Sunday, April 20, 2014

Waffle House Rules

"Narrative music follows in the footsteps of epic poetry; showing an ability to pluck deep heartstrings and even to spur people to acts of courage unrelated to the limitations of the performer or the individual performance."

Frank Rolfe and his partner, Dave Reynolds — Frank and Dave, as they’re known in the industry — say the 20 percent return many parks throw off annually is enough to get the genteel set over the idea of owning a community of ramshackle double-wides — extra-wide trailers that have to be transported in halves. Rolfe and Reynolds own 100 parks in 16 states and also run the Mobile Home University, an academy that holds three-day boot camps for aspiring trailer lords for $1,999 a person [pinky rings not included]. An increasing number of his students, Rolfe says, are bankers and engineers.

The beauty of a trailer park — for its owner, anyway — is that once a tenant trucks a home to a site, then lowers it onto a pad, as it’s known in the business, and hooks up to the electricity and septic systems, he’s unlikely to leave. It costs at least $5,000 to move a home, a sum that trailer dwellers rarely accumulate more than once, Rolfe says.

“We’re like a Waffle House where everyone is chained to the booths.”
— Anthony Effinger and Katherine Burton, Trailer Parks Lure Wall Street Investors Looking for Double-Wide Returns – April 9, 2014.
“So here’s the American Dream, over in America where they live in trailer parks, six percent of the population live in a Waffle House, chained to the booths, consuming waffles all day, and the only way out is giving the booth operator at the door 5000 bucks, and you’re never going to be able to accumulate 5000 dollars, why? Because you’re chained to the booth in the Waffle House. This is what the American Dream has become.”
— Stacy Herbert, The Keiser Report (E589) April 17, 2014.

Jim Scott and James Dunst at The Farm (Anita Whipple, FNS)

Ever since the full implications of the climate crisis became engrained in us — in fact even before then — we started wondering about methodologies of change, pedagogies for change agents, timelines and scenarios. We’d been aware of the encroaching limits of peak consumer society and the civilizational reset it implied (including the present malaise shown in the Bloomberg chart above) since at least the early 1970s. It was then we embarked upon a series of experiments prototyping a post-collapse steady-state using an organizational vehicle we named after Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. Two decades later, in the ‘90s, we began to grok the potential for a curve of upward bending, non-linear exponentials — as well as Olduvai overshoots, Seneca cliffs, catabolic collapse and other variants of the Hubbert model — principally engaged through the Butterfly Effect of small perturbations to coupled systems in a universe of quantum entanglement.

We used this space, and the paper space that preceded it, to talk about viral memes and temes, stickiness, mavens and false prophets, the Law of the Few, tipping points and backlash. Long before the 2009 debacle at Copenhagen, where both President Barack Obama and heir apparent Hillary Clinton demonstrated unwavering fealty to corporate hegemony even to the extent of sacrificing human survival on Earth, we knew that neither efficient light bulbs nor a carbon tax would avert unparalleled catastrophe for homo not-so-sapiens.

Back in the 1980s, our standard travelling show began with a drawing — on posterboard — of an automobile trapping heat when parked in bright sun with its windows rolled up. We used the picture to explain how light radiation from the sun makes a transformation to heat and thereby gets trapped by Earth’s atmosphere, creating the greenhouse effect (or the “greenhouse theory” as TV weathermen termed it then). We went on to point out that the car in the image was a late model, but in fact there is about a 30- to 40-year lag time between when CO2 emissions leave the tailpipe and when atmospheric warming results, so, in actuality, the warming we were experiencing then, in say, the summer of ‘88, when the Mississippi River became too shallow to float barge traffic, was exhaust from the muscle cars of the 1950s.
1950 Chevrolet

Commensurately, the record drought being experienced by California in 2013-2014, insofar as it can be generally related to anthropogenic climate change (the fuzzy dice being only partially loaded as yet), would have to be attributed to the cars we drove in 1973-84.
1978 Lincoln
In 1950, humans produced two GtCO2 (gigatons of carbon dioxide) annually, in 1980 around six, and today it is somewhere between ten and twelve. Current numbers are a little hazy because peat bog dewatering, fracking leaks, deforestation and other factors are not as easily measured as emissions from automobiles and cement factories. The results will become apparent in out years as we measure atmospheric CO2 levels at the Mauna Loa observatory and ocean concentrations near Greenland.

