May, 2015. Issue 50.
by Michael K. Gause
I’m on the patio again. Beer and a smoke. Inside, my wife and son play Go Fish at the kitchen table. The leaves on themaple next door look like crappy fireworks. I’ve been outside about half an hour before I look in. I told her I made a mistake. I guess no one’s supposed to make those any more. That's more than my dad would have done. People do things they’ll never do again. I started to tell her I had a condition, but she just looked at me to remind me she isn't stupid. I make sure to sit just out of view. We both need time for things to settle. It wasn’t always like this is what we'll both end up thinking. I glance in again just in time to see my boy face first on the linoleum. I don’t get up when I hear the screaming. I wonder if I am horrible. That confused and helpless scream only children are capable of. A little blood and running around looking for a towel, maybe teeth. He's alive, so I crack another beer and lean back out of sight. If only I'd go ahead and think that thing to myself, things could move on. I look up at the tree again, and I think about people standing on buildings. I wonder if fireworks look crappy that high up. I wonder if they ever count the seconds on their way down.
Table of Contents
Epilogue: The Last Whale
by Dennis Weiser
A plausible dystopian vision of what will most likely occur if we fail to meet Arendt’s challenge and what that implies for the future of nations, humankind, and the biosphere.
...very few generalizations about the art of living—statements, that is to say, which will be true of humanity at large—are possible. And it is extremely likely that by now they are practically all known. ...I can say, I believe, that hatred always produces unhappiness, and that affection and love almost always produce happiness, and that this a valid truth for all men. This is the very simple generalization on which Christian morality is mostly founded. ...when we come to individual cases, infected as they are by relativity, science cannot operate. As I said before, the knowledge of values is like the knowledge of history. Neither can be a science, and for the same reasons in each case. As history never repeats itself, so life situations, which are the locus of values, never repeat themselves. There can be only a very few generalizations about value for the same reasons that there can be very few, if any, general laws of history.
–W. T. Stace, “Values in General”
Thus we can generally judge a man’s beliefs by his acts. …when there is something wrong with a personality, when it is warped or distorted, this fact can very often be traced to a wrong philosophy of life. His scale of values is wrong.
—W.T. Stace, “Have Nations Any Morals?”
I explicitly formulate the ten premises of two interlocking arguments: the first about the realities of capitalism and capital and the second about political freedom in a truly sustainable world. I discuss the conclusions of these two arguments. There is nothing that existing capital and currency can do that idiosyncratic, universal credit cannot do as well if not better. An idiosyncratic form of credit universally available to every person on the planet, which detaches the profit motive from personal wealth and property, should replace global capital, including all varieties of national currency.
Conclusion: A sustainable world of renewable energy in which local communities manage resources according to demonstrable knowledge and scientific best practices is possible; but it will only come into being if local communities across the United States regain their “lost treasure’ of genuine political action to secure their democratic institutions for themselves and for posterity.
After describing what the complete collapse of the biosphere, the death of oceans, habitat and mass extinctions would look like, I call on citizens to rise to the challenge of our time, and organize for non-violent resistance, civil disobedience, intervention and change under a well-orchestrated overall strategy for taking back control of our political institutions. Only then can we join the community of nations to transform our world for peace, social justice and democratic equality for all.
W. T. Stace was no doubt quite correct to contend that, by ultimately rejecting Aristotle’s teleological idea of cause, modern science may have banished divine purpose (i.e., a universal system of purposive guidance somehow built into the universe), if not from the universe then at least from the universe with which science is concerned. However, this does not thereby banish all purposes from the universe. Many ecologists, biologists and naturalists believe that the biosphere is itself a living, highly adaptive and self-regulating master ecosystem containing all subsystems of habitat, life, weather, oceans, land, and forests. You don’t have to subscribe to the Gaia hypothesis or some supernal entelechy to realize that these very features amount to a kind of purposiveness, even if it does not rise to the level or imply the existence of a conscious entity.
In addition, and despite modern science’s deterministic claims, human purposiveness remains. The only question is: what human purposes should be served?
We have seen the purposes that corporate capitalism and the global monetary-market system foster and promote. I have suggested throughout this book that the overriding purpose of the corporate hegemony built atop the fossil fuel industry is nothing less than the Reconstruction of Nature, but this purpose may turn out to be every bit as unconscious as that attributed to the biosphere.What is not unconscious is the short-sighted, vicious and destructive purposes, goals and actions of individual humans and groups working actively within the corporate hegemony of capitalism—every one of them driven by profit-maximization.
The proponents of ecological sustainability, renewable energy, local autonomy, biomimetic engineering, organic agriculture and free-range livestock production advocate a different set of purposes, highly conscious and attentive to scientific knowledge and human needs. These two sets of purposes are destined to clash.
Throughout Sinister Dynamic, I have presented two interlocking arguments: the first about the realities of capitalism and capital and the second about political freedom in a truly sustainable world.
Let us quickly review the premises of the cumulative argument up to this point.
Premise 1: The tyranny of global corporate hegemony predicted by Haldane and Russell is now a reality. Either the monetary-market system of entrepreneurial capitalism must be capable of producing a safe, healthy, sustainable environment for all people or we must replace that system with a better, more manageable one that is consistent with the actual needs and goals of all people.
Premise 2: A detailed assessment of US-driven, hegemonic, corporate capitalism reveals that it is responsible for widespread contempt, growing inequality, militarization of industry, wars, destabilization, advertising’s systematic replacement of common reality by manipulated appearance, and the destruction of private property—all of which it is actively engaged in exporting worldwide.
Premise 3: The failure of capitalism as an economic system signifies an imminent “end to growth” conceived as GDP, inescapable debt, unpredictable climate and weather disasters resulting from global warming, forcing us to imagine how we might reconstruct or create “an economy that exists within the limits of nature.”
Premise 4: The stakes are high as centrifugal local movements begin to mobilize for safe healthy foods, public education, clean air, water and soil, decentralized banking, alternative monies, rights of nature ordinances, worker rights and fair wages. They threaten the centripetal control of giant, vested, corporate interests like Big Agra and Pharma, the military and prison industrial complex, Wall Street, the entire exploitative juggernaut of multinational corporate empire.
