Saturday, November 29, 2008

And now for something completely different...

So I'm sitting at the Embles, stealing the internets out of her computers. I'll be going to the protest later, and probably post another rabble-rousing rant afterwards.

But for now, a word or two about Yule, or Xmas, or the Great and Terrible Yearly Tree Sacrifice.

Having recently come to the conclusion that what little money I currently have needs to be used up ASAP on durables (aka flooring and a fridge and a stove) and ever-more expensive food and drink, I'm a bit loathe to indulge in the yearly consumer feeding frenzy of gift buying and receiving. For starters, I just plain don't got no room at my place. So a pile of prezzies presents a problem.

I've also decided that I'm gonna try to give time this year, when possible, as opposed to goods.

So that said, here is the Great and Powerful Wish List '08 Style Yo.

1. DVDs- I want (but do not need) classics this year, namely movies I watch with my pa like "Paint Your Wagon" and "The Quiet Man". "Stardust" would be appreciated as well, as would "Frida" (rawrrrrr), "Accepted", "100 Girls" (not a porno!), and "Pump Up the Volume" (nostalgia much?).

2. Albums- Namely the first Hjalmar album, anything by Eivor, and anything new by Great Big Sea, Flogging Molly, and Against All Authority.

3. Time- by which I mean help with the apartment remodel. It doesn't have to be long, or ever arduous, I just want someone to lend me a hand or two. I'll provide beer.

4. Home brewing equipment- Pretty freaking self explanatory.

5. Whiskey- ditto.

6. Thermal underwear- ditto on the ditto

7. Electric hair trimmer- so I don't have to keep bugging the Embles for haircuts.

8. World Peace/World Wide Anti-Capitalist Uprising

9. Salmaesque punk-rock hotty that falls madly in love with me.

10. None of the above. Except #3. Take care of yourselves. Use your dwindling assets to shore up you and yours against the coming dark. Call me if you need a hand.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When in the course of human events…

It’s been a strange couple of months over here on the Lava Lump. Exhilarating, infuriating, frightening, inspiring, but most of all, tantalizing.

I’ve long complained about the tendency of my adopted countrymen to bend over and take blatant injustices without comment or public complaint. Oh sure, they’d complain in private, or in longwinded obtuse articles to the newspapers, but the rarely if ever simply took to the streets in force to demand justice.

Now they have.

Sadly, as proud as it makes me, as much as it fills me with a sense of solidarity and wild, apocalyptic joy, it all-to-often seems too little too late.

Judging by the reactions of the various ministers (including the ruling duo, the Prime Minister and Minister of State) at Monday’s open meeting, the ruling elite of Iceland not only don’t much care what we think of them, they don’t give a flying fuck what we think.

Sitting on their massive pension funds (that they half-jokingly “reformed” last week”), secure in their sense of superiority, they have the unmitigated gall to claim that they and they alone can solve this mess they are largely responsible for causing. They claim that the newly activated public that flooded Haskolibio and fills the square in front of Parliament every Saturday “doesn’t represent the will of the people”. What’s worse, they claim that they “cannot” step down as they and they alone are capable of carrying out the financial aid package from the IMF.

Hiding behind the skirts of a corrupt capitalist vulture is not fucking leadership people.

Hell, if the IMF is going to pull out if the current government steps down, that makes it all the more desirable.

Meanwhile, its becoming increasingly clear that the banks, and by “the banks” I mean the clique of bankers and financiers that control them, were doing some incredibly shady deals, deals that in just about any other country would have them up on charges facing serious jail time. They loaned themselves and their cronies money to buy shares in their own banks, with no collateral save the shares purchased in order to artificially inflate the worth of said banks.

And the government helped them out, by neither investigating, nor, as far as I can tell, even bothering to pass any regulations against such dubious dealings.

The end result is that the capitalist class and the ruling class joined hands to sell the Icelandic public in to debt slavery at the hands of a non-representational, undemocratic cabal of banking and corporate interests called the IMF.

Enough already!

