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Peace and War

Been a busy beaver lately, lots of socializing and being in the ol’ midsummer groove. This past weekend was a typically crowded and satisfying time: Friday night was our local Critical Mass. It was a very spirited ride, wrapping around the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf, back up Columbus to eventually two-time the Broadway Tunnel (where good pal Ben Monopod got creamed by a ‘fellow’ cyclist, ending up in the hospital with surgery on his separated shoulder… he’s out now, with pins!)… then back downtown again and over and out Market, down Van Ness, circling at Mission for a change, turning eastward down Division to Potrero where we all enjoyed the newly striped Potrero Avenue. I lived on Potrero for 11 years and always dreamed of the day when it would no longer be a six-lane pseudofreeway monstrosity. Now it’s four lanes, with left turn bulbs, bike lanes on both sides, and is a teensy step towards human habitability. A fun tour of 24th Street full of odd interactions with drunk teenagers who weren’t used to such an overwhelming posse storming their turf, but eventually the ride broke up in mid-Mission into a half dozen smaller groups and everyone found their bar or park to hang out in.

Saturday I gave my latest Labor History Bike Tour. Only about 4 of the 15 reservations showed up, but another 15 folks did too, so it was a perfect size, about 20, and though the experience probably suffers from chronic TMI, everyone seemed to enjoy my polemical style and historical contextualizing… I also got to start us off with 15 minutes of labor history highlights from Shaping SF in the CounterPULSE theater, and then a good 1.5 mile loop through SOMA and NE Mission to start. I really like doing bike tours, even though they are truly exhausting. So, the CounterPULSE lunch forums are kaput, but instead I’ll be doing semi-regular bike tours on historical and cultural themes. Peter Brastow of Nature In The City and I are collaborating on advancing a public engagement with the politics of San Francisco’s nature, and will be conducting periodic Nature in the City bike rides, starting on the last Sunday in September (mark your calendars!).


Then on Sunday, in collaboration with several friends who have been batting the idea around for a while, we launched a new event we’re calling The Cuadrilla, after Basque eating clubs we heard about. Ours consisted of about 25 people going to eight different homes in near walking distance of our place at 24th and Folsom. At each stop we share some tasty dishes prepared ahead of time, and drinks. We each bring our own plate, utensils and cup, and wash them at each stop before we depart. We also took the opportunity to do introductions, since not everyone already knew each other, and many folks were able to give brief histories of their venerable century-old buildings. It was great fun to meet new folks, hang out with good friends over good food and drink, and get a bunch of stories of old San Francisco too.

The Cuadrilla feels very obvious and natural, like it’s one of those ideas that’s already in everybody’s head. So try it out! It just takes a date, a starting point and some effort to get friends in the near vicinity to join in. It helps if everyone is a bit of a foodie.

As usual I’ve been reading a lot, but my writing has been curbed by a couple of weeks of intensive effort on the next book. Currently writing the chapter on the Outlaw Bicycling subculture, which I’m going to share with another book that’s being organized on bicycling culture. I’ve been slowly working through Jonathan Schell’s “The Unconquerable World.” Lots still to read, but it’s a very interesting book so far, giving an interesting long view of the development of war hand-in-hand with industrialization and science, and how by the late 20th century the twin pillars of “Cold War Mutually Assured Destruction” and “People’s War emphasis on politics over hardware” had led to a kind of neutralization or halting of the incessant march to the cliff… or did it? The book is trying to show that an emergent civil society, or public opinion, or whatever you want to call it, has become the chief counter-power in the world to the militarists and imperialists, and the leverage provided historically by force is now losing its efficacy. I hope so!

Meanwhile, my endless looping online leads me back to certain sites and blogs that offer real insight. One of my latest faves, not for the politics, but for the intelligent analysis of what he’s calling 5th generation warfare, is Global Guerrillas. In particular, I recommend his entry on Emergent Communities. If you are a Critical Mass cyclist you might feel a shiver of familiarity at how the new global war is being conducted by the forces that don’t have standing armies, navies or nations. The Netwar model doesn’t require central coordination, but just the spread of a set of concepts and tactics. In my opinion this works because the ideas and tactics resonate by being rooted in the material life we’re all already leading. Like the Cuadrilla we ‘invented’ above, the form and the conceptual core are so obvious it just seems odd that no one has already said it out loud and made it happen. Same for a lot of what’s getting called ‘terrorism’, which is a correct label on some level, but as Global Guerrillas makes clear, it is just a more advanced form of warfare being carried out by a very savvy and modern adversary.

Can the Islamic Vanguard be defeated by conventional means? Obviously not. Can a political deal be struck where the world is carved into spheres of influence, a la Yalta, and the terrorist strikes in Europe or the U.S. by this particular brand of ideology are halted? That seems more plausible. Would this Vanguard be able to install itself and maintain a functioning society? Who knows? There are countless contradictions in the broad swath of cultures that might be cut into that ‘other’ sphere, so it seems really problematic. Nevertheless, Talibanization is proceeding step by step in the U.S. just as meaningfully as it might be in a future Caliphate (of whatever size), and it seems entirely plausible to me that the two political blocs might cut a deal to live and let live when, after some thousands of more deaths, they each realize the other isn’t going to ‘lose’ and disappear.

So I’m living in my peaceful, air-conditioned San Francisco of convivial friends and tasty foods and cultural stimulation, wondering about the world war… and if it’s not that one, there’s always the imponderable one that starts when the Chinese pull the rug out from under the U.S. debt pyramid and the U.S. decides to “use ’em or lose ’em”… but let’s save that for another dark rumination!

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