Published March 11, 2017
Art Culture Politics
Check out Zane York’s Nature Morte at The Arsenal Gallery, The Arsenal, Central Park, NY NY, through April 27.
We can chortle all we want to at the French, a la Groening’s Law — if I remember my graduate school days correctly — the French are funny, sex is funny, and comedy, obviously, is funny, but no French sex comedy is funny! Yet nature morte is a much more authentic description than “still life.”
Except, perhaps, when ants are on the loose.
Yesterday in Prospect, the rites of spring were springing. An astonishing twenty-six Wood Ducks were to be found on the Pools. Chipmunks and turtles were out and about in the unseasonable warmth. Behold, two European Goldfinches, far from home. The first Mourning Cloak of the year, velvet over the sere leaves. A pair of male Hairy Woodpeckers jostled for territory. A female American Kestrel on an antenna, right outside the park, was grooming. The frequency-jamming of Red-winged Blackbirds: first time I’ve heard them this year, the avant garde of spring. There were a dozen and a half by and above the Terrace Bridge. Heard a Kingfisher on the other side of the bridge, too.
And now over to a special guest appearance by Helen MacDonald:
“I think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. And how they are disappearing — not just from the wild, but from people’s everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen. The rarer they get, the fewer meanings animals can have. Eventually rarity is all they are made of. The condor is an icon of extinction. There’s little else to it now but being the last of its kind. And in this lies the diminution of the world. How can you love something, how can you fight to protect it, if all it means is loss?”
Hm. This is going swimmingly until that last sentence.
Another way of looking at this to think that those who fought like hell to rescue California Condors, and Peregrines, Bald Eagles, etc., from the wretchedness of human society did so precisely to prevent the loss, and to suggest that there was something more than humans in the world that mattered. That was a dog-damned good fight! The Condors are still a touch-and-go situation, bedeviled by death-worshipping hunters, and so richly coddled that they’re only half wild. But what a half!
Published February 28, 2017
Art Culture Politics
Published February 25, 2017
Art Culture Politics , Fieldnotes
Rebecca Solnit’s “Tyranny of the Minority” in the March Harper’s nails it:
“Republicans’ furious and nasty war against full [democratic] participation has taken many forms: gerrymandering, limiting early voting, reducing the number of polling places, restricting third-party voter registration, and otherwise disenfranchising significant portions of the electorate. Subtler yet no less effective have been their efforts to attack democracy at the root. They have advanced policies to weaken the electorate economically, to undermine a free and fair news media, and to withhold the education and informed discussion that would equip citizens for active engagement.”
With the vengeful little Confederate Jeff Sessions now in charge of suborning the Justice Dept. and Trump’s deranged fantasies about non-existant fraud voter, expect to see an even greater assault on democracy. Apartheid is their goal; a minority (just 25% of Americans voted for Trump) can stay in power no other way. And the sadism seen in the botched Muslim ban, the ICE-round-ups, and declaring open season on trans youth shows you precisely how they will react to dissent. Remember, this crew isn’t shy about arguing that we need to go back to having only property-owners vote, having the states appoint senators, and getting rid of the 19th Amendment (women tend to vote for social programs, after all).
Only in her next-to-last paragraph does Solnit nod towards how the Democrats have aided and abetted the long-term effort to transform America into an oligarchy. They’ve sold us a socially “liberal” version, but without democracy, rights are only for the wealthy in the long run. Today, the DNC votes for its new chair. The role is mostly symbolic, yet the Obama/Clinton corporate wing of the party are still determined to fail us.
The purple, duck-billed buds of Liriodendron tulipifera. These are just over 2cm long and were taken from some recent windfall branches.
Thoreau seems to have become acquainted with “tulip trees” on Staten Island, where he lived from May-December of 1843, having gone there to tutor Ralph Waldo Emerson’s brother’s children. I read in one source that that there were no specimens of this species in his native Concord. The tree’s range does go into Massachusetts and Vermont, even Canada in some sources, so I wonder if they were all cut down by HDT’s time.
I needed a background, and Leslie Day’s Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City came in hand. This book does not actually include Tuliptrees because they are very rarely found on our streets. There was one right around the corner of my old Cobble Hill apartment. If you remember, that was where I found this Eastern Tiger Swallow caterpillar, which feeds on this tree.
Tomorrow is a sort of national or general strike against the extremism of the Trump regime. Not sure how much headwind they have, but Strike4Democracy has more details. Backyard & Beyond will join this action.
Meanwhile, March 8 is scheduled as a Day Without Women.
Until then, folks should read Engler & Engler’s This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-first Century.
Published February 12, 2017
Art Culture Politics , Reviews
David W. Orr’s Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment & the Human Prospect has been turning my mind over and fertilizing it with good compost.
“My point is simply that education is no guarantee of decency, prudence, or wisdom. More of the same kind of education will only compound our problems. This is not an argument for ignorance but rather a statement that the worth of education must now be measure against the standards of decency and human survival — the issues now looming so large before us in the twenty-first century. It is not education, but education of a certain kind, that will save us.”
(And pee-yew, it sure isn’t the fundamentalist poison Betsy Devos is selling — or buying, when it comes to her servant Senators.)
Someone who turns up several times in Orr’s book is Vaclav Havel. We should remember his conception of people power. “Many more people realize, as Havel did, that arbitrary and inhuman power cannot deprive them of the inner freedom to make moral choices, and to make human community meaningful. They are shaping a redemptive politics of dissidence in the free world, nearly three decades after the fall of Communism. To measure the American dissidents’ success in electoral or any other quantifiable terms would be beside the point. For they are creating a “parallel polis”: the vital space where many, over the next four years, will find refuge from our age of anger, and learn to live in truth.”
And yes, that picture above was taken in the Bronx.
All biographies end. And, of course, the ending is always the same. Nearing the literal and figurative end of Laura Dassow Walls’s magisterial life of Henry David Thoreau, I suddenly found myself not wanting to go on. I didn’t want him to die. Not right now. Not during our political upheaval. I started reading “Wild Apples” to delay the inevitable, even though I’ve another new Thoreau biography, Expect Great Things, by my friend Kevin Dann, lined up and ready to go, as if it were a reincarnation. Concord, Massachusetts was never completely abolitionist, even after the travesty of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. But it was a bastion of anti-slavery, so when, in April 1860, federal marshals attempted to arrest Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, one of the so-called Secret Six funders of John Brown, the town erupted in demonstration. Citizens blocked the marshals and “Annie Whiting immortalized herself by getting into the kidnapper’s carriage so that they could not put the long legged martyr in,” wrote the young Louisa May Alcott in a letter. Thoreau, another supporter of Brown, called the fire alarm, rung that night to rouse the citizenry, a sign of “the hottest fire he ever witnessed in Concord.” The marshals ignored a hand-scribbled writ of habeas corpus, but when the country’s deputy sheriff said he wouldn’t hold back the hundred demonstrators, they gave Sanborn up. Thoreau stood watch over Sanborn’s house that night. The next day, a federal judge voided the warrant (the Congressional investigation into Sanborn was made moot by the war a year later). Concord’s subsequent “indignation meeting” against tyranny was addressed by Sanborn and others, including “Civil Disobedience” Thoreau, who insisted that it was precisely because Concordians hadn’t obeyed the law that Sanborn was free.