A very long and damning piece that makes plenty of good points, but it’s also another contribution to a long history of radicals declaring artists to be the enemy. If you expect artists to have better answers to how we ought to live than everyone else does then you will surely be disappointed. Not many artists are also theorists and a great many of them are not even intellectuals and that is fine.
Certainly, the difference between the cynical capitalist artist and the “legitimate” radical artist (if such a thing exists) is hard to parse these days and that is a large part of the problem with how our art institutions (and assumptions) are structured. But nobody really knows what to do about capitalism, and even if one believes, as Prolapsarian does, that “the abolition of capitalism is not a choice but a necessity,” the path to that abolition looks obscure, if not totally blockaded, and what lies on the other side is a mystery to everyone.
So, Postlapsarian is fully entitled to count himself among “those of us who care about art, those of us who think that art’s critical capacities have not been exhausted and extinguished,” but I find this kind of line-drawing vanguardism distasteful and more than a little self-righteous. I would venture to say that most artists do care about art and they are doing their best to say something meaningful about the world. If they fail, well, so do most of us; I think calling the Whitechapel Gallery’s exhibition about utopia “idiotic” is entirely too uncharitable, even if it may in fact be kind of limp (I do not know, I have not seen it).
I also think that the whole question of “critique” needs to be significantly rethought these days, and that one should no longer unselfconsciously quote Adorno, but that is a whole other essay altogether. At any rate, this post is definitely worth reading, but as you can tell, I’d take it with a grain of salt.
by Jason Pramas (Staff), Apr-15-13
Open Media Boston Editorial
Like everyone else in the Boston area, the Open Media Boston staff is still numb with shock at the news that a vicious explosive attack was perpetrated by forces unknown against innocent civilians at the Boston Marathon today. Three people are dead as of this writing - one of them an eight year old boy. Well over 100 people have been injured - quite a large number with damage to their lower extremeties. And a significant percentage of those unlucky people have already suffered through single or double amputations.
Our hearts go out to all the victims of this terrible and unconscionable crime. Sadly, nothing we can do will change events. What’s done is done. All that remains now is our society’s quest for justice. People understandably want to make sure that the relevant authorities find the criminals, arrest them, and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. And this publication certainly supports that.
What we cannot support is any cry for justice that degenerates into calls for the suspension of civil liberties for any group of people. This nation has seen far too much of that kind of behavior after the 9/11 attack on New York City led to the largest expansion of America’s national security state since the Cold War.
So, with blood still literally staining Boylston St., we appeal to the people of Boston - and to the American government at all levels - for calm. Find the criminals, yes. Punish them, yes. But don’t forget that this country is a democracy. Don’t stoop to tarring entire groups of people with the brush of terrorism. And certainly avoid collective punishment at all costs.
For our part, we remember that the role of journalists in a democracy is to ensure the furtherance of that democracy. So we’re going to keep an eye on civil liberties in Boston in the aftermath of today’s attack and encourage our colleagues at other news outlets to do the same.
We’ll also take this opportunity to put a democratic spin on that Orwellian tip that the MBTA and other transit authorities around the US have been pushing in PR campaigns since 9/11: “If you see something, say something.”
That’s exactly right. If you see members of the Boston Police Department, or the Massachusetts State Police, or the National Guard, or any branch of armed forces, or any of the many intelligence agencies that are now sweeping the city looking for the perpetrators of today’s bombing violating people’s civil liberties - or your own civil liberties - then you need to let us know. And let the rest of the news media know. And let the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild know.
Because we can’t allow our city’s tragedy to turn into an excuse to conduct witch hunts against Muslims, or immigrants, or African-Americans, or any group that have traditionally been scapegoated in times of crisis in the US.
And we can’t allow each crisis push us further away from our democratic heritage - flawed though it may be. Because down that road lies America’s ruin.
Anyone that wants to let us know about a suspected civil liberties violation in the Boston area can do so by emailing us at info [at] openmediaboston [dot] org. You should also talk to the ACLU of Massachusetts and the National Lawyers Guild - Massachusetts Chapter.
People looking for a good central repository of useful information relating to the Boston Marathon Tragedy should check out a site that we’re working on with local technologists at http://www.bostonsituation.org.
