Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One day in 1988

I have been a hunger activist since 1980. From street level volunteer work to the highest levels, where policy is determined in Washington DC.

I have also lived and worked among the homeless in various places in England and Australia, and in Los Angeles, CA and Washington DC in the United States.

For the period 1987- 1989 I was Legislative Director of RESULTS. In this capacity I was responsible for the creation of a microcredit program at the US Agency for International Development, and for establishing a relationship between RESULTS and microcredit that continues to expand, to the benefit of the poor and disadvantaged all over the world.

My boss at the time, and the other full-time staff member, was Sam Daley Harris, founder and Executive Director of RESULTS. Currently, Sam is CEO of the Center for Citizens Empowerment and Transformation.

During the early part of the campaign to get the Congress to earmark funds for microcredit, (then called micro-enterprise), I was ably assisted by RESULTS group leader and intern from Cornell University, Alexander M. Counts, currently President of the Grameen Foundation.

Congressman Ed Feighan of Ohio agreed to introduce the legislation. The staff person, serving as Legislative Director, and Chief of Staff for Rep. Feighan, was the very capable Mr.George Stephanopoulos, currently anchor of ABC's Good Morning America.

The two senior technical advisers were Dr. John Hatch, founder and managing director of FINCA (now retired). FINCA is one of the largest and most successful microcredit institutions in the world, with lending operations all over central and south America, as well as eastern Europe and Africa.

And Dr. Muhammad Yunus, founder and managing director of the Grameen Bank, Bangladesh, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2006, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

It is my view that the Grameen Bank, Bangladesh is the most successful human endeavor in existence. This was my view in 1985 when I first came across micro enterprise, and lobbied in the RESULTS management committee for the inclusion of Grameen Bank as an institution RESULTS should specifically support.

It was view in 1987 when, at my insistence, micro enterprise became the sole focus for the first RESULTS legislation, which it was to be my job, as Legislative Director, to shepherd through the congressional maze.

It remains my view.

This is now supported by the fact of more than 100 million of the world's poorest families who currently enjoy a sustainable escape from poverty through the workings of micro-credit.

And the sustained drop in birth-rates that microcredit is certainly a factor in creating in Bangladesh is very significant -- demonstrating conclusively that the most efficient path to a stable population is to focus on improving the conditions of the poorest women.

There are many other profound, and significant external benefits to microcredit, but I have written of this elsewhere and that is not my purpose in this journal.

This story of two days in 1988 is singular, and of interest principally to the millions who were facing starvation at the time. But for those few million people it is a very significant story, and I place it here for the public record.

As best as I can remember, this is what happened over the course of two days in 1988.

In January or February of that year, Sam Harris and I had a meeting with Mr. Kelly Kammerer, who was the most senior AID official at that time in Washington, DC.

Mr. Kammerer had requested the meeting to discuss the possibility of a search for common ground. The Agency had found itself on the opposite side of many of our recent campaigns, most particularly microcredit, and wanted to see if there were some issues on which we could work together.

This meeting had been scheduled six weeks earlier, at about the time the passage of the continuing resolution sealed our victory in the initial microcredit campaign.

The day before the meeting Sam handed me a letter as I arrived at the office at about 9:30 in the morning. The letter was from a RESULTS volunteer in Leeds, England. On the first page, the word famine had been underlined in red.

In the UK there was a rumor of an impending famine in Ethiopia.

Less than three years earlier one million Ethiopians died as a result of famine, although aid efforts had prevented starvation for some seven million others before it was over. This event, which some remember as the "Live Aid" famine because of the concert organized by Irish musicians Bob Geldorf and Midge Ure, which resulted in a massive, though belated, aid effort.

Sam asked me to call the aid organizations and see if I could find out what was happening.

I called CARE, Save the Children, and Catholic Relief Services and the USAID Ethiopia Desk. I was told that there might be isolated pockets of famine, but nothing like three years ago, nothing like that.

I kept gathering information, because nobody I talked to actually seemed really sure what was happening. Eventually I was referred to Mr. Pierre Michel whom, I think, was responsible for the UNHCR program in Africa.