Premise 5: Free public education must be dynamically restructured to meet the revolutionary changes demanded by an earth-friendly, sustainable economy that operates within limits prescribed by Nature; however, the “charter schools” promoted by ALEC and politicians co-opted by corporatist ideological entrepreneurialism fail on the grounds of economic viability, educational content and purpose. The goal of successfully renewing and restoring our educational system is dependent upon reestablishing our “Media Commons,” that is, enforcing and reinvigorating antitrust laws to break up monopolies (Murdoch, the Kochs), regulating advertising, and returning the airwaves to public control, with oversight by an FCC that is independent and unhampered in defending the public interest.
Premise 6: Weaknesses emerge with entrepreneurial capitalism’s advocacy of S.T.E.M. training and the model of scientific rationality presented in ZEITGEIST, via Arendt’s analysis of science and her insistence on the superiority of the political over scientific reason as the proper arbiter and owner of social policy. The techno-scientific regime envisioned by Fresco’s Venus Project, the Rocky Mountain Institute, Natural Capital and others offers only a partial, piecemeal, and instrumental protocol, which, however technically valuable its insights and methods, cannot provide a political solution required to accomplish the necessary societal transformation.
Premise 7: Citing industrial entrepreneur, Armand Hammer, as the last genuine capitalist, I revisit more than 22 reasons why capitalism simply doesn’t work; in particular the grounds for claiming that profit-maximization, which trumps all other social and humane values, is the exclusive driver of the existing capitalistic monetary-market system. I discuss Cory Panshin’s “The Secret History of the Twentieth Century” and the investigative work of Dave Emory in the context of reexamining rightwing politics since 1945 and its connections with international fascism. For all of the reasons adduced, none of its destructive trends are likely to change as long as capital continues to exist in its present form and the profit motive remains fused to capital.
Premise 8: Labor’s vision of the future is regressive and it incorrectly analyzes what it is up against in the corporate fascist state. By clinging to an outmoded narrative that retains the fundamental capital vs. labor, owner vs. worker paradigm, it plays into the hands of entrenched global corporate power and is unable to address the needs of the planet or the future.
Premise 9: Summarizing the conclusions of previous chapters, there is hope neither in a return to traditional or modified forms of worker capitalism, New Age optimism, technological salvation, ‘natural’ capital entrepreneurship, single issue politics, or piecemeal local community organizing taken in isolation. Yet, we cannot afford simply to plod along under the weight of the fossil fuel and petrochemical status quo, of exported wars, disease, narco-trafficking and slavery. Our only choice is to become educated citizens and to organize on the level of local, state and regional, national and international communities; to take control of our political and electoral processes and elect leaders who embody Arendtian excellence to the greatest degree. Acknowledging the work of Saul Alinsky and Gene Sharp’s protocols for replacing dictatorship through nonviolent revolution, I outline a strategy by which citizens can organize to transform the nation. Finally, I make the argument for nonreciprocal, idiosyncratic¨, universal credit for all persons, the need for total international agreement on first principles and goals, and absolute good will in collaborative cooperation.
Argument 1 Conclusion: Because capitalism’s monetary-market system in its existing form no longer serves the purpose for which it was intended, namely, the satisfying of genuine human needs, and in fact comprises an anti-economic system devoted to producing cyclical consumption, endless waste and destruction, capitalism and the monetary-market are completely broken and dysfunctional and should therefore be scrapped.
Argument 2 Conclusion: The conclusion of the first argument establishes a tenth premise,
To restore the economy to its intended purpose of satisfying actual human needs, and to reconnect money transactions with life reproduction so that the money sequence of value actually delivers the life sequence of value, we must abolish global capital and all forms of currency, replacing them with a nonreciprocal, idiosyncratic form of credit that is universally available to every person on the planet, thereby detaching the profit motive from all conceptions of personal wealth.
This premise establishes the conditions for achieving a truly sustainable world of renewable energy in which local communities manage necessary resources according to demonstrable knowledge and scientific best practices rather than economic “free” markets. While such a world is possible, it will only come into being if local communities across the United States regain the “lost treasure” of genuine political action to secure their democratic institutions.
The monetary-market system of global capitalism is clearly incapable of producing a safe, healthy, sustainable environment and a better, more manageable system consistent with the goals that all people want; the existing system should therefore be replaced. Economically speaking, there is nothing that capital and money can do that universally available credit from which the profit motive is detached cannot do equally well or better. No matter how addicted America is to the US dollar or Japan to the yen, ethnic identity simply does not depend on a nation’s particular currency; rather, it resides exclusively in the particular language(s), culture and history of the people of those countries. I know of nothing in human nature (besides sheer stubbornness and habit) that prevents people in every country from coming together to agree to abandon their particular national currency in favor of universal credit from which the profit motive has been permanently detached.
The local community, municipality, county, state or region can assign such credit to citizens. Both the assigning of credits and rendering them truly nonreciprocal and idiosyncratic to detach the profit motive are mere technical matters that have technical solutions. What we may call e-credits or solar credits could take the form of decimal strings, exponentials, or some other form of mathematical notation. Our mathematicians and computational technicians will no doubt have improvements on these suggestions. I have proposed unique identifiers such as holographic headshots, facial recognition and fingerprints to make credit idiosyncratic, effectively detaching the profit motive from e-credits. Because credits are automatically replenished as one “spends” them, they are inexhaustible. You can never run out of credits.
This very feature, in conjunction with detaching the profit motive, eliminates one of the chief causes of crime and corruption: namely, greed. If everyone has enough resources in the form of e-credits, the practical rationale for robbery, identity theft, hoarding wealth, endless accumulation of material goods, and taking unfair advantage of the vulnerable dissipates. There is no need to barter, sell, or give away one’s credits, since everyone has enough. The fact that only you can access and use your own credits removes the very possibility that anyone will want to steal them.
