Archive for June, 2010

28
Jun
10

What is to be done (this time)?

Cherneshevsky’s famous novel “What is to be done?” opens with the story of a suicidal imbecile and ends on a note of blind, romantic optimism – a paean to enlightened self-interest.  So, in other words, no development at all.

Let sorrow fly away in shouts,

And into rejuvenated hearts

Let unalterable joy descend

Dark fear flees like a shadow

Rays that bring the day

Light, warmth, and the spring perfumes

Quickly drive away the darkness and cold

The odor of decay diminishes

The odor of the rose ever increases.

Responses followed and were varied, but V.I. Lenin was a huge fan and some people have credited the work for contributing to the Russian Revolution.  Dostoevsky, in contrast,  mocked Cherneshevsky’s fans, most notably in the first section of his novel-like-thing, Notes from Underground. On balance, I’d say that Dostoevsky was channeling the higher power he insisted upon believing in when he wrote that response, and I’d rather gouge out my own eyes than read Cherneshevsky again – but as I watch the oil spew into the gulf and listen to the discussions about our future possibilities spin off into an endlessly repeating cycle of familiar denials, I’m not terribly comforted by my steadfast belief in the irrationality of my fellow humans.   I don’t doubt it; I’m just not pleased by the thought.

Thanks to the Humboldt Herald and Jen Savage and all of my maddening neighbors for the gloomy thoughts.  Ms. Savage’s recent article, “Oil Addiction Must End,” heralded the latest and most concrete action in response to the horrific, seemingly-unstoppable, human-induced undersea tragedy inexorably unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico and threating life as we know it – again.  The solution?  [Two months in…  Best minds at work…  Wait for it…]  Hand-holding.

Hippies spring into (in)action

Okay, you may say that hand-holding doesn’t sound like the most effective response to an oil spill of such catastrophical import, but this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill, pedestrian hand-holding event.  This was a hand-holding campaign on a grand scale.  This was hundreds, if not thousands of neo-hippies individually driving to the beach to link arms and…um…   What was it again?  Well, I’m sure it’ll come to me.  The event produced some reliable feed for the news machine, anyway.  Sure, it didn’t come close to matching the grandeur of the 1970s, “I’d like to buy the world a coke” commercial, but that was professional hand-holding; really, the high-water mark for feel-good optimism dressed up as social activism.  Plus, Coke tastes great and is less filling.  Or something.  I know it eats the enamel off of teeth and clean the rust off of pennies.  Hey, I wonder if we could use it to clean up oiled pelicans?

Who needs real animals?

Hippies are always good for a laugh, but really, what is to be done?  I can’t blame Ms. Savage and Surfrider for promoting the grand (if, kinda stupid and hollow) gesture in the absence of any real alternative.  That’s not to say that I agree with the mean-spirited, pessimistic comments posted in response to her article.  (Sorry, cyber-douchebags, but just because I think the hands-across-the-oily-ocean campaign was dumb doesn’t mean that I’d want to hold hands with any of you, either.   It’s not that you’re not right, it’s just that I don’t see the point in repeating the problem to those who want to look for hopeful signs.   That’s why I didn’t comment.)

Here’s how depressed I am now, though – I used to think that it would take a global catastrophe to get us on the right track, but now that I see how readily we can compartmentalize global catastrophes and go on with our day, I don’t even think that’s an option.  My new hope is just that something survives us.  A hardy paramecium, perhaps.  Maybe a sponge tucked in a deep corner of the earth.  Frankly, I don’t hold out much hope for the multi-cellular among us.

Speaking of pointless social activism…  Back when I had hope, I took this pledge for Surfrider:  I promised to stop using plastic.  It sounded impossible to me at the time, but as much as I dislike surfers, I like Surfrider, and I don’t mind offering my support for their wacky ideas from time to time (so long as they don’t involve touching people).  So, I made a concerted effort to stop using plastic.  I don’t want to blame them for my ensuing pessimism, but that was probably the nail in the coffin of whatever optimism I had left.  Maybe that was their point – to prove to me, once and for all,  that I really am thoroughly powerless to effect any change for the better; that pubic apathy and the rhizomatically-organized corporate will so overmatches even collective social agency, that there’s no reason to hope for anything better than what we have right now, and good reason to expect much worse.

Sure, you could bring your own, but plastic grocery bags are so convenient

In short, what I found is that I can only keep that promise about not using plastic if I devote my life to not using plastic.  That, and nothing else.  No career, no free-time, no travel, no art, no books, no health care of any kind, no conventional luxuries, probably no romantic relationship.  As much as I would like to live a carbon-neutral life that doesn’t add to the misery of other living things, I’ve discovered once again that I’m more selfish than selfless.

