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08 January, 2017

Scarrogance



noun. Condition combining fear and arrogance, common among powerful individuals and institutions when faced by opposition, typically accompanied by withdrawal and unresponsiveness. 

"In a display of scarrogance, House Speaker Ryan withdrew to his office, locked the doors, and called extra police when Planned Parenthood activists tried to deliver petitions."

07 January, 2017

"Rebel Bureaucrat" (Death of an Oxymoron)

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It only took a few weeks for Congress to start elaborating on Trump’s ascendancy to dictatorship. The guy is not even in office yet, and the GOP is in a headlong over heels rush to suppress opposition and bring the government under overt, complete control of Capitalism Gone Wild.

For reasons no one can rationally explain, the 1% of the 1% are offended by the presence of a middle class. The class war we’re living through is not rich against poor—being poor means you already lost—but oligarchs against a middle class. Maybe because the middle class enjoys a blend of financial comfort and education, the super rich feel a threat, resent the money in somebody else’s pocket, or fear that cities full of college grads may not sign on to the program of extreme social conservatism and endless upward redistribution of wealth.

Whatever the cause, a major battlefield in this war is “the government,” by which people mostly mean the people who work for federal agencies and the places they control. Conservatives are not so upset by the money government grants or the things government buys—pork barrel money feeds their districts’ businesses, they like all the stuff from irrigation systems to tactical police gear that pours in, subsidies are a major part of most farming, not state funds its own disaster recovery—but they hate the strings that are attached. Being told not to over-graze, to protect a stupid little fish, and that you cannot poison the water and air insults the independence-minded sensibilities of the rank and file, and more importantly cuts into the oligarch’s profit margin.

The strategy of riling up the base, buying the politicians, and pursuing de-regulation and down-sizing of government has proceeded unhindered from Reagan right on through Bush II. Although Obama’s compromise-oriented approach and inability to overrun the barricades thrown up by Congressional Republicans fell well short of the Right’s nightmares—remember how he was going to take all the guns and socialize the economy?—they apparently feel abused and angry and ready to retaliate.

The once desultory battle over “the government,” a Cold War of cuts made vs regulations implemented, is now blowing up; the carnage is about to begin for real. The GOP controls the elected government and stole the judiciary, and already they’re acting as if they had 100% backing of the populace.

This week, the new Congress, as it does at the beginning of each session, passed its own rules. By way of inoculating itself against the accusations of corruption sure to come as they pass a slew of heavily lobbied, pro-corporate legislation, the GOP included provisions to partisanize and weaken the non-partisan Office of Congressional Ethics. Progressives garnered immediate grass-roots and politician outrage and the House Republicans backed down, comforted only by their belief that government offices are incompetent anyway.

Before the Left could claim victory, Trump tweeted and ended up getting a large share of the credit. His base seems satisfied that he is hard at work draining the swamp, when all he did was see the writing on the wall and throw some colleagues under the bus, as per his own personal ethics (which he maintains nobody is worthy of scrutinizing).

Meanwhile, the Rules package also included a much scarier provision, provided by yet another scary Virginia Congressman. This one revived a 19th-Century rule intended to target corrupt political appointees by allowing Representatives to offer amendments reducing a person or program’s budget to $1/year. So now when a Representative disagrees with a program or needs a scapegoat for a news cycle or two, a party-line vote puts people in the poorhouse. That li’l nugget slipped right on through with no protest.

Communities nationwide have federal workers, and defunding their jobs will hurt local economies everywhere. Of course it won’t actually have that broad an effect, because no politician would pull this move in their own district. As a way to eliminate inconvenient truths, hamstring regulation, and punish a liberal district, however, it’s a win-win-win (where they get all the wins and you get nothing). That little rule is starting to look like an effective weapon, isn’t it?

Meanwhile back on the ranch—which happens to be mostly federal ground leased by settlers sons at a fraction of market rate—government employees face other threats on the battlefield. Self-proclaimed militias can show up, take over, demand snacks, trash the place, literally dig shitters through Indian sites, and incite a shootout all while broadcasting calls to arms and threatening government employees. They can do all this and they face trial but get off with no conviction.*

Which you better believe has galvanized the conviction of the Bundys and their vehemently anti-government and pro-gun ilk. These white men fee entitled above immigrants and minorities (including the tribes whose lands they occupy), but also abused and angry. Emboldened now by their victory in court, fervent in their belief that the government is an agent of evil, these yahoos put federal workers in literal danger in some of the very places where land management costs are paid by the feds and the financial benefits accrue locally.

