Trio Matamoros, Old and New

Cubana BailaDon’t we all like to hear the music of those early years when we were young, beautiful and fancy free? I was born in the upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, and lived just uphill from Riverside Drive, on 136th Street. As a child, I used to love putting my parents’ 78 rpm and 45 rpm records of Cuban music onto the Victrola, and listen to the music my mother and father had gone dancing to before live bands in the 1940s. One of my first and everlasting memories is of “El Agua Del Pon Pon.”

El Agua Del Pon Pon
(Tito Gomez y La Orquesta Riverside)

Another one of my favorites from those times is “La Bola y La Pelota”

Mi mamá — no quiere — que yo vaya — a la pelota.
Mi mamá — no quiere — que yo vaya — a la pelota.

La Bola y La Pelota
(Conjunto Casino)

The tightest bands I have ever heard, with the punchiest horn parts and most infectious driving rhythms, are Cuban and Latin dance bands.

Cuba En Las '50sAnother song I first heard in my earliest days and which continues to fascinate me still is “Lágrimas Negras,” composed by Miguel Matamoros (1894-1971) in 1929 and recorded by the Trio Matamoros in 1931. I wrote about this song in a earlier post.

Lágrimas Negras — Español-English
14 November 2013

A nice web page (in Spanish) about Miguel Matamoros is hosted by EcuRed.

Miguel Matamoros

Miguel Matamoros had a high, penetrating tenor voice, and wrote many songs with elegantly clever phrasing of knowing, witty and warmly human-hearted lyrics. He knew how to turn a phrase, pun and joke, wail broken-hearted with tongue-in-cheek, and sling the slang. He was a voice of the Cuban soul.

Matamoros was intuitively musical, and taught himself guitar, as well as harmonica and “corneta china” (Chinese cornet, a short oboe type woodwind that looks like a recorder with a trumpet flare at its end). He was composing music by the age of 16 (in 1910) and performing publicly by the age of 18 (in 1912). In 1925 he formed the Trio Matamoros, with Rafael Cueto (1900-1991) playing the second guitar, and Siro Rodríguez (1899-1981) as the second voice (baritone) who also played the maracas. Both Rafael Cueto and Siro Rodríguez also composed, and Cueto added his voice to the choruses of songs, or the occasional third vocal part, as needed. Matamoros, Cueto and Rodríguez formed a very tight musical unit that remained together and active for 35 years.

During their long career the Trio Matamoros travelled beyond Cuba to perform in Europe and Latin America, and for some tours would add musicians to perform as a sextet or septet (Conjunto Matamoros). One lovely example of the Trio Matamoros playing, with three extra hands (Los Guaracheros de Oriente), is this version of Noemi Matos’ song “Mi Veneración.”

Mi Veneración

Here is a description of the Trio Matamoros, lifted from Wikipedia (

The Trio Matamoros was one of the most popular Cuban trova [Cuban troubadour] groups. It was formed in 1925 by Miguel Matamoros, Rafael Cueto and Siro Rodriguez. All three were singers and composers. The Trio Matamoros played boleros and son. They toured all Latin America and Europe and recorded in New York. In 1940 Guillermo Portabales performed with the trio. Matamoros expanded the trio into a conjunto for a trip to Mexico and hired the young Beny Moré as singer from 1945 to 1947. They recorded many 78rpm records and LPs; some of their output is available on CDs. The group were renowned for the harmony of their voices, and the quality of the lyrics. Miguel Matamoros was one of the greatest and most prolific composers of Cuban son. His first hit was “El que siembra su maíz”, followed by classics such as “Lágrimas negras” and “Mamá, son de la loma” (a.k.a. “Son de la loma”).

As a noun in Spanish the word “son” refers to a harmonic rhythmic form of Cuban music. As a verb in Spanish “son” is a plural form of “am,” thus used in the sense of “they are” or “they are from.” The tale (an admixture of myth and fact) behind Matamoros’ song “Mamá, son de la loma” is that a young girl was so taken with the performances of an early Matamoros-led trio in a hotel lobby that she asked aloud where the musicians were from, and immediately reported to her mother Matamoros’ answer: “mamá, son de la loma,” “mommy, they are from the hill.” The reference to “la loma,” “the hill” (a variant being “el monte,” “the mountain”) is simply an idiomatic phrase for the rural mountainous back country, basically “they’re hillbillies.” The members of Trio Matamoros were from Santiago de Cuba, in Oriente province at the far eastern end of the island. An idiomatic reference to La Habana, that vibrant urban center on a coastal plain in northwestern Cuba, is “el llano,” “the plain.” So “Mamá, son de la loma” can be taken as both a statement of the band’s geographic and cultural origins, and as an exclamation of delight on coming upon the sound of their music and recognizing its form “mommy!, son (music) from the hill!”

Mamá, son de la loma
Miguel Matamoros, 1922

Mamá, yo quiero saber
de donde son los cantante’,
que lo encuentro muy galante
y los quiero conocer,
con su trova fascinante
que me la quiero aprender.

Mamá, yo quiero saber
de donde son los cantante’,
que lo encuentro muy galante
y los quiero conocer,
con su trova fascinante
que me la quiero aprender.

¿De dónde serán? (Aye mamá)
¿serán de La Habana?
¿serán de Santiago? tierra soberana.
Son de la loma, y cantan en ‘llano.
Ya verá’, tú verá’.

Mamá, ello’ son de la loma,
mamá, ello’ canta en ‘llano.
Mamá, ello’ son de la loma,
mira mamá, ello’ canta en ‘llano.
Mamá, ello’ son de la loma.

¿De donde serán? (Aye mamá)
¿serán de La Habana?
¿serán de Santiago? tierra soberana.
Son de la loma, y cantan en ‘llano.
Ya verá’, tú verá’.

¿De donde serán? (Aye mamá)
¿serán de La Habana?
¿serán de Santiago? tierra soberana.
Son de la loma, y cantan en ‘llano.
Ya verá’, tu verá’.

The instrumentation in Trio Matamoros (and Conjunto Matamoros) was simple: guitars, maracas, possible hand-drumming on guitar bodies (as in flamenco); and maybe some acoustic bass, bongo drum and clave accompaniment. Trio Matamoros also recorded as part of an Orquesta Matamoros in the 1930s, and this could include wind instruments and trumpet. BennyG commented on Trio Matamoros sound production as follows.

In the early days, son was roughly divided into two categories, the big band conjunto format performed by groups like Sexteto Habanero, and the more guitar-based trio format of which Trio Matamoros were the greatest exponents. The typical Matamoros arrangement has two guitars, maracas, and of course the three voices. ‘Trio’ really refers to these three voices — many ‘Trio’ Matamoros recordings also have acoustic bass, bongo, and clave — some even have a trumpet. Matamoros’ style of singing ranges from a more trova or bolero-son style on songs like “Mariposita de Primavera” and “Juramento,” to the upbeat call and response of “Hojas para baño” or “Alegre Conga.” Their most pervasive style is the bolero-son, which usually opens with a melodic, slow tempo, romantic bolero style with rich vocal harmonies, but after two verses transitions into an up-tempo call and response between the lead voice and the chorus. The guitar and voice on this [and every Trio Matamoros] album are raw and soulful. Trio Matamoros [recorded] a natural flowing sound that is intensely musical. In comparison, music being made today sounds much more choreographed [‘auto-tuned’].

BennyG, 4 March 2005

Since I mentioned Los Guaracheros de Oriente above, I think it would be nice to take a little diversion to hear them in the following selection, with: voices, guitar, bongo, clave and acoustic bass. The particular YouTube video that accompanies this song is sweetly amusing but it can also be distracting. Make sure you hear the song again later with your eyes closed, or perhaps in the dark at night, so you can just soak in the music. Enjoy!

La Cumbancha — Los Guaracheros de Oriente
[composed by Agustín Lara]

The music of Trio Matamoros is “folk” or “country” music, without horns, woodwinds, pianos and keyboards, trap drums, or bowed strings. But this was very lyrically sophisticated and harmonically elegant Cuban country music. I find it spellbinding to listen to, and burst out laughing every now and then when I finally realize the meaning of some previously unnoticed phrase of the Afro-Cuban-idiom Spanish lyrics.

In this Cuban-idiom Spanish, the endings of many words are simply left off. For example “pa’ na’” has it formal Spanish equivalent as “para nada,” which means “for nothing.” The “s” of words like “vamos” (let’s go) and “Matamoros” could be left off, so one would hear “vamo” and “Matamoro.” A similar linguistic tail-chopping happens in the idiomatic speech of American urban and Afro-American communities, and is used lyrically in popular music (“gangsta” versus “gangster”). You may have noticed quite a bit of tail-chopping and clipping (dropping the ending s, swallowing the “el” before “llano”) in the lyrics of “Mamá, son de la loma,” above.

The song “Conciencia,” written by Miguel Matamoros around 1934, is a blues-son (Cuban blues) in which Matamoros sings of himself as “washed up,” as is so typical of many good blues songs. In “Conciencia” Matamoros sings (with Rodríguez harmonizing):

Ya Matamoro’, aye Matamoro’, ya Matamoro’ no sirve pa’ na’
con su guitara, y su’ maraca’, aun que quisiera ya no suena ma’

Ya Matamoro’, aye Matamoro’, ya Matamoro’ no sirve pa’ na’
que no es mentira, que si es verda’, que Matamoro’ no sirve pa’ na’

[Chorus] pa’ na’ — pa’ na’ — pa’ na’ — …

Now Matamoro’, yeah Matamoro’, Matamoro’ good fo’ nothin’ no mo’
with his guitar(s), and his maraca(s), though he wants to he’ll sound off no mo’

Now Matamoro’, yeah Matamoro’, Matamoro’ good fo’ nothin’ no mo’
and that’s no lie, and that’s the truth, that Matamoro’ good fo’ nothin’ no mo’

[Chorus] no mo’ — no mo’ — no mo’ — …

Notice the clipped endings:
Matamoro’ -> Matamoros
pa’ -> para (“for”)
na’ -> nada (“nothing”)
su’ -> sus (plural form of “his”)
maraca’ -> maracas (plural form of “maraca,” instruments usually spoken of as a pair)
ma’ -> mas (“more”)
verda’ -> verdad (“true”).

Conciencia – Orquesta Matamoros
(blues son) M. Matamoros / 30 Julio 1934

Conciencia – Trio Matamoros
Los Cubanos Miguel Matamoros, Siro Rodríguez y Rafael Cueto, gestores del Trio Matamoros y denominadores comunes de esa agrupacion que llegó a ser conjunto, sexteto, septeto y hasta orquesta, protagonizaron uno de los fenomenos mas influyentes en el despunte inicial del son como ritmo armonico y el bolero como melodia capaz de incluir cadencia. Su fórmula del bolero-son impactó el desarrollo de la musica afrocaribeña en las decadas de 1920 y 1930 principalmente.

The Cubans Miguel Matamoros, Siro Rodríguez and Rafael Cueto, the members of Trio Matamoros and common denominators in musical groupings that went from trio to conjunto, sextet, septet, and up to orchestra, were the protagonists of a (musical) phenomenon that was one of the greatest influences in the initial blending of son as harmonic rhythm, with bolero as melody capable of including cadences. Their formula of bolero-son impacted the development of Afro-Caribbean music, principally in the decades of the 1920s and 1930s.

Today, there are numerous CDs available of Trio Matamoros music (and one can also buy it electronically). It is clear that the recorded sounds of Trio Matamoros that one hears today have been electronically filtered or “cleaned up” or “enhanced” or “changed beyond recognition,” depending on your age, taste, and degree of prior exposure to their music from old records (pre 1980s). In this regard, comparing the numerous postings on YouTube of Trio Matamoros songs — from the transcriptions of muffled low-bandwidth sound from scratchy 78s, all the way to filter-equalizer computer processed “clean” bright deep echo-chamber maraca-less sound — is most helpful to gaining a sense of what must have been the true Trio Matamoros sound. Thinking about how so much popular music is artificially produced today, it is amazing to remember that Matamoros, Cueto and Rodríguez performed (and recorded) all their songs live and whole: three musicians performing three instrumental parts and two to three voice parts all at once. It must have been such a joy for them to perform together and share in a resonant and harmonic mutuality of sensation and emotion.