Jason Pramas is Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston
by Jason Pramas
Open Media Boston
There have been a couple of related alarums sounded in the Boston press over the last few weeks. The first is that our fair city has crazy high rents. True, this is not precisely news to anyone that lives here. But a low vacancy rate combined with a lack of low and middle income apartment construction combined with foreclosure victims entering the rental market combined with upper middle class empty nesters looking to move back to the city from the suburbs combined with lots of fairly well-heeled students from all over the world looking to rent while in school translates to a very tight rental market. So our usual crazy high rents are now hitting new apogees of craziness and highness on a monthly basis.
The second is that Boston is doing little to hold onto its artists (and other “creatives”). And since numerous high panjandrums of pop economic prognostication regularly tell us that the key to urban success in the 21st century involves letting artists and hipster entrepreneurs take over working class neighborhoods - which then somehow kickstarts the local economy - the argument is being made by earnest booster organizations like Future Boston Alliance and funders like the Boston Foundation that the city government needs to put forth a serious effort to a) make Boston more hip and livable, and b) support the arts and artists more seriously. These forces seem to be casting about for whiz-bang reform proposals to this end - while putting modest amounts of money into direct support for creative businesses. And, in the Boston Foundation’s case, part of their program on this issue involves a kind of quixotic effort to fund “cultural flash mobs” to … um … do whatever it is they do.
Regular Open Media Boston viewers will recall that I’ve become serious enough about my photography over the last few years to get into an MFA Visual Arts program, and start to get called an artist in some out of the way corners of the local art scene. Which puts me right in the target demographic for such efforts. I’m also a charter member of the erstwhile “creative class” of symbolic workers - being a middle-aged journalist with a quarter century of part-time, temp, and contract jobs under my belt. And that is, after all, the natural condition of the vast majority of the much-vaunted creative class. A lifetime of unstable underpaid gigs. Which, not coincidently, has long been the lot of most artists historically. The art theorist Gregory Sholette has gone so far as to refer to the struggling masses of unrecognized broke artists as “dark matter” - the joke being that without this tremendous seething cauldron of creativity from which to draw (and “borrow” ideas from), there would be no art stars and no art industry.
That being said, artists and other creatives are still a small fraction of working people. And so while I generally support civic-minded initiatives from basically progressive groups like the Future Boston Alliance to push reforms like keeping the T open later, and then letting bars stay open longer or whatever - because, you know, drunk stoned over-educated slacker hipsters are just so much better for the economy than sober industrious ones - I can’t help but think that forests are being missed for the trees in this discussion.
Because if we accept that artists are working people - due both to the artwork for which they get paid so little and so rarely, and the “job jobs” that they do to make ends more or less meet - then we have to concede that it makes little sense to privilege them above other working people when discussing urban problems that all Boston area denizens face.
Problems like the “rent being too damn high” - to quote both bizarro New York City political hopeful Jimmy McMillan and parodist Kenan Thompson of Saturday Night Live - are the same ones that all working people face in Boston. So I think it’s a mistake to separate artists out as some kind of privileged class and talk about solutions that will benefit them alone in the absence of having real discussions about meaningful reforms citywide.
On the one hand because no supposed reform being proposed thus far goes outside the corporate-speak-as-usual thinking that has dominated discourse in virtually all sectors of American society for the last couple of decades.
On the other because most reforms that affect artists alone won’t be sufficient to trigger change on any significant scale.
So people can talk all they want about the need to support entrepreneurial efforts by artists and other creatives, and they can focus all they want on starting projects that benefit such creatives. But it won’t be enough to improve the lives of most working artists in Boston - let alone even begin to meet the needs of most working people in the city.
However, there is a way to get some real solutions to start snapping into focus.
We could begin by recognizing that our business-driven modes of discourse have limited our ability to think clearly about either societal problems or potential solutions.
Because business thinking - that is to say capitalist thinking - tends to promote what amounts to individual solutions to social crises like Boston’s housing crisis. And that just doesn’t work. Unless one believes that the disease that caused the problem in question can also cure it. Furthermore such thinking is incapable of even analyzing the nature of such a crisis in any real way.
For example, the problem of rental housing in Boston is not at all “simply a question of supply and demand” as many mainstream pundits would have it. It is a problem of allowing the so-called “market” to control a basic human resource like housing in the first place. Rather than engaging in rational democratic planning in the public sector.
