the dark brown river

Friday, June 24, 2005

the druid (1993)

i had never met a druid, nor ever expected to meet one, but all of a sudden in the summer of last year (1992) i met three. the first came in the form of a letter that was ‘ channelled,‘ a modern version of conjouring up the spirit of a dead person. the letter was in response to an article i had written in the irish ‘ common ground ‘ magazine and began : ‘ dear friend, this is a very difficult letter for me to write, as i have been prompted to write it by someone who died in a d 710 and who at present is involved in guiding me . . .’ this was not a road that i particularly wanted to go down.
the second was more substantial, a chance meeting with an actual member of o b o d - the british order of bards, ovates, and druids. like most people i had been vaguely aware of pictures of white robed figures at stonehenge celebrating the summer solstice, but i had never met a member of any such order. this druid was young, and wore jeans, and drank lager out of the can. he was a normal human being, in other words, and perfectly sane and pleasant to talk to - but what else would you expect ?
the encounter with the third druid was completely unexpected. we were living in the old house - this was some two years before the fire - and i simply got word that there was someone to see me down in the old basement kitchen. the man was an elderly bachelor farmer from the far side of the village and he had come to see me because of an item that had appeared in the tipperary star, the local weekly newspaper. this article had somehow given him the impression that there were people in this house sympathetic towards the unusual, or at least, not instantly dismissive.
the conversation was tentative at first, and went around in circles. i realised afterwards that he was being very cautious in case i ridiculed his story. i, in my turn, was wary in case someone was having an elaborate leg pull, or trying something on. it was like a conversation between two psychiatrists, each of whom had been warned in advance that the other one might be a complete lunatic!
slowly, bit by bit, mutual confidence was established. he produced a crumpled photocopied page of an obscure book. when i was able, without getting out of my chair in the corner of the kitchen, to reach down the same book from the shelf beside me, he was astonished that i had not only read it but owned it.

over the course of this, and a subsequent evening, his story unfolded.

his own father had handed down to him a blessing. ( at this stage of the conversation the word ‘ druid ‘ was not mentioned.) he was now himself of advanced years and in uncertain health. his nearest relation was a nephew who had emigrated to england and qualified as an engineer, and had no interest whatsoever in ‘ pishogues and superstiton.’ he now felt that if he did not hand his knowledge on, there was a danger that one day quite soon it would die with him.
i listened carefully and critically to what he had to say. he seemed to have read a little about druidry and pre christian religion, but i belonged to the same library and could almost pick out in my mind the books that were the sources of his information. this i disregarded. what fascinated me was the knowledge that seemed to have come down to him through the direct male line of his family, once the mac giollapadraigs, lords of lower ossory. i had assumed that if there were a surviving druidic tradition in ireland, then it would have been uncovered by nineteenth or twentieth century folklorists, and i would thus have come across it in the course of my reading. but my informant claimed that ‘ the folklore ‘- as he called the folklore commission surveys made in his own time - was censored. not censored by officialdom, but instinctively censored by the sources themselves, to eliminate anything that might prove unwelcome or unpalatable to the priests in their particular parishes. this may be so. even if the collectors themselves were scholars of the highest integrity, one can imagine certain bits of information being held back by their wary informants.
my druid himself was like a partridge in a ploughed field, hard enough to spot when you were looking straight at him, and impossible for anyone who did not suspect he was there.

by the time that the question of the survival of the blessing was mentioned, i already knew that we would agree to it, if offered.

this is what happened.

on the eve of saint patrick’s day, my new friend drove over with a hazel stick, about twenty four inches in length and cut precisely at sunset ( as defined by the current irish edition of ‘ old moore’s almanac.) this was to be left overnight placed across a saucepan of water in which were two, already prepared, hard boiled brown eggs. we did this out in the tower, which at this time was bare and unlived in. he commented in passing that originally and ideally the eggs should have been ‘ red ‘ in colour. he also seemed to think that the original date of the ritual was not saint patrick’s eve but some other. i myself suspected the vernal equinox, or a saint patrick’s day that was decided by the phase of the moon, not just by a calendar date. i took it for granted that saint patrick’s day, and also the saint’s favourite shamrock trefoil symbol, were centuries older than the time of the saint himself.
my friend, having established at what time i, and he, would go to mass the following morning, went home satisfied. no one - man, woman, child or animal, - was on any account to disturb the position of the hazel wand in the meantime.

