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30 December, 2012

Green Tree?

Every year before Christmas, newsrooms in cruise mode revive the great Real Tree vs Plastic Tree debate. Every year as Hannukah kicks off, my college room-mate attempts to understand why so many goy insist on killing a fir tree every year. After all, Jesus only killed a fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22), and didn't do it again every year.

In terms of appeal, fake trees win only among the extremely fastidious and the lazy, for whom cleaning up a few needles is too much of an imposition, so the articles in recent years have often focused on the environmental aspect of the debate. Initially, the ersatz Tannenaum contingent had the upper hand, asserting that cutting a tree down every year damaged forests, whereas plastic trees last forever. 

But nearly all live (then dead) trees now come from farms like this one, just outside of Olympia. People like me come and cut trees, and the farmer plants more. A recent study shows that if the tree farmers don't kill the groundcover plants between trees, such farms are good for carbon sequestration--not as good as a forest, but still significantly better than fields of annual crops or pasture lands (and bonus: no cattle farts), which is what most Christmas tree farms were previously.

In my case--recognizing that this will not be true in all parts of the country--there's the added benefit that the round trip to get the tree consumed less than a gallon of gas. Plus, I'm supporting the local economy, helping a farmer make ends meet, and helping forestall the loss of farmland to development. Because this is an ongoing operation, new trees replacing old every year, it's a relatively stable habitat for birds, deer, and other critters that like something between grassland and forest. No, it's not pristine, but it has some ecological value, and it beats the hell out of a lot of the alternatives.

Meanwhile, fake trees are made of petrochemicals and metal ripped from the earth, processed in factories that consume more oil and create toxic waste, packaged in cardboard boxes (killing trees! the horror) and more plastic, and shipped from China the trucked to your locality. The carbon footprint is large, and the sequestration value zero. If these trees lasted forever, the footprint might be amortized, but fake trees make their way into landfills, not from generation to generation. 

[A Digression: The same goes for ornaments on the tree. If you are stingy and nostalgic like I was this year, then you have ornaments that have somehow stayed out of landfills for decades. A bunch are made from Christmas cards and chicken pot pie tins recycled when I was in second grade, waylaid from the waste stream for twoscore years.] 

All this should be famliar to those of you who reard or read reports on the Real vs Fake theme before Christmas, but what about after? Fake ones go back in a box or into the garbage, so making them less environmentally harmful is a matter of holding on for as long as possible before trashing them.

For real trees, the environmental impact can vary a lot depending on what you do after the holidays. At one end of the spectrum, you  could burn it. Torching a dry fir can be a great show, but it exhales the carbon it breathed in from the atmosphere for years right back into the air in a few minutes. You could douse the flame before it consumes the wood and bury the charcoal, in which case the carbon could stick around for tens of thousands of years. 

Many counties and municipalities have programs to mulch Christmas trees. Olympia even comes around to pick them up. The chipped trees become mulch in parks and in some cases may be sold or given to citizens; this extends the useful life of the tree, provides a local source of mulch with a lower cost and fuel use, and ends up in the soil. Sequestration time varies depending on conditions and from needle to branch to bole, but again something is better than nothing, and the breakdown feeds soil microbes, fungi, arthropods, and so on--it is carbon recycling, not emission. 

I'm stingy with biomass, and would no sooner give the city my tree than I would my compost. At some point in January, I take the tree outside, stand and all. This being the maritime Northwest, it can stay there looking green and alive until April or May, and in years past I have placed to to seem like part of the landscaping. Some years, as Spring comes round, I cut off the boughs and lay them among the blueberries as a nice acidic mulch; I may come back the next year and toss the skeletal branches aside. The trunk gets tossed in back for the native blackberries to clamber over, and eventually to return to the soil. Other years, I remove the stand and toss the whole tree in back. Birds hide in it, berries climb through, and the soil beneath gets better year by year. 

I rationalize habitually, but in this case I really do think that my choice of tree and my treatment of it after the holidays is as good a way to go environmentally as most of the alternatives. A live tree, planted out after Christmas, would be better, but I don't own any ground to plant in, and I don't know many people who have the space to do that year after year. No tree at all could be better, maybe, but it sounds like no fun. Besides, I want my local tree farm to stay in business.

Baktun Ma(th)gic

While it was still December 21st here, the Winter Solstice, the end of Mayan Baktun 13, the calendar had already flipped in India, making it Mathematics Day, the birthday of Srinavasa Ramanujan, math genius and subject of the December 22nd Google doodle.

