Saturday, December 31, 2011

Monica and I opened a bottle of very excellent wine from the Napa Valley and chatted with Clara in Costa Rica via skype.  Afterward, we shared a dinner of salmon and baked garden potatoes and butternut squash.  Porter and Nico left the table, and ticked away in their computer-verse of Minecraft, building something or other with their friends.    The wine evolved with each glass.  None of us will stay up until midnight.

Friday, December 30, 2011

It's common knowledge that the Republican slate of presidential candidates is shockingly weak, with a set of deeply flawed and even ridiculous men and women.  At first glance, this seems strange given the powerful interests that prefer the typical Republican program of regressive taxation, lax regulation,  and a trillion dollar torrent of corporate welfare to keep crony capitalism flush.  

I have a theory about the apparent indifference to the candidate fail parade, however.  Two things are going on.  

First, the presidency is likely to be a poisoned chalice this time around.  Tough times are coming, the government, the media and the public discourse are dysfunctional, and the nation is in no shape to face the oncoming challenges.  If anyone is going to be blamed for the coming debacles, why not the Democrats - especially if most of the country can be convinced that progressive, even socialistic policies are to blame?  

Second, and equally important, they already have a moderate Republican president in Barack Obama.   He's presiding over a set of economic and regulatory policies - imposed on him to some extent - that would thrill any Republican of an earlier age, and he's making little if any effort to change that.  

His signature progressive legislative accomplishment remains a (Republican designed) health care reform whose essential logic is to force people to buy health insurance policies from huge, profit-making corporations.  This week, the USDA and FDA shamefully chose not to regulate the abuse of human antibiotics in meat production -  instead choosing to sacrifice the public's health on the balance sheets of Big Ag and Big Pharma.  Last week, pundits seemed to consider it a great victory that Obama and the Democratic Senate maneuvered the Republicans into extending a tax cut.  

This is what a Democratic victory looks like nowadays?  convincing Republicans to lower taxes in an election year?

Personally, I still see plenty of reasons to prefer an Obama to a Romney, but I don't think the people and corporations that fund elections care that much whether it's a wounded Obama or the Mormon guy who takes this chalice.  The money flows their way in either case.

UPDATE:  Matt Taibbi gives a similar verdict over at Rolling Stone, The Meaningless Sideshow Begins.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

It was an excellent, relaxing holiday. We had all of those things that you are supposed to have (except maybe for snow): family, food, children, gifts exchanged, carols sung, conversations, naps and small expeditions. An excellent, relaxing holiday.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


The days have not been cold - but short and damp and drear

In slippery embrace, planets and moons and rubble-rings have whirled and wobbled

A rocky clockwork turned
and a solstice sun rose up, crisp and white and promise-ful.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Watching the collection of fools and grifters that are competing for the Republican presidential nomination this time around, I couldn't help but think of Slovaj Žižek's trilemma of communism.

There's a pattern that can be found in powerful institutions whose daily rhetoric and legitimacy rest dishonestly on a bankrupt and abandoned ideology.  Žižek described the kinds of people who were drawn to the Communist regime: 
Of the three features – personal honesty, sincere support of the regime and intelligence – it was possible to combine only two, never all three. If one was honest and supportive, one was not very bright; if one was bright and supportive, one was not honest; if one was honest and bright, one was not supportive. 
To the extent that these institutions are powerful and wealthy, they draw to themselves clever (but immoral) careerists -- and to the extent they still keep talking like they care about their ideals they draw in (honest) fools.  But all of those who are both clear-sighted and honest are repelled or dismissive. 

The modern Republican Party is exactly such an institution.  Conservative stalwarts stridently enforce the pretense that they are the party for small government, the patriotic nation, and the common man - even as every policy they enact operates in direct contradiction to those stated goals.  Their power and influence has become ever more solidly welded to serving the needs of a multinational plutocracy who's rapaciousness shows every indication of killing off the nation it has parasitized.   Yet the party's electoral viability still requires that millions of voters remain oblivious to this fact that the Republican Party works directly against their interests.

