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30 April, 2011

Procession of the Species Olympia Slime Mold

The search strings people cast to hook this blog can be interesting. I am an actual big brother, and my sister, fervid researcher of late antiquity, taught me the tech to look at "stats" like that, to peek into you all's URL and country of origin and see how many people are looking. But the best thing is seeing a good search string.

Most are boring. I'll be honest, most have to do with heatilators, because at any given time there are more than zero out of all humanity who yearn for knowledge on the finest innovation of 20th Century American green design. If you are here because you want to learn more about a heatilator, heatalator, or heat-ya-later, then scroll on down to the keywords at the end of this post and find what you need, because this hear post is about to tack wildly away.

As search terms are wont to do, when viewed as a narrative that dribbles in phrase by phrase by word. Yesterday's strings were a treat, finding that some poor people yearning to know who sat behind the queen at the royal wedding followed their string here. If you are still here because of that, check out yesterday's post, or better yet: forget about it. The wedding's over, and was boring and irrelevant anyway, compared to what you're about to here.

Someone entered the title of this post into google, and ran across my post about slime mold in Olympia, which is one of those accidental webifact discoveries that people unearth while not-quite-finding what they're looking for. Which in this case was this year's slime mold, which I think is what the photo above is. The photo in my slime mold post shows a fruiting body reminiscent of this costume, which I like a lot. My favorite slime mold costume (I've seen hundreds, of course, as most educated people have) was from the first Procession of the Species I ever saw, a guy covered in yellow balloons, lying on a skateboard, oozing his way along the entire route. I'm a sucker for slime mold costumes, and love both of these.

Or are they costumes? I assumed there were people in there, but maybe not. The northwest, evolutionary incubator for all things wet and not too demanding of photons, may have created something special. Your run of the mill slime can coalesce, move as a body, and optimize the timing of its fruiting--what about that special slime who punctures the equilibrium of eons and mutates radically?

A slime the size of a large mammal. Mold molds itself as well as any plastic, and could easily form perambulatory stuctures reminiscent of human legs. My guess is that it cannot talk (though it is surely highly intelligent), and therefore creates the intricate costume we think we see, that it may be a painfully shy creature who craves social contact but most of the time just tries to blend into the wallpaper, baseboards, tiles,...ruefully listening as the humans laugh and dogtails wag. Or maybe I'm just a chauvanist, expecting that slime mold would even want to be like a human, the slimiest of species. Maybe it loves who it is, "I'm slime, sublime, get used to it."

Regardless of why, the fact that it appears during Spring on the very day of the Procession bespeaks an awareness, a synchronicity of some kind with our kind. That it always exhibits the fruiting bodies on this day is also interesting. At the very least, it's a much better show than other states of slime being (unless you happen to have time lapse vision and it's on the move, making even the blob form interesting). I suspect there is more to it, though. I think  that it is sporing spectators, spawning on a downtown crowd unparalleled in size any other day in Olympia. 

Why? Probably as part of a long-term scheme to evolve into an organ of the mammalian brain. Fearmongers out there think this is because slime mold wants to take us over, render our bodies zombified in the service of slime, like when Keanu ran that giant battle robot thingy in the Matrix. I recognize that as the Fox-fed bignorance that it is, and believe that the idea is just to extend it's unicell self beyond the limitations of the body, to evolve some cognitive complexity on its part, and push the host's brain toward a greater awareness and love of slime mold. 

Yeah, of cours, I dunno why I ever thought of it before: the spores are part of slime mold's strategy toward evolutionary transcendence, bringing all us other creatures into it's essential one-ness. All these years of religious dead ends, and it turns out that what we were looking for all along was to be absorbed by an evolutionary paradox, melding complexity and unicellarity, feeling the slime love. I think it's working already.

29 April, 2011


Today, some people ended up at this blog by googling "who sat behind the queen?"

How on earth? Must've been pretty drunk, I thought, to have ended up at Mojourner Truth. I am not entertainment news, nobody outside of a select few know I exist. Someone must have clicked through to page 8 of results, I thought. But no, there I was on page one today. 

So, sole British web-surfer who ended up here, I hope you eventually found your answer. And to the rest of you, stop trusting programs to serve up good information. And stop obsessing over royals. They don't give tuppence about you.

I can sign off now, happy in the knowledge that a few people were led astray, that the human mind still provides better direction than algorithms.

28 April, 2011

Decomposite Sketch

Remember wanted posters with sketches of criminals, composites drawn from multiple observations filtered by memory? The Unabomber in a hooded sweatshirt and aviator sunglasses, his face telling you that he was a young middle-age white guy, if not much more. One day soon (or a few years ago, if you live in a major western city), there will be cameras everywhere, and no work for the person who sat and listened to witnesses describe hair, jawlines, noses, and scars. The idea of a composite will live on, as computers merge the traffic camera shot of a pedestrian with the Quickie Mart shot of his face and the cell-photo of the crime in progress.

Composites allow their makers and users to triangulate, to approach from various angles, to interpolate and make a sensible whole. A composited composition like the movie Ran can even let the audience appreciate, maybe negotiate. Most of the time, though, composites are presented as a single true thing, more easily approached than the incomplete components, more readily read than the manifold individual accounts.

