Friday, November 30, 2007

Where you used to be

I had intended to continue yesterday's post in which a commenter responded to the post by saying "You can change the words but not the facts. There still has to be a way to generate electricity when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. We have to choose between nuclear and coal. What's your choice?

We exhanged some comments during the day, with RC ending with this:

"Is it realistic to pursue an electricity supply that depends on gas? Shouldn't we be thinking ahead a century or so? Will gas supplies be adequate for the whole electrified world? At the rate developing countries are growing their economies, it seems as though gas would put us over the CO2 levels that drive us deep into global warming, assuming the supplies last."

This was a response to my comment that "We can run our utility with wind and solar and a fleet of gas turbines if we choose to and have no base load plants whatsoever. Wind and solar resources are just as predictable as our load (they are all weather related). Wind peaks at midnight in the west but not in the south; solar peaks with our peak if we locate the plant 600 miles to the west."

I finished with "The original purpose of this post was to "flip" the above chart so that renewables don't sit on the top, as the graph portrays. Renewables need support just as base load plants need support, it is merely a matter of framing.

Moving from a carbon based world to a post carbon world that runs on what Bucky Fuller used to call Income Energy is a daunting and challenging assignment; yet, that is what our generation faces. We can do it if we put our minds, our hearts, and our resources into it. We have the technologies, the land, and perhaps still enough time.

In almost all ways, I wish that climate change was a hoax. I would like to believe that the bowels of the earth are constantly making oil and gas, and that we will never run out of it. I would like to wrap myself in new gadgets and not worry about whether the American Empire and its dollar are in peril. I would like to think that the ugly rise of Fascism that we see in our own government and in so many other governments throughout the world is just a temporary aberation. I would like to believe that democracy can stand up against corporatcracy.

But I cannot.

No, friends and readers, as John Michael Greer says, It's Lifeboat Time. Here is a small part of his post, but it's worth a full read:

Connect the dots and the picture that emerges will be familiar to those of my readers who have taken the time to struggle through the academic prose of How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse. One of the central points of that paper is that the decline and fall of a civilization unfolds in a series of crises separated by incomplete recoveries. The point is not an original one; Arnold Toynbee discussed the same rhythm of breakdown and respite most of a century earlier in his magisterial A Study of History.

If that same pattern will shape the fate of our own civilization – and it’s hard to think of a reason why it should not – the second wave of crisis in the decline and fall of the industrial world may be breaking over our heads right now.

No, that wasn’t a misprint. Historians of the future will likely put the peak of modern industrial civilization between 1850 and 1900, when the huge colonial empires of the Euro-American world hit the zenith of their global reach. The first wave in the decline of our civilization lasted from 1929 to 1945, and was followed by a classic partial recovery in which public extravagance masked the disintegration of the imperial periphery.

Compare the unsteady, hole-and-corner American economic empire of today with the British Empire’s outright dominion over half the world in 1900, say, and it’s hard to miss the signs of decline.

Today we may well be facing the beginning of the next wave.

One advantage this concept offers is the realization that the experience of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations may offer a useful perspective on what’s coming.

In the summer of 1929, nobody I know of predicted the imminent arrival of unparalleled economic disaster, followed by the rise of fascism and the outbreak of the bloodiest war in human history. Such things seemed to be stowed safely away in the distant past.

From today’s perspective, though, it may not be unreasonable to suggest that something not unlike the bitter experiences of 1929-1945 – different in detail, surely, but equivalent in scale – may be in the offing."

At the Vision 2020 dinner I hosted earlier this month, we discussed this possibility at length. One engineer from Beirut talked about how everyone is afraid.

But we should not be afraid. Just the opposite in fact.

As Greer says in referring to the standard procedure that occurs when your ship begins to take on water after hitting something it wasn't designed to hit:

"We’re in much the same situation as the passengers of M/V Explorer were last Friday, but with an unwelcome difference. No alarm has been sounded, no order to evacuate has been announced over the p/a system. "

The captain and half the crew insist that nothing is wrong, while the other half of the crew insist that everything will be all right if they can only replace the current captain with another of their own choosing.

The only warning being given comes from a handful of passengers who took the time to glance down into the hold and saw the water rising there, and while some people are listening to the bad news, next to nobody’s making any preparations for what could be a very, very rough time immediately ahead."