People are loosing their homes and livelihoods while the government scrambles to shore up the crumbling corrupt banks. While the general public is stuck with price insured loans that continue to grow no matter how much you try to pay off,* the banks get bailed out, even though they themselves are in massive debt.

Does this seem just to you? The banks borrowed in excess of their means, and then, under the cover of secrecy and fraud, loaned that money out to the public at loan-shark interest.

This cannot stand.

The simple fact is that until the banks themselves are solvent, until they’ve paid off their debts, including those debts incurred in artificially inflating their stock prices, they have no fucking right to expect us to pay. They took the risk in borrowing from Peter to loan to Paul, and those who took out a loan in good faith, thinking that they were borrowing against real assets instead of fictional finances, are under no ethical obligation to pay anything back, let alone price-fixed high interest loans that lead to company-town indentured slavery.

Meanwhile, the IMF deal is already showing its true face, as across the board budget cuts begin to shut down healthcare centers around the country, and as the already swamped and under-funded social services try to point out that they need more funding to deal with this crisis instead of less.

Of course, if the IMF stays true to form, less is what they’re going to get. The last decade has seen a prolonged and active effort on behalf of the neo-liberal government to purposely under fund and mismanage the Ministry of Health, of Education, and all the programs that make (made?) up Iceland’s welfare system in order to give them the usual excuses of “efficiency” and “free market capitalism” for selling off these public assets into the hands of their cronies.

Just like they sold off the fishing rights.

Just like they sold off the Postal Service.

Just like they sold off Siminn.

Just like they sold of the banks.

I think it’s high time we refuse to be sold into debt slavery to protect those responsible for most of the debt. I think it’s high time to refuse to be punished for fraud perpetrated by others.

Those currently being held hostage by their debts to the old banks should refuse payment until a just and equitable solution can be found. In the meantime, they should band together to prevent, by force if necessary, the coming wave of evections and repossessions. People are more important than property.

Every fishing crew of every ship should refuse to pay the kvota kings the tithe they were granted by a corrupt Parliament. The fish in the sea are a communal property, and no-one has the right, or can be granted the right, to demand payment from those doing the work for the right to work.

Those who work the land should band together, defy regulations, and sell their produce directly to the people, without going through the government-mandated middlemen who profit from their appointed positions regardless of the harm they do their own people with inflated prices for consumers and deflated prices for producers, or the price-gouging corporate supermarkets run by a cabal of career con artists.

Anyone needing shelter should simply move into any of the multitude of empty buildings scattered around the country in the wake of the building bubble’s bust. There is no fucking excuse whatsoever for homelessness in a nation as small as Iceland.

And finally, if Parliament will not bow to the will of those they were meant to serve, if they will not step down, then We the People of Iceland, native and foreign born, men, women, children and youths, elders, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, irrespective of faith, creed, or political leanings should rise up and establish new, more just, more equitable, more practical institutions to replace those we shall overthrow.

Declare your independence!

You don’t even have chains to lose.

They’ve been repossessed.

*A good friend of mine purchased a car two years ago by taking over a loan. The car is a good, fuel-efficient, cheap vehicle, and the loan was, at the time, very reasonable. After two years of paying more than the minimum payments, she now owes more for the car than when she took over the debt. The same sort of financing was used on indentured servants sent to British colonies to prevent them from ever paying off their debts and hence enslaving them for life, if not the life of their children as well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

With apologies to the bard...

...but is the winter of our discontent to be made glorious summer by this son of a bitch???

Sustainability Now!

I’ll be the first to admit that the title of this particular blog lacks emotional punch. It just doesn’t have the same oomph as “No Gods! No Masters!” or “No War but Class War” or “All Power to the People”. Hell, it doesn’t even beat out “Davið Burt” when it comes to eliciting an emotional response.

Which is a damn shame.

What Iceland, hell, what the world needs most right frigging now is sustainability. All those other issues, from human rights to anti-capitalism/anti-globalization to social and economic equality would take a quantum leap if we’d just be practical about shit.