Which brings us back to those federal employees who could suddenly find themselves making $1 a year. Few of them have the personal wealth to keep working for free, and most of them would ordinarily be plowing their moderate paychecks back into their local communities, spending their off time participating in those communities. Being middle class.

If there are people still working for the government who think they can continue to be relatively comfortable, they’d better wise up. Congress has only just begun, and Trump hasn’t even unleashed actual and imagined executive powers. The Kochs and other wealthy advocates of concentrating all wealth at the top have plenty more money and a congress begging to be, ahem, lobbied. They’ll get around to privatizing public lands—taking care of that part of “the government”—but even quicker they’ll move against unions, programs that run counter to their ideology, branches of government that impinge on unfettered capitalism, and so on, using this Rule and all the other tools at their disposal. The plutocracy is at war, and the Civil Service has been declared an enemy combatant.

And so it’s time to resist. It’s time to stand your ground, re-unite with your union, and prepare for battle. The Right feels aggrieved by the fact that you might earn a pension, outraged at how much you waste on social programs for the unworthy, tyrannized by your rules and regulations, fed up with your elitist “rationality,” and just all-round pissed about other government sins imagined and real. They are coming for you, starting with the easy targets but not stopping until the bureaucratic machinery that helps maintain free and open society is broken or repurposed to something useful, like prospecting for oil or running detention centers.

As recently as a couple of months ago, I could have imagined this was not going to happen. I could have continued being comfortable in my government job, disappointed that my salary doesn’t keep up with the cost of living, but not worried that I’d be out on the street. I could act as if being a state employee rather than a federal one, as a union member rather than “exempt,” my head is not on the chopping block at the moment.

Now, I cannot afford to sit back. Now, I can no longer think that “rebel bureaucrat” is an oxymoron.


* If they’re white. Indians protecting land at Standing Rock have been brutally attacked with tear gas, rubber bullets, percussion grenades, water cannons (in sub-freezing weather), sonic warfare, and whatever a police force with para-military toys bestowed by the feds can muster.

20 December, 2016

Streaming Fascism

Police State appliances for your home.

Being a liberal, lately I've been inundated with warnings and calls to action, boycotts and protests, petitions and pleas to click and agree,...all of them in response to the election of Trump, who shows the most overt signs yet of being our first flull-blown fascist president. (Yes, Cheney fit the bill, but technically he was only VP.)

Being an American, lately I've been inundated with adds for Amazon's Alexa and some Googly thingy that can sit in my house awaiting orders. They will do amazing things like change the thermostat so that I can have indoor snowmen, or order tape so that I won't have to seal Christmas gifts with band-aids. These are the whimsical examples that tech giants are using to sneak into our homes.

And Americans could care less.

Not that we shouldn't be wary of Drumpf's scapegoating tendencies, his lashing out at the press, his promises to sue any critics and jail the opposition. We should fight that crap tooth and nail.

But we should also resist the urge to invite mega-corporations into our homes, relinquishing increasing power month after month under the guise of convenience. Sure, in aspirational, duped-by-the-dream America, it's common to wish that you are one of the wealthy, that you have a butler, and  these devices play right into that. Never mind that to actually get the right kind of tape, you'll need to answer a bunch of questions that not only take up time but inevitably lead you to Amazon check-out.

Checking out on such mundane household chores as setting the thermostat or thinking ahead and buying groceries is not without cost, and ultimately without loss of your autonomy and freedom. Amazon and Google aren't altruistically taking over your chores--they're insinuating themselves into your life, harvesting data, tayloring their marketing until you're captured. We put up with these intrusions because they're "consumer oriented." You can play with settings still to maintain the illusion of control, but once our homes are linked into a system roamed by artificial intelligences whose goal is to sell us stuff, we've just a flipped the switch to a level of of spying that the Stasi only dreamed of, of monitoring and coercion more thorough than Orwell nightmared of.

Some of you may suspect where I'm headed with this: that such a tool in the hands of a dictator would be ominous. But actually, I think it's bad enough as is. Entities whose only goal is profit are invited to spy on us. Not only do they not pay to collect data, they get us to pay for the data-collection device, they get us to sign up for the services that will deliver our data back to us, processed into gleamingly ads rendered irresistable by virtue that they were borne of our own behavior.

Don't buy this crap. Don't buy the device, and don't buy the message. Be sovereign, un-plug, and read a book.

