So. No posts for awhile. I know you’ve all been wondering what Master Caution has been up to. Mostly working, thinking, applying for jobs, getting jobs, and trying not to freak out about peak oil so much that it keeps me cuddled in the fetal position next to my hot water tank.

Here we are. A gallon of gas is nearing the cost of a pack of cigarettes. A national average of $4 a gallon, according to 60 Minutes, which is playing through the VHF snow on the one channel I get on the 28-inch TV that sits like a walrus in a toll booth in the corner of my living-slash-bedroom-slash-office. I miswrote, actually: a gallon of gas would be approaching the cost of a pack of cigarettes if the recent New York tax hike hadn’t gone through. A pack of smokes is now equivalent to an hour of work at minimum wage. I tell myself it will make me quit, but I doubt it. At best, I can hope that it will keep me from bumming out cigarettes to the “only smoke when I drink”-ers.

My old editor at Generation came into town last night. “I quit smoking,” he said, as he smoked one of my cigarettes outside the bar. “I was shocked and appalled at how easy it was.”

Me too.

While I’ve been a smoker for over ten years now, I haven’t owned a car since December 3, 2005. I know the date for two reasons: my car, my beautiful Subaru Legacy Outback, was totaled on the street in front of my house. There was a lot of paperwork to fill out. Filling in the “date of collision” has commit the event to my memory. Secondly, the date is a part of the best and worst 9/11 joke I’ve ever heard, depending on where you sit. Taylor Negron. The Aristocrats. If I could find the video (help?) I’d post it. And I can’t tell it here. It’s just not that kind of a joke. But the next time you watch it, if you watch it, look for Taylor Negron near the end or during the credits. I can’t remember which.

Sorry.

At any rate, the date is burned into my memory and life. I’ve even started an informal holiday of sorts. I don’t do anything serious on December 3. If anyone asks, I tell them it’s a religious holiday. If they ask which one, I say, “It’s December Third!” Which probably leads to confusion on their part. “What? Is that like an orthodox thing? Is this guy fucking with me? What sort of holiday mandates the consumption of whiskey-root beer floats?”

The point.

Cars. I haven’t had one since December 3, 2005. (Gesundheit, lady-who-has-loud-sex-across-the-alley.) And I’ve enjoyed the shift. I travel by train or bus. It takes a lot more planning, but every voyage feels like a field trip. I walk everywhere else. I come in contact with other human beings and with nature. Sometimes that means trudging through eighteen inches of snow or sprinting through violent thunderstorms. Most days, though, it just means getting to where I need to go, without being beholden to the costs of gasoline or automobile maintenance.

Of course, the places I need to go are closer than the places I went when I went wherever I wanted to go, back when having a car made sense to me. And I can’t as many people or goods with me as I used to. Grocery shopping has become difficult at times and impossible at others. But I’ve gotten to know my neighborhoods. I’ve been forced to look for food closer to my home, forcing me to look closer at my home and its immediate surroundings in order to survive on more than beer and whatever I scrounge from work.

I’ve had to change my idea of a good neighborhood. According to walkscore.com, my addresses since 12/3 have received a rating of 52, 83, 82, 77, and (currently) 91 out of 100. All this in comparison to my house, my home, the ex-urban Rivendell that I loved and bled and grew up in and for which I rarely go a day without singing a silent boxcar spiritual, which rates a 5. (I still love you, yellow lunch box, stuck in the throat of Dolphin Drive from both ends like a swallowed pill.)

I didn’t know then what I know now. That gasoline prices will never go down. That even if they do, it will be temporary and more damaging than if prices tripled tomorrow. That the world has reached the point where it has pumped the most oil out of the ground that it ever has, that it ever will. And that from here on out, things will get tougher for the new owners of my yellow lunch box and everyone else who lives in a lunch box just like mine. They will find less time for leisure and television. They will need to find new ways of getting work, food, medicine, electricity, candles, mail, flowers, water, clothing, and a host of other necessities, perceived and actual. They will find their government more and more occupied by dangerous and consuming wars over the last of what’s left of our planet’s resources–and they will need their government to win. Many will die–and they will need to die for others to live.

Or maybe not. Maybe hydrogen isn’t as impossible as it seems. Maybe suburban families will begin converting their massive grass yards into the farmland they were meant to be. They’ll stick to the neighborhood and trade their minivans for milk cows and draft horses. Or they’ll move back to the abandoned cities, and sell their old homes to the state to be destroyed, ploughed, subsidized, and made valuable again by the farmers that sold suburban developers the land to in the first place. I don’t know where we’ll put them when they get here, but…

Ugh. Fuck it. It will probably be ugly. In twenty years I’m going to get stabbed in the neck over a loaf of bread by a former Reagan Youth leader and I won’t even have the chance to tell him I’d told him so.