the next morning, all the members of the household who were at home at the time, gathered around the still glowing turf fire, and all who wished to participate were blessed as follows -
the left arm was bared by rolling up the sleeve almost to the shoulder, and a blessing was made in the name of the triune god. the blessing was performed with the hazel rod, first heated in the embers of the open fire - which was glowing red, as he had instructed, but not in flames - then quenched in the water which contained the two ‘ red ‘ eggs. a cross was marked in three places, in a triangle as it were, on the upper arm. the blessing was in the name of the father god, the mother goddess, and the son god. as i write i can still hear his voice, self deprecating, apologetic almost, and yet full of conviction and dignity.
the gods were named as, first, the father god, lugh ( the son god ), and then brigante. ( brigid, the goddess.) even so there was a hesitation in his voice as it pronounced the names, as if to say in parenthesis - ‘the son god ( whom some call lugh.) and the mother spirit ( whom some call brigante.)’
as one who knew the theological pedigree and antecedents of the holy spirit, i felt in no way uncomfortable with this arrangement.
the blessing went on to repeat the formula, but this time the thin black charcoal lines went around the wrist. the hazel wand, repeatedly heated in the embers of the fire and plunged into the pan of water, left three black rings. the first for the father, clockwise, the last, for the son, also clockwise, and the middle one, anti clockwise this time, for the goddess.
the whole process was repeated for each of three adults present, and for two children who wished to be ‘ done ‘ while two others did not.
at this point one of the adults present took our friend by the hand and gave him, in gratitude, a kiss. he stepped back in some agitation and said ‘ you must not kiss the druid ! ‘ at no point up until then had he used this word and most definitely not in relation to himself.
what seemed perfectly natural about this saint patrick’s day morning was that he and i then went our separate ways, but each to mass. how did i feel ? i cannot speak for the others, but i felt blessed. how do you feel after a blessing ?
- and what would the catholic church think about it ? not much. but the beliefs of the pre christian druids did not at first clash, but blended smoothly with the incoming christian beliefs, when they came together to form the early and unofficial ‘ celtic church.’
- and what was the significance of this fragmentary ritual handed down by the mac giollapadraigs ? his father’s incantation that went with it might have told us, but that, whether in irish or english, had unfortunately been lost. he could remember nothing of it.

to the modern romantic and revivalist druids, such men are known as ‘ druids of location.’

i very much doubt if i had the extreme good fortune to encounter the last, - the penultimate ? - of the kind. somewhere out there among the trees and bogs, stones and wells, of ireland, there are surely more.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

a call for an end to dollar hegemony.

i am of the opinion that the deficits will last as long as the kissinger
deal that underpinned o p e c and set up the system whereby oil is
bought for dollars. oil bought only for euros - if that ever came about -
would cause exactly the same problem for europe.

i am making a call for the ending of dollar hegemony, and an
end to the threat posed by united states policy to free markets
and the capitalist system. . .

bernanke - a possible successor to greenspan as the united
states federal reserve bank chairman - speaks of a 'global
savings glut'. this is relevant to all, because it has by most
accounts resulted in a global property bubble. everyone
anywhere who has a loan or a mortgage should pay attention
to this -

in the wake of the first oil crisis in 1974 henry kissinger fixed
up a deal that was of historic importance - submission to the
o p e c oil cartel, on condition that the oil was sold in dollars.

this 'dollar hegemony' came to mean that the united states fed
could print - or cause to come into existence - dollars, and buy
real goods in return for these from the rest of the world, who
might not like it but nevertheless had to obtain dollars for oil

thus there is much grumbling on irish sites about the free ride that
america gets on the backs of the rest of the world's trading nations.

