Monday, December 31, 2007

Cosmopolitan Charlestonian 2007 Round-Up

Often times we catch ourselves saying, “Wow, we sure do live in interesting times.” Recently we learned this saying is actually a Chinese curse, and a blessing. 2007, if nothing, has been interesting. So, we bring you our year-end round-up of events as well as some random residual thoughts left of 2007. Cheers for the coming New Year!

2007 found this pair leaving behind our vehicle and moving solely to a life supported by public transportation. Our “dream car” was a Jaguar. We worked hard to have our dreamobile and it was eventually realized. Nearly six years ago, in a country of easy credit, we were astonished and proud to have achieved our dream far earlier than the typical mid-life crisis estimation. Why not be proud? Nice car, nice house and you’ll be happy forever, right? We were culturally more than acceptable. But as ironies go, shortly after getting the Jag, we heard about peak oil theory and decided to look into it. At that point we began to see the true price of car ownership - false self images, extensive environmental damage, war and the extent to which this country will go to resist change. We felt hoodwinked. Obviously, if you’ve been with us since the beginning of our blogging escapades you will recognize these costs and understand their full breadth as they extend far beyond the prices paid at the dealership and the pump. After several books read and many hours of research we arrived at the conclusion that “happy motoring” will eventually be limited, so why not just get on with it and figure out a better way to live. Between the population boom, leveling of economic playing fields via globalization and the squandering of our resources, it’s pretty obvious this party ain’t goin’ on forever. Now that gas prices are estimated to reach $3.50 by the 2008 summer travel season we are pretty darn happy to have shifted away from a dream that was an albatross in disguise. We urge you to tell Mayor Joe, your individual County leaders and our State politicians that Charleston must grow its public transportation systems at once to further secure our economic viability.

We highly recommend getting out of your car(s). Our decision in 2007 put us in a very unique situation. We are now qualified as Charleston Area Regional Transit Authority critics. Although you may enjoy knowing that aside from the vast expansion of transit as necessity, there are many wonderful elements to commuting by bus.

- CARTA gives out a free copy of The Post & Courier each morning, but you’ve got to be quick! They’re usually all snatched up by 9:00 a.m.
- Public transit is safe. Since we began riding, we have seen and heard about many automobile accidents. Sadly, some were fatal. However, not one CARTA bus crashed, nor was anyone hurt to our knowledge on a CARTA bus in 2007.
- Ride n’ Read as Bitsy says…we read A LOT! After months of observing and being observed, fellow passengers have worked up the nerve now to occasionally ask what we’re always reading, especially those that don’t [read]. “Whatcha got to read today?” A conversation usually forms thereafter. We’re beginning to form a deeper appreciation for the power of community diversity.
- For those interested in psychology, riding the bus provides daily lessons in human interaction, especially once one begins to follow the characters (wink).
- Carrying bags after walking to the grocery store has given us nice looking arm muscles.
- Walking or riding bikes to the grocery store has other benefits too. For instance, when you really have to CARRY IT ALL BACK HOME you make much better purchasing decisions. Freetos? Sure, they’re light but take up a lot of space in a book bag or knap sack. Sodas – too heavy and that potion will kill us anyway! If you’ve got to carry something 3 blocks, make it beer. We’ve also been shopping more often at the Farmers Market downtown since it offers a nice, organic supplement to the grocery stores. Good eats and very svelt waistlines for 2008!
- Getting out of the auto “bubble” opens one to actual human experiences before and after work. We’ve met some wonderful, nice, normal working people on the bus and it is a pleasure to say the least.
- No more road rage – our coworkers probably like that.
- We’ve met lots of our neighbors by walking everywhere we go. The Eastside is peppered with an abundance of wonderful residents who do not fail Charleston’s hospitable reputation with their good mornings, good afternoons and good evenings as well as warm wishes for each holiday that comes and goes. A few inquiring minds have questioned us on the sudden disappearance of our vehicle.
- Olympic busses with environmental plusses. The busses in Charleston run on natural gas which when burned releases less CO2 compared to oil/gas. Charleston bought those nifty buses after the Olympics were held in Atlanta a few years back. Atlanta bought a bunch of them for the Olympics brand-spanking new. They used ‘em for a few months and then Charleston recycled them at a nice used price. Charlestonians may remember that transaction. The busses are still in very good condition IMHO.
- Thirty-one Dollars. That’s our monthly expense for one unlimited bus pass. It’s only $1.25 for a random trip if not using a pass.

In other transit news this year, we learned Atlanta has opened Atlantic Station Commuter Café. The first of its kind, the Commuter Café is a “clearinghouse for transportation alternatives” for every resident of the live/work, mixed-use community. Jealous, we note they even have a car check-out service. But hey, it’s Hotlanta, right?

Speaking of Atlanta, and for a Dry Times follow up, we thankfully report they’ve gotten a little rain over that way. Previously parched, Lake Lanier rose just slightly since Christmas. However, they are far from out of danger with worsening drought conditions forecast. Maybe they’ll find a solution by next summer involving something more than prayer.

Certainly we could not have a year-end wrap up without mentioning our horror as we realized the State of South Carolina was represented over the course of a few weeks, by a mapless and quite possibly mindless Miss Teen SC in the speech she made on “U.S. American” television. Yikes. If only she had a map. Then she could get to Oz and finally take delivery of the brain that’s apparently been on order for eighteen years. After that she can organize trips to India and Africa to help Paris with all the drunken elephants.

Other interesting tidbits from around Charleston include the start of construction on the bike path along East Bay Street leading to the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, and the securitization of an 11 million dollar bond for revitalization and construction on the old Cooper River Bridge footprint where a lake/park, shops and much more is planned to be developed. That is also exciting news for the Eastside, formerly known as Hampsteadborough as developed by Henry Laurens in 1789 (a little Charleston history for you there).

The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian did some reaching out in our own small diplomatic effort in 2007 to overcome the saber rattling and scare tactics in the seventh year of a failed Presidential Administration. We found a tiny glimmer of hope in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) reports released earlier this month regarding Iran’s “ceased” nuclear agenda. In a world running out of oil, it makes great sense for Iran to power their country with nuclear and sell off their black golden resource to others around the world, like China, for one. Our postings on Iran were made at the height of the propaganda production wherein they were accused of developing nuclear arms rather than reactors. We certainly have our fingers crossed that a higher road can be taken effecting shifting powers in the Middle East while subverting any additional, disastrous war plans made by U.S. Americans.

In 2007 we corresponded with some interesting people. We traded e-mails with James Howard Kunstler hoping to review his upcoming book, World Made by Hand, scheduled to be on shelves around March. We were not accepted this time, but still give the plug because his work is strong. E-mails were traded with Bill Settlemeyer, of The Charleston Regional Business Journal (Setcom Media) with kudos cast his way for splashing peak oil, global warming and great environmental debate amongst the pages of the business journal. It’s been time. We met Bitsy Parker of ValueWit, in Austin, TX through this blog. This femme-fireball blogger banned Christmas in her house and experiments on bus riding with children in tow and/or busy business luncheons scheduled. She found us and we’ve been comparing bus notes between Charleston and Austin ever since. Finally, The Mad Hatter of There Goes The Neighborhood, who also holds down the fort at Lowcountry Blog Jam (where he graciously accepted The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian’s inclusion on his blogroll) posted some inspirational thoughts and kept us going right at the beginning when it may have been easiest to quit. Thanks goes to the Hatter as well as Wendy who brought to our attention The Post & Courier’s blogroll so long ago. It’s a good one for staying up on what’s going down around town. Finally, friend, published writer and fellow blogger, Stacy Crew, provided great advice and inspiration. She can help with all your organizational needs.

In one last random thought, we share that we are not very good at conserving water. We’ll get better in 2008. It’s a resolution at least. Since learning of a water crisis that is hitting most states in the union, we’ve tried to reduce excess water usage. Thought it would be a no-brainer until one finds themselves letting the shower warm up, running the water while brushing teeth, etc., etc. We’ll keep you posted on progress in future entries and provide further information on this additional limited resource.

As midnight draws near, we leave this posting with hope for the New Year. 2007 is running short on its own imperfect measurement. Time is simply the river on which all life flows. May we all appreciate every breath experienced on this earthy plane and draw on each moment with a greater consciousness for a greater good.

We most certainly live in interesting times.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Clean Coal. Which Part of the Story is Dirt Free?

Kenneth Boulding (past president of the American Economic Association) once remarked, "only madmen and economists believe in perpetual exponential growth."