Jesus, who wants to end on that note? This was supposed to be a much more focused post than you normally see here, but apparently all I’m good for today is devolving into this kind of nonsense. But hey, it’s Sunday. I don’t have God anymore, but we all need someplace to speak in tongues for a few hours a week.

I’ll get back to this later tonight. Until then, what are you doing about peak oil?

I had a del.icio.us widget up yesterday.

I took it down.

Here’s my thing:

If three years ago you received a letter from a government official saying “we’d like to know which websites you frequent” – or better, “we already know which websites you frequent and we’d like to talk to you about them” – if you had received that letter three years ago, wouldn’t you think twice about your own security and privacy? Would you start taking ACLU op-eds more seriously? Would you change your web habits? Read the rest of this entry »

This is not the first time I’ve seen a journalist throw up his hands and abandon the industry that pays his kids’ college tuition. Read the rest of this entry »

More Bad News For Salmon

March 21, 2008

As brightly as my day started, most of them seem doomed to end on this sort of note.

Salmon populations are crashing everywhere, along with many other marine species. It’s an issue that touches aspects of daily life as seemingly disparate as restaurant dining and environmental protection, the fight to feed the world’s poorest citizens and the possible collapse of a multi-million dollar fishing industry.

Where do we even begin to fix problems of this magnitude?

Something in the Water

March 10, 2008

Check this out.

Then this.

Now this.

And this.

PAULA ZAHN: I have to tell you, Elizabeth — good morning — I am so ticked about this. I’m one of those people that’s become accustomed to walking around with the big plastic bottle of water, and they laugh at me every morning because I try to …

ELIZABETH COHEN: You’re one of those nerds, is that it?

ZAHN: … I try to get through six glasses right here during the “American Morning” show. So I’ve been living in a state of flotation for many years here, and now you say I didn’t need to do this. What’s going on?

COHEN: Well, actually, before I tell you that, Paula, I have to ask you, do you sweat a lot during the show?

ZAHN: Never…

COHEN: Never, then you don’t need all that much water.

ZAHN: … because they keep the air conditioning here at like 60 degrees to make sure everybody’s alert and thinking well.

COHEN: Right, exactly.

Where do you get your water?

There’s a good article in the Buffalo News about the effect of the subprime mortgage crisis I sort of understand on neighborhoods in Cleveland.That city, according to the article, lost almost three percent of its homes to foreclosure last year. 10,000 homes became vacant husks in a relative instant.Money quote:

“I like to compare it to a tsunami coming off Lake Erie and destroying 10,000 homes,” said Frank Ford, senior vice president of Neighborhood Progress, a Cleveland group that fights to revitalize city neighborhoods. “If that happened, every presidential candidate would have been here yesterday, talking about this,” Ford said at a City Council forum on the issue last week.

Buffalo was luckier. In the Albany area, where I grew up, the story was similar.Across Upstate New York, through a combination of common sense and pragmatism on the part of lending institutions and determined prosecution on the part of former-A.G. and current Governor Eliot Spitzer, communities have been spared the immediate impact of the subprime collapse.So that’s something. Right? I mean, how often do you get to write the sentence “Buffalo was luckier” when you’re not talking about industry in the early 20th century or the distribution of amusingly vowel-less surnames? All other horrific shit aside, let’s be happy for Buffalo for a second or two.Take pleasure in small miracles today. Let me know how it goes.Hey, it’s something to do while you’re looking for a new place.

Reader’s Strike

January 31, 2008

I’m reading Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 again. Over the summer, I read Heller’s Good As Gold— well, most of it. About 20 pages from the end I stopped. I realized I didn’t care. It just wasn’t that great of a book. I had been pulled on by bits of Heller’s signature wit and wordplay and the notion that I couldn’t make a full assessment of the book until I finished it. But Heller didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. You enter a contract when you open a book: the author will entertain you, and you will entertain him. The author entertains you with prose. You entertain his ideas, his concepts, his innermost yearnings, etc. Good As Gold displays Heller’s skill, but its value, for me, stopped there. I realized that I didn’t really care what happened after the page I was on. The book had breached our contract. And so I struck back with the most devastating weapon a reader wields: my indifference. I stopped reading.

Halfway through Catch-22 again, I remember why Heller is a known author, but I also remember why he is known as the author of Catch-22.

What books/authors have failed you? Side Question: What books have you read and appreciated as art but put down with the knowledge that you would probably never pick them up again?