As I wrote in New Institutes:
Make no mistake: the path outlined here is no panacea. No golden age will be ushered in, even under the most favorable scenario; children will still be kidnapped, molested and murdered, women beaten, raped and killed, celebrities stalked by obsessed psychos, whole families slaughtered by drunk drivers on the highways of America. People of all ages will still die of leukemia and heart disease; the AIDS Pandemic will rage on, extinguishing millions. Alcoholism and narcotics addiction will take their toll on individuals, families and entire communities. The human heart will persist in “nursing unacted desires” that lead to gruesome outcomes; pride and ego and greed, lust for status, control and domination over others will remain part and parcel of our souls. In any case, death—that comes too soon in some cases, and perhaps too late in others—will remain a dependable denizen of our earthly realm. But by detaching the profit motive from our economic transactions, we have the chance to undercut the exorbitant emphasis that capitalism has placed, only in the last 100 years, on profit-maximization as a value that in effect trumps all other humane and social goals.
Of course, this presupposes a number of things that will need to take place before that advance can occur. I will mention only three.
One: citizens will have to alter and adjust their material needs to a more modest human scale. This requires that we make our society more equal, that we take actions to seriously reduce inequality. Variation will persist among individuals in, for example, the material objects they possess and the grounds for attaining social status; but society will no longer divide humankind into haves and have-nots. The point is not that wealth is more evenly distributed, though it surely will be. The human desire to accumulate material possessions will diminish, and for many the drive may die out altogether. The gap between wage earners and executive compensation will be outdated, as will that wedge driven by externalities between the 1% and the 99%.
Two: We will no longer need a vast array of existing institutions (for example, the Fed, World Bank, WTO and IMF); however, the transformation anticipated here will no doubt require creating some new ones. We will need something akin to banks or credit card companies to authorize and allocate credits, though the profit motive will no longer dominate or determine the behavior of these institutions. Citizens in ordinary communities shall have to determine how to adjust economic transactions and “pricing” to the realities of our new global credit: How many e-credits for a loaf of bread, a house, an education, or medical services? It will take time to sort out and negotiate such matters. Here, economists, psychologists, and even poets will no doubt be helpful insofar as their respective familiarities with social transactions, personalities and metaphors of thinking and experience can be brought to bear on practical exigencies and bottlenecks. We will need the input as well of intellectuals, sociologists, journalists and philosophers, original thinkers and creative individuals, ordinary citizens living in every community, across the rich panoply of arts and sciences, crafts and guilds to help meet these challenges and solve these problems.
Three: every nation, country and tribe will have to agree to give up the old economy and adopt the new form of communal wealth, and all the conditions of the proposed transformation. Their decisions will have to be unanimous, guided by the wisdom and insights of collective political leadership.
Replacing capital with universal credit from which the profit motive has been detached will eliminate the root cause and motive behind numerous antisocial enterprises such as the manufacture and sale of armaments and narcotics, human trafficking and pornography. The peaceful redistribution of the world’s material and human resources is the greatest challenge facing our planet today. How to accomplish such redistribution without plunging advanced industrial nations of the West into economic depression, or developing nations into implosion and civil war, is a question of the greatest moment. This achievement alone will promote international cooperation and reduce geopolitical tensions. Whether humankind shall be successful in this enterprise no one, including the present writer, can say with certainty. As Hannah Arendt reminds us, the realm of human affairs, of politics and history, is governed by contingency, fraught with unpredictability and the unexpected. But not every surprise is unpleasant or undesirable, nor does every occurrence and outcome effecting human beings betoken atavistic evil and moral decay. Change, in any case, is inevitable; the only question is: what sort of change do we want to embrace, suffer or survive?
By facing this transition in the evolution of capital and human civilization, we will begin to find the tools needed to eliminate the chief obstacles to ordering a sane political culture in the United States and elsewhere: achieving campaign finance reform, ending corruption, investing in the education and care of our most precious human resource, our children, may well comprise stages in the development of human consciousness, itself. Perhaps best of all, doing so will open the way to a transition from fossil fuels and nuclear energy toward renewable wind, wave and solar energy technologies. We can move resolutely toward goals of developing a rational system for managing, maintaining, and distributing goods and services, food, transportation and health care based upon scientific knowledge and best practices; for insuring protection of the oceans, air and soil for our posterity and ourselves; and creating the conditions for the equitable sharing of necessities of life like water, food and energy in every local community.
Political Freedom in a Truly Sustainable World
The conclusion of the first argument makes possible the conditions for reclaiming “the lost treasure of the revolutions,” namely, the freedom of genuine political action that secures our democratic institutions and control through regular political participation at the local level to insure continuous leadership in governance by the politically “best” among us. This is much more than simply exercising the franchise; it is to empower the people to determine the quality and integrity of candidates themselves among which citizens will choose in elections—an authority and a responsibility the people do not at present possess.
What happens if we fail, if events vindicate Russell’s skeptical vision of global corporate tyranny, if corporate oligarchy or fascism realizes its dream of global conquest? In “The Secret History of the Twentieth Century,” Cory Panshin mentions “the deep spiritual void into which the country tumbled in 1945”; a void undoubtedly signaled by the US dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, our headlong rush to submit to and worship this radiant genie, this commanding Dark Lord. Like Sauron in Tolkien’s epic mythology and scripture, the radioactive allure of nuclear power turns flesh and blood humans into soulless Ringwraiths. In this context, we may reflect on what such a failure would likely mean.
Laotzu said “Nature is executioner.” What are the consequences of unchecked Global Warming? We can expect more hurricanes like “Superstorm” Sandy, a rash of tornadoes like the EF5 multiple-vortex tornado that destroyed Joplin, Missouri in 2011. Earthquakes like the one that devastated Haiti, like the 2004 Sumatran earthquake and tsunami that killed 250,000 people in Indonesia will occur with increasingly unpredictable frequency. There will be more droughts and floods throughout the Midwest like those of 2011 and 2012; unpredictable and erratic weather events, like the wildfires of California, Arizona and Colorado. Rising sea level will submerge the Everglades and the city of New York. The continued political failure of corporations and governments to halt carbon emissions, to get off fossil fuels and onto renewables, will signal impotence and decline. Disease and dislocation will follow relentlessly in the wake of these colossal unremitting changes.