The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools.
— Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

Waiting for the results of our folly to spur us collectively towards action is no way to avert disaster. We need to exercise that uniquely human capacity to recognize progressions and project them forward to anticipate events. We must, once we recognize the peril, mobilize our creative energies and turn our vast talents towards ecological restoration, to mitigate the worst and/or better adapt to the inevitable. Failing that, we may as well just kiss our grandchildren’s future goodbye. We will leave them, as Edmund Burke said, “a ruin instead of a habitation."
"Society is indeed a contract. . . . It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained except by many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born."

As for the future children to be born to the partnership, Burke said:

"the temporary possessors and life rentors... should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance. . . [lest they] leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of a habitation."

Even as we probe the means and methods to achieve ecological restoration — to green the deserts and reseed a garden planet — we keep coming up against the bugaboo of globalized consumerist inertia. What can we possibly do to unchain ourselves from these Waffle House booths? Where can we come up with $5000 to move our double wide out of the miserable and dangerous Anthropocene trailer park to which it is currently condemned? Shall we pimp a string of hoes (fracking)? Build a meth lab (geoengineering)? Or maybe we should just blackbox the park’s 500 channel premium package on cable and fugettaboutit (denial).

Last night we were reminded once more about how social inertia has been and might be overcome, and quickly. Here at The Farm, our neighbors, J.R. and Chris Roman, have opened a small cabaret/burlesque theater and last night they hosted James Dunst and Jim Scott, folk singers who have toured with Pete Seeger, the Paul Winters Consort and others. This performance was in many respects a remembrance for Pete but apart from that just an all-around fun-filled evening.

The term “folk” comes from the German expression Volk, in the sense of "the people as a whole" applied to popular or indigenous traditional music. It derives from a pre-literate oral tradition but has an ineffable quality — an ability to stir emotions. Narrative music follows in the footsteps of epic poetry; able to pluck deep heartstrings and even to spur people to acts of courage unrelated to the limitations of the performer or the individual performance.

There is ample evidence of the power of this heart force in historic mass uprisings — the American Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Revolution, the Anti-Apartheid campaign in South Africa, and the Singing Revolution in Estonia,for instance.  A taste of our rebel music tradition was captured by Alan Lomax from 1933 to 1946 and has been made available free online through the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
Folk music, James Dunst reminded us at the start of the evening, is actually a “folk process” (could also be called stealing) wherein one artist expands on the work of another. Dunst and Scott's closing encore, a rendition of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” is a good example. The original version was taken by Pete Seeger from his reading of And Quiet Flows the Don (1934) by Mikhail Sholokhov. The novel quoted lines from a traditional Cossacks folk song that gave Pete the first three verses — “Where are the flowers, the girls have plucked them. Where are the girls, they've all taken husbands. Where are the men, they're all in the army" that Seeger adapted to the tune of a Russian folksong, "Koloda Duda." The other two verses — “gone to graveyards,” and “gone to flowers,” were suggested to Pete by Joe Hickerson in 1960 and then immortalized by the Kingston Trio’s hit single, Peter, Paul and Mary’s number one album, Marlena Deitrich (who performed it in English, French and German), Bobby Darin, Roy Orbison, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Richie Havens and Dolly Parton, among many others. It would not be surprising to hear the Ukrainian version of it being sung today (Де всі квіти, розкажи), which would take it full circle back to its Cossack roots.