Very, very few of us are ready to do what crew and passengers must do when their ship hits the rocks. They must abandon all of their possessions, except the clothes they wear, don survival suits, climb into lifeboats, and spend many cold hours watching their ship of state fill up with water, heel over, and sink.

If you live in a progressive community that is capable of dealing with this kind of future, stay there.

I am grateful that I do.

If you don't,

Find one.

If we do manage to miss the rock,

through an insurrection within ourselves,

divine intervention, or blind luck,

The only thing you lost is the crappy place


Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Lexicon Electric

This post is about a subject that many of you don't even know exist. It's about words, electric utility words. It's about how these words take on meaning and that meaning morphs into an understanding of system behavior. And it becomes a frame. That frame becomes both a tool and ultimately a prison.

In order to move from the present carbon based system that is presently running our energy needs, we will need to revise the lexicon of energy, and thus revise the way we model it in our minds and ultimately in reality.

If you were to go listen to an electric utility guy give a presentation, say at the Public Utilility Commission, you would hear words such as base load, intermediate generation, and peaking generation. Base load plants are big plants that basically are on or off. They include most coal and nuclear plants and some combined cycle gas plants. Intermediate plants are mostly combined cycle gas plants, while peaking plants are often combustion turbine gas plants.

This lexicon was not pulled out of thin air, it is based on the reality of our diurnal electrical loads. On average, we use half as much power at night which grows during the day, and then peaks (in summer) in the latter part of the day. The utility runs its base load plants at night, and then adds or ramps up its intermediate plants in the morning, finally adding the peaking plants during the peak demand, which may only last a few hours. On top of this, to add stability to the system, regulators and dispatchers want to see some "ready to go energy" which is called spinning reserve.

From this framework comes the word "dispatchable". It means that the plant's generation can be turned up or down depending on the load.

When utility planners talk about wind and solar, they often characterize them as non- dispatchable resources. The next statement that generally follows is "and we all know that the wind doesn't blow and that the sun doesn't shine all the time". (I wasn't aware of this)

If you follow this frame, and walk down the mindform plank it supports, you are on the edge of descending into the dark waters of nuclear power and nonexistent clean coal generation.

"We must have base load plants, and solar and wind can't do that, let's be realistic" you will hear from those who reside in this frame. Hence, you have organizations like Environmental Defense talking about supporting nuclear energy because it is the least of two evils.

But two evils are still two evils.

So rather than make decisions between these two evils, let's reframe the model.

The Lexicon Electric that I propose is this:

All renewable generation from now on is called Foundation Generation. Renewables are moved from the top of the graph, where they are seen as an unpredictable nuisance, all the way down to the bottom of the graph.

Existing base load plants (those that have not been decomissioned) are layed on top of this foundation generation and they are viewed as Smoothing Generators. On top of this curve we add our intermediate plants which are now viewed as Matching Generation. On top of these generation profiles, we add our peak plants which are now viewed as Firmers. Firming may not just be generation, it would also include demand programs which allow the utility to reduce demand at peak by various strategies.

Firming would also include V2G strategies from the transporation sector as well as the capacity in the system from your solar customers who have their own capacitance and will offer it back to you (the utility) should you need it. Firming technologies would include the added capacitance to the system of advanced batteries and ultra capacitors which might be inbedded into the grid to create what is now a very firmed up system with plenty of stability. The concept of Spinning reserve is thus replaced with the concept of "Reserve Capacitance"

With this new Lexicon, the problem of the "non dispatchability" of renewable generation disappears. And the new problem is now the old "must run" base load plants. Their inflexibility is now viewed as a liability.

Suddenly, the mind understands that what was once seen as the way it has always been done, is now seen as the old way we used to do it.

Words are important.

They create frames.

New Words create

New Frames.

And a new Lexicon Electric

creates a new world.


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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Google It

Here's an encouraging story from the Independent that makes you think that the folks across the pond are serious about a post carbon world:

Wind-fuelled 'supergrid' offers clean power to Europe
The Independent
5,000-mile network could cut entire continent's carbon output by a quarter
By Paul Rodgers
Published: 25 November 2007
An audacious proposal to build a 5,000-mile electricity supergrid, stretching from Siberia to Morocco and Egypt to Iceland, would slash Europe's CO2 emissions by a quarter, scientists say.
The scheme would make the use of renewable energy, particularly wind power, so reliable and cheap that it would replace fossil fuels on an unprecedented scale, serving 1.1 billion people in 50 countries.