Of the CDs of Trio Matamoros music that I have bought, the following ones issued by YOYO, EGREM and TUMBAO are the best.

Trio Matamoros (Yoyo)“Serie Inmortales, Trio Matamoros, Todos sus Éxitos,” issued by YOYO (from Colombia) in 2002, has 15 of the most popular songs (“all their hits”) by Trio Matamoros, with a clean fresh sound that has been very nicely processed and thankfully not over-processed. You hear the words, you hear the instruments, even the sound of the maracas is crisp, and there is no noticeable background noise (even with headphones, but playing through actual speakers into an actual room always makes for warmer sound with less noticeable background noise from: needle drag, tape hiss, and electronic hum). I rate this CD five stars (*****). The cover photo of the Trio shows, left-to-right, Siro Rodríguez, Miguel Matamoros and Rafael Cueto in casual white outfits and hats. The notes (2 pages) accompanying the CD are good and in Spanish, though the song type and the composer of each selection are not shown (“El Fiel Enamorado” was written by Paquito Portela, not Miguel Matamoros as implied).

Trio Matamoros (EGREM)“Legendario Trio Matamoros, La gloria del bolero son,” issued by EGREM (from Cuba) in 2000, has 21 songs by Trio Matamoros, and is also rated by this reviewer at five stars (*****). The songs on this CD were recorded in Cuba between 1928 and 1951. To my ear the processing by EGREM was a bit more conservative than that by YOYO, but the difference between the two is slight; the YOYO selections seem a bit brighter and louder, while the EGREM selections seem a bit warmer and perhaps to more mature ears burnished and perhaps thus “more authentic.” However, a slight twist of the volume knob (or, alas, fingertip slide to the right) and the EGREM recording fills the room (or your headphones) just as abundantly as the YOYO recording did. The cover photo of the Trio shows, left-to-right, Rafael Cueto, Miguel Matamoros and Siro Rodríguez in elegant dark suits. The five pages of notes (in Spanish) accompanying the CD are superb, and include four photographs of the group, in 1926, 1929, ~1954 and 1961; also, the song type and composer of each selection are noted.

51B4qYgZcoL“Trio Matamoros, La China en la Rumba,” issued by TUMBAO (from Spain), has 24 songs by Trio Matamoros, and is rated by this reviewer at five stars (*****). This compilation was made in 1994, and the sound quality is very close to that of the EGREM recording (above). I am sure many of these songs were transcribed from old platter records (78 rpm) that were in very good condition, or perhaps even copied from the original master recordings. To my ear this TUMBAO compilation sounds like the result of excellent analog sound engineering from the old sources. At some of the quiet intervals I hear old-record needle-drag hiss, faintly. What I do not hear — most gratefully — is any indication of excessive and all-too-modern electronic filter-equalizer computer processing, those ultra-clean silences and liquid-like moldings of the sound that make you think you are listening while floating in an immense amniotic sac. To some older ears this CD may seem to have “the most authentic” Trio Matamoros sound, that which one could have heard from the old records when they were new if the turntables, phonograph needles and audio amplifiers of the 1990s had been available in the 1920s. Again, with adjustment of the volume knob and projection via speakers into a room, the sound from this CD can be experienced in a most satisfying way. It can also be quite lovely through headphones. The five pages of notes, in Spanish and English, are very good, and the song type and composer of each selection are noted.

These three CDs, as listed here, range from brighter sound with fewer songs to softer sound with more songs. However, the variation from bright to soft here is small (and can be offset by hearing the softer sounding CDs at slightly higher volume). Despite their differences they all earn my five star rating because each is a well-rounded whole of: song selection, quantity of music (playing time) and sound quality. There is some overlap in song selections between the three CDs, but not enough to make any one of these CDs redundant. With a computer and applications such as iTunes, one can reshuffle the individual songs from these CDs into longer playlists.

I do not care for the 2 CD, 24 song compilation called “Trio Matamoros,” issued by OK Records in 2011. The song selection is excellent, but the sound has been over-processed to the point of distortion, vocals accompanied by a liquidy-spacey maraca-less instrumental sound. How can you strip off the sound of Siro Rodríguez’s maracas, as if it were part of 78 rpm scratchiness and needle drag noise, and still call the result the sound of Trio Matamoros? The cover graphic of this dual-CD is a largely black field with white dotted curved lines (suggesting a close-up view of the grooves of an old platter record), with two red stars, and a small photo of the Trio Matamoros in their later years, with Rodríguez, Matamoros and Cueto (left-to-right). Young ears that had never heard the original muffled sound of Trio Matamoros from scratchy recordings, or the later nicely processed sound (as described above), might find the “noise free” (and maraca-free) clear vocals and sometimes viscous-spacey sounding instruments of the OK recordings an enjoyable addition to the popular recorded music soundscape of today. I am sure that if Matamoros, Rodríguez and Cueto would have heard themselves as portrayed in the OK Records compilation they would have laughed, imagining they were hearing Martians who had eavesdropped on the Cuban music of the 1920s to the 1950s via Martian short-wave radio; and then they would have written a parody. At most this rates 2 stars (**), for song selection and availability (at a price), but I don’t listen to it at all now, and can’t recommend it given the CD and YouTube alternatives.

51TzWAE9ygL“The Legendary Trio Matamoros 1928-1937,” issued by TUMBAO in 1992, has 20 songs recorded in New York City between 1928 and 1937. “Legendary” is the operative word here, the repertoire is that of Trio Matamoros’ first decade of phenomenal impact as both musical innovators and popular entertainers. The stocks of this CD have been depleted, and only used (or perhaps secretly hoarded new) copies are available now, and for “legendary” prices. The 1931 recording of “Lágrimas negras,” which was indelibly imprinted on my mind as a toddler over 60 years ago, is on this CD. However loving and intelligent and technically masterful the sound processing by TUMBAO was to produce this compilation, it is inevitable that the selections will have an antique sound because the original recording technology just did not have the wide bandwidth (“high fidelity”) to capture fuller, clearer sound; hi-fi technology would increasingly become available from 1941. This collector’s item rates 5 stars (*****). The photograph of Trio Matamoros on the CD case dates from 1926, and shows Cueto, Matamoros and Rodríguez (left-to-right):

Vestidos de <<cubanos>>, con polainas, guayaberas blancas y pañoletas rojas, están armados de guitarras, maracas y machetes. Todo muy típico.

Dressed as “Cubanos,” [rural men] with chaps, white “guayabera” jacket-shirts and red kerchiefs, they are armed with guitars, maracas and machetes. All very typical.

Lágrimas negras — Trio Matamoros, 1931

Let me say “thank you” to all the kind souls who have posted songs on the internet like “Lágrimas negras” with good sound, tasteful accompanying video and/or photos and graphics, and from hard-to-get albums. All we have left today of the Trio Matamoros is their recorded music, and by now that is a treasure that belongs to the world.

I am also grateful that TUMBAO and EGREM in particular, and now also YOYO have done such good jobs of maintaining and carefully polishing the sound quality of Trio Matamoros recordings, and presenting them to the world at affordable prices.

It is interesting and enjoyable to find young musicians of today who perform Trio Matamoros songs with fresh and artistically engaging interpretations. Perhaps you will be one of them.



Sugaring the Sky, Hummingbirds Near Me


I love hummingbirds (Torchilidae) and have put up feeders for them for many years. This is a presentation on what I have learned about and seen regarding the hummingbird species that live in my area, or are regular visitors. The five parts of this presentation follow, along with some photos.



Hummingbird Moments
(video, 5:28)
30 July 2015


Hummingbird Release
(video, 2:06)
18 June 2015



Hummingbirds Near Me
(species near San Francisco Bay)

The most common species here (in Oakland, California, USA) is the Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna), which are the largest-sized hummingbirds in this area, being 9 centimeters (3.5 in) to 10 centimeters (4 in) long, and weighing between 3 to 6 grams (0.1 to 0.2 ounce). The back feathers for both males and females are colored iridescent-metallic green. Males have blackish crowns and gorgets (a band around the throat), which flash rosy purplish red at certain angles to the sun; and on the chest grayish feathers mixed in with metallic green ones. Females have spotted throats with a central patch of red spots, grayish-white underparts, and white-tipped outer tail feathers. Juveniles have plainer color schemes.

I also see Allen’s Hummingbird (Salasphorus sasin) regularly but less often. The Allen’s Hummingbirds have about 85% of the length, and 3/4 the mass, of Anna’s Hummngbirds (of length 8-9 cm, 3-3.5 in; and weighing 2 to 4 grams, 0.075 to 0.15 ounce) but they are fierce! They charge other hummingbirds regardless of size to claim a feeder. The Allen’s have a rusty reddish color (rufous), along with some green. Males have iridescent green crowns and backs, white chests, rufous sides, rumps and tails, and they also have iridescent copper-red gorgets that appear dark when not in direct sunlight. Females are bronze-green above and along the central tail feathers, with white-tipped outer tail feathers, flecked throats, and white underparts with rust tinge on their flanks.

Another species I see now than then is the Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri). These birds are of a size and coloration similar to Anna’s Hummingbirds. Black-chinned Hummingbirds are 8-10 cm (3.25-3.75 in) long, and both males and females have green backs (or, upper parts). The males have a black chin band that combined with the dark crown makes the entire head appear black when not in direct sunlight. The male’s chin band is sharply underlined with an iridescent violet-purple throat band, and below that are the mixed green and grey feathers of the underparts down to the rump. The female has a white throat and breast, buff sides, and white-tipped outer tail feathers. The male’s wings make a dry buzz in flight, I have observed this and it is quite distinctive. Black-chinned Hummingbirds have a greater preference for the dryer and warmer inland valleys east of San Francisco Bay than do the Anna’s Hummingbirds.

The Rufous Hummingbird (Salasphorus rufus) is very close to the Allen’s Hummingbird in both size and coloration, and it is possible I have seen members of this species in late winter and early spring during their migration north from Southern California and Mexico, and in late summer during their migration south from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

The Anna’s Hummingbirds originated in southern California and Mexico, and only moved north along the California coast as settlers planted eucalyptus trees and other flowering trees and bushes, and suburbanites put up nectar feeders in their gardens, and hung them from house eaves. I am guessing that the Anna’s Hummingbird evolved in green leafy coastal chaparral terrain (like that of the San Diego and Baja California region), while the Allen’s Hummingbird evolved in coastal redwood forests, and that the Anna’s Hummingbirds settled in as permanent residents in coastal Central and Northern California largely in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Anna's Hummingbird (female, or juvenile)

Anna’s Hummingbird (female, or juvenile)

Allen's Hummingbird (young male, or female)

Allen’s Hummingbird (young male, or female)

Anna's Hummingbird (female, or juvenile), Allen's Hummingbird (young male, in back)

Anna’s Hummingbird (female, or juvenile), Allen’s Hummingbird (young male, in back)

L to R: Anna's (f), Allen's (m), Anna's, Anna's (f or juvenile), Anna's (juvenile male)

L to R: Anna’s (f), Allen’s (m), Anna’s, Anna’s (female or juvenile), Anna’s (juvenile male)

All hummingbirds are very feisty, though the Allen’s are particularly so. They are quick, proud and determined little motors of life, plucking insects out of the air in flight, and taking over and defending sources of nectar, which they lap up with gusto with very fine, long forked tongues. Despite what appear to us as delicate little bodies, hummingbirds are creatures of big and ferocious spirit, they are known to chase off birds of any size that threaten them, or perhaps just annoy them.

These are creatures that live life at a ferocious pace with imperious elegance, that make judgements with haughty confidence, and execute their decisions with lightning-fast precision. They are sugar transformed into sparks of wonder and flashes delight that arc through the air like rays of electrified rainbow.






Overtones Of Awareness

The reality we live in is an infinite spectrum of overlapping cycles of creation and destruction, most of which usually remain outside of consciousness because we are all so focused on our immediate wants and distractions.

Sometimes it happens that the rhythms of two monads resonate in harmony because the fundamental frequencies of their individual creation-destruction cycles match, or synchronize with one as the overtone of the other. A human consciousness involved in such a synchrony could experience it as telepathy, or love, or cosmic consciousness, or all three.