Archaeologists deal in decomposite sketches. Something once whole, broken and mostly decayed, informed maybe by a faded historic account or tenuous analogy to something alive. Culture fragmented then mended, extrapolated from the durable leavings of people long gone. Black greasy dirt telling tales of people who cooked and ate, walked about barefoot, their waste and dander of their life becoming soil. Hiding in that matrix, clues: tiny frags of volcanic rock brought from elsewhere and used to oblivion (almost), chemical traces where once were plants and meat, motes of charcoal preserving cellular structure from which ancient forests may be regrown in the mind's eye.

From the soil, artifacts, and ecofacts, we draw our decomposite sketches. With any luck, we may be able to conjure forth a good story of a people long since gone or changed. In a good site, the decay is not so complete that all the nutrients feeding this process have been leached away. In a good site, decomposition has left us archaeological compost, from which sprout theories and culture histories.

Likewise with gardening, I am a decompositer. Plants that are whole and even thriving, but which offer no food, aroma, materials, or beauty--they get whacked. Chopped up and composted to feed something better. Same for prunings and dead annuals and the windfall of leaves, flowers, catkins and cones that drop to my soil--all the disarticulated organics sacrificed to the earth deity.

Why the relentless chopping, burning, carnage? Because more than anything else, I grow soil. What grew before must be decomposed to make what grows next come forth, whole and expanding.

26 April, 2011

My Dirty Secret

Been reading this blog? Or maybe you know me?

Then you may have some ideas of the cartography of my character. Lopsided to the left, borders with the Right and rich fortified. A river of scorn and ire draining a vast watershed of political and economic opinion. Shifting sands and a wandering north pole. Lands of yore and fakelore. Criss-crossed by narrow roads. Occasional lyric naturescapes. Ponds most caustic. Winds that blow on and on without going anywhere, circling back again and again. Rocky harsh frontiers, unwelcoming.

Not long ago, someone spotted a discontinuity, a hint of some unexpected geology underlying the public lands that are this blog. It was in the form of a reference to Marie Antoinette's garden a topic that seems awfully girly and Francophilic to be showing up in these parts.

But I am not afraid to love incongruously. Long ago, in the grips of surging testosterone and flagging confidence, it was important to maintain consistency. To stick with the caustic wit without letting down my guard. To steer clear of anything mainstream. To listen not to hippie stuff or new wave fluff, but to be hardcore. 

Then I learned to live for myself instead of an image, and to revel in the land, not the map. 

So I admit to you that this weekend I reveled in the goofy spectacle of Olympia's best parade, the Procession of the Species. This photo is part of that, a troupe of mandolin, banjo, and guitar-playing butterflies singing about caterpillars and love. Punk me would have turned away from this spectacle of hippidiculousness, maybe. But now, I love it. Just some people having fun, celebrating life. I cannot remember their song (simple as it was), but bask in the REMemory, lyrics of "Shiny Happy People" running through my mind in a holey loop.

23 April, 2011

Post 200

Now, the 200th post of Mojourner Truth. Nothing to say really, except that the pace has picked up. Post 100 came about 2 years after starting the blog, and it took just under a year to spew forth the second hundred. Not quite a third of the way through 2011, and already as many posts as in all of 2009.

More ain't better. It's just compulsive writing, and while there are some good sentences, paragraphs, and even posts, it's a scattershot. Some people gestate thoughtfully, nurture their ideas so that what they write comes out beautiful. I'm more like coral, spewing voluminously into the current, most of it spilled seed. Some posts are just notes so I won't forget something, others are germs of ideas I may come back to later, and a bunch are just blathering. There are enough now that the spewage can be categorized somewhat: backroads, environment, culture, politics, nostalgia...all those keyword tags I so laboriously added to the back catalog in the past year or so.

For the benefit of myself. Readership here is tiny. You are part of an exclusive club, like 21st century lepers, or vegetarian Uzbeks. Most people have better things to do, and I salute your willingness to waste time here, to procrastinate, to soak up irrelevant opinions and useless observations, to overlook the typoz. 

Bis spater...

21 April, 2011

I Sat in Front of the King

A couple of days after my encounter with a queen in Wenatchee, eating lunch in Twisp, I sat in front of the king, an older gentleman who, every 4 minutes would make a pronouncement:

"I'm gonna pick up 3-4 more horses." No reason given.
"I ought to buy a few hundred head of cattle. Seems like the fish and wildlife Department won't even talk to ya about leases till you have a herd."
"The job those boys did on the fence,...I might ask 'em out to do the whole property."

Basically, listing things he would acquire in that odd monarchic tendency toward bucolic nostalgia. Like Marie Antoinette playing  milkmaid in Petit Hameau, a rustic Swiss-ish village she had built at Versailles. Do they ever really blend in? Heck no, but the rich spend a lot of money locally in their quest to feel like farmers, which is the modern capitalist version of the Prince and the Pauper, and acceptable to the peasantry.

Sometimes it works out well. The locals, or at least a family or two who do the king's dirty work, may get the run of the place during the 90% of the time when isn't around. Suppliers of feed and fencing, gear and luxury goods, have a new customer who not only pays on time, but can be counted on to spend extra if the seller so much as hints that some other guy is doing similar things. The king must win at the game of competitive consumption. 

