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30 June, 2012


"My friend works for the national health, Doctor Robert" -The Beatles

During the past couple of days, I've been driving  a lot, going through Blewett Pass several times, and consequently hopping from station to station on the radio. Mercifully, I could pick up a NW Public Radio station on either side of the static zone. Normally, this sentence would begin "Cruelly, the news was the same everywhere," but then Chief Justice Roberts went and saved the health care act. 

Throughout the media, pundits had to abandon script and toss the "What do you make of this?" ball to the next talking head. Soon enough, the new(s(ish)) scripts arrived, mostly revolving around the suddenly noticeable John Roberts stealing the spotlight from Fulcrum Kennedy. There was much speculation as to why he would have sided with Obamacare. "Concern for his legacy," said the sage, not wanting his court to go down in history as an organ of a political party. "He was sick of Kennedy stealing the spotlight," said others. Both theories reflect the American media's preference for drama clad in mild cynicism (driven by the need to fill airtime and cyberspace with endless "perspective" about a story in which nothing happened except status quo).

But this is the cynicism of the sleepy, a skin-deep skepticism, lazy. Even the accusation that the Chief Justice would alter his feelings about the Constitution out of concern for his image, that he would buck expectations and alter history just so he would not go down in it as a zealot, even that falls short of what the true cynic can come up with. 

First of all, this idea that Judge Roberts can escape a legacy of favoritism to the political right with a single big decision is nonsense. The guy has consistently voted with the Court's Right wing, expanding abortion restrictions, limiting 4th Amendment freedoms (though I will acknowledge that only the SCOTUS has stood between us an Cheney's vision of an utterly powerful Executive Branch, leaving us with one that is merely frighteningly powerful), and so on down the line. And of course, Citizens United, a small case he let grow into the license for corporations to buy elections.

In fact, the Citizens United case is what makes upholding Obamacare moot. Now that wealthy corporations can control the messages, and thus the elections (look no further than Romney's primaries for evidence), legislative reversals of the Patient Protection and Affordable health Care Act should not be a problem (Roberts' decision in no way forestalls that), and even if they are, the GOP will regain the presidency after the Obama interlude (even if it stretches another term) and be able to dismantle the public benefits.

And think about this (as I did, driving through the pundit-free static zone): by upholding Obamacare on the basis that the mandate is a TAX, Roberts gave the Right, from the Libertarians and Tea Partiers on up to the corporate boardrooms, plenty to get worked up about. He provided a get-out-the-base message and unlimited funds to present it with during a presidential election. We can count on the blowhard idiots of the right-wing media to rage and sputter about Roberts' treason, but the smart money is quietly smiling, appreciative of these gifts from the justice they paid for. Who better than rich white men to recognize that the longer-lasting precedent will probably stem from the refusal to uphold the Administration's argument that it can regulate commerce (aka rich white men)?

Roberts won't get the usual recompense, since unlike an elected official he is unlikely to leave office for a plum private sector job anytime soon, but he does get some benefits (and I would surmise that his kids' prospects look pretty good). One has already been noted by the talking heads: that Roberts' dramatic siding with the Liberals will innoculate him from charges of Right-wing activism for a while, that it may free the High Court as a whole from accusations that it is biased and un-yieldingly ideological. This interpretation is bullshit, but will get repeated enough that most of our nation's flock of voters will believe it. Next time he hands corporations a gift or restricts our rights, this decision will be trotted out so that the injustice may be blotted out.

He also gets his court back. An incredible amount of breath has been wasted this week talking about The Roberts Court. Specifically, how Kennedy's position as the Swing Vote (does that title fit for a guy who spends almost all his time at the Right?) had eclipsed the Chief Justice's presence. Punditry repeats the script, marvels at the Roberts swing (schwing! look at that big decision) and intones that the Roberts Court will go down in history for this (as a villain to the half-bright Right, to be sure, but at least not as the Kennedy Court). 