Europe's 1.25bn tons of annual CO2 output from electricity generation would be wiped out.

High-voltage direct current (HVDC) lines, up to 100 times as long as the alternating current (AC) cables carried by the National Grid's pylons, would form the system's main arteries. While AC lines are the international standard, they leak energy. HVDC lines are three times as efficient, making them cost effective over distances above 50 miles.

Building the supergrid would require an investment of ¿$80bn (£40bn), plus the cost of the wind turbines – a fraction of the €1 trillion the EU expects to pay for a 20 per cent reduction of its carbon footprint by 2020. The average price of the electricity generated would be just 4.6 euro cents per kWh, competitive with today's rates, which are likely to rise as fossil fuels run out. (clip)

The supergrid would draw power from massed turbines in a band of countries to Europe's south and east that have above average wind potential, feeding it to the industrialised centres of Europe. The scale would overcome the biggest obstacle to wind power – its unreliability. In smaller networks, such as Britain's National Grid, calm weather could cut production to zero. But the supergrid would cover a region so large that the wind would always be blowing somewhere."

I don't know who figured out the costs at 80 billion dollars (grossly low), or for that matter, why anyone who knows anything about the reality of running an electric grid would say something silly like the wind would always be blowing somewhere; but, in the world of big ideas sans the nagging problem of reality, there is clearly some truth in the statement.

But running such a super grid would require all kinds of internal capacitance and balancing strategies.

Meanwhile, is moving forward with its project to make utility scale solar power affordable. They intend to build a Gigawatt of solar that is cheaper than coal.

Here is part of the statement by Larry Page one of the co-founders of Google:

"There has been tremendous work already on renewable energy. Technologies have been developed that can mature into industries capable of providing electricity cheaper than coal. Solar thermal technology, for example, provides a very plausible path to providing renewable energy cheaper than coal. We are also very interested in further developing other technologies that have potential to be cost-competitive and green.

We are aware of several promising technologies, and believe there are many more out there."

"With talented technologists, great partners and significant investments, we hope to rapidly push forward. Our goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades."

So, if you are planning on building a coal plant or a nuclear plant,


The guys who created the phrase "Google It"

Are working on making your plans obsolete.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

President Edwards

As a transnationalist, I generally believe that our national democratic system is little more than a thin veneer of political respectability that hides the corporate domination that perches on the true seat of power.

That said however, elections and individuals do make a difference.

Another four years of Republican control would insure more war, more wealth distributed to the mega wealthy, and perhaps seal the loss of any opportunity for the geographic state of the United States to lead in the coming struggle against the loss of a stable climate or peacefully manage the economic challenges we face from the depletion of our non renewable resources.

I have been saying for many months that the only way that the Democrats can lose this next election is to nominate Clinton, and now a new interactive Zogby poll actually shows that Hillary is running behind most of the front running Rs.

An Edwards/Obama ticket would probably carry 40 states leaving the Republicans only a small region in the south to reign over.

I like the sound of President Edwards, it rings true to me. He is the only major antinuclear candidate, and he understands the real problems that lie ahead.

Decide for yourself.

But don't just send money,

Tell everyone that you know that a vote for Hillary,

is a vote for four more years of Republican control.



Monday, November 26, 2007

Cop Calls 911

The girl at the Apple Store turned me on to this. (Watch full version)

Getting ready to replace the Acer.


The Great Relearning

About six years ago, there was an editorial in the Dallas Morning News calling for action on climate change. I used it as the beginning of the chapter on climate change in my book Silver in the Mine. It was a well written piece from a conservative but respected newspaper.

Well, yesterday, Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher wrote about Peak Oil, or Plateau Oil as it seems to be shaping up. In talking about the end of the age of cheap oil, he says:

But what if it's ending? The authoritative International Energy Agency recently warned that the price of oil would remain high for the foreseeable future because of supply shortages. China and India are developing rapidly and consuming vast amounts of oil.

World supply can barely keep up with demand – a problem the IEA blames primarily on human failures. IEA forecasts that China and India alone will add about 13 million barrels a day to the global demand by 2030.

But the IEA forecasts world oil supply at 116 million barrels a day by 2030, up from 85 million barrels a day now – enough to meet expected demand. Some top oil company CEOs disagree. Christophe de Margerie, chief of the French oil giant Total, said in late October that a supply level of even 100 million barrels a day – barely enough to cover anticipated growth from China and India alone – is "optimistic."