Before taking that pledge, I assumed I’d be able to get closer to a no-plastic life than not.  60%-40%, maybe.  I stocked up on cloth grocery bags and tupperware (plastic, but better than the disposable plastic bags I’d been using), I shifted my diet from the convenient pre-packaged crap that I’d been relying upon to save time and money, and started buying more organic fruits and veggies.  I won’t say that I moved from the city to the woods because of that pledge, but there’s probably a link between those two things somewhere in my head, and I assumed that the one would make the other more do-able.   I cut out a lot of the luxuries that most of my friends and acquaintances view as necessities, but that I knew to be otherwise.  On balance, I would bet that I use far less plastic than most.   But have I managed to stop using plastic?  I have not.  I don’t even use very little plastic.  I’m probably closer to 80%-20% than even the modest-seeming 60% I was pessimistically expecting.  Plastic, I have come to find, is almost as unavoidable in modern life as oil.  No real surprise there, since the one is made of the other.

So, what is to be done?  Well, I hear BP is going to start deep-water drilling in the Arctic, where skimmers wouldn’t work, and where Anderson Cooper won’t go.  After what we’ve watched in the gulf, we have to know that all the happy-talk about safe-drilling is just corporate bullshit, but we’re going to let them drill and spill there, too.  So, what is to be done then?  And then after that?  At some point, we’re going to run out of chances to do nothing.

Thus it would follow, as the result of acute consciousness, that one is not to blame in being a scoundrel; as though that were any consolation to the scoundrel once he has come to realise that he actually is a scoundrel.

Dostoevsky’s right.  It’s no consolation at all.  I wonder if it’s too late to find someone to hold my hand.

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24
Jun
10

Pick out the animal in the video

What the fuck is wrong with the police?  Is it just the exaggerated authority, or is there some sort of underlying pathology at work, something particular to that job?

I don’t want to sound entirely contemptuous.   I respect the notion of risk-taking on behalf of an unappreciative public, at least in the abstract.  As critical as I am about the exercise of authority in this country – historically – I believe some kind of police force is necessary.  We Americans are crazy, after all.  And I’m not saying all cops are bad.  I’ve known some who weren’t complete assholes, but the non-assholes seem to represent a pretty small minority in their tribe.

Anyway, Radley Balko has been tallying up the damage in Cop v. Dog encounters, and he shared this video in his latest post for Reason.  Don’t watch if you like dogs.   Or cops.

[Spoiler-alert:  The fat stupid-looking one draws his gun first, but it’s the other stupid-looking one who actually kills the dog, after he has it entirely subdued.]

Fucking cops.  And the real problem isn’t these two clowns; it’s the fact that this kind of behavior is tolerated and hidden away for the sake of camaraderie, or unit cohesion, or brotherhood – the euphemisms change, but the priorities are the same.

16
Jun
10

A Bud for Bloomsday

“The odour of the sicksweet weed floats towards him in slow round ovalling wreathsSweet are the sweets. Sweets of sin.”  –James Joyce, Ulysses


"This is the flower in question."

As I’ve mentioned before, my partner has been experimenting with growing under under cfl’s.  Most people I’ve spoken with turn up their noses at the idea.  And yet, she brings me such pretty flowers…

"There is a flower that bloometh."

Flowers from the sugar mama?  Sugar Mama flowers, at least.

"...the pinky sugar I Id a couple of lbs of those a nice plant for the middle of the table Id get that cheaper in wait wheres this I saw them not long ago I love flowers Id love to have the whole place swimming in roses"

“O, it must be like the scent of geraniums and lovely peaches! O, he simply idolises every bit of her! Stuck together! Covered with kisses!”  Yeah, that covers it pretty well.  Growing is hard work, after all, and it’s important to keep the gardener happy.


"P. S. Do tell me what kind of perfume does your wife use. I want to know."

Happy Bloomsday.  People celebrate the holiday in all kinds of different ways.   Those fortunate unfortunates to be in Dublin walk the city as though following the stumbling guide from page to street to pub to home; the diehards will participate in marathon readings that fill up the day, giving voice to Joyce’s beautiful language the way it should be heard and leaving the readers voiceless and dry; most of my bookish drunkish friends will lift pints for as long as it might take to read through though not understand the whole…but I have flowers in bloom and will I have some yes please and good company to share my time and could you pass that again yes and trim for me are you sure you want it back yes and walk under the pines and the redwoods and should you put that away for a while and yes I said yes I will Yes.


