Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Voting Tuesday?

I haven't said all that much on my opinions regarding the upcoming election (unless you were stupid enough to ask me), and generally I've withheld for several reasons: no one needs to hear what I have to say, I'm not a citizen so I sound like some righteous outsider, I'm sick of the rhetoric or overly simplistic statements from those I had hoped would have a more critical analysis, and generally I'm just tired of 2 years of campaigning and so many sheep believing real, notable change is on its way. Most of all my ideas and views are still developing, and will always continue to change. And finally, I'm not so sure I buy this "bloggers revolution" fervor: more information available, or just more noise distracting all from the tasks at hand?

Finally I came across something that sums up my views on the current election well. I'm not always the biggest fan of Mr. Knabb, and generally suspicious of those who commit their entire lives to writing about a movement long since dead, but generally I respect his work, and this further supports that. It doesnt say everything, and that's the risk of simply repeating someone else's statements, but it goes a long way without being overly dogmatic (excuse the gendered language too).

As he closes, "By all means vote if you feel like it. But don't stop there. Real social change requires participation, not representation."


Roughly speaking we can distinguish five degrees of "government":

(1) Unrestricted freedom
(2) Direct democracy
(3) Delegate democracy
(4) Representative democracy
(5) Overt minority dictatorship

The present society oscillates between (4) and (5), i.e. between overt
minority rule and covert minority rule camouflaged by a facade of token
democracy. A liberated society would eliminate (4) and (5) and would
progressively reduce the need for (2) and (3). . . .

In representative democracy people abdicate their power to elected
officials. The candidates' stated policies are limited to a few vague
generalities, and once they are elected there is little control over their
actual decisions on hundreds of issues -- apart from the feeble threat of
changing one's vote, a few years later, to some equally uncontrollable rival
politician. Representatives are dependent on the wealthy for bribes and
campaign contributions; they are subordinate to the owners of the mass
media, who decide which issues get the publicity; and they are almost as
ignorant and powerless as the general public regarding many important
matters that are determined by unelected bureaucrats and independent secret
agencies. Overt dictators may sometimes be overthrown, but the real rulers
in "democratic" regimes, the tiny minority who own or control virtually
everything, are never voted in and never voted out. Most people don't even
know who they are. . . .

In itself, voting is of no great significance one way or the other (those
who make a big deal about refusing to vote are only revealing their own
fetishism). The problem is that it tends to lull people into relying on
others to act for them, distracting them from more significant
possibilities. A few people who take some creative initiative (think of the
first civil rights sit-ins) may ultimately have a far greater effect than if
they had put their energy into campaigning for lesser-evil politicians. At
best, legislators rarely do more than what they have been forced to do by
popular movements. A conservative regime under pressure from independent
radical movements often concedes more than a liberal regime that knows it
can count on radical support. (The Vietnam war, for example, was not ended
by electing antiwar politicians, but because there was so much pressure from
so many different directions that the prowar president Nixon was forced to
withdraw.) If people invariably rally to lesser evils, all the rulers have
to do in any situation that threatens their power is to conjure up a threat
of some greater evil.

Even in the rare case when a "radical" politician has a realistic chance of
winning an election, all the tedious campaign efforts of thousands of people
may go down the drain in one day because of some trivial scandal discovered
in his (or her) personal life, or because he inadvertently says something
intelligent. If he manages to avoid these pitfalls and it looks like he
might win, he tends to evade controversial issues for fear of antagonizing
swing voters. If he actually gets elected he is almost never in a position
to implement the reforms he has promised, except perhaps after years of
wheeling and dealing with his new colleagues; which gives him a good excuse
to see his first priority as making whatever compromises are necessary to
keep himself in office indefinitely. Hobnobbing with the rich and powerful,
he develops new interests and new tastes, which he justifies by telling
himself that he deserves a few perks after all his years of working for good
causes. Worst of all, if he does eventually manage to get a few
"progressive" measures passed, this exceptional and usually trivial success
is held up as evidence of the value of relying on electoral politics, luring
many more people into wasting their energy on similar campaigns to come.

As one of the May 1968 graffiti put it, "It's painful to submit to our
bosses; it's even more stupid to choose them!"

--Excerpts from Ken Knabb's "The Joy of Revolution."
The complete text is online at

* * *


My intention in circulating these observations is not to discourage you from
voting or campaigning, but to encourage you to go further.

Like many other people, I am delighted to see the Republicans collapsing
into well-deserved ignominy, with the likelihood of the Democrats
recapturing the presidency and increasing their majorities in Congress.
Hopefully the latter will discontinue or at least mitigate some of the more
insane policies of the current administration (some of which, such as
climate change and ecological devastation, threaten to become irreversible).

Beyond that, I do not expect the Democratic politicians to accomplish
anything very significant. Most of them are just as corrupt and compromised
as the Republicans. Even if a few of them are honest and well-intentioned,
they are all loyal servants of the ruling economic system, and they all
ultimately function as cogwheels in the murderous political machine that
serves to defend that system.

I have considerable respect and sympathy for the people who are
campaigning for the Democratic Party while simultaneously trying to
reinvigorate it and democratize it. There are elements of a real grassroots
movement there, developing in tandem with the remarkable growth of the
liberal-radical blogosphere over the last few years.

But imagine if that same immense amount of energy on the part of millions
of people was put into more directly radical agitation, rather than (or in
addition to) campaigning for rival millionaires. As a side effect, such
agitation would put the reactionaries on the defensive and actually result
in more "progressives" being elected. But more importantly, it would shift
both the momentum and the terrain of the struggle.

