Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dystopian on Subtopian

I'm published again. No money for any of this but it's still nice, especially when I'm getting shot down for day jobs right and left.


Ironically this story is about real class warfare in a dystopian America 50 years from now.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Existential attitude turning on a dime

When I was backpacking through Australia a dozen years ago, I saw something early one morning that has stuck with me for years. It was maybe 6:30am on a Sunday. Sydney was still waking up. The hostel I'd been staying at was in Potts Point, north of the crazy vibe of Kings Cross.

I was walking near Bourke Street which is kind of steep and overlooks the Botanical Gardens to the west. It's an area with elite cafes and arty gentrified Victorian townhouses most Australians couldn't begin to afford.

I was coming up this steep section of old sidewalk using all the physical fitness I'd gained while working for the Forest Service in Colorado earlier in the year. The morning light was golden and everything was misty and haloed, even the parked cars. The numerous cockatoos and parrots that permeate the city were making their wild morning ruckus. The air was cool, limpid and the harbor gave everything the exotic tang of salt air.

At the top of the hill I was scaling were a pair of birds making a joyous clucking and buzzing sound as they pecked at something on the asphalt. They were dandy creatures in neat brown feathers with neon-bright yellow beaks. They kept pausing in their pecking to squawk at each other as if they were having an intense conversation.

Indian myna birds are one of many invasive non-native species in Australia.

This was one of the few times I've felt at peace with myself and Sydney was one of the few cities I ever felt at home in.

When I reached the two birds standing in a pool of gold light I realized they weren't eating crumbs from a sandwich or something equally agreeable. They'd found a puddle of puke left by some blind-drunk tourist and were nimbly eating it.

I walked past them carefully, suddenly feeling like I'd mistaken some gauzy spiritual moment for another crude foul example of human imperfection. It was like witnessing two people in a graveyard and assuming they were mourners or relatives paying their respects only to realize they were grave robbers looting the dead.

I've been juggling the contradiction of that scene in my head ever since. On the one hand, it was a beautiful morning and the birds did look sublime. Everything looked right. On the other, the ugly reality of vomit in the streets.

If I ever meet the Dalai Lama I'll ask him what he thinks of this.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Inertia ... creeps

Essential rain/snow blowing down over the eastern Sierras into Nevada.

I've been staying in a friend's spare room for four months. I spent two of those months working a funky, seasonal warehouse job for 10 bucks an hour. It was a nice diversion from the reality that I'm almost 50 and -- for all intensive purposes -- homeless.

I've been working since I was 17. I'm flabbergasted by the whole Pirates of Wall Street /Predatory Lending/One-Percenter economic ass rape that precipitated this current Recession (read: Depression). I have never in my life seen anything like it.

Even at the nadir of Reagan's regime, in 1986, I was able to find a myriad of temp jobs while living in Sacramento. Jobs where I put shit in boxes for a month and then that ended. And I moved on to cleaning luxury homes in the Sacramento Valley for seven bucks an hour. Homes with ridiculous floor space, sunken living rooms, multiple hot tubs and three-car garages overlooking the baked, flat haze of central California.

I lugged turf on landscaping crews and pulled thousands of weeds alongside Interstate 5 in 100-degree heat. Thinking back, the outdoor jobs were usually the best ones. Something about the Pink Collar Ghetto always made me wince. My mother was a slave in that ghetto almost until she died. Her servile role in office bureaucracies was the reason why I balked at learning to type until I was 23 years old. I just took a typing test the other day and I'm now clocking at 62wpm, which is 7wpm faster than I was a couple years ago. It's like the older I get, the less needed I am in the workplace, the ironically more efficient I become.

I've been misled, deceived and had smoke blown up my ass by so many contract temp agencies, I've lost count. I've been promised jobs that were a "shoe in", that were "virtually guaranteed" and that I'd be "an ideal fit for" only to have the recruiter lose my phone number three days after submitting my resume to Intel, to Microsoft, to Amazon, to (insert dotcom name here). The IT industry does not like women, especially women over 40 who come from a non-technical background (English and journalism) and they openly despise older job applicants.

Usually when my resume gets flown by some tech firm, I slack off a bit, some weird naive part of my brain thinks this is it, the tide's turning. And almost always, I don't get picked.

Maybe Michael Ruppert is right. Maybe this is the last gasp of our petroleum and consumer-based society. I had no idea collapse would be this anti-climatic, this monotonous.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Enjoy your PM10

This is what the air looked like in Reno, Nevada (aka Truckee Meadows) on December 20, 2013. Isn't it lovely? There are two freeways that intersect in Truckee Meadows: I-80 and 395. Commercial trucks, travelers, tour buses and locals drive on these freeways 24/7. The air, and our lungs, never get a day off.

The preferred personal vehicle in Reno is a full-size pickup. The favorite make is the Dodge Ram, which gets about 11 mpg city and weighs 4,600-5,000 pounds depending on the model. The second favorite is the Toyota Tundra -- the oxymoron of Toyota because it is neither compact nor economical. It weighs in at about 5,500 pounds, again depending on the model and modifications. When I was on the freeway a week ago, I counted four Dodge Rams in my lane and two Toyota Tundras in the lane to my right. These massive pickups outnumber passenger cars in Truckee Meadows about two to one.