I could, as the pundits say, "drill down" further, but it would get boring or bitter, and I think  you get the point. 

The point of the title, as it happens, had nothing to do with this post at first. Last year, at the Ides of October, I'd decided that the Mojourner Truth was getting too un-focused, and that I would spin off certain topics to other blogs. Politics went to Mo Comment, in a branding attempt that failed almost completely. I only posted 14 times, and nobody was interested. With the Supreme Court news this week, I got about 4 hits, presumably misses on the part of the searchers, led astray by the "SCOTUS" word in my last post. So, political posting is coming back home to roost, re-fusing after the fission.

28 June, 2012

Dr. Bigelow's Time Machine

Olympia's first church/school-house. Asahel Curtis photo, citation at the end of this post.

In 1853, Olympia was neither capital nor part of a state, not even free of Oregon territory yet. It was a ramshackle frontier town, late enough in Native history to be a shadow, and early enough in American history to be attractive primarily to scoundrels and dreamers. I guess it should not come as a surprise that the citizens (of what country? maybe we should call them denizens) were having the same arguments that they have today.

Take a look at this passage from the journal of Daniel Bigelow, a lawyer who (in a reversal of modern expectations) fit more in the dreamer than the scoundrel category, being a supporter of letting non-whites own land, providing women the vote, and other heresies:

(November 8, 1853) Am endeavoring to get funds raised for a school having been elected a director, on the 4th Inst. Find some men who profess great interest in the welfare of the country, that will not pay a school tax or contribute to support a school.  I consider the heart of all such men rotten at the core  That they are destitute of principle and have no laudible desire to advance and encourage morality, and promote the general welfare.  And I here record my determination never to vote for such men, nor trust them nor deal with them only in case of necessity, For a man who has no interest in schools, to my mind has no interest in honesty

Yup. Even before we were a state, there were precursors of the 21st Century GOP, individuals who sought unfettered commerce. And by unfettered, I mean with utterly no responsibility to the common good. Maybe they figured their kids could be shipped back east for education, or maybe they considered education an abomination (though the Origin of Species had yet to be published). Maybe they were home-schooling their kids in between felling virgin forests and stealing Salish prairies for farmland.

"But hold on a minute," you might say. "Who said that people who oppose public education were commerce-boosters?" Daniel R Bigelow, that's who:

(February 8, 1854) The first election for Washington Territory just past. Columbia Lancaster elected Delegate to Congress, Myself one of the Councelman for Thurston Co, in the Legislature.  Great efforts was made to defeat my election by the grocery influence, because I do not patronize groceries.  But I hope to live to see the sale of liquor prohibited as a beverage in this Territory, and decency and morality prevail.

Replace "groceries" with "CostCo," or for that matter, jsut keep "groceries," and you have one of the most recent election's main issues encapsulated. It makes me want to start a Bigelow Community Garden, where we can grow food free of the impure grocery influence. Not that I'm against liquor, mind you, but more the influence of a particular capitalist enterprise putting itself above the public good of, for example, having state store which employed a thousand or so people at a living wage, and which did not sell liquor late in the evening, when people are more likely to get in trouble with it, and which had no accounting tricks to keep the state revenue from flowing to other public goods. 

Some of you may have detected an anti-religious bent to my statements above, a residue of evolutionist thinking that proves bitter to the pious palate. But again, that's not the case. I know some religiously observant people from the various monotheisms and polytheisms who are genuinely good, who love their fellow humans, and treat them with kindness and respect. Religion does not (always) douse that flame of common human decency, but hypocrisy does, as the good Dr. Bigelow (himself a habitual churchgoer) noted:

(October 28, 1853) Several of the new Territorial officers are in town.    since their arrival rowdyism has greatly increased in town. There is to-night a ball which is considered a fashionable affair, because it is patronized by the officers. Professed Christians go, for the benefit of society as they allege (but really for fear they will not be ranked with the aristocracy. I am at present considered rather an odd chap, not showing respect and attention enough to the said officers etc for which they are going to ride over me rough shod (if they can)

So there we have it. Same-old same-old. I wish we'd learn, but I'm not holding my breath.