I called UN Headquarters in New York, and I identified myself to the secretary as Michael Rigby, calling from RESULTS in Washington DC. I was surprised to be put through immediately, although I think it is fair to say that due to previous and successful campaigns on behalf of UNICEF and IFAD, RESULTS had a good reputation at the UN.

Mr. Michel explained the situation, and I report the content of our conversation as accurately as I can recall.

MJR -- I am hearing rumors of an impending famine situation in Ethiopia, and I am told that you are the most knowledgeable person on that matter.

PM -- There are three harvests every year in Ethiopia, the first two failed completely, the third is now lying dead on the ground. Even if it rains tomorrow there is no food for millions of people. We are looking at a situation every bit as bad as 1985. We need to ship a million tons of food, and we cannot do ANYTHING (emphasis in original) because we have not had an official request for aid from the Mengistu government in Ethiopia.

MJR -- I will see what we can do.

Mengistu was deliberately starving millions of Eritreans and Tigreans, and would not request aid, even though these people were Ethiopians, according to Mengistu. This was not the first time famine had been used as a weapon, and it probably wasn't the last, but it has been my experience that the real world is often nastier than most people believe possible. Mengistu was holding the capitol of the colonial territory that had been shaped by the Europeans for the specific purpose of corralling long time adversaries in the divide and conquer strategy favored by colonial powers since the time of Alexander.

Mengistu, from the minority tribe, held sway over the other two with the secret police, combined with massive brutality formula, much favored by cold war client states. Mengistu stands out though, even in that crowd, for his diversion of aid funds to military equipment, purchased to enforce his reign of terror. For his use of aid convoys as cover for moving his troops, during a massive and life threatening famine. And just for sheer brutality.

Ethiopia switched sides during the cold war, and in 1988, it was a US client state.

I reported the results of my survey to Sam Harris and he said I should call Joan Mower at Reuters and Andy Holmes at Cox Newspapers. I gave both of these reporters the relevant phone numbers and the situation as described above. Then I went back to doing my usual work for about forty-five minutes, at which point Sam suggested I call Andy and Joan again.

I reached Joan first. I asked if she thought she might be able to use the story I had given her and she said "its already on the wire" and "thanks, good story", and then I had an almost identical conversation with Andy.

Sam suggested I call the aid agencies back again. They all reported that they were gearing up for a major effort. Amazing what the attention of a couple of reporters can do.

So I called Pierre Michel at the United Nations, and asked him how much grain he wanted from the United States. He said it didn't work like that, because it was a donation, the donor countries decided how much they want to give. So I said "in previous famine situations, what proportion of the total has come from the United States", and he said "about a third" and I said "three hundred and fifty thousand tons," and he said "about that, yes".

I reported this conversation to Sam Harris. And later I went home to my wife and baby.

That night Sam called all of the regional co-ordinators, who called all the group leaders, who called all the partners, and the next day more than two hundred and fifty people spread across thirty-five cities and twenty six states scoured the newspapers looking for reports on a famine in Ethiopia. If they found one, they cut it out, and photocopied (with the masthead and the date), then faxed it  to the RESULTS office. Faxes poured in all morning, and when we left for our 11:30 am meeting with Kelley Kammerer I was carrying nine.

RESULTS was well named.

In addition to Kelly, and Sam, and myself, at the meeting there were three "gentlemen from The White House" who thought that it would be in our interests to get a hands-on understanding of the Agency for International Development, and they were prepared to fly us to any project we wanted to see, and as many projects as we wanted to see, anywhere in the world, at their expense, for twelve months.

Sam said we didn't need to fly anywhere, and we were quite prepared to cover our own expenses for research, if they would only point out to us which of their programs benefited the very poorest people, we would be happy to make them famous. They replied that there were no programs which benefited the very poorest, they preferred to target assistance a few rungs up, so that the benefits trickle down to those at the bottom. "In that case", said Sam, "we have nothing further to talk about".

At that point the White House contingent left, and into the somewhat embarrassed silence that followed their departure I interjected, "Kelly, have you heard anything about a possible famine situation in Ethiopia?" He said, "I think there was something in this morning's clippings" and undoubtedly glad to have some way of changing the subject, he checked his whole file, while I laid my nine on the coffee table in front of me.

