Archive for the 'Art Culture Politics' Category

Whatever happened to the poster? I suppose the retreat into digital did it in. But our dark ages are definitely in need of some graphic protest art. I was pleased to run into this recently.

Orwell’s Roses

“It is only very rarely, when I make a definitive mental effort, that I connect this coal with that far-off labour in the mines,” wrote George Orwell of shoveling coal into the fire to keep warm in London. He wrote this The Road to Wigan Pier, his reporting on the horrific condition in northern England’s coal mines in the 1930s.  

Rebecca Solnit’s new book Orwell’s Roses is a meditation on keeping body and soul together in dark times. Orwell—shot by fascists, hunted and blacklisted by Stalinists, maimed by TB—knew some dark days indeed. Candide famously retires to the garden, but Orwell gardened in between his work. This was his re-creation. (Note how the word “recreation” has been tamed.) The titular roses are the ones he planted and tended, some of which may still be around today. They are also more symbolic: the roses of the famous “bread and roses,” the things we fight for. Sustenance for both body and soul.

Solnit calls the “invisibility” and “obliviousness” of where things come from and the price some people pay for this—which is different from the cost to those who buy the things— “one of the defining conditions of the modern world.” 

The paradigmatic historical case is sugar in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries. The sweetness came from slavery. Abolitionists boycotted it, but most people slurped it up in all its bloody horror. As it happens, sugar production today is often a very grim affair, with brutal working conditions in fields as close as Florida, where the industry also insists on burning the fields after harvesting to the detriment of health of Floridians and the earth. M&M’s recent rebranding hides the child labor behind the empire of chocolate. 

Exploitation of people and planet undergirds us all. 

Just think of the supposedly effortless “one-click” ordering that the internet gives us as an option. It’s like magic, isn’t it?  I haven’t read the Harry Potter books, so I was surprised to learn that the wizarding world is based by the slavery of the elves. So much, indeed, for magic. 

Consider the steps it takes to get that thing to one’s door, all that is hidden in the SHOP or BUY button. The extraction of the raw materials. The manufacturing of the components and/or the whole. The transportation and distribution and sub-distribution—like from a warehouse built on wetlands in Staten Island, say— and the UPSFEDEXAMAZON truck parked dangerously at a crazy angle in the crosswalks below at the T-intersection. 

In a book very much about bread and roses, the twin necessities of life, Solnit travels to Colombia, where most of the U.S.’s cut roses come from. The rose factories, which is what they are, ringing Bogota grind up workers (“Roses for lovers, thorns for us” say workers who must work 100 hour work weeks in advance of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day) and massively pollute the land, water, air, soil with pesticides. 

Humans have extracted rose scent since the thirteenth century BCE, but today most commercial cut roses have no scent. 

The violence of mining; the brutality of the factory; the virtually lawlessness of international shipping; the frantic domestic trucking system; the prison-like warehouses of constant surveillance . All the violence and the pain, all the soul-crushing—too many people have decided it is worth it without even thinking about it all.

“Nature itself is immensely political, in how we imagine, interact with, and impact it.” (RS)

“Authoritarians see truth and fact and history as a rival system they must defeat.” (RS)

“Our job is to make life worth living on this earth, which is the only earth we have.” (GO)

A Sunday Sermon

Recently, a respected botanist we know and used to admire was photographed and quoted at a fascist anti-vax march against public health measures here in NYC. He wore a large yellow star on his clothes in a brazen attempt to align himself with Jewish victims of Christian European anti-Semitism over the centuries, but particularly in the 1930s and 1940s. That was when the Nazis humiliated, beat, tortured, and raped Jewish people in Germany and then across occupied Europe before systematically murdering them by the millions with bullets and gas simply because they were Jewish. 

By wearing the yellow badge, he told us he thinks he’s experiencing the moral equivalent of the Shoah for refusing vaccination. He’s claiming to be suffering the same treatment because he selfishly demands to be a public health risk.

That those resistant to helping their family members, neighbors, co-workers, and strangers in the street by taking commonsense public health measures against an infectious disease should paint themselves as victims is, in of itself, remarkable, and a telling comment on the way the pernicious ideology of libertarianism has morally-maimed so many in this country.  

That they should do so by appropriating the symbols of Nazi persecution is more than remarkable, however—it is monstrous. Particularly since the side they ally themselves with is avowedly fascist and in some cases actually Nazi.