"It is not my view. It is the industry view, or the view of those who like to speak clearly, honestly and not ... just try to please people," Mr. de Margerie said.

And ConocoPhilips CEO James Mulva told a financial conference earlier this month: "Demand will be going up, but it will be constrained by supply. I don't think we are going to see the supply going over 100 million barrels a day, and the reason is: Where is all that going to come from?"

That's the question adherents to peak-oil theory ask. They argue that the world either has or soon will have reached the maximum output level of its oil reserves and that supply can only decline from here on out – even as demand skyrockets.

Though some dismiss them as crude-oil Cassandras, the peak-oilers are not wild-eyed pessimists. Their number includes men like T. Boone Pickens, the Dallas oil tycoon, and Houston's Matt Simmons, who founded the world's largest energy investment banking company.

They point to hard data indicating that the world is quite simply running out of oil and doing so quickly. (clip)

What would life after peak oil mean for Dallas and its surrounding suburbs, a metropolis created by the availability of cheap energy?

Cars would be an unaffordable luxury for most, making life in suburbia difficult, perhaps impossible, to sustain. Likewise, air travel and shipping likely would be sharply curtailed as too costly, causing Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, a major regional economic engine, to slow substantially.

Truck transport, too, would diminish, causing a sharp slowdown in the consumer economy and, crucially, making the kind of grocery-store bounty we now enjoy a thing of the past. And with a general rise in energy costs blasting electric bills into the stratosphere, we may all have to get used to – wait for it – life without air conditioning.

Jeffrey Brown, a Richardson geologist who has been active in the peak-oil debate, advises far-sighted folks to abandon the outlying suburbs and exurbs and move closer to the city center. "The smart money has been moving in," he said. "The closer you are to job centers, the more stable the property values have been. That will continue."

Post-peak-oil conditions would reverse globalization, forcing a return to intensely local agriculture and local manufacturing. The stores and services that communities need in order to carry on everyday life would emerge in neighborhoods, as in the pre-automobile era. Cities would empty out, with rural areas and small towns in agriculturally rich areas reviving.

Culturally, all Americans would have to undergo a Great Relearning of skills and social habits that our ancestors developed to survive in community. (clip)

It is time, however, for discerning people – not only decision-makers, but every one of usto start talking about and urgently planning for a peak-oil future. It may come sooner, it may come later, but it's coming."

If the Citizens of Dallas who read their conservative, yet generally honest newspaper are now being urged to start talking about and urgently planning for a peak-oil future, perhaps we progressives should too.

In a moment of black humor, I sometimes say after presentations on Climate Change, that "that's the bad news...the good news is, we're running out of oil."

But if we allow the twin forces of climate change and resource depletion to unleash their combined furies, there will be little to laugh at. As Dreher says:

"We will be poor. Our sons probably would be sent overseas to fight resource wars. Back home, regions of America where tens of millions of people live will be uninhabitable – especially the Southwest and much of suburbia. The economic contraction and social dislocation will be, in many cases, nothing short of catastrophic and will produce political upheaval. "

The Great Relearning will come.

How it comes,

Depends on us.

orb photo courtesy of silverlifetriada

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Sanctity of Place

For the last week I have not even thought of a car much less been in one. Every place we go in this village, we do it by walking. There are 9 restaurants within three blocks. The super mini has everything from electrical boxes to Don Julio. It makes me remember this post from more than two years ago.
Over the last 20 years,I have spoken often and sometimes perhaps too passionately about climate change. I have even ruined a dinner party or two with my zeal. In all fairness though, I've seen ruined dinner parties over much less significant issues.

When I went to the United Nations in 1991 as a representative of the International Solar Energy Society, I came back thinking that a Kyoto type agreement would be made reasonably soon, and that the nations of the earth would recognize the clear and present danger that climate change represented to our respective civilizations.

Now, some 14 years later, we finally have an accord, sans USA. But the Kyoto Treaty was just a beginning. It was not meant to be a cure all, but rather, a starting point.

As a senior Utility Executive said to me last week,"I no longer debate climate change". Those who choose to ignore it at this point are simply treating the issue politically-not in a rational or scientific manner. With the National Academies of Science of all major Nations now urging their political leadership to take the issue seriously, only the darkest of intellects can now argue the talking points of those corporations who have a vested interest in its debunking.

I used to speak primarily about the need to implement mitigation policy. That policy is based on the rule of holes. If you are in hole, stop digging. That means we should stop doing the thing that is causing the thing to happen.

