Friday, March 20, 2009

Beatlick Travel Report: Jerome AZ

Date: Mar 18, 2009 9:27 AM

We pulled out of Quartzsite onto I-10 and picked up Highway 60 in just a few miles. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful road, I was feeling beautiful as we glided along. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on myself, I want to be more gracious, less nervous. I try to visualize myself as the happy, serene person I really want to be. So with that good attitude off we went.

I need to say here I still haven't used a full quart of oil yet and I've gone over 1,500 miles. I can't believe it and I guess that is just a tribute to my mechanic Micahel Elliott. I keep checking but the levels are still good.

From 60 we picked up Highway 71 and Joe began looking for Stanton. Maps can be so decieving. What seems obvious on a map is so hard to discern on the road. We never found the turnoff for Stanton and I started having misgivings as we began ascending higher and higher into mountain ranges.

By the time we got to Jerome I had become a horrible nagging monster, a million miles from the beauty I had been envisioning in my mind for the last few days. Joe didn't bother to notice any elevation notes on the road maps he was studying and the ascent only got worse, curvier, steeper, harder to manage. There is only one thing I hate more than trekking down washboard dirt roads that dislodge every screw and bolt in my van and that is heading up and down mountain grades of eight to twelve percent that require endless braking and gear shifting.

I had to go to first gear on some bends and couldn't make more than 20 mph. Of course this endears me greatly to the string of drivers behind me and my stress mounts with every second. Where the hell is Julie Andrews singing "The hills are alive with the sound of music," And where the heck are we - Bavaria?

I bitch, bitch, bitch. Poor Joe. I have manifested every ugly wart of bad habit that I hate in myself. I have really tried to stop complaining as best I can. And it's amazing how little I have to say if I'm not complaining. I kept my mouth shut for as long as I could stand it and then the frustrations and arguments running around in my mind get so great I have to release them or I think my head is going to pop. Poor Joe. I don't know how he stands me sometimes.

It was an entire afternoon of 20 and 30 mph, first and second gear driving but finally we made it to Jerome. I didn't even care. I wasn't even going to get out of the van, I just wanted to calm myself down. But that was before I realized what a special place Jerome, AZ, is.

A lot like Bisbee, it's a100-year-old gold mining town abandoned by Phelps-Dodge, just like Bisbee. What is called the Gold King Mine today was originally Haynes, AZ, in 1890, a small suburb of Jerome, one mile north. The Haynes Copper Company dug a 1200 foot deep shaft in search of copper. They missed the copper, but hit gold instead.

When the Gold King Mine ended its run the area was reinhabited by a lot of artists and small business people. The town is filled with antique trucks, tractors, construction and mining equipment dating back to the turn of the century. You can enter a walk-in mine, see the world's largest gas engines, and enjoy all the shops as well.

It's smaller than Bisbee, clinging to the side of a mountain, and butressed up with long stairsteps and landings that offer views that go on for what seems like hundreds of miles. Looking towards Cottonwood and Sedona, far far down the mountain range, you can follow the little two lane highway past the desert floor and into the infinity of enormous red rock mountains. They call this red rock country.

When we arrive in the late afternoon the town is teeming with bikers, antique cars, and lots of tourists and shoppers. I guess the big rigs aren't as interested in trekking up the mountain sides as I see few of their ilk here. Obviously it is a destination place for people out on an adventurous motorcycle or sports car ride.

I washed my hair inside the van and cleaned up. I told Joe to come back in an hour and I would be a different person. We hugged and I apologized. He felt bad for me too for all the stress and we got on with it and hit the streets.

One of the most interesting features to me was the state park which was the old Douglas Mansion. You see it off in the distance, it's a small mountain completely terraced and landscaped with this enormous mansion ala the Biltmore in North Carolina. But alas as is so common now, it was closed by the state one week before we arrived - budget cuts.

We enjoyed peering into the multiple art galleries and craft shops and had dinner at the wine bar. The day ended on a great note. We found an open mic at the Spirit Bar next to a small hotel. The gig was hosted by a Jerome resident who calls himself DL Harrison. Gosh he was great, haven't heard such good music since Catdaddy played back there in Bisbee.