A few mornings ago The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian was victimized by shock and awe as CNBCs Joe Kernen on Squawk Box said something along the lines of, [so in the big picture] “…we’re running out of oil. Well, how stupid are we? If we had known about this three years ago we could have begun planning for it.” Joe was referring to peak oil, which is why we were standing together in the bedroom with our mouths agape in shock when we heard the statement. Typically the news jockeys and talking heads steer clear of anything that even remotely smells of peak oil and with exceptional organization, they rarely allow the term to escape their lips. In fact, as keen observers, we’ve been hearing some pretty creative terminology borne of the latest media-led confusion campaign. Like for instance, this one. We’ve now reached maximum efficient extraction capacity. This chatter will glaze over the eyes of any laymen, therefore, commencing the confusion campaign. We should also point out to Joe (who is more often the rogue character with deadpan observations and coy cynical wit) that Americans did know about this little problem three years ago. In fact, we’ve known about oil and energy shortages for ages. Remember those shocks in the 70’s, Joe? Lots of us have been talking about preparing for peak oil while the people on your show yawned, shrugged off great minds as alarmist and went on discussing unlimited growth. Growth! Growth! Stock Market to 21,000!

Peak oil being the segue for alternative energies, the Marketeers at Squawk moved on to the pursuit and peddling of “clean coal.” LOL – clean? The Honorary Southern Belle here in The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian camp is a transplant from Pennsylvania. That’s Coal Country people and the evidence is there. Here in beautiful Charleston we are far removed from the sights and sounds of industrial coal mining operations. Despite coal plants powering some areas of this state, the broader realities of coal use have not sunken into our collective consciousness. Because we don’t see it, mind the particulate matter that fills our air and pollutes our waterways as a direct link, we give it nary a thought. Unfortunately, the true cost and true effect is most certainly invading our daily lives with exorbitant intangible expense.

Looking back at life in coal country, the unrealized costs of the extraction of the coal resource were plain to see. Strip-mined areas were dead and barren, the land hacked and sawed into where the coal was taken. Abandon quarries and mine shafts took the lives of curious children and daring teenagers where drowning and collapse occurred. People often spoke of hidden costs, hidden company agendas and invisible toxins degrading air quality to the inevitable ailment of all society. There were always clear economic and environmental situations. Take for instance, Centralia, Pennsylvania. It’s been on fire since the 60’s underground. The town is dead from the inside out. Take a look. Is this clean coal?

Yes, we have discussed sequestration and scrubbing methods, etc. and agree that these new methods are cleaner; however, the truth of the matter simply is - there is no clean coal. When we talk about sequestering CO2 we are only talking about the portion of the process related to what comes out after we’ve converted the resource to energy. We’re not looking at the whole picture in this case which is exactly how coal and energy companies would like it to remain. What of the extraction, the processing, the shipping and overall messiness of this dusty resource? In our previous post, Curing Charlotte’s Addiction, you may have already found, especially if you are someone who has suffered at any time from asthma, or know someone that does, that coal is not so much our friend after all.

Coal may be viewed as one of life’s ultimate ironies as peak oil tempts us to tap the earth for additional resources. Our coal reserves in the states may be as vast as the great seas, yet can an ocean quench a man’s thirst? Or should we be left much like the Mariner lamenting, “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

We have coal in great abundance. It is all around us. But should we go ahead and fire it up?

Monday, December 24, 2007

A New Kinda Christmas Story - The Story of Stuff

The New American Dream – The Debt Bubble Credit Crisis Oil Oxymoron

Ever try digging out of quick sand? They say the more you fight the faster you’ll be sucked under. Survival is for those with nerves of steel, measured strength, agility and a strong persistence dedicated to getting out alive. As a nation, we’ve been led directly into a bed of quicksand. The question now is how many of us will sink under our own weight?

Back in September, in our posting, Bernanke Going for Broke, we warned of coming inflation and further difficulties in the housing sector. Why does The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian continue to discuss boring economic issues? Well, because over time economic policies seep into every one of our lives. Additionally, if you have anything financed currently or require financing in the near future, you are duly affected. That financing will cost you more.

A giant leap in December’s inflation reading inspired this post since direct cost is almost immediate and something none of us can escape. The quote below by Dr. Stephen Leeb, investment advisor and author of “The Oil Factor,” expressed a reaction similar to our own when we noticed the marked move of this month’s Producer Price Index number measuring inflationary pressures. He described it as:

…an inflation reading the likes of which hasn't been seen since the early 1970s: Wholesale prices rose 3.2 percent in November. When we first saw the headline we thought it was an annualized figure, rather than simply the monthly increase. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. The Producer Price Index (PPI) truly did increase by that much last month--its biggest monthly increase since August 1973.

Energy and food deserve much of the blame, but higher import prices (due to the weak dollar) also took their toll. It's a safe bet that none of these problem areas will be resolved anytime soon.

At this moment, we stare headlong into a murky spot in economic history where the average American, trying hard to keep up with interest adjustments and inflation, may come to eventually find them selves flailing and fighting, only to be further engulfed by the quick sands of debt.

Here in Charleston, we can report that just over the last three months several notices were received. First, our local power company established a rate increase of 4.4%, while our water company increased somewhere between 4 and 7% on average. At the same time, food expenses have gone through the roof, especially if one tries to eat well, i.e. organic. On top of these increases, one credit card increased its interest rate for no reason at all. They mailed a nice notice like the power and water company. Last, because of the Sofa Super Store fire tragedy, there is talk of increasing property taxes, meaning our house payment will go up a little too by the amount of the tax increase. Now, this is just a snapshot of our lives and we don’t even have to factor in rising gas costs, nor do we have an adjustable rate mortgage. We were really excited when we got rid of the car; however, feelings of gloom and doom are ever present with the cost savings quietly being transferred to the support of basic necessities. You can probably take a look around and notice a few similarities, wherever you live.

As a nation, we’ve gotten in this deep as expenses have outpaced incomes for years. Take a look at the trail we walked that led to the quick sand – the expansion of credit closed the gap between income and expense. Many Americans took the bait and levered up. On a macro scale, the credit expansion naturally contracted when artificial stimulation of our economy met global limits. Artificial stimulation of the economy provided funding for a war of choice and simultaneous tax cuts for mega-corporations and the wealthy. Artificial economic stimulation inflated a housing bubble as war in Iraq inflated oil prices. Artificial manipulation of currencies jeopardized the dollar and now poses additional risk to future oil prices with each downward jolt of the dollar’s value. Since oil is the driving factor behind our economy, every cost will increase as its price goes up. Because oil is priced in dollars the driving factor behind our economy soars when the dollar falls. Credit can no longer be extended to bridge the ever-growing gap.

This government elected to waste trillions to conduct aggressive policies, securing nothing more than a magnificent deficit for the trouble. Consequently, inflationary pressures will be testing the limits of a strapped American public who will most certainly choose food and heat over making their house, credit card and auto loan payments. The contraction of credit is a clear testimonial to the number of Americans sinking under their own weight. The sub-primes and Alt-A’s stopped making payments and the wheels came off the financial vehicle.

Looking back, we now realize the credit expansion really took off when financial managers figured out how to export our debt en masse. Financial engineers created what are known as derivatives. Rather than holding mortgage assets (which was the normal process just, say, ten years ago), banks artificially increased earnings by wrapping up the mortgages they wrote (the assets) and selling them off as stable investments all over the world. This creation allowed banks to write tons of new mortgages without having to hold any of the paper on their books. Drunk by profit and blurry eyed by abundance, lending restrictions were loosened until qualifying for a mortgage loan was ridiculously easy, even for NINJAs (no income, no job; no documentation loans). With interest rates artificially low after the 2000 tech bubble crash, thanks to Mr. Greenspan, and under his own admission, constant manipulation of policy by the White House, the stage was set for a whole new bubble to form and explode, i.e. housing.

As the banks are now learning, nothing disappears; all is simply transformed. The limits being tested in the credit markets do not exist in a vacuum, despite Fed Chairman Bernanke’s persistent declarations of “containment” to all of us watching this progressive march toward the next chapter of the Globalization experience. In the wake of financial default The American Dream itself has now become an oxymoron. It’s almost certain this economic situation will continue to slowly tumble out of control, if not naturally now, then later, with greater drama for the additional cost of the defibrillations President Bush, Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke expended on arresting financial institutions via creative rate reductions and monetary injections designed to keep the economic heart pumping so it should continue staggering down the path of unsustainable growth.