14
Jun
10

My paper anniversary

My partner just reminded me that we moved up her a year ago to the day, so I’m taking a moment to celebrate.   I look out my (uncovered, floor-to-ceiling) windows, and all I can see are the redwoods that loom dangerously overhead, the mosquitoes dancing in the sun and the hummingbirds snapping them up.  There’s not a human to be seen or heard – maybe with the exception of a far-off chainsaw from time to time.

When I first moved up here, I wondered if I would lose my sense of wonder at the intoxicating scent of the air, clean air being somewhat of a novelty.  Not yet.

A year and a day ago, I lived in the nicest spot I could find (and afford) in Southern California, close to the ocean, in a charming apartment surrounded by beautiful gardens, bird-feeders and tall trees – and yet, only inches away from neighbors on both sides, constantly barraged by the noise of leaf-blowers and passing cars, a 45-minute drive from work on perpetually crowded “freeways,” in an ocean of concrete and asphalt and humanity.  Far from the worst place to live, and far from the worst place I’ve lived, but still just a very nice place in a very big city.

I knew I would miss the ethnic diversity.  I knew I would miss the restaurants – the variety, the novelty, the convenience.  I knew I would miss my good neighbors, my interesting colleagues, and the legions of interesting acquaintances I’d come to know in all the places I had to go – my department office, Trader Joe’s, the awesome sushi place right up the street.  I was right about all of that.

I suspected that I would miss teaching, but I hadn’t realized just how much.  It’s a real shame the university up here isn’t hiring.

I didn’t realize I would miss the big, man-made stretches of sandy beach, foot-hot and desolate in the baking week-day sun or crowded with weekend tourists and snow-white mid-westerners.  Oil platforms on the horizon.  Diesel smoke from passing tankers.  The trash-lines and Peligroso signs warning of high bacterial counts following every rain.

I do, though; and I’m pretty surprised about that.  I hadn’t realized there would be something to miss about my long, sweaty runs under an unforgiving sun on an overly-manicured, machine-raked beach.  I don’t miss it all, but there was something comforting about knowing that I could count on the weather to cooperate, or knowing that I could wipe out on a wave without fear of bouncing off submerged boulders, without even a nagging concern that I might get impaled upon the rusty pilings from some long-forgotten 19th century railroad trestle.   On balance, those overcrowded, icky city beaches don’t even begin to compare with the clean water and stark beauty of the rocky, windy, chill beaches of the North coast.  And now that I think about it a little more, I especially do not miss the floating trash in the bathtub-warm water, the unnerving sensation of feeling a plastic grocery bag emerge from the watery depths to wrap itself around an unsuspecting foot, having to paddle furiously to avoid a patch of unidentifiable gunk seemingly on an intercept course.  But floating trash and heat-seeking fecal matter aside, I see the appeal of Southern California’s city beaches in a way I hadn’t before.  So the move was good for that.

Nature stuff aside, the greatest difference I’ve noticed is in my own approach to my neighbors.  I’ve been unhomed for such a long time that I’ve developed a pretty consistent approach to each new place that I inhabit, and that includes mixing it up with the locals.  I’ve known lots of life-long residents or long-termers in Los Angeles (among other cities) who routinely avoided their neighbors and fellow community members, but that’s never been me.  As much as I dislike humanity in general, I’m generally fond of humans at the individual level, and I always make an effort to mix it up.  I knew – and generally, liked – my immediate neighbors, the shop owners and day laborers, the retirees who hung out along the boardwalk, the mommy brigades who would dutifully march along the beach with their progeny, the fire fighters who would regularly “exercise” at the waterfront, etc., etc., etc.  I always spoke to the grocery-store activists and ballot-pushers as though they were real humans.  But for the most part, I just interacted with my city neighbors.  I knew a select few, and a few of those a little better than the rest, but I wasn’t exactly friends with anyone.  Maybe friends of convenience.   I talked shop with colleagues, and I shared meals and weekends (and, okay, some drugs) with a few people that I liked under the circumstances, but that didn’t make us close friends.  I’d long outgrown the impulse to participate in any meaningful way, knowing that I was a short-timer, anticipating the day that I would leave never to look back.

Something about north coasters there is that sucks you in, maybe?  I dunno.  I like my neighbors in a way that I haven’t in the past, even the ones that I’ll leave forever when I go.   In the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve joined organizations, I’ve pot lucked, I’ve played team sports, I’ve hung out in parking lots and joined drum circles, I’ve spent holidays with families and pets not my own.  I run into friends in town, and not just once in a while but every time I’m in town.   It’s both a little unnerving and deeply comforting to live in such close proximity to such a small group of people, all communally isolated by geography and history and choice.