DL sang Otis Redding, old blues songs, southern rock. I had enough of a buzz on to sing along, probably a little too loud. Plus he writes his own music. I loved his line, "Tell your story walking, your truth won't set me free." Great lines, and he was joined by a beautiful young woman, Nancy McDonald, who accompanied him on a cello. She later came back and did a solo gig on her ukelele. It was a great night. Joe and I got up and did two poems. The crowd was kind. DL's my space address:

After being so upset all day long it was a great way to end the evening. We took a stroll around the town, which was definitely a lot quieter at night, and headed back to our urban campsite, right in the middle of the action across from the Conner Hotel.

Happy Trails
Beatlick Pamela

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jake's Word Re: The Real Economy & the Zero Solution

[A response to The Real Economy & the Zero Solution, reposted below.]

You've been on a roll lately and I've been so tied up with various projects all I have had time to do is read the essays. This essay is exceptional even for your high level of engagement, erudition and intelligence. The first paragraph is a shining example of how well you write. It kicks open the doors so that there is no way to ignore what is coming. The Zero Solution demands a response from people who are widely and deeply studied in economics (though not so much that they can't see the forest for the trees). The conversion of debt to credit sounds Hamiltonian to my ears and I think it might just work. I'm going to send this on to several people, including my nephew, with whom I was discussing economics a few days ago. He's a supporter of the Austrian School, which is a form of laissez-faire (which works as long as we are talking about a real and not a virtual economy and as long as there is transparency and rigid penalty for abuse of the system).

This essay affirms what your political essays always affirm, that we are more than consumers, more than taxpayers, we are citizens. As such we are obligated to participate in government to the extent provided (even demanded) by the constitution and our history as a democratic republic (demos and res publica - of, by, and for the people, all of them).

Keep it coming. I'm listening.




By Jack Random

“Looking backwards and with hindsight…if I’d have known exactly the forces that were coming, what actions could we have taken …to avoid this situation? And I just simply have not been able to come up with anything…that would have made a difference to the situation that we faced.”

Alan Schwartz, Former Chief Executive of Bear Stearns

Alan Schwartz is either delusional or a bald faced liar. Under his leadership a once powerful and respected institution of finance leveraged its diminishing wealth on a mountain of worthless mortgage based assets, covered their trail with accounting tricks and took risks with other people’s money that not even a compulsive gambler would take on his last dime.

When Bear Stearns collapsed a lot of real people took the hit but Schwartz escaped with his personal fortune intact. He was insulated from harm and a government that preferred to look the other way rather than perform their duty to regulate financial practices in the interest of stockholders and the public at large.

This week in what can only be characterized as the essence of audacity, the very same bankers who led the way to financial ruin and then lined up to receive their share of the public dole cried foul over the conditions imposed on them by a wary government.

Reminiscent of a scene in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, where a black sheriff holds a gun to his head and threatens to shoot unless the crowd lets him escape, the bankers threatened to give the money back unless the government loosens its restrictions.

The conditions these bankers found unbearable included limits on executive bonuses, the purchase of luxury jets, a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, mortgage modifications and restructured home loans.

Like a spoiled child who cannot have his pudding until he eats his vegetables, the bankers protest too much. Some announced their intention to return the money at the earliest convenience. Let them do so without delay. Any bank or financier who took government money unnecessarily on the pretense of imminent collapse is already guilty of betraying the public trust.

Any institution that actually believes trillions of dollars of public money should be handed over without strict conditions of accountability and oversight should be summarily denied funding on the basis of gross professional incompetence.

The numbers we have been hearing to describe the state of our economy (a rise in the stock market notwithstanding) are mind bending and unimaginable to the point of unreal. The stock market decline represented a staggering loss of $23 trillion in net worth and home values have lost a stunning eleven trillion. These are truly unreal amounts of money and they begin to put a new light on trillion dollar bailouts and stimulus plans. The amounts of money being floated around distort our quaint notions of economy beyond belief. It is doubtful that home values ever exceeded eleven trillion in real value at any given time so what are we to make of these numbers?