And sustainability is practical. Radically so.

The central tenet of sustainability is adaptation. Not whether something is “natural” or not. The idea of “natural” has gotten all turned around, co-opted by advertising, and used by some of those who protest our impact on the environment to further the already gaping mental chasm between “humans” and “nature”.

We are part of nature. Therefore, everything we create is in essence, natural. The 100% bio-organic gluten-free rice milk drunk by vegans is as natural as the Diet Coke others wash down their Big Macs with. The “naturalness” of things isn’t the issue. Its how well adapted they are.

Most of our current technologies, from manufacturing “raw materials” to the finished products are terribly none-adaptive. Far from following the patterns of the ( non-human) natural world, whereby with very few exceptions everything operates on a nearly-closed loop (if sunlight is taken as an external factor), chemistry is carried out in water, all energy derives from current (as opposed to fossil) sunlight, food is produced and consumed locally, and variety is not only the spice of life, but one of its driving forces, our technologies (and this includes our economies, money is a technology, as well as our political institutions) are centralized and monopolistic, do most of their chemistry in “organic solvents” like benzene, derive most of their power from fossil sources (petro-carbons and radioactive isotopes) and actively strive to separate consumer from producer, not only in miles and kilometers but in mentality as well.

The end result is a non-adaptive way of life. And that which cannot or refuses to adapt will die off.

When I talk about sustainability, I’m not talking about some dippy-hippy patchouli-soaked leaky-roofed commune. I’m talking about a system of survival that would increase the material, cultural, and political welfare of the majority of people on this planet. Hell, if you look at over-consumption and toxic wealth as the bad things they are, even those currently “benefiting” from the current non-adaptive system would benefit, if only in the same way a junkie benefits from going cold turkey.

So what kinds of technologies are sustainable, i.e. adaptive?

Well, as Iceland has already become the canary in the global economic coalmine, let’s use it as an example. Currently almost all of Iceland’s fuel (including the bio-diesel proudly advertised by the bus system) is imported, which is ridiculously non-adaptive. Even leaving out the super-abundant energy resources like geo-thermal, hydro-electric, and the stunning underused wind, Iceland could still easily fuel its admittedly over-sized fleet of internal combustion vehicles locally, first by closing the loop, and then by local production (which would have the added benefit of cleaning the air).

To close Iceland’s fuel loop, we have to take a hint from nature and look at what is currently defined (and reviled) as “waste” as a resource. Reykjavik currently fuels all its garbage trucks on methane produced from household “waste”, but as smart as this idea is, it ignores all the other “waste” that could be converted. On farms, this is a very simple process. Animal waste is placed in airtight containers at around 30-40˚ C, and the natural process of decomposition produces methane, which is then filtered off into storage tanks. Methane can be used to fuel vehicles, heat homes, provide energy for manufacturing, cooking, you name it. As an added benefit, by purposely harnessing methane that is produced by animal waste whether we harness it or not and burning it (producing CO2) we prevent it leaking into the atmosphere where it does roughly ten times the greenhouse damage as CO2. If every chicken, pig, sheep, and dairy farm in Iceland made these simple and inexpensive changes, Iceland could cut its dependency on imported fossil fuels by at least 30%. Probably more. In the process, struggling farms would reap a net benefit in reduced fuel costs, a net profit on the sale of excess methane to consumers, and the entire food-production chain in Iceland would be come much less liable to catastrophic failure due to interruptions in foreign trade.

But why stop at the countryside? Humans, no matter how bitchy some folk get when you mention it to them, are animals. This means we can produce methane from our own waste as well. Currently human waste is processed in sewage plants that use those aforementioned (expensive) organic solvents to sterilize said waste before it is pumped (along with the toxic residuals of the sterilization process) into the coastal waters of Icelandic cities and towns. All this requires expense in the form of energy to run said plants, energy to manufacture said chemicals, energy to ship said chemicals here, and nets no resources in the end.