20 November, 2016

Your Local National Leaders

Brian Cladoosby*

America has elected its Drumpf, just as Weimar elected its Schicklgruber,** leaving many of us in a bind: Do we abide by the process? Do we accept a haranguer who hastens our  descent from international beacon of freedom to a dumb mob? Or, do we break the laws and smash the pipelines by whatever means necessary, risking another kind of dumb mob?

Maybe the answer, or at least an answer, to escaping the mobs is to look to the tribes.

Most Americans are unaware that they live on ground ceded or sold (or just stolen) from tribes that still exist. More than 550 tribes are sovereign nations, many with treaties that just happen to be supreme law of the land in the US. They are not subject to other states or even some kinds of interference from the federal government. Their own councils decide their own laws.

It's not that tribes offer some sort of arcane legal end run, or that they are some sort of haven where we could seek asylum. It's not that tribes have so much casino money that they've got political power over the rest of us, and I have no pretexts that tribes bludgeoned by our nation for centuries are all in peak condition, utterly unaffected by generations of enforced poverty and assimilation. It's not that tribal governments are always wise and never corrupt any more than tribal people are noble savages.

But it is that tribes, at least where I live and in many places I read about, are emerging as nations with talented leaders and strong visions for the future. Fawn Sharp (below), chair of the Quinault Nation on the Olympic Coast, is a national leader in addressing climate change. Beginning at home, she has worked hard to save the environment and look at how humanity as a whole can deal with climate change.

Billy Frank Jr. with Fawn Sharp
Where I live, the Squaxin, Nisqually, and Chehalis Tribes are my closest neighbors; the first two ceded the land where I live in the Treaty of Medicine Creek. All three tribes and dozens of others in what is now Washington State are active in funding projects that keep the salmon viable for all fishermen, environmental restoration projects that benefit the entire public, and public health programs that reach beyond the rez.

More fundamentally, tribes are places where the leadership has ties to the land and people that have never existed in US politics. When you serve on a council responsible for governing the small remnant of land where 500 generations of your ancestors lived, you may not feel so free to shift with the latest political winds. When your constituents include an extended family made not just of cousins and aunties, but salmon and eagles, you tend to look at the health of the whole instead of the profit of an individual. When you serve a nation that measures in the hundreds or thousands, accountability is much more immediate--it's hard to have elites who never touch the earth, who can escape the angry auntie forever.

Brian Cladoosby, pictured at the sop of this post, has risen as a leader of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, of Puget Sound tribes, and for a few years now as President of the National Congress of American Indians. But he still participates in his community. He fought the dentists lobby to bring free dental care to his tribe. He's opposing petro-trains that pollute Swinomish lands and waters and cut the community off from the rescue squad. And he's working with a broad coalition of tribes to address pollution and climate change on national and global scales.

At Standing Rock, a less formally governed tribal super-nation has emerged. Hundreds of tribes have converged to join with the Great Sioux Nation to try and stop an oil pipeline, a great black snake that many of them have known for generations would get out of control and poison the water. Maybe because it's rooted in a particular piece of land, this encampment is more focused and ultimately more powerful than the Occupy camps of a few years ago. Maybe it's because the environmental struggle, and specifically the fight to keep oil and coal in the ground, is at once globally imperative and locally relevant. The Water Protectors are leading a non-violent and deeply revolutionary movement, and this time it's not the white career environmentalists calling the shots.

Meanwhile, back on what's left of the Reservation, Councils are mulling over what the Trump Presidency could mean. He fought dirty with certain tribes when trying to protect his Atlantic City casino interests, and he may well have animosity toward Native Americans in general for their apparent congeniality with Obama, Bernie, and Hillary. The GOP congress is inclined to cut spending, so the already watered-down federal gravy train will likely deliver even less in the future.

But then again, the Republican hatred of big government and desire for local control could result in tribes having a greater say on federal lands, especially where they neighbor reservations. Sure, the Right would prefer to just privatize everything, but tribes have long histories and deep experience with land disputes and federal courts, where they are sometimes astoundingly successful (even if it takes decades to translate into real life benefits). Many tribes have already been working with federal land managers on cooperative management of everything from huckleberry patches to wildfire response. So even if President Trump wishes to dismantle the US, tribal precedents and politicking and organization may just cut him off at the pass.

Wherever you are, find your local tribe. Learn whose land you're on, and whose descendants are protecting it. Get to know them, and what they do in your community. Visit their community, and support it. Work together to protect your part of the earth as they always have, with an eye toward generations yet unborn. Join your local sovereign nation in spirit, and our American Nation will benefit.