Meanwhile, I was up late, vainly perusing my blog stats, when I saw that earlier that days, someone from India had landed on my blog after googling "extremely drugiastic." So of course I googled it to see what sort of company that puts me in, dreading the results, sure there'd be a passle of degenerates. 

Nope, just this one post. By me. Two hits on the web, and they point to that singular post. Surprising, since "drugiastic" is just a combo of "drugs" and "orgiastic." It shocks me that on the whole internet one old blog post is the only place that connection was made. For some reason, making up some new word always makes me inordinately proud. Especially lately, when I have taken to awarding new words like "therr" and "predundant" their own posts. 

That some disappointed Indian seeker of extreme drugiasty would lead me back to another made-up word in a blog post that opens with a discussion of pivotal calender years, that this should happen on the pivotal day during a month of making up words and hearing about the looming end of the world, that I should learn of this as the google doodle points back to India and numbers,...let's just say it feels cosmic. 

Some drugiastic people would recognize this, and so would mystics. But I have a feeling it's math: beyond me, but not inexplicable. Maybe among Ramanujan's theorems and equations...

21 December, 2012

Happy New Baktun

The moment of the winter solstice has passed, and with it the change from the 13th to 14th baktun of the Mayan long count calendar. Look for Jaguar Eagle to do well in the next state elections in the Yucatan, but for the rest of us, things may look pretty much the same as yesterday. 

The last time the baktun rolled over, about 1618 AD by the calendar of modern Americans, it hailed an era of accelerating decline for the peoples who had lived in the New World. Not that the 12th Baktun had been all that greaty for the Maya, who had long since slipped into post-Classic decline, but the arrival of colonists in el Norte harkened a more darkened outlook still for the 13th. 

Not being Mayan, and having a shorter attention span, my interest has always been in the annual solstices. Not so much the equinoxes, which although they capture a moment of balance, are just place markers. The solstice is a true transition. Today, the daylight stops decreasing, and it is night's turn to cede ground every day for the coming 6 months. Personally, I went through a fairly major transition on the summer solstice, and look forward to this one, to longer days and a brighter future. 

Most Americans tend to pay more attention to Christmas, which comes in a few days. It's hard to believe that December 25th was the original intent, since the symbolism of a new birth and hope fits so well with the Winter Solstice. But once doctrine gets hold of something, sense may as well give up. 

Even the people who heed the celestial and seasonal calendars these days tend to do so without much understanding of what it once meant. In the post-modern world, we borrow bits and pieces of ancient knowledge without much awareness or regard for the total systems, and call it New Age. At this moment, there are people spending time with supposedly sacred crystals that came not from a personal quest into the mountains, but from a store, and ultimately as the lucrative by-product of industrial mine. The stones don't tell them that they need to check the garlic stash for sprouting, or start weaving this year's berry basket, or even to check the elk movements; they are remarkably free of information and inspiration that would have been useful to almost every other generation of human. 

But then, who am I to criticize? Making some attempt to connect to something bigger is usually a good thing (Nuremburg '36 being a counter-example, and come to think of it, Schicklegruber was a fan of wacky occultishness), and I guess if a sense of personal well-being comes from a crystal. Likewise, if you go to sleep tonight feeling relieved and blessed to have survived another End fo the World, then good for you. 

Me? I'm gonna go check the garlic.


17 December, 2012

There, Therr,...

therr (thair) noun. [American English Slang, a contraction of there + error, reputedly coined by the Mojourner Truth blog several days before the end of the Mayan Calendar] 1. In editorial annotation, the error of confusing  the words there, their, and/or they're  2. The general error of writing homophonic but incorrect words. 

Both definitions carry the weight of implication. A generation after the internet took hold and evidence of the there-their-they're ignorance first went on wide display, editors and English teachers adopted "therr" instead of the usual annotation to both highlight the writer's ignorance while simultaneously refusing to provide the correction. If their too stoopid to get it write the first time, there gonna have to look it up, so they're. And therez no denying that "therr," by simultanously contracting two words and adding another error layer, is so crazy it works.

14 December, 2012

Wrong Order

Once again, some asshole got the order wrong on the murder-suicide maneuver.