When dissecting the housing dilemma this country faces, it doesn’t take long to realize that the promises of government rescue are empty like so many promises in the past. The Hope Now plan will end up a false savior as did the Enron-like Super SIV (meant to fix the financial derivatives mess), Invasion of Iraq (meant to secure oil flowing to the U.S.), and No Child Left Behind (meant to provide a future). The plan promises to offer relief to MILLIONS of homeowners facing a rate adjustment over the next few years. Picked apart, Hope Now equates to an elaborate smoke and mirrors illusion concocted only to separate those knee-deep in the debt sands from those neck-deep in the debt sands. Basically, it’s Housing Darwinism. Only the strong homeowners with an adjustable rate mortgage will survive. Homeowners with one late payment or less than 3% equity in the home will not qualify to enter the program. And if a homeowner does qualify for the program (on primary residence only), said homeowner must meet particular credit score criteria to receive the bail-out loan. Now how many people do you think will actually meet all the criteria? Ironically, the strict mortgage qualification process of yesteryear abandoned for higher returns during the boom has been turned on its head, conversely keeping many homeowners from qualifying for the no hope now of any relief program. Frankly, we lost all hope from the moment Bush gave out the wrong number for the hotline. Jackass.

Giving up our car was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, especially in the face of this impending inflationary cycle. Luckily, we live in an area that supports urban transport, although there is room for improvement. Our decision was fueled by both a yearning for the creation of a better lifestyle, as well as a deep sense of dissatisfaction for this administration and their shenanigans.

The consumer controls over 70% of the U.S. economy. Knowing this alone is a powerful feeling. Understand this with complete clarity. What we are watching right now is a lesson in sustainability. Endless credit and reckless mortgage writing in no way leads to a secure future for our nation. What it does lead to is people losing their homes and economic erosion. These unsustainable practices are resulting in a calamitous outcome that will take years to unravel. The same can be said for our energy policy, our global warming agenda, mass food production, and shopping our way through a war (we could go on and on). Think about it.

Maybe when enough of us make bold decisions to keep ourselves from sinking in the debt sands while refusing to accept bad governmental policy, the powers that be will begin to recognize our purchasing power, thereby attempting to provide bubble-free products in bubble-free markets. For instance, design us a pollution-free, affordable car that runs on something that does not cost lives via war or starvation, and we just might buy it. Until then, we’ll continue using the money saved each month on the car to protect our personal interests in a landscape that is appearing to look more and more like 1929, or 1973, depending upon which economist is analyzing the information at hand.

The next year or so may be rocky and will hinge on the strength of the consumer. On one hand, cutting back discretionary spending could throw the country into recession; on the other, not cutting back secures a metaphorical patch of real estate in the debt sands. So, what will the mighty consumer do? Let’s all hope it’s not this.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Our Heads Will Be The Next To Pop

The healthiest thing to do is harbour a sense of humour for one's self. The Bubble machine is running on full speed now, and the producer of this video has captured it in perfect form. Laughing Out Loud here in the blogosphere...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Curing Charlotte's Addiction - Unveiling A New Light Rail

Although the landscaping isn’t in yet, Saturday, Charlotte, North Carolina opened their light rail system to excited crowds clamoring aboard for their first free rides. Electrically driven, the Charlotte Observer proclaims the rail is ringing in a “new era of mass transit” in the city. Lines were so long for Saturday’s free ride, the transit system began driving some of the estimated 60,000 riders back to their cars as they were unable to board the rail (due to the crowds) for the return trip to their original boarding spot.

This turn of events will surely signal in a new era of study for the City of Charleston as our neighbor’s success will most likely reignite thoughts of building our own light rail (or other) system. Many of you may remember that studies were performed in 1990 by Wilber Smith Associates to assess the feasibility of a light rail system along the Norfolk Southern line from Summerville to Downtown Charleston. At $46 million, it was deemed a no go. Despite the recognition in the Berkley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments report that, “an efficient transportation system is the life blood of an economically healthy region,” little progress has been made beyond these outdated residents of the county’s file cabinet. Through these old reports, we learn that although many recognize the potential and possibilities, the folks organizing implementation of the system, if it were ever funded, gave an approximate delivery time of up to ten years to complete. We seriously assert that ten years is simply too long to wait.

As suspected, and happily discovered after hours of pretending that the next keyword would be the big producer. Wait. Google searching. Wait. Iclandic Figure Skating? Lose all hope while breathing out heavily. Start over, and we found, The Post & Courier, builds a case for commuter rail service in Charleston based around a series of more recent studies and articles by Niel Pierce of the Citistates Group. Siting congestion, three dollar gas (which will only continue climbing upward – our prediction), future housing expectations, pollution and CARTA’s increased rider-ship, they tell us “a rail solution should be quickly forthcoming.” As two people putting CARTA’s transit system to use daily, we can attest to the part about the increasing numbers on the bus system. We anticipate the demographic will continue to shift and climb in unison with gas prices. Come closer as this must be whispered in your ear, dear reader, we recently spotted a new rider who daily sports a fancy-schmancy business suit and beautifully polished loafers. For a minute, we thought we were in New York City or Boston…surely not Charleston.

The real wake-up call lies in one of Citistates writings from the P&C, entitled “The Price of Having It All.” The article concisely conveys what we at this site sincerely hope moves to the forefront of local consciousness – an inevitable destructive cycle will take place within ten years if we don’t get our act together pronto. Our environment cannot, and by law of nature, will not, be taken for granted.

Officials fear the day is coming when beaches won't be safe, flooding will increase, and tourism and property values will take a terrible hit.

These dangers aren't to be dismissed lightly. Within a decade, this three-county treasure of a region could find that by placing its bets mostly on the economy and by relying on engineering to restore mobility and then on science to repair the environment, it's lost both — its quality of life and its economy.

Consider the recent rating of “F” received by Charleston from the American Lung Association, and it’s easy to see how we are paving our own road to hell. This week’s liberal City Paper features yet another human violation of our making. In an extensive expose entitled, "Charleston’s Dirty Little Secret," we found a foul explanation for much of the trouble at the root of the potential catastrophic environmental consequence observed by the Citistates Group.

By Stratton Lawrence - November 28, 2007
Don't breathe deep — there are killers afloat
Sunny skies, warm winters, and clean ocean breezes. Our comfortable weather and environment draws increasing numbers of people to Charleston to enjoy our quality of life. Unlike notoriously polluted places like L.A. or New Jersey, breathing here is an afterthought. So here's an unwelcome surprise: Our air is downright dirty. Earlier this year, the American Lung Association (ALA) gave Charleston County an "F" for the levels of particulate matter in our air. There's no special scale here. F means we haven't done our homework, and now we're playing catch-up.

Charleston seems to have a little issue with pumping carcinogens into our own air (yet we ban smoking throughout our city, as noted in the article). PM2.5 soot breathed in will cause asthma, heart and cardiovascular disease, stroke and generally breaks down the whole immune system. The article notes that “asthma cases in the U.S. have increased 450 percent since 1980.” A measurement of 35 micrograms per cubic meter is the EPA’s max. At the moment, it is estimated Charleston hovers around 32.

We are all responsible for Charleston's F rating with the ALA. Every time we drive a vehicle or crank up a lawn mower, we're burning oil that releases toxins into the air. Every bit of electricity we use (significantly more in S.C. than the national average per household) contributes to the toxic plumes being emitted from the five coal-fired power plants surrounding us on the Edisto River, Lake Moultrie, and up the road in Georgetown.

The lack of aggressive action to lower PM2.5 levels suggests that, right now, commerce and economics are prioritized before the health of the county's residents.

Essentially, we face another critical juncture. Does Charleston run blindly down the current path and continue belching toxins into the atmosphere, leaching pesticides into our waterways while ignorantly refusing to recognize the changing landscape? Will we continue, with great pride, to run our limitless supply of oil burning machinery with reckless weedwhackerish abandon knowing the fumes we breathe breed cancer cells? Where the hell are the gas masks? This is freaking us out, man.

The reality is that even if this article were only half true, fifteen and a half micrograms per cubic meter is still too much for our confidence levels to remain anywhere near their usual stratospheric highs -HA. The article in its entirety is an eye-opener to say the very least.

So, we say - build the rail. Make it a reality. Let’s begin to tackle this problem. The oil supply spirals toward depletion faster than this society is prepared to shift and our populations grow knowing no subdivision boundary - we simply can no longer wait. Honestly, we like getting to work in a reasonable amount of time and would like things to remain that way. And we like breathing clean air and would like there to be a few unbastardized particles left for our enjoyment.