And now, for the citation I promised you:
Negative NumberA. Curtis 01401
RepositoryUniversity of Washington Libraries. Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives Division
Repository CollectionAsahel Curtis Photo Company Collection no. 482

21 June, 2012


Some while ago, I took to upon myself to turn a sunny westerly slope into Eastern Washington. Sure, Olympia lacks basalt and the interior's ferocious sun, but drainage was good and due to some oversight there was no second-growth doug-fir blocking the sun. In came a few plugs of prairie and some shrubbe-steppe-seeds. Sages tridentata and ludovica with whatever rhizomes and bulb hitchhiked in the root-balls. Camas (nevermind the single common name, this includes multiple species).

But one thing I've learned, is that if you aim to reproduce a meadow, a wild-esque prairie, you need to have a major grass component. 

OK. I learned that from reading books. Which--in order to be produced in sufficient quantity to reach an occasional book-buyer like myself--must be produced in mass quantities, and therefore subject to dumb-down market demands or a dedicated/devoted publishing house. Sometimes, I would like to think, I find a rare treasure of ethnobotany or farm-team Esoterica agronomus through sheer determination, but these cases are random, and I'm not religious enough to attach any particular significance to such revelations. 

Whatever doubt I may have about "the literature," there's no particular reason doubt the importance of grass in meadows, and so I've only weeded out the cheatgrass and that rhizomatous, centapedoid crap is that creeps in from the relict (and, were I to ignore it, revengeful) lawn. I've even gathered seed from certain grasses that look cool. One day, I'll get around to ID-ing the species in the photos above, but for now it is enough to know that I got some pretty Plateau grasses growing in Olympia (without too much ecologuilt, since species from over there will succumb to dark-damp cold before they can get to be too much of a problem on this side of the mountain, in an area already heavily disturbed).

If you waded through those ramblings, my apologies. Really, I just posted because I'd spent time tweaking those photos, and didn't want the time to goto waste.

20 June, 2012

Summer Solstice

Damn right, it's a portal.

Happy Solstice, Summer 2012 edition. 

As with several other solstices, I find myself in motion. During a decade or so of living in Hawai`i, most of my mainland trips coincided with a solstice, taking advantage of either the cheap airfares that the carriers offered to islanded expats to fill up return flights dumping Kalikimaka tourists, or getting away over the summer. Either way, being on a jet stretching or accelerating a longest or shortest day of the year. 

And now, again, only covering a much shorter distance (physically anyway). I'll pack up a truck and head 1.1 miles away to disgorge the contents (even at their exorbitant mileage rates, U-Haul will haul in less than a pentabuck). Nothing as obviously different as heading from the tropics to a Mid-Atlantic Winter, or even from a sub-tropical winter to an Interior Northwest blizzard, but a huge change.

The Solstice is maybe just a Symbol. But I'm not one to resist the temptation of grabbing onto the boomerang's pause as a moment of significance, of being (breathless) as the season turns. Decreasing to longing, or lengthening to contracting, the solstices have a magic that the dull equivalency of an equinox will never match. Ecclesiastical turn turn turn, Byrdsong jangling the hippie heart, the weightlessness of a cosmic shift,...however you want to feel it, the solstice sings to those who listen. 

I don't pretend to know how it will turn out. Usually, I'm more  fan of the Winter Solstice, dark though days may be, they're guaranteed to lengthen from there on out. The Summer one, depending on your perspective, is the augur of decline, or the peak. In the maritime northwest, I tend to think of it as more suited to the Western calendrical canon defines it: the beginning of Summer, that point at which days become warm and welcoming. 

