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20 June, 2014


On the Road to Now-nowhere
The archaeologist hacking his way through the jungle, parting the bushes and glimpsing a Mayan pyramid in the grasp of lianas rising toward the canopy, is as easy for most people to imagine as the other archaeologist (this time wearing a pith helmet) kneeling at the base of an Egyptian pyramid in the desert.

In this part of the world, tribes built no pyramids, and the rains made ruins of their mightiest longhouses before archaeologists got to them. There are no ancient lost cities in the Northwest rainforest, at least not anything as obvious as you would see in Honduras or Peru.

What does exist are more recent cities, no less festooned in ferns or draped in vines. Entire towns that thrived into the 1940s have been swallowed by our temperate jungle. You might realize you are approaching one when you find yourself on a causeway, smaller trees in your path and a slit of sky above, as in the first photo. This path used to be a road, or if flat and not so curvey, a railroad. Rails and ties are gone, because like the towns, timber railroads flowed and ebbed; when the trees were cut, the rails were lifted and sent elsewhere to haul out another forest.

Once upon a time, this perspective would be under a railroad.
Huge swaths of western Washington were stripped of their trees. It started with the California Gold Rush, when Puget settlers found a ready market for logs and lumber, but the pace and scale really took off a generation or two later, when steam power jumped ashore in the form of donkeys (a machine used to haul logs) and iron horses. Instead of a few lumberjacks and teams of oxen (I don't see much evidence that actual donkeys played a major role in NW logging, ever), logging became an industrial affair. Men who had cut their fill in Minnesota in the 1870s moved west and by 1900 were engaged in technologically and logistically more advanced logging.

As Europe crept toward WWI, its New World sons built mills to saw the great Northwestern forests into boards and shingles. As the war erupted, they kept on cutting and eve picked up the pace. Huge mills sprang up by rivers and streams, no longer because a water wheel provided the power, but because dammed waterways made ponds capable of holding vast quantities of logs dumped from trains, sorted, and fed to the machines before being hauled back out as lumber destined for markets nationwide.

The scale of some of these operations boggles the mind, given their seemingly remote locations to modern residents of Pugetopolis. Substantial amounts of capital were sunk into towns stretched out along rail lines in places where less-traveled road pass today. Hundreds of people answered the work whistle every day in places that now boast a few trailer homes and little more, or that have been completely swallowed by resurgent (of degraded) woods.

Because of Wobbly Slavs, Commie Finns, and their other organized comrades, the mill owners built housing and infrastructure to attract and retains the hundreds of people needed to cut the trees and run the mills. They sometimes got electricity and sewage before their neigboring communities. Though the work could be brutally demanding and dangerous, workers came, and the Company was ready with houses for the family men and hotels and pool halls for the lone lumberjacks, ready to circulate the paycheck back into company coffers. There would be an office in town, but nearly always, the money ultimately flowed to Seattle or back east.

Didn't I see this in Myst?
Workers' fortunes flooded and ebbed with strikes and strike-backs. Owners went boom and bust as markets rose and fell. But ultimately, few of the early 20th Century timber towns escaped the inevitable: when forests became stumps, there was no money to be made. Companies that owned the land they'd harvested might eke out a few more bucks enticing hapless outsiders (among them, Dustbowl refugees) to buy clearcut land for farming, but the towns went down. As soon as the timber ran out, so did the companies, salvaging what they could of the machinery and rails before they pulled out.

Workers went elsewhere, voluntarily or otherwise, and the businesses that served them went under. Salmonberry settled and alders arrived, vanguards of a long distant old growth forest that may see the whole cycle repeat. Wooden buildings were burnt or demolished or just left to collapse. Mill roofs fell in, leaving only concrete shells of the buildings. Log ponds were colonized by beavers or eutrophied on their own.

And now, less than a lifetime after many of these towns heard the whine of saws and hoot of the whistle at the end of each shift, only the birds and wind make noise. Trees, vines, ferns, mosses, and untold numbers of microbes and arthropods colonize these old towns in the name of nature. Even in my limited awareness, there are dozens of these abandoned towns, sprouting timber (some of it now being harvested). The high water mark of civilization's tide is way back in the woods these days, and towns that were are swallowed.

