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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Siestas for Italy and uniforms for America

The Midwestern drought continues ruthlessly. Here in western Indiana, we've seen only two downpours since mid-June.

I've altered my routine to accommodate the heat. Living in the southwest during graduate school days helped me adjust.

Water is a huge deal in the Southwest. With the drought, the way I use water has definitely changed. I would hope my fellow Hoosiers would understand things have changed but I saw a water sprinkler gushing mid-afternoon at the nearby college. {For those who don't know, mid-afternoon is the time when the greatest quantity of water is lost to evaporation.}

Living in Phoenix, you know these things. For Midwesterners, like children, such things need to be taught, or learned. In the desert, water preservation becomes a process, starting with awareness of how much you're using.

My guess is that water consumption rates will go up, but none of the utilities are restricting water use. It's a shame, too, because worsening droughts and the inevitable need for new restrictions and enforcement (oh, those pesky "regulations") might be the only way people around here will learn, and change.

Americans tend to assume their natural resources are infinite. And many people aren't willing to change to accommodate the changing climate. Yet perhaps hope remains for meaningful change, if not so readily for the Midwesterner, then our species. If anything, the human race has shown a remarkable capacity to adapt.

If climate change gets bad enough, maybe we'll become a lot more tribal, like the First Nations peoples. Due to extreme drought, our society might have to be more migratory, like the animals of sub-Saharan Africa. Needless to say, at that point, our energy- and consumption=crazed society won't remain, at least for what's left of our population that's still around.

Americans make decisions not for the collective impact of all these decisions but for the narrow interests of the individual. Our culture reflects this John Wayne-style ethos: the image a rugged independent cowboy holding out against adversity. It's why Americans root for the underdog.

Yet "the times, they are a changing," to quote the Dylan song. Our climate is shifting.

No society can last if it's comprised of individuals who uniformly put the needs of society second to their own.

"Winning is everything" might work well as an ad slogan, or a sports motto. But not everyone can win, if we could even agree what American is.Maybe our struggles are tied to a search for a new national identity, one where we can accommodate the climatic variables and need for cooperation in addressing the root causes for global warming.

If you look at many other species, they tend to be far less territorial in times of trouble, like a drought. The squirrels outside my window never seem to bicker in the extreme cold, or when food is scarce. It's only during times of bounty that these wild creatures invest in territoriality.

Maybe we could call an Olympic truce, as was the custom in ancient days during the Games. We could pull our legions back home, and rather lie terrified in wait for the next war, we could simply coexist peacefully with our neighbors and the rest of the world. To do that, we need to be more at ease with ourselves and less preoccupied with winning, or how we look at ourselves.

We live in an image-driven society that perhaps isn't the healthiest environment. Look at more walkable cities in other societies. Walking invites interactions, it's as if our cars disguise our fear of any meaningful interaction with each other.

Perhaps the best representation of American individualism is the car. Garages facing out, we build our houses to honor it. Car capital California has glamorized its sprawl culture, which really can't be a positive force in coming together to simply talk--simple conservations are a increasing rarity in this day of living inside a meaningless, endless, blather-filled cell phone cacophony.

We need to come together. Militarization might be one way. Get everyone, especially the young looking at bleak prospects, into uniforms. Establish a command hierarchy. Enforce accountability and standards, rather than capitulate to the child's every want, a practice that has created friendships between adults and their children, at the price of a society-wide breakdown in discipline and respect.

In short, establish order. The goal won't be externalized but rather exist to make us a better, stronger. Militarization might be the only way to preserve whatever community we have left.

The enemy, rather than existing on some faraway shore, is in fact us. I'd say America is its own worst enemy. Alongside our mortgaged financial futures, our infrastructure crumbles. Yet trillions continue to go out, spent on open-ended wars about which I've written much. We need to confront our own weaknesses and inadequacies before inflicting our point of view on the world.

Our complacency drives us, we spurn time-tried modes of communication and lead instead media-driven, temporal lives with more and more chatter. The faster our lives go, the more selfish we must become, to manage our lives and families. The lack of income for middle class families has pushed many into poverty, a state equivalent ot debt servitude with living from day-to-day taking precedence.