Fracking will destroy the water table and fresh water in North America—this will mark the beginning of the end for inhabitants of the United States. Local and regional wars over water access will break out globally, at enormous cost of life. Genocide, race wars and final nuclear holocaust will be the beneficiaries of human cupidity, ignorance and folly.
With the death of oceans, habitat and mass extinctions, the biosphere itself will collapse. Humankind will have vanished long before this.
I have a recurring nightmare, in which I hear this NPR report in Scott Simon’s voice: “The last Blue Whale died today off the coast of Nova Scotia...”
It is time that America redeemed itself from its prophetic myth of Moby Dick. Herman Melville saw deeply into the disturbing waters of the American psyche and its significance for America’s political and religious culture. The deranged egotism that drove Captain Ahab drives us still, as ENRON and Murdoch, Charles and David Koch, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld show only too clearly. We are not doomed to follow an arrogant and egomaniacal exceptionalism to a watery or radioactive grave nor are we condemned to Ishmael’s fate of isolation and ignominy. There exist among us many who see even deeper than our greatest literary visionaries, than Melville and Hawthorne, Thoreau and Twain.
What are the environmental and ecological repercussions following the death of the last Blue Whale? The oceans will be barren from acidification, the coral reefs turned to deathly chalk, the once-teeming fish and octopus, shark and dolphin, porpoise and manta ray will have long since disappeared, along with the grizzlies, polar bears, elephant and great cats. Famine and drought will yield mass starvation, as whole populations submit to a slow, grinding, and violent mass suicide. Agriculture and industry will fail, science degenerate into pseudoscience and necromancy, tribes and cultures will sicken and wither away. Prostitution and crime, drug addiction and psychotic mass murders will be the order of the day, the rule of chaos. We have seen their harbingers in the gang rapes of Egypt and India, the culture of rape in the US military, and the massive hemorrhaging throughout domestic society with names like: Guantanamo, Deepwater Horizon, Fort Hood, Sandyhook, ALEC, Newtown, Steubenville, Maryville, Ferguson and Baltimore. Youth will succumb to despair and depravity. The universities, once bastions of the arts and sciences, religion and humanities, will long since have atrophied to bureaucratic fiefdoms. The vast corporate empire will swiftly follow them into a hell of its own making, and thereafter oblivion.
Unlimited growth, as we have been brainwashed to believe by the pronouncements of economists, CEOs and government hacks, is unsustainable in every sense but one: namely, growth in quality of life fairly distributed among the entire body of citizens, the people of the world.
Never underestimate the lengths to which entrenched privilege and concentrated power will go to preserve the status quo and maintain absolute control. JFK, the Iraq War, and Guantanamo are signposts along that route.
A lot needs to be done. But who says we cannot do it? Let’s get behind Bill McKibben’s 350.org, Peter Neill’s World Ocean Observatory, activist and community educator Paul Cienfuegos, Chris Hedges, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Tom Linzey’s Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to demand a national strategy of Rights of Nature ordinances to strip corporations of all rights of personhood (already in place in 200 communities and 18 states); and to mount an organized campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience to move elected “leaders” to make substantive positive changes across the board. We the people can end the death penalty, entrenched race and gender bigotry along with these fraudulent perpetual wars on drugs and terror. We can force our leaders to ban government-industry revolving doors, ban all lobbying, cut the NRA down to its appropriate Lilliputian size. We can phase out fossil fuel, coal, natural gas and nuclear power, cut the Pentagon budget in half, investing in education and restoring mental and physical health to all veterans suffering because of these immoral, criminal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can invest in infrastructure, sustainable wind, wave and solar energy and establish a new grid to accommodate our sustainable technologies. We can, we must force our elected leaders to do these things or evict them out and elect new leaders from among our most capable, worthy fellow citizens.
In fact: we have no choice.
I call on all citizens of the United States of America to assume their authentic role of leadership as citizens, rise to the challenge of our time and organize for non-violent resistance, civil disobedience, intervention and change under a grand strategy for taking back control of our political institutions and transforming our world for peace, social justice and democratic equality for all.
It all starts today, in your local community, with You.
Table of Contents
by George Keenen
I lived in the line shack.
This was at None of the Above Ranch in the early seventies.
It was a crazy time.(1) People took off their underwear and walked around laughing.
I was 27, an Irish guy from Jersey, one who had never hammered a nail or ridden a horse or seen a vegetable garden or been anything but cozy and comfortable in my jammies.
The line shack was down the county road from the Big House. If you went down and turned off to go up to the cabin with the tree through it, the line shack was on the left, on the other side of the sawmill.
The sawmill, what was left of it, was like a national park for squirrels. The dogs loved to hunt on the collapsed ruins to try to sniff out the multitudinous rodent swarm, but I never saw them get one.
I forget how I came to live in that old shack, but I must have been desperate. There was an extreme housing shortage on the ranch at that time, and if you wanted to stay and play, you had to have a pad. So I went out in the first wave of migration that set out from the super freaky love nest that was the Big House, and there it was. I think I just plain squatted.
I was tired of life as a prairie dog. I wanted shelter. First time I saw the place, even though it was half the size of the chicken coop, even though I could see the moon through the roof, still I liked it, it felt like a suite at the Plaza, and I started living in it immediately. And I came to love it, as any man loves the ship that saves him.
I thought I would live out my days there.
It was probably the worst neighborhood on the ranch: a disaster area that included the ruins of the sawmill, the line shack, which had been the sawmill office, bent machinery, piles of gray shattered beams, ten thousand rotted fan belts, rusted winch cables, tools, pikes, chains — damn, those Smiths(2) were hard on the place.
On that care-of-land chart, we were somewhere in between the Smiths, who were Devastators, and Andy, our neighbor, who was a Good Steward. Andy was a decade or two older than us. He lived alone on the next ranch and had never been farther away than Stockton. He was born, raised and died on the same spot — Mina, California. Funny how most California maps have Mina on it, even though it’s just a mailbox one ranch over.