When the hypocrisy and lying becomes too obvious for a normal, even inattentive person to ignore (as it did in the latter days of Communism and as it has in these days of the dysfunctional GOP) you are left with this awkward alliance between the most shameless of the grifters and the most stubborn of the useful idiots.  And so we have this slate of con artists and fools - one of whom might stumble into the White House if Obama continues to fade.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Words spoken at a guinea pig's funeral:

"Maybe on some other plane you're grazing with your brother, Chino, and can tell him all about the life you led after he left.  But for sure, your molecules and your energies go back to the earth and slip back into the cycle of life."

He was wrapped in the paper he used to love to hide within and buried by the forsythia bush.

* * * *

(comic relief from the night before, when a guest was stopping by)  

"Can you imagine if he comes in and he looks in the cage and he's like, 'Oh, a guinea pig, how nice!' and we have to say, 'Um . . . he's dead.'  And he's like, 'Um, why do you have a dead guinea pig?' and we'd be like, 'Well, he hasn't been dead very long.'  And then we'd change the subject."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Porter's voice changed over the summer, but he's been finding it again.

Monday, December 12, 2011

It was Nico's tenth birthday,

So we ambushed him with a surprise party
at Señor Flaco's.

Instead of cake there was "dirt" complete with gummi worms and critters.

Happy Birthday Nico!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

This morning, the kittens were murdering a jumping mouse that they caught. 
As Nico said, "It's hilarious, yet horrible."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Clearing the basketball court
of half a winter's

Friday, December 9, 2011

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on his not understanding it."
Upton Sinclar, The Jungle

The parts of the blogosphere given to intellectual doominess, have been talking a fair amount about the inevitable End of (Economic) Growth.  The Peak Oil folks see their pet hard constraints finally raising their oft-prophesied heads.  The Climate Change cognoscenti are noticing that economic growth and climate stability may have become mutually exclusive in these late days of procrastination.  Iconoclast economists have pointed out that most of our "wealth" is nothing more than an ornamental patina spread upon concatenations of debt -- (and just because an end to growth brings the system crashing down -- doesn't mean growth can't stall).  And everyone remarks how the topic itself is taboo in politics and mass media.

The best environmentalists have always known that infinite growth on a finite planet was only happening in the fevered imaginations of economists and the politicians who loved them.  And the spiritually minded have insisted that some level of material enough-ness was wise and an endless pursuit of more plus more was not.

Of course, the environmentalists and the seers have been right all along, being -- ironically enough -- more in touch with reality than the delusional realists who've tried to build our global society into a vast juggernaut with no steering and no brakes; a machine powered by everything and everyone that can give it a moment's extra impetus, even if it meant devouring the generative foundations that life depends on - the soil, waters, climate, cultures, and the webwork of living things.

The optimists of doom -- and I guess I would count myself among them -- hope that the globalized economic system proves fragile enough to crash apart before it can finish destroying these foundations entirely.  This is a hope hobbled by ambivalence, naturally, since the machine builders have made certain we are not only well-paid to avert our eyes, but are also strapped in and bound, willing or not, to its fate.  And so I find myself angry that I'm required to play a role as tiny gear-tooth in an idiot machine of destruction; embarrassed that I haven't extricated myself with incautious and inconvenient courage; oppressed by uncertainties and visions of futures I don't want; and wearied by the dissonance of rooting against a system that supplies me with so many of the things that I value and rely upon.

For 200,000 years humans survived and even thrived on a planet that was profoundly indifferent, if not hostile, to their fate, and presumably humans will do so again -- once this clumsy effort to re-make the world on our own terms has more thoroughly unraveled.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sometimes at bedtime, when the boys were younger I used to sing that old Cat Stevens song, Moonshadow.

"I'm being followed by a moonshadow -- moonshadow, moonshadow
Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow -- moonshadow, moonshadow

If I ever lose my eyes, if my colors all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes I won't have to cry no more."

And over time we made up our own verses of the song:

"If I ever lose my ears, the words and music I just can't hear,
Yes if I ever lose my ears I won't have to listen no more.