I first heard about PM10 in 1995 when I was fresh out of journalism school and working for a newspaper two hours northeast of Los Angeles.

Modern vehicles along with modern tires have created particulate matter at atmospheric levels never seen before on earth. When cars first became common, in the 1920s, the average vehicle topped out at about 45mph and their tires were made from actual rubber from rubber trees. Ford Model Ts weighed about 1,500 pounds and did about 13 to 20 mpg. Tires are now rarely made from rubber trees but rather polyester and nylon -- two prominent petroleum by-products made from crude oil. They're much harder than early tires and they hit the asphalt as they're spinning at twice the speed of early tires. Basically, a car or truck tire, is a spinning crusher that pulverizes sand, dirt and debris and makes it smaller -- usually 10 microns all the way down to 2.5. This ultra-fine dust rises into the lower atmosphere.

If you live in a fairly verdant region that sees a lot of precipitation, like New England or the Pacific Northwest, the particulate matter doesn't stay in the air very long. It's knocked by frequent rains or snow to the ground where it sifts into the water table. Unfortunately, in desert environments like the American West, northern China (Mongolia), the Middle East, Bolivia, etc. -- where there is little or no precipitation, this particulate matter stays in the lower atmosphere. In northern China, cities like Gansu situated near the Mongolian Desert have some of the worst air quality in the world. Granted, this is partly due to the fact the Chinese burn coal to heat their homes but it's also because Mongolia is a desert much like the Great Basin. Also, the booming middle class now own personal vehicles in record numbers. There are even off-road 4x4 clubs in China.

There is very little information on particulate matter -- its sources or where it ultimately ends up. This is not a coincidence. Just as Googling the torque or engine size for a Dodge Ram or a Toyota Tundra readily yields answers, try searching for the mpg or weight of these vehicles and the stats become mysteriously difficult to find.

As populations in desert cities grow, particulate matter accumulates in the air above them.

We inhale this PM10. And all animals (birds, dogs, cats, beef cattle, etc.) inhale it. It drifts down into creeks, rivers and lakes when it rains or snows. Children inhale it.

Air pollution in China

It's ironic that in the arena of global climate change debate, the issue of particulate matter generated by cars and trucks almost never comes up. Apparently CO2 levels, mercury and withering ice caps are such depressing and huge problems, there's no room left to talk about the most visible form of atmospheric pollution.


Wikipedia - particulate matter

Particulate matter map

Monday, September 30, 2013

Farewell Detroit in the Desert

I was barely in my old hometown five months and now, because of economic necessity, I'm heading back to the Pacific Northwest (at the start of monsoon season).

It's bittersweet. On the one hand, I felt socially and culturally stifled here. What with all the 'SAVE AMERICA, KILL OBAMA' bumper stickers and the bizarre, enraged disposition of about 35-percent of the white-male population. On the other hand, I kept bumping into transplants from the PNW, from SoCal, etc., who always defended Reno, Nevada the same way: "It's so much better HERE, than where I'm from." So much less traffic or so much more sunshine.

Secret Cove, Lake Tahoe, NV Sept. 2013

What an odd way to decide on a community. I'm pretty sure Indiana and maybe even St. Louis are a step up from Los Angeles. I think Nebraska might be too. Tampa and Los Alamos are surely held in higher regard. One has tropical weather and beaches, the other some of the prettiest desert in all the American Southwest. So pretty one of our greatest living writers, Cormac McCarthy lives in Los Alamos.

Past and present Renoites touchy about my criticism of northern Nevada would be surprised to know I spent 15 years living here. I originally moved here in August 1988 at age 22 after finally breaking free of the comfortable shackles of Elko. I stayed here until 1995, that's seven years; an eon when you're in your twenties. I moved back in late '95, then left again, for another job in summer '96. Moved back in spring '97 and stayed here until early 2003 when, spurred on by my first trips overseas (England and then Australia), I got the hell out of Dodge.

A lot of stuff happened to me in this dusty, blusterous town on the edge of the Great Basin. Some of it was good. I had genuine friends like Louie and Angela and Cody. I had sworn enemies too. But a lot of super bad stuff happened to me here too.

I buried my mother here in September 1993. I buried a failed relationship-slash-engagement here too. That's almost a cliche as so many women came here in the 1950s and 60s to pitch their wedding rings into the Truckee River.

In the end, I think this place is too rough for me, too raw. It's all glassy-eyed tweakers and gasping yuppies gunning their enormous pickups for the next stop light, the next party, the next sale at Walmart.

Nevada, especially Reno, is a place that even after a century of existence, still can't define itself, still can't pick the right things and say "these are important, these matter."

It's too much like the rest of middle America. This is why I'm leaving and going back to the self-analysis and geeky introspection of the cloudy Northwest. There's time to think under all those big trees.