Sunday, April 22, 2018

Reflections on Earth Day

This year I jiggered together a sort of semi greenhouse out of Wal-Mart shelving, animal fencing and a heavy plastic drop cloth. I set out trays of Cherokee Purple tomato seeds saved from last year's crop (lost one tray because it got too hot one day, and they cooked!), long pepper seeds -- we could pretend they're Hatch chiles, but they're not, they're seeds from garden variety Anaheim chiles grown in Texas,-- a tray of wildflower seeds, and pots of Indian corn and bolita beans, cantaloupe, acorn and butternut squash, catnip, lavender, and other flower varieties. Most of the seeds have germinated, and the tomatoes and peppers are almost ready to transplant to larger peat pots. I think I'll have plenty to give away this year just as was the case last year. Some of the people who took the plants last year said they had the Devil's own time trying to get any fruit off the vine, but tomatoes are touchy. It's simply a fact that it's very dry in New Mexico, and tomatoes like lots of water. I know one year I grew tomatoes here and for a while, the plants seemed to flourish and then they declined, never had more than one or two tomatoes from each plant, and then they seemed to shrivel and die. I'd grown them in large pots with good potting mix, and so their decline seemed strange -- until I pulled out the plants and discovered that only the top couple of inches of the soil had any water. Most of the soil in the pot was bone dry; I hadn't watered them nearly enough, though to my eye, and to my California conditioned watering hand, they'd had more than enough water. Lesson -- sort of -- learned.

This season, we had the driest winter in many years, and it has affected everything. I've started watering the trees and lilacs and other long term residents of our property here, but some,  I think, aren't going to make it. They've had many years  of drought stress before this only occasionally relieved with "good years" of reasonably abundant rain and snow. And a "good year" is dry by any common measurement.

The Indians abandoned this area in the 1670s during a severe drought and famine exacerbated by Spanish colonial Franciscan padres who simply saw the suffering of the Indians as God's wrath for  idolatry and whatnot. By the time the nearby pueblos were vacated, there were only a few hundred Indians left. They mostly joined pueblos on the west side of the mountains along the Rio Grande -- which apparently still had some water in it. This area was left more or less uninhabited for many years. The raiding tribes would set up temporary camps amid the ruins, and from time to time Spanish settlers would run their cattle and sheep over the range. But otherwise, it wasn't until the early/mid-1800s that small settlements were set up on the lower slopes of the mountains, and re-settlement of the plains (without the Indians) only got going in the early 1900s.

It's not easy land to farm, and drought is a persistent risk. I'm sure the early dry-land bean farmers were shocked the first year the rains didn't come. And the next and the next and the next. Eventually, they realized they couldn't rely on summer rainfall and winter snow to grow their crops, and somebody decided to drill down into the aquifer that underlies the whole basin. Sure enough they hit water, and ever since, such crops as are grown here have been under irrigation. But it's an uneasy balance.

There are a few farms still operating, but mostly such agriculture as there is around here is cattle raising, and when things get too dry -- as they seem to be right now -- the cattle... disappear. Where they go is one of those.... mysteries. Most I imagine go to slaughter right away. A few go to feed lots or greener pastures in Texas and Colorado.

The farms grow beans and corn and alfalfa and a few other crops for the animals, not so much for people. I'm one of several trying to get some varied vegetables to grow here. It's possible with enough water, soil amendments and care, but it's not easy.

For one thing, the soil lacks nutrients. It's mostly heavy clay with some sand, and it's highly alkaline. Organic matter is nearly completely absent, and all our attempts to establish a compost pile have failed. There are no earthworms, and practically no soil bacteria. Compost doesn't form because the material you're trying to compost doesn't decompose. It petrifies.

They say there's a way to make compost in buckets if you're patient and you keep it wet and introduce bacteria and earthworms, but I haven't figured it out yet. The two open piles we started are kind of hilarious what with their petrified garden debris and food scraps. One has grown quite large, but nothing has happened. Everything is as it was deposited, just dessicated.

In pots -- and bags and other containers -- things can grow very well. The only things we've been able to grow in the soil have been tulip and daffodil bulbs, but even they are stressed by the super-dry winter, and this year they are pretty peaked and wan.