11 June, 2014

"Won't get Fooled Again" (Oh yeah they will)

Having drunk the kool-aid, and realizing that it doesn't work, Rep. Cantor looks ill.

Oh, there were so many choices for titles to a post about House majority leader Cantor getting offed by the even nuttier right. I was pretty close to going with "Meet the New Brat, Same as the Old Brat," but I don't yet know that will prove true.

What is true is that I'm happy as ever to have fled Virginia's 7th Congressional District. Not quite a month ago, I wrote about those of us who have joined the Virginia Diaspora, citing among other factors that Eric Cantor, former Reagan Youth stalwart and petulant obstructionist extraordinaire, was being challenged from the right. Apparently, pundits wrote off the challenge, even though the tea party and Brat brigade had recently ousted Cantor's henchmen in the state GOP convention, under-cutting the now Establishment incumbent. He managed to keep that one fairly quiet, but losing by 11 points in a primary getting national attention is not something that can be ducked. 24 hours after the election, he's already conceded the power he once had.

Which would be cause for rejoicing, if there weren't a pretty solid chance that David Brat, blindered economist, weren't now a very good bet to win the 7th District's seat in Congress. I'd like to think that the Henrico suburbs that voted for Obama might shy away form a Tea Party wing-nut, but odds are they will once again vote against their own self-interest and elect the guy. I'd love to believe that Brat won by virture of Democrats voting in the GOP primary, sabotaging the Republicans by nominating a guy too far right to win in the general election, but I know enough old-minded Virginians (the ones who show up during working hours on a mid-week primary, the ones who feel threatened by the Socialist Negro) to believe that they were the ones that made the difference. They got rid of the sharp dressing guy who compromised once, and installed a more conservative, more dogmatic, more Christian man.

None of the breathless coverage today veered into the fact that Cantor is a Jew in the GOP South. And to be honest, Richmond is the rare southern city that has been fairly accepting of its Hebraic residents (one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the US is there, and Jeff Davis even appointed Judah Benjamin to cabinet posts), but the modern voters seem happy to go Old testament on this one, turning him out into the desert as a scapegoat. It's no longer sufficient to be for corporations and big money, the modern Republican candidate must establish his bona fides as an utterly dogmatic right-winger, never giving an inch. The emphasis on Jesus and God from the new Brat, comforting to so many Virginia Christians who imagine themselves oppressed, could have much darker echoes as the radical right gropes its way toward control of the Reichstag.

Hopefully, that dark a future is mere speculation. The bare facts, however, are bad enough. Faced with an economy in which the 0.1% reap all the benefits, and have bought Republican obstruction to anything the Democrats propose--in short, an economy guaranteed to further impoverish nearly everyone--well over 50% voted the punish the guy who they vaguely sense may have compromised somewhere along the way, replacing him with an even more strident anti-government zealot.

Will the Virginians who voted Brat in at the primary hand him a seat in Congress? Probably.

Will they one day realize that votes like that amounted to handing over their hard-earned money to oligarchs, the only ones who can afford clean water and filtered air? Probably not. They'll blame a Black man, or a Jew, or a Socialist (or a Woman, should Hillary or Elizabeth get the Democratic nod). Even if they realize that they were in fact fooled again, it will be too late.

09 June, 2014

One Seventh

Seven Slices Make a Wheel

Geez. The last two up-to-date posts were depressing, so here I am regressing to nostalgia.

Someday, I'll get around to the post about reinventing the wheel, a popular 20th Century pastime, but for now I' happy just to post a pic of a wheel. Behold yon wagon wheel. Rims of steel (maybe iron) round hub and circumferance of wood (I know not which species).

Look close, and you'll see that the 14 spokes radiate to seven sections of wood, each 51.42857 degrees of a circle. Sure, it would have been easier to go with an even half dozen 60-degree arcs, easy to mark, nothing more than a radial length required if you know the trick, calculation rendered superfluous.

