that ooze through Palast's screed will keep the last drops for their Hummers and Rolls Royces as the rest of the world falls apart. The Bad Sleep Well is more than the name of a great 1960 Kurosawa flick I saw recently.
Both Palast and Kunstler use Katrina and the drowning of New Orleans as examples to prove their theses. Palast is certainly right that cares no more for drowning poor people in New Orleans than he does for the US Constitution, and Kunstler may well be right that global warming, etc will make the rest of the first world look like the drowned Big Easy sooner rather than later, but reading both books is to wallow in despair. Not my favourite wallowing place.
It has been said that optimists write tragedies and pessimists write comedies. Although Palast has a few funny lines, neither of these books have been written to make us laugh. The people most responsible for, at least America's descent into political madness and oil addiction want everyone to keep laughing, or keep being afraid of ghosts about to attack. I suspect both authors wrote their books to educate at least some people to tell the difference between imaginary and real threats. An American public oblivious to the difference is a calamity for the rest of the world.


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