A clue is revealed by noted flat world and global free trade advocate Thomas Friedman in the New York Times: “Our heart – our banking system that pumps blood to our industrial muscles – is clogged and functioning far below capacity.”

While offering up an easy metaphor, Friedman reveals that in his conceptualization the heart, the core, the center of our economy is not industry, not the worker driven enterprises that construct homes, build bridges and invent useful products, but the bankers and financiers that spin numbers and create illusions of wealth.

The flaw is in the design. The heart of any healthy economy should be the industries – mechanical, chemical and technological – that create products of intrinsic value. The heart of any functioning economy should never be the money changers – the brokers and schemers and middle men who devise systems of finance that shield debts and create value where none in fact exists. Yet that is exactly what we have done.

We have placed our economy in the hands of individuals who worked tirelessly to export the real economy to nations that do not recognize labor rights and therefore do not pay living wages and erected in its place an artificial economy of formulae and financial derivatives that inevitably drifted away from its foundation.

These individuals are not substantially different in principle or moral grounding than Bernie Madoff or Ken Lay and his gang of thieves at Enron. The former defrauded innocent individual investors while the latter defrauded the west coast and transferred the wealth to Texas oil and gas industries. The executives of Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and American International Group defrauded all of us on a scale that makes Enron look like a two-bit hustler.

The leaders of the new economy were the designers and creators of the global free trade exploitation scheme and they were convinced that they could spin a virtual economy that would ascend forever and never be dependent on this year’s crops or production quotas or the financial well being of the very consumers that sustain the whole. Like Madoff, they believed they could run their Ponzi scheme to the end of time.

In a word, they were wrong.

The difficulty we now confront is that the collapse of their artificial economy has sent shock waves through the real world. It has released a poison that quickly spread to every corner of the globe. It is a tidal wave of toxicity that lays waste to everything it touches.

We have empowered the crooks and schemers by investing in them not only our retirement funds but also our faith and while it would serve justice to send them to jail or banish them to permanent unemployment it would do little to remedy the harm.

The remedy lies in recognizing the artificial nature of the economic beast they created to maximize profit at our expense. For while they have done great harm in eroding the savings and wages of the working consumers, the real economy remains capable of employing its people in useful enterprise and reestablishing the balance between a working middle class and the nonproductive elite.

Once we recognize that the model of economics they have handed us is by no means synonymous with the real world economy, a new world of possibilities opens up. We can essentially solve the problem of insolvent home ownership by hitting the reset button. By government decree, we can calculate the difference between mortgage values and home values and zero them out.

I call it the zero solution and it would work because it benefits all parties. It benefits the homeowner who has behaved responsibly, kept up with payments, yet watched depreciating home values threaten long-term security. It benefits homeowners who are the victims of unscrupulous loans and their own admittedly irrational dreams. Finally, it benefits the bankers and mortgage holders by converting bad debt to good.

Though the implications would have to be studied, preferably by a team of experts without a vested or ideological interest, and the details worked out, variations of the zero solution could be applied to personal and national-international debt as well, converting debt to credits by means of a central debt conversion fund.

It is admittedly a radical solution and one that could only be applied in extreme emergencies such as the crisis we face today. When we have survived the current crisis, it is imperative that we take all measures to ensure that the new and emerging economy is tied directly to the real economy, that it is calibrated to benefit workers as well as the financial elite, that it is transparent and subject to rigorous regulation, and that the working and consuming middle class is at its heart and core.

To some extent we all share responsibility for this crisis. We placed our faith in institutions that were solely motivated by the profit margin. We gave them free reign by protecting them from government oversight. What they did is what we should have expected them to do: They gamed the system and made off like bandits.

To a large extent we are paying the price of forgetting the lessons of the past. Whenever bankers and moneychangers are allowed to run wild, they inevitably drive the economy over a cliff. If we are to spare future generations the same fate, we must take those lessons to heart, including breaking up the monopolies and merger manias that have created monsters “too big to fail.”

The road ahead will be hard. The financial monsters will fight meaningful reform every step of the way and the Supreme Court is their corner. Nevertheless, we must work tirelessly to right the balance, to elect officials that represent the people over the money interests, and to pry the real economy out the hands of greed and avarice.

