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29 June, 2011

Garden 6: We Love Weeds

Weeds. I've waxed spewetic on the subject before, but cannot let it be. Weeds are in the eye of the beholder, and the stupider the eye, the more abundant they are. Or in some cases, the more educated the eye. I work with people who know native plants and their exotic foes so well, but myself, I fall back to the questions of the earthling: Is it edible? Therapeutic? Good smelling? Just plain purty?

If yes, it don't deserve eradication. UNless maybe you can answer 'yes' to: Is it a bully?

Pictured above is a foxglove, Digitalis. It as uses to those who know how to heal hearts with it. For me, not so knowledgeable in pharmaceuticals, it's just pretty, and that's healing enough. I likes me some purple and green. I imagine how the hair inside tickle honeybee belly and laugh myself. Tempting an tubular, oh the bells. 

So yeah, I may yank a few of these here and there: where they take up space more fruitfully filled by something else, where they'll grow only spindly and weak, but not in the odd corner, not in the driveway egde where a flower would liven things up.

I love me some weeds. Accidental (didn't see them coming), ornamental (but my, aren't they lovely), blessings (going with the flow has its rewards).

Garden 5: Urban Herbin'

Beeing busy, it's nice to have some things going on in the garden that don't require so much attention right now. Fruit trees and berry bushes, pruned and carrying on by sheer momentum as I dig, plant, thin and weed. Perennials pushing skyward as I fuss over their seed-dependent neighbors. And herbs.

27 June, 2011

Garden: 4. Going Up

Urban gardeners constantly crave space. On a lot less than 1/4 acre in area, with a house, driveway, alder shade (and roots) and a few other things gobbling up arable land, I am always seeking out  new ground, including the labor or ripping up a gravel RV driveway. But eventually, short of demolishing the house, there just is no more land. And then it's time to garden vertically.

26 June, 2011

Garden: 3. Tis the Peason

Not that I don't enjoy the planning, digging, and all the other jobs that lead to a garden actually producing, but when harvesting begins, happiness makes a quantum leap. Earlier in the year, my thickly planted garlic bed offered up scalliony goodness during thinning operations. Catch it before clove formation, and you can slice right through end to end, nothing wasted. 

June crept up on me before the snow peas started coming in, but now there is a flood. Every morning starts with a garden walk, pods crisp and dewy are my first meal of the day. And then part lunch, snacks, and dinner. Some become stir-fry, but most just go straight in my mouth, and my kids. The younger one, especially, sits in the circle garden of peas, munching. There's probably only about 16 row-feet, but the abundance knows no  bounds at this time of year. Yet, this is one crop we never get bored with, never get caught in the zucchini conundrum: what new recipe can we plan to hide the sameness of the ingredient? The green purity of peas, the prep-less package pops in your mouth. Done.

The direct joy of eating gets better with the subversive spice of eating without paying. A couple of bucks for seeds, yeah, but not 5 dollars a pound for the flaccid grocery store pods, or even more for the good stuff at the farmers market. (I love you, local farmers, and truth be told will still be buying most of what I eat from you.) Expanding the garden each year means that freedom is growing, or at least that I get to eat better stuff for less money. Both amount to a bit of divestiture from the globalized food machine.

Meanwhile, scapes escape the leaves on the garlic, offering up it's second meal. Diced, thrown in whole just to exude flavor,...however you want to go about it, they're a welcome taste of summer. And harvesting them can be a sensual dance. Slyly slip a forefinger inside the curve, a comforting thumb pressing on the back, and slide toward the tip until snap! the scape finds release. Cutting seems so brutal, besides which you can end up with tough stuff, nearly woody, no fun to chew. As with just about any picking, it's good to take what comes easily, if you're pulling hard your timing is off, or you're doing it wrong and hurting your plant. 

The other thing coming in now are strawberries. The first are a mystery variety from the neighbor's leftover shoots planted last summer. They carpet the ground under and around blueberry bushes. Birds peck at a few, but they are not as ambitious as a 6-year-old, who is eating nearly as many of these as the peas. This year seems much better than last for the berries, or maybe just the joy of harvest seasons beginning has me all blissed out. 