Mostly, we don’t want to end up like Atlanta (see previous post Dry Times for their debacle) with bad air, little water and no solid plan. We must learn from our inland neighbors. They’re on the verge of a crisis with (until last week) no idea how to handle the magnitude of this issue. We in Charleston don’t have a crisis yet, meaning we haven’t crossed the point where the Federal government will demand that we clean our air, certainly a nice and costly offer for all of us. Hence, it is at once the perfect time to plan as well as clean house. Small changes can make huge differences.

The Native American Indians believed that the sign of a good leader was not what the person got done during the life, but what was done in the leaders name long after they were gone. These leaders practiced the Seventh Generation Philosophy. Great inspiration lies in the humane laws of the Six Nations (of Indians). It is said that these great leaders influenced our very own Founding Fathers. Seventh Generation Philosophy commanded that every decision made by the leaders of the Six Nations take into consideration the impact on the following seven generations of descendents. Native Americans lived in harmony with nature for more than 4,000 years. Europeans entered the scene only 400 years ago here in America. Notice the missing zero?

As we contemplate The Price of Having It All, the price of just having this laptop appears a little staggering when considering seven generations. The material relevancy of this specific item is not lost on us. OK, so we like our laptop. How ‘bout we agree to take baby steps. So, will someone please begin work on free, clean energy so we can keep the laptop humming? Like indefinitely?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tips For Thanks And a Conservation Christmas

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone and now we march toward the Christmas holiday. Contemplating an appropriate post for a dramatic year, an unexpected e-mail arrived. A reader shared with us that she commends our attempt at cutting back our oil use/dependency. Lamenting her own inability to give up her “bus” as required by the needs and safety of her children, we pointed out that conservation efforts can occur on a multitude of levels, and that her methods needn’t specifically mirror our own. Anyway, in this inspirational e-exchange, our reader asked us to post a few ideas, as well as one of her own. This is no way constitutes a complete list, but this being a great idea, we’ll continue to post interesting finds. As the holidays continue to unfold, we thank all of you for your kind words, kudos and the appreciation some of you have shown for the conservation efforts of two small people in the world.

Happy Holidays to all! Good luck implementing any of the following conservation tips:

Install fluorescent light bulbs to ensure reductions in energy use.
Install adequate insulation in your home to ensure reductions in energy use.
Buy recycled products when available, i.e. recycled paper towels.
Recycle your glass, newspaper and plastics in areas where recycling is available.
Reduce use of plastic bottles - mountains of plastic bottles end up in landfills.
Investigate personal product choice – use your dollars to cast favorable VOTEs for companies practicing conservative production methods.
Designate an area of your yard for compost.
Install a rain barrel and use it for yard watering. Reductions in water use also reduce energy use in areas where hydropower is the source of electricity generation.
Repair dripping faucets or leaky toilets.
Turn off the faucet when brushing teeth and shorten showering time.
Use public transportation just once or twice a week to reduce use of fossil fuels, and still keep your car for really busy days.
Turn off the lights. You’ll look foxier by candelight anyway.
Don’t buy a fake Christmas tree. Think lead dust and crowded landfills.
Plug TV, VCR, DVD, Stereo system, computers, etc. into a surge protection plug. Power the whole mess off at the surge protector to stop electrical “leak” into the electronics.
Turn off your car and curb pollution while waiting at the drive-thru, school pick-up area or bank drive-up ATM.
Buy locally grown foods to combat fossil fuel use in long distance food shipments. Check out this cool mashup from to find local food sources.
Last, simply buy less.

Still haven't had enough? Here are ten more.

As always, feel free to post your comments and include other green tips or conservation ideas we’ve not listed here. Ya’ll take care!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fireworks As OPEC Summit Ends

Well OPEC seems to be onto us and our highly levered currency. Several OPEC ministers (namely team Chavez and Ahmadinejad) entertained discussions this weekend of dumping the dollar as the currency tied to the oil trade. We suspect by tomorrow this'll be all over the media airwaves spun in any number of variations depending upon to whom one listens. Personally, we're not that worried for the short term. Having already ditched the car, we feel ready for the gas hikes. Chavez and Ahmadinejad are simply using their resources for the purpose of self preservation and protectionism. Those defenses could be appreciated and dealt with reasonably as they are fueled by fear based thinking built upon agressive Bush dipolomacy. Wouldn't our Utopian dreams be realized if George Dubbleya would just call in a troop of therapists rather than his troop of Generals? Don't forget Cheney.

From the BBC: Mr. Ahmadinejad said that all Opec countries had showed interest in converting their cash reserves into other currencies. "They [the US] get our oil and give us a worthless piece of paper," he told reporters.

Perhaps the Saudis took a cue from JayZ this weekend. Certainly they realized the U.S. needs no further pressure on our dollar in the middle of a credit crunch. But they also have an insider who knows our pain. Saudi Prince Walid has suffered the hammering of our subprime woes compromising his close relationship with another Prince by the name of Charles, formerly of Citgroup. Charles Prince made personal phone calls to The Prince during pinnacle moments of Citi's spectacular unwinding. The Saudi Prince now endures continued write downs in addition to enjoying the double whammy of dollar devaluation. Click for official JayZ video.

The question remains - how long can, or rather will, the Saudis, these friends of the Bush family, hold back a dollar sell-off? Fiat currencies cannot stand question.

The Candyman Can

Going a bit in reverse, we remember to bring up Friday night's ride home from work on the bus. It must have been a big payday. Or maybe they were extra jubilant because the holiday is coming up. Regardless, riding home Friday night was like sitting at the back of the party car. A group at the front, including the Fab Lady Driver, were involved in a Kaluah-spiked coffee klotch. Having one hell of a time, who steps aboard but a Candyman? Seriously, a middle-aged guy with a pillowy midsection unhidden by his Oxford shirt and windbreaker combination. Looked like an accountant stuck with two boxes of his kid's World's Finest school chocolates for sale. The eyes of the klotch immediately lit up as they all began drooling over the prospect of savoring the tasty treats displayed on the box wall. The biggest, loudest guy took the lead with, "Candy needa sit here by me....we lik'a da Candy Maaan!" The ladies hooped and hollared; laughing; happy to be off work. Big guy continued taunting and the look on the accountant's face declared he was nearing a tipping point, drawing very close to true nervousness. Just then the big guy let up and whipped out his wallet. He said "Really, come on dude, sell us the candy". Pleading, "we seriously want the candy." Others simultaneously dug their wallets out from under coats and sweaters (we've had a cold front come through the South). It was amazing how quickly the guy collected dollars. Gaining confidence, he shouted toward the back, "I've only got one chocolate and caramel left." We turned to the rap star next to us and commented, "guess if you got candy to sell, just sell it on the bus," to which he replied, "yeah." Then with eyes widening, gaze focusing as if the link had been made, "yeeeaaaah..." Stay tuned. Maybe the rap star will be peddling his own chocolate bars by next week.

Getting to Know That Which We Are Being Programmed to Hate

We believed our previous post on Iran would be sufficient, but leaving the TV on in the background is a dangerous game on a Sunday morning. Our faithful old Mitsubishi 32 inch - plain - non-cool - not flat-screen - TV is spitting out more propoganda on Iran. She'll do a number on the subconscious mind if we listen. Why is she doing this to us? We understand the media's manipulation agenda but these attacks get old after a while. There is so much more history, most of which is being ignored. Additionally, our media doesn't seem to be broadcasting attempts at negotiations for the nuclear power issue.

Reminded recently of Einstein's definition of Insanity - Doing the same thing and expecting a different result, we've decided to rebel against conventional American journalism today. Besides, we already heard this story back when it was written for Iraq. Let's go for a totally different approach...let's get to know each other (before we kill each other).

Since The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian loves to travel, we decided to take an internet photo and newspaper tour of Iran, rather than to allow our perceptions to be molded only by the news media. You may be amazed - we were. And, apparently we're not the only ones interested in citizen diplomacy. We found others reaching out.

This is a call for peace. Is anyone out there?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dry Times

How is it possible to choke down these Zanax without a tall glass of water?

A quick overview of the situation on South Carolina’s back doorstep reveals that millions in Atlanta may soon be reaching for that little amber antidepressant container as Lake Lanier runs out. Fresh water resources are apparently limited, like (OMG!) oil. Although we realize this is shocking news, we must share with you, faithful reader, that water is not manufactured in China in limitless quantities. This holiday season, we recommend exchanging dowsing sticks – the perfect gift for that person you know that already has everything! So, here we go:

In a creative move, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports, Forsyth [County] tries shame to reduce water use - At a meeting broadcast live late Thursday over the Internet and local cable television, County Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse publicly outed about 20 businesses and homeowners groups that have been repeatedly warned about violating the outdoor watering ban.