If I ever lose my tongue, my words and music go unsung,
Yes if I ever lose my tongue I won't have to yell no more

I'm being followed by a moonshadow . . . 

And if I ever lose my nose, can't smell compost, can't smell a rose,
Yes if I ever lose my nose I won't have to sneeze no more.

If I ever lose my belly, can't eat peanut butter, can't eat jelly,
Yes, if I ever lose my belly, I won't have to eat no more.

I'm being followed by a moonshadow . . . 

If I ever lose my mind, lost in space and lost in time,
Yes if I ever lose my mind I won't have to think no more

If I ever lose my way, where I'm bound I just can't say,
Yes if I ever lose my way I won't have to plan no more."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In the warmth of the day I checked on the bees.  They seem to have taken what comb they drew in the upper chamber and retreated to the lower, which is probably good.  I worry that the hive body doesn't feel heavy enough with honey to get them through the winter, but this is all new to me, so we will see.  I didn't feed them this summer, figuring that since I wasn't taking any honey, they'd be able to forage for what they needed.  Come the first warm days of March I'll see how that benign neglect played out.

While I was away the deer had come and tidied the garden, eating the parsnip greens and anything else that had held up to the frost -- including a gallon-sized summer squash that I had let lie among the died-back vines.  They had also stripped most of the vetch that has infested that part of the yard - and even trimmed back the asparagus fronds.  Probably they're saving the apple trees for later.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The fiery colors of the maples never materialized, but in November the yellows of the beeches and the russet leaves of the oaks gave the lingering summer a mellow closure.  A few half-hearted frosts killed off what remained of the garden vegetables and I harvested a large bowl of habaneros, maybe 8 or 10 orange, but a score or two still green.  And pulled a few premature parsnips to fashion an earthy hot sauce from them.  (I also belatedly dug a row of potatoes that I'd neglected to get out earlier.)

Porter went off to Washington, D.C.  with his class on a four-day field trip to have his head dunked in American patriotism.  Nico continued his easy way through the 5th grade, charming and challenging his teachers.  Monica complained that we work too much and don't travel enough.

At work we scrambled to wrap up research and put together video on three different projects -- and the others scattered -- A. to Washington, J. to Los Angeles.  I wrapped up what I could on our project about oil conservation, and on the 16th I dropped the boys at school and drove north to Montreal for the American Anthropological Association meetings -- a 6 hour drive.  I had an audio reading of a Tony Hillerman novel, Listening Woman, to speed the time.  It was an odd juxtaposition: vivid descriptions of Navajo country as I wended through the flood-battered valleys of Vermont.  I stopped in Waterbury for lunch.  The damage from the summer storms seemed to accentuate the poverty that is never perfectly concealed beneath white paint and stoic perseverance.  

Montreal, when I got there, was gloomy though it bustled with a vaguely European, cosmopolitan energy.  The tent city of Occupy Montreal was clustered in a narrow park, the bronze statue festooned with graffiti and a Guy Fawkes mask.  Young people in dark coats called to each other in French.

The conference center was exactly like an airport without planes or pat-downs.  Escalators lift you up and away from the ground-level shopping mall to a grid-work of little conference rooms.  And there, from midday Wednesday to Sunday, at any given moment three dozen papers were being read, ethnographic films were being shown, poster sessions being held; job interviews were taking place, business meetings held for journals, interest groups, and so on -- and of course everyone was meeting and talking.  It's a teeming anthill of anthropology.

So I ate and drank and talked, caught up with old friends, made new friends, sat in little rooms parsing the arcane jargon of the discipline.  Ate more, drank more, walked in the city, talked more and listened. On Sunday morning, the 20th, after I'd met a woman for breakfast and discussed cultural models of energy over croissants, coffee and cheese, I gathered up my gear and drove back out into the rain.

When the wet highways had gotten me away from Montreal, I left them for the flat byways of southern Quebec, then along Lake Champlain and up and across the Adirondacks through a damp fog.  Had lunch at the Blue Moon Cafe in Saranac.  Again, Tony Hillerman was playing as a strange distraction to shove time along.