It wasn't a big table and so the photocopied newspaper clippings completely covered it, and were falling off the edges. Kelly pulled out two sheets from his file of maybe twenty five photocopies.

And then I said. "Kelly, how long will it take to ship three hundred and fifty thousand tons of grain to Addis Ababa?".

 He said that the Agency's emergency allocation was good for something like thirty-nine thousand tons, and three hundred and fifty thousand also exceeded some other threshold, so that it would require primary legislation, for which you would have to arrange a special session of this committee and that committee and a whole bunch of other committees and then you get the President to sign it and then you can get three hundred thousand tons.

As he spoke, and named the committees we'd have to bring together, I ran through a best case scenario in my mind. If we really pushed, we could make a big enough deal out of this situation that the various committees would rapidly find a quorum, and still it was going to take months. So when he had finished speaking I responded "So, August" , this being a date several months from when this conversation was taking place.

He seemed a little surprised, because I think he knew that if we really pushed it we could make all that happen by August. I certainly believed we could have done so, (and I am also sure we would have done so, had that proved necessary). Kelly said, "Yes, that might be possible by August."

"Kelly", I said, with some considerable feeling, "Tens of thousands of people will be dead by then."

Kelly knows that on the first day of this campaign, at eleven thirty in the morning, we have press in eleven (my nine and Kelly's two) newspapers. This situation is as new for Kelly that morning, as it had been for me the day before. He knows that we are only just getting started.  Add to this that we successfully overcame the administration's opposition in the matters of microcredit, IFAD and UNICEF, largely as a result of our very effective media campaigns.

I think that the swift response of the volunteers had helped make it clear to Mr. Kammerer that we were very serious about this matter. As for the amazing coincidence of this meeting having been scheduled six weeks earlier - who can say? A cubic centimeter of chance, perhaps.

He said that he would bring the matter up at the daily briefing of the Agency Director, Mr. Alan Bond.

I don't know what Kelly Kammerer said to Alan Bond but I think its likely he recommended a significant response.

If you want to succeed in a campaign you have to go full tilt until they actually sign the necessary document -- no matter how much they protest that you are pushing too hard. The steamroller method is the only appropriate strategy in an emergency situation.

Over the course of the next few days we sent out at least twenty six newspaper clippings in daily mailings to a whole bunch of Congressmen - all the members of the relevant committees, all the members whose districts were covered by whatever particular newspaper printed the item (and once you got on our list you got all of them, whether they were in your district or not). A whole bunch of AID people, committee staff, aid agencies, and people at the UN.

To make all this happen, in Washington at that time we had a couple of cheap IBM clone computers (and sufficient expertise on hand to make them productive) and we had Sharon Mason - our secret weapon of a secretary, originally a volunteer from Tulsa, Oklahoma. And we had me and Sam.

And across the US we had Dorsey Lawson - a little old lady from Pasadena, and a couple of hundred really serious volunteers.

We were the kind of organization where the Executive Director, and the Legislative Director regularly spent Friday evenings standing at the counter in the photocopy store, folding letters and stuffing them into envelopes.

Within a few days Alan Bond was in Addis Abbaba where he announced an immediate shipment of ninety thousand tons.

The rest of the world, (prodded by [among others], RESULTS partners in England, and Canada, and Germany and Australia as well as the larger United States organization.) quickly emulated the United States, (whose subsequent further contributions brought them close to three hundred thousand tons by the time it was all over) and almost all one million tons were committed in about two months.

Not all of the aid got to where it was most needed, and probably ten thousand people did die as a result of famine that year, but that's a lot less than a million. And that's got to be a good thing.

Dreadful conditions, and frequent outbreaks of violence continue to make parts of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia very difficult places to live. But for a few months, many of the people who do the right thing were calling the shots, and so it allowed some of humanity's brighter lights to shine for a while. And that's a good thing too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tour de Fours

Dr. Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Laureate, Author, Mentor) was broadcast on C-span for a couple of hours today. And he got the Medal of Freedom from President Barak H. Obama. A flicker of hope, perhaps.