As others have pointed out, as the Nazis intentionally let people die of typhus, some anti-fascists struggled to—wait for it—get vaccines into the the Warsaw Ghetto

Republicans/fascists/white supremacists manufacture persecution fantasies over and over again — they’re coming for your collection of 15 assault rifles; they’re coming to replace you with brown people; they’re coming to prevent you from celebrating Christmas; they’re coming to lurk in your bathrooms; they’re coming to indoctrinate your children, seduce your children, steal your children, etc, etc.

These fantasies are all about the violent capture and maintenance of power. For that you need foot-soldiers, since there are never enough plutocrats do it themselves. The freelance freikorps of our day call Anthony Fauci “Dr. Mengele.” They assault mask-wearers. They threaten school board members with assassination. They massacre people in synagogs. And then they insist they themselves are the victims.

Note, too, that these people also compare themselves to African Americans during the Jim Crow era. How fucking dare they?

Orwellian Toads

“But Persephone, like the toads, always rises from the dead at about the same moment.”

George Orwell’s “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad,” first published in April, 1946, is a short introduction to spring.

Good ol’ Bufo bufo; here’s one I saw in Sweden.

Times change, we heat up the atmosphere, and the blackthorn was blooming this year in the UK at the beginning of February.


“Some enthusiastic entomologist will, perhaps, by and by discover that insects and worms are as essential as the larger organisms to the proper working of the great terraqueous machine […] The silkworm and the bee need no apologist; a gallnut produced by the puncture of an insect on a Syrian oak is a necessary ingredient in the ink I am writing with, and from my windows I recognized the grain of the kermis and cochineal in the gay habiliments of the holiday groups beneath them.”

George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature, Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action of 1864 is a milestone of environmentalism. One-time Congressman, long-time diplomat, something of a serial disaster as a businessman, scholar, traveller, Marsh looked at the environmental desolation of the Mediterranean and suggested that humans can quite effectively spoil the nest. His book was a warning to his fellow Americans. The book, contemporary with On the Origin of Species, was highly influential in its day, part of the intellectual support for the national forest system and the New York Forest Preserve (of which Adirondack Park is a piece). It still has much to say.

Trouble is, Marsh doesn’t say it very well. Even William Cronon, in the foreword to the U Washington Press edition I have, admits it can be a chore to read through. Marsh is no Rachel Carson or Aldo Leopold when it comes to “plainsong style.” Marsh might be better likened to out- of-tune baroque…. not everyone’s cup of hemlock. Cronon recommends a secular variation of the Sortes Vergilianae, picking and choosing sections in any order opening at random, jumping about. Recently, I opened to the quote above.

Something jumps out on most pages, actually, often in the footnotes. (The footnotes, and I am a connoisseur of footnotes, are glorious: why, for instance, do we call winds after the direction they blow from rather than the direction they blow towards?) Marsh is already at ease with the phrase “climate change”; he uses “consumption” in its modern sense (which I don’t think has completely lost its diseased, burning-from-within etymology).

I’ll be fishing in here for a while.

Journal of the Pandemic Year Just Passed But Hardly Over

The city is littered with used masks.

I’ve worn a bandana or mask outside our apartment since March to protect myself, my loved ones, and my neighbors. I’ve also masked as a mark of community and solidarity. Alas, we have fuckers in our very building who don’t share this concern, so we have been forced to be even more careful. We also have neighboring ZIP codes, just a few blocks away, with more than 13% positivity rates, twice our ZIP’s percentage, right now. Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s Catholic diocese took state limits on in-door gatherings to SCOTUS.

SARS CoV-2, the name given to the virus nearly a year ago, has had many allies.

These fools, tools, trolls, and militant sociopaths have chosen to prolong the pandemic. They’re now responsible for killing one in every 1000 Americans (and probably more). It’s 1 in every 200 of those over 65. The average number of years a victim of COVID-19 is deprived of is 13 years, according to this month’s Harper’s Index, which also notes that the estimated years of life lost as a result of the pandemic in the U.S. is 2,500,000 years.

And all taking their lead from Trump/Pence, who along with their criminal crew and monstrous political party decided to let Americans die from the pandemic. The fact that these fuckers now get vaccines before the rest of us enrages me.

Meanwhile, states like Florida under Ron DeSantis and South Dakota under Kristi Noem have become full-fledged eugenics projects, killing off the old and the poor. If healthy white Republicans are inadvertently sacrificed to this white Republican murderousness, like the new 41-year-old Congressman from Louisiana who’ll never be seated now, so be it; their masters think they’re expendable, collateral damage. (At least four GOP COVID-denier politicians have now died of it.) Republican leadership knows they can rob their supporters blind, burn down their homes, kill their grandparents, and eat their children*, all without consequence.