Lettuce prey has fallen to garden forays as well by now, and Olympia spinach, too. Cilantro still does not seem at home here, but is better than last year, reinforcing my garden superstition that seeds from far away--in this case the southeast--takes a few seasons to acclimate. Garden superstitions abound, even in my often science-bound mind, which suspects that they pertain to phenomena perhaps unexplained, but not necessarily inexplicable or supernatural. Seems like somethign I'll write about eventually.

But for now, it's time to glory in the abundance. To revere the reawakening of earth's generosity. To maybe, as Mr. Lowery says, sing songs of the fecundity of life and love.

25 June, 2011

Garden: Part 2, Hardened Surfaces

Pretty Irrelevant Photo
I've spent more than my fair share of time removing gravel, sidewalk, and rocks to let soil kiss sky and revive again, but it's also my experience that a gardener needs some barren, hard places. Fully sun-baked if you can get it (and we are just now in that part of the year where that's possible, Pugeteers): harsh, a thirsty patch that won't drink any water, a callous upon the land.

Why? So you can kill weeds, first of all. In drought-strangled Virginia, I could toss a weed any old where and the sun would delight in beating the life out of it. Here, it might just as easily take root and manage to slip by and set seed. And even if the one laying on the driveway does have seeds, they're on concrete. A few may wash down to a crack or blow away to fertile ground, but mostly this is the end of the weed road.  Speaking of which, every time the car pulls in or out of the drive, the weeds get pulverized: first step on the soil road.

Because yeah, the hard-top better be helping me make soil, or I'd rip that shit out. I confess to being a dirt farmer, soil is my primary produce, everything else is after. My garden aspires to the urban homestead ilk, and I'd just as soon turn my weeds back into soil than put them in a bin for the city. Same with compost--am I just gonna give away my biomass? Huh-uh.
The Utilitarian Herb Dryer
The driveway may not be as pretty as the first photo, but it's a better herb dryer. Put 'em on the asphalt, and it goes even faster. This is where refinished furniture, paintings, screens wet from being cleaned (yeah, like I do that) and whatever else needs drying goes on a sunny day. 

And when it's not a sunny day, having a hard surface is still nice. To walk on without being in the mud. To let the rain wash the dirt off something. To send some sediment and water to that soil patch downslope. Level hardscapes rarely ever exist. You may think it is, but water will prove you wrong. Anyway, completely level slabs are for chumps. You want gravity and water to help you clean it off, and not just willy nilly. 

There's also something about a barren patch in the midst of a garden that provides balance. The hardness feeds soil's softness not just with organics and sediment, maybe, but metaphysically, or maybe that's just the sleep deprivation talking. The hard speeds the spin of the soil-weed-soil cycle, at any rate. Weeds thrown upon the altar sate the more ravenous of the soil gods.

So yeah. Gardens should have hard surfaces. For those and other reasons. I have no brilliant or pithy summation. What did you expect from someone who delves into a garden series with a post about barrenness and concrete, death and dessication? Stay tuned, it gets easier...

21 June, 2011

Gardening Post 1

There have been other garden posts here before, but this is the first one lacking a decent title. And by decent, I mean smart-ass, obscure, and/or irrelevant. 

This is my fourth spring gardening in Olympia, and meteorologists say the region is a month or so behind schedule in terms of warming up. Even without the delay, the climate here allows for snow peas, strawberries, and lettuce on the summer solstice, which has blown my southern mind each and every year. Back in Old Virginny, where 90+ temps have become common even in May, the season for these has long since passed, and green is  turning brown.

 This shot is from the roof of my house, looking down into the front yard, which loses some grass every year. The road-side bed has wild strawberries, herbs, camas, a saskatoon, and the usual array of weeds, volunteers (as in, weeds I can use), things I cannot remember, and sprouts trying to fight their way through the strawberry blanket. This was the first bed I carved from the lawn.