But at what cost? The wheel divided by six is a wheel divided in half, prone to buckling, vulnerable to folding when you hit that rock cockeyed. Divide the wheel into sevenths, and opposite each joint is a solid stretch of strong wood grain. There is strength in oddness.

Do you see?

Maybe not. In which case, I draw to your attention the seven-sliced pie (sorry, no photo). I grew up hearing the legendary prowess of my grandmother, who could slice a pie into even sevenths. Any fool can do eigths, and sixths are pretty easy too, but the seven-sliced pie requires a keen eye. No zipping the knife all the way across; she had to know the center, the 51-point-something angle. Each cut depended on confidence in the face of chaos, each slice an expression of asymmetry that would add up to: symmetry.

The seven-slice pie was not a matter of neccesity. It was a luxury. She had a family of six. The extra slice was for the hard worker home after a long day (her, often enough, because not only granddad went to the mill), the kid who excelled, the neighbor whose kindness merited recognition. Or, he-hee, the cook whose hand made it. Number seven was the extra. They were not rich, grandma and grand-daddy, but they could still live large. 

One Time I Knew a Nazi (Who Got the Order of Killing Correct)

So, a couple of people who ambushed and killed some law enforcement officers (using the brave technique of shooting them while they ate lunch) want to call it a revolution. They draped the bodies in a "Don't Tread on Me" flag, and shouted "This is a revolution," amping up Tea Party rhetoric from the typical spittle-spewing talk to a tragically irreversible walk.

Then they killed someone in a Walmart. Then the woman killed the man, then she killed herself. As in most all murder-suicide sprees, they got the order of killings exactly opposite.

When police searched their apartments, they found swastikas and other evidence of the couples' white supremacist views.

Back in Virginia, I knew a guy who turned into a Nazi, big Nazi flag on the wall, SS memorabilia, black Ninja motorcycle (even Nazis will make some adjustments to the times). He sometimes hung out on the periphery of the punk scene, but we were not interested, and pretty much shunned him, like we did skinheads, who never developed critical mass in our city, at least not back them.

I'd grown up knowing him. We were never friends, but still, it was a shock to walk into his apartment and see a Nazi flag. I never went there again. But then again, I didn't do anything about it. I had no idea wht to do, to be honest, other than the basic shunning.

It turns out he knew what to do though. He was into guns, and one day he put the barrel of one in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Brains splattered on the Nazi flag. He got the order right.

Suicide is an unfair beast, and stalks not just the bad and the ugly, but the good and the tortured. Way too often, it compels someone in its grip to snuff out others before he shoots out his own light. But, not the Nazi I knew. It may sound cold, but for that, I am thankful.

We will never legislate away guns, and there is no way to prevent the gun-wielding gutless "revolutionary" or psycho or asshole from shooting a cop eating pizza or just about anyone else. If I had magical powers, I'm not sure I would even make guns disappear. Maybe I'd just embed in every gun-wielders mind that seed that sprouted in that Nazi's mind, "Turn this on yourself before you turn it on others."

05 June, 2014

Guts, Not Guns

Seems like they happen pretty often, these sickening slaughters. Today, it was close to home, at a college in Seattle. One already dead, and three wounded; sadly, this qualifies as a minor incident compared to some of the rampages that punctuate the American story these days. When will this stop?

There will be people saying that the way to make it stop is to regulate guns. There will be people saying that the way to make it stop is to arm everyone and allow them to carry guns anywhere. All a matter of opinion, I guess. I have my own opinion on the matter, but enough people are spouting, so let's just focus on the facts and look at what actually happened today.

Students and faculty in harm's way got a warning message, and went on lockdown minutes into the attack. The school later said this emergency procedure was in response to another college shooting, back at my home state's Virginia Tech, where some deranged asshole killed nearly 3 dozen people before it was over. Having an emergency response and students and staff trained to take cover saved lives today.

Another piece of data: the slaughter was stopped by an unarmed dorm monitor, Jon Meis, who jumped in as the murderer reloaded, doused him with pepper spray, and subdued him with nothing but his own body. No guns, just guts.