But then, the king ain't from here, and he don't exactly understand some of the balances he is upsetting, the social and environmental  laws he's breaking. He overpays the young guy (who everybody knows is an idiot) while the dad (who everybody knows can fix anything and needs the work to stay off the bottle) remains silent and grows bitter. He fences off open range, brings in questionable stock, and when he grows bored (or scared) of nature goes on a building spree that bulldozes the old Indian village, paves the single best field in the valley, and pollutes the night sky with floodlights.

With any luck, the king gains a new fascination and moves on before he does too much damage. Without it, he falls so deeply in love with the place that it becomes his court away from court, and other nobles follow, inflating land prices and making it impossible to farm or ranch any more, ruining that which drew him there in the first place.  The occasional king is smart enough to notice and regret this irony, but most don't even recognize what happened.

18 April, 2011

I Sat Behind the Queen

At long last, I found a great place to eat in Wenatchee.

Not brewpubs being available (I am on the periphery of wine country, in apple country actually, a place wishing cider culture had arisen from the pomme, as fine vinophilia had from the grape, or at least brazen bierkultur had hopped up angrily from the wort, challenging the winers to a fight), I go for the place with local food and almost local micro-brews.

As is the case most times I have et at restaurants, I walk in and say, "Just one." Lonely, maybe, but that's work. I get to have what I want, do not have to cut anything for tiny companions, and perdiem covers it. Usually.

At the next table, her back to me, is the queen. Maybe if I'd paid attention, I would've deduced that from the poofed-up mid-50's frosted (not gray!) short cut hair, the patrician back-fat spilling over her bra-strap, the dictating to her consort. Said husband kept quiet mostly, other than  blowing his nose (medieval queen, perhaps, not offended at all), mostly just nodding, exuding pre-verbal solicitousness.

As queens are wont to do, she pretended to seek the server's advice. Then ignored it. Decided on the fish instead, and even then expressed doubts that the help could prepare it correctly. The server, sensing her role, carefully teased forth the details of her queenship's preferences, inquired as to every aspect of the preparation, and assured her majesty that it would be great. Queens only want the greatest.

The platter came, and on the first check after, the help could sense something less than complete satisfaction. Yon queen obviously thought that the thin end of the filet was overooked. 

Server says, I can take it back and bring you a new one.

No, says the queen, playing enlightened despot, suffering so that the serfs can be just a weentsy more comfortable.

"If it is not to your liking," says the server, "we are only too happy to bring you another. You will find the main part of the filet to be perfect, unlike the edge." She has slyly brought the cook into the mix, implicating him in the servitude, I think, rather than trying to blame him. "The cook has personally come up with this recipe for you, your majesty, and if thou are not happy, he will invent another." 

But the queen is feeling beneficent and indulgent today. She will have none of it, and will plow through this substandard fare.

Or, as it turns out, partly through it. She chokes down the thin overcooked end, muttering to her hapless prince, who repeats all the offers of make-up food. Then, as she gets to the succulent part, decides she is full. Has it boxed. To eat later, watching cable TV, microwaving the imperial meal.

Yon queen fishes her consort's wallet from her purse, and has him pay, then carry the take-out boxes. 

All this, and somehow, I am unimpressed by royalty.

15 April, 2011

"We Don't Care About the Last Election"

My state's Attorney General (Rob McKenna) supposedly sent out an email today, accusing last week's protesters of ignoring the will of the people, who last fall voted out certain taxes and in a few Republicans. He repeats the phrase "We Don't Care About the Last Election" (supposedly a rallying cry, but I don't remember) to rile up his followership at the arrogance and unreasonableness of the opposition. 
The purported purpose of this epistle was to convince conservatives to attend an anti-tax rally in Bellevue. Even though that's where we concentrate rich people, I would not count on a five-day protest culminating in a 10,000 plus crowd to happen there, as it did in Olympia. [Does Robblehead want crowds like that? No, he wants money, the gold standard of political currency.]
Olympia. People love to blame Olympia for whatever tax or policy or whatever. "Olympia takes your hard earned money and gives it to Mexicans," and similar myths. As well as some truths: regulations do exist, and agencies have offices in the capital. This misses the fact that the capitol fills each new year with a couple of representatives and their staff and entourages from Not-Olympia. There's some basis for blaming the Seattle Megalopolis, because most of the people live there and hence have more seats in the House, but the fact is that rural counties get more back than they pay in taxes and should just keep mum and hope nobody notices. But Olympia? No, given the choice, Olympia would rather listen to music and drink coffee and enjoy itself than try to impose its will even in Lacey, much less Republic. That's like way too fascist for a town with so many Evergreeners. 
But McKenna knew that if he slyly referred the union protesters, most not from Olympia, as Olympia, he'd be pushing buttons that make campaign money spit out.
He's smart enough that accusing union protesters of ignoring the last election comes off as lame, as if Rove is standing by him whispering "Don't engage in debate. Smear and move on." The last election ignored the one before, when the Democrats made a huge gain. Then there have been the times when the GOP ignored current elections and had daddy's supreme court install the president instead of the guy who won.
I'm honest enough to say that no, I don't care about the last election. A fraction of the populace affected by politicians is allowed to vote, a smaller percentage still turn in a ballot, and so every time a politician claims a mandate, it is based on spurious superiority in numbers. Besides which, no vote extinguishes my right to advocate for something other than status quo. Conservatives sure as hell do it, but act like I am impolite and unpatriotic for doing so.
The last election included referenda to cut off some revenue sources and ensured that a 2/3 majority is required to get any new ones. This effectively killed an earlier referendum that mandated limited class size in public schools, and requires that social programs serving our most vulnerable citizens be pared back.
The last election had no effect on the inhabitants of executive suites and corporate boardrooms who looted the economy (about the time of the election before). The people who invented and profited from Wall Street scams not only paid no price, they hold on to the loopholes and special deals that ensure that profits will never be taxed as harshly as labor. They did have to pay for enough ads to defeat the referendum that would have imposed an income tax on the very wealthy, but overall they made out finer than the rest of us.
A lot of whom care about the next election.

