See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hearing the Voices of the Land

This is a picture of the Black Mesas outside of San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico. I didn't take it, and I don't know who did; I had pictures from that time, but they are gone. The New Mexico period of my life was a strange time, a fog in retrospect, just one more image in a sea of images. I lived there for ten years.

At the end of the summer after my first year of law school in California, which summer spent in Nashville in 1981 concreted my resolve that I would never again return here to live, I decided to drive slowly across the country, on and off I-40, back toward Palo Alto. I spent my second night in Amarillo, Texas, and happened to check into a Quality Inn with a bar that got very lively at night, and after an evening of drinking, pool playing, and if my memory serves me correctly (which is not likely), some other chemical explorations I woke up with a blazing hangover and drove over the state border into Tucumcari, New Mexico.

The border between New Mexico and Texas at I-40 is a strange place, one of those odd junctures of the land where the scenery changes instantly -- different vegetation, different rocks, and the land comes alive. Or maybe, not alive, but brimming with ghosts. Because the Texas panhandle scarcity ends to be replaced with something very different. I stumbled into Tucumcari, a town of nothing but endless cheap motels and seedy Mexican bars, and rented a cheap room from people who spoke no English. A storm was brewing, and tumbleweeds flew down the darkened, deserted streets. I thought about braving one of the local bars but was too whipped, and settled down in the motel with a bottle of something or other. I had two phone calls to make - one to my parents in Tennessee, one to my fiancee in California, but the phones wouldn't give me a long distance line. I was enveloped in New Mexico.

The next day I had what had to be the most mystical drive of my life; with a six-pack in my lap, I drove the long, windy alternate route from Tucumcari up to Santa Fe, a highway of high desert, fields of whipping August grasses that sometime overshadowed and nearly covered the roads; occasional isolated littel towns usually consisting of nothing more than a bar and a gas station, where I refreshed my beverages, used the bathrooms and moved on. I have never had a more moving day on the road. At the end of that third day, I checked into a motel outside Santa Fe, and still tired, instead of sampling any of the good restaurants in one of the country's best restaurant cities, I drove to a Wendy's to pick up a cheeseburger. When they asked me if I wanted green chile with it, I knew that I was home.

I split my second-year clerkship between a law firm in Albuquerque and one in Los Angeles, and after graduation came back to Albuquerque. The job there didn't last; a law firm is a law firm and I was no more cut out for corporate law then, than I am now. Nevertheless, I stayed in New Mexico for ten years, times getting stranger and stranger, until ultimately I was forced back to Tennessee, where I never have felt, and never will feel that I belong.

But what drew me to New Mexico and kept me there until after all my options had run out, was the voice of the land. I could feel it so strongly in those Black Mesas pictured above, or in the bosque are where I lived in my adobe apartment in Albuquerque's North Valley. I am one-sixteenth Cherokee, but I have no real contacts with Indians (or Native Americans if you prefer, but I don't) these days, or before New Mexico. But I was drawn to the lands where they lived; there was and I'm sure still a power in those lands, a presence, a huge warm and hauntity entity that I perceived on that first day driving into Santa Fe. Some people feel it, and some don't. Living in Albuquerque was a lot like living in any other city, but I could get on my Yamaha Virago 920 and out into the land from my townhouse in ten minutes, and hear those voices again and feel the connection with the land. It was a hauting and eternal time.

After the first law firm job expired, I worked for a time in a two-man firm whose founder had fled the Department of the Interior when Reagan came in, and took up Indian law by contract. Most of our clients were Indian school Boards, particularly Navajo. During one period that lasted a few months, I was assigned to work with the Governor of Acoma Pueblo, about sixty miles out of Albuquerque, codifying legislation for the Tribe. That was a strange time. The tribal offices were mostly deserted; there was only one nearby restaurant. Like other Pueblos, Acoma had a counsel or legislature and a Governor, to satisfy the BIA and whoever else holds the leash on their funding, but the real governing is done by traditional tribal forces, structure unseen as the ghosts in the mesa, but very real -- often the real ruler of the tribe was a brujo, and old man with a broom you might see around at night when you get ready to leave the office. Shadows of reality under the veneer of a falsely imposed and plastic structure. The feeling of all those days and weeks spent in that place will never leave me, like the experience of flying out into the parched crack land where we saw fit in our greed and power to put the Navajo, towns with no employer but the schools.