I have been thinking about the past that I have lived through. This happens when you get old, old being defined as the age when a person begins to think about the past they have lived through. Smart old people don’t talk about this because nobody — especially in the America of youthful instant omniscience — wants to hear about it. Many old people are not smart, so they talk about their memories and hard-won wisdom (being generous in the use of that word), and as a result suffer being ignored except for being ridiculed, and experience an increasingly bitter loneliness in their final years.

I have been comparing my memories of significant events half a century ago to the commentaries, commemorations, and propaganda about them in present times.

In 2009, I recalled how incredible it was to experience the popular exultation in Cuba after the success of the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Freedom! I wish this for everyone on earth, always.

In 2010, I remembered how pleased we Catholics were that one of our own, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been elected president despite the wide popularity in 1960 of that stalwart commie-chaser Richard M. Nixon. (The other zealous commie-hound, still popular to American public memory, was Robert F. Kennedy.)

In 2011, I recalled how my juvenile political consciousness began to darken because of the fact, not the failure, of the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961 and the Kennedy brothers’ crusade against Cuban communism. My president had sent an armada against the home of my grandparents. Could my family ever return to Cuba?

In 2012, I remembered our family living in terror through the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. At one point the question for us was: will Kennedy drop a nuclear bomb on grandma and grandpa in Havana before Khrushchev drops one on us in New York, or vice versa?

During this summer of 2013 we have seen much commemorative pageantry about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s stirring sermon on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (which I had visited in 1961), but nationally we have yet to seriously grapple with the pith of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of brotherhood and sisterhood. As a society we cannot say we are more egalitarian and caring than we were fifty years ago.

Later this year I expect to see much ponderous vapor issued to coincide with the half-century anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963. I remember the day and that week well. The sky was grey, the air was cold, the murder of a murderer was televised, and then all television was one long funeral; Thanksgiving was very subdued. I saw the “eternal flame” over John Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery the following spring on a school trip to the nation’s capital. I also got to see an FBI man shoot off a Thompson submachine gun in the basement gun range of the FBI headquarters building: big noise, flares, and splats. Education for school kids.

I remember many things, and I hear so many lies about them today. But, enough of old-mannishness. I want to describe one experience I had of the resonance of awareness.

Back in the glory days of the Regression Reich of Ronald Reagan — when Americans had orgasmically plunged into an intellectual, moral, and spiritual nosedive that Godless hope will eventually level out — I was happily employed as a physicist dreaming up ways to focus the explosive energy of nuclear bombs into ray-beams and jets that could be pointed at the clay pigeons of imperial ambition. This would never be practically realized because the concept was a fantasy concocted by liars to fleece political nincompoops. It did work at fleecing.

At the time, I lived in a small Oakland (California) bungalow at 73 meters elevation (240 feet) near the crest of a small knob just northeast of the transition from the Coast Ranges to the flat land that extends about 5 km (3 miles) southwest to San Francisco Bay. That house would be nearly shoreline property if the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets were to melt completely, because sea level would rise 65 meters (213 feet). The southeast to northwest trending Hayward Fault lay about 800 meters (0.5 miles) northeast of the house, and sometimes made it jolt and tremble when there was a surge of slippage along the fault.

Just east of the Hayward Fault from my old house lies a ridge, informally called the Leona Heights, whose crest line hovers at elevations between 274 m (900 ft) and 365 m (1200 ft), and that is composed of volcanic rocks about 150 million years old, from the Jurassic geologic period (201.3 Ma to 145 Ma; Ma is mega-annum, a unit of time equal to one million years). The Leona rocks were born as lava, ash, and rubble erupted from volcanoes in an oceanic arc, and have been conveyed eastward by the tectonic plates underlying the Pacific Ocean, to be altered as they were compressed onto earlier accretions crumpled onto the western margin of the westward moving North American continent.

In late afternoon and early evening during summer, the setting sun would cast its warm orange light on the western slope of Leona ridge with its tawny-colored rocks, dry golden grass and scattered oaks, and the image of that mountain would pulsate to the eye as if breathing, and glow as if flushed by a beating heart.

The back of my old house had a deck and faced San Francisco Bay. My view of the buildings in San Francisco to the west was narrowly framed by trees, and was horizontal, because of the modest elevation of my wage-earner neighborhood in comparison to that of the higher situated capital-gains neighborhoods. That view has undoubtedly disappeared with the growth of the intervening trees and shrubbery. During that particular summer, I had an ice chest on the deck with chilled Corona beers (sometimes Dos Equis, and sometimes Bombay Sapphire Gin and tonic), and I replenished it daily. I would also cook fish filets over a charcoal grill. It was nice.

One afternoon I was out on the deck immersed in reading The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (translation by Philip B. Yampolsky, 1967) when I heard the clicking song of an Anna’s Hummingbird. I maintained a nectar (sugar syrup) feeder, which hung from a tree branch that extended over one corner of the deck, and I saw hummingbirds frequently. The feeder was near my deck chair because I liked seeing the hummingbirds at close range. If I were quiet and still they would soon gain the confidence to buzz in and out for meals in my presence, and for rests on the perch bars attached to the feeder.

These birds are amazing flyers: hovering, darting, and weaving to pluck insects in flight to add protein to their diet besides liquid carbohydrates, and making whirling aerial jousts (between males) and courting dances of great speed and agility, sometimes shooting right across my view inches from my nose, so intent were they on chasing each other. I sometimes wondered that I didn’t ever get a needle-like hummingbird bill arrowed into my temples or shins. They can reach speeds in excess of 54 km/h (34 mph). With their iridescent green backs and the iridescent ruby face and throat flares of the males, the air would seem to spark red and green as they zipped across my vision. In late afternoon the setting sun would backlight their activity from my deck chair vantage point, and they would dance as buzzing shadows outlined in blazing light.

The rhythm of hummingbird life is much faster than that for human life. Hummingbirds beat their wings between 12 and 80 times a second, and their hearts are known to pump at up to 1,260 beats per minute (21 times a second). The normal human heart rate is between 60 to 100 beats per minute. To conserve energy when asleep or when food is scarce, hummingbirds go into a hibernation-like state called torpor where their metabolism slows to one-fifteenth its normal rate. Despite such fast living they are hardy creatures, those that manage to survive their first perilous year usually live 3 to 5 years, and there are several recorded cases of 10- to 12-year longevity. Still, all animals have a life expectancy of about 1 billion heartbeats; long-lived humans may exceed 2 billion (the same as chickens that avoid being eaten for 15 years).

Having been called away from the Platform Sutra by the song of a hummingbird perched further off in a nearby redwood tree, I decided to position myself for a possible closer look. I got up from my deck chair and stood close to the feeder. I waited. In the shade under the boughs of the feeder tree the August marine air was balmy, calm, and relaxing. Soon, the miniature hovercraft rotor sound of a hummingbird filled the space around the feeder, and an Anna’s Hummingbird female alighted to dip her beak into the hanging pool of nectar. As she was absorbed in the suction of sweet delight, I observed the delicate grey-brown mottling pattern and filigrees of her breast feathers, and the exquisite detail of her design.

Suddenly, she became aware of my presence as an animal being, rather than as a static tree or rock. She lifted off the feeder perch into a hover and looked into my eyes. I thought she would dart away in a moment, but she stayed suspended in air, analyzing me. I was enchanted, my eyes following her slow swaying motions in hover. Or rather, her precision hovering tracked my eyeballs exactly.

In an instant, she flew close to my face, and I was so surprised I froze in place. She would slowly drift from side to side in a motion as wide as the spacing of my eyes, as if a snake charmer hypnotizing a cobra. I was entranced. I looked into her shiny black beady eyes and sent a telepathic message of admiration for the wonder she was, and gratitude for being allowed to experience her presence so closely. I was so slow in comparison to her, my siphoning from the ice chest having increased the viscosity of my motions. Her beak was so close to my face that I realized this bird could easily lunge at me and puncture my eyeballs, but I trusted her. As she turned her head to cast one eye then another into my own gaze, I felt the reception of a message from her, an acknowledgement of my existence, and even some gratitude for the nectar. Our bubble of connected awareness lasted for a few minutes, but then it popped and she was gone.

It is difficult to dissect the experience verbally, but basically we two beings saw eye-to-eye in a consciously-shared and harmoniously-synchronized few minutes of in-the-moment delight in our existence within the larger symphony of living reality. The mountain was breathing warmth, my heart was the pulse of the Earth, and the hummingbird a focal point of the scintillating sky. We were one.

It is rare to have as consciously intimate, knowing, and expansive an experience with another human being as I had with that hummingbird. That it was easy for her and surprising for me was a revelation about the degree of refinement of awareness that is possible in the animal world. We humans may have become so narcissistic about our own babbling that we have become deaf to the endless singing and harmonizing occurring in the natural world, which is to say all around us.

What is the point of life, beyond delight in the awareness of our existence in the moment? So much could be cured, settled, put to rest if more of us regained receptivity to the song cycles of creation, destruction, and being that we are immersed in.

Our share of eternity is to briefly give identity to monads of mass-energy that cycle through space-time according to enduring principles. Each evanescent individual expresses the eternal universal totality.

A human life is to the earth as a glint of sunlight on the surface of rippling water.


“Overtones of Awareness” was originally published at on 9 September 2013.




Report From An Outpost

A brief synopsis of human conditions in response to questions posed by the new Chief of Outpost Guardians, Galactic Command (COG Galcomm). This report is given from the socio-political perspective of Americans, the culture in which this outpost is embedded.*

Outpost E6A1.ox

This outpost is manned by a single pre-contact observer, in the urban environs of the San Francisco Bay Area of California, in the United States of America, specifically the city of Oakland. While it is equipped with a resonant quantum gravitational space-time reintegrator (requavator), tourist traffic is not carried on at this time, to ensure pre-contact obliviousness is undamaged. However, we do support the entry and exit requavation of Galcomm surveillance and assessment teams, and the field trips of Organite researchers in Earth and human dynamics. Our requavation capabilities are ample and can provide the carapace biosynthesis needed by any Galactic Organite to blend into humanity. Because of E6A1.ox’s isolation and minimal transport operations, observations can be carried on without notice or interruption.


First, let me congratulate Namunon Rupa for the appointment to COG Galcomm. I, and all OGs, are aware of how important the role of COG Galcomm is, as the sensory receptor nexus for all Organites with respect to the pre-contact disconnects. What follows is a brief response to the questions you addressed to E6A1.ox, as an addendum to the appointment announcement transmission. Beyond that, I will add commentary as can readily be supplied for a speedy response, yet within format limits. Greater elaboration will follow in subsequent regular reports and as requested by Galcomm.

The World

Earth today is a planet that is rapidly heating due to exothermic human activity — half of the subterranean paleo-liquid hydrocarbons have been consumed, primarily in the last eighty years. Humans have yet to devise minimum entropy systems of planetary energetics, so their use of energy is marked by waste and rapid environmental degradation. What could be a human paradise with ample water and temperate climate for several million years is instead a planet with overwhelming privation, widespread bloody conflict, rapacious conquest by plutocratic elites, and environmental catastrophe likely within decades. The most powerful country (a political entity) from which world plutocracy is building its planetary empire is the United States of America.

The Western Hemisphere

Calculations of present trends in the Planet America Model (developed in collaboration with socio-calculationists in the Planet America Special Interest Section, Institute of Pre-Contact Studies) indicate environmental collapse leading to border-expanding warfare within a century. This year alone, the Caribbean has experienced four devastating hurricanes in succession, a consequence of greater stored heat in the atmosphere and biosphere. The thermohaline cycle is expected to collapse in twenty years (plus or minus five) because of dilution in the North Atlantic due to polar melting and the rise of sea level.

The model projections show that America (the common name of the United States of America) will invade Canada to secure its natural resources, particularly oil, natural gas, water, minerals, wood and territory for military use and for waste deposits. Canadians would be absorbed into the American population, as the majority are white-skinned. This invasion would be prompted by the abrupt climate change after thermohaline collapse, from the currently warmed temperate conditions prevailing at mid latitudes on the North American continent, to a nearly Siberian drought-tundra situation.

The climate in the Caribbean and Central America would be much wetter, and with a greater frequency of severe storms. Floods would wash away what high winds have not swept away, especially in regions denuded of deep-rooted vegetation. Agriculture will be severely hampered, and waves of eco-collapse refugees will stream to Mexico and then north into the southern United States. The southern portions of South America will also be colder because of the general planetary cooling after the thermohaline collapse. Too bad all that atmospheric waste heat was not properly used in the first place, to support the development of organite civilization!