The line shack stood between two trees, so there was relief from the sun. But it was close to the saws. It would have been hard to think in the shack with the continual screaming of the saws. The site might have been chosen by an owner who skimmed his hat off the sawmill loading platform, and where it landed he said, “Build there.” Perhaps it was built so the weary owner could set a spell in the evening on the downshift, have a drink from a bottle and count the till.
I’d say it was nine feet by nine, and it was well made, but it was in great disrepair and listing slightly. It needed some shoring up. The vertical one-by-twelves that formed the walls were set 1/2” apart. Half by two-inch batten was used to cover that space, but, as most of those strips were long gone, the wind whistled in. It was not meant to be lived in. People seemed happy I was foolish enough to move there – more floor space in the big house.
Book royalties I got twice a year underwrote the whole line-shack beautification project. Sometimes those checks came in and the whole Big House cheered. My floor was shaky, it felt about to cave in. I went underneath — it was built on cornerstones, about eight inches off the ground — and put new two by fours in place. That saved the floor. I replaced the windows with a nice set Annie and I brought back from a schoolhouse in Noyo. I did some diagonal bracing on each wall and the list went away.
The place smelled, and there were bloodstains on the floor. Could someone have been using it as a smokehouse? I gave it a new roof and poked some chimney pipe through it. I put a front porch on it, with a nice stairway up to it, and with some stained glass, and with the smoke curling up out of the chimney pipe, the place began to take on a certain rustic charm.
That first winter was the coldest of my life. I got some interior siding: nice, used, oak tongue-and-groove from Menlo Park. I rolled up newspapers and put them in the space between the inner oak and the outer pine for insulation. Ranger told me that air is the best insulator, and he was right. It worked. The place held the heat well.
Ruby, my horse, a dun-colored 1/2 arab-1/2 quarter horse with a dark mane, dun being a nearly neutral slightly brownish dark gray, had been running wild in the hills above Covelo for two years before I bought him. I put a hitching post in front of my porch. I had a good bond with Ruby: I broke him, I trained him, I took care of him. I got him so he would come when I whistled. I learned to shoe him, and shoed the other horses, too. I could jump on Ruby’s back at any time, and ride with no tack, just holding his dark mane. We leapt fallen timber in the moonlight that way.
That horseshoeing was some hard work. You had to hold the lower part of the horse’s leg on your thigh and you rasped down the hoof so the shoe fit right, smooth on the horn growth. Then you drove nails into the quivering hoof, at the correct angle; if you missed you drove the nail into tender flesh, and you most likely went flying. Sometimes you went flying anyway — the leg of a horse is a powerful thing.
I put wild Ruby in Andy’s corral and started gentling him out, getting him used to the sound of my voice, getting him used to ropes and tack, slowly building up his tolerances — first just a rope for two days, then a saddle blanket, then add saddle, bridle, and finally you add yourself. One day it was time to get on.
Ranchers came over that day with cameras and brought the children and made it a picnic. Some sat on the rails of Andy’s corral, the one with the massive oak post in the center, shooting super-8 film, and shouting encouragement. I grabbed the saddle and put my foot in the stirrup, and then I hesitated. I stood with my foot in this position for a time, perhaps struck by the foolishness of what I was about to do. Ashley was on the other side of the horse, holding the bridle. He finally said, “Swing up there, podner,” and I swung up. When I did, the saddle went sideways and so did I, and the horse took off and ran me full speed into the oak post and it broke off at ground level. Onlookers groaned in unison. That was the hardest hit I ever took. Worse than that, I had to get right back on.
I was expecting last rites, but Ash was hoisting me off the hard earth and dusting me off. “Come on, let’s not take all day, for Lord sake.” The second time I swung into the saddle the horse again exploded, and this time the cinch held tight. He bucked and leaped but after that I knew I had him, and eventually he calmed down. I don’t think he cared that much to be free.
And so I came to earn the title of “buckaroo.” A few days later, I ate some cornflakes with Andy and rode back to the ranch for lunch. I felt like Gary Cooper, sitting tall in the saddle, a man with a hoss at high noon. I allowed myself to imagine my future to be like something out of Carousel: hard work, music, romance, some dancing—wife, hoss, dog. I was pretty happy that day.
Of course, it was Andy who made the whole horse thing possible. He helped me find the horse and showed me how to train it. He let me use his ropes, his tack, his corral, his place. Andy was a teacher on many levels: simple, wise, completely in-tune, seemingly selfless, the perfect cowboy guru. A couple of times I rode Ruby with Andy, both times in the rain, going after some of his cattle. It was an instant memory to ride with him. He was quite a man. He was what John Wayne wished he could be.
Then once you had your horse, you trained it to herd, and you herded when there was herding to do, and you could round up strays and cut doggies in a corral and somehow get them up the chutes of the cattle loader and into trucks bound for the auction. We designed a brand - a rising sun - and had a branding iron made and approved. Then we herded the cattle over to Andy’s, put them in his cattle press, and burned that red sun into that raw hide.
Everyone loved to herd cattle. It was one of the funniest things we did. We were a mildly amusing crew of cowboys and cowgirls riding a menagerie of beasts: horses, donkeys, ponies, even Cisco, the old sway-backed paint. And the trail doggies would come yipping after us: a goofy setter, a short-legged basset hound that kept up, Barb’s early dogs, Jessica and Jojo, a dachshund, a Samoyed. It was a crazy time for them too.
That first ride with Ruby wasn’t the only wild ride I had. There were plenty.
Late once afternoon on a hot day Annie, one of the cowgirls, and I took the VW to Covelo to get something(3) from the ice cream stand, and we ended up driving all the way to Oxnard and blowing a rod and finding Crich and Vicky and flying kites on the beach for a week until the VW was fixed.
