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Oakland, CA

Posted By Bakari

I have not been writing much lately.


Spending my time with work, and new friends, and classes.


Work remains fun, after 3 years of doing the same things (compare to a record of 10 months max at any one job for the rest of my life prior), easy enough to be good at it, challenging enough to stay interesting. 

Just the past few days involved somehow fitting about 10cubic yards of random stuff into the truck for the largest hauling run I've had so far, installing drywall in an attic furnace room so the building could pass fire inspection, and careful deconstuction of the walls holding in the old biodiesel tanks at the old biodiesel fuel station so the lumber could be reused.


But far more important and interesting is the classes.


Little by little I add to my stable of random skills.


Expert in nothing, but my goal is for everyone there is, I can do at least one thing moderately well that they don't do at all. 

Maybe there is someone who does a little carpentry and electronics soldering and computer software troubleshooting and lockpicking and sailing and shooting guns and bow and arrows and swordplay and bicycle repair and auto mechanics and unicycling and gardening.

Just in case, I'm taking muy thai and jui jitsu and I just took a seminar on making fire with natural materials, another on edible wild foods of the East Bay, and today one on tracking animals, and also took my first parkour class.  Judging by the skill level of my classmates, watching YouTube videos and practicing on my own at the playground and on random obstacles I find walking around the city has been more beneficial than I realized.


I feel more and more like a character from an action/adventure movie, where the hero somehow knows how to do everything. 

And yet what strikes me continually is how much I still don't know.  Not even counting all the stuff I am not interested in learning, but the skills I still want, if money was no object, would take a lifetime to learn.

And money is an object.

So one lifetime isn't enough.


I have had debt for a few years, collected over a cross country trip/move and major vehicle failure, months of unemployment,  going back to college, buying a newer larger trailer, and having to buy my ex out of said trailer when she moved out.

I am getting tantalizingly close to paying off the last of it.


I decided once I do, classes take priority one.  Jobs will be fit around them, not the other way around.  I'm looking to work about 20hrs per week.

I am saying this publicly so as to have some accountability.  If you hear me say I am working too much come next summer, remind me I said this.



Posted By Bakari

A few days ago, coming home from work after dark, a neighbor came over to ask for a jump.
I took the alternator out of my truck, but the charger I use in its place has a quick charge / jump start option, so I brought that over.
While we waited for it another neighbor, someone new I had waved to but never met, came over to see if we needed any help.
Somehow we got onto the topics of being "green" and the recession.

The neighbor with the dead battery is involved with a local semi-official flea market. They are conscious of the fact that, along with being a way to make money, selling things second hand is also environmentally responsible. They are actively looking for ways to be more so, for example sourcing "plastic" bags made of plant materials. She had never heard of plastic island, but understood how it happened and the significance as soon as I described it.
The new neighbor talked about the house of cards credit schemes that led to our economic situation, about concentration of wealth, government and banks and stock markets roles.
While I had plenty of my own to add, I found myself agreeing with nearly everything both of them said.

This in contrast to interactions with neighbors over the past couple years: the neighbor in the 10ft long trailer who blamed all the countries problems on "the liberals", the neighbor who couldn't see any possible reason to run bio-diesel instead of petrol when it costs more - even when I pointed out that even if he doesn't live long enough to see environmental harm affect his life his kids might, not to mention the narrowly avoided fist fight and the 3 year old who buried his dads meth needle.

Like I have written, its funny that global warming is the thing that finally got peoples attention - even though there isn't hard scientific evidence that human activity will change it in a significantly more dramatic way than the natural climate cycles already do - when we have known for many decades that our use of resources is totally unsustainable.
But whatever. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is better than not doing the right thing at all.

Now combined with economic changes, ideas I have been thinking about all my life are becoming more and more popular. What will life be like after the credit based economy has its debts called in, and we no longer have the capacity to exploit natural resources at an unsustainable level, (as is absolutely vital for the American way of life as we know it)?
Of course there were always others who imagined it coming someday, with varying levels of serious - movies like Six-String Samurai on the one end, cults and militias on the other.
But now I am finding it everywhere.
The Gubbins Experiment, a blog I read about a guy who has given up not only driving, but also accepting rides in any motor vehicle for a year, wrote his most pessimistic post ever. My boss, a small business owner with a contract with BART to run the BikeStation seemed to imply that the end of civilization as we know will happen within the next 20 years, and that it will hit dramatic and fast when it does. I met my most recent friend in part via (literal) dreams of a post-apocalyptic future.
And now, even here in the trailer park, people are thinking in global terms about sustainability and economics.

Contrast it also to discussions I have had recently with some single issue activists, who I found by and large narrowly focused on not just one issue, but one side of one issue, unable or unwilling to consider other points of view, ignoring historical and current contexts that don't support a pre-determined conclusion, and offering more criticism than real solutions.

Maybe I had it wrong all along.

Maybe it is the general public, the random ordinary everyday people in whom our potential salvation rests.
That is the most encouraging possibility I have come across in many years.

Posted By Bakari

NOTE:  let me say upfront that I think this entire entry is a gross oversimplification.