I never really developed any good personal relationships with any of the Indians. Their lives were depressing to me. They lived in the shattered remnants of their own culture, which our society had largely destroyed and replaced with the worst and lowest features of our own -- the worst food, the worst entertainment, a culture stripped of value. It seemed to me that there were two extremes of person. Most of them were living only the most shallow and ignorant existence, and yet there were people of extreme depth, whose roots in their largely past-tense culture remained deep, and whose education was due to their own efforts and innate drive and wisdom, not the affect of a culture where all pretend to be educated. These truly impressive and self-made people, embodying the wisdom of their own traditions and their own will, must have been like the people who made this country for our culture, a type gone from everywhere now that the madness has taken over all.

Several times in the last couple of years, I've heard music in my bedroom from a source I couldn't locate. Several times it took the form of a very, very long soft murmur that seemed to consist of human voices, in the rhythm of a tribal chant. On sleepless nights, I would hear this music for seeming hours on end. At first I thought it came through the wall (of a different room) from the other half of the duplex I live in, but when I went to that room, there was no sound. Obviously, it came from outside. But on at least two occasions, sleepless and curious, I went outside and walked all around the house; nothing -- no sound. Until I went back to the bedroom where the chanting continued unabated. It was always gone by morning.

The neighborhood where I live is a livable ghetto, a mostly White underclass area called "the Nations." I've never known, or even thought about the source of the name, until a few weeks ago, my friend Ezra mentioned that the reason for the name was that the area hosted, a long time ago, and population of Indians, and then Indian graveyards. It took weeks for this to come together for me. But now I think I know something about the source of the chanting.

I don't believe in souls, or in ghosts, as those terms are passed on to us; those are stories which grasp at but can't enclose a deeper reality, which is ineffable but which at any rate I feel no pressure to define. What I am learning, as my life enters this latest phase, is that experience is what it is. Who were are and what 'it' is are questions which, if asked to often, obscure the reality of the world. And part of that world, for me, is hearing these voices of the land.

Incidentally, a few months ago the kid who lived in the duplex behind me was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He is gone now, hospitalized somewhere I guess. But he was hearing voices through the wall, which he thought were me, mocking and taunting him. I understand this is common for paranoid schizophrenics, and it sounds like hell. The voices he heard weren't me, but who am I to say they were unreal? Me with my Indian chanting, and that huge feeling of Presence in certain land.

As I pursue my Zen practice, I have been taught and encouraged by my teachers to trust my own experience and to accept what I perceive clearly, even when I can't define it. And one benefit of continued practice is an enlargement of the sense of self (which is also paradoxically, the absence of self) that allows a perspective on the self as if from the outside; and I see that quite justifiably in the minds of those who are enmeshed in the normal grid of social consciousness, I may be quite mad in some ways. I have no desire for most of the things people spend their lives chasing -- wealth, family, and attachments. Some of my best friends aren't even real in any "objective" sense of the world.

But when I see where your mass consciousness has taken you, and me and all of us, to the brink of extinction or purifications, depending, I don't mind. I'm quite happy with a life that some of you may see as insane; and I wouldn't give up the live I've lived, the perceptions and the feelings I've had, for any of the world that you've been building in your heads all your lives.

Have a nice day, and try to experience it as it really is.

This is me in about 1985. Already teetering on the edge of civilization.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Finally, Some Truth About Hunter S. Thompson

I knew this movie was coming out, but I had no idea it would be in Nashville this fast; as it was, I was on my way out of town on Saturday afternoon before I learned, and I knew since it was playing at the local non-profit theatre, I only had a few days. I couldn't find anyone to go with me. People will sell out a theatre to see another Batman movie, but I went to see Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson alone. Not that there weren't people there, mind you, but I wondered how many were there for the right reason.

I'd been really disappointed in the HST movies to date. I'm a big fan of both Bill Murray and to a lesser extent, Johnny Depp, but both Where Buffalo Roam and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas were for the most part pointless exploitations of Thompson's Gonzo image, Raoul Duke come to the big screen. They missed out on the important side of Thompson, the crystal-clear visionary who saw everything, including what comes next for this country and this world, and ultimately decided he'd had enough.

Those ignoramuses who know Thompson only for the darkly comedic side of his work, though not anyone who read Anita Thompson's The Gonzo Way or Thompson's oeuvre, may be surprised by the depth and width of the celebrities who considered themselves his friends. From George McGovern to Nixon speechwriter Pat Bucahanan, from Jimmy Carter to Thompson friend and benefactor George Stranahan (currently of Flying Dog Brewery) who laments that Thompson "never paid the rent, broke up my marriage, and started both my kids smoking dope," the testimonials are many, but mostly on point. And the insights into Thompson's childhood and life, although limited, are invaluable.