Once Hawk and I went down the river in our work clothes in a two-dollar plastic raft, five miles to the bridge, trying to get to Split Rock. If you asked me why we did it or how we even came to think about doing it, I couldn’t tell you. But I know we laughed the whole way down. It was unbelievable that we made it. We flooded, we fell into the fast-moving water and climbed back in, more than once. We pioneered extreme sports adventure that day, Hawk and I, and wasn’t it especially satisfying to reach the bridge and come upon five men getting into wetsuits, preparing to run the river below the bridge in fancy kayaks? They looked at us like, where did you just come from, what did you just do, and where’s your kayaks! They told us the run we made hadn’t even been rated yet. Hawk and I looked back at them with disbelief. Wetsuits?
Once I fell off a cliff.
Once I called myself a guide and took some city slickers into the Yolla Bolly Wilderness Area. Amazing! I knew nothing!
One day I was inside the line shack typing. Typing was a laborious mechanical activity popular then, not the same as inputting at a computer keyboard, not for a mechanical moment. With a typewriter you had to exert force on the key with your finger to make a steel letter punch a piece of paper through an ink ribbon, and the darkness of the letter depended on how hard you hit the key.
I loved typewriters, but mistakes were hard to correct. And if you were using carbon paper, why, you could waste two sheets at the mis-stroke of a key. What was I typing? Probably trying to write poetry. I thought that’s what I was. I wrote a poem once in a while, later performed on PBS, and for a while captained a little ship of hardy Ventura poets. When we had poetry readings at City Bakery, I was able to come out of the poetry closet (to myself) and accept that I was not a poet. I was fifty. But think of Ahab without his quest.
In any case, it was late on a hot summer day and I was sitting inside in the paisley silk bathrobe won at poker in Albion, and cowboy boots, typing away. I had beneath me a hooked rug given to me by an Amish man in Iowa as I drove my motorcycle towards the ranch. My desk was a plain wooden table really, but solid - I can’t stand a rickety desk.
On it I had a bottle of whiskey, Wild Turkey I believe. And a bottle of wine. Next to the typewriter I had a hash pipe I’d gotten one commune over, the commune at the Summit with a bad name (“The Land”) and a “bad name” – they were poor, dirty, grew modest weed and ate mainly oatmeal and mean-spirited gov’t blocks of cheese. They built with branches rather than lumber, and chocked with mud. All we had in common with them besides belly buttons was government commodities. One of the guys there, Lemon, gave me some hash in exchange for pulling his tooth, which I did with a piece of haywire and a vise-grip.
Also: a picture of Siva the Destroyer on the wall behind me, and a holy card of Saint Augustine (with a glowing book!) tacked on the wall in front of me and some words in a frame above and in front of me, a fragment of Whitman someone had typeset for me:
Have you heard it is good
to gain the day?
I also say it is good to fall
Two books were on the table: Leaves of Grass and Gravity’s Rainbow, wherein Susie, DiLeo, Russell and others had scribbled clever variations of a certain Pynchon doggerel (“You never did the Kenosha, Kid.”) The wine in the bottle was liberally dosed with psilocybin (in things drug-related I was a liberal). I was working more on this bottle than the other, and smoking some Bugler, and banging away at my machine with an occasional toke on the hash pipe, when I heard a scuffling underneath the line shack. Sometimes at night I left a marijuana leaf on the floor and, looking down from the top bunk I could watch the mice scurry in and nibble at it. I used to sit motionless in the upper bunk and watch a neighborhood cat, red of tooth and paw, play with a hapless mouse, letting it go and then catching it again by the tail and pulling it back, and then letting it go again . . .
I got up, took the wine bottle, and went outside. Danged if there wasn’t a rattlesnake under there, and dang if it didn’t have a mouse in its mouth. The snake started to slide out the back way, but it had a huge bulge in its throat, like the snake that ate the hat in Little Prince, and it was lethargic.
Since the snake did not coil or turn on me I came up close and looked at it. I swear, with the mouse in its glottal clasp, the snake was in some kind of ecstasy. Its skin was shiny and dry, iridescent, it was writhing in place, a neon rattlesnake. I had been listening to Bruce talk about our animal friends, and had a whole different idea about them now than what I had in Jersey City. Then I had the idea of St. Francis of Assisi, you know, a bluebird on your shoulder, St. Francis and Bambi together.
“So, little brother,” I cried by way of welcome, “you have just eaten my brother mouse. What a strange brother you are!” I stooped over and picked it up by the back of its head, holding my fingers against its jaws. Its tongue stuck out a couple of times. When I stood up, I got a rush of whatever was in the wine. My vision swam and I was in a jungle and elephants trumpeted and brayed and there were drums and rattles. But as my head cleared, the drum was just my heart and the rattles were coming from the snake. I was holding it vertically and the mouse-bulge was still alive and trying to climb out of hell, but I wasn’t about to loosen my grip, so there was no escape for it.
I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there until the bathrobe kind of slid off me, which seemed like a cue to walk. So I started walking, until I got to the county road. Torpor, I was thinking. That’s the word. What the heck rhymes with torpor?
Just at that moment the second vehicle of the day went by. What timing. It was a neighbor going up the mountain in his pick-up. He was a principal at a school on the peninsula. He used to come up to the place above ours for vacations during the summer. That day the back of his pick-up was filled with his students getting their first look at the sun-blasted world 22.3 miles above Covelo.
And there I was, in all my glory, (my entire glory, as my grammar checker suggests), wine bottle in one hand and rattlesnake with a mouse trying to climb out of its throat in the other.
The pick-up, blue and battered, slowed down for a moment, and then speeded up very quickly, and I saw the looks on the faces of the kids as the truck pulled away towards the purple paisley U.S. mailbox. Some of the kids were wide-eyed, some with their hands to their mouths, laughing, pointing. They probably didn’t even notice the mouse.
I thought about killing the rattlesnake that day, but, despite my history of bloody odd jobs, I wasn’t really interested in killing things. So what I did was walk the by now thoroughly confused reptile down to the county line, and throw him over to the Mendocino side with a warning: “Listen, brother snake, I’m giving you a break.”