I'm really fucking sick of this. I've had it with the dumb-shits who inevitably respond to massacres by arguing that any form of gun control is tyranny. Unless and until every citizen is allowed to own nukes, then owning a gun, even an assault weapon, does not protect you from the government. To think that they do is preposterous. Since the current administration has embraced the Cheney administration's position that the president has the right to murder you with a cruise missile or a drone, all the guns you can buy won't keep you free or alive if you are determined by the president to be a terrorist.

Speaking of which, in every year since 9/11, American individuals with guns have killed more of their fellow citizens than have the terrorists. Every year, nearly five time the body count of 9/11 drop dead after being killed by another American, mostly with guns. About 1% of these occur in mass murders like the one that happened today. I'm not some liberal blogger making this up; the data are from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics.

In the coming days, expect the usual Tea Party and GOP spokesmen to assail liberals who would respond to disgusting violence with gun control. As I write this, I am hearing the moderate Conservative that speaks on NPR saying that the response is not gun control. It's fucking infuriating. I do not think that it is an accident that my home state, Virginia, which stil holds the record for deadliest mass shooting, is also a state that has made it a primary policy goal to make purchase of weapons easy and unlimited.

As with the perpetrators of murder-suicides, these people have the order screwed up. Yes, the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution exists. I won't even argue that the ambiguous wording of the mighty mighty 2nd does not mean what the gun lobby says it does. What I will argue is that we as Americans should start with the start. The preamble to the US Constitution says this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Did you get that? The first and foremost on the minds of the Founders were things like maintaining a just union, insuring tranquility and common defense, and promoting the general welfare. All of these things would be served by outlawing hollow point and cop-killer ammunition, assault weapons, handguns, and for that matter possession of guns by anyone who is not defending the nation from invasion or feeding their family by hunting. Why we would enshrine the "right" to own guns ahead of domestic tranquility. 15,000+ murders a year, I think, detracts from tranquility and general welfare. 

If any so-called conservatives read this, they are likely to object. They'll drag out the usual arguments that having a gun reduces threat and provides self-defense, but the fact is that this country is awash in guns (even after sending to many to Mexico), which make crimes like this easier to commit.

It's time to get things straight.

12 December, 2012

Dance, Punk, Dance!

Hey, there I am! Not doing the monster mosh. Photo by Cindy Hicks.

Think about punk rock, and what comes to mind? Many Americans immediately imagine spiked leather jackets and giant mohawks, gothily made-up girls with safety pins through their lips.

Yeah, there were some striking visuals among punks before everyone else started dying hair and piercing faces, but this vision stems mostly from TV characters in the costume and make-up peoples' recollections of a visit to London in 1979. As an old fart who was a punk in the US a few years later, what I remember more than the outfits is the dancing.

Dancing, punk rock? Not an association that jetes to mind (other than among Anglophiles who remember the Pogo, Britannia's silliest dance craze), but the chief entertainment while watching five bands play three chords and scream for hours was dancing. Here's what I remember about that, illustrated with photos by Cindy Hicks, who was there recording this display. (See more of her work here.)

Some people reading this are now realizing, "Oh yeah, punks do love the mosh pit," but those people are almost as idiotic as the ones who think all punks look like The Exploited™ and dance the Pogo. I don't know who started saying "mosh," but it wasn't punks in the early 1980s. We slammed and skanked and thrashed, but we did not mosh. Come to think of it, though, it always was in that open floor right below the band called the "pit."

Counterclockwise skankin, as per Coriolis. Photo by Cindy Hicks.

Punks love to believe that they are non-conformist, but within their milieu, they follow some rules. One is that once people started dancing--as opposed to surging, jostling, shoving, and flailing--a big counter-clockwise gyre developed in the pit. Round and round, sucking people in like a whirlpool, then flinging them out like a centrifuge when their will or body became too weak to contribute. When a couple of people started skanking around, the crowd would part, avoiding what was basically like drunk speed skaters on a really small track.

Sometimes, dancers linked elbows or threw arms around each other's shoulders and formed a pair that would fly round the ring. Now and then, a pair became three or four or more, a giant second hand sweeping round, clearing the floor. From time to time, an eddy would break out of the main circle, with to people doing a do-si-do, maybe swing their partners round and round. 

Part of me is tempted to get all crictiquely about the square dance maneuvers that occurred in these cyclones, to infer the roots of '90s Americana or the perseverance of folk dance traditions, but really it was just goofy fun. Kinda like when someone would take center floor and do an inept break dance (we hated disco and contributed to its death, but something about the electric boogaloo proved fascinating to punks).

