Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ed at Gin and Tacos goes on an entertaining tirade about privileged, (conservative) whites who seem to delight so much in their ludicrous claims of victimhood.  (Students complaining about the "death tax" set him off.)

Maybe it's only a psycho-babble replacement for our abandonment of Hell as a cultural consolation, but I think that privilege and oppression must take their toll on the oppressors.  I think it puts a kind of cap on how self-actualized you can be.  Self-delusion definitely works for many people and I can't claim their happiness and self-satisfaction is anything but genuine.  But those are people of limited souls.  To be a full human being you have to actually see the world around you with less delusion — and that's not compatible with much of the conservative   boilerplate about how abused and misunderstood well-off white males are.  It may not be compatible with privilege at all.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sharon Astyk makes a provocative case that if progressive groups are actually concerned about outreach and diversity they should reach out to ex-convicts,
If you are SERIOUS about wanting to increase the diversity of your membership in terms of age, class and race, wanting to make your future communities more secure, wanting to expand local food and employment opportunities, wanting to do outreach into minority communities and offer something to those already hardest hit by the early stages of our society’s crash, I’d recommend one particular access point – find ways for your group to work with recently released prison inmates in your community . . .
The post is worth reading in full, but a side point that she well understands is that this kind of things gets outside the comfort zone of many of her readers.  For example her commenter, D . . . 
Consider the risks and the benefits and . . . commit to a great deal of research prior to taking on the issues of society’s law breakers. Sharon is right on that these issues need our time and attention; yet at the same time, there are considerations one must ponder prior to throwing one’s self and family into this area . . . Practicality and safety do call for a level of caution.
Which led me to leave a comment of my own . . . 
D., you bring up a good point about the dangers inherent in dealing with people who've been swept up into forms of criminality.  But that danger is exactly the crux of the matter.  In fact, the ability to NOT have to deal with such people and their potential dangerousness is probably one of the defining ways that class and social geography are structured, at least here in the US.  If you are poor, you have no choice -- these people are your neighbors, family members, co-workers, friends and enemies.  If you are privileged on the other hand, you can choose to take advantage of the way class and ethnicity are segregated so that you can CHOOSE (more or less) whether or not to have them part of your life.   
 Yes, it increases your danger when people cross the barriers - when they are invited into your church or school or workplace or neighborhood.  There's no doubt about that, and it's a reason why people don't want to live in "those neighborhoods."    But these very barriers are, without question, a major part of the problem.  The only way this country can maintain its inhuman war on drugs, its unprecedented and draconian incarceration rates, and its great myths about privilege and the undeserving poor -- is because the privileged make use of these walls to not see what is going on right next to them.  And so the cycle is sustained and intensified. 
 If we integrate our communities, we expose ourselves to some of the dangers that poor people face every day.  But by stitching together one community where there were many -- some used to being excluded and some used to doing the excluding -- we create something better.  I believe that.  We can wait for things to collapse, or we can start to take the bricks down ourselves.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The boys aren't very demanding when it comes to their birthdays.  At least they know better than to trust us to buy them their presents.  They're at the age where they'd prefer cash, and their aunts and grandparents usually supply them some.  Other than that - they're content with some cake or fresh doughnuts and a day's worth of slightly elevated status. 

Porter turned fifteen yesterday and I took him and Jose and Nico bowling.  (Our actual birthday present was to shell out for his 9th grade school trip -- 10 days traveling,  studying the geology and biology and culture of Hawaii.  He and his classmates will leave in the wee hours of Monday morning, damn them.)  

On the rare occasions that we bowl we usually do it at Westerly's little pizza-and-beer, working class lanes, Alley Katz, but for a special occasion we chose somewhere more alien and disorienting.  So in the drizzling day I drove the 15 miles westward to the Foxwoods Casino, where the High Rollers alley is.   

Foxwoods rises jarringly out of the woods of eastern Connecticut, a strange, out of place island of gambling and commerce.  Entering the hotel-casino complex I feel like I'm an odd, harmless virus within some bustling alien organism.  

While we waited for a lane to clear (the brusque girls at the counter would text us when we reached the edge of the waiting list) we ate burgers at a restaurant aggressively decorated with mass produced nostalgia-clutter -- as though, after the clamor and glare of the slot machines, no one was prepared to face more than a few inches of bare wall.   The girl that Porter wanted to see found us there, and the five us us strolled the long interstices between the gaming rooms, theaters and concert halls, these long shopping-mall hallways.  

Porter and the girl were busy catching up (the casino is the half-way point between their towns and they don't see each other much), but it's hard to imagine three people less interested in window shopping than Nico, Jose and I.   Normally, I'd enjoy people watching, but most of the demographics interesting to me -- like teenagers,  families with kids, immigrants and the fashionably hip -- were not here.  Instead it was older, married couples, nouveau riche foreigners, tourists up from New Jersey and suburban New York, the occasional pack of office drones -- the kinds of people who think it's a fun idea to trek to a gambling island in the woods of eastern Connecticut.

But eventually lane 16 freed up and we got in to bowl our games and eat their fancy pizza.  And Porter managed to bowl just a bit better than the girl, though she pressed him in the second game.  And Jose managed to bowl just a bit better than Nico and then Nico bowled just a bit better than Jose, (who was then quick to point out that his lack of talent at bowling is a small thing compared to his superior skills in soccer and basketball).  And I bowled better than all of them, which was only fair.