I spent Monday and Tuesday at Lake Como -- at the cottage, which is becoming sadly run down.  Leaks in the roof and around the window sashes are spreading rot and the old concrete foundation continues to erode away beneath it all.  And the water in front of the house has gradually silted in where the current brings down material from the swampy upper lake.  When we spent summers up there as kids it was always a major project to clear out the muck and the beaver sticks -- I remember filling canoe-loads of gunk and weeds to haul aside.  The smell of methane and the rubbery feel of the occasional leech between thumb and forefinger if you happened to notice a one before it made off with its booty of blood.

No swimming this time of year, of course -- even the beavers seemed done.  They had cleared out a couple dozen large trees -- mostly aspen, birch and maple, taking the tops, and leaving us the trunks to cut and split for next year's firewood.  The wellstone was covered in chips where they'd trimmed their loads before dragging them down through the yard and over to the lodge.  They'd stolen a third of the big blueberry bush in the yard and added it to their store.

On my way out Tuesday I went over the property that my sisters, cousins and I own, because a neighbor had said the gate-cable was down.  There's an austere beauty to the Poconos this time of year. The vegetation has lost its leaves and died back, so the land is open, but not yet leveled or grayed by the winter snows.  A neighbor had put the cable back up, and I walked into the woods a ways to see if there was any sign of vehicles having trespassed, but there was nothing.  The old hunting shack was still there, slowly falling down as always.  The apple trees held no late apples and if any had fallen creatures had long ago taken them.  I had no orange to wear, so I wouldn't walk any further into the woods at the height of a Pennsylvania deer season.

The family gathers at my parent's house in Mt. Gretna for the Thanksgiving holidays -- where we cook and eat and clean up and eat again.  And pretty much keep eating.  But with breaks in between.  Dad put Porter to work paying off his iPhone debts -- hauling wood, raking leaves. There was an expedition to Lititz for boxes of chocolate (for holiday distribution); a roadside meeting with my cousin Scott to buy half a beef - and then the divvying of that between my sister and I; there were football games to watch and a football to throw around; a box of grandma's old letters to sort through; chainsaw work to clear the fallen oak crowns that storms brought down.   Those same storms had swept away a bridge that crossed the creek and left it a hundred yards downstream in a tangle of detritus.   One end was buried two feet deep in a bank of sand and gravel, so Dad, Porter, Eric, Fred and I spent a couple of hours excavating it (re-channeling part of the stream to do so) and levering it into a new position.  We'll see if the stream chooses to leave it there.

Saturday, after a final noontime feast, Monica and the boys headed back to Rhode Island, so Porter and Nico would have time to work on a couple of big school projects that had deadlines closing in.  On Sunday morning I headed out as well -- taking the northern route past Scranton and Danbury to avoid the worst of the traffic.  And after 6 hours behind the wheel it was good to be home.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Via Rumproast:

And because Sally wanted the sentiments in classic limerick form . . . 

Oh this story of Wall Street wankers,
This passel of fuckshite bankers
They took all our money
And said, "What’cha honey!
Yer don’ even bother to thank us?”


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Friday night was the "spooky nature trail" at the nature center.  The path, flicker-lit by jack-o-lanterns, winds through dark and breezy woods  among us pirates, monsters, witches and wizards.  Nico this year was off at a birthday party, but Monica and Porter and I volunteered as actors once again.  She was dressed as Professor McGonagall, and walked the trails as a benign presence, making sure the pumpkins stayed lit.  I donned some wizardly gear - a purple robe, green skullcap, and a staff wrapped in purple and gold rags with a light dangling from it's grip.  Porter wrapped himself in my old gray swiss army cape.

We found a deserted stretch of woods between the great spiderweb maze at the edge of the meadow and a mixed witch and pirate pair further down the trail.  We could hear other pirate girls staging their swordfights on the wooden bridge behind the rocky ridge.  We're not given any script, but just expected to be spooky (but not too scary for the littlest kids) and/or entertaining.