But now I am beginning to speak more and more about adapting. For it is now clear that the change that is already in the works is going to require a lot of attention. That means newer and higher dikes, food and water supply studies, and changing the way we work and live.

One way to both mitigate and adapt is to begin to rebuild and transform our cities in a more thoughtful and people oriented way. In affect, we are going to have to transform our cities into a patchwork of villages. We will need to have neighborhood gardens and local stores with real food in them. We will need to have telework centers with day care and parks and places on the street to chat and drink a coffee. We will need to transform our post war car planned cities thoughtfully and economically.

One of the embodiments of this idea is called New Urbanism

"NEW URBANISM promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other.

New Urbanism promotes the increased use of trains and light rail, instead of more highways and roads. Urban living is rapidly becoming the new hip and modern way to live for people of all ages.

Currently, there are over 500 New Urbanist projects planned or under construction in the United States alone, half of which are in historic urban centers.


1. Walkability-Most things should be within a 10-minute walk of home and work.

2. Connectivity-An interconnected street grid network should disperses traffic & promote walking.

3. Mixed-Use & Diversity- We should strive for a mix of shops, offices, apartments, and homes on site with mixed-use within neighborhoods, within blocks, and within buildings. There should be a diversity of people - of ages, classes, cultures, and races.

4. Mixed Housing- There should be a range of types, sizes and prices in close proximity.

5. Quality Architecture & Urban Design- We should emphasize beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and create a sense of place. The architecture should be of human scale with beautiful surroundings to nourish the human spirit

6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure- There should be a discernable center and edge with a public space at the center.

7. Increased Density- We should design for more buildings, residences, shops, and services that are closer together for ease of walking, to enable a more efficient use of services and resources, and to create a more convenient, enjoyable place to live.

8. Smart Transportation -We should plan for a network of high-quality trains connecting cities, towns, and neighborhoods together. We should strive for a design that encourages a greater use of bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, and walking as daily transportation

9. Sustainability -We should strive for a minimal environmental impact of development and its operations by using eco-friendly technologies. We should promote more local production, with more walking, and less driving.

10. Quality of Life- When we add these principles together, they add up to a higher quality of life, and they create places that enrich, uplift, and inspire the human spirit."

This all actually sounds very much like my village in Mexico.

We don't drive there because the streets are too narrow and they are too full of people walking around. Besides, almost everything you need is never more than a few blocks away. Most of the the restaurants and stores are within a few blocks of my house. As far as the public space, we have a park in the middle of town where everybody meets and Santa Claus shows up. I call it the park of the laughing children.

If you really need something, you know you need to make a road trip, and a trip down the mountain is rarely taken lightly.

Peak Oil, Climate Change, and the economic uncertainty that lays ahead of us will give us the opportunity to do something very right with many things that are presently very wrong.

Bringing life back to our neighborhoods is a remarkably sensible thing to do.

Handing our cities and towns back to the people who live in them,

is a remarkably simple yet profound non verbal statement,

and public expression of a new found urban commitment

to ourselves,

And the magic of the village,

and the sanctity of place.


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Friday, November 23, 2007

Another Mountain

I think this is the first time in my memory that Thanksgiving came on November 22. Usually on that date, I post a speech that reflects the best of JFK's contributions to our collective thought. However, to my pleasure, both RespectistheHub and SB were up early with Thanksgiving posts. Thank you both for these contributions and thank you SB for your poetry and the poetry from around the world that you have brought to earthfamilyalpha.

One of my favorite lines from JFK comes from his speech honoring Robert Frost and the arts in general at Amherst, on October 26th 1963:

"In America, our heroes have customarily run to men of large accomplishments. But today this college and country honors a man whose contribution was not to our size but to our spirit, not to our political beliefs but to our insight, not to our self-esteem, but to our self- comprehension.

In honoring Robert Frost, we therefore can pay honor to the deepest sources of our national strength. That strength takes many forms, and the most obvious forms are not always the most significant. The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the Nation's greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us.

Our national strength matters, but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost. He brought an unsparing instinct for reality to bear on the platitudes and pieties of society. His sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation. "I have been" he wrote, "one acquainted with the night."

And because he knew the midnight as well as the high noon, because he understood the ordeal as well as the triumph of the human spirit, he gave his age strength with which to overcome despair. At bottom, he held a deep faith in the spirit of man, and it is hardly an accident that Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself.