At the far lower left is a glimpse of the driveway, along which I planted a row of blueberries in year two. The bright green patch has some strawberries that came to me from a neighbor wilted and unhappy late last summer. They're producing well right now, so much that there are some left for me after the kids have their fill. This be also has burgundy shamrocks that I may or may not have planted, spreading into a nice blanket and providing my youngest with an inexhaustible supply of tangy treats. There's also some mint edging, artichokes, bitterroot, oregon grape,...and of course stuff I cannot recall right now. 

The stone walkway comes from road cuts all over the state. It has taken years to accumulate. Stonecrop from an island up north is filling in the spaces, and is starting to bloom now. I had creeping thyme, but it gets as ugly and invasive as a neo-conservative after a while, and I ripped it out. 

The triangle beyond is mostly new, having been excavated last fall and winter to make room for a meadow full of stuff from east of the Cascades. Violets, lomatiums, sage, blue fescue and other grasses, hawkweed, camas,...and various things that either arrived as seed or stowed away in the roots of something else. Also here: a dwarf Fuji apple, lavendar, more herbs, a dahlia or two, calendula,... I'm not adamant about having a purely native garden. This plot is basically an experiment to see whether the hottest, dryest part of an Olympia yard can sustain things that would be more at home in the sundrenched Columbia plateau. 

The far corner has a sickly cherry tree, a garlic patch, and a circle of snowpeas that form a little fort where my young daughter can sit and snack, hiding from traffic driving by. There's also another saskatoon (like the strawberries, transplanted during that brief window of bad transplanting weather last summer, but in this case refusing to fruit as a result) and a mystery blue or huckly berry. Winters squash and cukes are poised in these beds, ready to take over after the garlic is done. There are also onions and some scarlet runner beans just taking hold. 

Out in the back 40 the mix of haphazard planting and geometric removals of grass continues. Along the fences are berries. A few fancy black and raspberries that I actually paid for, but also some wild himalayan blackberries that I prune into something like temporary submission, thimbleberries uprooted from logging roads, and mystery berries that were set out for free by the road this spring (but which had so little roots that less than half seem to be surviving). 

It's hard to see, what with the grass that I let grow tall and free, but there are three rectangular beds that are the closest thing I have to a traditional vegetable garden. They are more or less 4 by 12-foot beds, the size I can irrigate with a 25-foot soaker hose. Snap peas are producing heavily in one as onions are finally feeling warm enough to grow. There are radishes just beginning to be ready, beets still a ways away, and carrots only now sprouting their first true leaves. Summer and winter squash are planted, ready to fill in as the earlier crops finish. One bed has a variety of tomatoes. At the north end of each bed, where they won't shade everything else out, are hops. Willamette and/or Cascade planted a couple of years ago, and Fuggles a couple of weeks ago. 

The tall stump (footholds cut in it for the girls to reach its perch) is slowly being swallowed by native blackberries that I am experimenting with (a subject you will see here, and probably in future posts). The perimeter of that bed has Quinault strawberries just about to ripen, a native bay, a rosemary bosai'd by the last winter, and mint. Oh, and a lilac, fireweed, iris, and a cool green frog.

Maybe you can spot what's left of the rhubarb in the background, regenerating after harvest. The copse of alder that fills most of the yard has lots more native blackberry, hazelnut (I get withes and bean poles from it, while squirrels and jays hog the nuts), and various woodland plants I've snagged and tranbsplanted. Among these, oceanspray is doing really well, and in a few years should yield some digging sticks (it's other common name is ironwood). 

Not shown is a tiny hoop house with tomatoes and lettuce south of the house, and a more ornamental bed along the fence at the north end of the house, with ferns, red and evergreen huckleberries, and the neighbor's rhodies arching above it all. There's another similar one across an isthmus of grass that has shrubs on a tapestry of groundcovers, most all of which is native.

So there you have it, the basic, dull introduction. More like there I have it. I used to keep a garden journal in Virginia (but the dust with a broken computer, I think), and am a little ashamed that it took me this long to get going again. Are you still reading this? Congratulations. All I meant to do was start keeping track of what's growing, where, and when. You are incredibly dedicated.