At 47 or so, it may be optimistic to interpret this particular solstice as a parabolic peak, a halfway point of life, but then again, I'm happy enough not to look at it as a peak at all, just a vertex of some sort, a turning point. Maybe I'm riding that boomerang's return, turning my gaze to perceive what was once just a backdraft. Or maybe not. All I know is that I am moving.

17 June, 2012

June Flowers

Orangey Daisy Thingy


Lupine close up, just before opening.


Digitalis fingering the sky.

Valerian. These delicate blooms will transform from sweet to dog-poo smell in a week or so.

Ranunculus gone wild, with the neighbor's rhododendron cascading over the fence.

And finally, a 'weed' Potentilla

06 June, 2012

Rich Citizens United (the Rest of US Excluded)

The American Dream used to involve the vast majority of people getting a piece of the pie. I know, women's servings were smaller, black people were supposed to be satisfied with leftovers, and Indians were told that their pie was waiting for them a little further west. Hard as it is to believe now, however, there was a time when an adequate livelihood could be had with a single wage earner, when the middle class was a robust group making a healthy percentage of the population. 

But the gluttons have long since shoved everyone else form the table. Wisconsin's Governor Walker is only one example, but a powerful one, as the punditry falls all over itself to interpret the greater meaning of his surviving a recall election yesterday. This special election came about because after handing out fortunes in welfare to already wealthy corporations, Walker insisted on 'fiscal responsibility' in the form of eliminating collective bargaining rights for middle class and poor workers. For a while, workers united, and despite the Democrats having a primary whose winner was not a foregone conclusion, many of them remained so. 

It would have been impossible for Walker to have stayed in power if the electorate had voted their true interests. Very few people benefit from loss of collective bargaining (the right to bargain is not the right to have excessive demands all met), or the redistribution of state wealth from a broad-based safety net to largess for a few corporations. But they voted for that, apparently. 

Why? Because money talks. Walker spent $10 for every $1 dollar spent by his hapless Democratic opponent. Lots of this was from outside Wisconsin, donated by wealthy individuals and entities who do not want to share any pie. Conservative commentators following this recall never tired of noting that unions sent in money, too, and that this money was somehow more corrosive to democracy. It's worth noting, though, that not only did labor and liberals come up with very few donations reaching the $10,000 limit, but for some bizarre reason, Wisconsin law allowed Walker to ignore that limit, and he took advantage. This does not even count the substantial spending on Walker's behalf, but not officially part of his campaign.

We have witnessed the power of money to sway public opinion and buy elections before, but with the Supreme Court's viciously cynical decision in Citizens United, it will get worse. The ugly truth is that if you can afford to saturate the media with your message, you can get enough people to ignore their own, and their class's, interests to vote a particular way. The lie told often enough becomes the truth, as Goebbels established, and Americo's wealthy have seen to it that this wisdom is operationalized optimally. The military industrial complex, aware that the Saudis control a lot of oil, convince us that the best response to terrorism is to go after imaginary weapons of mass destruction in a different country where a lot more money is to be made. The financial sector, having driven our economy into the ground and held up the government for trillions of dollars, manages to convince the populace that the truly culpable are those poor people who receive welfare, and that universal health care will lead to Stalinism. 

It's tempting to conclude that Americans have simply become too stupid to live, and there is something to that, but the real truth is that Americans are diverse in their interests and opinions, prone to debate and disagree on just about anything. Except that the 1% tends to be solidly united in the belief that their wealth is deserved, and if there is to be any redistribution, it will be through philanthropy, not taxation. These wealthy people now have more of our nation's wealth than ever, and spending some small percentage of it to overwhelm the electorate with propaganda is a small price to pay--an investment, to be truthful, since it will come back to them in multiples when their wishes become policy. 

Soon enough, we commoners will forget what pie even looked like.

01 June, 2012

Right Back at Ya

I'm fascinated by loops, and one of my favorite kinds is a photo of someone taking a photo of the photographer. I got the better and cuter end of the deal in this exchange, thanks to my favorite leprechaun.