So, in fact, we have a crisis in housing in Boston because we allow private developers to control housing construction. Private developers are businesspeople. As such, their raison d’être is make a profit. Given that, they only want to build housing that will make them the most handsome profit possible. Be it with rental units or condos or single-family dwellings. This is why most of the 1800 housing units being built in downtown Boston at the moment are luxury units. That is to say they are being built for upper-middle class and wealthy clients. Developers will generally only consider building “affordable” units after negotiating generous public subsidies for themselves. Which is the case for both new housing starts or rehab programs for older - usually formerly public - apartment buildings.
There are a number of ways to reform this non-system. I assume that the easiest way will be to move back to a mixed economy where we get government back in the business of building housing again - using public funds to fill a real social need while creating unionized “high road” construction jobs that will themselves do a great deal to breathe life into the local economy and help revive working-class neighborhoods in the bargain. A much better use of government money than, for example, giving huge tax breaks to corporations like Raytheon in exchange for “job creation” that evaporates before the ink is dry on the latest “public-private partnership”.
Of course this doesn’t mean we just have cities like Boston build big badly planned Soviet-style tower blocks as was done around the US post-World War II in low-income neighborhoods around the nation. Nor does it mean that our famously contentious and nepotistic city government should directly manage such housing.
No indeed. We would want our best and brightest urban planners - of whom we have many at several fine universities - to design some really clever ultra-modern public developments. Then we would need to think about letting the tenants (or owners) run the developments as housing co-operatives or co-housing developments or any of a number of democratic non-profit housing management systems that middle-class hippie types and labor unions alike have been happily creating for themselves for nearly a century now.
And we need to site this housing where it’s really needed. Especially in the at-risk working class neighborhoods like East Boston and South Boston and Charlestown and Roxbury and Dorchester that well meaning boosters like the aforementioned groups are proposing to colonize with college-educated artists and go-go symbolic professionals.
In general - as my colleague and fellow left-wing policy wonk Suren Moodliar of Massachusetts Global Action put it earlier today - we need to think about ways to get as much housing out of the market system as possible, and create so much good new housing under public control that it depresses the housing market and brings costs in the private housing sector back down to more reasonable levels.
If we can do that, then artists and creatives and the traditional working class alike will no longer have to struggle for housing - rental or otherwise - in Boston.
And private developers can still make a killing selling luxury housing to rich people that come from around the world to our once-and-future global city. But they can do so without public money, and without distorting the housing supply in ways that harm the 99 percent (or so) of us that can’t pay $3,000+ a month for a 600 square foot 2-bedroom apartment.
Housing justice lies in that direction. Rather than using artists as the entering wedge of a new wave of gentrification at exactly the worst moment in American political economic history.
That’s enough for this week. Comments from OMB viewers are welcome, as always.
Jason Pramas is Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston … and now ArtBoy [TM] - a leisure service of ArtCo International …
Like many other progressives, I watched the weekend of No NATO protests in Chicago with great concern. Not because - like the more ill-informed and/or right-wing media commentators - I was scared of “terrorists” or “The Black Bloc” (as the more ill-informed, right-wing and/or just plain lazy members of the fourth estate have been typing it recently … as if the black bloc tactic were an actual organization). Rather because I believe in democracy. And therefore I believe in the fundamental democratic right to dissent. And the related fundamental democratic right to peaceably assemble for the redress of grievances. Since I hold these beliefs - which are supposed to be enshrined in the foundational documents of the United States of America - I have a serious problem with the increasingly common practice of militarizing American cities during major political events where there is likely to be a large demonstration. That is, a large left-wing demonstration. Large right-wing demonstrations tend to get kid glove treatment from our government at all levels since they are no threat whatsoever to the corporate-dominated status quo. Quite the reverse. Although it’s rare that right-wingers can get more than a few thousand people in one place for anything other than an evangelical service at some megachurch anyway. For progressives, demonstrations are currently our primary means of engaging in a political system which largely shuts us out. We call them frequently and scarcely a year goes by without at least one 100,000+ person march or rally somewhere in the US. So preventing us from having successful demonstrations is a means of censoring our views even further than they are already censored by our corporate-owned media and corporate-dominated public media.
That said, let’s look at the Chicago demonstrations. Attendance estimates have ranged from 2,000 (from some Democratic Party functionaries) to over 40,000 (from some rather hopeful lefties). From the photos I’ve seen, the number looks to have been between 5,000 and 10,000. But I wasn’t there in person and that’s not my point anyway. Let’s say there were 50,000 demonstrators against NATO - the number that Adbusters magazine insisted on publicizing over the heads of Occupy Chicago activists and other local organizers a while back. Since that’s the kind of crowd the government was prepared to defend the NATO summit against.