Which takes us back around the circle to our conundrum of finding viral memes that inspire people to get out of their Waffle House blues and actually do something that can reverse our situation. It seems to us unlikely that change will ever come from negotiations between heads of state, or from new taxes and regulations being proposed by legislatures. We won’t get out of the Waffle House or the trailer park with ever more Extend And Pretend. We must permaculture up both places, all the while reforesting the planet. We can commence with hoe-downs in the trailer park.

The way forward is a cultural shift, led by moral example, spread through art, music, theater and dance.

Music must take rank as the highest of the fine arts - as the one which, more than any other, ministers to the human spirit. 
— Herbert Spencer

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Wendell Berry Year

"This is how we are celebrating the end of the world as we know it."

That you carry yourself forward and experience the myriad things is delusion. That the myriad things come forward and experience themselves is awakening. — Dogen Zenji (1200 - 1253)

Fencing the chicken coop
Recently Professor Guy McPherson told RT’s Thom Hartmann, “My advice is to be here now. To focus on the now, because this is what we have… Lets create those fantastic, joy-filled moments. Lets be here now with the ones we are with. Lets treat the living planet and other human beings with decency and respect and maybe treat ourselves with a little dignity.” 
It’s good advice. When confronted with a cataclysm of truly apocalyptic proportions, you can adopt the strategy of Harry Truman before the Mt. Saint Helens eruption, and spend the time you might otherwise use to escape to walk among your beloved pine trees one last time. 

Kazakhstan's Денис Тен
learns geodesic design
Or, you could go the path of say, Bill McKibben, and use a lifetime of finely honed talents to scream about impending catastrophe from the rooftops, get arrested, and get on the cover of The Rolling Stone. There is something cathartic about bailing water from a sinking ship, even if it doesn’t stop the ship from sinking.

Last year we took our little bailing tin to 11 countries, surfing available rooftops to scream from, penning stylish warnings, speaking through mass media, and hoping to get on the cover of the small town local version of Rolling Stone. This year we are doing a Harry Truman. Or, perhaps more approximately, a Wendell Berry.

New Pekings
Our neighbor in the Bluegrass to our North, the poet farmer behind the mule team, is a notoriously hard man to invite to anything. Not that he is shy, just that he is a serious farmer. He has animals to care for, crops to get in, harvests to sell or put by, and chores that simply must be done, every day.

So this year, a year that is in many ways a watershed and in other ways just more of the same, we are staying home and farming.

Our Indiegogo campaign over winter (still accepting donations)
was wonderfully successful and bought us straw, clay, sand and lime. We put out a call for apprentices, volunteers and WWOOFers, with the added perk that if they spend 2 months with us this summer we will teach them the full permaculture design curriculum and award them a certificate. As of today we have 23 confirmed and another 30 possibles. We have the first five on site and more en route.

Another swale day at The Farm
Each day we farm. Some days it means working on repairs to the chicken coop or duck ponds. Other days it means cutting bamboo and splitting it for construction. This is the season we inoculate the mushroom logs and we have plenty of shiitake spawn, wax and green logs all ready. Five or six of us can set out logs for the spawn run at a good clip when we get going. Then there are the starter trays of fresh vege to get going in the greenhouses, the raised beds to renew with over-wintered compost, and batches of biochar and EM tea to cook up.

Discovery Channel comes forward
to film our biochar stoves
Our piece de resistance this season will be the Great Hall of the Prancing Poet. Our master builder, Jon Hatcher, has been by to help train the new crew and everyone is itching for more time to make slip forms and tamp clay-straw into the walls, then lime plaster and trim them out.

This is how we are celebrating the end of the world as we know it. Neither a bang nor a wimper; just songs around the campfire, home-brewed ale and homegrown blueberry-apple crisp, and bluegrass picking under the full moon.

Y’all come by.  

PS: And if you still would like to catch us off The Farm this year, we'll be conducting a 2-week urban permaculture design course for the Chicagoland Permaculture Guild August 2-15, with an all-star cast.




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