Paris and the Fool

Apparently the bee under our so-called president’s orange comb-over is telling him today to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.  There might be a few fanatics in his administration, like Steve Bannon or Scott Pruitt, encouraging him to pull out, but nearly everyone else – all 194 other nations in the Accord (which is all the other nations of the world except Syria and Nicaragua), all the other nations in the G7, his own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, even Exxon and Chevron, would prefer the U.S. to stay in the agreement.  Of course Tillerson and the oil companies are most likely just cynically wanting a “seat at the table” so they can slow the agreement down or undermine it.

It’s even possible that Trump will wake up at 4 a.m. tomorrow and tweet that he’s changed his mind and will keep us in (he loves that feeling of power), but at this point it hardly matters.  He’s already signaled to the rest of the world that the federal government of the (formerly) leader of the free world has collapsed into utter dysfunction.  Those of us who pay attention to these matters know quite well that we can’t count on Congress for anything – this has been true for some time – nor can we depend on the Supreme Court, nor, least of all, on the current Executive Branch.   Activists like me can convince ourselves to keep being activists only by believing that someday this idiocy in Washington will end.  But there’s no guarantee that it will.

Meanwhile the rest of the world will try to forge ahead without us, hoping that the U.S. is merely irrelevant on the global stage, as opposed to taking the rest of the world down with it.

Our New World

Thanks to the convoluted election last November, we now live in a new world.  All the old conventional wisdom, predictive models, political rules, and media behavior no longer apply.  Facts are no longer facts, or at least we can’t be certain about them.  Every day since November 8, and even more so since January 20, I wake up not knowing what to expect.  Every day is a new adventure and a series of disturbing surprises.

Nonetheless, now, a mere four days into the Trump administration (the term dignifies the man too flatteringly), we can see certain patterns emerging.  This is not to say that we can predict any better what policies of the Trump administration will be advanced; we can merely see, with greater clarity, the array of factors that will influence those policies.

First there are Trump’s character issues:  his narcissism, his psychopathy, his attention deficit.  These characteristics – rather frightening in a president of the United States – have manifested themselves already, since his inauguration, in his obsession with losing the popular vote and with attendance at his inauguration (he can’t let this go) and a spewing of executive orders in his first two working days.  Yes, those same “executive order” things that President Obama was attacked for issuing only days and weeks ago.  Already he has ordered some convoluted repeal guidelines for the Affordable Care Act.  He has officially “killed” the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even though it was already dead all but ceremonially.  Today he “resurrected” Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines (but be of good cheer – the pipes will now be made in the U.S.).  After signing each order, he turns it toward the cameras for show and tell.  Get used to this.

Meanwhile, the second factor influencing the Trump era is the ideology of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the right-wing GOP.  Provided they can bamboozle Trump into signing the crap that comes out of the 115th Congress, we can expect their legislative will to be forced down the throats of the rest of us.

The third influence is the plutocrats who will be meekly approved by Congress to serve in Trump’s cabinet.  We already knew that the plutocrats have bought and paid for most of what comes out of the federal government.  Now we see them occupying key government positions directly and operating the levers of power themselves.  I can’t wait until all those Trump supporters realize that the man they elected has royally screwed them over.

With today’s executive orders, we see the climate justice movement set back probably thirty years.  In the coming weeks we can kiss the Supreme Court goodbye.  It might not be all bad, though.  Bernie Sanders also opposed the TPP (me, too); once in a while something good might happen.  The problem is, the bulk of what comes out of this administration will have nothing to do with what’s good for people, the country, or the planet; it will merely be whatever sausage comes out of this meat-grinder of newly competing forces:  Trump’s sick personality, whatever best serves gigantic American corporations, and GOP right-wing ideology (often in line with gigantic American corporations).

What to do?  Follow the sage advice of Bernie Sanders and Michael Moore:  Call your elected officials every day (I’m serious).  And every month or every week or so, we’ll need another Women’s March.  The revolution must continue.

It won’t be easy, but it’s our only hope.

