Archive for the 'Art Culture Politics' Category

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.

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.


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