12 April, 2011

Old School

"Old School" did not occur widely in American English til I was too old to claim not to personify it.

Old School is my favorite pizzeria.
Old School teaches us how to survive.
Old School emerges in Old Age too wise to be ashamed of oldness.
Old School teaches archaeologists.
Old School rocks like 21st Century kids never will.

"Old School" means whatever my lengthening, fail-prone memory assigns.

11 April, 2011

Once and Future Islands

Early March found me in the Skagit lowlands, field after field of flat. Not much growing now, just puddles of rain and snowmelt. And maybe the water table coming up. Meanwhile, on NPR, the US Navy's chief meteorologist was being interviewed. The military is not exactly a bastion of liberalness (the policy for left of center personnel is Don't Ask, Don't Tell, with no end in sight), but when it gets down to brass tacks (or shell casings) they don't have a lot of patience for cockamamie right wing theories that fly in the face of science. A lot of math was developed with trajectories in mind; physics, chemistry, and materials science are at the heart of many a weapons system. Communications, surveillance, keeping copters and jets in the air,..the list of military needs that won't work on the basis of Creationism or Faith goes on and on.

This extends to long term planning, which is where the admiral came in. A scary proportion of Republican congressmen may deny the existence of global warming, but the US Navy sure as hell doesn't. They know that the sea is rising, and that the rate could suddenly increase if and when the Greenland ice reaches a tipping point and starts flowing into the sea at more than the accustomed glacial speed. They know that this will bring them headaches ranging from submerged and storm-battered bases to increased geopolitical stress and strife as populations migrate inland and fresh water tables are salinated. I'm sure the admiral would love to believe that it won't happen, but he knows better.

The low fields of western Skagit county have tasted the ocean before, and will again. The hills that poke up through the coastal sediments, long seen by farmers as intrusions into an otherwise nice field, will once more become islands. The dikes that have held back the Salish Sea will be gobbled by it, deltas will erase levees and fan out. 

All this in a blink of a celestial eye, a tic of geological time. The far-flung flats are no older than the last glaciation, anyway. The waters of the straits and sounds, seemingly so protected from the ocean and buffered by islands, rise and fall with wild abandon in just the short time that humans have been here. Not entirely because of water being frozen and then released, either. The land itself rises and falls as glacial weights pile on and flow away, as the oceanic plate plows beneath the continent, as faults give way. Some of the San Juan islands bob up rather gently on the rebound after glaciers leave, while others were thrust up suddenly from deep in the earth during subduction zone quakes that dwarf anything humans can recall. 

The Japanese quake and tsunami remind us that cities can be erased suddenly, landscapes altered in a day. (The geologists' office where I work displays a quote from Will Durant, "Civilization exists by geologic consent, revocable without notice.") The climate's change promises us a less obvious, but far more widespread, alteration of our earth. We humans, clinging to the coast, are in for some hard lessons, especially if we insist on denying what is demonstrably true because it does not comport with short term political goals or a particular religious outlook. Reality won't wait for the slow-witted, and even if they manage to make an ark, their drifting voyage will find whatever shores it may reach already occupied by people who operated not on faith, but on knowledge.

10 April, 2011

Costume Party

Tea Party gatherings tend to have individuals dressed up in what they believe to be the style of the Founding Fathers. A fair number of the Civil War and other re-enactor buffs I've met (people who take extreme care to research and reproduce details of costumery representing the old days when life was grand and slavery was legal) tend to be very conservative, so it would not surprise me if there is enough overlap between these folks to produce some accurately attired individuals.

But a genuine wardrobe speaks little about what's in it. The guys dressed up like Washington and Jefferson misunderstand their political idols as much as they misrepresent their god and savior.

The rowdys doing the legwork for the founding fathers liked to play dress-up, too. The Tea Partiers of 18th Century Boston dressed up like Indians. Some people see in this a statement of American-ness, appropriation of Native garb to differentiate the colonists from their overlords. My own more cynical view is that they just wanted disguises, being brave as long as they couldn't be identified. If the Brits actually thought Indians had done it, and retaliated against them, so much the better, but nobody truly expected them to believe that a previously unnoticed band of urban Indians was on the warpath. The tea dumpers just didn't want to be recognized during their vandalism spree. Kinda chicken, if you ask me.

The modern Tea Party attachment to the style of the American Revolution does not, so far as I know, include dressing up like Indians. Even the upper crust Virginian or Bostonian costumes, however, are just as obviously disguises, misdirection. 