Big Mistake

America – whoever and whatever America is anymore – has made a mistake.  It isn’t America’s first mistake, only one of many, but probably the worst ever, at a time when we can least afford it.

In two weeks our illustrious Electoral College (does anyone know who these people are?) will bestow the presidency upon a total incompetent; a man who knows less about history than you and I do and doesn’t read; a man with some serious psychological issues; a man with no moral values, no direction, no motivation except to feed his own ego and serve his own interests; a man who is already being manipulated by the very establishment he railed against only to win votes.  Each coming day will bring new surprises.

My morning cup of coffee in hand, I brace myself as I venture into the day’s news.  The Paris climate accord may be toast.  Keystone XL might not be as dead as we thought.  And the Dakota Access Pipeline?  Perhaps we’ll have a civil war over it.  Healthcare is at risk.  The prospective education secretary is a minion of the Koch brothers, so we can expect charter schools and privatized education as the way of the future.  Republicans call this “school choice.”  The EPA may be dismantled.  (Was EPA the agency that Rick Perry couldn’t remember he wanted to eliminate?)  The First Amendment might have a few footnotes added to it, but the Second Amendment is quite safe, secure, and open to broad interpretation.  Our new attorney general is probably a racist.  Within four years the Supreme Court will be lost to us for generations.  Our foreign policy, sorry as it already is, will become nothing but a schmooze game, depending on who our new president thinks are “great leaders” and which nations have “really nice people.”

Republicans have won yet again by successfully gaming the system.  That same illustrious Electoral College will choose as president the candidate who lost the popular vote by the biggest margin ever.  (Yes, there are parts of the Constitution that need review, interpretation, and possible revision.  The founders didn’t cover all the bases.  Who knew?)  Voter suppression no doubt played a role in Republican victories, too, despite the district courts’ last-minute efforts to beat it down in North Carolina and elsewhere.  And voter apathy played a part, as overall turnout was slightly lower than in 2012.  Many voters, faced with disappointing choices, apparently failed to see the apocalypse coming.  Finally, Republicans once again pulled off what they do best:  convince people to vote against their own interests.

The smug grins on the faces of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are premature.  Those guys can’t possibly understand yet what they have on their hands.

One thing this election made painfully clear is the pathetically inadequate alternative that the Democratic Party offered to us.  If the Republican Party is the party of big money, the Democratic Party is their understudy.  The Clinton machine and the Party along with her took all the money from all the big donors, while ignoring the blue collar white guys Republicans were busy duping in rural areas of the country.  Add not-so-subtle racism to the Republican side of the equation, and the contest is over.  One thing I learned from this election is, it’s too soon to write off the voting power of angry old white guys.

Progressives still find themselves without a party to represent them.  This outcome is all the more tragic because we came so close.  Bernie Sanders, the most honest man ever to serve in Washington, made a Herculean effort to turn the Democratic Party progressive and very nearly pulled it off.  I blame the Democratic Party machine for sidelining him; had they not, he would be our new president.

My progressive friends and I now find ourselves alone.  The vision inspired by the Sanders campaign still burns within us, but the future seems grim.  We’re really having trouble dealing with this.  I have a friend who has stopped showing up for our Monday morning coffee group, preferring for now to withdraw into music, arts, and entertainment.  The wife of a friend of mine is seeing a counselor; I hope her counselor didn’t vote for the other guy.  Another colleague, one of the most passionate and dedicated activists I know, is taking a much needed break, but I worry she might be drifting toward despair.  I hope I’m wrong.

As for me, my customary wall of cynicism has lately failed me.  I’m struggling to contain my anger; anger seems to be my final defense against despair.  One thing I know, though.  We progressives need each other more than ever.  If we withdraw into ourselves, then we lose for sure.  And the pain will be unbearable.

So I plan to keep doing what I’ve been doing:  anything I can to push back against climate change and environmental destruction.  All the other progressive causes matter to me, too, but I’m finding it challenging enough to work even within these self-imposed limits.  And soon it will be even harder.

