RE Coup at TXU

February 28, 2007 at 4:30 pm
Contributed by: Chris


Here’s my latest article for Green Chip Stocks, about the recently announced buyout of the largest electric utility in Texas by a group of private equity investors…a very significant event for the renewable energy world!

A Fighting Chance

February 25, 2007 at 9:16 pm
Contributed by: Chris


Here’s a piece I wrote for Energy and Capital, about the various governmental initiatives that are being developed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to increase renewable energy generation.

Oblivion – A Photo Essay of Los Angeles

February 15, 2007 at 1:59 pm
Contributed by:


Here’s a photo essay in Orion magazine, which features aerial photos of Los Angeles as art, exploring the nature of the built environment. I think it’s a fascinating way to look at things, and an interesting counterpoint to the back-to-the-land movement. Check it out…and make sure to read the essay, it’s worthwhile.

Oblivion by David Maisel


Relearning How to Live as Voluntary Peasants

February 15, 2007 at 11:51 am
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I thought this was a fascinating read. Taken from Jan Lundberg’s excellent Culture Change newsletter, it’s an essay about one man’s journey around the country, in search of solutions to a post-peak oil society. Over the last six months, he has visited numerous intentional communities, particularly The Farm in Tennessee, and interviewed the like-minded from coast to coast, looking for people and communities who are trying to find ways toward self-sufficiency. It’s an eye-opener.


“Part of The Farm’s original vision was to build a village for a thousand people using alternative energy systems that were economically and ecologically responsible. We believed that we could design a graceful standard of living which would be attractive to large numbers of First World people, while also being within reach of all Third World people.”
– Gary Rhine on living as voluntary peasants, “So Close Yet So Far”, from Voices from the Farm (1998)

Just before the Fourth of July, I left my life as a tennis-playing, wine-drinking, spoiled rich white guy to begin this radical eco-odyssey. And in the six months which have ensued, I have watched the sun rise over the Atlantic and set over the Pacific, joined Peak Oil groups in three time zones, and visited ecovillages as far apart as North Carolina and Oregon. Plus I spent a couple of months training with the Permaculture Army in Berkeley. But it is to The Farm, the thirty-six-year-old intentional community in Tennessee, that I keep returning.

I didn’t hear good things about The Farm when I was on my way to visit. I had participated in the Earth First! Rendezvous in the Appalachian Mountains. There I saw former mountains apocalyptically sliced down to nothing to yield up coal which will be called “clean” to perhaps be liquefied for toxic methanol — marketed as something disingenuous to shut Americans up about Peak Oil and Global Climate Chaos. The Farm was beckoning as a bastion of back-to-the-land activism in one of the mountain-top removal states.

At the Rendezvous I had met a young farmer who lives at The Farm. Her old VW van had broken down somewhere east of The Farm and west of the Appalachians, and she needed a ride back to it. I had still not yet given away my car (I would do so soon enough — to firm up my eco-cred), so I was glad to help her out. “At The Farm,” she told me on the way, as the big-box-bound tractor-trailers and the super-sized SUVs whooshed past, “there is no farming.”

I would hear similar reports about The Farm as far away as the Left Coast. “It’s a gated community now,” a teacher of urban gardening in Oakland said. “It’s like the suburbs now” said a permaculturist in Oregon, “and nobody wants to get their hands dirty by farming.” “It’s a retirement community for old hippies,” said a rich young hippie in Berkeley, on his way to India.

And, well, there is no farming being done on The Farm. As I drove in, I saw thirty-year-old apple trees and thirty-year-old horses. Hundreds of acres of fields lay fallow. It turns out that a lot of Farmies drive the seventy-some miles up to Nashville to buy hyper-priced U.S.D.A.-certified organic goodies at Wild Oats (a Corporate Clone of Whole Foods, where the PR.-savvy system does not allow the cashiers to unionize, but does encourage them to wear tie-dye).

By the same token, however, there is no farming being done in the United States of America — not on a local, sustainable scale, that is, not to any degree worthy of official attention. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of the Census stopped counting farming as an occupation in 1986 — the number of actual, self-employed, traditional farmers had become statistically insignificant. To be sure, there are some non-corporatized farmers still around, but they exist only because they have either a reliable source of non-farm income (as I had), or because they are willing to live in real poverty (the Farmies of the 1970s lived on the equivalent of a dollar fifty per day per person).

But the bottom line is that our corporatized, industrialized, government-subsidized mega-scale methods of petro-food production have made small-scale farming virtually impossible.

And that is the heartbreaking story of American agriculture in the twentieth century, whether you’re talking about grandma and grandpa’s forgotten old farm or whether you’re talking about The Farm. And so if you come to The Farm today looking for a working model for a sustainable, post-petroleum, ecovillaging future, you are going to be disappointed. But then again, where are you going to find such a model in the U.S.?