A march and rally of 50,000 people in a city the size of Chicago is just not that big a deal logistically. Especially since these events are usually organized by experienced hands that know how to run things and deal with the city and the police and keep things moving smoothly.
But let’s assume that - given the growing militant anti-capitalist spirit that has been sparked by the Occupy movement since last fall - as many as 5,000 activists (one-tenth of a 50,000 person demo) didn’t want to stop at a march and rally against NATO, but wanted to take their protest right to the site of the NATO event. And let’s further assume that some were willing to engage in some pushing and shoving with the police to get where they wanted to go. Police that, to be clear, get lots of money from (the unfortunately named) Department of Homeland Security for all kinds of arms and armor. And thus are totally loaded for bear in any street protest situation with all kinds of nasty but “non-lethal” (mostly) crowd control weapons to play with. And therefore are in little real physical danger at all from unarmed protestors. Sure there will be injuries in any melee. But the injuries cops sustain is rarely as nasty as the ones they deliver with their aforementioned armory.
Now in the old days - say 25 or 30 years ago - demonstrators would have been able to get quite close to events like the NATO meeting. Definitely a block away at times. Sometimes even closer depending on the situation and the defenses.
And that was just too bad for the cops and the powers-that-be. The right to protest means that protestors have every right to get reasonably close to the target of their opprobrium. Not usually inside the event being protested - although small groups with the necessary credentials can pull that off. But certainly within shouting distance.
Of course that is an inconvenience for the people running the event being protested. It’s meant to be. And again, that’s just too bad.
I mean, sorry. That’s politics. If lots of people hate what you’re doing, then you have to either placate them by reforming your policies enough to shut them up or put up with the consequences of your actions.
And if, like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, you’re responsible for helping destabilize sovereign governments in the service of multinational corporations and in the interest of regional control by the US … wasting billions of dollars annually that should be going to social services in the process … then you have to expect political blowback.
Problem is the American ruling class wants to have its cake and eat it too. They want to ceaselessly loot and despoil the planet and its people, and do so without hearing a peep of dissent.
But in a democracy, rich people, their corporations, and their bought-off politicians, have to put up with regular protests at the very least.
And we’re not so far gone that public demonstrations are completely banned.
But we’re edging closer and closer to that state of affairs. And that’s what’s worrying me.
For example, whenever some big capitalist confab is imposed upon a city from above - as was the case for the NATO meeting in Chicago - its organizers get to invoke a special unconstitutional (although they have the juridical mojo to duck that assertion) maneuver and call the NATO summit a “National Special Security Event.”
NSSE is not a designation established by Republicans like Bush, Jr., mind you. Like so many pieces of bad governance it was never passed by Congress at all. And it was done by a Democratic administration. It was enabled by President Bill Clinton in May 1998 as part of Presidential Decision Directive 62. All the feds need to do to bring it into play is indicate that there is a threat of “terrorism” at a large and significant event that is planned to last a few days or more and is likely to have “dignitaries” in attendance.
Since pretty much any oppositional group - irrespective of actual documented violent behavior or lack thereof - can be deemed “terrorist” in a pinch, and since lots of big meetings of the rich and powerful last a few days or more and automatically include lots of dignitaries, it’s no trick to designate meetings like the NATO summit an NSSE.
Once an event becomes a National Special Security Event, the US Secret Service - a completely trustworthy entity whose special agents in no way engage in any off-duty naughty activities without paying - is immediately put in charge of its security. The FBI is placed in charge of intelligence. FEMA is put in charge of recovery operations in the event of terrorism or natural disaster. And so on.
Most of the manpower will still be supplied by local law enforcement agents - like the Chicago Police Department this past weekend - but they are coordinated by the feds.
Since the big and vague spectre of “terrorism” is at the center of this giant dog and pony show, security preparations for an NSSE are concomitantly big as well. So such preparations no longer simply include standard hotel and route security for delegates coupled with site security that involves checkpoints at all public entrances and perhaps a one-block cordon on all streets around the venue.
Oh, no no. Now they can basically shut down as much of the host city as they want for as long as they want. And they can put heavily armed police, paid paramilitaries, National Guard and military forces on the ground on all public transportation routes plus bus stations, train stations, ports and airports.
And most importantly, from the perspective of corporate and government bigs, they can keep protestors well away from the NSSEs at will.