The Governor, though, is going straight to the top, decidedly asking God for water (prayer vigil is organized for the day before forecast of rain). Let’s hope for the miracle. In other headlines, Florida has backed out of an agreement forged just a few short weeks ago to share the water.

Meanwhile, Orme,Tennessee,just flat ran out of water. Done. Finito. The fire truck goes and gets it from another town while they feaverishly build a pipeline that should be done by Thanksgiving. They get to use water from the fire truck for three hours per night.

And back in Athens, Georgia the local Dental Clinic is “encouraging” its employees to use two portable toilets they have placed in their parking lot. Nice.

In Australia, a man kills his neighbor for watering his lawn.

Southern California reports drought (and we all saw the fires). Southern Florida is bracing itself along with areas of Nevada, Texas and Ohio. NOAA expects drought conditions to be no better next year.

In Texas, Boone Pickens pulls a heavyweight move purchasing and crafting rights to enact eminent domain and sell bonds. Look, when Gates, Boone and Buffett start playing around on the chessboard of energy and water, there are no further denials to be made on the resource issue - the big money has moved. These precision maneuvers carve out future pathways for commodities and resource trade as Wall Street adjusts to global warmingly changing markets.

Here in South Carolina, on a general scale, no one seems to be discussing this issue, despite the fact that our own Lake Moultrie is drying, and as previously mentioned, the drought is expected to persist. According to our own CPW, Charleston’s water supply is not in jeopardy (oh, but our rates are increasing December 1st). Although we find this a relief, we are also a bit skeptical, considering Charleston is downstream from, well, everything.
Digging just a little further, we were interested to know what kind of emergency plan Atlanta was implementing. We found nothing. Apparently, the Governor’s prayer vigil, which is now to be protested, is the closest thing to a plan they’ve got. And what of the economic impact? We don't see people wanting dry lakebed property anytime soon. As we consider the prospects of selling water to our neighbors, we find it may be time to get the old Cistern under the kitchen working again. Additionally, we ponder - what does a city do when the fabric of human existence is in question?


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dr. Seuss or Hyundai – Take It In Pink

Has anyone noticed the new Hyundai car commercial? Hyundai goes all guilt trip on us and by the end of the commercial you’re desperately looking all over the refrigerator bulletin board for the therapist’s cell phone number. It’ll arm wrestle you into questioning your own moral integrity then kick you while you’re down, leaving you in the gutter to ponder every commitment you ever allowed to go unfulfilled. Yet somehow this screams Philosophical Dr. Seussery.

In Hyundai’s deep wisdom, a responsible male voice (Jeff Bridges?) tells us…

Instant gratification has us in a stranglehold. So much so, that we don’t want to fix things anymore. Just replace them. Don’t like your nose? Get a new one. Don’t like your job? Get a new one. Don’t like your spouse? Well, get a new one. What ever happened to commitment; to standing by our decisions?

Then, the invisible keyboard types out: 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty. In the background, a menacing tune plays. Then you finally notice this beautiful car. ‘Ain’t never seen no Hyundai like that.

Are the car companies resorting to the manipulation of our morality in their desperation to sell cars in a sliding economy? It’s quite possible when we consider their situation. There most likely exists many a marketing challenge in the brave new world of hundred dollar per barrel oil. Mix in a full-blown green movement agitated by catastrophic global warming weather phenomena (causing some consumers to curb their driving habits), and these guys have got to be getting nervous. Or, maybe the commercial issues a warning veiled by that snazzy powertrain warranty.

We certainly don’t need Hyundai to tell us we’ve got some fucking issues here. That’s been pretty darn clear for a while now. Vive Viagara! Impressively, Hyundai invites you to it’s Thoughtspace at The music alone lulls one into a semi-catatonic empty-space area where we were thinking so deeply we started thinking about other stuff. Distracted, we stumbled upon Pink’s great, new, live video for, Dear Mr. President. In our opinion, this live cut is better than the album version. No overly incredible musicianship to be found, but this is a woman with a message that simply must be heard and finally faced. Impeach and Enjoy ;)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

New Urbanism Now to Avoid New Hermitism

Always willing to try something new, last Thursday The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian decided to attend a meeting on new urbanism. We jumped on our bikes and zipped over to 39 Rue de Jean, downtown Charleston, to pile into a room full of architects and town planners to enjoy an enlightening hour with the former Mayor of Milwaukee and current President, John Norquist, of The Congress for New Urbanism.

Feeling a bit like those lonesome island-like neighborhoods we’ve written about here, we found the presentation timely. Since giving up our Jaguar, we have become frustratingly aware of the bad design of our urban landscape and its complete reliance on the automobile. We wanted answers (and some hope) quick! Although we live downtown, our personal quest to crush our dependency on oil has segregated us from normal society in the same way any one of those gated communities sits – stranded, alone, miles of asphalt between you and it. Our friends are still part of normal society. And they live and party in those communities, tethered to the main artery by long, long roads, parkways, avenues and highways. And they still drive cars. Oh, how we miss them.

We made a choice. We kicked our car to the curb like an X (pick up Divorce Your Car by Katie Alvord when you get a chance). By Saturday night, that choice along with 50 years of urban sprawl caused us to miss our dear friend, Eddie Bush’s impromptu birthday party…a result of our damned global warming/peak oil/reduction of mass consumerism choice. And, of course, the party was, like, fifteen miles away, in a neighborhood on the outskirts of town with a bus line running no where close. So we immediately phoned a cab company, only to be told that a one way trip would equate to a Grand Total of $35.00 (plus we would tip another $7). Had our community been Newly Urbanized in the same fashionable manner the urbanist, forward-thinkers presented, we’d have been able to attend the party and would have been transported there on a reproduction electric trolley car. Who couldn’t just love this idea?

We’ve gotten around with no car and no trouble in cities like Amsterdam, London, New York, Washington D.C. and L.A. In Europe, even small cities (roughly the size of Charleston) offer wonderful public transit. The public transportation was so thorough and user-friendly in Jönköping and Huskvarna, Sweden, we even saw dogs on the bus sitting with their masters! In Amsterdam there are multiple lanes on every street - one for cars, one for electric street cars, one for buses, one for bikes and one for pedestrians. And they have giant bike parking garages! If you are an idiot and find yourself in the wrong lane, it is your own fault and people shake their heads in disgust while mumbling cruel Dutch words under their breaths. The New Urbanists appear to simply desire a return to the sensible architectural studies thrown away in a rebellion against two World Wars. Thus, the birth of Urban Sprawl, otherwise known as U.S. In car world there is little to be debated over with respect to urban design. However, the meeting did provide some hope for future connectivity.

The New Urbanist focus was on many of the issues we’ve already pointed out on this blog. Pedestrian unfriendly, disconnected neighborhoods segregated further by restrictive zoning laws have sprawled into a suburban nightmare reminding us constantly of James Howard Kunstler’s Eyesore of the Month. In most cases, this setup leaves anyone outside of a car subjected to a nice walk in the gutter (or over someone’s landscaping as we’ve pointed out in the past). America’s reliance on cheap oil, which is now obviously dwindling, has fueled more than just our vehicles – it has fueled an entire architectural movement toward big box theory flanked by giant parking lots devoid of human life. It’s no wonder the general population “looks down” upon those of us trudging over the beaten down footpaths carved into areas where a sidewalk should have been planned. We’re walking in gutters looking like we cannot even afford so much as an old klunker to deliver us to point B.

On a more positive note, we can fix this. A focus on infill development with a keen eye on urban design can save America from endless urban sprawl. Developers interested in green building must give great thought to the placement of their future buildings with rooftop gardens. There is no point in building green if the residents of said building must pollute for miles and miles driving to their new green homes. You too can join the Congress for New Urbanism for a mere hundred dollars. Their next presentation here in the States is to be held in Austin, Texas.

As far as the party, we hope to figure out additional alternatives for the future. Eddie – Happy Birthday! We hope you had a wonderful time and our thoughts were certainly on your special evening. We’re still figuring out the carless lifestyle. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Iran - the US' next great success!