Back in the 1970s, when there really was subsistence-level farming being done on The Farm, Stephen Gaskin, the founder, coined the terms “Technicolor Amish” and “voluntary peasants” to make it plain how these hippies proudly and idealistically toiled in poverty. But that original hippie energy – that original vision — was not sustainable, and after the big Changeover (as the Farmies still call it) took place in 1982-83, The Farm ceased to be a commune. Private property has been the rule here for a quarter of a century now. Subsistence-level farming is just a collective memory, though the spirit of voluntary peasantry still thrives in the souls of some of the more uncompromising old Farmies.

Albert Bates, for example, who first came to the Farm in 1972, runs what is called the Ecovillage Training Center here, and he has just published a book called The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook. But for the time being Bates is something of a prophet without honor in his own country. Few of the Farmies share his sense of urgency about ecological crisis. And this is a real problem. For from what I’ve seen over these past six months, the Farmies represent the best of what’s being done by the very few Americans who are idealistic enough to want to live in intentional communities and ecovillages.

The fact that so much ecological work remains undone and even unattempted at The Farm is frightening, not because it reflects badly on the Farmies, but because it begins to bring into focus just how horrible a place the vast majority of Americans are in now, as we see daffodils blooming in January and our government’s endgame of other people’s depleted-uranium-infected-blood-for-our-oil enters its fourth year.

The Farmies have not yet built an ecovillage — this is unhappily true — but they do know how to live in peace and kindness with their neighbors – and they can remind us that it is possible to live as voluntary peasants. When they lived on the equivalent of a dollar fifty a day, they really did abide by the founding principle which they had taken verbatim from the book of Acts: “And all that believed were together and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all as every man had need.”

Their experience of voluntary peasantry puts the Farmies on a totally different planet from the rest of America, where the mainstream still, every day, every minute, is made more addicted to their energy-scarfing hyper-consumerism. So when the time comes and the rest of America, having been denied its right to shop, convulses and sickens in the pangs of withdrawal, the planet of voluntary peasantry may well survive Peak Oil and Global Climate Chaos, because the people on it have had some real preparation for life as involuntary peasants.

And, like it or not, that’s what our future seems to hold, and that’s what will force culture change (no matter how much we pray for techno-fixes): the shock of sudden poverty.
So let us go back to Gary Rhine’s words quoted in the epigraph above, from his account of the founding vision of The Farm. It was about:

“… a village for a thousand people using alternative energy systems that were economically and ecologically responsible. We believed that we could design a graceful standard of living which would be attractive to large numbers of First World people, while also being within reach of all Third World people. We hoped to build the model village, live in it, and then get funding to help build similar towns in Third World countries. We also hoped to inspire other First World groups to build similar villages for themselves.”

“During those years we had people living on The Farm who were at the forefront in fields such as architectural design, solar heating, and photovoltaics. We had the know-how and the manpower to build the town we envisioned. But we didn’t build it.

“After a decade of struggling Third World-style in the woods of Tennessee, we were still living in a skeleton of our dream. Instead of building our town, we had been sending many of our most talented and energetic people to do relief work in Guatemala, Bangladesh, Haiti, the South Bronx, and on American Indian reservations….

“By the early 1980s, many of the people who had been in on the original vision were tired of living in a crisis-management state of mind, with systems constantly breaking down because they weren’t built right in the first place. It was frustrating because we knew how to do it right; we just didn’t have the resources. So a large number of people left. I think that if at that time we had been able to build the town and been able to live within the graceful standard of living that we had envisioned as ‘voluntary peasants,’ a lot of us would not have left. We were so close yet so far” (from Rupert Fike, ed., Voices from the Farm).

Rhine, a documentary filmmaker whose special interest was American Indians, disappeared in a plane crash about a year ago – he wasn’t all that old – and so we are led to consider the fact that just as much of the original vision for The Farm has been lost, so have many of the men and women who lived here during the 1970s already died. Yet it is out of the sadness of unrealized and never-to-be-realized dreams that we can learn from The Farm.

And so I am at The Farm as I write this. I am at The Farm to learn, and I am here to share with you what I have learned so far. My girlfriend Betsy is sitting next to me, looking over my shoulder. Betsy’s a close friend of that young woman farmer whose VW van broke down on the way to the Earth First! Rendezvous last July — whom I helped get home to The Farm — one good turn leads to another! Betsy’s been at The Farm, in one way or the other, since 1975. She was born in a teepee in Colorado in 1972– her mother Marilyn had made it during the pregnancy — and when Betsy was two-and-a-half, Marilyn moved to The Farm and began living the life of a voluntary peasant. For the first ten years of Betsy’s life Marilyn did not even own a wallet. Right now Betsy and I are house-sitting for her — she’s gone to Washington, D.C. in a Greyhound Bus with about forty other Farmies to protest our so-called war in Iraq. (Like Betsy and me, Albert’s also stayed behind; he’s entertaining a reporter from Vanity Fair who’s writing a story about the history of The Farm — how odd a topic for Vanity Fair!)