18 June, 2011

Backroads: Grain to Hops, Hot Rods and Rattlesnakes

After a few hundred miles of winding through Palus country, it was time to high-tail it outta there, quit the wending and set a course back to Olympia. It would have been easy enough to hit I-90, turn on the cruise control, and join the flow of vegetative travelers heading west at great speed on the straight and not so narrow.

Screw that. Besides the boredom factor--Hay barns labeled in Korean and even the Columbia crossing have become uncomfortably numb--that route would dump me into the Pugetopolis traffic mire and force a traverse of Fort Lewis, where vital national security interests require perpetual slowdowns. Yeah, screw that. 

Better the backroads, which in this case gave me a crowier flight home, not too far north or south of the line from Colfax to Chehalis, leaving just a jot of interstate to endure on the final run north. Plus, I love going through White Pass, topping the Cascades on two lanes, usually with little company. And in this case, a chance to cover new territory, stretches of Routes 26 and 24 I'd never rolled through.
Amber Waves are for the Slow.
If my driving had meandered as much as this post, I'd still be on the road. But I gassed up, got a good dose of caffeine, and floored it. Climbed up out of the depths of Colfax, gaining speed, positively screaming once I'd negotiated the crossroads of Dusty, Washington. The wheat was high. No amber waves; amber is frozen. Green stalks bent back in the slipstream as I sped faster and faster, pushing an ever larger air-wake to either side. 

I'm pretty sure I reached velocity sufficient to distort the time-space continuum holding my brainpan, making the rolling hills seem to flatten out. Then, geography caught up as I passed Washtucna, heading plainward on an asphalt arrow pointing at Othello. I must've passed something interesting, but at speeds so great that all points blurred.

Hanging a left, 26 became 24, zooming down to the Columbia. Maybe slowing a bit, trepidation mounting. Because I was headed toward the contaminated Hanford nuke site, where scientists once made plutonium for bombs, and now they try to find ways to clean up the waste. Currently, the plan is to make it into glass and unload it on Chihuly and all the other glass artists inhabiting the Northwest. Look for a new line of glowing bongs.

Relax. Nothing out of the ordinary at the Hanford Site.
Windows rolled up, I made it through with no adverse effects. At least nothing that will appear in the near future. As an added bonus, I was not hit with any stray rounds from the Yakima Firing Range. And the road ran straight and smooth, as they often do in areas where federal dollars augment state transportation funds. Bottom line: gauntlet successfully run.

Rattlesnake Hills, Rattlesnake Clouds
Then, off to the left, the Rattlesnake Hills. Ancient, constant. The road follows the hills, skirting north of them as it approaches Yakima, keeping a respectful distance, or maybe just following the path of least resistance. I thought I was having a vision, hallucinating rattles on the tails of clouds that hovered above, but the photo says it really happened. Still, reality and natural (even scientific) explanations cannot convince me to write it off as nothing special. Atmospheric echoes of cartographic names? I love that kind of stuff, it's sustenance for a religionless soul like mine.

Mmmm...agriculture for beer's sake.
Yakama country (I suppose "Yakima" may be more accurate, this being outside the res in lands appropriated for newcomers) is famed for hops. In June, after a slow cool start, the vines race upwards almost as fast as I flew through horizontally; sticky tendrils grab the driver who slows too much in their midst. Left alone, these vines grow like kudzu does in my own homeland, but here they populate a tame tracery of wires and posts. I've seen hop patches before, but never the miles of fields that line 24 on it's approach to Moxee, a place named for the edible roots that preceded hops, but which is now growing more tract homes than anything else as change keeps moving. Root grounds to homesteads to industrial farms to exurbs. Progress?

Past Yakima, back onto 12, settling into a well-traveled path for me. Fast climb, faster descent. Another story.