but money flows are circular, not linear. those dollars get spent
again. the free ride generated by issuing fiat dollars for real
goods has to result in there being more dollars in the world than
would otherwise be the case, in a regime of fully free markets. (the
o p e c cartel, and the kissinger deal making america an accessory
to that cartel, are essentially anti-capitalist in that they interfere with
free markets.) the excess dollars have to be spent abroad to get
any value out of them. so excess goods are imported, and excess
reserves are accumulated by the exporting countries.

thus the free ride has an inevitable side effect, it is - excess dollars
in the global economy.

this in turn has further implications. either the dollar must gently and
progressively decline in value against other currencies, or those
currencies' central banks will print their own stuff to keep pace, and
thus even further multiply the excess currency in the global system.

so the free ride is not free.

the incidental cost is the presence of the excess currency in the
global system, whether hoarded as reserves ( central banks of
japan, china, south korea, norway etc. etc.) or returned to the
global commodity or real property markets, to cause ' bubbles.'
the counterpart of those surpluses is united states deficits - so these
are also an inevitable result of the 'free' ride.

in fact, where reserves are reinvested in u s bonds - they do both
of these things, by driving down the general cost of borrowing in
the u s, and causing asset inflation. savings are sucked into property
investment, which is smarter - at least to begin with - than cash.

by pegging to the dollar - the chinese authorities, (accused of unfair
practice), - are in fact trying to counterbalance the u s free ride and
the excess dollar printing. but if they somehow managed to shut out
the dollar flood - liquidity levels would simply start to rise elsewhere.
in fact the fuss about china smokescreens the trading deficits with
canada, which is neither a developing country, nor a geopolitical
rival, nor pegged to the united states dollar.

if the o p e c producers underwent some kind of revolutionary policy
change, and only sold oil for euros - the glut of liquidity would simply
be released in euros, and flood the global economy from there. the
problem would be shifted, not solved.

it is the very fact of an oil cartel which is the first link of the chain of
events which leads to excess prices for oil, and then excess dollars in
the global financial system. the united states federal reserve, and the
oil companies who at times have greater influence on the administration
than the pentagon itself, have not wished to tackle the high oil price
scenario which has benefitted them all so well.

so the 'global savings glut' - which is largely an asian immune system
reaction to counteract the excess printing of dollars that is enabled by
the 1974 kissinger/ o p e c deal - lies at the door of 'dollar hegemony.'

as long as dollar hegemony is maintained - the problems will not
be solved, however much they mutate from one region to another,
from one investment bubble to the next.

and lowering the federal reserve interest rate only stimulates borrowing,
the majority of which goes into mortgage borrowing to purchase property.

so the time has come to face up to this -

the 'global savings glut' is the other side of the coin to the extra
purchasing power of the dollars printed as the ultimate result of
the dollar's monopoly of the oil market . . .

and monopoly - although the dream of many a market operator -
is anti-capitalist. a perversion and a frustration of free market

kissinger and greenspan are smart enough to know that they
have perverted the smooth operation of capitalist market systems.
there is an inevitable price to pay for a 'free ride'. they and others
like them at the heart of american policy making would do well to
wake up to this before the markets wake up to it -

this is a call for the ending of 'dollar hegemony' on the grounds
that it is a threat to capitalist free markets, a greater one than ever
posed by the communists of the soviet union at the height of the
cold war, let alone the current anti-market exchange rate manipulation
by the peoples' bank of china.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

back room boys at the peoples' bank of china.

scene - the back room at the peoples' bank of china.

dramatis personae in order of appearance -

gung ho - radical whizz-kid chinese economic policy wonk.
han gon - conservative senior chinese economic policy wonk.
no tyet - impoverished north vietnamese exchange student.