Porter and I improvised a little schtick where he would huddle like a gray rock under his cape, then loom up and block the trail as some kind of hostile stone troll - to gasps or shrieks often enough.  Then I would emerge from hiding, yelling and brandishing my staff to drive him off.  When we'd scared some kids, I asked them if I should turn the troll back into a stone, "because I am a wizard of these woods, after all!"  and they all thought that was a great idea.  So thrusting my lit-up staff at the chest of the troll, I would turn him "back to the stone from whence he came!"  Porter, whose gangliness is hidden by the cape would spin and drop to the ground as a small boulder, nearly indistinguishable from the granite rocks all around.  Then I would usher the walkers politely around the corner entreating them to beware of the pirates that were infesting the forest.

It was a fun piece of improvisation, and never quite the same twice.  Sometimes the troll dodged my first spells; sometimes the stone came back to life.  A young astronaut helped out with a nerf gun that had a turn-to-stone setting.  One pre-teen who shrieked had to be restrained by her friends from beating the poor troll with a tree branch.  Sometimes I was a wizard who'd misplaced my troll, and could they let me know if they came across him.

Afterwards, as I was salving a parched throat with cider, I was thinking about conversations I'd had with friends lately about art and entertainment.  The "Occupy Wall Street" protests have been encouraging many people to think about ways to extricate themselves from the powerful financial and cultural institutions that seem to dominate us, and who seem not to have our interests at heart.  Withholding your money from the banks; withholding your obedience from the state; perhaps cutting the cable and withholding your attention from the television?

My grandmother and her sisters kept diaries in the 1920's and 30's, and reading them I have been struck by how much visiting they did -- despite the fact that traveling 5 or 10 miles during a Pennsylvania winter was no simple task.  I think there was often work involved, but there were also their own forms of entertainment and fellowship.  They were all well-read, and they memorized poetry and did recitations and music.  50 years later she could still rattle off silly, humorous poems to entertain her grandchildren.

There's a tremendous amount of effort put into making us passive consumers of entertainment - partly through the admittedly high quality of much professional production, but also by the marginalization and even mockery leveled at the amateur.  I'm no professional actor, but I'm capable of entertaining a stream of children and adults who are in good spirits and are willing to be pleased on their whimsical walk through the spooky nature trail.  If the Viacoms and Disneys and Time-Warners of the world are going to continue to throw their lot in with greed and cultural destructiveness, I for one am perfectly happy to fall back on the talents and good nature of the people around me -- where hidden talents lurk.

The season's first snow is melting on the parsnip leaves.  More nights of this and they'll soon be ready to roust out and roast.

I put a cold frame over the harbenero to see if I could nurse another week's ripening for the chilis.  Probably too little too late, since the smaller leaves had already blackened in the cold nights.    I've chopped a dozen or so orange peppers from the volatile plant - which burned and smudged the fingerprints of my left hand.  But there are still a couple score green peppers that I'll have to figure out what to do with.  Create some vicious condiment that is not quite poisonous, I hope.

And certainly, the storm put an end to the beans.  They are Jacob's Cattle beans whose seed I'd let get damp, so I planted them very late on the chance that there was enough time to have them mature.  They stopped plumping in the weak autumn sun, so the result is over-mature string beans.  Still, there might be few pounds to shell, and maybe I can make a meal of some sort.
I've been ignoring the fact there is still a short row of potatoes that I never dug up.  Green Mountains, I think.

It's all an experiment this year.  (Of course, according to gardeners it's an experiment every year until you die or stop planting.)


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

So the tear gas came out last night in Oakland.  And billy clubs, flash grenades and "beanbags" if not rubber bullets.  Municipal paramilitaries around the country spent the rich years loading up on SWAT teams and riot control gear, and even if the Arab raids or Mexican roundups never quite materialized, well thank Ares for Wall Street's hubristic nobles and Main Street's disaffected youth.

The powers that be have begun to move against demonstrations in Atlanta, Boston, Oakland and doubtless other places.  They claim that "laws were being broken" that there were "reports of violence."  Or just that the damned hippies were attracting rats.