The United States will experience socio-racial shock under the deluge of invasions from the south, and it will invade Mexico to stem the tide and secure resources — oil and water. The Mexicans and Latin Americans, being of darker skin and different language from American elite standards, will be contained in a manner now being practiced by Israel in Palestine (see reports from E2P1.ox). The American military occupation of Mexico will expand south into Central America, becoming a draining overreach.

These invasions will propel the South American countries to merge into an armed alliance, which they will be able to do despite American attacks given the over-extension of American attention. The armament of the south will be done by withholding resources from export to America, such as Venezuelan oil, and using them instead for indigenous social and military needs. This will occur on a continental basis as the Latin Americans will be unified by language (Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, not difficult to bridge), by opposition to the “Colossus of the North” (under history, see “American Intervention”) and the defense of their homes. The Latin American forces that will fight the United States over control of the Venezuelan oil fields (in twenty five to thirty years) will be made up of troops from all over South America.

There will be numerous internal revolutions during this South American Renaissance, causing the collapse of some political regimes, a major expansion of socialism (see the political sections in the references) and the merging and reformation of a number of countries with a rectification of borders. The entire process in the south will be relatively bloodless, aside from the sustained terrorism organized by the indigenous plutocracy supported by America, until such terrorism can be eliminated through social revolutions, which will see a few small scale retaliatory massacres of pro-American plutocrats.

The Global Probabilities

The Latin American Renaissance will be possible because America will be overextended with its North American occupations, its projected Australian occupation (see reports from E4M2.ox on the anticipated post eco-collapse Indonesian Oil War) and the interconnected Oil Wars of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Western Pacific.

A global analysis requires integrating the projections of the Planet America model with those of other regions: East Asia, Eurasia, Islamia, Western Europe and Africa (where America will mount resource raids). At this time the boundary of Islamia and Eurasia — the Caucasus region — is in turmoil that will devolve into the next major war, the Global Oil War expected to last thirty years. The consensus of model projections is for a weakening of the American empire, perhaps even the disappearance of the American political state, under the combined pressure of the Latin American Renaissance, a Euro-Russian alliance (to secure Middle East oil, repel African eco-refugee invasions, and credibly counter American long-range nuclear capability), a Sino-Japanese allied imperial expansion contending for command of Indonesia with American-occupied Australia (though some models predict the reverse, a second Sino-Japanese war), and a fracturing of Islamia from Algeria to Indonesia as different warlords fight and ally themselves with the three blocs contending for Islamia’s oil: America, Euro-Russia (Eurasia), and East Asia. These matters are too diverse to describe here, they require a consolidation of Earth OG reports by Galcomm technical committees, and further analysis by pre-contact academics.

What remains clear is that until the natural conditions of the planet change radically, the expansion of the American empire will be unimpeded. The mechanisms used for this expansion — capitalism (the economics of imperialism) and fossil fuel energy (paleo-hydrocarbon combustion) — are the primary sources of global warming and accelerated socio-physical entropification.

Aspects of American Politics

American politics is impossible to understand on the basis of its literature, since it is entirely a product of subterfuge, denial and obfuscation. However, it is easily possible to understand the purposes of American political customs and institutions, by inquiring as to the effects of these on the great mass of the American public, and upon the much larger mass of Earth’s people. From such empirical observations, and the historical record (being careful to analyze the source motivations and embedded biases of these), one can arrive at a number of basic political facts. Below, I list a number that have been constant over much of American history, and which also find parallels in the histories of many human societies (naturally, there will always be individual exceptions to the generalizations stated below).

1. Ordinary people are always the victims.

2. Capitalism is more important than human life, even of fellow Americans.

3. American politicians will literally walk over piles of dead to raise their ambitions. A notable example occurred in New York City shortly after the terror attacks of 11 September 2001.

4. Media lies and Americans accept the lies.

5. Americans are biased against Islam, Arabs and Muslims.

6. Americans believe Israel is stealing Palestine and oppressing the Palestinians; they accept this situation, and American foreign policy reflects this acceptance.

7. Heroes are unionized blue collar workers — firefighters, police, flight attendants — and soldiers; they are supposed to die selflessly, provide patriotic backdrops to political figures who represent corporate interests, and not strike for higher pay.

8. State capitalism is a system into which all pay while few benefit. It is popular with those few, who insist it be mandatory for everybody. Its attraction rests on the possibility of gain disproportionate to contribution, as with theft. The distribution of benefits is rigged (unlike honest gambling where they are randomized, and except for the house take and discounting skill at the game). The purpose of government is to host the forums that mediate the many dealings that go into arranging the schedule of benefits. Access to these forums is proportional to wealth. America is a welfare state, and in each person’s mind their subsidy is justifiable while everyone else’s is not; the purpose of the public is to be a source of wealth that is as disorganized and unsubsidized as possible.

9. The making of money is an obsessive-compulsive disorder — an addiction. I do not mean pay for work, for the products of hand and mind labor, but about accumulating wealth. All addiction is a “loss of soul,” and to such possession the addict will sacrifice anything: people, scruples, ethics, public safety, The Bill of Rights.

10. The political energy equation: oil = military power = political power = economic power. The equation works backwards as well: money buys power to use the military to secure resources — imperialism.

11. The purpose of all political speech is to befuddle the public mind and distract it from the obvious: the goal of plutocracy is to keep its money and take yours. There is no other goal, whether organized privately as corporations or publicly as government. The recent increase in popular poverty is a clear sign of the success of the economic policies of the present political administration.

12. Ignorance is embraced as a means for social control by the elite, who work to degrade educational standards (which have fallen steadily during the last thirty years in direct anti-correlation with the rising dominance of the present majority political party) and to encourage religious dogmatism. People indoctrinated to dogma are intellectually incapacitated, being trained to dispense with evidence and logic that contradicts implanted precepts. In adapting the psychology of religious faith into the psychosis of remote control political programming, the American capitalist elite is reaching for its apotheosis in fascism. The appeal of ignorance is its ease — thought is work — and its consequence is fear, everything is an unknown and the unknown is a threat. Where the ignorant seek certainty against their fears, religion flourishes. Where religion flourishes, the capacity for cruelty and injustice expands. Elites meld the religious to the political to control the mass of the people and to channel massive popular energy into directed action — war — which taps that capacity for cruelty extracted from the vast reserves of fearful ignorance.

In Conclusion

Pardon the prolixity, but I have reached the usual limit of regular OG reports, and there is yet much to tell. Another fascinating topic here is sex (humans have two sexes and each individual is expressed as one, as opposed to our internalized multiphasic sexuality). However, since I have addressed the specific questions sent, and then elaborated somewhat on several aspects of American political customs, this is a good place to stop. I was beginning to diverge into a discussion of American religion, which is exceedingly involved as a political and psychological topic, though largely bereft of intellectual content (amazingly, few Americans realize each individual actualizes the consciousness of the universe, the Organite essence). In America, religion is an emotional aspect of nonthinking, and of subterfuge when thought is political and economic calculation.

Thank you for your interest in Earth Station E6A1.ox, and be assured I will be happy to respond with special reports on specific questions about this world. Just write.

Earth Outpost Guardian E6A1.ox


* Footnotes are suppressed as the intended distribution is among the pre-contact technical committees of Galcomm and academics specializing in Planet America. Terms not defined are as given in standard references: Glossary of Planet America; History of Human Psychodynamics on Planet Earth; Planetary Americanization: An Empire of Emotion, Calculation and Delusion.


Originally published at on 4 October 2004


Energy for Society in Balance with Nature

“Solar power at 1% conversion efficiency on 2% of the land area of the United States of America would produce the total electrical energy use of the nation, 4 trillion kilowatt-hours per year (4T kWh/y).”


<> The Economic Function Of Energy <>


Economics is the consumption of energy to process matter and produce action for the maintenance and renovation of society. Just as form follows function, the right choice of an energy technology for any society is a function of its economic model and socio-economic goals. Politics is the process of determining the allocation of costs and the distribution of benefits for an economy. Therefore, the selection of the energy technologies to power a society is based on political consensus and political power.

Industrialization is a synchronized and mechanized form of economics. For example, suburbia and exurbia are industrializations of the concepts of village, town, and city. They are the stretching of human settlements into 2D space with a compensatory time contraction provided by an energy-intensive kinetic network of unitary transport vehicles.

Public debates on the influence of industrialization on the global heat balance (the average temperature of much of the biosphere), and the sensitivity of climate change to inputs of industrial waste heat and waste matter (e.g., CO2, methane, soot), are political debates on economic forms couched in terms of the relative convenience, profitability and environmental impact of different energy technologies.

Energy For Human Development

The United Nations uses an economic parameter called the Human Development Index (HDI) to characterize the typical standard of living of every nation. It is observed that affluent nations have high HDI scores (HDI ranges from 0 to 1) and a high use of electrical energy per year per person (in kilowatt-hours/year/person the range is from 0 to 30,000), while poor nations have relatively low values for both quantities. (1)

Data from 2005 include the following:

1. The range of annual per capita electrical energy use among 177 nations was between 40 kWh/year/person and 29,247 kWh/year/person. The range of HDI was from 0.281 to 0.963.

2. The United States of America ranked 10th in HDI, at 0.944, with 13,456 kWh/y/p for 4.5% of the world’s population, which produced 24.4% of the CO2 emissions from human activity.

3. The People’s Republic of China ranked 85th in HDI, at 0.755, with 1,484 kWh/y/p for 21% of the world’s population, which produced 12.1% of the CO2 emissions from human activity.

China is racing to develop, and a momentary digression is necessary on account of its rapidly changing data. Between 2004 and 2009, China’s primary energy use grew by 40%, electricity use by 70%, energy imports by a factor of three, population by 2.7%, and CO2 emissions by 44%. (2) After 2007, China’s CO2 emissions exceeded those of the United States (though per capita emission remains far below the US level). Between 2008 and 2010, world CO2 emissions rose 12.1%, US CO2 emissions by only 0.57% because of the economic slowdown during 2009, and Chinese CO2 emissions rose by 17.2%. In 2010, China’s CO2 emissions were 24.6% of the world total, and the US share was 16.4%. (3)

The United Nations calls the striving of each nation to elevate the standard of living of its population its economic development, and a fundamental part of such development is a greater availability of electrical power.

We can visualize the sequential stages of economic development as an HDI climb up an energy ladder. People who burn matter to generate heat, and have a pre-industrial society, advance their economic development by shifting to fuels of higher chemical energy content: from crop waste and dung, to wood, charcoal, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas, and then ethanol and methanol.

The higher stages of economic development are those experienced over the last two centuries by the now highly industrialized nations. Coal was the fuel of 19th century industrialization. Oil and natural gas are the fuels of rapid mass mobility and heating, and power the hyper-animated form of industrial society we know simply as “the 20th century.” Civilian nuclear power became available near the middle of that century, and remains our most concentrated source of energy for producing electricity.

In 2005, the world average HDI was 0.741, and the world average electrical energy use was 2,465 kWh/y/p. People whose lives are characterized by the low end of the HDI scale (near 0.3) can be said to remain, for the most part, in the 18th century. Those in mid-range HDI conditions (0.5-0.6) experience 19th to early 20th century living with some sprinkles of the 21st century, perhaps occasional encounters with consumer electronics like cellular telephones, or militarized police with all too modern automatic guns. Nations with HDI near the world average (0.7-0.8) are clearly modern, though they will still experience many austerities. The plateau of affluence is defined by those nations with HDI above 0.9, and energy use above 6,000 kWh/y/p.

The different levels of economic development existing today mean that no single strategy for advancement is appropriate worldwide, even though it is clear that every national strategy for development must include an effort to improve the reliable availability of energy broadly.

Several nations in the affluence plateau, like Germany, are seeking to make a transition to a post-nuclear, post-fossil fuel economy without a loss of HDI. Energy sources being explored include: solar (photovoltaic and thermal), wind, ocean (wave and tidal), hydroelectric (river power), biomass (agriculture for fuel), and conservation, perhaps the richest though least popular source.