Earlier this week, I had occasion to cruise Palouse country. Or Palus if you prefer--it still sounds the same. It means the region and the Palus tribe to themselves and their neighbors in Sahaptin languages, and falls within frontier rules for spelling of "pelouse," the French word for greensward, which also makes sense in this land of grasses. This is but one way in which the Palouse is hard to pin down.

Palus Country

Driving the roads through Palus country--261, 127, Whoopem Up Hollow Road, and others--you experience the shifting lay of the land, the tricks or perception and perspective. Rolling hills cradle valleys flat with silt and sand and wiggling only sidewise, canyons reach deeper to find big rivers. The hills have a bag of tricks to hopelessly confuse the traveler who strays off the beaten path, and bewilder even those who don't. They come in all sizes, but the hilly region is vast, so you start to think they are all a little bit different, but mostly the same. Often, nothing else breaks the horizon to provide scale, and what appears to be another smallish hill may take much longer to drive up or around, prying loose your visual from temporal.

Even with my habitual crutches--maps of paper and ether, memories of the satellite view pored over early in the morning--I found it easy to get disoriented and to doubt myself. Though the terrain undulates wildly on the human scale, all but the most detailed topo cartography fails to capture it; maps flatten the country to a degree that they are nearly useless for recognizing any one hill. Only where there is a big butte or where water has sliced deep below the surrounding hills do the contour lines reveal much. Except for the Snake's coulee and canyon runs, the rivers and streams tend to be the only level terrain, serpentine as you fly over and look down, but generally with less vertical relief than the cottonwoods lining them as they meander through flat-bottomed valleys.

Rivers Snake Through It
It is possible to wander the hills without ever finding the waterways, though, especially before the roads pierced the region. On foot, you may think you are following a draw that will eventually lead to a rivulet to a creek to a river, but you are just as likely to run into another hill. Go ahead and climb it, and see the next hill, but not much more. Only a few buttes offer you enough height to view over the country, and they are much farther away than your eyes lead you to believe; you may succumb to dehydration or frustration before ever reaching them. Life sustaining rivers like the Snake, the Walla Walla, and the Touchet hide below the horizon (a little easier to find than the Giant Palouse Earthworm), and of course the Palouse with its magnificent falls.

Inscrutable vermiform script crawls across the sky. Maybe prophets can read it.
The good news for wayfaring strangers is that navigation by landmarks is not all that necessary. The sky is huge, and unlike here in Olympia, visible most of the time. The sun ans stars broadcast directions. Jet trails and clouds seem to hang forever in the same spot on some days.

But for the most part, no wanderers roam the hills. Small roads wind among them, bigger roads shoot straight through. The Palouse is mercifully free of truly big roads, though, and even the main throughways like Route 12 are two lanes most of the way. The summer heat coaxes tar from them, and when the sun hits it just right, it shines. Mile after mile of squiggly lines, like Arabic writing under my tires--the moving car reads, and having read, moves on. Or maybe Tibetan script, my truck rolling over with it's prayer wheels.

12 June, 2011

Ratified Treaty?

Last year, as the season of seeds filled out, I wrote of rats. I haven't been seeing so many lately, but Olympians unafraid to broach subjects rodential confirm that our fair burg continues to have an issue. My last conversation with the pest control guy (yeah, "control," because they don't even pretend to be able to exterminate the population on even a local basis) revealed that the population is booming. The big Norwegian rats have only advanced a little way uphill from the downtown and waterfront, but black rats (a.k.a. roof rats and maybe some other names, Rattus rattus suggesting that scientists saw this kind first, or worship them as the archetype) are everywhere, moving beyond our neighborhoods and into the woods. Roof rats are smaller than their viking cousins, and maybe less berserk, so I was a little relieved to know that what inhabited my neighborhood, although I'd have been happier with kangaroo rats, which are not really rats, but a desert creature, or maybe just a denizen of old Warner Brothers cartoons.

Initially, I signed a non-aggression pact. As long as they refrained from giving me and my family the black death, I'd leave them be. Other than compost (comprised primarily of fresh-ish veggie scraps that they don't really like anyway), I was not obligated to provide aid of any sort. They would aerate the soil, do some clean-up (my yard would be a thicket of hazel otherwise), and stay in their territory, which is to say the Outside. 