* My apologies to Swinomish Tribal Chairman for placing his photo next to my rant, but as a public figure this kind of thing will happen from time to time, and he's not the kind of guy to unleash a 3AM tweet-war against me, so here goes.

** Adolf Hitler's dad changed the family surname from Schicklgruber. The Donald's grand-dad anglicized Drumpf to Trump.

20 April, 2015

Spring & KAOS in the Air

KAOS is in the air, and probably the water.

At last, I can breathe a sigh of relief. Exhaling the last of that nagging feeling (I'm not religious enough to feel Guilty) and inhaling relief, relief that I am right with KAOS once again.

I've been a card-carrying KAOS member for years, and for the past couple or so, I've joined up the kids as well--they breathe that same KAOS-infused air, and I want them to learn about supporting community. The community of hosts, doers-of-things, and engineers (all volunteers) that makes up KAOS serves up news and music un-constrainted by corporate orthodoxy or the increasingly dullardly NPR strictures (I want the kids to grow up in a place where the airwaves are free, and the chaos is locally grown), and for myself I want KAOS in the air, even if I'm not tuned in.

So when the credit union was hacked any my credit card changed, shutting off one of the trickle-ups of money that keeps KAOS independent, I meant to give them a call and hook up the new card.

But I procrastinated.

And felt off-kilter. A couple or three months went by, and still I hadn't re-coupled my financial hook-up to dear sweet KAOS. I didn't miss KAOS caressing my ears--because I didn't stop listening to this FREE station, but felt dangerously close to Guilt, and about half-past Hypocritical, having extolled and exhorted on behalf of radio--particularly community radio--so often on this blog.

But now I've made the call, and gotten right with KAOS once again. I just stepped outside, and the air was sweet with what most people would recognize as some Spring flower, but in which I could catch a whiff of KAOS Community Radio.

24 February, 2015

Pancakes

Every few weeks, school starts late, and I have the joy of an extra couple of hours with my youngest kid. For a while now, we've been using that time to head downtown to Darby's for breakfast; it's happened enough that we could call it a Tradition if we wanted. It's a luxury, having this extra time, and being able to spend it sharing coffee (she mostly warms her hands with it, but usually also sneaks a sip) and eating pancakes is a treasure I will not trade for anything.

Sometimes on weekends, we pry her older sister out of bed and head downtown to the diner. Or maybe it's not until afternoon, but that's no problem, because like any real diner, you can order breakfast all day. One time, the music was some rap about pancakes, and we could hear the cooks talking about pancakes (sorry to be repetitive about pancakes, but me and the girls tend to be selective with our terms, and cannot abide flapjacks, hotcakes, and especially flannel-cakes). One of them said, "I guess I eat a pancake about every damn day!" We cracked up, and repeat that phrase often, if not every damn day. Beneath the laughter, we all recognize a purity in the boast: the guy really enjoys having a pancake every day. A humble pancake sticking to your ribs gives you strength to face whatever the day throws at you.

Even a short stack can be too much for a kid, and sometimes there are leftovers. She works her way through methodically, cutting enough to eat and saving the rest of the disk, so there will be a substantial something instead of a pile of syrupy pieces. Usually, the dog is the beneficiary. Only recently, DNA analysis showed that a key difference between domesticated dogs and their wolfy cousins is that dogs can digest carbohydrates, and our hound excels. She gets a stale pancake and prances around for a while, showing off to those crows who sometimes taunt her that she has a delicious pancake, before settling down and gobbling it up.

Sometimes, I cook the pancakes. After years of messing with recipes and bisquick versions, I found a local pancake mix that does the trick best. These days, the youngest daughter mixes it, then I come along to knock out a few more lumps, and we let the batter rest while the skillet heats up. Cast iron is the only acceptable surface for me. Some of my earliest memories are of the thin blue smoke that my grand-dad let rise before flipping. Then watching my dad, him teaching me that watching the bubbles pop led to browned perfection without grand-dads carbonized edging. Dad cooked on an 11.25-inch Griswold skillet that family lore (or at least my recollection) says was given to him when he went away to grad school. With this classic American iron, he could cook anything the lone male physics student was apt to eat (all three meals). I have that skillet now, and continue to cook all kinds of stuff in it, sometimes to the chagrin of my kids...except when it's a pancake day.