Nations that are industrializing now, like China, and are heavily reliant on coal and oil, could decide to skip the atomic age of mid-20th century America and Europe, and leap-frog to a post-nuclear, post-fossil fuel and ultimately high HDI economy by the middle to late 21st century. A recent report in Spiegel Online International notes: “In 2004, Germany held a 69 percent share of the global solar panel business. By 2011, it had declined to 20 percent” because “Chinese competitors offer systems of equivalent quality at significantly lower prices.” (4)

Nations that remain largely pre-industrial and struggle to meet the basic needs of their people, as outlined by the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG), (5) might conclude that duplicating the 19th and 20th century developmental path of America and Europe is just not possible today, nor conscionable since the raising of their people’s HDI cannot wait two centuries. They might decide to leap-frog from the 18th to 21st centuries, bypassing the intense industrialization of the coal through nuclear economies, and instead invest in the low capital development of many local sources of renewable energy, which would be distributed near its generation sites through low-power micro grids. Such a ubiquitous, frugal, renewable-source and essentially “gridless” power system is in contrast to the concept of a few capital-intensive technologically complex and large coal, oil and nuclear power plants feeding electricity through massive regional and long-distance transmission line systems, to eventually fan out to each particular home. Just getting enough electricity to illuminate homes (enabling reading and study at night) and to power simple machines like water pumps and refrigerators (and hand tools, and perhaps even recharge cellular telephones) everywhere in a currently low HDI nation would be a revolutionary improvement.

At this point we can pose a multitude of questions with one simple query: what are the best energy technologies to power our economy into the future?

Energy Choices For An Uncertain Future

Consider the selection of energy technologies to be: renewables (R), coal (C), oil and natural gas (O), and nuclear (N). Under renewables we group the technologies that harvest energy without resorting to burning (solar, wind, ocean, hydroelectric, geothermal and conservation), and may include some biomass schemes, like methane-generating digesters of farm, household, and municipal wastes, despite the fact that they produce a fuel for burning, which produces carbon dioxide gas. Under renewables, we exclude schemes for the industrial scale agriculture of crops intended to be processed into liquid fuels and methane; this is just the depletion of soil that could be producing food to instead fuel automobiles, farmed oil.

If we think of economic development as a process of concentrating technological complexity and capital for the purposes of improving a society’s well being, then the right fuel to power that society is one whose degree of energy concentration is compatible with the technological concentration of the society. Here, we are referring as much to E. F. Schumacher’s concept of “appropriate technology” as to the earlier description of the energy ladder. (6)

Forms Of Energy In Our Quests For Power

The appropriate choice of an energy technology for any given society will usually be some mixture of the major technologies, labeled here as R, C, O, and N. Let us identify the major attraction of each of our four technologies as follows:

R: achieve MDG, power to end poverty (social power).

C: commercial power.

O: military power.

N: political power.

Renewables can be deployed locally with little capital and are thus the first choice for moving pre-industrial people out of poverty and into the upper half of the HDI range, which corresponds to lives in humane and secure conditions that Americans and Europeans would see as elementary 20th century life.

Coal is abundant, it can fuel the great furnaces of heavy industry, and it can provide the heat to generate electricity for billions of people. This is why China burns so much coal, and why also America and Europe continue to use it. Coal is the fuel of commercial power gained through heavy industrialization, a 19th and early 20th century technique of development that is perfectly suited to countries whose typical experience of life is of a comparable time, and who have much greater ambitions.

Oil is the “liquid gold” that is refined into the fuels that make the automobile culture, the airline industry, and the highly mobile global reach of the United States military possible. The many large, heavy, complex, low-mileage, high-power vehicles of the US military could not exist without jet fuels, high-octane gasoline, diesel fuel, and fuel oil; the Air Force would be grounded, the Navy tied up at port, and the Army reduced to marching or horse-drawn wagons, since their trucks, tanks, and helicopters would be immobilized.

Civilian America could probably live quite well with only renewable energy, but it would be impossible to maintain today’s military capabilities without petroleum-based fuels. Renewables are low concentration technologies, they require large collection areas, and are completely unsuited to military mobility. If very high energy density batteries were available, perhaps the US military could maintain solar energy farms (probably all of Arizona), that constantly charged them up, to power its electrified vehicles. However, electric battery technology has not achieved anything near the energy concentration of liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Electric cars remain rare because their batteries take up more space than the gas tank, which they are far heavier than, and they provide less range before being exhausted and requiring a lengthy recharge.

Nuclear reactors can power large ships like aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines, as well as large static bases, but are far too cumbersome for most military tasks. Coal can be liquefied into a fuel (producing more CO2 than the extraction of crude oil and its refinement to liquid fuels) and is probably what the US military would turn to in the event that petroleum ceased being available.

The many liabilities of nuclear power are well known, and today are being highlighted by the Fukushima disaster. But, nuclear power always has one irresistible draw: it is the source of nuclear weapons. The fascination here is entirely that of political power, the belief that in possessing nuclear weapons one possesses the ability to make the ultimate threat: to obliterate an enemy. What is often forgotten is that in order to carry out the threat one needs a reliable and accurate delivery system, usually missiles. As more nations acquire nuclear weapons and missile systems, another consideration becomes the ability to survive retaliation. As purely war-fighting tools, nuclear weapons have become obsolete because Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) guided chemical high explosives conveyed by missiles and drone aircraft can destroy targets with an accuracy of meters, eliminating the need for large-area blasts to compensate for the targeting inaccuracy of unguided gravity bombs and ballistic missiles. However, possession of nuclear weapons certainly gets their keeper the attention of other nations.

A Simple Model Of Energy Choices

So, the first method we might try for prioritizing a society’s investments in energy technologies would be to rank the four types of power the decision-makers might want (political, military, commercial, to end poverty), and then by the corresponding code letters shown earlier, we arrive at a preference ranking of energy choices. We might guess at the following two examples, and then compare them to reality:

United States:
military, commercial, political, social; (O, C, N, R).

commercial, social, military, political; (C, R, O, N).

In 2009, the United States produced 37% of its energy from petroleum, 25% from natural gas, 21% from coal, 9% from nuclear power, and 8% from renewables, the bulk of which was hydroelectric. Grouping petroleum and natural gas together, these portions become: O at 62%, C at 21%, N at 9%, and R at 8%. (7)

In 2005, China produced 81% of its electricity from coal-fired plants (C), 17% was hydroelectric (R), and 2% from nuclear power (N). Petroleum is refined for the liquid fuels used for transportation. China is the world’s leading producer of renewable energy, the bulk of which is hydroelectric. With an eye to the future, China is also the largest producer of wind turbines, solar panels and solar water heaters. At the UN climate summit in 2009, China pledged to have 15% of its energy generated from solar power within a decade. (8)

An Improved Model Of Energy Choices

The previous type of analysis is too simple — we want greater insight into the politics of energy. Decision making in most countries is a blending of competitive interests, how do we account for the many possibilities of this? My response was to devise a detailed model based on the decision theory of Richard C. Jeffrey. Decision theory combines ideas from statistics, probability theory, and logic, and is the result of work by philosophers, mathematicians, economists, and logicians. (9)

The essential points of my improved model are as follows. The agent making the decisions about national investments in energy technologies is assumed to be a composite of several characters. Each of these characters represents a major constituency or interest as regards national energy policy. I considered three single-minded characters: “no nuclear,” “stop global warming,” and “maximum energy now.” The deciding agent is a weighted sum of these three characters. For example, if all three characters had equal political power, then the agent’s preferences would be an equal blending of “no nuclear,” “stop global warming,” and “max energy now.” If the portions of political power for the three characters happened to be 1/7 for “no nuclear,” 4/7 for “stop global warming,” and 2/7 for “max energy now,” then the preferences of the deciding agent would be a composite of the single-minded preferences in these same proportions. Five case studies, each with a different set of political weights, were calculated from the model and are described below.

When the deciding agent is entirely the single-minded character “stop global warming,” the ranking of investment choices is R, N, O, C (renewables, nuclear, oil and gas, coal). Clearly, this character holds off on burning as much as possible, and only reluctantly agrees to it when there is no other source of energy. Notice that a single-minded concern for global warming leads to a preference for nuclear power over combustion power.

A deciding agent that is equally split between “no nuclear” and “max energy now” (and does not care about global warming) is most likely to rank investment choices as C, O, R, N. The numerical results show that this agent is equally comfortable choosing coal or oil, so the ranking could just as easily be O, C, R, N. If this deciding agent had less of the “no nuclear” character, so that its preference ranking placed R last, then this agent would mirror the actual character the US energy mix: O, C, N, R.

A deciding agent that is equally split between “stop global warming” and “max energy now” (and does not care about avoiding nuclear) is most likely to rank investment choices as R, C, and then N and O equally. The numerical results show that the single most preferred technology is coal, but the concern over global warming boosts the incentive to invest in renewables. If this deciding agent had less “stop global warming” character, so that C was first in its ranking of investment choices, then this agent would mirror the actual character of the Chinese energy mix: C, R, N, for the generation of electricity (O is used for transportation fuels).

A deciding agent that is equally split three ways between “no nuclear,” “stop global warming,” and “max energy now” is most likely to rank investment choices as not-N, R, O, C. This agent’s first priority is to stop, end, and prevent funding for nuclear power. The next priorities are positive investments in energy sources, ranked as R, O, C.

Because of its natural preference for nuclear power, the “stop global warming” character is directly opposed to the “no nuclear” character. A deciding agent that is one part “no nuclear” and two parts “stop global warming” (and has none of the “max energy now” character) will most likely rank investment choices as R, N, O, C. This is the same ranking as that of a single-minded “stop global warming” agent. However, because there is a minor portion of the agent with the “no nuclear” character, another ranking that is nearly as probable is R, O, N, C.

While it is possible to elaborate models of this type into systems of great complexity to capture many types of opinions on energy policy and their relative political weights, and to use computers to calculate projections on the possible directions of a society’s energy politics, I think it’s better to keep the models reasonably simple and to use them as guides that help the mind organize the information from which decisions are to be drawn, and then to bring out the most important points. John von Neumann (1903-1957) said: “The purpose of computation is insight, not numbers.”

International Energy Politics

Based on what has been presented up to this point, we can propose the following as six points of probable conflict [1-6].

High HDI environmentalists, whose major concerns are the consequences of global warming (R, N, O, C), are:

[1] at odds domestically with their military and commercial sectors (O, C, N, R), which are interested in immediate power and profits,

[2] at odds with high HDI anti-capitalists, whose major concerns are political opposition to war, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power (R, O, C, N).

Low HDI economic developers, whose major concern is the immediate raising of living standards (C, R, O, N), find themselves:

[3] at odds with high HDI environmentalists on the issue of economic development (coal),

[4] they find high HDI anti-capitalists disinterested in low HDI economic development (interest is opposition to high HDI power),

[5] they find high HDI commercial sectors competitive with and thus hostile to their industrialization.

Low HDI economic developers are aware of and concerned about global warming, which is why they seek to develop R technology (C, R, O, N).

[6] They find themselves at odds with high HDI commercial sectors, who are disinterested to pay the cost of reducing their CO2 emissions (O, C, N, R), or of developing R technology suitable to low HDI conditions.

If we imagine that each of these conflicts is a simplified reflection of reality, then it is easy to see why the 2011 UN Convention on Climate Change, in Durban, South Africa, resulted in setting to 2015 the completion of an international agreement to limit carbon emissions, and waiting till 2020 for that agreement to take effect.

Now for a change of focus. Instead of trying to answer how societal choices on energy have been and will be made, we give free rein to realistic imagination and ask: what could we do to produce and use energy if there were no political barriers?

The Energy Systems Of Two Imaginary Futures

Let us sweep away all the conceptual restraints placed on the imagination by the fractious politics and societal indecision of our times, and instead visualize energy systems that are physically possible, to power economies that feed some subset of enduring human desires.

US National Solar Electricity System

Solar power at 1% conversion efficiency on 2% of the land area of the United States of America would produce the total electrical energy use of the nation, 4 trillion kilowatt-hours per year (4T kWh/y).

We could imagine a single site in the American southwest that was a square with sides 427 km (265 miles) long; or 100 sites of 43 km (26 mi) square sides; or 1000 sites of 14 km (8.4 mi) square sides. If the conversion efficiency of sunlight to electricity is increased to 10%, then only 18,232 square km (7040 sq. mi) of collection area are needed; this could be one site of 135 km (84 mi) square sides. The combined land areas of the White Sands Missile Range, Fort Hood Texas, Yuma Proving Grounds and Twentynine Palms Base is 18,435 square km (7118 sq. mi); imagine them being used to host a national (publicly owned) solar electricity system, US NSES.