A massive expansion of microcredit in the USA is poised for take off.

Yunus has 1,000 borrowers in Jackson Heights, NY, and a 100% repayment rate. Start ups are underway in Omaha, NB, and other places, including Baltimore, MD.

Grameen Bank is completely unaffected by the recession, and that is true in whatever country it is operating. Including the United States.

The talk today (I'll add a link as soon as it is available), has moments of pure genius. Watch for the clever pun on the word “fours” - pretty classy for a native Bengali speaker.

The day President Barak H. Obama was graced with a visit from Yunus.

I am in awe of this man, and have been since 1985. It is the pride of my life that I was able to work alongside him for a while.

One day every single person in the world will know his name.

And you can take that to the bank.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Biowarfare & the War on Drugs

Is the war on drugs gonna end?

Some people think it should.

If the drugs are no longer criminal, the cops lose their training exercise, and some of their incentive for doing thorough searches, such as that which turned up the test-tubes, containing stuff (supposedly, non-lethal) from a biowarfare lab in Canada.

Lose the drug war and you lose some effectiveness in interdiction. Biowarfare agents are fortunately rare, but safeguards have to be 100% effective. In the event of state sponsored terrorism a la 911, no conceivable defense can be 100% effective. So how much do we need the current regime of border control, local police surveillance and swat teams?

Due to new legislation in Maryland, next year it will be possible to determine, for example, what 600+ annual swat team deployments are being used for in Prince George's County. How many “drug busts” as opposed to actual crimes. Data for the whole state of Maryland will be published next year.

How many swat team drug busts are carried out annually by the DEA, and is this broken down by city, state, region?

If you put these guys to work on another non-existent crime, like bio-warfare, you also create a large well heeled, well equipped & trained organization with known ties to organized crime, politics, legitimate intelligence & black ops and now with a vested interest in bio-terrorism (cos if there is no bio-terrorism event, the whole enterprise has no justification for existing).

If no actual terrorist threat occurred, then these forces would certainly be sufficient to manufacture hysteria by some other means. The death toll will, no doubt, be reflected in the huge sums of public money subsequently devoted to the care and well being of our friends in the fancy uniforms. (The deplorable state of the health-care available to the survivors of past uniformed excesses will, no doubt, disappear from the public dialog.)

One thing you can see from the drug war is that various interests congeal around the utilization of all that kit, and the fancy black uniforms, and the vast swathes of uncounted cash, and all of the corruption that goes along with that. The last thing you need is a similar infrastructure focused on some other 'crime'. There have to be better ways of dealing with this threat that are both commensurate with the extent of the potential damage, and consistent with basic human decency.

The war on drugs is, among other things, the current attempt by capitalist extremists to disable the source of any coherent resistance to their dominant role in national policy. It is, at its heart a war on the poor, and it is no longer possible to conceal this fact.

Can we hope for change?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dying Mall

I went out to my local shopping mall. While I was taking pictures of the empty buildings and acres of vacant parking lots I was conscious of the fact that my behaviour was sufficient to cause any right-thinking red-blooded American to report me to the authorities.

I Mean that even says TARGET right there in front of your face.

Look away

And that is what this essay is about.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tilting at Windmills

According to Greenpeace, in what must be considered a wildly optimistic scenario, China could supply close to 10% of her electricity from wind power. That is, assuming no growth in China's electricity demand for the next decade. (Even if her economic growth slows to 6% for the next decade, Chinas electricity demand will close to double in that time.)

This is clearly not sufficient to deal with the problems of pollution.

One must also consider whether the full exploitation of wind “resources” in China would not also raise some other additional problems – species extinctions, for example. Other, unanticipated effects are almost inevitable.

We must seek another path.

I think the answer must be some form of micro power generation, with a panoply of possibilities tailored to individual situations. For example, a typical home would benefit from insulation, solar, wind, geothermal, micro-hydro, and/or cold fusion. While industrial plant would utilize wave, geothermal, solar collector, and/or cold fusion.