For some reason, my recollections (not yet lore) of Dad's last few days focus on pancakes missed. He had a terminal illness--refusing to knuckle under to the "terminal" label for a couple years already--and was having such a hard time we'd scheduled a doctor visit. After some listening to lungs and flipping through charts, the doctor sat down with Dad, Mom, and me, and explained that Dad needed to be admitted to the hospital. I knew, and I think Dad did too, that the unspoken end of that sentence was "to die."

It was mid-morning now, and Dad said he was hungry. Stupidly, I sought permission go out to eat before going in to the hospital. I should have just taken him. But the message from the nurse was something like, "Now, you know we can't let you do that." That special gentle condescension that transforms dead men walking into incompetent children had already kicked in. I should have nodded, walked him out, turned the other way, and escaped to a stack of pancakes, but Mom was also worried about what might happen and still believing that after a day or two of hospitalization, we'd go out for breakfast. I didn't want to take that from her, and besides Dad probably wanted to believe in that too.

Instead of dropping dead over pancakes, he died in a bed surrounded by machines, stuck full of tubes. My aunt did smuggle in one of his favorite meals before the end, but we never got that last moment of freedom, that last stack of pancakes.That that's my big regret is a blessing, but I still wish I'd whisked my parents away and met my sister for a Last Breakfast.

So, on those late-start days, I'll be sitting at a table with my kid, looking out at the street-scape shenanigans of making silverware sculptures while was await the pancakes. Falling behind a little on work doesn't matter. Eating carbs I don't need is not as unhealthy as missing time with my kids. Following hospital protocol but subverting a dying man's wish was a shame. Pancakes are life, and even if you cannot have one every damn day, it's worth sharing a stack with someone you love.

08 February, 2015

Guns at the Capitol

Some guy from Alabama running his mouth on the Washington State Capitol steps.

This past Saturday, our local paper reports, about 50 people showed up to protest what they see as infringement on their right to carry arms. A couple of legislators showed up to support them, and nobody was arrested. Washington state, characterized in the media as a liberal haven of pot-smokers and same-sex-marriers, turns out to also be one of the few states that does not outlaw carrying guns into its capitol building.

Still, the good voters of this state did vote last November to require background checks on all gun sales. You can still buy guns, a bunch of 'em, all kinds,...the voting public here is pretty tolerant of gun owners, but We the People decided it's reasonable to try and limit gun ownership by violent criminals and the mentally ill.

And it really pisses off a few people. Maybe the dude in the colonial outfit worries he'll be deemed as crazy as he looks. Maybe the guys covered head to foot in "tactical" paramilitary costumes genuinely believe that a background check is tantamount to tyranny.

But of course, it wasn't the legislators that passed the background check referendum. It was the neighbors of the protestors. Initiative 594 was not the work of some liberal cabal, but the result of a popular vote. Think about it for even a second, and you have to realize that many of the people who voted for the measure actually own guns themselves. No, this was not a top-down clampdown.

Some guys from Seattle standing in ordered dignity.

Not that there's not some precedent for the legislature curtailing the right to bear arms. In 1969, another protest occurred in Olympia, also making its way to the Capitol steps. That time, though, it was the Black Panthers. And that time, they were protesting a bill in the Legislature that aimed to outlaw the public display of firearms, echoing the California Legislature's act, one that was squarely aimed at the Black Panther Party. The Seattle Black Panthers stood silently on the capitol steps, rifles and shotguns aimed at the sky. When the State Patrol asked that they unload and put down their weapons, the Panthers did so, and after about an hour, they left. [Here's the firsthand account, so you don't have to take my word for it.]

To reiterate, faced with legislative action directly aimed at a political party to whom 2nd Amendment rights were a core principle, that party protested peacefully. They did not attempt to enter the Capitol building (as recent gun rights protestors have), and even allowed their weapons to be unloaded by State Troopers (as contemporary gun rights protestors swear they would never allow).

In 1969 (as in 2015, sadly) young black men were shot by policemen for minor alleged offenses. The Black Panther Party included people who had directly experienced repression by The State. Not minorly incovenienced by a referendum-passed background check, but subjected to full-on harrassment and injury at the hands of law enforcement. Break-ins, frame-ups and shootings perpetrated by local, state and federal governments, not to mention the lack of enforcement when amateurs stepped in with murders and lynchings. Thus the Panthers' belief that they needed to police the police and to arm themselves for self-protection. Thus the February 1969 protest here in Olympia.

The crowd this past Saturday did not include any black people that I could see in the available photos. They were prevented from entering the actual legislative chambers with their arsenals of handguns and assault weapons, but no legislation was passed that targeted them, or even gun owners in general. Yet their statements and signs show that these modern protesters feel that they have been grievously wronged, and are being oppressed.