Every presidential election cycle lately I’ve considered leaving the country if Republicans won.  Now would certainly be the time, but strangely, I’ll try to stay.  There’s talk, anyway, that right-wing movements in the Netherlands, France, Austria, and Germany have been emboldened by America’s sham election.  Having once lived abroad, I’ve long viewed Western Europe as a potential safe haven.  Perhaps not anymore.  So mostly I plan to hunker down and pray that California’s firewall holds against the coming federal assault.

There are still a few who say they are optimistic about the future.  Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders are among them.  I hope they are sincere about this, but even if they’re not I want to believe them.  Obama, for all the shortcomings and disappointments of his administration, at least had righteous intentions; I’m eager to see what he does in his post-presidency.  And Sanders I trust to doggedly persist in growing his progressive message, regardless of whatever position he holds in Washington and whatever obstacles he faces.

There.  After nearly a month of shock, mourning, and speechlessness, I think I’ve managed to unload some things that have been weighing on my mind.  Do I feel better now?

No, not really.

Guns

Once again, I find myself blogging on a subject I really don’t want to address. Nothing angers me more than the endless debate over the Second Amendment that never goes anywhere. “Gun rights” is just another example of the hopeless polarization in this country where, in my view, the merits of the two opposing sides are not even remotely equal. It ranks right up there with climate change denial. And the way I see it, gun violence in America is about as unlikely to be effectively dealt with as the global climate crisis. We continue to prove ourselves incapable of progress when it comes to avoiding our own self-destruction.

Other than personally venting my anger, though, I don’t expect this post to accomplish anything. Those on my side of the issue will agree with its viewpoint, while those on the other side – way over there on the other side – will pay no mind and carry on in blissful insensitivity to the human suffering wrought by our national obsession with guns.

It’s pointless to rehash the many “common sense” ways we could restrict guns and limit their damage. Banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, closing the gun show and Internet loopholes for background checks, restricting purchase by suspected terrorists on the “no-fly” list – these obvious, although still insufficient, proposals resurface after each new mass shooting: Columbine; Virginia Tech; Tucson; Aurora; Fort Hood; Newtown; Charlotte; San Bernardino; and now Orlando, with carnage setting a new American record. The “thoughts and prayers” from members of Congress, of course, sound hollow, but so, too, do these proposals after a while, because nothing ever happens.

And even more rarely discussed are the thousands of murders, incidents of domestic violence, suicides, and accidental deaths by guns that occur in America year in and year out.

I applaud Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy and his colleagues Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Patty Murray, and Patrick Leahy for their 15-hour filibuster in the U.S. Senate. I also applaud President Obama and Hillary Clinton for boldly confronting rather than running away from the controversy. The Senate will vote on a couple of weak bills next week, thanks to the filibuster (even Mitch McConnell has seemingly been shamed into action, while of course grumbling about it). But the bills will fail, if not in the Senate then in the House, and the issue will fade away yet again until the next mass shooting, which won’t be long.

The Second Amendment that is so duplicitously cited by the NRA and the gun nuts to justify gun ownership (and the resulting violence), which exceeds by orders of magnitude most other developed nations outside of Latin America, reads as follows: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” That’s it. Twenty-seven words, clear as mud. What did the founders have in mind? Muskets? Bayonets? Assault weapons? High capacity magazines? Rocket-propelled grenades? Shoulder-fired missiles? Nuclear weapons? Think for a minute: What kind of “arms” existed when the Second Amendment was conceived and written? And what about those militias? What should the strict constructionists make of this? You could easily read the Second Amendment as vague, or a paradox.

But I’ve fallen into the same old trap again: trying to think logically about an issue where logic clearly has no traction. And that’s what infuriates me so.

Only through the lens of capitalism (those profits), and only by grasping the notion of American exceptionalism – with its blindness to the possibility that other countries often do things far better than we do – does the prevalence of guns in the United States of America make any kind of perverted sense.