Of course, as Jimmy Buffett says, we miss Hunter because we need him now. Its' hard to imagine Hunter Thompson as one of today's cringing, pandering, colaborationist "journalists." We needed Dan Rather, and we need Hunter Thompson. In what may have been Thompson's last published piece, or maybe just one of the last important ones, he laments at the fall of the Twin Towers that all hope for world peace has been lost. Of course, he was right, and I think his vision was clear enough that he knew he'd done all he could do. How can we expect someone who burned so brightly, to burn forever?

I'm not going to urge you to read Thompson any more; if you haven't yet, and you're old enough to remember the sixties and seventies, there's something wrong with you. For those of you who were alive and who cared about your world, I urge you to see this movie and remember. Many of Thompson's pivotal pieces are quoted, particulary his observation that from San Francisco in the late '60's, you could see the great wave that would have changed the world, crest and roll back. Sometime there can be events in one's life that make everything after, just the anticlimax. Especially one who lives in times that he can see getting darker and darker.

Maybe it's just that I see so much of what I'd like to be in Thompson; not only his brilliance, but his absolute courage. And of course, his success. I pretend not to be envious. But there 's no doubt that his example changed my life forever. Of course he was nut, in a way, but so am I, and in lots of the same ways. I just haven't made a living at it yet.

Thompson is not the only writer whose shadow got so big it became hard to live under. Look at Jack Kerouac, who had nowhere near Thompson's talent nor intelligence. Hell, look at Hemingway, or Fitzgerald, the latter whose style Thompson so admired that he typed and re-typed The Great Gatsby just to get the rhythm of the prose.

Sometimes, when I get a little perspective, I see that maybe I'm not really all that sane or normal. But then I look around and see where we are in history, what a disaster human civilization has become, and I realize it's the sane ones, the normal ones, the ones who can live with hypocrisy, the ones who refuse to yell and thrash shoot and point at the imposters, that have put us where we are -- the Good Germans who would allow the whole world to become a mass grave of their unspoken and spineless good intentions. And I'm proud not to be among them, and I'm glad there was a Hunter Thompson, to help me do what I'll have to do, to do what has to be done. And to realize that, warts and all, to be truly human is not to be a peaceful coward, but to be truly alive.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Naked Mole Rap

Deuce made me post this.

A little over four years ago, the descendants of Rufus the Naked Mole Rat entered my life. Now they control everything.

Deuce also wanted me to give you this link to his blog, though he doesn't write often...

Saturday, July 05, 2008

"Post-Oil", Jim Lydecker Guest Blog

I've been posting Jim Lydecker's stuff here for since May, 2007; check out the archives for the older posts . I came to realize a long way back that everything he says here is undeniably true, except for those lost in a delusional haze, or those who have a vested interest in fostering that haze in others. I got this one Thursday night and it ruined my whole evening, because this whole thing is staring us right in the face, much closer than we expected, and even the average citizen is starting to get it.

I don't necessarily agree with Jim's "solution" at the end; it would be temporary at best. No, the drain's wide open. There is no solution. Also, I don't know about the sequence of the Iraq pullout and censure in the World Court, though it's not that unlikely The OPEC cut-off is quite likely to occur as stated, as are the consequences

Thanks to Jim for keeping up on the research; I have neither the heart nor the inclination. This imminent future is why I do what I do, and why I think it's so important that it be done right. But before I take it from there, here's a dose of reality.


As most of you know, for the past 10 years I have been writing regularly in the Napa Valley Register. In the beginning it was mostly about national/international politics and economics.

I would probably have stuck to those themes had it not been for a hot summer day in 2004. On that day a woman I was dating and I decided to go to the Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma where The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream was playing. The filmmakers were in attendance and were to have a question and answer period after its showing.

I knew next to nothing of Peak Oil before the screening. However, from the credits on I absorbed every fact and quote put forth. By the end of the film it was as if a brick hit us. We were both so depressed we did not stay to meet with the filmmakers but instead went back to our apartment in silence.

I recommend this film to everyone. It started me on my path in trying to understand as much as I can about Peak Oil, resource depletion and the consequences our industrial civilization faces due to our decision to turn blindly away from the biggest crisis man will ever face.

On the Internet I found that Peak Oil was nothing new, but something the government and various institutions have been studying since the late 60s. Several of the sites that blew me away were Life After The Oil Crash (, Wolf At The Door ( and Die Off ( The latter is a site that has links to several hundred government studies that provide evidence to what we are to expect to get through Peak Oil unless the overall population of the world is not reduced by 90-95%.