When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.

The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, a lover's quarrel with the world. In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time.

This is not a popular role. If Robert Frost was much honored in his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet in retrospect, we see how the artist's fidelity has strengthened the fibre of our national life.

If sometimes our great artist have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential.

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist." more

Clearly, things have changed in the last 44 years. The importance of art and the artist have been lost in a flood of media notoriety and the plutocratic perversion of "art as treasure".

For where are the men and women who question power? For without them, who will help us determine whether we use power or power uses us?

We are living in a time where there are far to few true artists who can help us chart our way through the narrow straits that lay ahead.

In the sixties, our poets, our song writers, our philosophers, our mystics, gave us the signpost and the lighthouses we all needed to use our new found power for the good of us all.

Today, the world of commerce and the consumer society that has overtaken our very lives will stretch its muscle and dominion over our streets and cities. The economy will be on steriods.

Some will shop till they drop.

Others will climb another mountain.


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Thursday, November 22, 2007


* Peace Pie


Ice water. Two silver knives to work through the flour and shortening, add salt. It is an old art. Do not work late into the night, with sleep nipping at your sleeves, you will fall off, wake up at three a.m. to a room full of smoke, two black disks in the oven, bad smell. Do not think about business, or the wave of darkness spreading through the Arts, do not think about depression looming on the horizon or the rhetoric and nonsense our leaders toss into its mouth, or the prospect of revolution in America. Zen. Concentrate on the art of pie. It is an old art. Ingredients spread through the house like a layer of snow, later people say: O, Pie. Pie. We love pie. It is a good art. No one will say, Make this pie with only one silver knife, or no ice, or make it with chalk instead of flour. Fill pie with ingredients at hand, cans of things, fresh fruit, cheese. Add it to a feast. Eat leftovers for breakfast the next day, the celebration begins again, pie filling the recesses of the body, exhilaration. Pie, it is an old art. If we lose it, infants will wither in their mothers’ stomachs, writhe at sunken nipples, men will lose direction, US Steel will manufacture rubber and the pillars of society will flop around like spangles on a half-mast flag. Pie. The planets are lined up—Saturn, Uranus, Mars, Jupiter pull earthquakes, pull poison from beneath the surface. Pie, cut through the mix gently, roll out on a layer of wood and flour, pie. Flute the edges, pour in apples and cinnamon and spices. Pie. Zen. Concentrate on the art of pie. The rites of passage pull us through the gates of depression and war. We shall make pie. Cannot resist. We shall celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July; holidays shall find us traversing the continent in search of heritage. No one makes pie like Mother does. Pie. No one says one pie should represent all pies. Pie is like a thumb print. Some are sour. Pie is silent, making only a light simmering noise as it bakes in the oven. It spreads scent gently into our hearts. There is ceremony as pie is lifted out of the heat. They gather. O, Pie. The clutter is swept away, space around pie is brought to sharp focus. Light pours down on pie. Concentrate. The art of pie is an old one. Try to imagine life without it. Like the unveiling of a great painting, breaking a champagne bottle over the bow of a ship going off to sea, the ceremony as a cornerstone is laid, pie. Do not roll the crust too thick, roll gently or the center will unfurl, rub extra flour on the rolling pin every fourth stroke, remember these things. Create pie often so the art is not lost. Do not forget temperature. Cold is essential, then heat. You must have an oven, cannot make pie over an open fire or in a barbecue pit. Be firm with those who insist pie can be made in a crockpot or on the back window ledge of a Pontiac left out in August sunlight. Respect the rules of pie.

Sing a song of six pence/ A pocket full of rye/ Four and twenty black birds/ Baked in a pie./ When the pie was opened/ The birds began to sing—

©Susan Bright, 1983

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

You can listen to an audio performance of Pie here. Pie was first written in the late 70s. It is published in Tirades And Evidence Of Grace and is part of an audio CD of selected poems from that collection. Copies can be ordered from Claudia Schmidt has recorded it on her CD Roads.


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Songs About Friendship

We hear each other talking, and something hears us. Listen to what listens when you talk, and then you are heard. You are heard through screen windows, underneath sleeping bags by the fire , from the next fluorescent lit cubicle and in a child's dream of horses standing in a field.

