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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Interdependence Day weekend 2008

Despite firestorms in California, the aftermath of floods in the Midwest, the 4th of July weekend is one of spirit and celebration this year. Here, we have sunshine and moderate breezes, softshell lobster, mounds of wildflowers, schooners in the sunset.

On the Fourth of July, we had an unusually big farmers market and bike races in town, which closed off most of the main street loop. The tide was extremely low in the morning, so low we couldn't get the Belle Fast off the bottom--so we took the Selkie out instead and after the row, took her back via the City Landing among the yachts instead of the usual pier among the Zodiacs. Evening was a rock concert in the park by the beach and the smell of barbecue everywhere. Here was small town America in a hard pressed state taking a cheerful break from the many concerns of the day.

A little perspective is in order. The malaise of American life is about as overstated as Barack Obama's halo and while his fans are foaming at the mouth over his recent acknowledgments of military, practical and moral reality, we settle in for the long days of summer reflection.

The economy is taking a few right hooks, which will reconcile in the not too distant, but none too immediate future. In the meantime it is provoking an inquiry into the American lifestyle that signifies refreshingly positive re-evaluations. People scaling back on petrol usage, as best they can, municipalities all over the country are going to four-day work weeks to conserve energy, consumers are demanding local tomatoes while the FDA fails, purposely so in my opinion, to find the source of a salmonella outbreak linked to tomatoes.

In our small town, we have already started collecting money to help the local needy with heating fuel this winter. Did you know Citgo AKA the govt of Venezuela donates 100 gallons of heating oil to thousands of qualifying needy households each winter? Qualifying is a matter of applying, having a local program, and proving need. In many cases households are selected via outreach. Now 100 gallons won't get you through the whole winter around here, but it certainly helps.

There are upsides to the sinking dollar too. The mfg sector is getting a breather to better adjust to global competition. China will probably get more American tourism as it's a bargain compared with Europe. It actually has been for some time, but now, with Europe out of the running currency-wise, Asia looks good. I haven't talked to many people that interested in the Olympics, but after the Olympics (assuming it isn't a PR disaster) I betcha China sees a lot more American tourists, even with the rise in airfares. That would be immensely educational and productive for both cultures and economies. (But it'll have to wait till after the Olympics because China is restricting entry visas until then.)

The price of gasoline is a huge (around $4.07-$4.09 a gallon in my area--$4.79 in L.A!) and a well overdue snickety-smack on the forehead of American life. I subscribe to the theory that it is caused by a speculation bubble. As soon as the spot market softens, and it will, because that level of inflation cannot persist indefinitely, petrol will come down. Not to pre-bubble prices, but down enough and suddenly enough to singe some investor hiney.

So say gas gets down to 3 bucks a gallon. We come away a little better off and having learned some hard lessons, to wit:

  • The price of petrol in UK is 4 U$D a LITRE - but THEY driver smaller fuel efficient motorcars.
  • SUVs are not feasible anymore. They will be as reviled and marginalized as cigarette smokers have become.
  • Automakers, hopefully not too late, are scaling down and planning to produce smaller cars in larger quantities.
  • Mass transit in areas above a certain population density will become a promising investment.
  • Going from 2-3 autos (or homes) to 1 per household is not unthinkable.
  • Hedge funds are lightning rods for economic anomalies.

Far from being downcast, I find the national mood one of better informed skepticism, constructive concern for the short term but ultimately optimistic about the longer term. The floods in the Midwest are devastating, but the people are taking care of each other as they always do in the heartland. We'll deal with the economic hit from the millions of acres of lost crops in a few months.

The fires in California are horrid, but that happens every 7-10 years or so due to the nature of the vegetation there. A part of my soul lives in Big Sur and it is hurting as that area incinerates. I remember Malibu burning in the 1990s when I lived in Venice beach and you could watch across Santa Monica Bay as the fire tracked around a Malibu mountainside and suddenly glowed more brightly as it consumed a car. It "snowed" ashes for weeks, it came in through closed windows, even.

But the char from the fire eventually turns into petroleum and diamonds and we believe in that diamond day. Scratch an American a little and you find an unending reservoir of blame. Scratch an American hard enough and you learn the true meanings of persistence, ingenuity and optimism.

// posted by Ellen @  13:31   //Permalink// 
Ellen says hey
Mainer, New Yawka, Beijinger, Californian, points between. News, views and ballyhoos that piqued my interest and caused me to sigh, cry, chuckle, groan or throw something.

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