Maybe the most surprising thing is that there’s no separating the strands of humanity up here.  The day-tripper who’s trying to communicate to me through his drumming and the hardware-store shrew giving me the stink-eye even though I’ve been checking out at her register on a weekly basis for a year now all seem to have me pegged for the same person, and it makes me feel like I’m the same person.  I’m more used to being a different person depending upon the clothes I’m wearing, the job I’m doing, the things I’m buying.

I started this blog to document a research project on one aspect of the community, but I’ve come to like my subjects too much to maintain the academic pose that I started out with.  I wanted a professional excuse to indulge my interest in the changing/crumbling weed culture of the Emerald Triangle, but I’ve found that too difficult to keep up.  The people are indistinguishable from the industry, and I don’t think I was prepared for that.  Or maybe because, despite all the money that some people make, its not really an industry.  I haven’t quite figured that out yet.    In fact, I’m not sure I even know what I’m writing about anymore.

Maybe after another year.

11
Jun
10

tipping point, tipping point, tipping point

Scott Morgan argues that “Everyone Loves to Read about Marijuana Legalization,” (on the Chronicle Blog, StoptheDrugWar.org).   He writes:

Everywhere you look, even the mainstream press is picking up on the fact that people want to talk about this. Just look at NPR’s The New Marijuana series, which has churned out more marijuana stories this week than I have time to read. CBS has been doing the same thing withMarijuana Nation, CNBC had a big hit with Marijuana Inc., and even Fox News has recruited John Stossel and Judge Napolitano to trash the drug war on Rupert Murdoch’s dime.

He’s even got a chart from Google to prove the high level of interest.  He thinks that means that legalization is a certainty.  I guess we’ll see if private fascination leads to open approval soon enough.

07
Jun
10

Leading and following

In an unexpected display of leadership, Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado just signed two bills regulating Colorado’s Medical Marijuana industry, providing clear rules for operators, patients, doctors and law enforcement officials.  Not everyone is happy about the regulations, but no one seems entirely unpleased and at a minimum, the laws provide clear guidelines.  You can read the details from the Washington Post report here, but here’s the critique from the cannabis activist community:

The measures face potential legal challenges from supporters who say they go too far, allowing communities like Vail, Aurora, Superior, Arapahoe County and Colorado Springs to clamp down on the industry.  “On the one hand, we are pleased it legitimizes this health care industry; however, we are concerned it may be overly strict and could cut off patient access to medication as a result of the dwindling number of dispensaries,” said Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, a medical marijuana patients’ group.

At the same time, as if to emphasize the  contrast between Colorado’s statewide approach and California’s patchwork of regulations, L.A.’s city-wide attempt to play catch-up goes into effect today.  From the L.A. Times:

More than five years after the Los Angeles City Council began debating controls on medical marijuana dispensaries, Los Angeles Ordinance No. 181069 now takes effect…The ordinance shuts down more than 400 stores that opened in the last 2 1/2 years. Dispensaries that registered with the city in 2007 will have six months to comply with new location restrictions, which will force many to move to isolated areas.

How’s that going to work, you may ask?  For the shop owners who decide that they aren’t interested in making money anymore, I suppose they could just close up and go home.   Seems pretty unlikely.  For the rest, those who decide to live with the uncertainty, they’ll be faced with fines and intimidation.  From the same article:

City prosecutors have declined to spell out how they will enforce the ordinance. “Our next step will be to ascertain the level of compliance,” said Jane Usher, a special assistant city attorney. She said her office would rely on reports from police officers, building inspectors and neighbors to identify violators.

Like I said, fines and intimidation.  Or, they could just move to Long Beach, or Ventura, or the Inland Empire, or Orange County.  Or, they could head to the semi-underground – the home delivery market.  A report out today from KPCC California Public Radio calls attention to the ongoing absurdity of the California approach:

A flourishing and unregulated industry of pot delivery services is circumventing bans on storefront dispensaries and bringing medical marijuana directly to people’s homes, offices and more unconventional locations across the state, records and interviews show.

The unfettered delivery of marijuana through hundreds of these services highlights how quickly California’s fabled pot industry is moving from the shadows and into uncharted legal territory. These new couriers include enterprising farmers, business entrepreneurs and even a former Los Angeles pot dealer methodically switching her former clients to legal patients.

In other words, after five years of hemming and hawing, L.A.’s attempt to retro-actively regulate the industry that grew up around the initial attempts to regulate the industry produced a tiny legal speed bump that threatens to inconvenience some people while accomplishing very little.   Life  in the “Wild West.”