In the dream, the horses are standing, not running, comfortable in their power to flee together. You are heard in the next room, a room of voices that lives between us and hums around us. There is no measurement to take here except with our hands as they search for the walls of the room of our voices and the voice between us ...listening.

Let us build that room again and again, my friend. When the prophets were kept late in class by God, they thought of lunch, and so for the price of a buffet, we are eating their miracle. It is almost beyond belief, that we are eating sushi together now and may yet live long enough to share enchiladas at dinner.

We are born into this world expecting to eat with another human being, and it is meeting and giving to that need which touches soul. Remember those conversations with your father in whcih you asked about building a house that would last forever?

You remind me that we are, all of us and everything, happening in the same place at the same time. (You know.) And everything we know of each other can be signaled by hand across large fields, by the way your voice finds its rest in a song or by the light shared between stars.

The last line in the song "Taps" is "God is nigh." At camp the younger kids would sing, "God is nice." When I see your face across the table, my friend, I feel as though both those sentiments have become true.

It is something in between us, the voice of the miracle of nothing that is something, that gives us the sound of we.

Respectisthehub 1996


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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giant At the End

Giant At the End

The day before Thanksgiving is our family
anniversary commemorating
the first night Jay and I spent together,
the day we declared as our anniversary
at a common law marriage event in 1978,
the day our first adopted son spent a

whole night in our home, the day Mother died,
and possibly the day our new granddaughter
will be born (we’re waiting while we cook).

I find myself thinking of Mother’s final days
at one of the Episcopal Homes Foundation
villages in Northern California.

It was a complex experience for us,
a deeply personal encounter with The Giant.

There were many wonderful residents
at Spring Lake Village, some
quite brilliant, which made otherwise
relentless meal time extravaganzas
often fascinating.

Mother chose to live there thinking she
would be independent, trusting their promise
to provide life care in exchange for half
of her life savings plus a huge
"maintenance fee" every month.

Like most people in her generation, my
mother rarely caught sight of The Giant,
so vast it was invisible.

The health care center, which won high
ratings from the Sate, was horrific.

After her first heart attack, they worked
relentlessly to force her out of her apartment.
I later discovered, they were clearing
space for an expanded health center.

They didn’t want to invest in capital improvements.
It was easier to "condemn" the health of people
whose space they wanted.

Resident contracts made them forfeit their apartments
if/when they required extended stays at the health facility.
They call this “Life Care.”

I call it conflict of interest.

Whenever they wanted to clear or flip some property,
they simply helped people get sick.

In Mother’s case, they failed to notice she needed
help with her medications, didn’t notice
classic signs of heart failure, miss-diagnosed
swollen feet and coughing as a winter flu.

Before that, they’d failed to notice
six different doctors had prescribed over thirty
different medications.

I arrived once to find my
tea-totaling Mother stoned out
of her flipping mind,
and writhing in pain.

A memo to residents about that time declared,
“Seniors don’t require regular physical examinations.”

Then there was the “golden rod” form they
made everyone sign declining life saving procedures
should one become traumatically ill.

In the health center, they lodged Mother
with a screamer whose poor din
made it impossible for friends and family
to attend her in a meaningful way —
earplugs didn’t help, or a loud Walkman.

Of course residents were all afraid to complain,
with good reason. Mother was twice dropped —
her arms bruised, a nasty cut on one leg.

I returned from another trip to find her
in the "full assistance" dining room,
a constricted trachea had made it difficult
for her to swallow and she had grown weak.

They had lost her glasses and had shoved
both her removable bridge and her night retainer
into her mouth —
at mealtime.

Both hearing aids were gone.

One of our friends, recovering from a sprained ankle,
told me they’d nearly lost Mother the night before –
from coughing. Staff didn’t mention it to me.

They had decided she didn't need antibiotics –

Staff competence ranged in reverse proportion,
for the most part, to salary level
though it was a minimum wage Kenyan refugee,
alternately confused and terrified,
who disregarded Mother's accoutrements
in the dining room, possibly unsure what
they were for, which made my mother
giggle afterwards.

Similarly impressive was the lead doctor,
who fell asleep during our last interview –
the one they called to declare HER incompetent
to live in her apartment.

Residents who found themselves
“moved” to the health center
quickly declined.

Instead of taking the time to help people
walk back and forth to meals or
even to the bathroom,
staff routinely put them in diapers,
changed them every 4 hours,
rolled them around, parked them
by the front desk —
for ease of management.

Elders directed to immobility
grew weak from lack of exercise.