Ahab bound his whole crew to his mad mission of irrational vengeance… and they all went down with the ship, barring Ishmael, and even he initially pledged himself to the doubloon on the mast and the blood-forging of the harpoon.

*Metaphorically, of course, the kleptocratic plutocracy is eating the children. They’re devouring the future.

The Last Month

It’s one month before the election. The fascist Republican Party, uniting oligarchy, fundamentalism, and white supremacy, is attempting to lock its minority rule on the future.

Here are some resources for defending our democracy.

Voting early guide

Get out the vote.

Protect our vote.

New Yorkers can register to vote until October 9th. Early voting here is 10/24-11/1.

On Politics

I’m fascinated by the Republican-fascist rhetoric that attempts to paint Joe Biden, a loyal representative of corporate America over decades of service in the Senate, as a “Marxist” puppet and tool of “dark forces” like George Soros, a favored target of anti-Semitic conspiracy-thinking. (If “thinking” isn’t too strong a word.)

As a person of the left — not a “liberal” (though v. liberal socially) nor a “progressive” — I view the narrowness of the acceptable American political spectrum through jaundiced eyes. The “left-right” divide here is hardly that; it’s more a center-right (albeit with liberal social tenets) versus extreme right, which, oddly enough, services oligarchic interests just as the center-right does. The enlightened billionaires who voice support for BLM, LGBTQ, and abortion rights are also fine with low wages and a neo-feudal precariousness amongst those who work for them. LGBTQ hero Ellen DeGeneres is worth 330 million, is palsy with the odious pre-Trumper George W. Bush, and treats her employees like shit. The same corporations who fund the Democrats fund Republican fascism.

Of course I’ll be voting for Biden/Harris. We have to popular front this year. 2020 is a defining moment in American history. Nobody can afford to throw away their vote on a third-party candidate, even in Electoral College irrelevant states. As to those sitting on their hands and not voting at all — primary turnout this year was less than 2016, even before March’s coronavirus breakout — note that DECADES have passed by without concerted efforts to register and GOTV new voters, much less give them something to want to vote for.

Anyway, Matt Karp has an excellent dissection of the lessons of Bernie Sanders’s defeat from an actual leftist perspective.

As Karp sees it, Sanders failed for three reasons, beyond the corporate-dominated Democratic Party united effort to neutralize him. He couldn’t make inroads which black voters, who remain strongly attached to establishment Democrats even as they voice support for social-democratic programs the establishment is dead-set against. Although he did well with working-class Democrats (defined as those without college degrees), especially Latinx, he failed to raise participation rates for them: across the board, working class whites, blacks, and Latinx voters just aren’t turning out in elections. And finally, Sanders was clobbered by the rich suburban whites Karp calls “Haliburton Democrats,” former Republicans who went for Biden or Bloomberg: “Not only do many merchant princes of the billionaire class — perhaps a majority, outside a handful of extractive industries — already lean Democratic; their corporate vassals, in prosperous metropolitan areas from Houston to Charlotte to Grand Rapids, are now trending Democratic, too.”

Karp’s silver-lining is young voters, generously defined as under 45, who supported Sanders over all others. Initially, participation rates among young voters, traditional the worst demographic for our kabuki democracy, suggested they didn’t turn out as strongly this year as 2016. Karp questions the methodology of this narrative; I’d like to see more about this.

One thing about the left: we’re always looking to the future.
The plant pictured above is one of the bur marigolds, genus Bidens. Maybe tall beggartick, B. vulgata.

Black Lives Matter

The very fact that it has to be said, for years, for decades, for fucking centuries. The very fact that some whites shriek “all lives matter” in response, as they also demand the right to risk infecting the people who do their hair, and miss the point entirely.

It’s hard to put together a post these days. The Republican attack on democracy has morphed into a strike against civil society itself — and all the while the GOP assaults the future of the planet and our health. That’s one reason I’m political in this nature blog: the ruling party is opposed to life, rushing to poison the air, water, and food we eat as they drive hard to destroying the planet for quick profits.

“What we’ve seen from rioting police, in other words, is an assertion of power and impunity. In the face of mass anger over police brutality, they’ve effectively said So what? In the face of demands for change and reform — in short, in the face of accountability to the public they’re supposed to serve — they’ve bucked their more conciliatory colleagues with a firm No. In which case, if we want to understand the behavior of the past two weeks, we can’t just treat it as an explosion of wanton violence, we have to treat it as an attack on civil society and democratic accountability, one rooted in a dispute over who has the right to hold the police to account.” ~ Bouie.