And they can preemptively arrest people and hold them without charges before an NSSE even starts. Which they can apparently now do with impunity anyway since the National Defense Authorization Act passed a few months back - although the offending passages of that law are already being challenged in the courts.
And they can nail people on federal conspiracy and terrorism charges as we saw with the protest kids in Chicago that were busted in just such a fashion for either possessing beer making equipment that could be spun as a dangerous explosives setup or getting directly entrapped by undercover cops who thoughtfully left some ready-made molotov cocktails in the kids’ crash pad so they could be conveniently “discovered” in the surprise (and improperly warranted) raid by the CPD.
[One of those kids is from Boston, and you’ve got to watch the coverage of those developments by the “reporters” from Fox 25 News to believe how bad “journalism” can get these days. Not that much of the coverage of the No NATO protests was any better - and yes I’m talking about you, WGN staff.]
And under the guise of the aforementioned “intelligence” work the feds and local cops can get up to all kinds of dirty tricks to make it more difficult for protestors to get to the host city of the NSSE, and walk the streets without getting detained and interrogated at gunpoint. Which the various nodes of our national security state have always done anyway from time to time, but not with the broad coverage of “anti-terrorist” directives like the one that enabled NSSEs.
And once protests finally get going, they can pour thousands of heavily armed police and paramilitaries into the streets - and start using violent tactics at will. Which explains why the casualty list from Chicago is higher than a typical demonstration of its size under normal circumstances.
Not to mention the old government practice of seeding the crowds at such protests with agents provocateurs who can have a blast throwing the occasional rock or breaking a window or two - which acts can then be blown out of all proportion by the cops and their loyal news media into the moral equivalent of dropping a nuke on a childcare center.
And do actual protestors occasionally throw a rock or break a window, too? Sure. Though it’s still a rare occurrence at left-wing demonstrations in this country. Is it any kind of big deal in situations involving thousands of people? Not at all. A garden party compared to the average professional sports event - and more specifically, the average post-championship street party. Since protestors are usually stone sober in the main. Not fueled up with booze or dope beforehand.
In summation, do I have a problem with putting a few dozen officers in the field to cover a protest of thousands? No. They can always call for reinforcements if really necessary.
Do I have a problem with standard security measures at large events with dignitaries? No. As long as they focus on the hotels, motorcade routes, and event sites. And as long as they don’t cordon off streets for more than a block or so away from the event. Less if at all possible.
Am I not concerned about “terrorism”? If by that the hypothetical questioner means some big violent act taken by a political or religious organization against a big event and the city around it, then I am most certainly concerned. I think blowing things up is a non-starter as a political strategy, and I don’t ever want to see innocent people killed for any reason - no matter how “noble” the cause.
But that’s why we have intelligence agencies and police forces in place to begin with. To stay on top of groups likely to commit such acts and bring them to heel before they can do so.
Do I think militarizing entire cities in the service of such intelligence and police work with do anything to stop such acts? Absolutely not.
But then, neither do most of the people in the national security state that drafted Presidential directives like the one that enabled NSSEs.
The purpose of having a designation like an NSSE is to stifle public dissent against unpopular corporate and government policies.
And more disturbingly, I believe it is a building block of fascism. Of total control of political life by a corporate-dominated state.
So it’s critical that Americans protest this kind of government tactic while we still can.
We’ve already had one NSSE in Boston since the 1998 Presidential enabling directive was issued. Our city was militarized for several days in July 2004 when the Democratic National Convention came to town. The DNC being an automatic NSSE.
I’ll never forget riding the subway with guys with automatic weapons. Or seeing UMass Boston - where we had just held the Boston Social Forum - turned into a staging area for combined police and military forces on hand for the convention. A parking lot and playing field was covered with police cars and military vehicles. I heard they were mobilizing 3,000 cops and troops there.
In fact, the room UMB gave us as a temporary headquarters for the BSF was completely torn apart by the Secret Service the moment we were forced out at 4 p.m on July 25, 2004.
I returned to the little nondescript concrete room after all the hoopla was over a couple of weeks later, and was flabbergasted at how they’d ripped out sections of the walls and torn out the ceiling panels.
As if the organizers of a huge public forum were stashing weapons at UMB or some crazy thing.
And what of the Boston Garden where the convention was being held. They built a fence around it. Just for starters.
And any protestors that wanted to approach to about a couple of blocks away were supposed to go to the “protest zone” - which was what?