Case in point: treatment of the District of Columbia as a colony by the heavily Tea-steeped new Republican House of Representatives. Would the Boston partiers, much as they may have wanted to avoid arrest, have been so chicken-shit as to tolerate taxation without representation? No, the whole reason for the action was to protest taxes levied without the colonies having a voice in Parliament. Yet Republicans have shown time and again that they do not want DC, with its majority of African Americans and Democratic voters, to have a voting member of the House, much less the Senate.

This Friday's budget deal also demonstrates that this new House will not hesitate to increase federal interference, even when it flies directly in the face of what local people want. Democrats managed to keep certain nation-wide policy riders out, but Boehner and his ilk managed to include a couple of restrictions on DC. Namely, a ban on using money for abortions and other women's health activities, and imposing a voucher system allowing people to direct public school funding toward private school tuition. This is tax money that was raised locally, which Republicans now insist that those black DC residents don't know how to use in their own community. This is only the latest in a series of insults to the democratic ideal of self-determination, from messing with gun control and birth control to overriding voter referenda. 

So when I hear some Tea Party activist rail against an intrusive federal government or wave that "Don't Tread on Me" flag, I think: bullshit. They can dress up like patriots, but their actions demonstrate disdain for freedom and democracy.

09 April, 2011


Once I had a garden in Honolulu. I built stone terraces around an old mango tree, grew ancient crops, played with my baby girl. For the better part of a decade, I went there every other day or so. Took it on as a pile of rubble, left it as a little oasis of rich organic soil in the middle of a city.

I just looked at it in the google aerial view, and felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach. The mango and the terraces are gone. The big retaining wall that had kept this little place hidden was replaced recently, I guess, and they bulldozed the garden. Maybe it's buried under stone and concrete, but the life is gone.

Auwe. Lamentations. 

08 April, 2011

Lord Marmalade

The title here is a twisting of Lady Marmalade, whose gichy gichy yaya is one of the few riffs guaranteed to get me dancing, but which has nothing to do with this entry. That weren't no lady, and marmalade seems so un-funky, more old-fashioned and British. Ergo the "Lord." 

Paddington Bear and old women take their tea with marmalade at the ready, it's medicinal power soothing the harm done to one's palate by the clinkery toast favoured on that side of the pond. My grandparents liked it, and I do too, but few devotees are young. Not sweet enough, too full of the peel that Americans have cast off for generations.

This concoction's etymology trails back to classical times, alluding to the Greek "honey apple," an apple grafted to the quince. For a long time, it has meant a jam or preserve including citrus, the acidity probably important before sanitary canning, preservatives, and pasteurization. 

Now it's a nostalgic taste to some, to me. I made some batches this year, both to practice the science of canning which was nearly lost by my generation, as well as to savor something grandma made. The first time I used blood oranges, which I'm guessing would have been unimaginably exotic in central Ohio during the Depression, when as a young mother she began canning in earnest. I followed her lead, and made a portion into "hot jam" by inserting a cinnamon stick into each jar as it was filled. I also experimented with some, adding some local cranberries to the mix to redden it further and add a bit of bite.

Equally exotic may have been the preternaturally orange navels of the modern supermarket, bred for looks, tasting like water. The blood oranges had the allure of aroma, more flavor packed into a tennis ball sized fruit than in the softballs lobbed out of Florida by the trainload. Even better, they were on sale.

Same goes for the variety in the next batch. The local grocery had a sale on "Cara Cara" oranges, which were dead ripe and redolent of heaven as I walked in. I immediately filled a couple of bags with the fruit, same size as the bloods, similarly ugly on the outside with patches of green, some blemishes, and even a soft spot or two (all of which told me the "organic" label was not fake, and that they'd been picked ripe). This time, I went for straight marmalade, no experimental or family-inspired additives.

I don't have grandma's recipe, and had to go looking on the internet, my approach to which is to triangulate, to look at plenty and attempt to discern a logic. The first task is always to weed out the bullshit: the people repeating some untested recipe because they like to post stuff, the "easy" versions maximizing prepared stuffs and minimizing cooking, and the just plain mistaken. Eventually, I zero in on the essentials, and get an idea of the leeway in ingredients and proportions that won't result in failure. The rest is reconciling units (cups versus pounds of sugar, pounds versus numbers of oranges), and trying to figure out what my palate wants compared to typicality, which in this case was less sugar.

In the end, it was this:
10 pounds of oranges (32 or so of the size  favor) - Peel the zest off of about 1/4 of them, quarter and thinly slice everything else.
6 cups of water - Add this and the oranges to a large steel or enamel pot, and gradually bring to a boil. Keep cooking til the only identifiable pieces are the rinds, which should be quite soft.
Now turn it off and do something else til tomorrow.
Start again by gradually turning your orange slurry to a boil. 
10 cups of sugar (You have pretty wide latitude here, I think. Add less to begin, and keep adding til it seems right to you.) - Add the zest and stir. And stir! If you don't it'll start to stick and burn on the bottom of the pot. 
The mixture is sneaky and vindictive at this point--it will look calm, lulling you into not stirring. Then when you start again you release a sudden violent boiling, a volcanic eruption of orange lava hotter than boiling that will stick to your skin and burn like hell. Sweet hell, but painful nonetheless.
A lot of recipes carry on about how you need to bring the stuff to 220 or 222 degrees, or the jam won't set. I've never managed to get it past about 215, and it has set fine. The key things seem to be: it gets darker, you begin to have trouble keeping it from sticking and burning, and it gets thick enough that after a while you cannot stand to stir any more. It's done, so you can it.