And then, the girl's mother had collected her, and the rest of us were driving back through the rainy night, toward home.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I sit in a teleconference, 4 of us trying to craft a survey instrument that could track changing public attitudes about the economy and low-wage work.  Outside my window the woodpeckers are foraging in the bark-folds and lichen. There are 4 species of woodpeckers: downy, hairy, red-bellied - even a clumsy yellow-shafted flicker.    White breasted nuthatches and a brown creeper probe the crevasses with their small, sharp beaks.  The tree is slowly falling apart, especially in this vicious winter, but I wonder how any invertebrates can still survive there.

Monday, February 18, 2013

In Saturday's post I claimed that leaders are almost certainly right that Americans wouldn't go along with a plan that sacrificed present-day prosperity in order to avoid future calamity.  But almost certain does not mean certain.

After all, humans collectively are capable of unpredictable craziness.  If we can leap to out-of-the-blue stupidities like ancient Egypt's Great Pyramids, or Mao's homicidal Great Leap Forward, or American Suburbia, well there's no reason humans couldn't make a sudden sharp turn, even chuck suicidal consumerism in favor of sudden wisdom - or at least rediscover a kind of cultural clear-headedness.  It's not like our present society is great at creating bucketfuls of happiness for people.

So it is good that friends are down in Washington DC marching against the tar sands pipeline.  It's good that my work is to try and make our public discourse smarter and more constructive.  It's good that the climate scientists are getting the science done.  Who knows what might trigger an unexpected change.

Humans are profoundly conservative creatures of habit.  We like our novelty within strict limits. But the world is also full of immigrants.  Whether or not we have moved across borders, we can migrate from one culture to another - when we have to - or when we see an opportunity to achieve some dream of a better future for our children.

So, as they say . . . we'll see.  Nothing is certain.


Orlov says our only hope is to pray for an asteroid, Gin and Tacos says we've broken the planet, and Nocera in the New York Times says we just gotta keep digging (or something).

Saturday, February 16, 2013


We burned through the firewood I had brought inside as preparation for last week's blizzard.  Now the boys are hauling in wet, snow-dappled wood to stack beside the stove.  Another few inches should fall in the night.  But I take a break from snowy chores to fret about the self-induced decline and fall of our so-called civilization.  

It begins to dawn on the public consciousness that global warming is actually happening.  The media begin to cautiously note the fact of its existence in stories about extreme weather.  Comedians joke about it.  World leaders mention it in their speeches again.  Polls show that ever larger majorities of people think "something ought to be done."

But we don't do anything about it, and there's no sign we'll do anything any time soon.  Because in fact, mentioning the solution to global climate change is strictly and absolutely taboo - not just among politicians, economists and the media, but among most environmentalists and scientists as well.  At least when the argument was about whether or not climate change was happening - and then later whether it was caused by humans - there was a controversy and a back and forth, and an effort to shape public opinion and public policy.  (No matter how dishonest and stupid it was and how much it was distorted by cynical money from the defenders of the status quo.)

But the solution that dare not speak its name is to leave fossil fuels in the ground.  Don't dig up the tar sands, don't frack the shales, don't mine the coal, don't drill the Arctic oilfields.  You can put up all the charts you want about "reducing CO2 emissions", but as long as we are digging out fossil fuels and burning them we will continue to track the high lines of climate destabilization.

Have you heard any of our leaders talk about leaving it in the ground?  I haven't.  If anything, the enthusiasm now is for more drilling and mining and fracking.  At best I hear about clean energy sources and conservation, but those mean nothing at all for climate change as long as we continue to dig up and burn.  Carbon sequestration is not going to save us, and any attempt at geo-engineering will almost certainly end in disaster.

It's really quite simple.  If we are not willing to step back and leave fossil fuels in the ground, we will create catastrophic global climate change - and many things we take for granted about our lives will fall away.  I understand why the most knowledgeable politicians and environmentalists see little possibility that the public is going to support the needed proactive policies.  They are almost certainly right.   It would mean a pre-emptive end to much of the Oil era's great prosperity.  I understand the calculus that says, leaders cannot cause even a minor catastrophe in the present in order to avoid a major (or even final) catastrophe in the future.  

And because I understand the inescapable logic of it, I have little hope that our leaders will save us from the worst.  Until we have an era-ending collapse of some sort (whether economic, political or environmental) they will do everything they can to help us close our eyes tightly and close our minds, and we'll all just hope for the best.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Our blizzard blasted through, and plastered everything 

with hard frosting that pulled all branches down, snapping some.

Snow to be shoveled,

and beehives cleared.

Power out for a day, the internet down for a couple days more.

But we'd put in plenty of wood, and our friends, whose house grew too cold for them,

came to spend the night and shared with us our wood stove pot roast

and our peaty Laphroaig.

Now, rain is falling and a fog is rising from the snow

smoky as though all of this were a volcano's hot and fatal ashfall.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

On January 19th we were in Glendale for Esperanza's memorial service.  The Little Church of the Flowers at Forest Lawn was filled to overflowing.  Many of us were dressed in bright colors, to go with all the flowers and honor her memory as a lover of color.  Several of us read pieces that we had written, myself, her sister Alicia, her cousin Lida. Clara had composed a slide show from pictures she'd gathered.  Monica read a poem that she had written.  The Mendoza twins, Carlos and Mauricio sang the song Amigo, as she had asked them to.

The service was beautiful and powerful and Esperanza would have loved it.

Below is the poem that Monica read: