Los Angeles: A New Beginning

From now on when I get triggered by a panel discussion featuring our mayor’s underlings, rather than run home and report on it I’m just going to make up what I’d have rather heard. This little imagined scenario was inspired by hearing the mayor’s current and former sustainability director spend an hour discussing pie in the sky notions that, in my cranky opinion, will never materialize. The mayor and his people seem to think that self flying vehicles are the solution to our current crisis. I could be wrong, but I’m willing to gift a LA River crayfish dinner in ten years time to the folks that prove my more down to earth climate change solutions notions wrong. So instead of waiting for that flying Uber, let’s trim the sails and plot a course for a different utopia . . .

Los Angeles, 2025
Enveloped in the white arc of a exploding battery, the mayor’s self driving electric limo careened off the road and ground to a halt along side of a mini mall convenience store at the corner of Temple and Alvarado. Who knew that the limo’s algorithms favored raccoons over human passengers?

Three hours later an autonomous ambulance pulled up.

“I’m Siri the paramedic,” said a disembodied voice emanating from a speaker next to a dirty and stained touch screen. “Are you okay?”

“Ugh. I think so,” said the mayor. “But I can’t see.”

“An Uber is being dispatched,” said the screen.

Later that evening, after a long and painful Uber ride, Garcetti awoke at KFC General Hospital. He would have many hours to reflect on his record as LA’s longest serving mayor while enjoying the ever popular Cheeto Chicken Sandwich™ that replaced the bland hospital fare of his youth. At his side was Lauren his sustainability minister.

The mayor put down his sandwich and began to stammer, “Bi, biiiiii bi biiiiii”

“What are you trying to say?” asked Lauren.

“Biiii, biii, biiii, biiiiiiiiii, biiiiicyyyyy . . .  bicycle,” said the mayor.

It was the first time in his many years as mayor that anyone had ever heard the mayor say the word.

“You mean those things kids use?” said Lauren.

“Maybe we could have protected lanes for them,” said the mayor. “That way you’d be safe and you wouldn’t get stuck in all the self driving car jams. Maybe more people would use them.”

“That’s insane. It will never happen,” replied Lauren. “I mean, it’s over 120º for most of the summer here now thanks to climate change.”

“Maybe that’s why we need ttttttt . . . trrrrrrr . . . trrreeeees . . . trees,” replied the mayor.

“What’s a tree?” asked Lauren.

“I think it’s some kind of self growing thing that makes oxygen and shade,” replied the mayor.

“Won’t they block the solar panels?” asked Lauren.

“Ba, ba, bu, buuuuuu . . . bus,” said the mayor.

“Huh? Mr. Mayor are you okay?” said Lauren.

“It’s . . . it’s like a car but carries over 100 people,” said the mayor.

“We’ll have to run that past minister Musk,” said Lauren as she gazed out the window.

“We could have lanes dedicated to buses,” blurted the mayor. “Maybe there could be affordable housing too?”

“With trees and bicycles? That’s impossible!” said Lauren. “How will we keep the coders employed?”

“Wait, who’s this minister Musk?” asked the mayor. “Is he that guy who accused a diver of being a ‘pedo’ so that he could buy some more time to make his own boy sized mini-submarine?”

“Really? He said that?” exclaimed Lauren.

“Yeah, I think that’s him,” replied the mayor. “Why the hell did I trust him so much?”

“Are you okay? Can I get you more Cheetos?” asked Lauren.

But all the Cheetos in the world wouldn’t bring the mayor back to his former self. Fredric Jameson once said, “it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” But that’s just what the mayor began to imagine thanks to the unlikely conjunction of an algorithm and a raccoon.

He realized it was well past time to learn to dig not learn to code. It was time to build sea walls instead of apps, bus lanes instead of battery packs, affordable housing instead of Olympic villages. With all the freeways gone he was able to make room for gardens and orchards.

It was a new start. The people of LA were no longer consumers in a climate change crisis but, instead, neighbors working hard to assure their children’s bright future.

Rain: A Journal of Appropriate Technology

To double down on the irony this morning, as soon as I announce computer problems I discover it to be just a loose power cord and shazam we’re back with a blog post–back to discuss an appropriate technology journal from the pre-internet days.

One hopeful node in the otherwise sewage clogged tubes of the interwebs, is the work of librarians who have thoughtfully digitized old periodicals. I spent a rainy Sunday afternoon reading the delightful Rain: A Journal of Appropriate Technology, which was published between 1974 and 1996. Here’s the description on the Portland State Library website:

RAIN began in October 1974 as a publication of ECO-NET, an environmental education network funded by the Hill Foundation and an Environmental Education grant. Its office was based in the Environmental Education Center at Portland State University. With a focus on the Pacific Northwest, particularly Oregon, RAIN originally described itself as a “bulletin board” with an “emphasis on environmental/energy related and communications kinds of information” and interested in “the evolutionary possibilities of inter-disciplinary connections.” RAIN is notable for its early engagement and promotion of appropriate technologies supporting sustainability, sound ecological practices, and decentralized community action.

RAIN is kind of like the Whole Earth Catalog but with a special focus on applying appropriate technology here in the developed world. As one article put it, “You can’t sell compost toilets to others if you won’t use them yourself.”

For me, reading RAIN was melancholic. It’s hard not to think about how much better off we’d all be, from a climate change perspective, if we’d heeded the warnings and solutions offered back in the 1970s. Or for that matter, John Ruskin and William Morris’ concerns about the “dark satanic mills” of the 19th century. Hell, we even made a stab at this when we wrote our books around the time of the 2008 economic meltdown. But somehow the allure of shiny consumer objects sends us all back into destructive spasms of consumption and waste and publications like RAIN get forgotten.