Such a system would be able to quickly adapt to new inventions and innovations would be rapid, because so many individuals would be engaged in the effort.

I don't think we can expect to utilize a great deal of our existing infrastructure in this activity.

We must create new ways of meeting our needs without the excesses of our energy intensive lifestyle. Local production and consumption must replace the five thousand mile ceasar salad.

It will be necessary to provide financing and capital to millions of homeowners and microentrepreneurs to carry out the refurbishing of homes and businesses.

It would be a disaster to attempt to carry out this effort with the failed capitalist banking system.

The best way to organize the effort would be through micro-finance, and social businesses.

But I would say that.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ideas that take a long time to die

Even if the media pundits saw the econopocalypse coming they were unable to report it. Libel laws in the UK, and self-interest and commercial pressure in the USA are sufficient to ensure that certain stories NEVER get published, and in addition, a particular tone of boosterism is rigorously enforced.

Consider, if there are forty routes from here to where I am going, but my vehicle is only capable of negotiating 30 of those routes, then I am limited by the tool I am using. Software works the same way. There are always more options available to the imagination than the software can accommodate. Where this becomes a problem, is when force of habit leads to a failure of the imagination. The externally imposed restrictions become internalized. And this is basic to the way humans learn, so it is not possible to transcend these limitations.

Only the birth death cycle allows the shedding of certain kinds of ideas. Our current situation has come about, in part, because an increase in life expectancy has provided us with an elderly leadership cadre with an irrational attachment to outdated and inaccurate ideas. This dislocation in turn is further compounded by the exponential increase in the rate of change (See Toffler, Alvin "Future Shock"). Hence we careen towards unprecedented crisis.


What is with the President? He has polled the country on four occasions since his election, and on every occasion legalization of marijuana has been the most strongly supported issue. And yet the President continues to dismiss the idea out of hand. Is this stupid? What would it cost? Legalization would gain the fierce loyalty of an otherwise marginalized, and very vocal minority, as well as meet with the approval of the vast majority of the American public. So why not do it?

As with anything in Washington, various interests combine to support the status quo. Overcoming these interests seems to be beyond the capacity of three quarters of the population. This is true for health care, where the vast majority support the single payer model, yet this option is barely discussed in the media, and it is true for marijuana. Why is that, and what interests are we talking about, that are so powerful, they can blithely ignore, and even ridicule, the vast majority with impunity?

Obviously the drug cartels. All the other big players in illegal drugs - banks, intelligence agencies, police and other law enforcement, prison guards, prison owners and investors, supporters of police state apparatus and SWAT team deployments, alcohol and tobacco companies, religious extremists, big pharma, the American Medical Association, the stock markets, weapons and surveillance equipment manufacturers, tinpot dictators with a desire for US supplied weapons. The Skull and Bones secret society. The Clinton and Bush crime families.

No surprise that this is proving a bit difficult.

Still, anyone who is sticking up for that lot deserves no quarter. Once more into the breach..

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sow Flowers

Sow flowers to make a garden bloom around you,
The thorns you sow will prick your own feet.

Arrows shot at others
Will return to hit you as they fall.

You yourself will come to teeter on the lip
Of a well dug to undermine another.

Though you look at others with contempt,
It's you whose body will be reduced to dust.

Humanity is all one body;
To torture another is simply to wound yourself.

When you don't look for faults in others,
They will conceal your weaknesses in return.

Make your path straight now, by the bright light of day;
For pitch darkness will come without warning.

Consider no wickedness insignificant, however slight;
For the little deeds of darkness soon pile up.

If another does you harm, return them good;
Or evil will devour you too.

The heart that is safe in the storm
Is the one which carries
Others' burdens
Like a

-- from The Poetry of Rahman Baba: Poet of the Pashtuns, translated by Robert Sampson and Momin Khan

According to the BBC, Taleban vandals destroyed the ancient shrine to Sufi poet Rahman Baba because women continued to visit the shrine. And, no, I don't think that such actions justify the ongoing slaughter of Afghans by invading corporate armies, if anything, the military action provides a cover for, as well as a means whereby, such atrocities are achieved. There are proven ways to deal with the profound errors of thinking that this desecration represents, but they do not involve violence in any way shape or form.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Toss your balls in the air!