That is the road ahead. To get there, we must survive.


[This chronicle posted on the National Free Press -- World Edition.]


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mind of Mansel: When Does A Body Become A Corpse

(for Pete Seeger)

when does a body become a corpse
when the bones are ground into meal
the devil says of course
well it was one april as I was caught
the twister was raging so I was brought
to my knees and I couldn't pray
so I laid into the wind and this I did say
when does a body become a corpse
when the bones are ground into meal
the devil says of course

when does a body become a corpse
when the bones are ground into meal
the devil says of course
now I fly my flag upside down
and it doesn't make a different sound
but you can hear it lappin at the truth
about the murder of innocent youth
when does a body become a corpse
when the bones are ground into meal
the devil says of course

when does a body become a corpse
when the bones are ground into meal
the devil says of course
eighteen years old I registered for the draft
and it was at eighteen that I was sitting at
the table with other young men told to stand
we were leaning into the wind boys into man
when does a body become a corpse
when the bones are ground into meal
the devil says of course


so if your eaten by the ghost here's what you say
I was young once but I'll never again be that way
so eat me devil if you will I've already seen hell

- Chris Mansel


Beatlick Travel Report: Happy Trails in San Diego

Date: Mar 13, 2009 9:32 AM

The approach to San Diego was well planned out. Referring to our national Wal-Mart location map we zeroed in on El Cajon, CA, as our urban campsite for the weekend. We wanted to approach San Diego on a Sunday morning. The Wal-Mart wasn't a supercenter but our two day stay went unnoticed by any authorities. We took in a movie: Slum Dog Millionaire - great.

We headed out bright and early Sunday morning only to find out we weren't more than 15 minutes from Holly Wilson's home, our destination. We had imagined we were much further out, we could have practically walked there.

After six years we saw Holly again, an old friend of Joe's from Albuquerque. They used to do poetry together in that town long before I came on the scene, probably thirty years ago. I know Holly as a poet, dancer, UNM doctoral student, and master gardener, but today she is Dr. Holly Wilson, a professor who specializes in teaching other educators how to teach English as a second language and a few other titles I can't remember.

She's been gone from Albuquerque for ten years and she and Joe had a good time reminiscing. We ran an electric cord out of her garage into the van and set up our urban campsite. This is beyond our wildest expectations. We imagined ourselves slinking into San Diego Pier, putting a toe in the Pacific, and running back east. But thanks to Holly we had a full week to enjoy the beauty of San Diego. What a town.

Great bus service, an abundance of palm trees, a fabulous grocery store named Pancho Villa's. I bought red bell peppers for sixty cents, mangoes three for a dollar, and oh so delicious. Why is the food so much cheaper here, and better? Is it because it's a port city? So close to the border? Las Cruces and El Paso are close to the border but they haven't got anything like this.

And there is nothing wrong with palm trees. I love them, crave them, I don't care if I never see Tennessee again. I want palm trees in my life. This area is so beautiful, so lush with plants and vegetation, and the ocean breezes from the bay are enchanting somehow. The land rushes down to the sea cascading and falling all over itself in its abundance.

I do call it menopausal weather because it blows so hot and cold. The sun is hot, radioactive feeling, and the breeze is cold, you don't want it blowing up your back cold. You have to dress for all seasons every day as Holly explained.

We rode the bus to Presidio Park one day, hiked all over the Gas Lamp District the next day, averaging about five miles a day on foot. From Holly's we could walk a few blocks over to University Ave., hang a right and walk to the North Park District. I liked all the little hand-lettered signs on all the small beauty salons, neighborhood markets, and tire stores. The bus ride down University passed along one little neighborhood after another, each one independent of the other and a small city unto itself.

The bustling sidewalks were jammed with cafes, gyms, thrift stores, bakeries, barber shops, hardware stores, carpet stores, neighborhood libraries and all the facilities that keep life humming along and all so conveniently located. I revamped my van while I was there getting new flooring, lights, all the little particulars I have been needing to give the van a little more spruced up look.

Happy Trails
Beatlick Pamela