Now, if said waste were allowed to be broken down in a continuous feed methane digester, making use of biological enzymes and organisms to fully break down the waste (cellulose from paper can be broken down into fructose by amoeba found in termites, for instance) and the methane harvested and used to fuel the plant, the waste, now slurry, could then be pumped into a tank containing yeast, which would further break down the sewage, as well as producing trace methanol and a lot of ethanol, both of which kill off other, more harmful organisms, like disease bacteria.

(This is why yeast makes the stuff in the first place. Yeast evolved the ability to create a waste product (ethanol) that kills off other microorganisms. When you think about it, we get drunk off of yeast-poo.)

The alcohol could then be distilled by heating the slurry (with either geothermal heat or by using some of the methane) producing a methanol/ethanol mix suitable for fueling cars, and further sterilizing the slurry with heat. The end products of such a process would be two fuels (methane and ethanol) and highly nitrogen enriched organic matter perfect for use as fertilizer, say to spread on the large areas of barren sand currently threatening farm land in parts of the country and hence increasing the tillable soil and the possibility of stable, prosperous and self-sustaining food supply?

Other wastes can likewise be converted to fuels. Take all the used cooking oil that goes into feeding Iceland’s French fry habit. Having worked in my fair share of Reykjavik restaurants, I can tell you that most of this oil winds up either dumped down the sinks, or worse yet, down the nearest storm drain under cover of darkness. This is because the owners are usually loath to pay for disposing of waste oil properly.

(The fact that many of these owners were also loathe to pay proper wages is subject for another blog.)

This waste oil, along with the oil that can be produced from fish offal (internal organs, skin, and the heads of fish are the oiliest bits) that is currently either composted (stinky!) or thrown back into the sea from factory trawlers, can easily be converted to bio-diesel by filtration, amalgamation (whereby the various oils are heated together to expel water and become a single composite oil), and catalyst separation with methanol (remember where that can be produced???) and lye (which can be produced by filtering boiling water through ashes, say from a solid waste incinerator or wood-gas truck?) to separate the glycerin (which can be converted into fertilizer, as well as a host of other useful things) from the hydrocarbons in the oil, producing bio-diesel.

All this without even bothering to grow any rapeseed or hemp, both of which can be used to produce oil both for food and for bio-diesel (the “waste product” or which is seed mash, an excellent animal feed), both of which can be grown here in Iceland, and both of which fix more C02 from the atmosphere than the fuels they produce put back in. The C02 doesn’t just go into the plant oil, you see. It also goes into the plant itself, which by the way leaves us with straw (in the case of rapeseed, which can be baled and used to build extremely strong and well-insulated structures) and fiber (in the case of hemp, which can, and has been and is being, used in producing rope, cloth, paper, and composite materials). Failing that, its compost, which is a good thing in and of itself.

Speaking of compost, here in Reykjavik, they cut a lot of grass every summer; due to the city’s love-affair with open grassy stretches of traffic dividers and parks (oddly school-grounds tend to be completely paved). Add to that the amount of grass cut in private yards, the tree and shrub trimmings, the leafs, the weeds, and the paper litter, and you get a massive pile of compost and a massive fuel bill for all those lawnmowers and tractors.

The resulting “yard waste”, for reasons that bugger all imagination, is often stored in an open pile in the middle of one of the city’s most popular parks, right next to the playground and public grills, leaking methane and stench all summer long.

When it’s done stinking up the park, the compost is then shipped out of town to composting center. This is a good thing, but the process could be sped up a bit, and all those lawnmowers (don’t even get me started on the idiotic hover mowers Rvk supplies to its summer job program) fueled, by using first using termite amoeba to break down the cellulose in the compost, then distilling fuel alcohol from the resulting mash which could then be made into compost.

Hell, it could be sent through a bio-fuel sewage plant as mentioned above with the same end result.

Which is not to say that Reykjavik really should plant some more trees and allow for community gardens instead of huge wasteful and hard to maintain patches of ill-cared for lawn…

Ok. Ok. I digress, I know.

So does all this have to do with issues ranging from “human rights to anti-capitalism/anti-globalization to social and economic equality”?