gung ho -
how much dollar ?
han gon -
tomorrow one trillion computer say.
gung ho -
what yankees say now ?
han gon -
yankees say, no sweat. i o u one trillion only small piece paper.
gung ho - (nearly losing inscrutability)
bush paper tiger ! bush play poker ! time say to bush - 'see you'.
no tyet -
not yet.
han gon -
confucius say, who rides tiger, fears dismount.
gung ho -
time go tiger shoot.
no tyet -
not yet.
gung ho -
float yuan ?
no tyet -
not yet.
han gon -
maybe revalue five per cent.
gung ho -
maybe means five per cent every full moon ?
han gon -
me many shanghai flats in wife's name.
gung ho -
mistress' name ?
han gon - many those, also.
gung ho -
sell flats.
no tyet -
not yet.
gung ho - revalue five per cent, lose face.
han gon -
only five per cent face.
no tyet -
. . .every full moon.
gung ho -
eureka !
han gon -
gung ho -
link basket !
han gon - (contemptuously )
link basket ? markets freak. banks fall down. party bosses angry. wonks sent to gobi for retraining.
no tyet - (agreeing )
not yet. me no shanghai flats yet.
gung ho -
f *** sh*nghai flats. (untranslatable expression of dismissal)
han gon -
now me eureka !
gung ho and no tyet -
han gon -
leak statement. say 'maybe link basket. . .' watch markets freak. monitor freak. print out numbers and show party boss. hedge risks.
no tyet - (full of admiration )
han gon teach great wisdom, now han gon teach greenspan inscrutable mandarin speak ?
gung ho - (aside )
teach granny suck eggs . . .
han gon -
now teach greenspan eat same fudge-speak greenspan teach middle kingdom.
gung ho - (getting carried away )
tally ho ! tiger shoot with blanks ! speak fudge ! freak markets ! geronimo ! ( flies out of the door brandishing shiny new mobile phone)

(a pause)

han gon -
no tyet my friend. you like rent shanghai flat reasonable ? discount for cash. spare mistress you housekeeper ?
no tyet -
rent dollars or linked basket ?
han gon - ( after considering.)
linked basket.
no tyet -
thanks but, not yet.

(exeunt omnes )

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

a letter on food and energy

this is adapted from a letter to the 'feasta'' dublin conference on food and energy.

feasta has two difficult tasks at its conference and likewise at the recent mont clare hotel seminar -

1 to come up with the right answers -
2 to convey these to the right audience.

- of these, the second is by far the more difficult.

on the question of a possible oil peak and its implications for food supplies - i have already made a couple of basic observations. if the debates are based upon fundamental assumptions that are mistaken, and go unchallenged, the subsequent discussions are a waste of valuable effort.

these observations are -

- that oil production will not peak, but will arrive at a plateau and then enter a long and irreversible contraction. (i am making no claim about the timing of this plateau)

- that oil reserves are not experienced directly by the consumer, who is only aware of them through the medium of retail prices, which are subject to the open or covert operations of cartels, and subject to geopolitical events, wars, taxation and speculation. thus the oil 'peaks' actually occur in the form of oil price spikes, and do not relate directly to current reserves, or current potential production. a ceiling on potential production, however, provides an underlying support without which this manipulation would not be quite so easy or so profitable.

- that the current deflationary global financial situation may mean that we are not going to get another oil peak as high as the 1979 record price for oil. (real price, adjusted for inflation, of about $100 in today's money.)

- that, in the absence of a war, an oil crisis might not mean high oil prices, but could result in lower oil prices in a context of a severely depressed economic environment. i e there would be cheaper oil - with many unable to afford it, and many businesses lacking the confidence to borrow - which creates money and stimulates economic activity.

- that the united states' fed has been overprotective, a recession is overdue, and badly needed, like rain in a drought - even if the tourists and the airlines don't relish it.

- that with respect to energy and food, though the statistics are yet to be backed up, it seems that domestic cooking and refrigeration use more energy than farming. both would be hit by reduced energy availability - and this means that the problem can no longer be shifted 'out there.' it is literally brought home to the consumer.

- that in discussing these things, it is vital to maintain credibility and avoid geldofism. (by 'geldofism' is meant posing in front of the problem - while personally still going for the full three courses plus coffee, brandy, and cigars.) as always, the menu tells more than the agenda.