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Life Arts


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A world created on the assumption of always MORE is obviously unsustainable: Unending growth of an economy, unending riches. No, this is not about oil. It may well be that the supply of oil that is easy to get out of the ground, and therefore cheap, is running out, but sooner or later it becomes unsustainable to rely on oil, or coal, for energy. Why moan about the price of oil when we should get ourselves ready to do without?

Yes, there are undoubtedly other ways to get energy to run an immensely wasteful so-called civilization that is not sustainable regardless of what kind of energy we use, but wouldn’t it be smarter if we took stock of the underpinnings of how we live, how we have created this world we live in? We use too much of everything, and throw away more than the earth can absorb. And, of course, throwing away what is not biodegradable is creating dumps that will choke our children’s and grandchildren’s world. No, we must learn again to do without.

Our scientists have told us for years that fast food -- junk food -- is bad for us; too much fat, too much sugar, and the wrong kinds of fat and sugar. Not only is manufactured food bad for us but it has the potential to be dangerous as well. It is not at all difficult to grow vegetables. Admittedly, that means we eat strawberries only when they are in season, and what’s wrong with that? Doesn’t that make them all the more delicious, even more special? And we’d savor oranges only if they grow in the next valley, not imported from half a world away.

Long distance transport requires picking the fruit long before it is ripe; profit requires “forcing” the plant with bad chemicals to produce more and “better” oranges: All the same size, perfectly round. In truth, nothing tastes as good as an orange (or any fruit) when picked ripe, in season, from a tree that has had no artificial aids to produce bigger fruit (which kills the tree earlier than its natural life span). For many years I survived without oranges. There is vitamin C in many other fruits, apples, pears, a variety of berries.

I’ve read that in the 1920s and ‘30s cities, even medium sized cities, had street cars, or other forms of mass transport, public transportation. American car manufacturers bought the street cars of Los Angeles, tore down the overhead lines and the tracks, so that the city would have to buy buses. Big corporations sold us on the idea that everybody should have their own car -- four door cars, with room for five, driven by one person to work.

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The country made super highways for these cars; let trains languish in order to force huge trucks on us to transport the oranges from Israel all the way to Las Vegas. States and counties made roads so that we could live in the suburbs, because, after all, in America everyone has to have a car, right? We live where we prefer to live, even if it means a three hour commute by private car. We bought the idea that we all needed to be free to go where we wanted at any time we wanted, live where we chose, do what we damn well please. That is Democracy, right?

Americans who travel to western Europe are often surprised to find countries as modern as we are where it is not necessary to own a car. Public transportation goes to the smallest hamlet. Bicycle paths are everywhere. There are wonderful trains that zoom quietly at 130 miles per hour. Free health care for everyone. Schools are free, even school lunches. Universities are free, even text books. Countries without the death sentence, where few, if any, are thrown away in prisons for the rest of their lives. And, most surprising, they too have elections, refrigerators, all the gadgets and gimmicks we have, but also six weeks paid vacation a year, and a thirty-five hour work week. Yes, they pay more taxes, but they get their money’s worth in services. Of course they do not have the largest army and air force in the world because they see no need to control the rest of the world.

Most other countries have a multitude of political parties because a free world has a multitude of shades of gray -- even colors, from green to red.

We are stuck in a two party system although both parties contain groups of very different thinking, thoughtful people. Maybe a country of three hundred million people has outgrown two, and should have three hundred parties to reflect the thinking and the needs of many different population groups. Every decision Congress makes then would require a coalition of parties, rather than “advice” from high-paid lobbyists. But, I am told, democracy means a two party system. Really?

We were urged to believe, and we bought the idea, that it is good to reduce taxes for rich people because wealth “trickles down.” Oh yeah? We accepted the idea that health services should never be centralized, that would be socialism, and socialism is bad, bad, bad -- although few of us know what socialism means. So, instead of having one payer, we accept that it is better to have many insurance companies. Many insurance companies are supposed to keep the price down because they compete with each other. But they have to make a profit; how can it be economical when it adds to the cost of health care?

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We tacitly agree -- it is assumed we agree -- that capitalism, which in America is called Free Market, is not only good for us, but the only way to go. The market, we are told, will even things out. Competition takes care of scoundrels who charge too much, and see to it that everybody gets their share. Are you sure about that? How come then, these last years have seen stagnant income for everybody, but a very few who earn a billion or more bucks a year buying and selling imaginary value?

The movies taught us that man’s future was to go where no man had any business going. Our leader, in the same vein, told us that we must control the world, by going across the world to get rid of a bad dictator (who, if the stories are true, we supported only a few years earlier). This evil dictator had something to do with 9/11, we were told (not true), he was a great threat to the security of our country (very doubtful), it was hinted that he had nuclear weapons (he didn’t). Most of us believed the words-- if you can’t believe your leader who can you believe? Or, more likely, we did not know what or who to believe, so we stopped thinking about it.

“They,” in Washington, do these things in our name. We toppled the bad dictator in a few days. Nobody questioned why we did not get out when we had accomplished that. Why did we stay? Okay, we had to find those “weapons of mass destruction” (were we told what that means? No, it was only hinted that they might be nuclear “devices” or “bio-terrorism” or…?) There weren’t any WMD to be found. No great surprise because the people who should know these things, knew that they had long been destroyed by the bad dictator himself. But, we stayed, caught the bad dictator who had been hiding. He was tried and hung. We pushed the local people to have an election. They democratically elected a government. Then we bestowed sovereignty on the government (was it ours to give?). And still we stayed on. Because, then we were told, now there were all kinds of bad people, and we had to stay to secure the security for the government we had given sovereignty.

Now, five or more years later, we are still there. In fact, our presence has increased in number and power. At great cost we built enormous bases (did we ask the government we had given sovereignty for permission?). Our Air Force owns the air space and bombs when it deems it necessary to assist ground actions. We spent trillions for armies, planes and bombs, and bullets made with “depleted” uranium that probably is not totally depleted. We have a free hand in that free country.

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robert wolff lives on the Big Island, called Hawai'i
his website is

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      I commented yesterd... by mikel paul on Friday, Aug 22, 2008 at 11:57:10 AM
In a digital age where we are saying electronic vo... by sometimes blinded on Friday, Aug 22, 2008 at 9:31:45 PM
Thank you Mikel Paul-- yes I took the piece off ye... by robert wolff on Friday, Aug 22, 2008 at 10:25:42 PM
I TOTALLY AGREE WITH ROBERT WOLFF on everything he... by emily horswill on Saturday, Aug 23, 2008 at 5:00:15 PM
Thank you Blinded, Yes, I agree with all you say -... by robert wolff on Saturday, Aug 23, 2008 at 5:38:29 PM
what is missing in all this oil talk is the histor... by KDG on Sunday, Aug 24, 2008 at 12:53:46 AM
Emily Horswill, no, I find it very hard to believe... by robert wolff on Sunday, Aug 24, 2008 at 11:11:01 AM
KDG, I'm not familiar with the history of the word... by robert wolff on Sunday, Aug 24, 2008 at 11:21:16 AM
Mr. Wolf; "oil" mentioned here is or was the fuel ... by KDG on Tuesday, Aug 26, 2008 at 6:25:55 PM
KDG, it is possible that other oils, including hem... by robert wolff on Tuesday, Aug 26, 2008 at 8:05:58 PM
There's a bug in the website link posted ... by Aurora on Friday, Aug 29, 2008 at 1:55:44 AM
Thanks Aurora for alerting me -- now the link... by robert wolff on Friday, Aug 29, 2008 at 9:59:07 AM