And so, as Betsy looks over my shoulder, she makes sure that what I write here is both full of truth and free from personal or pointless criticism. For this is what I have to learn here. This is where our proper response to our scary future begins: in seeing things just as they are, and then reacting to them with equanimity — by rising above our petty likes and dislikes, our self-protecting projections and false expectations, in order to be able to act with true mindfulness and compassion under any circumstances. For any circumstances are already here.

John Siman is going back and forth between the Georgia coast, where he is working on the refit of the schooner Wanderer (soon to be the Emancipator), and The Farm in Tennessee, where he is writing, among other things, a book titled Disconnectivities: Watching America Heat Up and Hubbert Down; or, Always Astonished. He can be contacted at john “at” thefarm “dot” org

* * * * *


Voices From The Farm, edited by Rupert Fike.
copyright 1998.

Book of Acts: the New Testament, Acts, 2:44, 45.

Ecovillage Training Center:

Albert Bates’ book: The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, reviewed in Raise the Hammer, January 10, 2007:

Earth First! Journal:

Something’s Gotta Give

February 14, 2007 at 7:27 pm
Contributed by: Chris


This is republished from Wealth Daily. It’s my critique of the latest oil data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), and concludes that we will be seeing higher oil prices soon.


The OSP Unmasked

February 9, 2007 at 6:55 pm
Contributed by:


I have been greatly relieved to see some of the truth about the Office of Special Plans coming out into the open…finally. I first blogged it in June 2003, quoting an article from Newsweek, so we’ve known about it for nearly four years. I have blogged it seven times since then.

OK, so this investigation is about four years too late to save us from getting into the Iraq debacle, but at least the truth is coming to light. Now that the White House’s deceptions about the war are becoming public knowledge–no longer something that can be cast aside as “conspiracy theory”–perhaps we can also have a real debate about Iraq. Again, yes, a debate we should have had before the war–and would have had, had the Republicans dominating all three branches of government not stonewalled it, but better late than never, I guess.

I am reminded again of one of my favorite quotes by the Dr. Martin Luther King: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”


Feith Takes the Fall

By Mark Thompson/Washington

Friday, Feb. 09, 2007

For a person most Americans have never heard of, Doug Feith has been called terrible names by very important people. In Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward quotes General Tommy Franks — appalled at the quality of intelligence about Iraq — railing that Feith, then the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, was “the f—king stupidest guy on the face of the earth.” Today, there was another bad review. Feith got publicly slapped by the Defense Department’s inspector general for developing pro-war intelligence on Iraq — outside of official channels — that now seems plainly wrong. The IG concludes that Feith’s office, on a free-lance basis, made claims “that were inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community.” The report said that Feith’s shop exaggerated the purported links between Saddam Hussein’s government and al Qaeda. “That was the argument that was used to make the sale to the American people about the need to go to war,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the armed services committee. He said the Feith’s work, “which was wrong, which was distorted, which was inappropriate … is something which is highly disturbing.”

Feith may have been one of the Bush Administration’s most fervent supporters of war with Iraq but, in truth, he was only a bit player. Indeed, he is the third bit player in the Iraq fiasco to be paying for the sins of his superiors recently. For a couple of weeks now, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby has been in the dock in federal court in Washington, trying desperately to keep his one-time boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, from being stained by the responsibility for Libby’s chats with reporters and government officials about Valerie Plame’s CIA job. Then, just yesterday, Army General George Casey was raked over the coals by Senators who didn’t think his past 30 months in command of U.S. ground forces in Iraq warrants his elevation to Army chief of staff. While he did get the promotion, the Senate vote of 83-to-14 was the poorest showing for an Army chief since Vietnam. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Casey should be held accountable for giving Congress too-rosy assessments of the war as the situation there spiraled downward into chaos. “I have questioned in the past and question today a number of decisions and judgments that Gen. Casey has made in the past two and a half years,” McCain said. “During that time, conditions in Iraq have gotten remarkably and progressively worse.”

This trio of woes seems to have a common thread: Underlings snared while trying to please their bosses. It’s almost like blaming the hammer instead of the carpenter for a bent nail. Speaking to the Associated Press, Feith took umbrage at descriptions that his work was “inappropriate.” Said he: “The policy office has been smeared for years by allegations that its pre-Iraq-war work was somehow ‘unlawful’ or ‘unauthorized.'” He has a point: it was the Bush administration that chose Feith’s reports over those generated by its $1 billion-a-week intelligence operation. Feith’s work was most certainly authorized — from the very top.