I didn’t garden at None of the Above. I didn’t even grow dope. I was pretty much a builder and a hunter, while hunting was allowed. I slit the pig’s throat, wrung the necks of a few chickens, and took care of Goose, Mark’s horse, when it was time to put him down. When that time came, I volunteered. Nothing against Goose, I just liked to volunteer for odd jobs, there’s funny things you can learn from them. I prepared for Goose the night before by reading great stuff about snow leopards. Goose had something of the leopard in him — he was a gray Appaloosa with black spots on his rump.
I forget why poor Goose had to go, I believe it was a leg injury. He had a little nasty streak and he’d thrown everybody at least once. Worse, though, was the funny habit he had of looking back and snickering when he’d left you sitting on your tail in the middle of a trail. That didn’t make him many friends. Russell was there at his demise, crying his eyes out; Peter was there, just watching, relaxed and smiling, a shovel in his hand. I tied Goose’s head to the back of a truck so his forehead was at my waist, and I stood there with a rifle until he stopped trying to pull away. I said good-bye and put a slug through his third eye. I wasn’t sure if I was shooting in the right spot, or if I would be splattered with blood and bone, or if he would die, and I felt sad and weak when I saw him sink to the ground. Burying him was the hardest part. You don’t realize how big a horse is until you have to dig a hole for it.
I loved to shoot, even cans and bottles. Once I went hunting with Frank Pasquale on a very steep hillside above the bridge, and we both came home with a couple of quail. I roasted mine for breakfast, eating them with—what else?—zucchini.
We did all the legal things to keep other hunters out. We declared ourselves a game preserve and posted signs, but hunters still came around. One night I was sitting on the line-shack porch reading by kerosene lamp and I noticed flickering lights in the meadow across the county road, the meadow that became our alfalfa field. Hunters! I raced up to the big house and got a few riders, and we saddled up and rode quietly across the dark meadow. The hunters had built a small fire. When they heard us they stood up and peered out at us from the firelight, and we rode down on them, whooping and spurring our horses and galloping as fast as we could through their flimsy camp. They scattered and soon their trucks were spinning out and high-tailing it back down the county road to Covelo, where we hoped our legend would grow in the local saloons.
The line shack was close to the county road and some times the frequency and din of traffic was too much, I mean there were days when three, four, five cars came by. So I decided to move to a better neighborhood.
I found a little cliff out beyond the main meadow and that became my site. Ashley was on the ridge to the right, Barbara’s yurt was behind me, and Mark’s cabin was to my left. I built an outhouse with a stained glass window in it. I built a woodshed with madrone uprights that didn’t stop at the roof but continued to curl and twirl fancily upward to the sky.
Who will say something for the mighty madrone? If not I. Let me try. Arbutus, they call it farther north: the strawberry tree. A wondrous wood with cinnamon-colored bark whose graceful turns go 100 feet in the air; whose roots go to bedrock; whose leaves are alternate and simple; whose flowers in May are heaven for deer and hummingbird ; whose rosy fruit delights the grudging bear and chomping caterpillar; a smooth and dense wood with constant overtones of heroic human limbs frozen in emotion a la Michelangelo. Fine trees to trip with.
You get that fiddle-backed Oregon madrone, it’s exotic, it’s right up there in the expensive category with snakewood from Surinam and figured coral maple. It’s one of the hardest woods in the world, you had to clean and sharpen your chainsaw each time you cut it, because madrone eats saw blades. Great firewood! Start off with some small stuff in the stove, add a big chunk of madrone at midnight — thigh of midget, neck of horse, forearm of giant — and the stove will still be glowing when the sun comes up.
One day I took a truck and drove to a place in the forest high up on the other side of the river. There was a logging camp there, and they were amazed to be discovered. They sold me a thousand feet of lumber they had only recently cut. The logging crew, it turned out, wasn’t a bunch of redneck loggers, but a college crew from Sonoma State, doing fieldwork for Louisiana Pacific as well as some cutting, and they had drugs and guitars. We played cards and partied, I stayed over and came back next day wiser and happier, with a thousand feet of random-length planks of one by twelve pine, not quite enough wood to complete my pole-frame design.
So after I got back to the ranch and piled my wood near my site, and after I had made some nails and gathered my tools, I tore down the line shack. It happened fast. I took it down in a couple of hours. I pulled out the nails without cracking the boards, piled it into a truck and brought it all out to my site. People weren’t happy about it.
I wound up with the following: my oak interior siding, 20-some pine planks, and some floor wood, windows, a door from Ukiah. The roof wood was useless. The flooring, even aside from the bloodstains, was in pretty bad shape. I broke it for kindling. I incorporated all this material into my new place.
For my main supports I felled thick saplings into 20-feet lengths, skinned them and made a pole-frame dwelling cantilevered out over the cliff. For the floor I used flooring from Sunrise Salvage in Berkeley, where I also got the windows and doors. For the walls I used line-shack wood and my fresh pine. For the roof I went to the national forest with Susie and we cut ourselves a slab of downed cedar, which was free for the taking then, and made fragrant shakes.
The end result was a home-grown hippie dwelling with a wood stove, and a bed in a loft. That was another wild ride. The place hung out over a cliff, and when the forest swayed, as it often did, year round, the house swayed too. Through the porthole window by the bed, when you looked out on a blowing rainy night, what you saw made you feel like you were aboard a ship in a storm. I lived there with Susie and T. A. almost until Bevin was born.
All that line-shack wood is still on the ranch, in use. It went into my pole-frame house on the ridge, and some of it has migrated to other houses. The line shack, like the old tack shed under the big old Doug Fir, and like Andy, is still there.
“And as I was green and carefree,
famous among the barns
about the happy yard and singing
as the farm was home,
in the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
golden in the mercy of his means.”(4)
Today I’m a reporter in a small town where nothing much ever happens — good work for a fiction writer. I’m raising a fourteen-year-old boy, a scholarship student who plays bass and has already been arrested. He’s teaching me about what he calls “real anarchy.” I’m struggling to learn.