The end of a long dive, photo by Cindy Hicks.

But we didn't just copy white people of yesteryear and black people of our own time. I'd like to think that we invented (or perfected) the stage dive. Partly an adaptation and survival of the fittest, stage-dives also exhibited aspects of mating displays and initiation rites. Sometimes, the crowd pushing band-ward would barf someone up on stage, and the only way back was to dive in an display of anarchic self-policing (no bouncers required). Or it might be that guy hoping that girl would think he was cool, or just craved attention and a thrill. Some would just lean back (their trust rewarded for the most part), but there was a lot to be said for the flying leap onto a sea of hands.

Or maybe, through a couple of people and onto the floor. I'll totally admit that I misjudged a few. The photo above is me diving into a too-sparse crowd. Even though I aimed for Andy, who I knew to be stout, I'd flown across a lot of air and gravity threw me down. I tried it again in Denver at a DK show, thinking the sparse crowd would be friendly like in Richmond, but they failed me and I got a concussion. got a concussion. got a concussion. got..oh yeah..I said that. 

Recovering from a dive,...or break-dancing. Photo by Cindy Hicks.
Part of the magic of the stage dive (to an anthropologist, anyway) is the transgression of the band's priestly precinct on stage. Or more like it, a small scene like Richmond would not tolerate a prima donna too high and mighty to share the stage with a sweaty non-musician. Sometimes people danced on stage and leaned into the mike, more people watching them than the band. Othertimes, a crowd just surged into singerspace, sometimes resulting in reverse stage dives, pressure building til someone is ejaculated onto the stage. That person might turn around and dive back in, or nonchalantly hang out on stage, maybe just talking to somebody with his back turned to the band. But I guess that doesn't count as dancing.

Photo by Cindy Hicks. See it at Propiratzi's Flickr feed.
Or the interest might suddenly focus on the pit's center, a vortex would form, and people would be sucked into a giant pile-up. Looking up from the bottom, I'd hate to see the fat guy coming, but I never heard of (or heard) any broken ribs. Mostly it was a boy thing. Girls joined the dance circle a lot, but were mostly smart enough to back toward the walls when a critical mass of testosterone got to just push-shoving and kick-thrashing. Not coincidentally, I think, most of the archival shots of dance action I've been able to find are from the girls in that crowd.. History thanks you, women.

Some of the wildest shots, I think, involve guys who were not really part of the scene. Rarelier as time went by, rednecks would show up trying to pick a fight, but were mostly stymied. More often, military guys would come, looking to cut loose and enjoy some slam dancing, maybe get one of those punk girls. And if the girls were stand-offish, maybe punch a few of those rotten commie punk boys. (Or, sometimes, get sucked into the vortex and spend their discharge check on a guitar.)

Plenty of punk bands would stop playing when things got out of hand. Fights happened, but I remember bands singling out violent assholes for derision until they just walked away. Pretty much anything else, you could cut loose without sanction or embarrassment. Even mock violence, like the 'chicken fights' (typically girl riding on a boy, facing off with another such team) or, uh, GWAR.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of some of the dance moves that might last only one night. If the ilk of Cliff did it ("Hey Dobey, let's walk funny and start a new trend"), then people would copy for a while. Honor Role had some song where we'd do the Man from Penis dance to some song (maybe it was called "Man from Penis,"..or Venus,…but I'm a blogger not a historian, Jim), which is this: palms together above the head, moving them up and down while we high-knee circled at a moderate to slow pace. There may have been head-bobbing.

As with most of the punk posts, I keep coming back to this: the Richmond scene in those days felt like freedom. Dancing was a huge part of that. Swing your arms with abandon, blow off steam. Create and clown. Glory in the freedom to dance without giving a shit what it looks like or what people will think.

06 December, 2012

RVA Hardcore History: Death Piggy

During Reagan's second term, the Party purged the once-beloved Death Piggy
The internet has many makers of lists and databases, masters of arcanery and esoterica,  publishers of data and history. I'm not one of them, but sometimes I do pluck from this orchard when I bake up a blog, and I thank the geeks and rememberers of the world, who make it so easy for lazy people like me to delve into that most important of contemporary social issues: hardcore punk in early 1980s Richmond Virginia.