This last batch went into some old squat jars I got at a yard sale. Some proudly proclaimed their modernity with embossed patent dates from over a century ago (the same wide-mouth lids of today work just fine, and it's good to know that some things don't change). 

I dipped into one of these pots of marmalade--talking in a Paddington accent of course--and was rewarded with the colour and flavour of liquid sunshine. Nostalgic in name and appearance, perhaps, but as bright and fresh a taste as I could imagine. 


Rolling in the Cut

"Rolling in the cut" was Putney Swope's answer to one of the barrage of questions launched by reporters when he had become rich and successful, and was stepping into his limo. But you've never seen that movie, most likely.

I have, though, and remember that hearing that line triggered some resonance. Seemed like something I'd heard old people say. The old-time way of describing someone who can sit back and watch the money flow in, who need not work. The "cut" I took to be the percentage that someone collects on transactions, on other people's production. 

Taxes are the government's cut. Profits are the corporation's. Crazy high compensation is the executive's. Lots of people hate the gummint, and wanna cut it's cut. Corporations are not universally loved, either, but Bush's economic debacle benefited some of them. On the other hand, many corporations' profits would be higher if the executives were not paid ridiculously high rates, rewarded regardless of what happens to profits, much less people.

In DC and Olympia, elected representatives are determining budgets, and the more blatant of the Business-serving parties is determined to address the economic fallout of their own failures by eliminating money spent on a social safety net. They've been unduly successful in tarring taxes as too high, unwisely spent, and unjust. They adopt stern demeanors and tell the cameras that our situation is dire, and that people must face that fact that government is too big, too costly, and must be reigned in.

The solution, they say, is to eliminate spending that benefits working and poor people. In DC, they dicker over a fraction of the domestic budget, while ignoring the expense of multiple wars (none of which, you may have noticed, has anything to do with a threat to national security) and the barrels of holy pork. Meanwhile, they not only won't allow tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, they propose expanding them, and giving corporations a massive break as well.

Here in Olympia, where we don't maintain an army, social cuts--education, health, parks, culture, and so on--are being targeted as the means for eliminating the deficit. Meanwhile, tax benefits are untouched, because they might put a damper on bank profits, private purchases of jets, cosmetic surgery,...the sort of thing that has extremely narrow benefit. The people have been asking, louder each time, that some of these loopholes be eliminated, but the legislature acts incapable. Those who bother to sound apologetic at all say their hands are tied, that the 2/3 majority required for "new taxes" can never be mustered, even though the removal of a preferential tax break is just a correction, not a new tax.

Locally and nationally, the GOP is determined to press its perceived advantage to make sure that the government's cut is shrunk (or to be more precise, the portion dedicated to domestic spending) while the corporations and plutocrats roll in an ever greater cut. 

I have little idea of what transpires within the beltway anymore, but I know that here, people are fed up. The Service Employees International Union and others protested at the capitol yesterday, demanding to know why no tax loopholes had been eliminated, why the representatives and governor they elected would balance the budget on the backs of the middle class and the poor, asking no sacrifice whatsoever of the better off. 17 were arrested.

Some people will spin this as evidence of union thuggery, welfaristic greed, an unruly lower class. After all, SEIU is full of uppity people, browner than most unions in this state, and not as inclined to get in bed with larger financial interests as some of the older unions. The fact is that people demanded accountability from elected officials, and asked to be arrested rather than walk away. One guy hit a couple of state troopers, who said they were not hurt. The arrests are symbolic, a statement of how deeply people object to unfair economic policies. They remind me of what started happening outside the South African embassy as pressure mounted to end apartheid.

Which makes me optimistic. Maybe the people have finally had enough, and know enough to identify some of the problems. The inchoate rage of the Tea Party is becoming more obviously stupid to a greater portion of the populace, but anger and frustration remain. We the people see that the ones really rolling in the cut, our cut by all rights, are the wealthy few, the cunning corporations who rake in money we gave to the government to do things like school our kids, protect our air and water, build roads, fight crime and disease, and on and on and on. 

The transfer of our common wealth to the uncommonly wealthy is unfair, and their days of rolling in the cut must end.

06 April, 2011

To Sinatra Oneself

Know who I despise as much as Heston?

Frank Sinatra.

Old Blue Eyes (with nothing behind them other than a greedy little lizard soul). The Velvet Talk-singer. Whatever name, a guy who became top of the heap with a little (wee, miniscule, nano) bit of talent and a helluva lotta moxie, attitude, and arrogance. King of the hill, having it his way, mean little pissant standing behind his goodfellas. Self-proclaimed Rat Packer.

Just so you are not confused: I didn't like the guy.

When he died, the hagiography was unbearable. And yet, surreally entertaining. Everyone who'd met him had to tell their story, and many of them described basically this sequence: "We met him. He liked it when we told him he was the best. Then he put his cigarette out in my niece's birthday cake, fondled her (she hasn't washed that breast since!), and skipped out on the bill."