Modern life embodies a conflict between “truth” and “aesthetics”. John Kenneth Galbraith, the late American economist, summed this up well. “A toothbrush does little but clean teeth. Alcohol is important mostly for making people more or less drunk. An automobile can take one reliably to a destination and back….its further features are of small consequences…There being so little to be said, much must be invented. Social distinction must be associated with a house…sexual fulfillment with a particular…automobile, social acceptance with….a mouthwash…etc. We live surrounded by a systematic appeal to a dream world which all mature, scientific reality would reject. We, quite literally, advertise our commitment to immaturity, mendacity and profound gullibility. It is the hallmark of our culture.”1

As oil tops 90 bucks a barrel, those who wrestle with their (d)illusions struggle to avoid the inevitable reality of the latest, pricey newsflash. Much of this is difficult to digest as Christmas sits around the corner. Thankfully, we’re personally attempting to curb our reliance on the oil vice prior to the arrival of an economic crisis (we’re already in the downturn) resulting from our own collective horrible mismanagement of our limited resources.

An oil man who was unable to satisfactorily run any of the businesses he was entrusted now gets to play economics. Firing the economic advisors who warned this Administration of inevitable failure did not magically reverse the outcome. The dollar’s tanking, oil’s rising and a credit crunch has strangled a significant portion of the US economy now that our debt has ballooned beyond the stratosphere. Now Bush tries to scare us again into believing that if we’re interested in avoiding World War III, we better be interested in keeping nuclear, sorry, NUC-U-LER technology out of Iran’s hands. Just like the Iraq fear-mongering ploy, this is a narrow explanation for a much deeper story. It’s an explanation for children. We’d ask you consider the following – a more valid and adult description of why Bush and his Capital Cronies feel Iran shouldn’t have nuclear power. These following excerpts were found at, written by an independent researcher in the Netherlands.

So, if the so-called proofs against Iran appear to be fabricated, what is the real issue? I think the general idea is clear to all. With its excessive energy consumption the US thinks, it is necessary to have pro-US governments in Iraq, Iran and, (for the UNOCAL pipeline project), also in Afghanistan. During the Cold War Saddam Hussein in Iraq and shah Reza in Iran were useful US’ allies, but those days are over. Thanks to Bush we now have wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran is located in between. Considering the reputation the US has built up in Iran a spontaneous uprising of a pro-US government is not likely to happen soon.

Another thing that explains Bush aggressive stance against Iran is its part in the weakening dollar. A new Iranian oil bourse, if successful, may even trip up US’ hegemony. [10]

At a glance, this is how it works. The world’s oil and gas is traded in US-dollars. Since 1971 the US has enjoyed the advantage of being the petrodollar supplier to the world. Supplying dollars to foreign countries means, the US can print money and purchase goods, services and investments with it. Since the foreigners need these dollars to buy oil, and keep them also in use in the international trade outside the US, the US has never had to deliver anything in return. Merely supplying money means free shopping. This is how US’ foreign debt grew to 3,200,000,000,000 dollars today. If at some point the world starts selling the trillions of dollars they currently hold, the exchange markets would be flooded with dollars, and, as a result, the value of the dollar would drop to next to nothing. It would trigger a financial crisis, but if the dollar becomes worth next to nothing, it means the foreign debt would vanish. So it is very advantageous to deliver currencies that are permanently needed and wanted abroad. And that is the case as long as the world needs dollars to buy oil and gas.2

We’ve suggested in the past that Bernanke’s persistent dedication to America’s debt habits is fully supportive of America’s oil habits. Lowering the interest rates again, they hope, will buy time while they carefully drive the dollar down to keep up the appearance that they’ve somehow paid down the federal deficit. Let’s all hope these boys don’t go just a little too far. We’ve seen the bubble created in housing explode because they went a little too far. The million dollar question becomes, how far can we go to maintain this lifestyle? The current credit crisis is not just a small bump in the road of financial life. These events are as related to oil as the Iraq War. The world is unveiling the ILLUSION the American economy has been employing. Helicopter Ben drops Dollars, housing unravels; Washington does what it can to keep the stock market rising while credit goes short; bankers attempt to open and clear, or we believe, flash mirrors while blowing smoke, in hopes to recover before the derivitives markets take them down - and suddenly Iran has become the next big threat! Bernanke was very concerned about inflation just a few months ago. Now, we await the potential lowering of interest rates for a second time, pending the Fed announcement this week. Maybe Bernanke is just trying to reopen the credit faucet because he knows we’ll all need it to pay our winter heating oil bills! Same old solution – borrow what you can’t pay for and hope to pay it tomorrow. But, back to Iran.

The US is in conflict with Iran, since it was thrown out of the country in 1979. According to the US, Iran is a dangerous country of fundamentalists.

The geographical position of Iran, between the Caspian Sea and the Indian Ocean, complicates US ambitions to control the rich reserves of oil and gas on the East side of the Caspian Sea. To transport this oil and gas to world markets without crossing neither Russia, nor Iran, pipelines had to be built through Afghanistan. Plans were made in the early nineties, but the pipelines are still not there.

Meanwhile the US tries to frustrate all competing projects of other countries. Of course, this led to multiple conflicts of interest with Iran. George W. Bush would pretext the presence of Osama bin Laden to start a war against Afghanistan. [14]

In 1999 Iran publicly stated it wanted to accept euros for its oil as well. Iran sells 30 % of its oil production to Europe, the rest mainly to India and China and not a drip to the US, as a result of an embargo established by the US itself. In spite of Bush’ threatening tale, mentioning the country in his famous “axis of evil” [speech], Iran started to sell its oil in euros from spring 2003.

After that, Iran wanted to establish its own oil-bourse, independent from the IPE and NYMEX. It would start on 20 March 2006. Considering the very weak health of the dollar at that time, a success of this bourse could have led to a catastrophe for the dollar and thus for the US. That is why tensions were very high at the beginning of 2006. [15]

Finally the opening of the oil-bourse was postponed. After that Putin established an oil bourse in Russia as quickly as possible, which took away the interest of the Iranian oil bourse. [16] [17] [18]

The US accuses Iran of wanting to make nukes. Because the US has not sufficient influence to switch back the oil trade into dollars, it probably hopes that the Iranian nuclear sites will be bombed once again [19], so Iran would have to consume its oil instead of selling it in euros.

Moreover, a masterly plan has been conceived to take possession of the world market for nuclear fuel, in concert with a few other countries and using Iran as the pretext and the test case. With this plan the demand for dollars would be secured for a long time, even after the oil age. [20]3

We think, as usual, it’s important to follow the crumbs of money, especially when they are dropped in US Dollars. An oil strawman was put in place for a reason. There was not even an honest election. Now, it’s almost laughable to consider how our “leaders” are destroying the dollar while they try to ensure its continued use. Ironic, in fact.

We are quite aware of the dire fragility of the American Dream as we enter an era riddled with problems larger than many this nation has faced in the past. We used to be proud Americans, however, we’re not prone to sychophantic dishonesty, so don’t look for a whole lot of sugar-coated shit on this blog. We are now quite concerned, and not so very proud. Experiencing environmental and economic shifts related to both global warming and peak oil, does not appear to propel us to find solutions, like Americans typically would (when not being led around like puppets). Rather, we Americans allow our government to play war games around the world. Will true Americans continue to invest in the systemic illusion on which our culture thrives? Or will we eventually open our eyes?

1. Satyajit Das; Perfect Storms – Beautiful & True Lies In Risk Management, 2007.
2. Rudo de Ruijter; From the entry, US-Iran: Raid on Nuclear Fuel Market.
3. Rudo de Ruijter; From the entry, Cost, Abuse & Danger of the Dollar.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tranquility at the Rib Shack

Myspace Graphics - Fukitol Standing at the stop, it wasn’t even noticeable until the number 40 arrived and we climbed aboard. The clean cut, twenty-something guy is normally on the bus each morning and works at a local restaurant chain (evident by the screaming advertisement referred to as his uniform). He’s polite, quiet and dips his head in acknowledgement when greeted. Two mornings ago, something just wasn’t right. He shuffled feebly toward the bus and ascended the steps in an octogenarian-like manner, paused for a moment near the coin collector fumbling over his pants pockets with his fingers, yet never actually retrieving a ticket or cash for the fare. He lingered, then passed the driver by in a slow motion, “I remember touching my wallet, so I must have paid her,” kind of painless lumber, self-motivation clearly required for each step. Climbing up behind him, we registered our ticket as the driver asked, “He ok?” As if we’d have the scoop on his stuporous state simply because we got on at the same stop.

The polite guy managed to reach his usual seat. Ever notice how people will migrate to familiar places? We try to sit all over the bus….breaks up that routine feeling. Anyway, he meandered straight to the back of the bus and took the seat. The old ladies gawked. He walked by and they began the chatter of hens. One turned directly around inviting us to discuss polite guy’s condition, to which we had nothing to add realizing this could be health related or self-induced.