Well for starters, technologies of this sort are “democratic” in that they tend to be decentralized and local. Decentralized local production tends to enrich the community around it, instead of siphoning wealth and resources out of a community. This tends to empower the people of said community, and empowered people are the essence of democracy. Likewise, these technologies work best on the small-scale/human scale, as opposed to the corporate scale, which gives people an increased say in how they are run. Likewise, such production is only economically viable when consumed within a limited geographic area, as the savings from local production are nullified by the cost of long-distance shipping. Take that globalization.

While there is the potential for profit from such undertakings, there is considerably less potential for monopolization, due to the fact that these technologies require very little capital to set up, and are not, nor ever should be, proprietary, i.e. patented. So anyone with requisite knowledge and ability can set one up. This prevents the funneling of economic power into the hands of a few (say a group of oil execs who’ve been price-gouging their fellow citizens for years, despite having been found guilty of price-fixing?) and hence makes for a more equitable society, as economic power and political power are two sides of the same corrupt coin and the unequal accumulation of one leads directly to the unequal accumulation of the other. Which generally leads to disrespect for human rights, as those unequally empowered try to keep those interested in empowering themselves from getting their fair share.

Being locally produced, these resources would be less affected by external markets and international events. So fuel produced in Dalvik would likely remain at the same price even if another war flared up in the Middle East. Aside from that obvious positive point, it would also mean that non-representative trans-national institutions, like the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, and so on, would be much less able to dictate policy to local communities from their ivory towers abroad.

Finally, because these technologies aim to close the loop, instead of to produce as much as possible in the shortest period of time, they act as a brake on out-of-control economic “growth” and help stabilize local and national economies.

Its not just fuel production though. There're hundreds of other factors that make sustainable economics a positive step towards real democracy and real equality. Like not being dependent on corporations that are required by law to constantly grow, even when said growth is harmful, for your food, clothing, and energy. Like being able to make use of your fair share of a natural resource, in a sustainable manner, instead of having said resource, or the rights to it, sold off by a government into the hands of a powerful well-connected few.

Just think about it. Is the over-production of wasteful “goods” on which we currently depend by massive entities controlled by tiny minorities really a sign of progress towards those goals which most of us have in common? Is putting a different minority in charge really going to change things? Is over-producing different “goods” going to? Or do we need a new kind of economics, one that practices production by the masses for the masses rather than mass production, as E.F. Schumacher once wrote? And with that new economics, a new politics, one in which democracy really means rule by the people, directly? Isn't it high time to discard those institutions and structures that have systematically disenfranchised us for solutions that empower us?

I for one think its time we empowered ourselves not just politically, but economically.

Anyone out there a welder? A computer technician capable of putting together a monitoring system? Someone with experience working with volatile gasses and the compressors? A farmer who wants to give it a try?

Get in touch.

Let’s do this thing.

Sustainability Now!

Monday, November 17, 2008

If its too loud, you´ve been in power too long.

Brigada Negra Cacophonica is seeking volunteers to make lots of noise!

As the Powers That Be in this country continue to turn a deaf ear to the will of the people, we've decided to crank the volume up to eleven and friggin' make them hear us.

Joining is easy. You just have to show up with a instrument of musical destruction, make loud rythmic noises with it, and maybe drum up a revolution!

Join now!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stop Bitchin' and Start a Revolution Already!

Enough of the speeches.

Enough bitching at your fellow protesters for not marching in your line.

Enough of this corrupt, incompetent, self-serving government.

We will not pay the debts of those who impoverished us.

We will not be quiet, sit still.

We will not be obedient.

We will be loud.

We will be raucous.

We will not be moved.

Bring drums.

Bring horns.

Bring pots to bang.

Paint your words on heavy shields, so the blows of those who would force us into silence will not harm us.

Cover your eyes so their venom will not sting

Be angry.

Be joyous.

Be ready.

We don't just want a new life, a new society, a new start.

We need one.

And the only people who can make that happen are ourselves.