It was a cage.
A freaking cage. That’s how much they thought of free speech. A cage next to the old elevated trolley … and the rubble of the old elevated highway through the center of town - now replaced by the series of parks that includes the Dewey Square park made famous as the former encampment site of Occupy Boston. A place where most of the press in town for the DNC would never think of going. And that protestors mostly avoided entirely - except to protest its very existence as an affront to democracy - preferring instead to hold marches and rallies elsewhere in town.*
It’s up to all Americans to stand up to this kind of anti-democratic practice. We cannot allow protest to be outlawed for a week, a day or even an hour in any public space - and I mean public in its broadest sense here, referring to the way it’s used and perceived by the general public, not to whether it’s privately owned or not. Because once the militarization of public space becomes commonplace, then it’s a hop, skip and a jump away from militarizing the entire society.
And that cannot be allowed to happen.
So, my advice here?
Find a group like the ACLU that is opposing this kind of government overreach and start working to preserve our democratic rights.
And if there isn’t a group where you’re at, start one.
Fight undemocratic government policies and practices now. Or become a victim of them later.
Jason Pramas is Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston
*Longtime progressive activist Michael Horan remembers that by the second day of protest, the authorities had basically ceded Canal St. - next to the Cage up to the fence on Causeway St. surrounding the Boston Garden - to demonstrators for the remainder of the DNC. Thanks for the reminder! He provides a photo of protestors on Canal St. here.
(Photo) The amount that students owe quintupled between 2000 and 2011.
Education should be free, not a cash cow for bankers squeezing money out of hard-working students.
by Jason Pramas
For the next two days, the Boston area is experiencing extremely high pollen levels - 11.8 on a 12 point scale. And the pollen levels will continue above 10 points all week until it finally rains next weekend. This is highly unusual. Even for a city like Boston that often has fairly high pollen levels between spring and fall. Climate experts say it’s the result of the second warmest winter on record hereabouts - and the warmest March on record. Plants are growing earlier than normal and pollinating earlier than normal. And different pollen seasons are overlapping more than they normally would. So huge amounts of pollen are being produced, and the drought we’re experiencing is causing dry conditions … which in turn allow any wind to blow pollen around more than it would if we were getting normal amounts of rain. For someone with environmental allergies and asthma like myself, these kinds of pollen levels - mostly for tree allergies which aren’t even my worst environmental allergies - make me feel ill. Sick enough, in fact, that I have to avoid going outdoors at all. Difficult for the urban journalist on the go, I can assure you. And for any working adult.
But it’s not just allergies that pin me down in my apartment for over a dozen days a year like the proverbial “bubble boy” (that people love to joke about with me). It’s the growing number of extreme weather days of all kinds that make life difficult for me, and millions of other people like me around the US and around the world. When the weather gets extremely cold - like 25 degrees Fahrenheit or under - it’s not safe for me to go out much. Although climate change may or may not cause less extremely cold days to occur each winter, still hard to say. When the weather is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or over - which is happening more and more often, it’s also not safe for me to go out much. If it’s over 90 degrees and humid, it’s even worse. If it’s over 90 degrees and humid and we’re having an air quality alert day - largely from particulate matter blown here on prevailing winds from power plants and heavy industry in New York City and the Midwest - I have quite a bit of trouble even when indoors with air conditioning running.
All this makes me worry quite a bit. I’m already middle aged. I’ve never had great health largely because of having chronic allergies and asthma. And it’s believed that I have these problems because of existing environmental crises in the industrial town north of Boston where I grew up that caused many kids to get environmental allergies and asthma. Namely, breathing the effluent from the dirty Salem power plant when the wind was right, and the fact that I grew up in a town with working factories. And that my family lived directly in front of an industrial park - meaning that diesel trucks drove by my house 24/7/365. And let’s not forget about all the interesting chemicals I was doubtless exposed to while running around polluted streams, fields and woods … and playing at the aforementioned industrial park. Or the junior high I attended for two years right next to a major chemical plant. Or the two major highways that converged right near my family’s place.
So with an already compromised immune system, I have to wonder how I’m going to be able to cope with more and more “bad days” as global warming accelerates. I’ve been following the science of global warming since the mid-1980s. For the last quarter century, I’ve been among the legion of environmental activists warning that global warming was going to really mess up the human civilization that created it by the early 21st century.
