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Nowtopian

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Floating, Waiting, Wondering

Old friends from the Committee for Full Enjoyment, drumming during last night's Dia de los Muertos in San Francisco. (see below)

Haven’t been blogging much lately… The election is dominating airspace, and though it’s not dominating the small space between my ears, I haven’t been able to focus on any good themes to blog about lately. I’m reading the People’s History of the Civil War and Framing the Black Panthers, both good books, both kind of slow reading. I figured it would be good background reading during the election of Obama, even though he’s as far removed from the issues of slavery and 1960s’ black militance as you can get and still be black…

I hope he wins. It’ll be much more interesting than the other option, but a day ahead of the election, I still wonder if we won’t be “shocked” by the news that McCain somehow pulled out a dozen states that he wasn’t expected to win, while charges of electronic fraud and broken machines, and lack of ballots, pile up all over the place. Democracy Now! covered the story of a guy who is being deposed today, a fellow accused of masterminding the election fraud perpetrated by Cheney/bush in 2000 and 2004, by forwarding the results from various states like Ohio to an intermediary computer in Tennessee where of course the results were doctored to suit their goals.

Probably we’ll have President Obama, and then it’ll be interesting to see if he will break with his sponsors at Goldman Sachs and the coal and nuclear industries to pursue the grassroots-supported “Green Economy,” one which is fraught with contradictions itself, but is being pushed by countless small groups, independent political actors, and is somehow embedded in a lot of folks’ deep aspirational psyches… or so it seems. To some extent the analysis in Nowtopia taps this too, though my book of course tries to reframe these aspirations in terms of class and an anti-capitalist agenda.

I’ve been reading a lot at Automatic Earth which is written in England and is just a fantastic clearinghouse of bleak analysis and financial information. The breaking news on a fair number of economically minded websites is that world trade is collapsing. Whatever attention you’ve paid (or not) to the bailouts and the fluctuations of stocks and housing prices, off our radar in the U.S. to a great extent are numbers like the Baltic Exchange Dry Index which measures the cost of shipping worldwide. This article at the TimesOnline UK (via Automatic Earth) gives the latest amazing stats wherein the cost of a Capesize freighter in May 08 was some $230,000 a day, and as of last week the same ship had fallen to about $5,800 a day! Apparently the credit freeze-up has stopped a huge amount of shipping, and we may be entering a period of radical contraction in world trade. That’s not gotten much attention lately during the insanity that passes as “politics” here in the U.S. election crazy season…

Another piece of this unfolding crisis is the collapse of economies all over the world, from Ukraine and Iceland to the unravelling of Latin American economies too, underscoring how little the so-called “Center-Left Regimes” of Lula, Evo, Chavez, Kirchner, et al, really broke with the underlying dynamics of neoliberal world markets. Long-time socialist analyst of Latin America James Petras writes about this at length here (again, thanks to Automatic Earth for the original link).

Locally there’s the Gay Marriage initiative in California, which seems like it’ll be defeated, but it’s a toss-up. Marriage is such a dumb institution and many of my more radically inclined friends, past and present, among the sexually libertine of various persuasions, understand that a big impetus for sexual radicalism was to overcome the limits of marriage…. so it’s quite sad to see it become the rallying point for gay politics, but that really just confirms the obvious limits of gayness as a political stance… all that said, of course gay marriage should remain legal, with all the rights and responsibilities it entails, spousal and otherwise. Better if we could do away with marriage in general for everyone, rather than extending the tired, inhibiting and basically reactionary church- or state-based institution further.

