Monday, May 31, 2010

I was talking with friends about paths not taken.  It’s not really that I think of life in terms of Frost’s roads diverging in a wood.  The paths that take us where we end up seem to be the summary of ten thousand micro-decisions.  Sometimes there’s the clarity and challenge of a fork, but only because of the preceding thousand, barely-noticed choices that put you on that road.  But, nonetheless, I’ve been thinking about my own road-not-taken.  It’s not the obvious ones – like I could have stuck more determinedly in academia or done a different kind of writing or lived in a different part of the country.  As far as all of those alternatives go (to the extent there were forks that might have taken me there) I’m not much tempted to dwell on them.

No, for me the path not taken has to do with actually living up to my convictions when it comes to participating in our fundamentally unsound and unsustainable society.  Whether intellectually or instinctually, I know that our civilization is heading for the rocks – and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the (fading) hope that we are going to do anything about it. 

It is not just about the unsustainability of our civilization.  It is the fact that we have been ruthlessly destroying the generative foundations of everything we depend on.  Not just using up resources, but destroying the very systems that create and renew the resources we depend on.  We are like the heirs to a fortune, that not only ruined and looted the investments, but squandered all of the capital, and took out triple mortgages on every property that he could claim ownership of.  Then we congratulated ourselves on the quality of the champagne we were able to purchase with our wealth.

(Continued below the break)

Green currants.
And Monica in her garden.

A Swallowtail
visits the hummingbird feeder.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I remember that the dairy herds usually had a handful of Jersey or Guernsey cows in them to give flavor and butterfat to the bland Holstein milk.  But nowadays, you hardly ever see those cinnamon brown, long-lashed cows.  So when the dairyman at the farmers market listed all the breeds mixed in with his Holsteins, I bought a half gallon for the boys -- just to see.  Nico, who's picky about his ice cream, gave the free sample of vanilla two thumbs up.  Under another awning an old man was explaining to some customers the virtues of flint corn -- and I had to wonder what kind of arepas the honey-colored corn meal would make.  Two hippies were selling salsa, a girl was selling Portuguese sweet bread, a band was playing.  Another man broke off his story to thrust a spoonful of sprouted wheatberries at me.  "These'll connect you to your food and your season,"  he said cryptically as I chewed them up.  I bought a bag of spinach and scallions that smelled like spring.  I asked the fishmonger about the flounder and she gestured behind her to a green boat moored among the others.  "The shrimp come in on the Jewel, but this flounder came in on the Josephine."  And I told her to give me whatever I could get with my last $9, and she bagged up all four fillets of flounder.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Most mornings these days
Monica has been teaching groups of schoolkids
down at the Nature Center.

Here she is
 explaining some pond biology to 2nd-graders.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Another conservative morality scold bit the dust when Indiana Congressman Mark Souder, staunch proponent of "family values," resigned in a sex scandal.  The video that he made with the staffer, with whom he was having the adulterous affair, and in which they talk about abstinence education, has been soundly mocked as yet another exhibit in Republican sexual hypocrisy.

But of course, for philanderers like Souder, or Sanford, or Spitzer, or Vitter (the list goes on) -  their sexual indiscretions aren't experienced as hypocrisy, but as confirmation and  vindication of their worldview.

There is no cognitive dissonance for them in both crusading against sexual temptations and falling for those same temptations.  The Spitzers of the world crusade against prostitutes at least in part because they believes prostitutes destroy men and marriages (like him and his); Sanford wants marriage's boundaries strictly defined (because he sees it as a fragile and vulnerable institution); Souder wants every kid in high school strapped to a chair and taught that the only way to stay out of sex-trouble is with absolute denial (because even ill-advised sex is so tempting).  That is why you won't find them apologizing for hypocrisy.  They've just been proven right as far as they and their followers see it.  They may be weak and fallible as individual men (which is after all another of the teachings they relay and rely on), but they haven't been proven wrong.