So I’m left with this instead: If presumptive un-presidential nominee Donald Trump and Senator John McCain can blame President Obama for the shootings in Orlando, then I’m perfectly justified in blaming Senate and House Republicans, along with too many Democrats, for Orlando – and San Bernardino – and Charlotte – and Newtown – and on and on and on.

I’m not sure if I feel better or worse for airing these views, but if I’ve managed to channel your frustration in some way, then that’s at least some consolation.

End of the Republic

For nearly nine months I’ve been blogless. Why? Because I’ve watched the 2016 presidential campaign unfold in utter disbelief, which has rendered me nearly speechless. Imagine that: me – speechless! I would have preferred to stay out of the political discussion at this level, but now it has so intruded upon our daily lives and the future of our country that I can no longer avoid wading into the swamp. Where this discussion will take me I’m not entirely sure.

Every four years I struggle to maintain my sanity through each presidential election. I still consider Bush’s reelection in 2004 the darkest day in American history since 9/11. The elections of 2008 and 2012 were both nail-biters, even though the sensible outcome should have been a no-brainer. Vice President Palin? President “I’ll say anything to get elected” Romney? Yikes! In 2012 I was afraid to watch the election night returns here in California. I didn’t turn on the TV until 10 p.m. Pacific time. Fortunately for me, within minutes they called Ohio for Obama, and it was largely over. That saved me a lot of stress.

But the 2016 election breaks all records for my sanity. On the one hand, I witnessed the unprecedented possibility of a candidate whose progressive politics and integrity are beyond question. On the other, we had an array of clowns and an interminable campaign that rarely if ever rose out of the gutter. I actually felt some satisfaction in Donald Trump’s disruption of the Republican Party. Trump has shown, I guess, that the Republican general electorate doesn’t really give a damn about “conservative principles.” Republicans have been setting themselves up for something like this for years, and now they have to deal with it. Problem is, the rest of the country does, too.

At times I almost pulled for Trump in the primaries, ever so thankful as he finished off Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz one by one. Good riddance to them all. Cruz, the last man standing, was the perfect foil for Trump – a classic politician who was even harder to like than Trump himself. Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Rand Paul actually looked like the best of the lot, which goes to show how dismal the Republican promise has become since the days of Eisenhower.

But that still leaves Trump, an unqualified, unpredictable, egotistical buffoon whose character and conduct symbolize everything that is wrong with America. That a man who says whatever pops into his head and blows it out his ear enjoys such broad support – who are these people? – speaks volumes about what kind of shape our country is in.

Bernie Sanders, in all likelihood, will not win the Democratic nomination. I do, however, believe that he will continue to fight for his policies and continue the “political revolution” our country so sorely needs. I am impressed beyond words by his integrity, by his stamina as a 74-year old on the campaign trail, and by his ability to awaken and inspire young voters. To those young voters, I say, don’t be discouraged. You must stay engaged. It’s your future that Washington, the billionaires, and all those old white guys have largely made a mess of.

Make no mistake. The Hillary Clinton hate machine has been fine-tuned for decades by the Republican Party. Trump will happily be its megaphone. All the old dirty laundry will be aired once again, and new dirty laundry will be either discovered or made up. Of course Trump has plenty of dirty laundry, too, so unless Democrats are stupid, that, too will be aired between now and November. After the California primary, the rest of the campaign will devolve into relentless character assassination, while the real issues get lost in all the noise. Just what we need right now, when America is on the brink of self-destruction. In any case, the choice in November will be between the candidate of “same old not enough” and the candidate of “roll the dice and close your eyes.”

As for Trump himself, he promises to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement the day he assumes office. If this happens, it’s game over for the agreement, inadequate as it already is, and probably game over for the planet as well. He says the wall he will build and have Mexico pay for will stop the flow of drugs into the U.S., as if poor Latin American women and children are bringing the drugs in with them, when in reality they cross the border with little more than the clothes on their backs. And don’t you love his glorious plan to resume waterboarding – and then some? Side note: If he doesn’t mean this stuff, he shouldn’t say it; if he does mean it, holy crap! One of my greater fears is that, with his big mouth, he will blunder us into some unimaginable new international crisis.