We (Americans) aren't very smart.

Oh sure, there are plenty of individuals to prove me wrong; but as a whole, as a nation, I think it would be hard to argue.

But we are like the school bully or the rich kid (whose parents think it's good for him to go to public school).  We get our way all the time, and no one dares to point out to us how dumb we are.

We alone still use the English system of measurement, being afraid to learn something new, even if it's far easier in the long run.  50% of us believe in literal creationism (dinosaurs are either a hoax perpetrated by scientists and/or the devil, or they died in Noah's flood), and another 40% believe in intelligent design(1). Contrast this England, where 97% of Priests and Ministers don't believe in literal creationism(2)! 20% of us think the sun revolves around the earth,  and 11% can not find the US on an unmarked world map.(3,4)

Clearly we have the resources.  We have by far the largest total GDP, as well as one of the highest per capita in the world.(5,6)

So why is it this way?


I don't know.

For once, I can not even pretend to have any answers.

I don't like how this blog is turning out.
I think I will erase the whole thing and start over.

We'll see.


For once it seems that the conservatives and libertarians have at least part of it right.

As it turns out, the US spends more per student than a great many other industrialized countries, the majority of which have students at all levels that can out preform ours.(7,8)
Private schools in the US also spend less money per student, yet have better test scores and higher graduation rates.
There is of course a number of more complex issues than money - kids in private schools have parents involved enough to not only pay the tuition, but to choose a specific school for their kid, put in the time to find it and enroll them, and a more involved parent willing to pay extra for education is more likely to have been well educated themselves, to have begun teaching stuff like counting and the alphabet early, and to have sent the child to preschool and kindergarten.

However in at least one US school district that was studied, it was also true that for the equivalent size, the public schools had twice the administrative staff compared to the private schools, and half the teachers.(9)
While spending overall divided by number of students is higher, a great proportion of that is wasted on administration, management, and bureaucracies.

Unfortunately it looks like if anything, the efforts meant to improve public schools are aimed largely at management and bureaucracy.  Poorly preforming schools have control handed over to larger and more distant entities, the district becomes more involved, and eventually the state takes over entire districts.  Increasingly complex and demanding rules govern funding, with policy set at the state and federal level, and teachers are taken out of the classroom (and replaced with subs) for mandatory training and professional development regardless of how well their doing or what they may have been working on in the classroom that day otherwise.

There seems to be something disturbingly self-defeating about much of our education policy,


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Posted By Bakari

I got a free copy of the Utne Reader at the SF Green festival.
First one I had ever read, although I recognized the name as something Aileen had recommended years ago.

It was chock full of interesting articles on a wide variety of important issues, many of which are relevant to me.  I think I'll subscribe.

Three articles inspired letters to the editor, (two of which are available to read on their website).

Salvage Beauty


I realize that the San Francisco Bay Area in CA is not necessarily representative of the rest of the country, but around here at least, this is not exactly news.

Our version of the "Loading Dock" - Urban Ore - in Berkeley, has been open for 25 years.
It opened originally with materials actually extracted from a landfill, and continues today with drop offs from haulers and donations from the public, as well as a recovery team at the nearby transfer station.
They are very profitable, employ a full time staff, and pay haulers and the public for high quality good condition items.
They have by now spawned a number of smaller copycat stores in the area, with somewhat more specialized focuses.

As a hauler myself, I face plenty of competition in this area from other haulers who, like myself, run their trucks on vegetable oil and donate / recycle / reuse and sell as much of what we pick up as possible.

Far from just making an incredible difference environmentally (both preventing landfill and reducing the need for new materials being made), it also makes great financial sense for everyone involved.
People shopping at a reuse store pay a fraction of what they would, many times for materials which are in excellent condition - sometimes never even used!
As a hauler, I pay much less in dump fees than I would if I simply disposed of everything in one place.
And that means that I in turn can afford to charge my customers a lot less.
Everyone wins.
I hope before long every city can take this concept as much for granted as we are able to here.
Until then, keep up the good work, reporting on stuff like this.

Low Rent High Tech


One form of affordable and green housing which everyone always over looks is the RV park.

RVs as transportation are woefully inefficient, but keep one in one place...

RVs are designed to be able to run off of their own battery power and propane tanks off the grid for weeks or even months at a time.
Things like absorption cycle fridges and a tankless toilet (which have high premiums in home versions) come standard.

An RV uses less than 1/25th the electricity of the average American home, and around and 1/15th the average water.

At the same time, it is by far the least expensive (non-subsidized) form of housing. Both in the San Francisco Bay Area and 10 miles out of Manhattan (two of the most expensive areas in the country, where 1 bdrm apts can go for over $1500 a month) an RV space (with full hook-ups for water, electricity, phone, internet, cable, sewer, plus garbage and mail service) can be had for just over $400.

America Incarcerated

I was very happy with my first ever issue of Utne, especially the unusually straight-forward and un-biased article on the issues surrounding the US prison system.  Expect a subscription after I finish this letter.

There were, however, a couple of points I wanted to add.


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