Thursday, February 12, 2009

2008 Forever

If I live another 19 summers I shall have completed the traditional Biblical lifespan for a human being- three score years and ten. At this point I find it hard to conceive that my original plan to take retirement at that point, a mixture of two pensions social security and my own careful investments (ha!), along with winters sailing while renting my house to snowbirds, all seem to be pie in the sky. I am glad I have a job that allows me to work in a manner that an 80 year old could manage physically, even though with the most optimistic view it's hard to picture myself still enthusiastic after another three decades of 9-1-1 calls!
I have been pondering this dilemma of aging in view of a widening appreciation for the fact that we are slipping into the Great Depression 2 that has been denied and avoided, as usual, by our leaders and influential commentators. It seems likely then as we humans tend to ignore history and thus repeat it, that we shall enter a decade of no growth and minimal expectations followed by a massive war to re-set the economy and start another round of prosperity. If that actually happened it seems the remainder of my active life is to be spent in a scramble for survival followed by a period of living in some manner on the Home Front while a generation of youngsters gets it's innocence blown away at the hands of old people fighting by proxy (Iraq comes to mind right now...). This is not a cheerful thought, even for a child free adult like me.
These reflections came to me from reading the Naked Capitalism column (in my Alphabetical Web List,) wherein I read the comments of one Enrique Mendoza an economist from the University of Maryland who suggests Irving Fisher, a Depression Era economist may have supplied the formula to relieve us of our current economic chaos. Fisher who is credited by some smart people with understanding the mechanism that created the Great Depression has advice for us in our hour of catastrophe says Mendoza:

The worst of the Great Depression was not so much the initial economic collapse, as dramatic as that was, but its persistence for several years. This is what we still have time to avoid and where our energy should be invested. The political spin about pushing for reforms and bailouts to “avert disaster” needs to be corrected, so that everyone’s expectations are not biased towards thinking that a trillion dollars of fiscal stimulus means back to business as usual. The emergency is real and present, but not to escape catastrophe. All the numbers we have about employment, production, world trade, the financial system, etc. show that we are already in a catastrophe. The emergency is to avoid the persistence of the stagnation that occurred during the Depression. The emergency is to prevent most of the next decade from looking like 2008.
If the next decade does end up looking like 2008 I shall be sixty years of age when we get out of our Great Depression 2. That's a dreary thought. And what's even more dreary is that our current crop of leaders have no idea how to get us out of this mess and the prospects for prolonged misery look inevitable, as long as the Treasury Secretary keeps pushing on the financial string.
Fisher suggested work for people in distress, support for asset stabilisation (which means help homeowners not banks) and better regulations and oversight in the future. Continuing to pour money into the banking system simply means we keep creating debt, wasting the money and failing to take our medicine and restart the economy. How far down this path will they take us? Or will we let them take us?

Community Gardening

When I was a child in England it wasn't at all uncommon to drive past clumps of vegetables on the outskirts of small towns. They were little gardens on common land called allotments a place for city dwellers to get back in touch with nature, and subsequently eat it. The little tool sheds were also, by reputation, places where manly men could go and do manly man types of things away from the eyes of their all seeing wives. You could smoke a pipe, sharpen a blade, read the sports pages, and not get interrupted. Which is something I don't suppose anyone needs to bring up in the context of the new community garden in back of May Sands School on United Street, not least because the tool shed is small enough a man standing in it might be grounds for calling the fire department to extricate him.The garden is a thing of wonder to someone such as myself who is struggling to get vegetables to sprout at home. I was at May Sands doing a chore for my teacher wife when I spotted what had been a wasteland a few weeks ago. I had seen the raised beds going in but this was the first time I was exposed to such vigorous growth:This tomato plant is about as big as I am:And quite large enough to swallow a small boy whole:His proud grandfather confided in me, when I expressed my unbridled envy of such prowess, that he too couldn't grow a tomato to save his life. His grandson though had become an avid gardener thanks to the communal plots behind May Sands School.It was an educational experience wandering the rows of vegetables (and flowers) checking out techniques and ways of doing things:I was particularly fascinated by the beds made of cement blocks. Where I had built movable beds out of plywood and planks they seemed simple and solid and offered a strange and interesting new way to plant, in the blocks themselves:I like my wooden planters not least because they are portable as I am still looking for their final location around my house. No such doubts here apparently, and I will be back in the heat of summer to see what they are planting and what's growing. I saw a mother and two children picking up food as well as a woman silently and industriously plucking the evening meal out of the ground:I hate to say it, but there something very un-Key West about the community garden. In a city where hedonism is the superficial prevailing culture there is something sturdily peasant like and not Key West about the food on the table culture of this garden. I felt less alone in my quixotic attempt to grow my own food when I stood in the midst of all this successful effort:And there was no one to ask when I saw this, but I am glad someone is honoring this unknown gardener if he has anything at all to do with the creation of the project:The sun was setting and it was getting time to go, but it was hard to tear myself away and I wasn't alone in that:I checked the shed for unhappily married men but none were in evidence, and of course I admired the rain barrel collecting that precious rain water. Such a simple way to not waste water and so rare in the Keys, land of tropical rainfall:I have no idea which architect deserves to be shot for designing the abomination that is May Sands School, a building that resembles a nightmarish nuclear bunker with all its cement and bizarre roof supports and impossible angles:The building looks ugly but the garden has done a lot to cheer it up, make it look pretty in a way no architect seems able. Call it the Triumph of Nature.