Rain featured a lot of articles by E. F. Schumacher, as well as covering such topics as energy efficiency, permaculture and alternative schools. One topic I’d never thought much about, the destructive influence of tourism, seemed to be the special concern of co-editor Tom Bender. Here’s an especially eloquent passage by Bender from the May 1976 issue:

Drinking wine one recent evening with Florian Winter, an Austrian visiting us on a global survey of renewable energy developments for the U.N., we got into talking about the destruction of European cathedrals by tourism.

Each person came, he said, and took away a little of the cathedrals–in their camera, in their mind, or in the conversation–and now nothing remains.

In that absurdity there is truth.

All places live though the reverence with which we hold them–without which they crumble to pieces, unloved, unmaintained, abandoned and destroyed. That reverence is the glue that in reality binds the stones and the blood that in truth sustains the life of a place.

For the life of a place lies in its relation to the people that share it. And it is that reverence first which is taken away, tour group by tour group. Without this reverence, a place has nothing to give to those whose lives it must sustain, and they in turn lose their nourishment and fall into the same dereliction as their cathedral. It need not be so, for the visit of a pilgrim differs from that of a tourist. A pilgrim brings love and reverence, and the visit of a pilgrim leaves behind a gift of their reverence for others to share.

. . . And we lessen the soul of all places to which we go, and ourselves as well when we take without giving and come to them without reverence to life and to land, to people and to place, to ourselves and to the creation of which we are part. That is the destruction of which tourism is part and from which tourism arises, and it is there that we again can find the healing power for our land and our lives.

It’s well past time that we consider the wisdom in the pages of RAIN again.

Water Harvesting Rock Star Brad Lancaster

Spend an hour with Brad at his Tucson compound circa 2016:

He calls the 1/8th of an acre site he shares with his brother’s family, his “living laboratory”. Here he plants around the greywater from his outdoor shower, bathtub and washing machine. He captures 100,000 gallons of rainwater per year on their property and surrounding public right-of-way. He cooks with a solar oven and heats his water using a 2 salvaged, conventional gas heaters stripped of insulation, painted black, and put in an insulated box with glass facing south to collect the sun’s rays.

Via Lloyd’s blog. Thanks to Dale Benson for the tip!

Of Love and Compressed Air

I’m always awestruck by the careful, scholarly writing of Low Tech Magazine creator Kris De Decker (a guest on episode 83 of our podcast). He just published two long articles on the history of compressed air, “History and Future of the Compressed Air Economy” and “Ditch the Batteries: Off-Grid Compressed Air Energy Storage.” This is one of those topics that’s so boring as to be exciting and once you start thinking of the possibilities of compressed air you’ll find yourself, inappropriately, peppering your cocktail party conversation with compressed air anecdotes. Who knew that the city of Paris had an elaborate compressed air distribution system that operated from 1881 to 1994?

Compressed air has been on my mind since purchasing an air compressor and pneumatic finishing nailer that has made the carpentry work for our ongoing house restoration process much easier. What De Decker is writing about, however, goes much deeper than my horribly inefficient Home Depot air compressor. His article is about the air compressor as an alternative to chemical batteries and ways to compress air with wind, solar and hydro power.

Some Amish communities use compressed air as a way of separating themselves from the “English” world and its power grid. In fact, compressed air is sometimes referred to as “Amish Electricity.” While the Amish compress air mostly with diesel generators, some use windmills. The Amish convert kitchen appliances to run on compressed air as well as power tools.

Over the weekend, Root Simple pal Charlie sent me an email describing his grandfather’s patent (US4311010A) for a “Gas-powered engine adapted to utilize stored solar heat energy and compressed gas power system.” Apparently, he couldn’t find a machinist to realize this compressed air storage invention (they all thought it was a perpetual motion machine).

Let me conclude with a detour from the power of compressed air to the power of love. If you didn’t see Bishop Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon, you really should. He turned what could have been nothing more than a celebration of vapid celebrity into something completely different. Now it’s up to us to figure out how to concentrate and distribute the love Curry so movingly spoke of. It might just be easier than setting up a compressed air network . . .

Gray Miscellany

Root Simple has a large, virtual dust bin full of news and notions not quite worthy of a full blog post. I thought I’d sweep a few of them into a brief missive.

Grey vs. Gray
In the great greywater vs. graywater debate I neglected to note a somewhat irrelevant factoid: Sherwin-Williams sells a paint color named after the actor/monologist Spalding Gray. When will Werner Herzog get a paint color?

OED Access
I couldn’t find my library’s online Oxford English Dictionary access. Then I did some digging and discovered it. For those of you in Los Angeles you can access the OED with your library card number here.

While you’re on the LA Library’s website, take a look at their scanned collection of vintage menus, including the Brown Derby and Cocoanut Grove.

America’s Hippest Neighborhood
The part of Los Angeles we live in or on the border of (the border region is disputed) is Silver Lake. Silver Lake is two words my brothers and sisters. If I downed a matcha latte for every time I’ve seen “Silverlake” I’d be a wealthy, if green tinted man. FYI, Silver Lake is named after Herman Silver, a water commissioner and city councilman from the early 1900s.  Perhaps we should rename our lake and community after Spalding Gray. Welcome to Gray Lake! But then, I suppose, we’d have the grey vs. gray problem.

While we’re on the topic of local news, the band Yacht, in their latest video, has included the beloved “happy foot/sad foot” characters from the rotating podiatrist’s sign that defines and delineates us from greater Silver Lake.

Have a great weekend and please enjoy this chicken playing Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro“:

This is why we have the internets.