The conversion efficiency of solar (photovoltaic) cells varies with type, age, and conditions, the extreme range being 2% to 43%, where efficiencies beyond about 20% are for specialized devices in research laboratories. One expects 15% to 19% efficiency of solar cells in the field. (10)

Solar-thermal systems convert sunlight to heat, and are of many different types. (11) A solar-thermal-electric system captures sunlight as heat in a transfer fluid (synthetic oil, pressurized steam, molten salt), which is used to generate steam that powers conventional turbine-generators of electricity. One such system, Nevada Solar One, nominally produces 64 MW of electricity from a collection area of 1.2 square km (300 acres), an efficiency of 5.3%. (12)

With a combination of photovoltaic and solar-thermal-electric systems, the United States could use 18,400 square km (7,100 sq. mi) of publicly owned land (converted military bases) to provide 4T kWh/y of socialized electricity, converted from sunlight with 10% efficiency (sunlight at 1000 Watts per square meter is assumed for only 25% of the time to account for nights and cloudy days).

The obvious difficulties with solar energy are nighttime, clouds, and dust on the reflectors or their glass covers. A solar power system can supply electricity steadily if it is paired with an energy storage system that is filled during daylight hours, and discharged during darkness. We could imagine half the electricity generated during daylight being stored for use at night.

The form of storage could be electrical, in batteries, or mechanical, as the spinning masses of large flywheels, or gravitational, as the pumping of water into elevated tanks or uphill reservoirs. At night, the batteries would be discharged, the flywheels spin down by rotating the shafts of electric generators, and the pumped storage recovered hydroelectrically. We can imagine the US NSES pumping water into Lake Mead (Nevada) during the day, for hydroelectric recovery at Hoover Dam during dark times.

As for the dust, it seems we will always need people to clean windows.

Carbon Neutral Free Market Economy

Americans reached a four-fold consensus: carbon emissions must be reduced drastically, it was absolutely essential that anyone be able to own a 13 mile-per-gallon two ton, four wheel drive SUV (a truck-based automobile), the US military required enough fuel to move all its vehicles all the time, and civilian nuclear power was acceptable if the reactors were well sealed, and the radioactive wastes were moved permanently offshore.

The Athabasca Oil Sands of Alberta, Canada, (13) a vast sludgy deposit of mixed crude bitumen, sand, clay, and water, with a viscosity like cold molasses, is strip mined and softened by high temperature steam into a pressurized oily slurry that is piped to US synthetic fuel plants along the Canadian border. The large amount of viscosity-reducing heat needed along the entire length of the pipeline is supplied by electric heaters, which are powered from Canadian nuclear reactors dedicated to this purpose.

The large amounts of carbon dioxide gas released by the production of synthetic gasoline is contained at the synfuels plants and piped to the National Carbon Sequestration Portal, by the Pacific Ocean at the Oregon coast. This site has large underground tanks for the temporary storage of pressurized CO2, and its own nuclear power plant, which generates the energy needed for pumping CO2 into the National Carbon Sequestration Site at the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate.

The CO2 is pumped offshore 300 km (186 mi) and down into undersea basalt below a depth of 2,700 m (8900 ft), where it reacts to form stable carbonate minerals. (14) That these accumulating carbonate deposits may lead to an acidification of the local oceanic environment, and adversely affect marine life, is not seen as likely by the designers of this scheme.

Coal is still mined in the U.S., but it is all processed into synthetic liquid fuels for civilian and military transport. Electricity is generated primarily from nuclear power, with a small portion being hydroelectric. To compensate for the loss of coal as a fuel for producing industrial process heat (blast furnaces and such) a much larger quantity of electricity is generated than in the past, to provide industrial heat electrically.

The nation’s 531 nuclear reactors (up from 104 in 2008) are now of a new modular design. When the reactor core has been used up, the control rods are fully inserted into it, the containment vessel is filled with coolant and sealed, and the entire assembly is removed for disposal; a fresh replacement is installed. The spent sealed vessels are shipped to the National Nuclear Embarkation Facility in South Carolina. These sealed vessels, called “plugs,” are carried by specialized container ships to sites along the Mid-Atlantic Bathymetric Disposal Line. This line runs along the ocean floor about 4,000 meters below the surface, parallel and to the west of the rift valley in the middle of the tectonic spreading zone known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The plugs are unloaded through the bottom of the container ship’s hull, and guided by robotic submersibles to prepared emplacement holes, which have been drilled into the ocean floor. The rate of tectonic spreading is about 2.5 cm (1 in) a year, so the Mid-Atlantic Bathymetric Disposal Line moves west, along with the rest of North America, at a rate of 25 km (15.5 mi) every million years.

By these means, Americans are able to continue with their preference for luxury truck-like road vehicles, suburban sprawl, air travel, and a high HDI lifestyle, without increasing the carbon emissions of the nation. However, these emissions remain high on a per capita basis, and global warming continues.

Parting Thoughts And A Fantasy

Life is effort, and effort is energy in use. As a society, the types of energy we use and seek to acquire are reflections of who we are. Our political conflicts are like the squabbles of scavengers assembled around a fallen carcass on the Serengeti Plain, and they have their echoes as conflicts over national and international energy policy. Regardless of whether we choose to tear our earth apart by competitive selfishness, or to nurture it communally, we will have to do a great deal of work to maintain reliable cycles of energy use that sustain our many nations. I believe that working cooperatively releases more energy for improving the HDI for everybody.

An African Fantasy

The Sahara Solar Energy Consortium includes the countries Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. With technical experts from Germany and Spain, and armies of workers from the host countries, the SSEC has built many solar energy farms across the Sahara, transmitting low-cost electrical power to all of Africa, and easily paying for itself (and the African development it enables) by exporting electrical power to Europe via the undersea Trans-Mediterranean Conduit. The SSEC is the world’s leading supplier of hydrogen gas produced by the electrolysis of water. Hydrogen gas is used to power fuel cells used as back-up generators of SSEC electricity. A hydrogen fuel cell is a device that converts the heat released by oxidizing hydrogen (burning it into steam) into electricity. (15) The steam is captured for reuse, naturally.


1.  M. García, Jr., Energy For Human Development, (a series of reports from 2006),

2. “Energy Policy of The People’s Republic of China,”

3. “List of Countries by Carbon Dioxide Emissions,”

4.  Alexander Neubacher, “Solar Subsidy Sinkhole: Re-Evaluating Germany’s Blind Faith in the Sun,” Spiegel Online International, 18 January 2012,

5. “Millennium Development Goals,” United Nations,

6. “E. F. Schumacher” (1911-1977),

7. “Energy in The United States,”

8. “Renewable Energy in The People’s Republic of China,”

9.  Richard C. Jeffrey, The Logic of Decision, 1965, McGraw-Hill Book Company.

10. “Solar Cell Efficiency,”

11. “Solar Thermal Energy,”

12. “Nevada Solar One,”

13. “Oil Sands,”

14. “Carbon Sequestration,”

15. “Fuel Cell,”


Originally published at on 27 February 2012


How “The Economic Function of Energy” came to be written.

As part of my professional technical work in 2006, I devised an improved analytical fit (a curve) to the correlation between national HDI and average electrical energy use per capita, for 177 nations. My employer (Livermore Lab) hoped to use this result in grant applications seeking funds for nuclear energy research, arguing it was a social benefit (this was for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, GNEP, a program thankfully now dead). I continued in this job effort by applying the decision theory of Richard C. Jeffrey to devise simple models of how an agent (such as a government policy-making body) might rationally select what type of energy technology to invest in for the best results in raising a nation’s HDI.

Given that raising HDI was my stated goal, and not maximizing profits to a group of speculators (such as corporations), my decision theory models always pointed to renewable energy technologies as better than gas, oil and coal. It is obvious that climate change and environmental improvement or degradation have significant impacts on HDI. So, I combined my technical work on HDI curves and decision theory to justify my recommendation that my employer instead focus on the improvement of solar and renewable energy systems. This was my last project before retiring in 2007. I found much of the data quoted in “The Economic Function of Energy” during 2006-2007.

In 2007, I was urged (by two academics) to write a clear explanation of climate change science, aimed at convincing Alexander Cockburn (1941-2012), the political journalist, and the publisher-editor of Counterpunch (along with Jeffrey St. Clair), that his climate change skepticism was misplaced. That article is

Climate and Carbon, Consensus and Contention
4 June 2007

and it did not change minds one way or the other. Also, it is a very good article.

In 2011, I thought I would write a book on energy and climate change politics based on all I had learned in my investigations into

Energy for Human Development

, HDI, energy policy decision theory models, and climate change science.

In December 2011, I completed an outline for this planned book, and that outline is now published on this blog.

Closing the Cycle: Energy and Climate Change

Once I had the outline, I realized that my imagined book would be encyclopedic, which is to say impractical for me to write. I decided that the best way to make use of all that I had learned was to write reasonably-sized articles for a general readership, articles that were informative and clear without diluting the technical insights, and which provoked thought (I hoped).

“The Economic Function of Energy” is the result of that focus. It is my favorite of my essays to date, I think it is my best work of synthesis. It won’t change minds one way or the other, but I am very happy I developed to the point where I could and did produce it.



What Does It Mean To Be American?

I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the altered states in America
And to the republic-of-dreams for which it stands,
One nation under the gods, the goddesses,
The spirits of the ancestors,
And the great unknowable void,
With liberty to imagine justice
For all.

“Are you an American?” I’ve been asked since I can remember and to this day. I’m never sure, let’s just say I’m trying.

Being born here is not enough. I know, I was, and still most Americans think I’m a foreigner. I was born in the upper West Side — Spanish Harlem — in the time of Machito. I have a black moustache (well, had) and a permanent tan “to die for” — if your skin is plucked-chicken white and you can afford the “color.” I’ve been taken for every kind of Latino (I’m Cuban-Puerto Rican), for Egyptian, Persian, Turkish, and even black.

“My story is much too sad to be told…,” Ella Fitzgerald doing Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” that’s me.

Today, there is much feverish fantasy about patriotism, and many assume a real American is the usual stereotype of the beer-bellied, baseball-cap knuckle-headed, pasty-faced palooka who drives a pickup; loves the 3 B’s: baseball, basketball and football; eats steak without vegetables; and is entwined with a tight-ass cowgirl or bimbo-fluffy suburban SUV mama, who’s got the mall floor plan imprinted in her cerebral cortex, and has mapped out decades of smothering protective love over the lives of her young: Jennifer and Jonathan, or Kiley and Toby, and is as far away from Lou Reed’s “a girlfriend named Samantha” in “Street Hassle” as it is possible for human genetics to produce. And still, such people can be real — it is not automatic — as can many a “Samantha” and her inner-urban boyfriend, perhaps the quintessential Anglo-American, the one that makes a suburban lovesick New Jersey Jewish rock-and-roll composer boy realize how much he aches to be the ultimate Anglo — “I Wanna Be Black.”

“…you have drank — of the fountains — of innocence…there’s a dream — where the contents — are visible…where the poetic — champions compose…,” Van Morrison doing “Queen Of The Slipstream,” that’s me.

Real Americans have vision not to be confused with greed, motivation and drive not to be confused with ambition, and innocence not to be confused with stupidity.

“It’s knowing that your door is always open – and your path is free to walk…” Elvis doing “Gentle On My Mind,” that’s me. “True love — travels on a gravel road…” that’s me channeled by Elvis, along with so many others.

There are many American-born fakes. The loud ones self-identify with variations on the mantra “America is Number One!” Real Americans don’t care about being a number, they care about being. Is George W. Bush a real American? Nah, he’s a fake. There’s lots like that, cheap crap passed off to a dumb-ass public who’ll pay good money for something big, loud and empty. Dubya is a real fake, of which we have lots, since big fat useless empty is a big part of fake America, which everybody knows of course, but which we still feel necessary to be embarrassed about when we think. Not embarrassed enough to stop producing them, there’s just too much money to be made pushing out fake stuff, and money is GOD, money is Jack Number One in Jack-Off Nation. That’s why Rupert Murdoch (another fake) is here. And the multi-million head penis of Jack One are the guns of Jack-Off Nation, stroked compulsively in an auto-erotic neurosis to discharge our fantasies of power. Guns of the Pentagon world-jacking, guns of the street punks car-jacking, guns on the lobotomy-umbilical TV net volition-jacking, guns in the playgrounds in grammar schools child-jacking. I’m dying, I want to vacuum every dollar out of every pocket and portfolio in the country (and those “offshore”) and light a bonfire that can be seen from space: smoke-signals to the Tralfamadorians, “Send help!”