But one of their number, whether rat bastard or dirty rat I cannot say, started cheating, and before long they were chewing holes under the bathroom, living in the attic, and finally deciding that they should come through the wallboard and into our home. 


I killed a couple, and hired rat guy to get some more. We hardened the defensive perimeter. Rats are smart enough not to want to work too hard, or to risk their lives, and they kept out. Michael Pollan wrote about the Omnivore's Dilemma, but the Opportunity of rats and every other omnivore is that when denied one thing (the bacon on my kitchen counter), they make do with something else (the calendula seeds in my garden). I tried to avoid setting out a buffet by keeping the dog's food inside (even though Mr. Crow would not share much with rats anyway) and canceling plans for the backyard granary. 

The truce seems to have held, and I see fewer rats than I used to. Maybe they are in a downward trend for a while. Populations of rapid breeders tend to have booms and busts, and even though the winter was not that bad, we're still a few months away from the abundance of late summer and fall, when seeds and nuts will be everywhere. More likely, the rodents are underground. 

Literally. Lots of tunnel activity evident lately. I only hope that they are just trying to avoid being seen, afraid of being picked off by humans and hawks. My fear is that they're using the truce to breed an army (rat mammas can pump out ten in a litter, several times a year for about three years), or breach the perimeter surreptitiously in advance of a massive assault, or bring in explosives under the house foundation. 

For the time being, though, hope trumps fear, and I continue to make offerings of compost (and they continue to drag it into their tunnels, transforming it into soil), and have not killed any this year. Once the house was clear, I un-hired the rat guy and stopped setting traps. We'll see if that works, or if this is just another scam like Hitler's non-aggression pact with Russia. (Ew, bad comparison. I don't wanna be Stalin.)

No doubt there will be more to this story. The sickly hairless tale of rats and humans will continue to co-evolve. We're stuck with each other.

10 June, 2011

Sorry, Bentho-Biologists

A while back, in the mood to both glorify the 20th Century Nature Show, and probably also to indulge in my penchant for high-brow fart jokes, I wrote this post called Abyssal Vent. I didn't mean any harm, and none would have come but for the end of the semester rush to do "research" for science class term papers. As it stands, I now top the google results hen people search 'abyssal vent,' with ot without quotes. Go check it out yourself (and drive up my numbers, bwahahahahaaaaa)

Then again, maybe you shouldn't. Or maybe you should click on some of the actual information out there. Not that mine is bereft of information on deep sea biomes independent of that bastard, the Sun, but there are plenty of actual experts who have built pages and sites with all kinds of information. Sure, most lack the loving attention to methane humour, but they're probably better to cite if you are writing a report. Besides, a lot of the other people that you find with that search have worked long and hard, and don't deserve to be derailed by a snickering shiftless fool like myself.

But I do have to admit, it makes me happy to see an old post gain new life, to think of some high school kid citing a blog entry borne from a desire to taunt and make fart jokes (and better yet, if the kid manages to get by with it), and to educate the young 'uns about David Attenborough and classic nature shows before Shark Week killed the genre.

09 June, 2011

Why Did I do that?

The last post had to do with reading, maybe re-reading 1984. Which was a mistake. Incredibly depressing. When the message is that the future is a boot stomping on a human face, forever, then it's time to stop reading. Ignorance may not be strength, but the bliss will do.

Then, I spent time on an island. That always seems to help. Beautiful country, interesting fieldwork, and peace. Lambs and sunsets, seals and kelp. More on that later. For now, back to the techless happiness. 

In what may turn into an ironic twist, discovery of a nice used book store on the island, turned into purchase of a book on the history leading up to the Everett Massacre, a dark hour for the proles and outer party dissidents.

04 June, 2011

Three Cubed Years Later

Two years before that which radiochronologists by convention and archaeologists by custom deemed "the present" (1950), E. Blair a.k.a. G. Orwell finished a novel imagined to occur 36 years after publication, thus determining the year in which Apple would unleash its brand upon the PC market.