Two stops later the bus driver got on the mike and said, “Sir - in the black Rockin’ Ribs t-shirt (fake restaurant name inserted to protect the innocent; hopefully we’re not violating any privacy or copyright laws), you have not paid your fare!” It took him a minute. With the prompting of other passengers, he got up and forced his heavy legs to transport him back to the front of the bus. His eyes were a little bugged out, although drawing on our newly acquired bus etiquette skills; we stole the peek ever so quickly, never risking a stare. The old ladies were provided more tidbits for immediate discussion as our mind began to move toward the thought that, wow, this guy got a hold of some great stuff at 7:30 in the morning! Once he made it to the front, he had to work really hard to drag the wallet out of his back pocket, still fumbling, causing the appearance of having no fare. An older gentleman, typically on the same morning route, stood and offered to pay his fare (any disruption to the flow is met with a number of creative solutions exacted by other passengers to get the show back on the road). Bus driver said, “No, no, he’s got it.” Then loudly she questioned polite guy, “you sure you’re OK,” to which the old ladies broke into another round of concerned discussion. We had half a mind to tell the two sitting directly in front of us that we split a horse tranquilizer at the stop, just to see what they’d say, but then thought better about spreading mistruths and rumors, regardless of their hilarity. Polite guy managed to fund his trip, we took off, and lucky for him the acceleration propelled him toward the back relieving the dragging weight of his legs.

An overactive imagination ran through a number of disturbing scenarios as we motored along just waiting for something to happen…you know…like, crazy druggy whips out gun and kills ten on CARTA bus. However, he stayed silent - not even a peep. All of our scenes were filled with violent endings, like news reels rolling out the worst possible situation, all of which could happen in the presence of someone on something. Of course, nothing happened at all. Maybe he was focused on maintaining composure rather than killing.

When we reached Polite’s normal stop, he walked a little faster. Reviewing his gait as the bus pulled away, his motion appeared slightly more normal. We’ve seen this particular guy nearly every morning now for two months. He has never displayed any type of lethargy in the past, causing us to wonder what exactly was going on that particular morning. We also wondered if the red sauce was mixed up with the yellow during Rockin’ Ribs lunch service that day. Additionally, he was not on the normal bus route this morning. Maybe he got fired. Notably, it is almost a full moon again.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Week of Rain and a Reality Check

So we’ve been called to the table by a friend following the blog, and apologize for causing you to wait so long for an update. Last weekend boringly demanded house work. Leo’s doggie hair had accumulated to the point large tumbleweeds gathered, with a force equivalent to magnets, in gigantic balls in every corner, and around furniture legs. We were forced to stop the presses to address this issue and somehow two weeks slipped by.

The week prior it rained. We’ve had drought here in South Carolina, so this was the first rainy week walking to bus stops. Amazingly all the umbrellas hiding at the backs of closets were found easing the perceived misery of this first wet week. We didn’t quit, but decided that from here on out, the umbrellas will live right next to the front door in an orderly fashion. They serve a great purpose now that the splash and dash three-step run/jump from the old porch’s wide, dry overhang to the courtyard parking space where the Jaguar used to lie in wait is no longer an option. Dealing with the rain didn’t suck that bad, so we remain to date, carless and in full utilization of our public transportation system, which again presented indisputable fodder for this blog.

Friday brought the last morning drizzle. By afternoon the weather had cleared with a hazy sun and heavy blanket of humidity filling the air. The five o’clock whistle blew leaving only a short amount of time before the next bus arrival. Throwing on the raincoat just incase, we hastily made it to a nearby store in time to grab a few required toiletries. Passing the bus stop on the opposite side of the street, we noticed a couple sitting on the bench. In, out and back to the stop. The couple was still there and it was satisfying to know the bus had not been missed. Drawing closer, the couple’s disheveled appearance became obvious. Falling into their line of site while stripping off the sweltering raincoat, the man got up and began to rearrange the beaten, faded blue suitcases piled on the bench. Although this gesture was appreciated, we assured them moving the luggage was unnecessary. The man then offered a sideways smile and asked to borrow a lighter as he simultaneously patted his upper body in a staged search for an elusive pack of cigarettes. As part of the act, he quickly discovered (shocker) he was out. But this exercise offered a good, planned segway into his next bit of small talk which incorporated the smooth request for a dollar. You guessed it. To buy cigarettes. From what we understand, the current tax structure has elevated cigarettes far beyond the price of a single dollar. So, this too, like the lighter question, was met with our fervent “no.” He then blurted, “we’re on vacation.” “Well, that’s nice.” Honestly, how does one respond when vacation consists of standing at a bus shelter in thick Carolinian humidity with two dirt-caked, used-to-be-blue suitcases and several metal boxes asking locals for money? While we were still processing that information, the frumpy NeoHobo stuck out his hand. “Got bit by a dawwg.” A yellowish-blue mark accentuated a large scabbed over area on the front of his hand. Our eyebrows went up. “Yep, Golden Retriever.” OK, this sounded outlandish (we have a Golden), so with standard un-emotional, bus stop bland news anchor seriousness, we dared, “Golden Retriever, you say?” “Yep. I stuck my hayand in that car winder and it jus bit the shyit outta me.” Well, there you have it. Sticking one's hand into a car window to pet a stranger's dog is not exactly the most sound plan. Intelligence – questionable. The woman was digging around behind him in one of the metal boxes sitting neatly on the bus bench. NeoHobo continued, “we’re from Ash-veeelle, North Carol-eye-na, an this here’s my wyyyife.” The apple shaped woman rushed to his side with a peculiar “don’t go lookin’ at my man” kind of gaze, then added, “an we been married now two yea-yers.” From one of the metal boxes she had retrieved a white rat. Clutching it close to her chest, its long, pink tail snaked down the side of her hand and wrapped around her wrist as she stroked the animal. Is this really happening, became the question flickering between our synapses. Hobo guy kept up. “I toll ‘er I’d take her to all the places I been, so we’re on our way to Sullivan’s Eye-land…where else you think we ‘aught-ta go?” Completely perplexed by their definitions of travel and vacationing, and wise enough to recognize the great distance between our individual reference points, we politely suggested Folly Beach for a cool, laid back environment. Swiping at his browned, leathery face, NeoHobo reminisced, “oh yeah, I been there too - a long time ago, I remember now. I’s there once…so yeah, I promised her I’d take her everywhere I been.” The woman had left his side and was busy corralling the rat back into its metal box, but snapped her head in his direction as she curtly expounded, “but I’m payin fer this vay-cay-shin!” The economics of their wanderlust had obviously popped up in the past, clearly as an issue of contention. Dodging the financial planning discussion, NeoHobo quickly reaffirmed his need for cigarettes, to which we sensibly offered directions to the convenience store right on the other side of the trees. “You stay put now, hear?” “An keep waitin’ fer that bus,” he instructed the woman. The woman’s dirty navy sweat pants had ridden up her flat rear to an alarming depth as she continued to lean over the bench shoveling wads of Spanish Moss she pulled from the trees into a plastic cup. Neatly pulling out the straw and placing the lid on top, she said, “I’m gonna keep this…it’s really cool stuff and I can’t find it at home.” Then she rose, turned toward us, squared off, and announced, “I’m in college, you know. Yep, I’m an actor. An actor taking classes in Ash-veeele.” Just as we were wondering if it was worth while to mention the microscopic chiggers alive in the Spanish Moss the woman had handled, the bus rumbled around the corner. Thank God. Hearding us aboard, the driver surprisingly addressed the Apple-shaped woman directly as we found a seat. “You changed stops! I already called in your prior location at Patriot's Point!” The woman stammered grabbing at her long, stringy, black hair, and NeoHobo came running through the trees. Out of breath he exclaimed, “but we got tired of waitin’ at that stop!” The driver responded, “the bus to Sullivan’s Island is a call-in route. I called it in and you were supposed to wait where you were! Now I gotta call it in again, and you’ll have to wait here until they can come back this way!” The two transients looked defeated. Their travel itinerary had obviously suffered a severe blow. From the window we watched them walk in circles, arm motions between them suggesting the conversation was growing heated. The city bus pulled away.

Finally riding toward home we wondered where the transients were going to spend the night on an island recently recognized as the most expensive address in the area. Maybe they planned to unpack their bags and sleep illegally atop a dune on one of South Carolina’s most pristine beaches. Or maybe the actress paid in advance for a 10 bedroom beachfront rental where by midnight they’d be sipping champagne and enjoying succulent, deep red, brown sugar strawberries dotted with honey drippings. If only they could reach their destination!

