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Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Do you recall the last time you saw a gas station attendant?

I don’t mean the person behind the counter who’ll ring up the candy bar and soda you buy after you pump the gas. I mean a person who comes out when you pull up, puts the desired amount of gas into your tank and, while the pump is running, checks your oil and washes your windshield. Gas stations used to be called “service stations” for a good reason.

They still exist in New Jersey, which has a law banning self-service gas stations. But pretty much anywhere else in America, the attendant is as extinct a species as the elevator operator. An entire class of employment has vanished, supplanted by technology (card readers and automatic shutoffs for pumps) and a deliberate downscaling of service.

A similar phenomenon is happening now in supermarkets and other stores (Home Depot for one): self-service checkout. Instead of having a cashier scan and bag your items, you do it yourself. Instead of several cashiers, the store needs one person to monitor the self-check lines and fix the occasional malfunction. The store cuts its labor costs, and the customer is made to believe that it’s a convenience.

But these are just two more mainfestations of the ongoing replacement of human labor with machines. At a time when unemployment is perilously close to 10 percent, businesses are looking for ways to employ fewer and fewer people.

The supplantation of people by machines is a theme that John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg and other social critics have expounded on at some length. In particular, once-plentiful agricultural jobs have mostly vanished, as now one corporate-paid farmer with a tractor can do the work that a dozen or two men would have done a century ago.

As the wheel of time turns, we have more people needing work and less work that we need humans for. It has been said that service jobs are the one category that can’t be outsourced or replaced by automation. In at least some cases, the automation is proving that maxim to be wrong.

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John Michael GreerI’ve arranged for John Michael Greer, Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, to come speak at my church, Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist. The program will take place Oct. 8, and is titled “Nature Spirituality and the Future of Human Society.” He’s going to blend Druidry with his work on peak oil and conservation.

I’m winding my way through his latest book, The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered. It’s an excellent read and offers some really insightful analysis of why economists miss the point so much of the time. Like all of his books, it’s written well, easy to read and understand despite the complexity of the subject.

He recently mentioned in a comment on his blog The Archdruid Report that he’s working on a book about various prophecies of doomsday, to be titled Apocalypse Not. It will be out in September.

The program is free, so if you’re anywhere nearby the Washington D.C. area (the church is south of D.C. in Camp Springs, Md.) come on out. And pass the information on to anyone you know who might be interested. It promises to be a great evening.

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This is so rare, it feels positively mythical – a Saul-like moment of enlightenment and confession.  Louis J. Marinelli, the strategist for the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-gay group fighting against civil liberties for LGBT couples, and the imagined ‘gay agenda’, has come out.

No, not as gay – as someone who has finally realized that his actions and statements are hurting people.  That he is not the hero in his story – but the oppressor and villian.

How amazing is that?  I think most people, when they suspect they might be on the wrong side of an argument, simply argue HARDER until the suspicion is buried under an avalanche of self-righteousness.  I think Mr. Marinelli has got some work to do – I hope he’ll try as hard to repair the damage as he did to create it…

… but I also hope that if his sincerity proves itself out… and that post sounded sincere to me… that he will be welcomed as Saul was by his oppressors… as the Grinch was by the community of Whoville.

And beyond everything, I hope that others on his side, who have been shouting the slogans and noticing with growing unrest that they are ‘protecting’ marriage by denying it to fellow human beings who simply want to love one another in the same committed environment as anyone else… will lay down their own fear and hostility and join Mr. Marinelli in acknowledging that they are wrong, and that it’s ok to turn away from a bad argument once you realize that’s what it is.

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This is just to add a little bit to Michael’s update to catch up on where I am with all this and why.

Back when we first started this blog, Michael and I were searching… we’d gone through a period of a-religion, to reaching out tentacles of interest and curiosity, sometimes together, other times in apparently opposite directions and not at all sure how or if our spiritual ideals would mesh well together or be something to work around.

Then we discovered Davies, and the UU faith in general, and wow… the exploration is actually a part of religious expression, and here was a place and a method of religious expression that lets us each seek as we will without any requirement or even expectation that we must be united in the details.  We’re united by the exploration.

Michael’s signed the book and is UU.  I haven’t yet, but will once I am there as a resident and not just a visitor… and I am UU.  And declaring a religious affiliation like that is a big, big deal for me.  My spiritual views are and always will be pagan, but the religious community that supports me in that is UU.  There!

The 4th Principle of Unitarian Universalism states that we affirm and promote “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.. .and I think that’s a large part of where Michael and I are now in terms of how to appropriately express the spiritual views we are coming to take to heart.

It’s a practical matter, I think, to try to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal) before necessity drives the cost out of our reach, or scarcity makes it impossible to continue consuming as we are now.  But it is also a spiritual exercise… if the Earth matters – and she does… if our purpose is more than that of consumer to corporate raping and pillaging of our natural resources – and we are… then something has got to change.  And living aware of what our actions cost is mindfulness.  It is a meditation.  It is a prayer.  It is an affirmation that there is a future to preserve.