The one that really sticks in my mind is one from Jersey somewhere, maybe even blessed Hoboken (before those yuppies started ruining it). A family had an Italian restaurant, but closed for the holidays, to enjoy Thanksgiving with the family. Along come's Mr. My Way (who for all his In Crowdedness is alone because even toadys have families), and insists on them dropping everything, opening the restaurant, and cooking for him. Eats, belches, runs out on the tab and after some skirt. What a guy!?

It was strange how many people would sit there, recite their tale of douchebaggery, and act as if Mother Mary had blessed them.

Probably it was my wife who first thought it up, but the pattern needed a name, and it was decided to invent a verb: "to sinatra": to tell a story in which the supposed hero is revealed as one who is selfish, mean, idiotic, lizard-hearted or otherwise objectionable. When the tale is self inflicted, I use the reflexive "to sinatra oneself."

Guten Tag

Entschuldigen Sie mich. Im Gymnasium studiert mich Deutsche Sprache. I habe am meistens vergessen, und habe nicht Deutsch gespracht fur 25 jahren.

Jetzt, Ich lesen das Deutschlanders kommen auf Mojourner Truth. Warum? Haben sie Heatilator Fragen? Mochten Sie Amerikanische Bullshit? Ich weiss nicht. Vielleicht Deutsche webcrawler bots hat mir, uh,...

OK. I'm not sure how to say 'found.' But I know that Deutschlanders speak English way better than I speak your language, so I should stop this embarrassing attempt at sprechening. You probably speak English better as well. And you have better cameras. You've let Green Party people hold high office, and treat workers a hell of a lot better than Americans, while still having a big capitalist economy. You make us look like amateurs.

What do I do with a language I spent 6 years learning, only to spend a generation not having anyone to speak it with? When I worked in a museum in Hawai`i, I used it a couple of times to read accounts by early visitors, learning what crops were growing in Kona and elsewhere 200 years ago. Maybe if I'd gone to Samoa instead, there would have been more use for Deutsch, but as it is the words have drifted away, and I have vorgotten how to conjugate. It has been decades since I read Gunther Grass or Herman Hesse, your alliterarily monikered masters. Even if the years had not robbed me of the fullness of my 18-year-old knowledge of the language, they would leave me sounding stilted and old fashioned--I studied with textbooks that were probably written in the late-1960s. 

I ramble. Maybe because I awoke at 4 AM to learn that now Germans pay as much attention to this blog as Americans, and don't know what to make of it.

Anyway, Guten Tag, Deutschland.

05 April, 2011

On Foot

Work is about 2.25 miles from where I live, which makes it walkable. Admittedly, this doesn't happen as much in the winter (unless there's snow, which I cannot resist), but now that temps are in the balmy upper 40's, and the rain is not as constant, feet will carry me to work more often. 

Some people set a brisk pace, and would cover the distance in a half hour or less, but my sense slow me down. Watching the pink and green haze of emergent buds causes the legs to swing slow (sweet chariot), maybe even stopping to zoom in and appreciate the unfurling beauty of a fiddlehead. My ears listen to try and find where the thrushes hide, their varied songs imitating creaky hinges and the slightly rusted spring of the old screen door that only opens when grandkids are in town. Nose gathers data: skunk cabbage beginning to emerge, air warming enough to carry the scent of awakening green.

Slower still as my foraging instinct kicks in. Pausing to fill grocery bags with tender young nettle shoots. Scoping the woods for bracken fiddleheads to browse. Noting where the Indian plums and cherries bloom in promise of future fruit. 

I was talking with an anthropologist who studies urban foragers in Seattle, and she said that foragers tend to be walkers. Cars go too fast and demand too much attention of the drivers; they can cover a lot of ground and maybe reveal some likely spots and the most obvious of the un-picked fruit trees. Same goes for the bus, although it has the advantage of letting riders look at the same spots over and over, noticing details after enough time. Bikes are more immediate, no windows in the way, able to slow and veer closer to a promising copse. But walking brings time to it's most human cadence, wandering begets wondering, daydreams played out and plans laid out. Details and discoveries appear to the lone biped that remain veiled to the wheeled.

I get to the destination slower than a driver. Getting to work takes about 40 minutes if I don't stop, compared to around 5 if I drive. Not counting parking and the walk from there to the building, traffic, and of course stopping to let pedestrians cross the road. On the other hand, I decompress and alleviate stress, get some exercise. 

Not driving saves me the cost of running a vehicle and buying gas, and relieves the atmosphere of having to absorb fossil fuel's farts. For a guy like me who doesn't subscribe to a religion, but still enjoys being self-righteous, walking is just the ticket: smile with the self-satisfaction of being green, glare at the cars that don't stop for pedestrians, stuff like that. And if I arrive home with a belly full of berries, maybe something extra for the table, or even just the peacefulness born of shedding work worries during an amble through woods and neighborhoods, so much the better.

02 April, 2011

Not Opening Day

Turns out I jumped the gun, and the Farmers Market opens the first Thursday of April, not the first weekend. Bogus.