But wait…

“Our life — together — is so precious — together — we have grown — we have growww-ow-ow-own…and our love — is still special — let’s take a chance and fly away — somewhere — alo-o-own,” John Lennon’s “Starting Over,” that’s me, that’s real America, “…don’t let another day go by — it’ll be — just like starting over…”

Yes, lots of foreigners are REAL Americans, and lots of born Americans are pure fakes. Get it? OK, I’ll keep going.

“Your love – is lifting me higher — than I’ve ever — been lifted before…” Jackie Wilson taking flight, there is hardly any higher peak of Anglo-American ecstasy. If you are unmoved, you are un-American.

Anglo-American? Yeah, “such a feeling’s coming over me…” Karen Carpenter doing the best country music ever uttered (yes, this is true). The true voice of white American imagination with heart. OK, Elvis gets in there, and James Taylor brings country to philosophy when he opens with “Something in the way she moves…” Yes, heart is the high of love, and it draws us all in. “Love me tender — love me sweet — never let me go — you have made my life complete — and I love you so…” to hear Elvis do this and be unmoved is to be from Mars. Beyond all the money-grubbing, soul-sucking scum that interposes itself between the pure American artist and the audience, is the product of genius, a direct pipeline to the eternal, the universal voice of being. “Holy smokes and land sakes alive — I never thought this could happen to me — I got stung!…”

“Get Happy,” that’s true America. Hear Judy Garland do this Harold Arlen tune to get the real feeling of being an American. A New York Jewish composer writing a Negro spiritual (sort of), and sung by a Jewish-American gamin vocal genius. Even so, love the Ella Fitzgerald version — can anyone sing better? Frank Sinatra said of Ella, “man, woman or child, she is the best.” On this, he was right. “Hallelujah — hallelujah — come you sinners — gather round…a land where the weary are forever free…forget your troubles and just get happy!…” Brothers and sisters, this is the best revival you will ever attend. Listen to the sax in the Ella version, the real thing, feel it? If you’re moving, you’re American. “Get ready for the judgment dayyyyyyyy!”

And what will our Judgment Day be like? Wilson Pickett will lead the choir in “Everybody Needs Somebody,” as the waiting and wanting rejoice at their liberation and reward. Dubya and the fakes will be clueless, but probably worried on seeing the Vietcong in judges robes behind the bench.

The Vietcong are real Americans, one of our purest strains. They are one side of the American psyche denied in a psychosis of self-avoidance, a schizophrenia of psychic amputation. Instead of throwing troops fed on Rexroth and Kerouac at them, we unleashed troops fed on Playboy and quarter-pounders at this Buddhist, Third-World side of our psyche. We saw the tragedy of cornball-fed doughboy Cain killing riceball-fed water buffalo boy Abel. Ho Chi Minh could have been the Teddy Roosevelt inversion for our times — imagine his face on Mount Rushmore.

Instead of Ho’s visage in the Black Hills, we have the Black Wall etched in tears, the scar that will never heal because truth-facing is MIA. Time for some “Highway 61 Revisited,” (“God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son,’ Abe said, ‘Man, you must be putting me on’…”), time for some Aretha Franklin (“Baby — baby — baby…”). Our artists can only point to the moon, and we could see that light were we willing to forsake obsessing about the fingers. Dance on, danzón, bugaloo.

“Good lovin’…” by the Rascals, the best rock and roll song ever. If you disagree, you haven’t heard it loud enough. Can’t take it? Then, if you’re young, you’ve not got the American pulse; c’est la vie.

But, must everything American be blaring, brassy and bawdy? Of course not, listen to the Navaho flute of Nakai, or the soaring sonorities of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, yes Bohemian and yes American. And listen to Dvorak’s musical grandson: Duke Ellington.

The pulse is deep, it is wide, it can soar high, it can connect to the navel of the world and unfurl the panorama of eternity, and it is grand, and generous and heartbreaking, like a starry sky melting into the melon glow of dawn over southwest desert mountains. The wail of fighter plane turbines drilling through that reverential space is part of real America too, but it is that part which is so easy to make fake.

So, what makes for real America? Is it historical primacy, or historical prominence, or just longevity? “The People,” ersatz Indians, Native Americans, “indigenous peoples” are the bedrock of America, the impermeable stratum to which the blood that soaked into the land settled to cake and bind into a matting supporting the overlaying weave of America that Europe, Africa and Asia have knitted into the fabric of our culture. The noises of this catastrophe, this tragedy, this miracle, are woven into the sounds of its music, its joy of Cuban son, our salsa, the lubrication of spirit, the celebration of time’s passage that bathes the soul in effulgence of inchoate insight, beating like the heart of an infant, a hummingbird, or — in slow motion — a rock-and-roller. A real American is the issue of the survivors from old cultures that have fallen away, or are kept hidden from public defilement. They are Adams and Eves, innocent, spoiled and open to inheriting the earth, ignorant, cold and witless to the hunger of the outer world crushed by the weight of America’s joy. To be a truly real American is to see all this, to be driven insane by the clarity of understanding the holocaust we unleash upon this earth, and of splashing out unhindered by truth or moral vision, into a life of maximal creativity and expression. How else are we to understand a Billie Holiday, a Jim Morrison, a Winslow Homer, a Dorothy Day?

When you understand what it means to be a real American, then you can see that most Cubans are real Americans, where most Floridians are not; that most Mexicans are real Americans while most Californians are not; and that many immigrants will never be real Americans, though probably most always were. If this essay makes no sense to you, then you are sober in your delusions, for I am drunk in my insights. Insight knows itself to be particular, whereas delusion imagines itself to be general. This separates Carlos Castañeda from John Ashcroft. If you don’t like my icons, then pick your own, just make sure they are real, like Crazy Horse and Noam Chomsky, instead of fakes like George Armstrong Custer and Henry Kissinger. If this rant makes any sense to you, then you are capable of seeing that the America that will survive into the 22nd century, in peace and security, is as remote from the America of George W. Bush as that of Mark Twain was from J. P. Morgan’s, or Kurt Vonnegut’s was from Richard Nixon’s.

Real America is like a psychic glue binding us all together across our ethnic and intellectual territories, with a common sentiment that is Henry Fonda in “12 Angry Men,” Gregory Peck in “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Sidney Poitier in “Lilies Of The Field,” Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” and the voice of Ella Fitzgerald doing the songs of Gershwin and Cole Porter.

We all have our private-language ethnicities, some based on culture and tradition, like Vietnamese or Mexican, others being intentional modern concoctions based on identity. But real Americans connect trans-ethnically through a psychic web of mutually-held vision and appreciation. Real America is alive in the Carnivals held in schoolyards by parents gathering funds for music and art education, and library books for their children, by issuing the products of their kitchens: cookies, bundt cakes, lumpia, spring rolls and ribs. Watch the kindergartners dance the Hula!

The real America is a spirit that is too easily raped, as George W. Bush and his gang have done, and too tough to be easily overcome, as the delusional enemies of our delusional nation have assumed.

When the Lincoln of our times is found, then the many chords of real America will sing in harmony, and the fascist myopia of taxless property will fall away before a harmony of vision worthy of Eugene V. Debs. An America that fails to open its loving arms to its own cannot survive, and cannot be real. “Do I love you, do I?…” Oh yes, Ella.


Originally published at on June 7, 2004


Environmentalism, Maslow Needs and Civilization’s Power Cycle

“The relationship between society and nature and the need to provide a decent standard of living for every human being under conditions of nonstop population growth present themselves as quandaries defying pat responses.” (Louis Proyect, “The Life, Loves, Wars and Foibles of Edward Abbey,”

Louis Proyect’s article is very good because it is so thoughtful, rather than polemical, in presenting the conundrum of achieving naturally sustainable prosperity and advanced social development worldwide. Among the conflicting attitudes he points out are that between anarchist “Abbeyists” (after Edward Abbey) intent to prevent the industrialized exploitation of the wilderness lands of the American West (e.g., by sabotaging road building and logging equipment, and protesting dam construction) versus the zeal for rapid economic growth through gargantuan projects (e.g., hydroelectric dams, mines, metal refining plants, atomic power) in the New Deal ideology of socially regulated capitalism during the Franklin Roosevelt administration, as well as under the Stalinist Marxist-Leninist Communist Party in Russia (the Soviet Union), and the Communist Party in China to this very day.

How do we strike a balance between the elevation of impoverished masses versus the despoliation of vast wilderness?; the satisfying of dire human needs and enduring popular desires versus preserving an abundance of unaltered nature for future appreciation?

Can we better understand the concern by any person or group for preserving the environment and regulating, transforming (to “green”), reducing or even eliminating industrialization (a.k.a. “development”) so as to preserve wilderness and minimize further global warming, by seeking to locate their concerns within Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs? Let’s try.

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) devised a hierarchical classification of human needs, which can be summarized by the following five tiers, from most basic to most elevated:

1. Physiological
Meeting the physical requirements allowing the human body to function and human life to survive.

2. Safety
Having personal security, good health and well-being, financial security, and social security and insurance against accidents, illness, ill fortune and traumas.

3. Love and belonging
Belonging to and being accepted by a social group: an intimately bonded pair, a family, friendships, worker solidarity crews, religious groups, professional organizations, sports and enthusiast associations, gangs.

4. Esteem
Possessing two levels of esteem: first, that achieved by being held in high regard by others generally, or at least being respected or recognized for having gained social status, fame or notoriety; and, secondly, self-respect achieved by having met the challenges of one’s personal life — experience.

5. Self-actualization
The desire to become all that one believes one could be, and the desire to understand all that one believes one could know. Ultimately, this is self-transcendence, the giving of oneself into a higher goal, purpose, state-of-being or consciousness.

Human beings are sufficiently complex that most of these five types of needs are being addressed simultaneously in every individual at every stage of their lives, and regardless of their culture. However, the stage of one’s development (e.g., infancy, childhood, the teens, maturity, old age) as well as one’s culture and external circumstances (e.g., prosperity and peace, devastation and war) will strongly influence the weighting each of the five needs receives in any individual’s psychological processing of the moment.

People who live close to the land and which may be threatened by immediate despoliation, such as Amazonians witnessing clear-cutting of their tropical forests, and river pollution caused by the dumping of wastes from mines, drill sites for fossil fuel extraction, and industrialized meat-producing farms, would have an environmentalism grounded in Maslow’s basement tier of the physiological need for survival.

People in the poorer urban and rural neighborhoods of the developed world who are concerned about their exposure to dumped toxic chemicals, such as in the notorious Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York, in the 1970s, and the many rural areas in Appalachia poisoned by toxic mine wastes, and American communities today dealing with the poisoning of their water supplies by the dumped effluents from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) wells for the extraction of geologically trapped natural gas, will have an environmentalism based on Maslow’s second tier, the need to achieve personal security and ensure personal good health and well-being, and avoid experiencing catastrophic ill fortune through illness and financial ruin (as with the collapse of property values).

Some environmentalists whose personal circumstances leave them secure as regards Maslow’s physiological and safety needs are motivated by a need for inclusion in a supportive social group, and they participate in organized environmental activism. Their roles in such groups might be quite low-profile and ordinary, but they are rewarded by a sense of worthy purpose and the camaraderie of others similarly dedicated.

For some secure individuals (regrading the first three levels of needs) environmental activism is a way to achieve esteem in the eyes of the larger society. Such individuals might be scientists, academics, authors, celebrities and policy-makers who work to inform, alert and motivate larger public audiences to the immediate moral imperatives and more distant social benefits of a concerted national effort to preserve environments, stop antiquated though still profitable (and/or subsidized) extractive industries and industrialized carbon-dioxide producing practices, and to begin now to transform the entire paradigm of how humanity concentrates and uses energy. It is a simple fact of human nature that being seen as a hero is a very strong motivator, even among people who seek that recognition in work for the public good.