If the Black Panthers had showed up with military assault weapons, would they have been treated as civilly? The 1969 photos show a bunch of guys in berets and jackets holding rifles and shotguns, hands visible and not on triggers, not handgun in sight, no paramilitary "tactical" gear at all. Had the Seattle protesters insisted that the State Patrol could unload Panther rifles once they had--in the words of Heston and any number of white NRA advocates--"pried it from my cold dead fingers," the Panthers may well have been obliged. I mean this not as a statement about the Washington State Patrol, who in fact seem to have been equally adept at diffusing tense situations then and now, but about the relative value of black and white lives then and now.

The local paper also reports that protesters this past Saturday expected to be arrested (read, "martyred") and were selling hats to cover bail that said "Fight Tyranny--Shoot Back." I'm not sure they had Michael Brown or Eric Garner in mind, but what if black men did just that? We don't have to speculate about the answer, because history provides it: those black men would be jailed, beaten, shot. In my own lifetime, I remember rowhouses in Philadephia being fire-bombed--with men, women, and children inside--because they were black nationalists. Now that's oppression. That's being Tread Upon by the iron heel of The State.

But background checks? Get real, your rights are in no danger.


02 January, 2015

Re-emerged

First there is a building, then there is no building, then there is* -Donovan (If he'd been an archaeologist)

The ebb and flow of humans on the land fascinates me. Most people see the forest and figure it's always been there, big trees out beyond civilization's paved domain, wild lands untouched, or at least not covered with buildings. Even for those who recognize second or third growth and know that there's not really any "pristine" anymore, stumbling onto the wrack of some past society's highest tide comes as a surprise.

But I should let that tidal metaphor alone, because a lot of the stuff left behind by retreating humans in this part of the world comes not from moderate daily motion, regular as the moon and achieving balance over time. True, people have walked all over this landscape since time immemorial, but until the past century or two they just didn't create that much trash for archaeologists to find. Twentieth Century Homo sapiens, though, they created a splash, a flood that reached just about everywhere in the blink of an archaeologist's eye. For enough generations that we don't even think of it anymore, this has been because of cars and the places we need to go in them (including trailheads and campgrounds tucked in the wilds), but the underlying source of this inundation of landscapes by metal and concrete lies in the resource extraction economy that the Territories and then the States relied on so heavily.

I don't have to get metaphorical or writerly about it, because the language is right there. Men seeking minerals and timber experience boom and bust; only to someone with a drawn out sense of time does it look like an ebb and flow. Discover gold, and there's a Rush.

Hidden in the forest was a lumber mill.
By the same token, when the trees are cut or the ore peters out--or larger economic forces make the investment unwise or untenable--people tend to walk away without delay. Often quite suddenly, but usually not before removing whatever's useful, to the point of prying up the rails and ties and loading them onto the last train out. Scavengers continue to pick at it for a while, but the forest eventually cloaks even big mill buildings and then takes it's sweet time devouring what's left. A place where hundreds of people lived and worked populated by animals, train whistles replaced by bird calls.

That is, until the trees get big enough to harvest. Then it may turn out that that mill is a historic site, or at least an archaeological ruin, and someone like me gets called in to be the ironic bureaucrat. A plan to cut down trees may be complicated by the presence of an archaeological site composed of the remains of: a timber mill. The place where thousands of acres of clear-cut were sawed into boards and shingles may have, in the years since falling silent, have developed a patina of historic significance that merits its protection from: a timber harvest. Yep.

Or maybe not. Not all old stuff is meaningful. Archaeologically speaking, the place I've pictured above does not have much potential, especially considering that you can go back into archival sources and get orders of magnitude more information about what happened there than you can from the few artifacts left behind. People only lived there for a decade or so, their household trash was hauled somewhere other than the place where the trees were cut, and much of the area was tidied up with heavy machinery after abandonment. Other than agreeing not to knock the building down unless it becomes clear that there's imminent risk of it falling down (maybe on a litigious history buff), the landowner didn't have to alter his plans much.

As long as the mill walls stand with no trees around, the mill lends scale to the few other remains of this former town: a few houses along the road, the concrete bank vault sitting alone in someone's yard, and the building down the road that used to be the school. Trees are more likely to grow back than this particular town, but for the time being you can drive by and marvel at the vine-covered walls. Just don't go crawling around too close, because it might fall on you, or you might drop into one of the deep concrete caverns.

