Archive for the 'Art Culture Politics' Category

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.
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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.

Pandemic Notes #3

Among the 21,138+ Covid-19 deaths in NYC are neighborhood men who ran a local pizza joint and a corner bodega.

There are now 96,662+ coronavirus deaths in U.S. under the vicious incompetence of Donald Trump and his grand-old-pary-of-death-enablers. (These are Saturday’s numbers and will be bigger when this is published.)

Because the Republican-fascists are waging a multi-pronged battle to both suppress the number of deaths (see Florida, Georgia) and/or to simply deny them (see Fox and the other conspiracy-vectors), it’s important to remember the names of their victims. Lots of local media have obituaries on-line. This morning the New York Times is dedicating its front page to 1% of the victims. (That piece-of-shit Trump went golfing Saturday.) There are also these sources:

Those We’ve Lost

Faces of Corvid

Naming the Lost

Here’s a good analysis of the life-and-death contrast between NY and CA. I gather some people are entertained by the Brothers Cuomo on TV, but the picture above of the Cuomo-De-Blasio freezer trucks are a better representation of their criminal irresponsibility. Cuomo’s and De Blasio’s actions only look good in comparison to the genocidal Trump. (I wrote about these body-storage trailers in my first pandemic commentary.)

I am surprised people are falling for Cuomo’s performance. His miserable history, his actual actions, as governor have been on display for years now. His plans for the future: austerity, disaster capitalism, corporate control of education. It’s a softer nightmare than Trump’s gargoyle-riot, but it’s still vile.

The pandemic should have ripped apart the facade of bullshit that coats this nation. The responses to this disease, forecast for months, reveals the savagery of the republic like nothing else: the contempt for the elderly; the war on the poor; the murderous racism; the domestic terrorism of misogyny; the way the brutes gather for putsches in state capitals. The monstrousness of selfishness against public health, the unmasked sociopaths ranting about their “liberty” when they’re nothing but canon-fodder for their plutocratic masters.

In The Plague, Camus writes of the “secreted humours” being purged from the earth itself, the “abscesses and pus-clots that had been forming in its entrails,” all spilling out. Quite the documentarian, Camus. The shit rises — perhaps it will boil off?

Yet through it all, we, and I still think we are the majority, prevail.

“There’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea that may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is — common decency.” ~ Camus

And now, because you need some beauty in, and of
our world.

Earth Day After

I was seven in April of 1970. I don’t recall hearing about the first Earth Day. We were living in Canada then. Our modest Toronto suburb was at the extremity of the city line. Two houses down, Bestview (!) Street dead-ended in what seemed like the beginning of the prairie. It’s been developed since, but according to the satellite pictures, there’s a park beyond the high-rises. Back then, there was a copse in that seemingly endless expanse of field. In the copse was a house. (I don’t recall ever seeing this house, so perhaps it was mythological.) And in the house lived a fifteen-year-old, who seemed unimaginably grown-up. He had a pet raccoon.

I wrote about the first Earth Day in 1970 for Jstor Daily.

And, for Fine Books & Collections, I wrote about collecting environmental books and ephemera. This article was in the magazine, but is available free all this month for non-subscribers.

Every warbler vent/underside of tail tells a tale, at least of identity. They’re all species-unique. Any guesses on this one?

Pandemic Notes II

This April has been cooler than March. More rain, too. Or so it seems. The cruelest month? “Breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land” wrote Eliot, ladling out more metaphor than botany from his chilly Modernist citadel.

The NYC death toll is now over 13,000. I can’t keep up with the tally. In addition to the documented increase, they’ve now added several thousand probable coronavirus-deaths because of the big spike in at-home deaths.

As Republicans/sociopaths continue to hound the parents of children murdered in schools with taunts that it didn’t happen, the GOP’s organs have piled on with the conspiracy garbage, claiming over-counts, denying deaths. TV “doctors” Oz and Phil, quacks performing as medical professionals, belittle a mere 2-3% fatality rate and suggest that swimming pool deaths are contagious.