You with me so far?

Good. It's been three-cubed years since 1984 now, and things have changed. Things have stayed the same. For one thing, I am absolutely sure that I recently read 1984. I was supposed to in high school, but may have shirked. May have read something else, been tired, or listened to Death Piggy instead. Or hung out with my girlfriend. Or something.

Hard to say, what with the past being so over and inaccessible, tossed into the memory hole and all. In 1984 the Party revised the past, trying to control the future. In 1984, the year after I graduated high school, post-modernism had made the journey from France to the US, from oxymoron to paradigm, and the past was reduced to contested construct, and the future was bright for madmen, and scary for the rest of us. We truly sat on the brink. Of what, who knows for sure? Thermonuclear war, unending prosperity, a New World Order,...something more ambivalent?

Yes, ambivalent. The only sure thing.

What we were on the brink of was full-on computer revolution. Mac promised freedom, and delivered tactically, but may have granted that old mustachioed Brother of ours a durable strategic advantage. Conceivably: immortality. Not that Apple invented everything, or even everything cool. It's just that by designing computers that we want in our homes, that we can interact with more humanly, they managed to insert the telescreen into our homes. I sit here now with a camera aimed at me that could be visible to a hacker anywhere. Could be someone just having fun looking in on random strangers. Could be a criminal. Could be a state (worse yet, corporate) security apparatus. Could be Big Brother his own damn self. Whoever it is, I love you.

And also, please don't put a bullet in my head. Or anywhere else for that matter.

But it's different than a telescreen, having a computer. For one thing, I can turn it off, or defeat the camera with a folded business card, or write bullshit, as I am wont to do. The web has allowed images of brutal repression to be seen, which may do some good, living up to the now ironic  "1984" Apple commercial. More so in Egypt than in Syria or Bahrain, maybe. News flourished, then diluted, become motes on the broad horizon of information we can now perceive.

And there's always that potential for the device to go from convenience to spy. Maybe I value my privacy more than most, I know for sure that there are many people willing to carry a GPS-enabled phone, web-ready, its blue tooth bit into every little wi-fi cookie offered. Not just for whatever hacker may be bored enough to look at, but for everyone on facebook,...twits.

Few of them are being spied on for  any purpose other than to pitch the right ads at them, but nearly all are willing to sacrifice actual interaction to fritter their opposable thumbs away on ether. Stuck in Apple's GUI, playing with cool apps, wallowing in irony, being cool. Not revolutionizing, just thinking that the Arab in the street has a cool shirt showing a guy screaming in protest, unaware that the image was lifted from an Israeli kid, posted more or less randomly online.

You still with me?

I'm not, to be honest. It was something about the past being sketchy, then Big Brother watching, or something. Post-modernists stepped in where Stalinists failed, and to be honest (if such a thing still be possible), despite recent setbacks, the P-Ms still hold enough sway that I can claim to be confused because of them, because of confusion in general as a condition of 21st Century American culture, and not be held responsible for having not fully read the book, or understood the terms of agreement that flashed before me before my thumb hit click and launched me into personal computing, gateway drug to the web, delivered thus unto whatever spiders lurk there.

03 June, 2011

It's the Environment, Stupid

If history via film documentary is to be believed, ragin' Cajun James Carville's mantra lifted Clinton to victory in 1992, back when votes were counted in presidential elections. "It's the Economy, Stupid." Clinton hammered the GOP on their mismanagement of the economy, reminded voters of how poorly they'd fared after being trickled on, and swept into office.

In 2008, I suggested that things had changed a bit, and that now It's the War, Stupid. I was wrong, people don't actually care that much as long as the dead are foreigners or the poor and working class who fill our military's ranks. Not just that, but I was hilariously wrong in suggesting that the Mayday action by longshoremen--shutting down ports as a war protest--represented an awakening of the Boston Tea Party spirit, completely unaware that a couple of years later the Tea Party would have been hijacked by bitter, rusted wing-nuts.