* I wrote about this place previously in a post called "Swallowed." You're welcome for me not calling this one "Regurgitated."


28 December, 2014

Yon Rock Art Rock Art


Do archaeology long enough, and you'll fill your bucket with tales of people who come to you with Important Discoveries. Often as not, they have found some really significant Rock Art that may Change History. Often as not, the rock is virginally free of human touch, or has been violated by a bulldozer, its scars mistaken for petroglyphs.

On the other hand, it shouldn't take too many years of doing archaeology to recognize that people do make bona fide Discoveries. Like the guy who took his kid fishing, wasn't having much luck, and noticed what looked like carving on a boulder.


The fisherman contacted the Tribe of that River, as well as some archaeologists for the state. The river rose over the boulder, and fell again. The machinery of state moved slowly, then quickly. The Tribe and the archaeologists agreed that this was a singular boulder, carved with a depiction of K'wati the Transformer, slaying Xa?lax the Lizard. It turns out that the Quileute have an oral tradition about these two, and places their fight about 200 meters up-river from where the boulder was found.


Do archaeology for a very long time, and you see that rarely does Tribal history mesh so well, so specifically. Do archaeology for not very long at all and you'll already notice that there's rarely much Art in artifacts. Mostly, we look at rubbish and broken old tools. Sometimes they're well made, even masterly, but the Calawah boulder represents something more, an artistic vision that wraps through (at least) three dimensions and weaves carving onto a net of red veins in the stone, transforming them into Kwati's comb and tongue, and a cranky red lizard.


Do archaeology long enough, and you witness enough looting that it's inspiring to see a case like this where the guy who found it told the Tribe instead of taking it himself or selling it. Do archaeology long enough, and it gets easier to cynically write off your profession as the production of rarely read reports and unexamined artifacts locked in boxes, so it's good to be part of a discovery destined to be adored by a People.

Be an archaeocrat long enough, and you know that it can be hard to achieve consensus around doing the right thing (not just legally speaking) with different agencies and sovereign governments involved. But in this case a Plan was devised, a Council Resolution passed, and a Permit issued in the course of a couple of days. The boulder was pulled from the River and brought downstream to La Push, where it sits safe and sound, protected by the Quileute Nation. For the discovery, for the mere existence of this multi-dimensional work of art, and for all the right steps along the way, I am thankful.


On the dimension of gratefulness, the boulder resonates further. My colleague shown here retired recently, but got to document and protect this petroglyph as the final act of this long career. Years of recording can scatters, isolated chert flakes, and other near-meaningless junk--not to mention all those days of finding nothing--and he was rewarded with this. It may not sound as scientific as people want archaeologists to be, but I really feel like the land thanked him for decades of his care and work. If you do archaeology long enough, and do it for the good of the sites, your good karma bucket gets pretty full and things like this happen.


07 December, 2014

Admint Calendar

So crazy it just might work.

Being both a mint junkie and a anti-garbage saver of containers, I have on hand a bag full of little plastic disks that once contained mints. I've used some now and then for seeds, but consumption has out-paced re-use for a while now. This fall, however, inspiration struck my younger daughter and I, and we vowed to invent the Admint Calendar.

Decorating the tree. Painting and layout by the child genius.
After some discussion, we settled on cutting out a Christmas tree shape from a scrap of 1/4-inch plywood, painting it green, and attaching the mint containers. She determined the shape by laying out the containers to fit on the board we had; beginning a single one at the apex, her formula for subsequent rows was "add two, then substract one, then repeat." Making the tree took a few minutes, followed by an hour under a fan to dry it enough to do the next step.

Attaching the containers: over-engineering by the dad. (Not pictured: fat ring o' glue)
We have a genetic predisposition to build things to last, perhaps at odds with the surficial preoccupation of some crafters, and so we attached the containers with a glob-ring of gorilla glue and staples slammed deep into the board. Conveniently, the tops of the containers can be pulled off to allow the staple gun to do its thing.

Stashing the candy. Goodbye 'til Christmas day, Eggnog Chocolate.

All that remained was to snap on the lids and install the treats. Maybe the best thing about making your own Adventskalendar is that you get to put good candy in it. Not stuff that was made years ago. No opening up the door to disappointment. It turns out that Seattle Chocolates fit perfectly, and we happen to love them.

No product endorsement intended, but thanks for the glittery labels, whichever corporation markets this stuff.

So, there you have it. The Admint Calendar. The only one of its kind.