But that left more time for foraging. To begin with, garage sale style. I happened on happiness: a sale underadvertised, a house with a lifetime of stuff, miraculously unravaged by early birds and dealers. Then it turns out that the guy who accumulated it shares my name, right down to the non-standard pronunciation. I now have his thermos, the kind my dad and namesake uncle both carried, right down to the replacement handle (it's missing the cup, but I have one). And a vice that can clamp to the workbench, which is something I've been looking for for decades. Perfect. The guy's bowling ball even fit my digits like a glove, a crazy head-konking fatigue-inducing glove. 

Then later, some outside foraging. My younger daughter walked with me to a neighborhood park plagued with stinging nettles, which are still pickable. She played on the swing and explored the woodland path while I squatted and snapped the tender tips, filling a couple of grocery bags. I'll make a quiche for dinner tonight, and freeze the rest. Probably will pick another couple rounds, freezing some and drying the rest for tea, before the season is over. Once you cover yourself to keep from getting stung, nettles are easy to gather, because they form dense patches and love to colonize trail margins, and nobody laments their disappearance or diminishment.

I guess I'm supposed to have some nice photos, food porn shots: macro focus on the hoary purple-green leaf buds (ok, maybe marijuana porn) laying on a richly orange wooden table fuzzing into the depth of field, the hand-made Andean basket filled with a Van Gogh swoosh of sprigs, stuff like that. But what I have is a pair of plastic grocery bags full of wet  smooshed leaves.

But they were free. It was a nice opening day.

Opening Day

Dawn hesitates east of here, the Big Dipper hangs lower in the clearing summerward sky. 

This is the first weekend in April, which means the opening of the Olympia Farmers Market. At 10 AM, some esteemed or lucky individual will flick the cord to ring the bell, ending three months of shutdown. Since Christmas Eve, no more. Holiday cheer runs on fumes only so long, then the grim grey stretch of days goes out past where you can see. No vegetables, none of that pastured pig. No more nothing, as Hawaiians say.

Maybe be you know someone into baseball. Opening Day is a big deal to them, some are fanatical. If you think of the fan you know who's religious about it, who thinks baseball is a metafor everything, and imagine him on opening day, then you begin to see my feelings toward the first Market day. Only, I get much better food and my team cannot lose.

Anthropology of Anthropology

This week, I attended the Society for Applied Anthropology meeting in Seattle. Mostly because they were offering, in the form of a "Traditional Foods Summit" an irresistible whetstone upon which to grind the ax I use to clear new ground for cultural resources. (Long story short: the current legal and customary practices ignore the breadth of what is cultural, impose some strange thresholds and dichotomies, and invite Native people to agree with the professionals or shut up.)

The Food Summit was amazing. Or at least it seemed that way to me because there were so many people in synch with my perceptions and biases. I met many kindred spirits. Even though I feel like a babe in the woods in many respects, I was somehow recognized as knowledgable, and maybe even useful.

It always amazes me how far you can ride on common sense, but then we live in a world crazed by greed and isms.

Then the larger anthropological public showed. It's been a long time since I interacted with more than a regional subset of this group, and it got a little weird.

Or maybe, not weird enough. I expect anthropologists to be a little more Outsidery. One of the texts we used in college was "The Professional Stranger," and anthropologists have always operated at the fringes of society. Unafraid to profess Marxist tendencies, irreligious or pagan, prone to wearing clothes designed to fit in only in some far-flung locale.

But on the evening of the big reception, I kept seeing guys in tweed jackets with suede elbow patches, women with plenty of make-up and perfume. Students aside, most of them seemed old, comfortable, separated from the field by too many years. Too comfortable in an expensive hotel. The drinks were 9 or 10 bucks a piece, in part to support a large staff of "help" (much blacker on average than the crowd) who held doors and refilled water pitchers, but I never heard anyone remark on that dynamic. 

Looking at the program, it amazed me at first to see how few of the "applied" anthropologists worked for anything other than academic departments. But then, the people who work outside academia are generally in some poorly funded entity, or in jobs that don't identify them as anthropologists, and they drift away from the world of conferences and publications. In a panel devoted to Sol Tax, father of "action anthropology," the guy included to do something other than adore the subject leaned toward dismissing Tax's contribution by virtue of the paucity of academic citations, which seems to miss the obvious point: anthropologists prone to action, to political engagement as opposed to academic disinterest, are more likely to spend their careers doing things than to write about them. I've been influenced by the Taxian take on the world, but before the session would not have articulated that--I worked toward cultural preservation and perpetuation for 20 years before attending the applied anthro conference, and probably won't do so again until it happens to be in the neighborhood again. My footprint in "the literature" is invisible.

The crowd at the conference undoubtedly represents a skewed sample. University folks are over-represented because the students attend in hopes of finding jobs, and the professors need to burnish their status and plug their books. The better funded agencies are represented. The wealthier individuals, interested in being seen but not inclined to crawl out of their suites for the early morning sessions, put in appearances between fine meals and drinks. The conference addicts flit about, invariably looking at name tags before making eye contact. It is unfair of me to denigrate the field of anthropology based on this sample.

But the field is where I will return. Away from the windowless rooms and the screens filled with bulleted powerpoint slides (are anthropologists no longer taught anything about human communication?). Plugging away, recording archaeological sites and writing emails, publishing nothing.