In San Francisco we have a giant ballot, the presidential vote, a bunch of state ballots, state reps and senators, and then locally we have ranked-choice voting for our local city council, the Board of Supervisors, as well as another long list of propositions. We can vote to decriminalize prostitution, to name a sewage plant after George Bush, to raise fees and taxes in several ways, and perhaps the most important local initiatiave, that is almost certain to be defeated by the vast millions spent by PG&E, is Prop H, a clean-energy bill that has been attacked for months for supposedly “taking away our right to vote”!! A few local politicos, like Isabel Wade of the Parks Council, have shown themselves to be sycophants of PG&E by participating in their distorted and dirty campaign… Prop H would authorize the city to consider buying out PG&E (as it was mandated to do in 1913 by the federal Raker Act, affirmed by an 8-1 Supreme Court decision in 1941, ignored ever since) if it was determined that pursuing the clean energy goals of Prop H would be more effectively served by a publicly owned power utility… a process that would be done by issuing revenue bonds, a type of bond over which there has never been a right to vote!… at least someone managed to make this viral ad, which I caught on Colbert the other night in one of its only public airings besides the internet. Here it is:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZuwXSbb6WA]

While all this is going on, life in San Francisco continues to be deeply satisfying, in spite of all the madness that prevails nationally and even in local politics. The end of October brings the biggest muncipal holiday, Halloween, which fell this year on Critical Mass Friday. The ride took off after rain a day earlier (which returned as a real deluge on Saturday, so we got lucky!) under blue skies and incredibly balmy warm weather.

Halloween Critical Mass departs, Ferry Building behind. Photo by Eduardo Green.

Halloween Critical Mass departs, Ferry Building behind. Photo by Eduardo Green.

Halloween Critical Massers glowing to match the sky. Photo by Eduardo Green.

Halloween Critical Massers glowing to match the sky. Photo by Eduardo Green.

I came up with a costume the night before: The Pyramid Scheme! Someone told me it’s not legal to photocopy bills, but I did it without knowing, and made this up… it has a small sign on it too, saying “Two monsters in one: a CDO riding an SIV!” (CDO=Collateralized Debt Obligation, SIV=Structured Investment Vehicle)

The Pyramid Scheme at the start of Halloween Critical Mass, San Francisco, 2008. Photo: Eduardo Green.

The Pyramid Scheme at the start of Halloween Critical Mass, San Francisco, 2008. Photo: Eduardo Green.

It was another wonderful ride, winding all around town, at one point we piled up on Broadway while the riders ahead decided to go east or south…

Stalled on Broadway, the party is ongoing!

Stalled on Broadway, the party is ongoing!

Broadway and Columbus ahead.

Broadway and Columbus ahead.

On my way home much later that night, I ran into the $700 billion bailout and we had someone snap this photo:

Pyramid Scheme meets $700 billion bailout, Halloween 08!

Then, on November 2, here in the Mission we have a big Dia de los Muertos procession, which is a remarkable event. It’s very embedded in this neighborhood, with its strong Latino population, but this event has been thoroughly transformed (some would say co-opted) by the strong embrace of the youthful hipster scene, the folks who have been moving in to this neighborhood steadily for over 25 years.

Dia de los Muertos gathering point, 24th and Harrison.

Face painting has its day (of the dead)

Face painting has its day (of the dead)

Revering and remembering the dead happens via memorials, altars, installations in local galleries, and just somberly joining the march with a candle. Simultaneously hundreds of people are drumming, dancing, and carrying on like it’s Carnival, heavily costumed, and in altered states.

Mona, Ruby, Nick, and Adriana

Mona, Ruby, Nick, and Adriana

Finally it’s a syncretic concoction of local art, culture, politics, music, and a huge street seizure for hours on Nov. 2 every year, almost like a Reclaim the Streets event. (At the end of the night I heard a report of the police becoming belligerent with some friends, arresting two, in what can only be seen as yet another manifestation of the Culture War locally. The police just hate seeing so many people have such a wildly good time, without exacting some kind of “price” for the revelry.)

One of the more impressive get-ups along Harrison.

One of the more impressive get-ups along Harrison.

Something new this year, beyond the usual Aztec drummers, a samba troupe, and two other drumming contingents and many many dancers, was this Vehicle of the Apocalypse, drawn by six cyclists welded to the wagon… quite an impressive piece of work!

The Ringmaster of the Apocalypse!

The Ringmaster of the Apocalypse!

Tomorrow we’ll finally be done with this quadrennial madness that passes for politics in the U.S.! I can’t wait! But I’m glad real life continues to percolate in so many ways, all too often out of sight, but if you’re living it, it’s a great antidote to the sad, lonely, empty rituals of modern America.

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