Physical therapy was reserved
for people were going to return to
their apartments.

Many health center residents
found themselves, if they
waited too long to die, hoisted from
chair, to bed, sponge bathed and diapered,
like grandmother and grandfather dolls.

The ones who had it best were attended
by family members constantly.
They got better care, until their mentors
left —

There were programs.

Once -- during a group activity aimed
at perhaps a 3rd grade mentality -- I blurted out --
"These people are old, they are not idiots!"

I knew them. One was a physician.
Several had been teachers, one had been
a physicist. One had walked from Nazi Germany
to Switzerland. One was a famous painter whose
art work graced the walls of the center.

While residents lived independently
there were wonderful programs, trips abroad,
world class concerts, lectures, study groups —
but once people grew sick, weak,
forgetful, helpless —
their quality of life was “managed.”

The purpose of the health center
was to curry people as quickly
and efficiently as possible,
with the help of minimum wage
workers (who may have had papers)
to death, celebrated by lovely
ceremonies at a multi-denominational

Once, before mother was
moved to the health center,
she told me she had attended a service
for a woman who lived there —

“You mean, a woman who used to live
at the health center, right?”

“No,” she said, “She’s still there, but the family
members had to return home so they
held the service yesterday.”

© Susan Bright, 2007

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-ninety books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

Announcement: The Plain View Press e-store is online.


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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Insurrection

Today marks the beginning of the fourth year of Earthfamilyalpha.

I started EFA after the 2004 election where, once again, evidence of election fraud was clear. This time it was in Ohio. But the forces of Republican control were well organized in every state and once again, there were many whose votes were not cast, and many whose votes were never counted.

In Mexico, November 20th represents the day that Francisco I. Madero called for a National Insurrection. He declared the electoral process which once again placed Porfirio Diaz in power invalid and appointed provisional Governors. Immediately, uprising broke out in several Mexican states.

Don Porfirio, as he was called, had been in power for more than 30 years (1876-1911). Under his rule, Mexico had political stability and grew in many areas, creating new industries, railroads, kilometers of railroad tracks as well as the increase of foreign capital. Non-the less, this progress was not translated into the peoples’ well being.

Madero came from a wealthy family from Coahuila. He had studied business in France as well as in the U.S. He vigorously fought against reelection and for democracy and liberty in Mexico through his political newspaper articles. He was also a believer in non violence.

The Anti Reelectionist party designated Madero to run for President in the elections of 1910. When Diaz learned of this, he had Madero imprisoned.

During this time, several other Mexican folk heros began to emerge, including the well known Pancho Villa in the north, and the peasant Emiliano Zapata in the south, who were able to harass the Mexican army and wrest control of their respective regions. Díaz was unable to control the spread of the insurgence and resigned in May, 1911, with the signing of the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez, after which he fled to France.

Madero was soon overthrown by General Huerta, who was ultimately replaced by Venustiano Carranza. Carranza organized an important convention whose outcome was the Constitution of 1917, which is still in effect today.

Carranza made land reform an important part of that constitution. This resulted in the ejido, or farm cooperative program that redistributed much of the country's land from the wealthy land holders to the peasants. The ejidos are still in place today and comprise nearly half of all the farmland in Mexico.

The Mexican Revolution was a period of political, social and military conflict and turmoil that began with the call to arms made on November 20, 1910 by Madero and lasted until 1917. It is estimated that the war killed more than 1 million of the estimated population of 15 million.

Today, I watched the school children in the zocolo as they gave the Zapatista salute of the leveled right hand at breast height. The little ones were in red suits, and the older ones in blue. Some of them had been chosen to be Zapatistas so they sported bullet belts and play rifles as they paraded around the town on this important holiday.

Two days ago, we waited for three hours outside the tunnel on a winding cobblestone road wondering why the town was so packed. Today, almost all the tourist are gone, but the children remain.

I didn't realize that Earthfamilyalpha was started on the same date as Madero's call for National Insurrection until this trip.

But on this fourth birthday, it seems appropriate to echo his call.

Each of us, should call for an insurrection within ourselves,

from our sense of separation,

from our culture of consumption,

from a mind which can justify organized violence,

from a sense of self that rises,

from the foolish flag of nationalism,

and the dark heart of oppression.

Let us each bring about a insurrection in ourselves,

that knows well that we are all connected,

and we each are born of the sky,

and grown out of the earth.

And we are all Family.