A higher level of esteem-fulfillment is achieved by individuals whose environmental activism becomes a personal challenge through which they seek to fully develop their own potential as creative and productive individuals, in a way that maximizes their personal contributions to the public good. The need fulfilled here is that of gaining a self-respect that withstands critical self-scrutiny.

The first four levels of needs as defined by Maslow are called “deficiency needs” because if they are not met the individual will feel anxious and tense — their experience of life will be deficient. Once the deficiency needs are satisfied, the individual will be psychologically freed to focus on the highest level need, which is for self-actualization.

Self-actualization is a need that is beyond any concern of gaining esteem in the eyes of society, or even of emerging triumphantly from rigorous self-criticism. This is a self-respect beyond ego-gratification, gained through the knowledge that one has made good use of the unique opportunities life has offered you, with results that have made a positive difference whether such an effect is noticed in your lifetime or not. Self-actualization is the transcendence of consciousness beyond the stratum of social convention and ego — spirituality if you will — in this case achieved though a dedication to environmentalism.

It is easy to see that when lower tier needs are unfulfilled it is difficult if not impossible to focus on higher tier needs. The mental tranquility of self-actualization is more easily achieved in a safe place and with a full stomach.

A broad environmental movement would include a wide variety of people, from those close to the land and in poverty, to the bureaucrats, consumers, careerists and celebrities of the movement, and on up to the spiritual environmentalists. A successful movement will include a wide spectrum of personal motivations that all focus on a unified social purpose.

Louis Proyect describes three other examples of clashes between human needs (pursued traditionally) and modern environmentalism. The subjects of these clashes are poverty relief financed by oil revenues, whaling, and undocumented Mexican immigration into the U.S.

The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is banking on the country’s vast oil reserves to pay for popular economic and social uplift, and this scheme is currently weakened by low prices on the global oil market. Northern Hemisphere environmentalists (in secure personal circumstances) would prefer Venezuela to formulate development plans not based on oil extraction, but it is economically and psychologically impossible for a conscientious nation with many poor people to cease exploiting a toxic resource it has in abundance and which the rest of the world lusts for, regardless of the environmental consequences. This is a clash between tier 1 and 2 needs in Venezuela, and the upper tier needs of environmentalists from the wealth zones of the Northern Hemisphere.

It is obvious that industrialized whaling (today by Japan, Norway and Iceland) has been economically unnecessary for over a century, and is morally and environmentally indefensible now. Its perpetrators claim they are preserving cultural and occupational traditions, but all industrialized nations are sufficiently advanced and sufficiently wealthy to quickly end the practice and occupationally rehabilitate, or pension off, their whalers, without damage to their national economies. Basically, the appeal to “tradition” is an excuse without merit. Whaling is part of a past that industrialized humanity has evolved far beyond.

However, it might seem unkind to oppose the whaling from long canoes and small boats by the 1,200 member Makah Indian band of Washington State, who kill their whales with hand-launched harpoons followed by rifle shots. The Makah’s whaling is a kinship ritual of ancient tradition, the whale meat being shared out in a communal ceremony, a potlatch.

The first whaling clash here is between environmentalists from some of the Northern wealth zones who are operating from their upper tier needs, and non-environmentalists from different Northern wealth zones who are fanatically focused (as in Santayana’s epigram) on their mid-tier needs for belonging and esteem, which they cannot imagine achieving in new non-whaling ways.

The second whaling clash here is between environmentalists from the Northern wealth zones who are operating from their higher tier needs, and impoverished North American survivalists (81% of Makah live on a reservation with 51% unemployment) who are operating from their mid-tier needs for belonging and esteem, which they wish to continue finding through ancient traditional practices of communal labor-intensive whaling and the dividing of the spoils.

Industrialized (commercial high-tech high-power artillery) whaling is completely inexcusable and we should ban it without further consideration. What about Makah whaling? I would end this practice also.

One can and should have sympathy for American Indians and other aboriginal people whose populations and cultures were destroyed, or severely eroded, by colonialism and expansionism (e.g., Manifest Destiny). The enlightened attitude toward such cultures today is to allow them to organize their own affairs on the lands they retain, and to exercise their cultural practices with minimal interference. That said, I do not believe that an appeal to tradition, as a sacrosanct form of social inertia, is justified as an excuse to resist transitioning to healthier and more intelligent social norms. All human societies have evolved as they have gained more knowledge about the workings of their environments, and all the human societies of today have moved beyond many of their ancient practices, some of which were barbaric. There is no reason why the Makah cannot devise a communal labor-intensive activity that produces an abundance of food without killing a whale, for a special occasion in which it is shared out. They can continue affirming their cultural ties of belonging and mutual esteem by evolving their communal ritual to fit the expanded environmental understanding humanity now has globally. A living culture evolves in response to environmental change and increased knowledge.

Some American environmentalists are opposed to the large influx of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Latin American, and they advocate for effective barriers to illegal border crossings, because they see this human tidal wave as a social phenomenon that degrades the quality of the environment in the American Southwest. The combination of masses of people tramping through fragile desert terrain, the accumulation of garbage dropped by migrants, and the increased vehicular and air traffic associated with border patrol operations, all degrade the wilderness areas of the American Southwest. The migrants are simply desperate to walk out of a failed economy and into relatively better circumstances, and then to be able to wire money back home to their families. The impact on the environment of this mass migration is just collateral damage in a class and cultural war for economic survival. Anti-immigrant American environmentalists are operating from their upper tier needs, in opposition to the migrants who are operating from their basement needs.

Everything is intertwined in the real world, and it will never be possible to solve one problem, such as “climate change” or “environmental degradation,” in isolation from all the other factors that combine to produce the cycle that powers civilization. The four grand links of that cycle are: economics, environmental stewardship, energy development, and industrialization.

Economics: the personal need by billions of laboring people for economic security.

Environmental stewardship: the preservation or degradation of natural environments, sustaining habitability and harvesting resources.

Energy Development: how energy is extracted from nature and made available for powering civilization: electricity and fuel.

Industrialization: how the work performed by industrialized civilization meets the economic needs of humanity’s billions (and so on around the cycle).

“Fixing” an environmental problem (like global warming) is impossible without making adjustments in economics, energy development, and industrialization (energy use and political economy); you have to straighten out the whole wheel.

Problems in the economic dimension, such as poverty and mass illegal immigration, are linked to choices made about energy development, such as the burning of fossil fuels which causes global warming and in turn leads to the problem of degraded environments desperate migrants flee from; and those economic problems are also linked to choices made about how the benefits of industrialization are to be shared out with the laboring masses: politics.

It is much easier for activists to think one-dimensionally about the link in civilization’s power cycle that is their special concern, such as environmentalism, and to hammer away at society on that note. But, the nature of our world is such that enduring improvements along any one of civilization’s four fundamental dimensions will result from a linked evolution of all of them.

Those activists who seek to advance their vision of society multi-dimensionally, though their particular concerns are narrowly focused (such as in environmentalism), will have a more complicated job of advocacy, but the results of their work are less likely to be futile.


The following two web-links lead to articles that contain the technical “back story” to what I call “civilization’s power cycle.”

The Economic Function Of Energy
27 February 2012

Closing the Cycle: Energy and Climate Change
25 January 2014


Piel Canela — Español-English

Piel Canela is a popular song for dancing to, written before 1952 by Félix Manuel Rodríguez Capó (January 1, 1922 – December 18, 1989), a Puerto Rican singer and songwriter who had a long and fruitful career under the name of Bobby Capó. He was a prolific songwriter and very popular crooner with a mellifluous voice and elegant style of singing.

Piel Canela was first recorded when Bobby Capó was the singer with the legendary Cuban band Sonora Matancera, in Havana. Rogelio Martínez, the bandleader of Sonora Matancera, had chosen Piel Canela for recording from out of numerous unpublished songs Capó had shown him (in 1952).

The story of Bobby Capó, in Spanish, is given at the following web page.

Bobby Capó, “El Ruiseñor de Borinquen”
(la historia de su vida, en español)

Piel Canela
[Bobby Capó]

—> [instrumental breve]

Que se quede el infinito sin estrellas
O que pierda el ancho mar su inmensidad
Pero el negro de tus ojos que no muera
Y el canela de tu piel se quede igual

Si perdiera el arco iris su belleza
Y las flores su perfume y su color
No seria tan inmensa mi tristeza
Como aquella de quedarme sin tu amor

Me importas tú
Y tú y tú
Y solamente tú
Y tú y tú

Me importas tú
Y tú y tú [coro]

Y nadie mas que tú

Ojos negros piel canela
Que me llegan a desesperar

Me importas tú
Y tú y tú
Y solamente tú
Y tú y tú

Me importas tú
Y tú y tú [coro]

Y nadie mas que tú

—> [instrumental]

Me importas tú
Y tú y tú
Y solamente tú
Y tú y tú

Me importas tú
Y tú y tú [coro]

Y nadie mas que tú

Ojos negros piel canela
Que me llegan a desesperar

Me importas tú
Y tú y tú
Y solamente tú
Y tú y tú

Me importas tú
Y tú y tú [coro]

Y nadie mas que tuuuuuú


Cinnamon Skin
[a translation of the lyrics sung by Bobby Capó]

—> [brief instrumental]

Let the infinite sky lose all of its star-shine
And the oceans wide lose all their immensity
But that gleam in your black eyes must always cheat time
As that cinnamon in your skin should always be

If the rainbow were to lose all of its beauty
And the flowers all of their perfume and color
Though sad I would find each a minor tragedy
Compared to that of never being your lover

I care for you
for you, for you
So totally for you
for you, for you

I care for you
for you, for you [chorus]

And no one else but you.

Your black eyes and cinnamon skin
Drive the desperation that I’m in.

I care for you
for you, for you
So totally for you
for you, for you

I care for you
for you, for you [chorus]

And no one else but you.

—> [instrumental]

I care for you
for you, for you
So totally for you
for you, for you

I care for you
for you, for you [chorus]

And no one else but you.

Your black eyes and cinnamon skin
Drive the desperation that I’m in.

I care for you
for you, for you
So totally for you
for you, for you

I care for you
for you, for you [chorus]

And no one else but youuuuuu.


Piel Canela

Bobby Capó
[The songwriter singing his song, a recording both of its time and for the ages. Bobby Capó’s singing was so velvety smooth, caressingly warm, and yet so clear, fluid and briskly paced; this is a recording of his sound in the early 1950s.]

Eydie Gormé y Trio Los Panchos
[The wonderful Eydie with Los Panchos in a meltingly happy rendition, both bright and elegant, from 1964.]

Natalia y La Forquetina
[A little girl voice and a band with sci-fi spacey electronic sounds hip-hopping through Piel Canela in 2005. Massively popular. Great songs live through every generation’s stylings because they are pure at heart.]

Bobby Capó canta Piel Canela con la Sonora Matancera
[Bobby Capó at an outdoor concert celebrating the long life of Sonora Matancera, this being 1989 and their 65th year. Bobby Capó remained the smooth elegant crooner to the end.]

La Sonora Matancera (65 aniversario, concierto completo)
[This video with a playing time of 1:45:15 shows the complete 65th anniversary concert by Sonora Matancera with many singers in New York City’s Central Park in the spring of 1989. Bobby Capó’s entrance to the stage begins at 1:11:27 and his set ends at 1:19:00. Daniel Santos follows and continues till 1:27:14, then Celia Cruz powers through to the finish. Rogelio Martínez had joined the band in 1926 and became its director in the 1930s. For traditionalists, Rogelio Martínez’s death in 2001 marked the end of the band, as few of its musicians from the 1950s remained. Javier Vásquez, who had joined Sonora Matancera in 1957, carried on with a younger group in Las Vegas, Nevada, continuing with the name “Sonora Matancera.”]

Linda Ronstadt
[Linda Ronstadt does a lovely job with Piel Canela in 1992, with a very polished big band.]

Manny Manuel
[A stylish reimagining of a dance club of the late 1940s and early 1950s with a performance of Piel Canela, for Puerto Rican TV in 1997. This video is just one segment of an entire program of Bobby Capó music, called “Siempre Piel Canela – La Musica de Bobby Capó.” Totalmente borinqueño.]