Rick Santelli - calls for Chicago tea party to dump derivative securities into Lake Michigan.

New incarnation as a revolutionary leader.

Says Washington and Jefferson (both potheads) are rolling in their graves.

The split widens.

What Mr. Santelli and his ilk fail to realize, is that their honest labor, and enlightened capitalist philosophy have brought this planet close to a dangerous precipice. The world is no longer split between the haves and have-nots, the savers and the borrowers, nor the worthy and the profane. We are all dependent on the biosphere.

An inchoate coalition continues to coalesce.

One group is uniting across international boundaries. Language and cultural values, rather than obstacles to understanding become opportunities for expansion and growth for these people. This group values peace, love, respect, health and well-being. They care about not only their own food (these people do not eat at MacDonalds), but also that there be food for everyone else.

Most of them are very poor, about two billion of them live on less than two dollars a day. Close to a billion of them have access to credit through micro-finance programs. Millions of them are local environmental activists, thousands of them travel the world and lend strength to the whole movement through the cohesion and communication they provide.

They work in trade unions and credit unions, hospitals and clinics. Some of them work at Starbucks at the moment, but as the econopocalypse continues they will find other ways to contribute. You see what this group understands, and what Mr Santelli has yet to realize, is that the jobs thing is over. There. Are. No. Fucking. Jobs.

So that raises the question – what shall we do? Hmmm. Tough one that. Let's see. The earth currently losing approximately two hundred species a day. Earth's population expected to reach nine and a half billion by 2050. Global agriculture absolutely dependent on chemicals and fuel currently obtained from a source which must be replaced for many reasons, not least of which are the stench, the noise, the asphyxiating fumes, the destruction of fragile ecosystems, the oppression of tribal peoples, the upholding of nasty little fascist torturers as legal heads of state, not to mention a significant portion of the global trade in weapons, many of which are also heavily dependent on this fuel source.

OK so there's plenty to do. Now how shall we organize ourselves to accomplish these things that need doing?

The best thing would be to set up companies. We could call them Social Business companies. Social business is a non-loss, non-dividend company with a social purpose. (Cleaning up a toxic dump, for example, or restoring a damaged wetlands, restoring fish stock to traditional fishing areas, sifting thousands of tons of plastic debris from the Pacific Ocean gyre, that sort of thing).

I wish I could claim this idea as my own, but it came from Dr. Muhammad Yunus, whose accomplishments in the field of improving the opportunities for tens of millions of the world's poorest people are ample testament to the quality of that mind.

The future is ours. We are one, Mr. Santelli, and you are welcome to join us -- I've even thought of a “job” for you.

We need to set up a social stock-market where investors can stash their gains from the destruction of our living space. A way for the capitalist classes to pay us back for the mess made by corporations acting in the interests of the shareholders (as they are legally obliged to do).

We pay no interest, and offer no dividend. Under specified circumstances the investment can be returned to the investor, but no more than that. The success of the business is determined by how much it contributes to the general well being. All ventures are essentially co-ops, although some recognition of seniority is afforded on the basis of experience and accomplishment, the wild disparities in incomes between the “workers” and the “executives” are to be confined to the dustbin of history.

That is the future we are already creating, even before the pile of debris from the capitalist expansion has completed its fall. The pinnacle of global dominance so briefly achieved, must necessarily be followed by a collapse. To argue otherwise is to completely misunderstand the force of Change in the universe. (A Chinese mind would never make such an error). The seeds are already planted.

So, by all means, toss you derivatives in the lake, Mr. Santelli. The losers are about to become winners – do you know which group you are in?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Obamasiah has been anointed, and the econopocalypse has continued unabated.

The Obamasiah can apparently raise the dead. Not only has the corpse of Osama bin Laden been re-animated for the purpose of mixing some new terro-politica tapes (a sure-fire hit on CNN and YouTube), but the long dead John Maynard Keynes has arisen in the form of untold amounts of money being used to stimulate the economy.