We have no idea what valuable life lesson this experience was supposed to provide. We’ve travelled with no reservations, but this couple probably deserves a reality TV show dedicated to their travel follies. We’d tune in, mesmerized and unable to pull ourselves from the inevitable train wreck.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Another Opportunity for Short-Sightedness

As the polar ice caps melt, the Great Lakes dry and the State of Georgia places water restrictions on its residents, Bush maintains that reducing emissions to combat global warming will hurt our economy.

We wonder if he'll ever figure out that without an evironment, there is no economy.

Pedestrians in Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant Town Planners listen up! When you get to redesigning Highway 17, how about work in some sort of safe pedestrian and biking routes to the Arthur Ravenel Bridge as well as the bus stops.

We discovered Saturday that it's pretty easy to get into Mount Pleasant to go shopping (we took CARTA over to Whole Foods), however, once you're there, in the absence of an oil guzzler, the Town becomes an unfriendly, badly designed suburban nightmare. For those of you unfamiliar with Charleston, South Carolina - Mount Pleasant is separated from Downtown Charleston by the rather large, blackwater Cooper River. Getting to Whole Foods is no problem, though the Wendy's Restaurant may beg to differ, considering one must trample through their landscaping where the bus lets off. The Town could use a few sidewalks so pedestrians aren't forced to be so inconsiderate. Towne Center could have been a viable alternative, but EarthFare, the organic market in that location, closed down several months ago.

Fifty years of Urban sprawl fueled by cheap gas prices has lead to an un-walkable, overgrown, chigger-ridden, challenging and unsafe terrain totally lacking sidewalks of any kind. One's existentialism remains in keen focus with each whizzing SUV directed by a multi-tasking driver, cellphone in hand, dangerously unaware of a pedestrian's presence. We commend the Town of Mount Pleasant for its award-winning neighborhoods, like Ion, but once you step foot outside of those segregated enclaves, there is nothing linking many of these island-like neighborhoods together. We suggest they do something to allow their residents to move about with greater ease.

Sadly, we were forced to take our lives into our own hands as we ran across 4 lanes of Highway 17 to get to the stop back downtown. From Whole Foods the stop is located strategically on the opposite side of Highway 17. Unless, of course, you don't mind walking the equivalent of 10 blocks to get to the next stop on the same side of the highway. Only then is it unnecessary to run wildly across Highway 17. Yeah, we did feel pretty idiotic.

After risking our lives, we waited, but CARTA must have arrived a few minutes early. So, we missed the bus after our wonderful organic shopping experience. Fortunately, with Fall's fabulous temperatures, we were able to skip the bus altogether and walk back over the Arthur Ravenel Bridge toward home. Charleston certainly is known for it's beauty and grace. Especially from atop the bridge. It's breathtaking.

On another note, we've learned another blogger out there has been conducting her own experimental tests on public transportation. Check out Located in Austin, Texas, this busy Mom has a slew of funny stories chock full of public transportation insight. Go girl!

So, after all that, we may just leave our shopping for closer to home and stay downtown. But if you live in Mount Pleasant, what do you think of your ability to walk around the town? Would you walk more if you could? Would you like to have alternative modes of transportation readily available? Just wondering.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Full Moon Bus Rides

We report that we have found conclusive evidence; undeniable proof, that a full moon effects human behavior! Should you desire to experience this natural ebb and flow, wait until the next full moon and join us on Charleston's bus system during this brief period of undulating lunar persuasion. We gained a new appreciation for the 28 day cycle and now wonder what each approximate month-long period will bring.

As the moon rose yesterday, a young couple brought their baby aboard the bus. Oh Lawd, the internal voice screamed, as the bus transformed into a cooing, oogling group of humans temporarily absent the languages they used to use to communicate. Suddenly, after possibly one bump too many, some crackhead woman in the back, convinced the man sitting to her right poked her in the rib(and maybe he did, we were observing the human condition in the presence of a baby), began screaming. She simply went off - full moon style. Apparently she had fallen asleep. According to her diatribe she was quite comfortable when the supposed poking commenced. She yelled at that man for approximately 2 miles, which included threats of throwing him off the bridge (once we got there, of course). Mixed between threats were proclamations of how hard she worked all day, therefore, not needing poking by some...inaudible something, something...her verbal deluge dried by the crescendo of the baby's wail. The baby clearly did not enjoy the ranting and raving. The baby cried louder. Our busmates began one by one laughing as we all recognized the baby had taken control of the situation. And the angry woman, now imminently aware of the wake created in her tirade, screamed out one final time,"soooooorry, baaaaabbbbeeee." She sung it as she proceeded to march to the front of the bus, which was obviously as far as she could get away from the quick-fingered gentleman. She escaped to the kind ear of the driver. Possibly for some female support, or to apologize.

You may be worried about the bus-ride at this point. However, history taught us "there is nothing to fear but fear itself" (Frankin D. Roosevelt).

Several years ago, a friend of ours, Wilbert Alix shared a story with us. He was in Europe in a small hotel facing the street. Four a.m. brought a terribly drunken man down the cobblestoned avenue singing at the top of his lungs. Startled awake, he naturally went to the window to find the source of the commotion. As he opened the window he found the neighbors all doing the same. He described the sound pouring in as, "actually not all that bad." The man passionately bellowed his opus to the residents, by then all standing in their respective windows. As he came to the end of his repratoir and picked up his coat, earlier discarded on the impromptu realization of a captive audience, he staged a large bow, to which the residents clapped and cheered. Then the man stumbled off, spent. Our old friend concluded his story by explaining his attention in that moment turned to borders. Had the same story played out here in the U.S., the man would most likely have been arrested. Go to Jail immediately. Do not pass Go.

We Americans tend to be a little hysterical. As the woman let loose, we remembered our friend's story. No one over-reacted. The driver looked up a few times, but overall this woman was just yelling. She's clearly had a rough go of it. But as we get used to the public transportation system, we mostly rely on the fact that everyone on the bus tends to mind their manners. We have to. Who wants to get kicked off the bus, anyway? And, these lessons in humanity are invaluable. There's more to this story, but for the moment, we're still taking it all in. Maybe we'll blog further philosophical considerations at a later date. Right now we're riding out the energy of the moon's pull.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Wedding! Haircuts, Gift Shopping and Getting There

Well, Saturday was a bit of a test. An old friend from High School took the plunge and tied the knot. Congratulations, you guys. Weddings require a whole spectrum of preparation for the guests. One certainly cannot diminish the importance of the day by showing up with a four month old haircut, an unshaven neck and no gift.

We got up early, made breakfast, then walked to Parlor on upper King, an excellent place to get a style downtown. Haircuts and then to the market to grab some groceries, we had already walked about a mile by the time the meat and potatoes arrived back home. Then, we realized, crap - no gift! Pottery Barn. They said they were registered at Pottery Barn, right? One of us jumped in the shower as the other ran out for the gift. Finally, dressed and ready to go, there was now the issue of transportation, or rather, the lack thereof, due to our recent set of choices. Taxi? Shuttle Bus? Walk? Rickshaw/Petty Cab? How long would each variation of a ride take? So many unanswered questions in our first busy weekend without a car. We bantered back and forth for way too long, eventually storming out (OK, the female gender of this pair stormed), and just walked. It was a nice night. Walking allowed time to calm down while breathing to the rhythm of our feet on the sidewalk. Got to the wedding, got to the reception, all without incident. For those of you that know Charleston well, you may find it humorous to know we walked through the Eastside in full formal attire and flip flops! LOL. We're pretty sure at this point our neighbors, and the boys that hang on the corner, think we're dangerously insane, and should most likely be housed on some secluded floor within Roper's depths. Our party shoes were in the gift bag, figuring if anyone did try to rob us of our fabulous PB gift, we could beat them off with a 3" black leather, spiked heel. One of us actually saw a girl get hit in this manner in a bar fight once. Quite effective.

Overall, great time. The next day we both admitted to being a little sore from walking so far, so long! Uhhhhh, our legs! Although, wow, we must admit we both feel better than we have in years. Can you imagine?

Here's something ironic - many months ago, long before the car decision was made, we signed up to participate in the American Heart Walk. September seemed so far off. How quickly next weekend comes. Yay - another opportunity to burn a few extra calories! Buy hey, also another opportunity to live well.

It never felt so good to fall into bed that night. Our first really busy weekend. Right before drifting off to sleep, she said, "my feet hurt AND I have a blister." He said, "God, your ass is getting tight."