Today's graphic comes from the internet somewhere, in a corner I cannot recall. It's a flier for it yourself. The Death Piggy logo underlying the "Banned" symbol, that perturbed swine sticking his tongue out, was ubiquitous in the early '80s, and archaeologists will discover the image when they sift through the rubble of VCU and the Fan. I drew it and so did dozens of other punks over a course of years: on jeans and arms, on bathroom stalls, on buildings and cop cars. OK, maybe I made up that last one, but Death Piggy was widespread, staring at passers by from DC to Raleigh, almost none of whom knew the hostile hog. 

Lots of people know about GWAR, that karmic joke on Dave Brockie, who concocted the band as a joke and was consumed, cornered in a world where people love him as long as he wears the costume, and who write off Death Piggy as proto-GWAR, trivia.

Not me. Then and now, Death Piggy is one of my favorite bands. They played a bunch of the hardcore punk shows, and I saw them a bunch of times. At least once, I left a show before the Famous Band would play, high on Death Piggy and not wanting to come down for a diva like Rollins or some big tall mohawk band of Brits.

Why? Because I guess to me Death Piggy was the most genuinely free music I'd heard. They could thrash, but also resort to a stoney echo or all kinds of other shit (I told you, I'm not a list-maker). The lyrics were absurdly entertaining, all the more so because the singer was a fluent and inventive singer of Cartoonese. Before being trapped by GWAR regalia, they just wore whatever felt right that day, no fealty whatsoever to black leather. When the band wasn't playing, they'd dance with the rest of us. Freedom.

Richmond's puerco muerto was eventually slaughtered by the dark overlords of GWAR, but the spirit lives on. It comforts the afflicted with the pleasing aroma of bacon, and whenever a punk kid is derided for not wearing the uniform, the spirit causes the derider to wet himself. And for those of us in the Virginia Diaspora, Death Piggy reminds us of days when Richmond punks were free, crazy, and in love with a piggy.

[NOTE: Were I a real blogger, I'd link to Death Piggy songs, or maybe just post a link with some pithy but twit-length comment. But I am not. There are a bunch of their songs on myspace and youtube, go get 'em yourself.]

05 December, 2012

The Punk-Funk Dream

In my eyes, by the '80s we'd done gone beyond fear and loathing to specific dreads: corporate control of government, the finger on the war-button belonging to the puppet shill of corpirates and mean fixers like Cheney and Rumsfeld. Dark times indeed.

But not without bright spots. One light was very dark, and that was hardcore punk, which lashed out at tyrants, amped up the rebels, and screamed revolutionary words across this nation. Even in Richmond, VA, a disillusioned generation beyond the boom spoke up, as a few Richmonders are wont to do thus always to tyrants. Up north in the bigger capital city was a scene blessed not only with the sendipitous harDCore logo triumph, but a critical mass to have more bands, more thrill from rebelling in the heart of the beast.

Also, DC was the home of "Straight Edge," the monkish no sex or intoxicants or tobacco movement that proved to be a gateway drug for some kids entering the scene, a good long-term adaptation for many, and then again sometimes just a preachy irritant. Minor Threat wrote the songs, other bands picked up the theme. Some kids eventually got too militant about it, but on the whole less alcohol equals less violence, so Straight Edge was not such a bad thing for a crowd of angry youth in a squalid bar, experiencing dreads specific and loathings general. Plus, DC got more t-shirt sales (most Richmonders made their own, or kept wearing the old harDCore shirt).

Another thing Minor Threat did was try to reach out to the city's other homegrown music, go-go. Punk shows were pretty damn vanilla, and go-go shows similarly chocolate. But both styles blurred audience-performer distinctions, both were local flavors, and both figured it might help race relations in a city traditionally divided. 

In my eyes, the punk-funk shows happened repeatedly, even though I only went once. Threatbase, a website database of all the band's shows, only lists a single appearance with Trouble Funk, the last before the list ends in 1983, a few months before Minor Threat broke up. Maybe someday I'll find that this is just a data gap, and not history's cold book snapping shut on a dream. Then again, maybe one day I'll be wasting more time on the internet, and I'll find the t-shirt. Thus always to freedom dreams live on.

[NOTE: The logo fixation in this post partly stems from the wikipedia legend that the 45 jacket on the right was ripped off by Nike, which replaced the combat boots with their shoes. They changed "Minor Threat" to something similar. Yes, a giant corporation selling sweatshop-made conspicuousness used the essence of DIY ani-corporate rebellion to sell its products. Minor Threat made them stop and issue an apology.]