A month later, people outside of the circle can never understand how then, these men get so quickly accepted back into the flock; how they rebuild the support of the very moral conservatives that they seem to have betrayed; why there seems to be no real stigma attached.  It's because from the inside point of view their transgression wasn't lying or hypocrisy or even being mistaken, but the problem was human frailty.  A frailty that, to them, indeed confirms the need for control and repression and vigilance when it comes to sex and sexuality.  And after, this vigilance is what leaders like Souder and Spitzer and Sanford and so on have publicly crusaded on for for so long.  It's a strange alchemy, but this gives them more credibility as leaders:  their apparent struggle with illicit sexual temptations, their occasional fall, and their willingness to keep crusading against sexual freedoms.

Of course it is likely that some of these men are actually hypocrites -- just lying opportunistically -- but I think that the only way to explain the recurrent, blatant, and unapologetic nature of Republican sex scandals is to assume that they don't experience it that way.  So I won't call Representative Souder a hypocrite.  Instead he is a sexually and psychologically stunted man who is caught up in a religious system that has given him a poor set of tools for dealing with his urges.  Sadly enough, because he's been in a position of power and influence, we have had to confront not only the spectacle of him wrecking his family across a public stage, but more significantly and longer term, his destructive efforts to form his pathologies into public policy (which he continues to this day to advocate for).

I put this all out there, not to excuse these people, but because I think if we don't understand them better, we underestimate how difficult it is to root their influence out of our public policies.  They are not just walking, talking contradictions who can be shamed into shutting up every time their lives play out in another sex scandal.  It's entertaining to mock and amplify their personal failings -- and it does discredit them in the eyes of many.  But I think it's important to keep in mind that for far too many conservatives, the media storms that surround these scandals strengthen the case that their anti-sex political positions are indeed right and justifiable.
cross-posted (with comments) at Daily Kos

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I dug up and tore out plants today -- vetch, bittersweet, daffodils, orchard grass, green briar.  And I planted other ones -- wild ginger, penstemon,  cherry, wild geranium.  And I watered them and cleared them space.  

I wonder if gardening was the template for the judgmental, meddlesome gods that we invented so long ago.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Our Food System is Altering Children's Brains

new study has been published in the June issue of Pediatrics showing a correlation between the pesticide residues found in children’s bodies and a child’s chance of having Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Organophosphates used in commercial farming are designed to wreck the nervous systems of pests, but apparently they are also damaging the architecture of US children’s brains as they develop. 

This topic grabs our attention at Cultural Logic,  because it’s at the intersection of several streams of our work:  helping the general public become more sophisticated about food systems, pesticides, health environments, early childhood development and brain architecture.

Though the evidence being reported on today is clear and provocative and the story has been picked up on by most major media outlets, our past research on health and food systems has shown that this kind of “food scare” won't do much to change people’s thinking or behavior.

From reports like this by CNN, with its accompanying pictures of delicious-looking blueberries and strawberries, people get the message that fruits and vegetables are damaging children’s health -- but that they should not stop giving their children fruits and vegetables.  So where is the solution that makes sense to the average person?  There's no indication that farmers are going to stop using these chemicals.  At most parents are told they should buy organic produce and wash it before eating.  

(This "solution" only manages to re-frame pesticide exposure as a problem of parental poverty and neglectfulness!)

Until the public is given a more useful set of cultural and cognitive models about how the food system works, how it can be changed through public policy and what the real stakes are for the developing bodies of our children, people will eventually have to push this terrible news out of their consciousness as they have other similar stories in the past.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday margaritas in the hammock.  
Gettin' ready for Unitarian Jihad.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On May 5th, Denver's 5-year old daughter, Maybelle, said, 

"it's always a little chilly when I walk to school in the morning, because the weather is just getting used to being the weather again."