The phenomenon I abhor most in this country is the stubborn belief by many, across decades, in American exceptionalism, the idea that, obviously, America is superior to the rest of the world – morally, economically, and militarily. This is the big lie. Our income inequality is the greatest, our military the most bloated, our infrastructure crumbling, our healthcare the most expensive and least encompassing of our population, our education reserved only for those able to afford it, our prisons the fullest. Only in this sense are we exceptional. “American exceptionalism” blinds us to the reality that many other nations have functioning governments and institutions far superior to ours.

Benjamin Franklin told someone after the Constitutional convention long ago that what the founders had given us was “a republic, if you can keep it.” Well, we’re in grave danger now of not keeping it. We’ve been squandering it for decades, and the divisiveness and mean-spiritedness of our population is rendering us incapable of functioning as a democracy. Hence my belief that (1) a Trump victory in November is entirely possible and (2) the end of the Republic may well be closer than anyone thinks.

Hope or Cynicism

About six months ago I joined a small reading group that meets at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Long Beach. Long Beach lies well outside my normal circle of travels these days, but I joined the group because they were reading and discussing Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate.

I had already read the book. (You can see my take on it here.) I found it – in a word – monumental, the veritable bible on climate change as well as social and economic justice. It confirmed my worst fears about looming climate change and did much to explain why we as global civilization have thus far done pathetically little to deal with it. I thought throughout, though, that Klein felt an obligation to paint a path to hope of a solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem, but that, at the same time, she struggled personally to embrace and believe in that hope. Her book, in the end, left me in near-despair.

Nonetheless, I felt it was important that the book be read by as many people as possible, so at least they would have the opportunity to see what’s coming. And so I joined this reading group.

Since returning home last week from my amazing trip to the Netherlands and Switzerland, I picked up This Changes Everything to reread the Conclusion. I had volunteered to lead the discussion among the group, and it was time to do my homework. I finished reading it early this morning. This time – this time – I believe I can see the hope in Klein’s message. And I believe that her hope is genuine.

She builds her case throughout the book that a bottom-up, massive social movement is required to upend capitalism, free market ideology, and the dogmatic quest for short-term profit – all of which is required to mitigate the effects of climate and environmental damage already locked into our global systems. The first time I read the book, I couldn’t help wondering, how likely is that to happen?

Well, Klein writes in her Conclusion that such a massive social movement is not without precedent; the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and the breakdown of colonialism provide examples. Fine, but here’s the thing that hit home for me in my second reading of This Changes Everything: Klein tells us that Sivan Kartha of the Stockholm Environment Institute says, “What’s politically realistic today may have very little to do with what’s politically realistic after another few Hurricane Katrinas and another few Superstorm Sandys and another few Typhoon Bophas hit us.”

Furthermore, Klein writes, “What is most striking about these upwellings, when societies become consumed with the demand for transformational change, is that they so often come as a surprise…”

Perversely, there is hope in this. Slim, perhaps, but real. I’m convinced that Naomi Klein, as she fights on, believes this.

Reading Klein’s conclusion this morning I was moved to tears. We have to do this.  We have to surprise ourselves.

My Evolving Relations with Animal Products

The journey continues, as does the struggle with my conscience in deciding how far I will ultimately go toward becoming vegan. I’ll try here to explain where I am, currently, in this transformation.

Sophie at Farm Sanctuary in Southern California

Sophie at Farm Sanctuary in Southern California

Honestly, I’ve reached a plateau of sorts. Reducing my intake of animal products, including dairy, by 70 to 80 percent over the past six months has been surprisingly easy. I’ve found vegan substitutes for chicken, turkey, hot dogs, ground beef, milk, mayonnaise, cream cheese, ice cream – as well as the infamous Vegg (for egg yolk) – that are every bit as tasty and nearly as versatile as the products they replace. I’ve rediscovered salads, peanut butter, avocado, and other foods I’ve enjoyed my entire life that do not come from animals. I can still enjoy glass of wine, a beer, a margarita or a Bloody Mary.