Now, not all Republicans are these raving scumbags, but they all “approve this message” when they vote for their authoritarian paladins and corrupt hucksters. They’re the audience for this garbage, they’re the little foot soldiers for their plutocratic masters. And they are the rich vein of funding. Wonder where that Nixonite David Nunes comes from? The fascist outrage machine is highly lucrative. Sunbelt retirees are a kind of cattle to be endlessly milked and bilked.

I can’t tell you how many “oh, look! nature is returning!” things I’ve seen in the last month. Some are fraudulent, magnified by gullible/hopeful social media users. Some are more overtly political, like the reactionary Daily Mail’s article about vultures over NYC. The British old folks’ tabloid suggested a flock of Turkey Vultures (three in the picture) was ominous and foreboding, gathering because of COVID deaths. But as readers of this blog, you know vultures coast over the city throughout the year (and over the years).

Other of these nature-returns stories are manifestations of a birth or rebirth of people’s attention. Hear more birds outside? Less car noise: check. (Lesson: cars and motorcycles are poison.) Migration and breeding season: check. It’s people’s own attentiveness that they are marveling about. The birds have always been there, but quieter streets and more home-time mean people are noticing them more.

I do hope this attentiveness stays with people. You can hear the birds through the traffic, if you listen.

Pandemic Notes

We live on 6th Avenue in Brooklyn, at the top of the Harbor Hill moraine, and look down towards Upper New York Bay. The water begins a block from 1st Avenue. That’s where you’ll find the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal facility stretching north from 39th St. In the last couple of days, some three dozen gleaming white semi-trailers have appeared there.

Typically, there’s little activity at the SBMT, at least that’s what it looks from up here. A tiny security company vehicle crosses the wide parking lot. A couple of times a week, a short train moving junk from the recycling plant just to the north runs to the dock further south, across tracks that run through the terminal’s enormous parking lot and then down 1st Avenue. The unexpected train whistle in the early morning booms up the hill. There’s often a large puddle on the parking lot, too, that serves gulls and crows, hangers-on at the recycling plant, as a place for baths. Periodically, local politicians have a photo-op on the terminal grounds to promise jobs at the site. For the four and a half years we’re lived here, the most notable activity noted down there was the arrival of several vast white tubular structures, like pre-fab missile silos. They sat there for years before they were dissembled on site by blow-torches. It was all quite inexplicable. As the sparks flew, I wondered what it that was all about, and how much it cost us in “economic development.”

The white semi-trailers look like the freezer trucks that have been parked outside area hospitals to take the overflow of bodies. Officially, 5,789 have died from the pandemic in the five boroughs of NYC as of 9am April 12. I say officially because a concomitant spike in deaths at home weren’t initially being counted. Nobody was testing at-home deaths. There have been very many more of these at-home deaths than the usual 20-25 a day. Undoubtedly, a good number of these were, and continue to be, coronavirus-related. The leadership, locally by Mayor Bill DeBlasio, and state-wide by Governor Andrew Cuomo—while vastly better than the murderous disaster of Trump—has been terrible. We are led by mediocrities and/or monsters. More details on the alarms sounding for months while Trump golfed and shoveled garbage tweets to his cult members.

Hospitals, morgues, funeral homes, and crematoria in the city are all filled to capacity, overbooked like some hellish airline flight. After spotting these white semi-trailers, devoid of commercial branding, I found this article about the city ordering 45 refrigerator trucks.

Of course, in a city of eight million, life goes on. Yadda god-damned yadda. I look down on the street and see three bros yucking it up as they triangulate the sidewalk with their six-foot distancing. None are masked, so they essentially block the sidewalk for themselves.