And he wrote a drowning ghazal for her . . . .

the weather is getting used to being the weather again
the birds are getting used to their wings and feathers again

your coat is on the door knob  your bag is in the hall
the shoes just remembered that they’re leather again

see  the sun didn’t drown   it’s back for another day
we said goodnight just as the moon was un-tethered again

I make you breakfast and kiss you into day
now that the dawn and we are brethren again

after this dream and that  after these dreams and those
Maybelle, I’m just getting used to being Denver again

Denver Butson

Thursday, May 13, 2010

In a cafe in Westerly,  I was slowly carving away at a waffle that was crisp and buried in strawberries, blueberries and fresh-whipped cream and no syrup, and the proprietress was complaining to a customer that the parking places were all full, yet no one was walking the downtown - and why was that. And I wanted to tell her that sometime Americans will re-discover walking and basking and just sitting un-entertained and that I hope her waffles are still there when they do.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Foggy morning in the woods
We listen to the songs of scarlet tanagers, orioles, warblers
Wary ovenbirds
A crying osprey.

Huckleberries are in blossom,
And star flower,
And the lady's slippers
Are swollen and pink
And calling to the bees
For orchid sex.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The students at Pine Point held a "poetry tournament"
and chose as their winner the poem, Stone, by Charles Simic.
Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I remembered
to spend some time
at the sky today.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Porter was part of the Greek Chorus

for their play about Odysseus.

He has a good voice
and a good presence, 
but no ambition for the limelight.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The boys had a half-day of school on Friday, and Monica was finishing up leading a class at the Nature Center at about the same time, so we all gathered ourselves together for a 6-hour drive to Pennsylvania.

About 60 people were descending on Sunday to celebrate Dad's 70th birthday, so we and Chris and Cathleen came to rescue Mom from her failure to keep the guest-list down.

Saturday was busy without being too hectic as we made the place ready.  Porter took on any task that gave him an excuse to drive the little tractor - and drove it around plenty with no excuse at all.  I cleaned the pool and fixed a broken seal on the pump.  The day was hot and I was the third one into the pool after Nico and Porter.  (Dad waited until Sunday, his birthday, when the water temperature had risen all the way to 58 degrees.)

Monica traveled to Lititz for chocolate and shops.  Chris came north with loot from the Baltimore farmer's market and Cathie and Bridget arrived with rising breads and cheeses.

Sunday came hot and sunny, and sure enough 60 people showed up -- the whole clan from Big Valley and Tom, Alice and Celine from Annapolis -- a couple of neighbors, old science-teacher work colleagues and quite a slew of friends he's made in his conservation work on native plants and in the local EAC.

Despite the dreaded afternoon shower that chased everyone onto the porch, it was a wonderful, good-spirited gathering.  The food was good, Dad's enthusiasm for native wildflowers was in full blossom around the house, and the kids played and there was neither tears nor bloodshed.

(And Mom was very happy with how things went, so hopefully we get credited with some Mother's Day points for helping out.)
photos by Kim Brown

pre-post-capitalism . . . .

I was reading a fascinating article by Chris Martenson on how to turn an investment profit as the fossil-fuel age collapses.  He makes the case that there are boatloads of money to be made in the energy sector, but you'd better have cashed out by the time the shit really hits the fan.

My advice to investors dreaming of windfall profits from $500/barrel crude oil futures would be this: Pretend it’s 1940 and you have a magic crystal ball that tells you in advance that the United States will be drawn into World War II. You might start to speculate that by investing in rubber, airplane parts, materials needed to make bombs, and so forth you’ll make a killing. Those products will become so important and so valuable that you might presume you’ll be able to name your price and demand any amount you like for them. But of course you’d have been mistaken. World War II wasn’t a routine macroeconomic event. It was a game changer. Laws were re-written, often retroactively. A state of national emergency was declared and people in possession of materials essential to the war effort were ordered to hand them over as price controls were implemented to thwart profiteering from speculation on the supply needs of the war effort . . . I contend that any Peak Cheap Oil investment strategy that fails to consider government intervention scenarios is flawed and likely to underperform. That’s not to say that there’s no money to be made from an early awareness of peak cheap oil. 

The whole article is a thought-provoking glimpse into an alternate universe where the heroes of Late Capitalism (or Pre-Post Capitalism) face Ragnarok like fleas who are timing their leap from off the hairy back of Fenrir and calling that a savvy investment strategy.