Looking into our future was fascinating, frightening and depressing.

On January 7, 2005, the Register published The End of the Road? To this day it remains, I believe, my most powerful essay. (It can be found at

Three and a half years later, it is more powerful and current than ever.

However, it was just the beginning of many. Since then I have written a flurry from the Register and have had others published by the New York Times, TruthOut, the Press Democrat and various scientific and ecological/environmental journals.

Most in the beginning, such as Of Peak Oil, global warming and the economy ( and Overpopulation: Partying as the iceberg looms (, were considered very negative in nature at the time. Later brought such essays such as Grim worldview from the deck of the Titanic
( and Overpopulation and Peak Oil: The perfect storm ( which were considered even more so.

Each essay over the years made even more dire predictions. And each prediction came true before I thought.

Examples are:

-I thought world Peak Oil production took place in November, 2005 when 2003 is now considered the accurate date.

-I originally felt Middle East would peak in 2012. We are now finding out that the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia , went over the peak in 2005.

It is not as if we were not warned. No less than such experts as Mathew Simmons, head of the world’s largest energy investment bank, have been screaming the loudest about Peak Oil since the mid-90s. Simmons is also the personal oil advisor to the Bush and Cheney families.

And hate him as most of us do, Cheney gave speeches from 1994 on warning about the soon-to-collapse supply of oil.

While I don’t consider myself an expert on oil, I am the most knowledgeable person I deal with daily on the subject.

These things I know:

-The original estimates of the world supply of crude at 2 trillion barrels were accurate. And we know we have used nearly 1.3 trillion barrels since 1851 giving us a tad less than 800 billion barrels left.

-What is left is going to be exponentially more expensive and difficult to extract.

-The world’s thirst for the stuff is about 86 million barrels a day, and increasing. (Do the math… 30 years from now and we’ll be asking, What happened?)

-The problem is not 'running out,' but when the world's demands can no longer be met.

-The only reason oil production is not increasing to keep demand from outstripping supply is that all producer’s fields, from Russia to the Middle East, are collapsing quicker than imagined.

-Every new field to be exploited is nothing more than the proverbial drop in the bucket. For example, if you could magically move all the oil left in Alaska (ANWAR included) to be used in America exclusively, we would run through it in less than 6 months.

-The decline of world oil production will affect people in more ways than any other event in human history.

As I wrote in The End of the Road:

No substance has been more interwoven into life as oil. Without it civilization will unravel. While 20-30 percent of oil is refined for gasoline, the majority is used for drugs and pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, electricity generation and everything plastic.Oil made it possible for humans to exploit resources basic to civilization in volumes never before seen. We've already depleted the Earth of its surface found, high grade resources. Those that remain need oil and high technology to be mined.

I then added:

No economy is more at risk to oil depletion than ours. Without growth we no longer can make due on the interest on our national debt.Oil depletion means economic anarchy is on the way.

Are our leaders aware of this?

In another Register essay I asked this question and wondered:

-Are our leaders blissfully totally clueless?
-Are they aware but just hoping we can get through this crisis “fingers crossed?”
-Or are they aware of the problem but know there is nothing we can do, so why disturb the masses?

My answer was all of the above though the latter now makes more sense. Last week on Face the Nation, people no less than George Will, David Broder and Jim Cramer were discussing why the price of crude is entering stratospheric levels. They said the problem has nothing to do with speculation but simply that demand outstrips supply. That, and a large unmanageable population.

All admitted they felt there is no way out.

I agree.

On every format, from the Internet to live speaking engagements to one-on-one debates, I have spoken about whether something is coming down the pike to rescue us from the demise of oil. This is not the place to dialogue this, but I am telling you, there is not.

As Matthew Simmons says:

Economists and politicians love to say once the price reaches a certain level, we will invent our way out of this. For the first time, scientists and physicists are asking, Like how?

As government studies predict, we are looking at societal and civilization breakdown around the corner. We are talking mass migrations, starvation, disease and a die-off of biblical proportions. Peak Oil will cause a sheer magnitude of problems unlike any before.

This is happening as I predicted. However, like the filmmakers of The End of Suburbia, I was dead wrong about how fast it is barreling down on us. It is literally right around the corner.

An interesting fact of interest: Back in 1997, two independent studies, one by the CIA and the other by Osama bin Laden, asked the question, At what price per barrel will the US economy be shattered?

Both arrived within two cents of each other: $176.00.