2012 election coverage is heating up, with Great White Hope Mit Romney (a German phrase meaning "with gypsies") declaring his candidacy today, but I find it hard to get excited. I'll vote for the lesser of evils, sure, but to call me an Obama supporter when he has embraced Republican policy on the economy and wars would be an exaggeration.

The problem is more fundamental than US politics will ever manage to address, unless I am being blind again to a radical change just around the corner. It's the Environment, Stupid.

As I write this, the morning news is focusing on the economy. The Dow slipped 2% yesterday, the conventional wisdom being that this is due to the weakness of our recovery from the Great Recession. 

Look deeper, though. Why so weak? One factor is the weather. Violent storms lay waste to places, places where there had been jobs. Floods drown other jobs and stall even more as supply chains become clogged on riverways shut down while the Army Corps flounders amid disasters it created. I just heard from family in Virginia that temps climbed well into the 90s during May, reminding us all that summer will bring the kind of heat that slows everyone down, evaporates water supplies, and spawns hurricanes and tornadoes. We may get lucky again, and dodge a year of major storms hitting the Atlantic and Gulf seaboards, but if they do, look forward to more economic stall-outs.

Deeper still, the Japan earthquake and tsunami disrupted a major economy, one of the aftershocks being stilled production lines at American plants. The spectre of nuclear accidents is bound to dampen investment in more such plants here (despite generous corporate welfare having the Obama boost), and Germany has already made the choice--characterized in US media as an economic drag--to abandon that path in favor of more difficult routes to energy production (and, in a move utterly foreign to us, energy conservation as well). Meanwhile, Icelandic vulcanism disrupts air travel even of the leader of the free world again and again. 

Meanwhile, glaciers melt and sea level rises into our neighborhoods. Considering the portion of the global population residing and working in coastal areas, this has implications too enormous for us to want to consider, and so by and large we do nothing, waiting until a disaster forces action, by which time the remedies will cost far more. There will be casualties, human and economic. At the same time, the ocean grows more acidic as it ameliorates our pollution of the atmosphere. So acid that fish stocks are affected (not to mention krill, sweet sweet krill), and shipping firms must spend more time and money maintaining hulls. Many eyes are on the arctic, where the melting may finally open the Northwest Passage that Europeans searched for forever, but that will not eliminate the adversities wrought by stormier acidic oceans and drowned waterfronts. 

Sea and air trade has spread bugs and pathogens worldwide, causing damage to timber, agriculture, and other means of extracting GDP from the earth. Climate change, too, is not likely to be a positive in natural resource economies. The northwest has dodged firestorms for years now, but as the beetle-killed forests expand, we can be sure that La Nina or whatever has spared us thus far will not hold out forever, and vast tracts of timber will go up in smoke before they can provide jobs. Droughts do not just have it in for the former Communist lands, and will visit us in their own sweet time. 

In the meantime, the political minions of our corporate overlords work ceaselessly to avert any legislative or regulatory attempt to stop them from dumping toxins into the biosphere, and to thwart the lawsuits now required to enforce rules already on the books. Every year, more drinking water supplies are found to be contaminated, and the brownfields expand, often irreversibly poisoned--more land and water subtracted from our base for sustained human survival and culture. And it ain't gonna get cleaned up at this rate: the same politicians who prevent sensible regulation cite economic hardship to prevent funds from being used for environmental clean-up, or for jump-starting clean energy industry.

Increasingly desperate, we double down on all bets, hoping that technology will rescue us, that science will go messianic on us and bear miracles. Sounds crazy, right? Not so much to the hucksters hawking genetically engineered snake oil and fracking the hell out of mother earth; they'll make their money, spend lavishly, and die seven months into pacemaker number two,...before the cosmic repo man comes. Weeds in the field? Just buy this herbicide immune soybean seed and spray the hell out of your field. Water no good? Try our bottled water, we swear it's safe, and stats show that you'll never be able to pin your cancer on us. Drought stricken, fish all gone, locusts swarming? No prob, try new Soylent Green, made with sweet sweet krill,...sorta.