But let’s go back to practicality – these last few years have financially been extremely limited for me, and while things will be better from my perspective once Michael and I blend households, I think he’s going to find it tighter than he’s used to, because the financial footprint of feeding, clothing, and sheltering two people is more than it is for one.   So adjustments are coming!

From a more general perspective – our nation continues to have low job prospects, average pay is going down, the housing market continues to be awful no matter what weak little happy-camper reports come out now and then, and I just read this morning that the ‘job growth’ we’re being told to be so optimistic about is somewhat less than it was during the heart of the Great Depression.

Things are not going to bounce back to the artificially affluent culture we were all taking for granted a few years ago.  We never did have any built in right to have it all, and we can either whine and moan about that now – or we can find a saner way to live our lives without being consumer gluttons.

At this point, I think Michael and I are in full agreement that we need to make some major changes in our notions of what normal consumer levels ought to be…and equal still rank beginners at figuring out how to go about making those changes,and not at all sure how much we’re going to be able to do to live more self-sufficiently, either by talent or by physical capability (we’re no spring chickens, y’know).

But we have desire and a growing sense that we can start practicing now, or be one of the many people a few years from now desperately playing catchup to the new reality.

For my part, food preparation seems to be where I most want to start.  I’ve learned to stretch my grocery budget to the squeaking point, eliminated a lot of expensive and overly packaged convenience foods from my regular pantry list, and have made at least experimental forays into making things from scratch many of us have forgotten can be.

I want to learn and develop a habit of canning – hopefully, eventually, preserving the harvest of our own garden.  I want to successfully have a thriving herb garden.  I want to reduce the amount of meat we consume – and switch to locally raised meat, milk and eggs rather than corporate-tortured animal products.  I want to get into the habit of baking our week’s bread myself.   Iwant to make the Farmer’s Market and possible a CSA subscription a part of regular lifestyle.  I want ‘convenience foods’ to be meals I’ve pre-prepped and have waiting in the freezer or pantry for days when we haven’t the time or inclination to cook intensively.

And I say all of this knowing that it’s going to take a great deal of perseverance, in a world that’s run by companies that want to make it really, really easy to purchase a product that includes a massive energy footprint (corporate farms for meat and veggies and grains, chemists labs for all the unpronounceable preservatives and filler, transportation costs for all of that to the factory where it’s put together and then outward to stores, not to mention all the production and transportation costs of the metal, paper and plastic packaging to wrap and seal it.

I still buy plenty of that stuff – and I’m probably going to be for a good while yet.  But I’m learning not to, and plan to take this a step at a time.  As Michael noted – the bottom isn’t going to fall out overnight.  We’ve got room to learn how to do this.

And this weblog is going to be our record of how we do that – what works, and what doesn’t, and a few reminders of why we’re trying.

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No Problemo?

I lived in Arizona for a few years and enjoyed it very much – but there is no question that they do love their silly season cluelessly-racist legislation.

When I was there is was about holding their breath til they turned blue rather than give up Columbus Day in favor of MLK Day – and the argument that they didn’t want to establish a holiday for an individual…yea, wrap your head around it.

They also were busy trying to make the NRA happy while still exerting some legislative control, by requiring minors inside Phoenix city limits to carry a permission slip from their parents if they had a gun on them.  There are so many things wrong with that, that no one was happy, but it kept talk radio busy for months.

Now, they’ve legislated against offering any sort of basic human kindness to Latinos – cops are supposed to ask for their ‘papers’  if they have any possible hint that the person might just be illegal – think they’re going to determine that by just asking everyone that is brown? I sure do…and guess what? American citizens don’t HAVE ‘papers’ because we are not Nazi Germany.  Can you prove your citizenship right now based on what’s in your wallet? No? Me neither.

According to the news, it also makes it a crime for ordinary citizens to offer a ride to anyone who may be illegal… so now you’re supposed to ask for your friends’ papers too, before going shopping together?

And McCain is all up this law’s butt, because he’s lost every ounce of ‘moderation’ he ever stood for by selling it off bit by bit for votes.  Good luck with that, John – how do you sleep nights?  Your new friends do not love you and they have long memories.

Bah… as always, Colbert manages to find the funny truth at the core of political insanity.

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I was listening to some comedy from Henry Rollins when I caught something I’d never noticed before in the bit. The immediate context was the Ku Klux Klan insisting on using its freedom of speech to hold marches, but the applicabilityof this gem is broad.

He said: A coward hides behind freedom. A courageous person stands in front of freedom and defends it for others.

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I’ve seen a lot of comments, ever since Brit Hume advised Tiger Woods to change his spiritual path, rejoicing in how finally someone who is not generally known as a religious leader was bold enough to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ on television. Christians, and in particular the conservative ones, seem to think Hume struck a blow for the faith that will lead to many souls taking the exit ramp off the highway to hell.

Ironically, this whole thing has just made me interested in learning about Buddhism.

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