We are currently at $144 and the price seems to jump daily. Goldman Sachs, which has been incredibly accurate since the 1990s, predicts $200 before the end of the year.

$200 a barrel means over $10 a gallon of gasoline. This is only the tip of the iceberg since the price of every product we purchase is directly influenced by the price of crude.

The most oil intensive industries? Agriculture and pharmaceuticals, and they are just the beginning.

In a book I am writing, I ask what will happen if we pull out of Iraq ? My answer is that chaos will be the rule of the area with Iran taking over southern Iraq while the north will be controlled by the Turks.

We can then expect to be dragged into the World Court for war reparations, which now are estimated to be in excess of $9 trillion.

Think this is far fetched? The Bush Administration has said we are no longer compelled to answer any decision issued by the World Court . They knew this was coming.

The next step will cripple us: OPEC will cut us off and no longer accept dollars for oil. The latter will bankrupt us overnight.

Society breakdown will reign in America . Think about all the people in places like Southern California where they grow no food, have no natural resources (i.e., water) or energy. Southern California will make Somalia during the 90s look like a walk in the park.

How do we survive?

There is only one place in America to turn to and it is the place all the original titans of Peak Oil have relocated to: Oregon and Washington State .

The Pacific Northwest generates more hydroelectric power than the rest of the country combined. The Columbia River also provides enough irrigation to allow the eastern half of the states to grow enough food for themselves, and then some.

They are relatively isolated which is important to survival in a post-oil crisis. Every study on survival after Peak Oil maintains that you need to be as far away as possible from the masses.

They have small, manageable populations. (They are also educated.)

There are deep water ports offering access to the Pacific.

The two states have most natural resources necessary to allow an economy, though contractive, to exist without serious disruption to the standards of living.

The one resource they do not have? Oil.

The simple answer to this is: Strike a deal with Alaska . Oregon and Washington would provide Alaska with food Alaska can not grow in exchange for oil they do not have.

How would you defend the Pacific Northwest from the rest of the nation where societal collapse will ensue? You bring back the troops from the Middle East and have them defend their borders.

Is this outlandish? Absolutely.

But just a decade ago no one thought about the collapse of the world’s supply of crude oil. As we head into the era without oil, the only rule that will be followed is chaos.

Friends of mine ask if speculation in oil futures is worth considering and my answer is yes, you will make money.

But if you want to invest in your future, my answer is, Go Northwest.

Do you, your family and loved ones a favor and buy some land near Portland or Seattle .

Jim Lydecker
Napa, California
July 3, 2008

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Nashville Zen Center Jukkai Ceremony

I monitor the hits on this site through a free tool called Google Analytics, and I notice that a lot of people have been looking at my last post. It's quite possible that a lot of those hits are from people who are associated with the Nashville Buddhist Festival, and they quite probably consider themselves slammed by that post. That's unfortunate, because those are all really well-meaning people, and you certainly could do worse that to practice with any of the groups associated with the NBF. Perhaps I need to learn the lesson implied by the name my teacher Taiun Michael Elliston gave to my friend Ana at her initiation Saturday, Annin, which means something like "patient forbearance."

But you know, when something is important, it deserves to be done right. Which is what we did Saturday. I do indeed feel that the Nashville Zen Center was reborn Saturday, and was reincarnated in the way that it needed to go. If you missed the previous post, go read it; what I said we'd do, we did.

There were lots of great things about our half-day sit, followed by our Jukkai ceremony. Probably the best thing was the way I feel about this group of people. We were supported by some of our other members who either haven't chosen to go the initiation route, or had been initiated otherwise; and best of all, by some of the "old" Nashville Zen Center members whom I hadn't seen since schisms hit us right after I started there. Lisa and Patsy, from One Dharma, a group that splintered from the old NZC in 2005, and now has dwarfed us in size; Bill, the founder of the NZC, from 1982! And Jeff was there, and a host of others; a picture below includes a lot of these people, without whom we would not be who we are now. We are immensely grateful for their support.

And thanks to our families and friends. From my point of view, thanks to Stephanie, and to Ana's mother and sister, and all the other friends and relatives who really didn't know what was happening but knew there was a good thing there.

This blog entry has no rhetorical point. I just wanted to share with you my good feeling, and the conviction that something right has happened. And my thanks to everyone involved. And to invite you to join us. Because words can't describe the benefits of what I'm talking about. And I'm failing miserably at trying, so I'll just let you look at these great pics from Nat's wife Kathy. You can see them all here, by the way. More later.