If you put all your energy into trying to reassure swing voters that your
candidate is "fully committed to fighting the War on Terror" but that he has
regretfully concluded that we should withdraw from Iraq because "our efforts
to promote democracy" there haven't been working, you may win a few votes
but you have accomplished nothing in the way of political awareness.

In contrast, if you convince people that the war in Iraq is both evil and
stupid, they will not only tend to vote for antiwar candidates, they are
likely to start questioning other aspects of the social system. Which may
lead to them to challenge that system in more concrete and participatory

(If you want some examples, look at the rich variety of tactics used in
France two years ago -- .)

The side that takes the initiative usually wins because it defines the terms
of the struggle. If we accept the system's own terms and confine ourselves
to defensively reacting to each new mess produced by it, we will never
overcome it. We have to keep resisting particular evils, but we also have to
recognize that the system will keep generating new ones until we put an end
to it.

By all means vote if you feel like it. But don't stop there. Real social
change requires participation, not representation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Death Valley Double October 25th 2008

On Saturday I rode my first double century (200 miles). After moving in to the A-House about 3 years ago, I swore never to wear spandex, and the thought of riding all day was not one that crossed my mind, oh how things have changed. There is a 17 hour cut off for the double century, which winds its way through Death Valley. Thankfully the weather was perfect (not too hot, no strong headwinds, well mostly), and my non-fancy, non-carbon, heavy and slow bike held up. My goal was merely to finish, and hopefully within 14-16 hours. Somehow I managed to roll in at 13hrs 5mins, thanks largely to an exceptionally awesome crew who gave me invaluable advice and support all day. There were some rough patches where I was ready to give it up, but thankfully they were short. Starting at sunrise, finishing in the pitch black of the high-desert night, arduous climbs, super fast descents in the dark, coyotes, giant craters, and no traffic lights for 200 miles made it an amazing ride.

Ubehebe Crater at around mile 130 (Adventure Corps)

The climb up the Grapevine and out to Nevada (Adventure Corps)
Scotty's Castle was the rest stop at mile 68 and 120 (Adventure Corps)
Not many race shots as of yet, but this was the start line at 7.10am, rolling out with the 'medium-pace' group
The start line at Furnace Creek, just above sea-level. It gets well into the 120/50+ degree range here, but was only in the 80s/low 30s for the race

Megan and Jack represented Swarm! on the tandem, riding the 100 mile route
Matt (Desert Locust) and Morgan (Goat), both have ridden the 508 mile version of this ride, 200 miles for them is a walk in the park
The top of the 6.8 mile, 2000 foot elevation gain climb, at mile 180. It was dark when I got to the top of this. You can see the road up to the right, and then straight back down on the left (Adventure Corps)
A coyote similar to the two I saw on the ride, both while I was out on my own, thankfully they werent too hungry (Adventure Corps)

A description of the course from the DV Double website:

Double: Starting about sunrise, double riders will also head north from Furnace Creek on Hwy 190, but will go straight to their first checkpoint at mile 23 at Stovepipe Wells. Then they'll U-turn and head back nine miles to the turn-off to Scotty's Castle. DC checkpoint two will be just after the turn, at mile 33.

After replenishing themselves at their checkpoint three at Scotty's Castle, the double riders will continue up Grapevine Canyon onto the Bonnie Claire Flat in Nevada. At Scotty's Junction at Hwy 95, mile 80.6, double riders will refuel at their checkpoint four. They will have climbed 5300', but now will turn around for a flat or downhill ride back to their "lunch" at Scotty's Castle. But it's not a straight shot back to FC from there. Double riders will enjoy two little bonuses on their return route that century riders will not do. The first is just three miles after Scotty's Castle: the out-and-back 11.7 mile route to see the incredible Ubehebe Crater. Then it's a fast ride back to the morning's second checkpoint just before 190, which is now checkpoint six for the double.

But wait! Before hitting 190, the double riders will enjoy a 6.8 mile, 2000' climb up Mud Canyon to Hell's Gate. Come on, you didn't think all those free miles from way above Scotty's all the way practically to Hwy 190 were really free, did you?? But the view is worth it, and so is the bombing downhill back to Furnace Creek on the Beatty Cutoff! Dedicated race staff and an incredible sunset will help keep you motivated and in good form throughout the day! Total distance for the double: 197. Total elevation gain: 9,000. So about the same as the "normal" route in the south end of the park, but perhaps even more beautiful and fascinating!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quintron and Miss Pussycat @ Echoplex

Quintron and Miss Pussycat finally returned to L.A. after a long hiatus. Unbelievably fun as always, its always so great to see a show where the band looks like they actually want to be there. And its not often its all opened by a puppet show. I forgot my camera, so here are some old photos I took from their last show in L.A.

Drum buddy!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Furnace Creek 508 race - Matt 'Desert Locust' Ruscigno

Long story short, my housemate Matt just completed the 508 mile race that I helped support (3 of us followed him in a van with water, nutrition etc). 508 miles, the equivalent of San Francisco to San Diego, or Melbourne to Sydney, with 35,000 feet of elevation gain (higher than Mt. Everest), and he did it in 37 hours with 15 minutes of sleep in total. From Santa Clarita the race passes through some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth, Death Valley, Mojave Desert, fog, sand storms, poor road conditions, 12 mile climbs, and 50mph descents. It was an honour and an adventure to support, but mostly I was thankful to be sitting in a van with air conditioning and not riding. You choose an animal totem rather than a number for the race and keep it for life, Matt was Desert Locust, almost as good as Weiner Dog, but not quite. More info and photos at Matt's blog.

Morgan 'Goat' Beeby (he did the race 3 years ago), Chris, Matt and I at the finish. And yes I am sporting a moustache in support of Matt.