Now the question is, whether Americans really believe that the systems of law and democracy have been so destroyed by money and corruption that it is legitimate to disobey the law and spit at the ballot box.  To me there's no question.  Both political parties have been corrupted beyond any ability to look after the common good, and the Law just as often seeks to secure injustice as it does justice.  American's belief that they live in a meritocratic society is being openly flouted like never before.

Fox News and its many imitators have been amazingly adroit at channeling populist anger into a divisive, corporatist agenda, but it remains to be seen whether the people witnessing this current rash of populism are as eager to be conned as the typical Fox viewer.

Nevertheless, there's the rampant dementia of the Republican Party.  So as a parting shot, giving credence to the old adage that when fascism comes to America it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross, here's a nice disturbing video.  "I want to follow a leader - a leader who follows Jesus . . . 

Friday, October 21, 2011

In the woodstove, steam hissed from the ends of burning logs.  A reddish, armored centipede whipped along the length of one.  Misled by a hundred million years of evolution, it searched desperately for a crevasse to hide itself within.  In and back out.  Then out of the smoke and flames it tumbled from the firebox onto the stove's front ledge.  But instead of heading for open safety, it drove its sinuous body back under the rim of the stove's hot door.  And there it died, true to the imperatives of instinct. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The fiction I've been reading lately has been brain candy - space opera and Patrick O'Brien's sea-faring novels.  But a friend had urged Donald Ray Pollack's new novel, The Devil All the Time.  Its knotted tapestry of murder, rape, religious madness and boondockish ignorance is grueling, (like re-reading The Painted Bird, with the trek across 1950's and 60's Ohio and West Virginia rather than war-twisted Poland).  The book is all masterfully done and utterly convincing, but I reacted with my usual defensiveness toward authors who focus on the sick and twisted - who don't seem to have the skill for giving a fuller portrait of what human society is like.

But in honesty I thought about northeastern Pennsylvania - the shaggy woods and hills around Galilee, Damascus and Rileyville.  And how if you gathered the local tragedies, the murders and madness across those mid-century decades, you could distill just such a tale.  It wouldn't be the full story of the place; it wouldn't be the only story; but it would be a true story.  And terrible as it is, The Devil All the Time, feels like a true story.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Two new kittens have moved in -- the gray one, Haru, and the younger black one, who hasn't settled on a name yet.  Our grumpy old cat, Chloe, just as she did when Wilbur arrived, moved outside for a week.  But now it's been raining and she can be spotted once in a while slinking by or growling menacingly at one of the kittens.

We've considered Aye-Aye, Snowball, Cole, Kaboodle, Ash, Gatico, or Steve.

Anyone have any good name suggestions?


Prince Haru's name has stuck.
Porter wanted to name the black one Medallion (for a white spot on his throat) and the rest of us accommodated that by calling him Leon.

So, welcome to Haru and Leon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The summer's hurricane whipped up enough salt from the waves that down toward the coast leaves turned prematurely crisp, and they fell like little brown scrolls in August.  Here we are six miles inland, and the trees only looked a bit discouraged.  But the autumn's warmish, damp weather, hard rains, and now a few days of blustery wind seem to be stripping trees even as they break into color.  So the fall forests are only gorgeous rather than mind-boggling.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My brain is still all jellied from our current mind-melting pace.  The report on jobs quality was quality work and has gone out as a draft, but some reports on race, media and Black male achievement have come back to be synthesized and summarized.  The analysis on communicating sustainable food policy has been ricocheting around the virtual office (Manhattan, Berkeley, Maryland, Rhode Island) and growing tattered and bruised in the process, but the paper's due tomorrow and I'm still scratching out some internet surveys to settle a hundred nagging nuances.  Good, robust findings still rattling into final shape.  And all along I had planned to be out video-taping confirmatory interviews on the labor research with some taxation work piggy-backed on it.  But that'll have to wait to the weekend . . . .