And now we’re in the second decade of that century, and global warming is definitely happening. And getting worse. And the US government isn’t doing a damned thing to stop it, but is instead working at the behest of polluting industries, energy conglomerates, and go-go capitalists of all stripes to accelerate it. And the same thing is happening in many other countries. And the few countries that have leadership that really understands the magnitude of the crisis are either too weak to sway world politics in the direction of sanity or find such leaders overthrown by corporate-backed candidates - or, as was recently the case for the environmentalist president of the Maldive Islands Mohamed Nasheed, corporate-backed military coups with the blessing of the US government. And the Maldives are high on the list of island nations to be entirely submerged by global warming induced rising sea levels sometime in the next few decades. If they can’t keep an environmentalist government in power, who can?
With all this in the background, I’m already kept inside by high heat and/or bad allergies and/or poor air quality (or sometimes cold air) for at least a couple of weeks a year. What if we have a month of days with 90 plus degree heat on average? I mean, here in Boston. A northern American city where that kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen. What about two months. What if a week or more of those days are over 100 degrees? What if weeks of allergy days top the 12 point allergy scale?
What am I and all the people like me going to do then? Forget all the even more major problems that global warming is going to produce … like global drought, and collapsing food production. Forget that we’re running out of easily available fossil fuels; so that the transport network our food distribution system relies on is highly vulnerable to failure in the absence of major initiatives for zero carbon energy solutions. Forget the destruction of the forests, the oceans, and the concomitant rise in CO2 levels (which in turn spurs plant growth and increases the global pollen load).
We’ve all heard a lot of promises about the wonders that advances in biology, genetics and medicine hold for people like me in the not-too-distant future. But that future never seems to arrive. Especially with most biologists and geneticists working for corporations on projects that have much more to do with increasing profits on existing product lines - and patenting life the better to make a profit off of privatizing nature - than they do with trying to expand human knowledge for the benefit of all. And with fewer medical doctors getting the public support they need to do basic research.
So I’m not holding my breath for a “cure” for asthma or allergies. Approaching a half century on this planet, there have been very few significant medical advances that make living with either condition easy. Current asthma meds can keep my lungs working pretty much like a normal person’s in normal conditions. But I’m still very sensitive to negative changes in my environment. And anyone who knows me can tell you that the asthma meds don’t stop me from coughing all the time. Day in, day out. Cough, cough, cough.
Some of which is caused by the allergies. And current allergy meds are really not much of an improvement on the allergy meds of my childhood at all. In fact, the medical regimen of last resort for bad environmental allergies remains allergy shots … which is basically warmed-over homeopathy. The shots themselves are risky to the patient, and their medical efficacy is debatable. For many patients there’s no improvement at all. For many others, there’s only a vague sense of improvement, but that can be hard to quantify. And any salutary effects of shots don’t last forever. They have to be started afresh years down the line.
Even if cures were found to allergies, asthma and a host of related conditions, in an America where millions of people have been suckered into inveighing against any kind of serious national healthcare program, how are most people like me going to be able to afford them?
I really don’t know. So I can try to ignore the mounting number of days I have to hide from a world that’s making me sick as the years go by. And I’m glad that modern technology at least has advanced enough to allow me a decent level of productivity for work I can do digitally. But I can’t help wondering when it’s all going to become impossible to ignore, and I’m going to find myself an invalid and a shut-in. With no way of making a living - even at a keyboard. As the economy gets ever worse. As power outages become endemic. As food and water shortages become chronic. As systems of all kinds - including the healthcare system I need to live at all normally - simply break down for most people. And the government loses its way entirely. Because it’s serving the rich and powerful, rather than working families. And families with children, grandparents and sick people like me.
Maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe humanity will get a lucky break. Maybe the political situation will improve after great struggle, and we’ll stave off the worst. Maybe there will be big scientific breakthroughs that will solve the energy crisis, food and water crises, and perhaps even the climate crisis itself. Maybe they’ll find cures for a bunch of environmentally related medical problems like asthma and allergies and thousands of others besides.
But either way, remember something.
People like me are canaries in the coal mine of humanity’s future. If we go, the rest of you are following not too long afterwards.
So keep that in mind. And when you see a chance to fight for a better future … then take it. And take your best shot.
And make it count.
Jason Pramas is Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston
So Tired of Photoshop. Photo and typical tired stupid digital edits by Jason Pramas. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2012 Jason Pramas.
(Photo) The actual spectrum of current electoral politics in America.