Source: Time:,8599,1587982,00.html

The Desperation of George W. Bush

February 8, 2007 at 4:29 pm
Contributed by: Chris


Here’s my latest piece, originally published at Energy and Capital. It explores some of the salient reasons why the Bush administration must be panicking over its failed policies on energy, climate change, and the Iraq war.

As always, I welcome your feedback.


Missing Molly

February 1, 2007 at 9:57 pm
Contributed by:


The progressive cause lost one of its very best and brightest yesterday, as Molly Ivins succumbed to cancer.

She was really my kinda gal: her heart was always with the common man and the progressive cause, but her trenchant critiques and her rapier wit cut the Left as easily as the Right.

She was nobody’s fool. She could boil endless layers of Beltway gobbledegookdown to straight and simple talk without even trying, and she could depants a Texas politician in a New York minute with a single well-turned phrase. I lost count of the times I breathed an explosive sigh of relief after reading some of those phrases, as if she had taken a huge burden off of me by speaking the straight and simple truth when all around was confusion and noise.

But maybe more importantly, her aim was true. I haven’t done a count, but having read her over the years, I think the record would show that she was right on the money most of the time.

She had so many brilliant quotes, it’s impossible to choose one carefully, so here’s one more or less selected at random:

Naturally, when it comes to voting, we in Texas are accustomed to discerning that fine hair’s-breadth worth of difference that makes one hopeless dipstick slightly less awful than the other. But it does raise the question: Why bother?

Oh, it’s just that your life is at stake.

She is also the one who coined the President’s nicknames of “Dubya” and “Shrub.”

I won’t try to tell her story here–there are hundreds to choose from. But if you aren’t familiar with her work, I encourage you to take a look at her thousands of articles and her many books. Or maybe you’d like to check out the half-dozen blogs in which I featured her work.

She was an American treasure. The only other person I can think of who can hold a candle to her unabashed progressiveness, and her plainspoken, incisive wit, is Jim Hightower…and I pray for his good health.

I’ll be missing you, Molly. Missing ya huge. Nobody did it better.

Letting her have the last word, then, here’s her last column.


Molly Ivins: Stand Up Against the ‘Surge’

Original Source

Posted on Jan 11, 2007

By Molly Ivins

The purpose of this old-fashioned newspaper crusade to stop the war is not to make George W. Bush look like the dumbest president ever. People have done dumber things. What were they thinking when they bought into the Bay of Pigs fiasco? How dumb was the Egypt-Suez war? How massively stupid was the entire war in Vietnam? Even at that, the challenge with this misbegotten adventure is that we simply cannot let it continue.

It is not a matter of whether we will lose or we are losing. We have lost. Gen. John P. Abizaid, until recently the senior commander in the Middle East, insists that the answer to our problems there is not military. “You have to internationalize the problem. You have to attack it diplomatically, geo-strategically,” he said.

His assessment is supported by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who only recommend releasing forces with a clear definition of the goals for the additional troops.

Bush’s call for a “surge” or “escalation” also goes against the Iraq Study Group. Talk is that the White House has planned to do anything but what the group suggested after months of investigation and proposals based on much broader strategic implications.

About the only politician out there besides Bush actively calling for a surge is Sen. John McCain. In a recent opinion piece, he wrote: “The presence of additional coalition forces would allow the Iraqi government to do what it cannot accomplish today on its own—impose its rule throughout the country. … By surging troops and bringing security to Baghdad and other areas, we will give the Iraqis the best possible chance to succeed.” But with all due respect to the senator from Arizona, that ship has long since sailed.

A surge is not acceptable to the people in this country—we have voted overwhelmingly against this war in polls (about 80 percent of the public is against escalation, and a recent Military Times poll shows only 38 percent of active military want more troops sent) and at the polls. We know this is wrong. The people understand, the people have the right to make this decision, and the people have the obligation to make sure our will is implemented.

Congress must work for the people in the resolution of this fiasco. Ted Kennedy’s proposal to control the money and tighten oversight is a welcome first step. And if Republicans want to continue to rubber-stamp this administration’s idiotic “plans” and go against the will of the people, they should be thrown out as soon as possible, to join their recent colleagues.

Anyone who wants to talk knowledgably about our Iraq misadventure should pick up Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone.” It’s like reading a horror novel. You just want to put your face down and moan: How could we have let this happen? How could we have been so stupid?

As The Washington Post’s review notes, Chandrasekaran’s book “methodically documents the baffling ineptitude that dominated U.S. attempts to influence Iraq’s fiendish politics, rebuild the electrical grid, privatize the economy, run the oil industry, recruit expert staff or instill a modicum of normalcy to the lives of Iraqis.”

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we’re for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush’s proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, “Stop it, now!”

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