Then it gets harder. A cliché comes to mind: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” What troubles me is that this cliché is often used, too, by defenders of carbon-based energy and by “leaders” who expect us to accept the weak commitments that have emerged from past rounds of global climate talks (Kyoto, Rio, Copenhagen, Lima). This statement is too often merely a rationalization, an acceptance of half-measures or defeat.

Nevertheless, at this juncture I’m permitting certain transgressions against vegan purity. I can justify these only on the basis of convenience, “practicality,” and occasional lapses of resistance for a few of the foods I used to enjoy before my recent environmental and moral epiphany.

Many foods contain animal products in trace amounts, buried deep down in the list of ingredients. Some examples:

  • Ramen noodles contain beef fat or chicken fat in the seasoning packets
  • “Non-dairy creamer” contains sodium caseinate, a milk derivative
  • Many veggie patties on the market contain some cheese

For now I’m not going to worry too much about such trace ingredients.

Worse than this, though, is Mexican food.  I love Mexican food. I can do without carne asada, carnitas, or chicken, but it’s hard to do without cheese as well. For now I will allow Mexican food with cheese, but infrequently.

Once in a while (I’ll strive for once a week or less), I might indulge in a meat dish, most likely pork or chicken. I’m pretty much done with beef now, unless the pepperoni on an occasional pizza happens to contain it (and oh, yeah, the cheese).

Meanwhile, the big problems with seafood are related to supply, due to wasteful industrial fishing practices, and to health – especially mercury. I can perhaps rationalize eating fish on semi-humanitarian grounds, but for health reasons alone I’ll limit seafood intake to once a week.

There might be eggs in some of the things I eat going forward, but I’ve eliminated all forms of eggs as an entrée. Thank you, Vegg.

So with all these reductions, I can perhaps smugly claim that, if every other American consumed as few animal products as this, the practice might possibly be environmentally sustainable, as well as supportable by small farms where animals are treated humanely and live normal lives (* – until they are slaughtered). The Kentucky farmer and poet Wendell Berry provides some cover for such a claim. He writes, “Though I am by no means a vegetarian, I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable in order to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.”  The problem is, of course, that we don’t know where much of our food comes from.

To be sure, this leaves a wide space between the perfect and the good, but on the other hand, if I had to kill my own meat, it would probably force me toward perfection.

Thus the journey continues.

Life after the Egg

It’s time for a progress report on my quest to curtail my support of animal agriculture and corporate farms. (For the evils of animal agriculture, see my post, Animal Agriculture, of 06/01/15.)

To start with, this is a journey with an uncertain final destination. I’m giving myself until the end of the year to decide. Ideally, by that time I will be entirely vegan. Anything short of that will carry with it a certain amount of guilt, unless I can somehow obtain any remaining animal-based foods from known local, humane, environmentally responsible sources – if that is even possible.

Albert with Vegg

I’ve made great initial progress finding meat substitutes, phasing out seafood, and replacing almost all my dairy consumption with soy milk, margarine, alternatives to cheese, and some incredibly delicious frozen soy desserts that render ice cream entirely irrelevant.

Dairy-wise, this leaves the egg. While it would be nice to think that the egg industry is humane to chickens, unfortunately that’s far from the case. Moreover, egg replacements seem to be on the frontiers of modern technology. However, after much research I found and purchased a product called Vegg. Vegg is a powder that, when mixed with water, makes a pretty tasty approximation of egg yolk.

That part is easy, and I have used the “Vegg-yolk” in two ways, quite successfully. I’ve heated it in the microwave and used it to dip toast into (something I always enjoyed doing after eating sunny-side-up eggs in my youth). I’ve also made some awesome French toast with it, as good as or better than the real deal.