The world I live in now is the world I mocked when I was on the ranch, and which snapped back into place with a vengeance after our funny little commotion. After a few years at the ranch, a less idyllic reality began to envelop me and I went down to the city; all the things I used the ranch to avoid were waiting for me then, and for a while I had a slight hatred of everything.
I grew up in a men-don’t-cry culture, but I learned to cry at the ranch. I found it helpful, even essential, to be able to cry when doing frequent hallucinogens. Besides, the ranch was a pressure cooker; the release was essential. Emotions built up that I was not good at dispersing. I remember sitting at the big house kitchen table one morning after an all-night trip, with my head on the table, crying quietly, and Twink coming through the kitchen reminding me gently of the onionskins of existence, and Russell coming over to say he loved me before he made coffee. It was ok to cry. This was a good crew to trip with.
I want to report back to that crew that I managed to track down the drug that William Burroughs searched all over South America for and never found: Ayahuasca. Made from a vine brought in legally from the Amazon, but still dispensed in utmost secrecy because its active ingredient is not legal. Or something. I followed the trail of ayahuasca for two or three years until a connection was made. I was not able to purchase, only to ingest, and only at a secret location. The stuff was cooked for a couple of days and served hot in jelly jars. I had a glass, and an hour later I was offered another if I promised not to puke. I kept it down. Turned out to be a powerful hallucinogen. I’d call it vegetarian acid. The stuff looked like Guinness stout, black and foamy, but the putrid smell got to you as you brought the jar to your mouth. Our guide – yes, there are stewardesses on the astral plane – called me an ‘impeccable warrior’ and I was invited back but really, once was enough.
See you in hell, Bill, and we’ll talk about it.
I was dazed by the ranch, dazed and dazzled. I came planning to stay for a weekend and ended up doing three to five. I loved every minute of my time there. When we made a pyramid of men and lifted the ridgepole onto our new barn, I was proud as Iwo Jima.
We were like a hippie think tank. There was an air of openness and experimentation, a feeling of adventure – anything could happen, and it often did. There was magic in the air. The rhetoric of the times was in the air too, but in spite of its gentle anarchy and hippie drag, the strange fact is that the ranch, built on private money, was really a Republican enterprise that operated by trickle-down and pre-figured the days of Bush and Bush. The key difference is simply that ranch trickle-down, unlike the bogus Bushian trickle-down, was real. People were generous. I was a beneficiary of that largesse for many years.
“I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it was that I had more lives to live and could not spare any more time for this one.”(5)
1 – from “The Dying Animal,” by P. Roth: “But the sixties? That explosion of childishness, that vulgar, mindless, collective regression, and that explains everything and excuses it all?”
2 – the formers owners, who took our money and went tuna fishing.
3 – root beer floats
4 – Dylan Thomas
5 – Henry David Thoreau
Table of Contents
...and now for a brief selection of things we say while reading submissions, building the issues, and taking smoke breaks.
"I hate poems about love. Kinda. Except this one." - Katie Moore
"The narrator slaughters this for me. I hate him. I want him to die. Second thought, I don’t care about this narrator. It doesn’t matter to me whether the narrator lives or dies. This is something that should be kept private and not shared. For the reader’s sake." - Jon Thrower
"Fuck Cummings for becoming an excuse to not punctuate." - John Hancock
"YES! Sentimental without excessive sentimentality. Realism that’s real." - Jon Thrower
"Did this guy really use 'I could care less' in the first fucking paragraph? Jesus. It doesn't really take much time to ADD A FUCKING N APOSTROPHE T!" - Katie Moore
"Dammit, this poem is all about happiness and shit, unfortunately it's also great." - John Hancock
"I don’t feel like I’m in a more hateful mood than I usually would be, but this is not the first one I’ve read from the current list of subs that I really, honestly hate." - Jon Thrower
"You want a who?" -Katie Moore, when the basic rules of the English language have all been leeched out of her delicate quivery soul.
"Prose poetry just isn't for me, man. I don't know what to do with it. Bah." - John Hancock
"This is great. One of the things I want fiction to do is talk about what it's like to be a fucking human. And this does that. Painful, shameful, sad, but real." - Jon Thrower
"Fuck! I wish this poem was my poem." - Katie Moore
"Get this. Here is her submission info: "I'm sending a story called '*****', which I hope you will consider for publication in Boston Review. This is a simultaneous submission." AAAAAHHHHH!!!!! I should say no immediately and let her learn the lesson, but because I am a dumbshit and like black metal, which helps me exercise frustrations in a peaceful and private way, I will read. . ." - Jon Thrower
"When a poem makes me escape to the bathroom for some personal time with my vagina, and it's not even a poem about sex...that is a good fucking poem!" - Katie Moore
"I put this in the maybe pile. It's not very good, but it was really difficult to write." - John Hancock
"So, I have reached the point where I'm clicking and pasting in my sleep. I have this theory that clicking and pasting contributes to mental illness. Maybe it can't CAUSE the problem, but I think maybe it could activate a dormant issue and exacerbate the inevitable. I...can't...stop...the...clicking..." - Katie Moore
"FUCK THIS MOUSE BUTTON!" - Katie Moore
"The characters here are so pointless I would only say yes if they all died, but even that would be too much, so I’d probably (even then) say no." - Jon Thrower
"Am I about to take a half submission and leave out the part after the middle where it started to suck?" - John Hancock
"Wow, we have a lot of readers in Russia..." - Katie Moore
"Really? A submission in Comic Sans? Ha!" - Jon Thrower
"I can't handle the karma of sending these rejection letters. It hurts me. I need to drink now." - Katie Moore
"A cat story to follow a dog story. As I read, I wonder what I did in my life to deserve this. 33 pages of stupidity. I don't believe in Karma, but this has me second-guessing that time I kicked the sleeping guy in the head." - Jon Thrower
"Google this person, they sound hot." - John Hancock
"This rhymes too much." - Katie Moore
"Wow. Lovely. The question, the question, the question, followed by an analysis of the approach, of the desire, of the method and the operation thereof. And then bang. Well done." - Jon Thrower
"Wow, I'm late." - Katie Moore
Table of Contents