Cavalier Attitudes Redux

A few days ago, I posted about the cavalier attitude towards rape at UVA frats and their breathern elsewhere. I was among the thousands of bloggers and hundreds of news media outlets that picked up on the story.

Now, it turns out that the Rolling Stone article that triggered the uproar itself took a cavalier attitude with the truth and verification.

Some digging by reporters at the Washington Post, among others, found that "Jackie," the victim spotlighted in the original article, had said some things that are not verifiable, and others that appear to be outright false. Predictably, thousands of bloggers and hiundreds of news media outlets have picked up on this story.

Part of the response is to point at Rolling Stone and accuse the magazine and its reporter of sloppy journalism. True enough, it appears, although I myself have done zero actual reporting on this and don't believe that most of the critics have, either. I see the bandwagon, but won't jump on.

But another common element in reactions is to jump on Jackie. Another girl with regrets or some other problem claiming rape. I see this bandwagon, and would like to stop it, or at least give it a flat.

The Post story--which does show evidence of thorough reporting and includes interviews with Jackie, her friends, and others at UVA--does not say she was not raped, though there are inconsistencies and doubts about the details. The frat accused in the original article turns out not to have had an official even on the date in question, the "main" rapist is not a brother in that frat, and they deny having a policy of including rape as part of pledging (no kidding). Instead of being vaginally gang-raped and beaten, her friends say she was orally gang-raped by maybe 5 guys, not 7.

Merely forced to perform oral sex while being held in a frat bedroom. You comfortable with blaming her now?

Not me.

The frat, with the benefit of money, lawyers, and status, has launched a counter-attack on Jackie, as you would expect whether they had a role to play or not. Money and power have a way of walking away free, particularly in an institution so steeped in tradition and white male privilege. Even is it were no different than other universities, UVA has the added defense of the enclave; campuses have their own law more often than not. This was a main point of the article (for which Jackie was the misfortunate poster child), that UVA and many other institutions of higher learning steer rape victims toward options other than prosecution of their attackers. Out in the real world, rapists have no such options.

The Post's follow-up and fact-checking does not lead them to the conclusion that the entire story is fabricated. They don't refute at all the bigger points of Rolling Stone's article, that UVA has a culture that glorifies frat boys and winks at rape, and presents victims with a range of options that systematically result in non-prosecution of rapists. Not just winks, but shuts its eyes, as evidenced by the lack of student dismissals for sexual assault while staunchly guarding its reputation by dismissing violators of the academic honor code.

Nonetheless, fratboys and their supporters in news and social media attack Jackie. I feel incredibly sorry for her, having to endure this second wave of assault.

04 December, 2014

Loosies, Not the Sky of Diamonds






Plenty of people are posting about racism in law enforcement, as they should. Black and brown men have reasons to worry that don't really affect a white guy like me.

"Like me," including Middle Classness, and it's class and money that I want to speak about, to add to the conversation. Plenty of poor white people also have reason to worry about law being selectively enforced, and force selectively applied, but this post is not about saying white people suffer too.

No, I just want to ask why Mike Brown (alleged cigar thief) and Eric Garner (alleged seller of single cigarettes, or "loosies") met with deadly force in the course of their alleged crimes. Even assuming that the one guy was stealing smokes and the other selling them, it's hard to imagine that these were the most serious crimes of the moment, much less offences so heinous that the perpetrators needed to be shot multiple times or choked to death.

At the same instant when Eric Garner was executed extrajudicially in a part of New York where selling single cigarettes is a survival strategy, in another part of town men who stole billions of dollars, crashed the economy to an extent where selling loosies is a thing, and then extorted the US government for bailouts walk free. Not just free, but assured that they not only will not be stopped and frisked (or, in the 1%-er analogy, forensically audited), but that were a cop to ever lay a hostile hand on them, massive lawsuit-induced windfalls would follow.

Racism is real, even if race is not. White cops using superior numbers or firepower to overwhelm brown suspects is a shame and a problem; ultimately, it's a threat to democracy.

But so is the fact that police attention is strangely affixed on petty crimes. Call in four cops to take down one alleged cigarette seller, but leave the corporate executives alone. Hell, offer the oligarchs any out conceivable: from paying fines with shareholder money, to bankorruptcy protections, to failing to convene a grand jury identify individuals for indictment. They have diamonds on the soles of their shoes, so the criminal justice system shall not touch them; the sky's the limit for them.

Meanwhile, in the mud beneath the lowest societal rungs, poor people die at the hands of the police.