What remains is to replicate scrambled eggs in some reasonable form (forget fried, poached, or soft-boiled). To do this requires combining the Vegg mixture with tofu in some way. I watched a video on the Vegg website where a guy demonstrated how to do this, but he left out some important details and seemed to use a little hocus-pocus to boot. My first attempt to make a tofu scramble resulted a sort of egg yolk soup, which I ended up pouring on toast – kind of like dipping the toast, but upside-down.

This morning I tried again, learning from past failure and improvising, using my less-than-stellar cooking talents. I won’t bore you with all the details but, using a lot more tofu and microwaving the mixture in a crockery dish Linda purchased for making great poached eggs (real ones), I managed to produce a scrambled egg mixture of sorts that I can best describe as yellow oatmeal. Sounds gross, I know, but adding salt, pepper, and tabasco sauce (which can fix almost anything), made this concoction edible.

I will keep trying. Next time, I’ll increase the portion of tofu, which seems to be the key to thickening the whole mess. Ultimately, if unable to successfully prepare a tofu scramble, I’ll settle – gladly – for dipping toast in Vegg-yolk or making French toast with real maple syrup. It’s all about the flavor, and Vegg tastes great!

License Plate Art

Retirement sure is great. I have time now for stuff like this!

LicensePlateArt

Lately I’ve developed an interest in old license plates. In New Orleans last year I bought a metal U.S. map, about two feet by three feet in size, on which each state is represented by an image of a license plate from that state. Very cool.

As the next step, on my recent visit to Grand Canyon South Rim in April I bought a sign, shaped like a license plate, that consists of letters and numbers creatively cut from old license plates and mounted on plywood. That’s the top sign in the photo. This one was done by a Tucson artist whose illegible signature appears on the back of the sign. It cost $46.99, but I thought the novelty of it, as well as its message, was worth it.

Then I thought, I can do this. I mulled it over and planned and gradually prototyped the design and methods of construction, using the rudimentary tools at my disposal in my own garage. (The most sophisticated tools I own are an old Craftsman electric drill – those things never die – and an electric scroll saw with a metal-cutting blade.)

The result is the bottom sign in the photo. I finished it this morning. All that remains is to attach hanging hardware on the back and mount it on the wall in my home office. My new sign is loaded with symbolism. First and foremost, it represents a goal. Sefinenfurke (SEFI94KE) is a 2,612-meter pass in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland that I have conquered three times over the past thirty years and hope to conquer one more time this August, with my good friend Curt Dahlberg.

Besides the message itself, I chose very carefully the license plates to use. Three characters come from the original California plates on my 1983 Toyota Camry (2AKS047), which became obsolete when we shipped the car to The Netherlands in 1984 for our fifteen-month relocation and job assignment. The black-on-gold “F” and “5” are from the Camry’s Dutch plates (LF-57-JS), which were shipped back to the U.S., still mounted on the precious car, through the Panama Canal. (Don’t worry, the second California plate and the second Dutch plate are intact, both neatly displayed on the wall in my garage.)

Other states represented on the sign are Oregon, Washington, and New Mexico (two blue states and one purple state). I needed the upside-down “1” from a South Dakota plate I purchased at an antique store in San Juan Capistrano. Even that has some symbolic value, as tiny images of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt on Mt. Rushmore appear inverted at the top of this piece.

I probably invested about a hundred dollars in my custom-made trash art – including used license plates purchased in stores or on the Internet, a nice piece of select pine, a can of wood stain, the metal saw blades, and a small package of wire nails. I have no idea how much time I spent crafting the sign, but hey, I have the time!

That’s my story. Now to climb Sefinenfurke.

About Those Subsidies…

Here is an all-too-typical example of how reality gets so expertly distorted by corporate capitalist forces who defend the status quo for their own benefit while our country slides into ruin.  Elon Musk of Tesla and SolarCity is attacked as an opportunistic entrepreneur whose companies couldn’t exist without government subsidies, tax breaks, and other incentives.  The truth is, or course, far more nuanced.  More of the story on subsidies is exposed (though it should already be obvious to most) in this recent article in the Los Angeles Times.