There seems to be a good mapping of coronavirus skepticism and climate disruption skepticism. The flavors of American fascism—militant ignorance, deranging conspiracy thinking, anti-expert “populism,” plutocratic string-pulling—combined with fundamentalist End Times fantasies and religious fatalism result in a deadly brew indeed. A number of Republican governors, especially in the Deep South—a region with the worst health and infant mortality rates in the nation, states historically designed to kill African Americans—have refused social distancing measures and even countermanded local versions decreed by mayors. Sub-Trumps and satangelicals—a portmanteau of my own, as far as I known, combining Satan with evangelical, because what else is the evangelical-Trump connection but some species of devil worship?—these fuckers model the vicious racist theocracy they wish to impose on the rest of us.

Meanwhile, there’s no end in sight.
***

The New York Review of Books has an excellent series of dispatches from around the world on the pandemic.

Eristalis tenax

An early flying Common Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax). An introduced species. A bee mimic. Their flight season is long, from mid-March to mid-November, but this was the only one seen this day a week ago.
***

Spring’s solace is dependent upon the winter, the bright awakening from cold and dormancy, the “green fuse” lit amidst the snow and muddy melt. We hardly had winter. It’s an early spring this year. Spring will always be early from now on. Until one day, only those who think early is normal will be around, and then early springs won’t be “early” any more.

There is nothing like a pandemic to reveal the brute monstrosity of our savage republic. The right-wing effort to shrink government down to such a small thing you could flush it down the toilet has turned out to overflow the toilet after all. Solidarity, what Margaret Thatcher once disparaged as society, must be our response.

COVID-19 is killing the elderly and the immune-compromised, mostly — but not exclusively. In South Korea, where they are testing broadly (as opposed to Italy, say, where they are testing those with symptoms, or the USA, where testing is STILL extremely rare) it’s people in their twenties who are showing the most cases. But they’re asymptomatic. So, while the young and healthy mostly do not have too much to worry about themselves, they’re carriers who threaten others. NYC’s bars have been packed. The stupidity will have more consequences.

Cover Art

Yesterday’s witches’ broom sent me by memory to M. M. Graff’s Tree Trails in Central Park, published in 1970 by the Greensward Foundation. Possibly the first place where I first read about them… maybe in the late 1990s?

The Foundation was a precursor to the Central Park Conservancy, back in the bad old days of fiscal insolvancy, trying to get the city (citizens and government) to save the great heritage of the park. Here’s Graff’s Times obit.

My copy is rather bit foxed, but the cover, reproduced above, still packs a punch. The illustrations are by Jacques Hnizdovsky. This is very fine look at a beech, trees that are absolutely reeking with character, and I think he captured the vibrancy of the bark delightfully.
***

As much as I enjoy the absurdity of the authoritarians of the Grand Old Party of Death calling the Democratic Party, of all things, “far left,” it’s good to touch base with an actual leftist every once and a while. Mike Davis, who has written brilliantly on Los Angeles, is no stranger to the politics of pandemics in history.

Back to back tweets of Trump declaring that if you’re in charge you’re responsible AND then yesterday insisting that he’s not responsible at all for his disbanding of the pandemic response team. Nearly 63 million Americans voted for this piece-of-shit con man. 63 million assholes are a lot of assholes.

The Distance That Bounds the Ordinary Range of Vision

I note the presence of what I call #DailyRaptor on Twitter with as much frequency as I spot raptors out the windows, which is actually quite a lot. Tweets are usually off-the-cuff, and so recently I wrote that a Cooper’s “came into the ken,” followed by one of the local American Kestrel pair, who then proceeded to escort the much bigger hawk off stage.

Afterwards I’d wondered if I was using the word “ken” correctly. I remembered that I remembered it from Chapman’s Homer. Not Chapman’s actual translation of Homer, which I’m unfamiliar with, but Keat’s celebration of it. You may remember the potent lines:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken

Besides rhyming with “men” two lines down, why “ken”? A quick trip to the OED reveals that ken as a noun is based on the verb ken, which means to “make known, declare; impart the knowledge of.” The verb version is now only really used in Scotland, as far as I can tell. Ken the noun’s first definition is “the distance that bounds the range of ordinary vision, esp. at sea.” Other definitions include “the range of knowledge or mental perception.”
Moss up close.

