Archive for the 'Art Culture Politics' Category

Breaking the Lock

lockRebecca 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.

Thoreau Thursday

Liriodendron tulipiferaThe 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.

Earth in Mind

img_2650David 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.

Thoreau Thursday

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. img_2462Concord, 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. img_2461

Sabots for Bartleby

The essential Frances Fox Piven on throwing sand into the gears of everything in the fight against Trumpism. Most Americans are unused to this kind of resistance, but we need to get up to speed fast. Our nominal representatives, the corporate Democrats, are only showing backbone because we are demanding that they do so. Marches are good, but they’re only a piece of the struggle to come. Read Piven on the tactics of refusal and disobedience.

strikeSunday at the Battery, NYC, under the eyes of the Statue of Liberty. Frankly, what this country needs is a good national strike. [Things are happening so quickly: Francine Prose had a call for a general strike yesterday.2/17 is being bandied about.] And fewer personalities: we’ll make this road while walking it, and if politicians want to grandstand, fine, but we must make them sweat for it.

On Saturday night, taxi drivers at JFK stopped picking up passengers in solidarity for those protesting the Trump-Bannon Muslim ban, and Uber — CEO-ed by a Trumpet — promptly broke the strike. This led to a lot of people deleting their Uber accounts, although I’m not sure why anyone would have one to begin with, considering how insidious that corporation is. (And what a creepy name!) [Since then, they promised to give $3 million to the cause of immigrant rights; compare that with the advertising budget, if you dare; it’s chump change public relations.] The “sharing economy” is a libel on the word “sharing.”

This raises the moral calculus: some innocent airline passengers were undoubtedly inconvenienced at JFK and other airports around the country. That’s not a good thing. But a much greater evil was being protested, because those pulled out of line by Customs and Border Patrol were innocent, too. This isn’t a pure world; there are degrees of evil, and sometimes struggling against the greater evil comes at a cost. You should be expecting inconvenience now. It’s a small price to pay for liberty.

Study the abolitionists, who boycotted slave sugar. The more radical violated the loathsome Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 directly and indirectly (you could be arrested for simply not aiding a slave-catcher). The boldest helped with the Underground Railroad (the Thoreaus of Concord, MA, did).

Remember the people in Montgomery who walked miles and car-shared for months during the bus boycott. Sacrifices will be necessary. Remember the long struggle against apartheid, with damn little of it officially coming from the U.S., to our lasting shame.(Check out the epic documentary Have You Heard From Johannesburg.)

This is hard, and dangerous. I do not doubt that the likes of Bannon would welcome a coup. And the state controls the machinery of incarceration, torture, and death. But we’re not there yet. This is just a full-blown constitutional crisis, with the executive disobeying federal courts. (Just! And this is just the second week of that addled orange monster’s reign of excrement.) So stay strong, with the people you love. And work to build communities. Sharing is a mutual act of kindness; it is not an economic activity. But above all, stand up any and every way you can.img_2534And keep a weather-eye out for owls. You never know when they’ll show up.

A Week of Raptors

raptorHow about some raptors? Let’s start with this mosaic in the 81st St. subway station, one of a large series illustrating some of the breadth of the American Museum of Natural History. (You can actually enter the museum from underground there.) It’s very much worth a MetroCard swipe to explore both platforms, which are stacked one above the other. The lower level, downtown-bound, is full of life-size dinosaur fossil-reproductions. I love trailing my fingers across those old ribs. But I digress.

That’s a Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) above, isn’t it? I’ve never seen one in the wild. In the U.S., they’re found only in the open marshes of central Florida, and in rather small numbers. As their name suggests, they’re snail eaters. An invasive snail, larger than their usual prey, may be adding to their difficulties.
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If history is any judge… a case for optimism in the storm by Corey Robin.

We Are Petroleum Junkies

Hydrocarbons are a dog-damned miracle. The things we get out of crude oil, from fuel to explosives, from fertilizers to clothing, from pharmaceuticals to candle wax, from pesticides to plastics, from asphalt to inks… it’s just mind-boggling. Mostly we think of gasoline, but that’s not the half of it. The stuff both powers and rules civilization: we wear it, we eat it, we breath it. And what happens to the stuff when we burn it radically transforms the planet.

That old baked plankton, all that life from at least a 100,000,000 years ago, we shoot it up the mainline! I’ve been reading Eric W. Sanderson’s Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs. I think everybody should have a copy at home. The first half of the book is how we got here. The second, where we should go. (There’s a discussion of the book in this Roosevelt House/CUNY video.)

Here is where oil, cars, and suburbs have left us. Sanderson gives us a great primer on hydrocarbons and their “siren song,” which lured us into the mess we’re in now, especially during the halcyon days of the “cheap oil window” of the 1930s-1970s. I lived through some of this, but of course the times you grow up in always seem like the way things are, and always have been.

Part Two of the book is his vision of a new world. Here’s a teaser: we have to get rid of the automobile. Check! I’ve been on that track for some 35 years, never having owned a car.

You may have noticed the paucity of optimistic thinking about the future in recent decades, barring the usual bubble-mania-hype of the market. The Right even believes — gotta defend their privileges any way possible — that utopian thought leads, inevitably, to the gulag. Yup, straight line.

Yet in this mire we’re bogged down in, clear-headed thinking about the future, envisioning it (with actually existing technology, not science fiction), and proposing how to make those visions come true (politics) are more vital than ever. With The Dumpster approaching the White House, now more than ever. That makes this book a weapon. Arm yourselves!


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