It's time to control how time passes, not tumble faster in the wind. To do that, we will need to establish a system to reinforce our society in the face of many challenges which lie ahead: fiscal, environmental, economic, etc..

We may come to need collectivization for no reason other than that the Chinese have it. It's worth mentioning the U.S. is in a tight race for Olympic gold at this time, foreshadowing what will undoubedly be a long competition, one far better suited to the fields of competitive embrace than those of a violent pursuit of supremacy.

At some point, someone has to go out and do for the collective what needs doing. If the people starve for want of knowledge, then someone needs to be held accountable. Just how much of a bad thing will we have to endure before we realize we must change. How many more pharmacologically inspired theater massacres have to happen before we realize we have to make changes?

If American society can't change, and become more...dare I say...collectivist, then surely the whole of it will suffer. We know our society will change, it will and has been in so many ways: some from environmental change, others from demographics, and even the racial composition of our society--deep and profound-reaching all.

At the point where we are, there are only two ways forward. We either collectivize through militarization or continue down the path of cocooning, hyper-consumption, and self-aggrandizement.

The path will be long and difficult; make no mistake forces opposed to change will attempt to derail the next American revolution. Beware all you truth-tellers: of course the 1% will prattle on about the great opportunities that lie open to all in a free market economy. They'll point to Horatio Algers who've made it here, with the inference and so will you.

The media owned by the investor class will ramble on about how Europe's social programs have doomed them to economic stagnation and all we need to do is give up our entitlements. Remember the corporate media messaging machine works for them, to sell the dream even when it's becoming harder and harder just to get by.

Siesta time

Eurobanker Mario Draghi underwhelmed traders with his failure to follow through on last week's anticipated bailout by the ECB. The Euro traded sideways through the morning, then ended up more or less where it was before.

Despite all the talk of gloom and doom, the European economy hasn't collapsed. Its currency has declined against the dollar, but unlike the dollar, the Europeans don't have a central bank type apparatus through which vast sums of synthetic money can be created.

Unlike the Americans, the European Central Bank can only buy the debt of sovereign nations in an emergency capacity. The funds allocated for bailouts come largely from the Germans.

After initial resistance, the Germans came around to the idea of bailing out their swarthier, Southern European counterparts, with their profligate ways.

To anyone with any knowledge of Italian and Greek banking, none of this crisis comes as a surprise, except perhaps the sheer size of the debt. I can remember in Italy--a country my family often visited in the 70s--having to wait for banks to open because they--like churches--often closed for siesta hour (or hours.)

It's a culture thing. No one is in a hurry down in those hot countries on the fringe of the Mediterranean sea. Siesta didn't come into being simply as a way to shirk duties; the day's heat was at a peak during siesta time.

Naturally, the Italian--and Portuguese, and Spanish, and Grecian--approach to the siesta was to make it part of a late, leisurely lunch, capped off with a glass of fine Italian wine, like a Orvieto.

There's simply no hurry. Life comes at a pace to match the weather, and the culture follows that.

Anyway, rather than fight the inclination of these people to do what their cultures and traditions have for centuries dictated, we should let the water flow, like the good Taoist. If the Italians want to play bank, sure, let them in. Just don't be too surprised when they might not be too reliable.

Italy has gone a long way since the invention of banking by the Medici of central Italy and Venice during the 14th century. To innovate, perhaps the Italians might invent a Southern Euro, a currency for the set of countries whose banks are, so to speak, somewhat loosey-goosey. The lower valuations which would devalue the Southern Euro really wouldn't rattle to many boats. The Northern Europeans would probably end up bailing them out anyway.

The whole point of dealing with the Mediterranean culture isn't to get too worked up about such things. Inevitably, hordes of Germans would flock down to Greece, as they do now, except in even greater numbers with the increased purchasing power of their Northern Tier Euros. The investment in new condos and construction spending would spur economic growth in the beleaguered economies, and bring in Northerners' hard currency to help their Southern neighbors through their banking siesta.

Problem solved.