Pardon my skepticism, but isn't this simply a matter of shoveling piles of depreciating paper currency in the general direction of campaign contributors and other constituencies. In addition the Federal Reserve (which isn't Federal and has no reserves) has accepted as collateral, worthless derivatives contracts (the famed troubled assets), and so far pumped between three and eight (nobody knows for sure) Trillion dollars into the collapsed banking system with no end in sight. The credit crisis continues, despite these unthinkably huge amounts of "money" being added to the debts of our grandchildren. Iconoclast Webster Tarpley is predicting "Hyper-stagflation" as the upcoming final stage in the death of the dollar.

I can see no possibility of reviving this dead monster. Even the Obamasiah can't breathe a spark of life into the rapidly decomposing carcass - to paraphrase Monty Python, "This economy wouldn't voom if you put 4 million volts through it." Official figures put unemployment in America at just above 7%. A true measure of the number of working age adults currently unemployed would put that figure closer to fourteen percent, and if the underemployed were included, then the number would likely be between twenty and twenty-five percent.

I have been unemployed since December 2006. A few very small short term contracts have allowed me to earn less than three thousand dollars since then, however the constant stream of stimulus packages from the Congress have several times refilled the unemployment benefits bowl on my behalf, and this, combined with my ability to live very inexpensively, and the fact that the allowance I receive is inflated by the almost unlimited overtime in my last job, means that I have a viable income at present, and it seems that this may continue for as much as another year. Enough time, I hope, for me to realize my ambition of developing sufficient income from my exploits on the internet. Of course I shall continue to send out applications for the real or imagined vacancies that are retrieved from the various employment databases patrolled by web-bots on my behalf, but with half a million jobs disappearing every month at the moment, I do not really expect any action from that quarter. The massive number being added to the rolls makes it likely that the checks will keep on coming. The danger of riots and massive increases in property crime will scare the politicians into appropriating unemployment benefits extensions over and over again. The sinking economy, therefore, works to my benefit for the time being.

Everyone else is fucked. I went to visit my local Circuit City yesterday. It's a five minute bike ride, and I pass it on the way home from the metro station, but this was my first visit. The store was crowded with bargain hunters, although most were fondling rather than buying the merchandise. The store-wide 10% discount might accurately reflect the thin profit margins in consumer electronic sales, but it is not a steep enough discount to stimulate the feeding frenzy necessary to empty the shelves, nor reduce the stacks of cardboard boxed big screens. I was hoping to pick up a camera, and some phone accessories, but I can get better bargains on the net, so I left carrying my empty backpack. I wonder how long my local mall will remain open. The theater closed a couple of weeks ago. The loss of Circuit City is another nail in the coffin of the unlamented consumer lifestyle. I wonder what we will all do for fun when the shopping craze has ended. Gardening, I expect, will be big.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


I started using windows in 1992. So I expected to have some problems getting used to an entirely new operating system. Linux Ubuntu installed easily enough – it took a lot less time than a windows XP installation, and asked fewer questions. It came with Sun microsystems open office as well and a few other programs – such as Firefox, Rhythm music player, Totem movie player and a bunch of games and accessories. There were no problems with installation, and a problem I had been having for months with my wireless network card cleared up after the system automatically downloaded a couple of hundred updates shortly after I logged on the first time.

There was no firewall included, but apparently you don't really need one because Linux doesn't have all the vulnerabilities that come with Windows. I downloaded one anyway because I have been hacked three times recently and I am making this switch in order to improve my security.

Software downloads couldn't be much easier, with hundreds of applications available from the applications menu, you just click on the ones you want and they are downloaded and installed with no trouble at all. Some programs, such as the Cinelerra movie editing software require a bit more fiddling about with terminal commands, but as a fairly expert Windows user I had little difficulty figuring out how that all worked.

Within about four hours from completing the backup of my windows drive I was up and running, seamlessly using documents from my NTFS backup drive. The Cinelerra software is vastly more capable than the commercial software I had been using for movies, and remains the only program I have installed so far that may take some time to learn.

My only regret, now that I have been a Linux user for more than a week, is that I didn't do this years ago.