The marine measure of ken, the OED continues, is about 20 miles or 32 kilometers. On a clear day you can not see forever, but you knew that. You can, however, still see a lot, especially from a good vantage, and/or an accustoming of your senses to different scales, different views.
Wee tiny fly on crocus petal.

For ten years now, I have been blogging here at Backyard and Beyond. I think my ken has expanded quite a bit since then.

In that time blogs have come and gone and maybe come back again. Here is my first post. Could that Painted Turtle I found on Nantucket still be around now, ten years on? I hope so. It’s possible. I mean, that’s a heron’s snack right there, and you’re kind of rooting for the heron, too.

Here’s a more elaborate explanation of my project at that time.
We are all lichens, now, apparently.

Today is “Super Tuesday.” Voting in fourteen states, and not just Democratic Presidential primaries; lots of down-ballot stuff, too. Special elections, primaries for state legislatures and Congressional races, these are all vital to the defense of democracy, especially when the Republicans are now the party of authoritarianism and voter suppression, alienation, and criminalization.

I guess it should be obvious who I support. Here’s historian Michael Kazin in the New Yorker talking about the FDR-revivalism/democratic socialism/left-wing populism of Bernie Sanders. We’ve moved so far to the right some people now consider him radical.

Twins

MACRO:

A Planet To Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal

“It is clear the political establishment is collapsing in the United States and beyond. Clinging to it makes it possible for reactionaries like Trump to gain more ground the world over and brings climate catastrophe closer. The fundamental issue is this: As the center shrinks and the time for decarbonization tightens, milquetoast climate action on the margins will satisfy hardly anyone. If centrist Democrats spurn the insurgent Left and instead see centrist Republicans [i.e Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar] as their most reliable allies, they’ll pull the planet out of the frying pan–and into the fire.”

For every young person you know.

MICRO:

Nature’s Best Hope

“We need to practice conservation where we live, where we work, and where we farm, because we humans now occupy or have seriously altered nearly all of the spaces outside our parks and preserves.”

Douglas Tallamy, entomologist and ecologist, has been particularly influential. His Bringing Nature Home is a key source for a lot of people in the field(s). His newest book charges us with doing what we can. Chief amongst these things is turning our lawns from sterile water-and chemical dependent dead zones into habitat, into parts of what he calls the Homegrown National Park.

But not every plant is equal. Gardeners and plant-sellers are still pushing an out-dated aesthetic of what makes a pretty yard and garden. They’re still releasing invasives, still contributing to the reduction of carrying capacity, biodiversity, and ecological complexity. Of many examples he gives: most of Portland, Oregon’s street trees are, by far, exotics from abroad or other areas of North America. Everybody ooohs and ahhhs over the tree-lined streets. But these trees simply do not support the insects that feed on native plants (and the insects that feed on native plant feeders); fewer insects mean the birds don’t have anything to eat. In Portland a few years ago, I saw damn few birds until I got up in the hills.

An example Tallamy doesn’t use. It’s new: the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is touting its brand new crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) hillside. It’s 2020 and these damn fools, who should be leading the city in education about native plantings and biological complexity, are planting this ecologically useless exotic! And celebrating it! They are actively contributing to the reduction of our insect, and hence bird, carrying capacity. And they are modeling this for gardeners.

Almost unbelievable — but not when you know the recent history of the place. The destructive head of that debased institution — who fired all the scientists, eviscerated the historic mission, tried to ship the herbarium out-of-state, and turned the place into a wedding venue — has finally left town, but the board who let him hijack the garden remains in place. What a dreadful legacy he leaves behind and the board perpetuates.
***

If you don’t have a bookstore, bookshop.org is a new alternative to paying for Jeff Bezos’s five hundredth bathroom.


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