It’s an old playbook, seen the world over: beat them until they give up. With this kind of thinking, there are no “good apples” in the barrel because one rots all the rest. All the Buffalo storm-troopers quit their very special unit after two of them were suspended and then charged for pushing down a 75-year-old and then continuing to march past him as he bled; they’re protesting the suspensions because they were just following orders and want the city to continue indemnifying them against the consequences of a brutality they evidently can’t control. Motherfuckers following orders didn’t work at Nuremberg, so fuck it to hell in Buffalo.

But here’s the thing authoritarians like Trump and his thugs — majority of white police voted for him — don’t get: the amount of force necessary to destroy us is enormous. Because the more you beat down, the more rise up.

The subjected peoples of this land know this in their bones. Libertarian creep Rand Paul choose this week to hamstring a federal anti-lynching law a century in the making, giving us yet another nasty reminder of this violent history. Lynch culture encompassed the ritualistic maiming of victims before and after death. They tortured and burned human beings alive in communal celebrations. Racism if firstly a denial of humanity of the other, but it is also a warping of the racist’s humanity. Lynch culture put castrated genitals on display in windows on their nightmare Main Streets, down the street from their nightmare churches. Yes, some Americans know and can’t ever forget, but others are learning — though one fears that horrorshows like Paul, whose didn’t fall far from his ghastly father’s influence, just carry on the sickness another generation.

But I mean to be positive for a change. It actually does seem like it would take Tom Cotton’s wet dream of a military coup d’etat to finally kill off democracy here. Yes, this post is actually going to be more optimistic than you thought. Trump, Barr, and their conspiracy-psycho echo-chamber rave about “antifa,” but black lives matter demonstrations are spreading in very white neighborhoods. Maybe not in eastern Oregon, where crackerjack box paramilitaries are waiting for… well, it seems they’re waiting for Soros-funded busses ferrying looters to them for the race-war they’ve been fantasizing about in their basements. And maybe not in the revived klanocracy of the old Confederacy, either…but even here.

But in swing districts.

Solnit makes some good connections.

The Central Park Effect

The Rio Grande Valley is one of the great birding places in the U.S. Think Roger Tory Peterson’s “South Texas Specialities” in the back of his Eastern/Central field guide. It’s also the fraught border between two intimately connected nations. A few years ago, before Trump’s even more white supremacist approach to anti-immigration politics than the Presidents before him, I went on an organized birding tour there. There were five of us in the van. Although two of the party were English, we fit a rather privileged demographic. Just yards from the American side of the river, we were surrounded by four-wheelers from Border Patrol more than once. But: White guys? Bird nerds? Ok, ok, carry on.

Birding, or any form of naturalizing in the wild, presents different kinds of hazards to different kinds of people. Anyone alone should be very aware of their surroundings, of course. Women in our violently misogynistic nation especially so. A whole other spectrum of dangers are presented to non-whites in the field.

You have probably heard about Christian Cooper’s run-in an unleashed dog owner in the Ramble in Central Park.

Here are some rules for “birding while black” drawn up by the biologist J. Drew Lanham. Lanham has also written in more depth on the topic.

There are two lessons in recent events. Armed white men can occupy government buildings as the law enforcement “community” remains calm, but it’s tear gas and rubber bullets for citizens protesting a murder by a Minneapolis cop who has been involved in three other “officer-involved shootings” and has a dozen other complaints for abuse and violence logged against him. “Officer-involved shooting” is a term of Orwellian obfuscation invented by the LAPD, an organization with a history of brutality.

1. The peaceful response to these heavily armed white men, literally threatening violence for political ends (i.e. terrorism), suggests that many members of law enforcement, a bastion of white supremacy (see, for instance, the Minneapolis Police Department), would actively join a putsch. The police riots since reinforce the notion.

2. The police-riot violent response to those protesting extrajudicial executions show us that centuries of white violence against people of color won’t stop as long as the majority of white people continue to support it.

“Black people have tried, again and again, to end the horror of police brutality against us. We march, we protest, we educate, we vote. We teach our children a special set of rules. We produce art and literature and music documenting our pain. We start organizations and movements. And yet we can’t achieve structural change in policing because a majority of white America always sets its will against us. White people in our own communities, our alleged ‘friends and neighbors,’ consistently vote and act in ways that empower the police and ignore their brutality against us.” Elie Mystal in The Nation.


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