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Like dishes in the sink, half-imagined blog entries can stack up, get rotten, begin to smell, and finally just make the kitchen a depressing place to be avoided.  Fortunately, unlike dirty dishes, half-imagined blog entries can just be swept away like a pile of paper plates.  So I won't write about the hurricane's snapped oaks and the flies that swarmed upon them.  Or our 5 days of house camping after Irene passed through, camp stoves and candles.  You won't hear about the Red Portage potatoes or why I had to replant a late crop of Jacob Cattle beans.  I won't discuss the boys' meander through the end of summer, Monica's days at camp, or Patti's visit from Japan.  My outrage and weariness with U.S. politics, our dysfunctional news media, my sense of being in a country steering toward the rocks -- all that swept into the bin.  Because otherwise I'd never start writing again.

A big part of my neglect of this blog has been due to work.  There's our usual pattern of laying the groundwork for a research project, conducting the research, reading and analyzing the data, re-tooling the research, drawing our conclusions, and writing up our reports.  Normally there is a fair amount of filler in those work-hours: administrative work, back burner issues of company infrastructure, and so on.  But in this late summer we have 4 distinct projects all coincidentally in full flood of research and analysis.  And we shift between them all the time.  One of the big labor unions has us working on how to frame the idea of unionizing in new ways.  For a science advocacy organization we're working on communicating about the importance of regional food systems for sustainability and loosening the hold of agribusiness.  We're analyzing the mediascape for a coalition that wants people to understand better the importance of improving job benefits and maintaining job quality even in hard times.  And finally we're working on how to talk to Americans about raising taxes rather than just hacking away at budgets.  They're all difficult and complex challenges, and haven't left much creative energy for blogging away.

So I'll just post a picture of a happy Nico to please the family relations, and start getting back to it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The stock market took another stumble downward yesterday.  The press attributed it to a struggling global economy and especially the "debt crisis" in Europe.  But there is an idea that is being seriously discussed in parts of the blogosphere, but which gets no mention in any mainstream press at all.  The idea is that the world economic system as we know it is about to violently shake apart, because it is absolutely not designed to survive a contraction in the Global Economy.

Most people don't understand that economic growth is not just a happy by-product of our current capitalistic system, it is the crucial underlying ingredient.  To the extent that any of our wealth is counted in dollars or yen or euros - as opposed to beans or goats or clean shirts - the "value" is only and solely determined by what other people are willing to believe it is worth.  So far, fine, that's basic market economics.  But we have taken things one step further and built our economy of value on what we think things are going to be worth in the future.  If we think there is going to be more wealth in the future, then it makes sense to invest your money in something that will return your capital plus a bonus - or if there isn't a clear investment opportunity handy, to lend it to someone who can invest it.  You eventually get back your capital plus a bonus.  In fact those loans themselves, that empty spot in your wallet, since they are supposed to gather the bonus to itself, become valuable things themselves, to be sold or used as collateral to borrow more money to create more debt, more bets on the future.

However, if there is no growth, if there is stagnation or contraction, then those interest-accruing debts become burdens, whose value is shrinking rather than growing.  Investments become losses.   A stock market loss of 5% means that trillions of dollars in wealth that people thought they had - just vanished.  Next week trillions more may disappear.  

The main difference between the mass media and the blogosphere is that the mass media (which are all embedded in vast multi-national corporations wedded to the status quo) speak as though perpetual economic growth can be regained and sustained.  In the blogosphere you hear serious and well-articulated doubts.  Many economists and environmentalists have tried for decades to point out that our system wasn't sustainable over the long term - that physical and environmental limits (or just incompetence) would eventually bring growth to an end.

But the coming decline in fossil fuel accessibility could itself bring an end to growth.  So to could the disruptions of climate destabilization or the acidification of the oceans.  Even an expansion of unrest among the poor and dispossessed of the world could be enough to put an end to growth.  Because, when the fall of global finance happens, a vast amount of imagined wealth is going to go with it - and people are not going to have the things they thought they did.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mosquitoes have been rare this dryish Autumn.  Maybe they are around, but harried by the bats, swifts, dragonflies, swallows, robber flies and so on that dive and zig through the airspace.  And then there are the frogs, toads and snakes that hunt in the grass.  

It is grasshoppers, katydids and their kin seem to be ascendant at the moment.  I saw the garden spider among the herbs binding a good-sized brown one, but that can't put a dent in the population - (nor will the blister beetles at least for now) - and besides I think the wasps have been thinning out the spiders.  A few years ago I found coyote scat in the yard and it was entirely the casings of grasshoppers.  I hear the coyotes in the night, and something has been making off with the mouse carcasses we toss out, so maybe they are visiting and gorging themselves again.  For now, every stride in the yard is a splash of fleeing hoppers.

She feasts on a large, leaf-shaped katydid
We could eat them ourselves I know, but I'm not going to.  It's a very human thing to carve out a category, "food" from within the larger category of edible things - and until I'm a great deal hungrier than I am now, insects aren't food.  When we get chickens they can eat bugs and transform them into eggs for us.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Porter was gone for all of July, 

off among the extended family in Pennsylvania and Maryland.  

He's back now.  With a voice an octave lower.

Iced Coffee on the front step.

Because it's August.



Thursday, August 4, 2011


I'm no orchardist yet.
But the peach crop increased fivefold.
From two peaches to ten.

One of the hard things to do in life
is to actually be in the moment.
To slow down and be.

But watch a peach 
grow from bud
to flower
to green marble
to vulnerable, unlikely fruit.

Steal it before the others can.

When you taste the wet flesh,
and chew the tart, berry-like skin,
and the rough, jagged stone grates against your teeth,
how can you not be in the that moment?


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A male Reddish-Brown Stag beetle (lucanus capreolus), 
picked up by Porter on the walk.

Harmless enough . . . 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Since the early 1950's the Metz Family Reunion has been taking place at Brown's farm in Airydale, Pennsylvania.  This Saturday was the latest gathering, and here are a few pictures and some video of the barn dance.

My great grandfather, Samuel Metz had 12 brothers and sisters.  It's the clans that have descended from them who have returned here every July for the past 60 years.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

brachonid wasps and hornworms

Garden Blogging

Here's a beautiful thing.  

A small hornworm with its burden of pupating wasps

A larger caterpillar climbs a squash stalk
The parasitic brachonid wasp (cotesia congregatus) uses its long ovipositor to lay eggs inside the body of the tomato hornworm.  When these hatch, they eat the innards of the hornworm before burrowing out and pupating in cocoons attached to the dying caterpillar.

All the gardeners say to leave such caterpillars be, since these wasps are the best ally you've got against the beasts.

I think people who use insecticides miss half the fun of gardening.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


In the mid 1990's I was traveling in the Kyzyl Kum desert in Kazakhstan, near the Syr Darya River.  The great rivers of the Syr and Amu Darya are the main flows to the Aral Sea, and back then it was already clear that the Aral Sea was going to dry up unless something was done about the diversion of waters for irrigation.  The stakes were high.  It seemed that there were two choices: on the one hand an ancient inland sea with its own industries and fisheries and marine ecologies, representing a unique oasis in the arid heart of Eurasia -- on the other hand, the death of all that, the creation of a vast moonscape of pesticide-laden salt flats, internal migration, and the desert cotton industry could limp along for another generation.

As I looked at the Soviet era irrigation conduits -- open, crumbling, leaking troughs of weathered concrete, spilling every other drop out onto the muddy dust --  it was clear that there was a third option.   Cotton could be grown at a scale that allowed a flow into the Sea, or crops less thirsty than cotton could be grown in this desert.  But even if the economic and bureaucratic inertia were too much for those sensible changes, conduits could be patched, less water could be spilled, less left open to the thirsty desert air.  Not only was it not necessary to destroy the Aral Sea, the destruction would be a huge and pointless stupidity in no one's real interest.

This filled me with a sense of optimism that the crisis could and would be averted.

But of course, we did destroy the Aral Sea -- we sacrificed it on the altar of the status quo.

Today, I hear people say that our accumulating problems of climate instability, energy decline, overpopulation and resource depletion can be solved with some common sensical adaptations - no problem, when the time comes - before things really go to Hell.  Yes, I think, just like the old Aral Sea.

Photo NASA