Our farmer friend down the road supplements his soil with fish emulsion and manure. It gives him good crops, mostly beans and corn, but he's had only middling luck with vegetables. They will grow, but it's like they don't want to. He's preparing to grow some vegetables in greenhouses, but his first attempt failed when some kind of disease in the greenhouse killed off most of his plants. I don't think he's going to try again this year, but his kids have set up two vegetable plots outdoors. They set out lots of plants one weekend. Couple of days later, there was a hard freeze overnight. They'll have to replant when the weather warms up enough.

My beans and corn germinated in the greenhouse a week ago, and that same hard freeze killed most of the beans. Even though the greenhouse has heat (a number of 25w pads) I forgot to turn them on that night, and by the time I remembered, it was too late. The corn is struggling, but looks to be surviving. I'll plant more shortly.

So far, the squash and melons have not germinated though they were planted weeks ago. I'll give them another few days, then try again. Oddly, some hollyhock seeds that are at least five years old are starting to germinate. We'll see. They can be really tough to grow. You never know.

Though there have been some failures and disappointments so far this year, all in all I'm pretty pleased with the way my modest attempts at growing things are going. Freezing overnights have not quite ended, though, so I might have some more losses. It's not all that cold right now (early morning -- about 5am, about 37°) but the prediction is for it to freeze again by 6am. I've got the heat on in the greenhouse just in case.

I've just got to keep learning and trying.

Meanwhile, we don't do nearly enough R, R, & R, though I think we do much more than most others. Our garbage can, for example, is hardly ever full, unlike that of our neighbors -- some of whom have two cans overflowing, week after week. We recycle, reuse, and repurpose as much as we can, and so we send much less to the landfill than we might.

We learned about "living lightly on the Earth" many years ago and those lessons have stayed with us.

Even our house is a recycled pioneer adobe. From time to time, I think about doing another renovation/remodeling, but since we're getting up there in years, I'm not so sure it's going to happen before we shuffle off this mortal coil. We'll have to make do in the meantime..

Reflections on Earth Day? Over the decades, the lessons are largely ingrained and unconscious now. Sometimes the advocates get too enthusiastic and expect too much from individuals and not enough, it seems to me, from civic bodies and institutions. There's a constant tendency to approach the issues of Earth Day from a position of superiority over those who haven't got the message yet. Demanding, directing, disapproving, hectoring, yadda, yadda. It seems to me, too, that the whole thing is so very, very... white. Ain't much of a Rainbow Coalition. Those who have adopted some of the principles, however, or who have always lived by them, aren't nearly so white or so judgmental at all. We just do our thing!

Keep on keeping on...

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Moar War, War Fever, Scandal! Scandal! Scandal!

What a freaking mess. What have we done to deserve this? [I'm sure the many targeted peoples under the bombs raining down on them from the Empire Above wonder the same damn thing...]

Views from Damascus overnight resemble Baghdad on Shock n Awe night so many years ago. Remember? I don't know anymore whether people do. There's been so much misery, mayhem and bloodshed Over There, it's hard to keep track, isn't it?

The proximate cause of the latest "coalition" air strikes (primarily from off shore missile launches) of yet another Middle Eastern city is the supposed use of prohibited chemical weapons against a rebel stronghold in the suburbs of Damascus.

Whether it actually happened and who did it if it did is subject of some dispute. There are statements that it didn't happen at all. There are statements that it was staged. There are statements that it was done by outside forces. There are statements that it was done by the rebels themselves... Yadda, yadda.

None of us is in a position to know. Whether our military and civilian rulers know much more than we do is a mystery. All we can say with any certainty is that the protagonists of these wars and rebellions tend to be dissemblers.

The launching of retaliatory missiles is essentially de rigeur these days. It's what's done to show the non-compliant who's the boss. It hasn't worked very well with the Assad regime, and it doesn't seem to quell rebellions either. It's just a Thing. Blowing shit up is the way things are done by the Empire and by the Rebel Alliance. Sometimes I think they cause misery for the fun of it.

So they just blow things up. People are in the way, oh well!

Jeepus, I hate this. I was going round and round about the Stephon Clark Thing in Sacramento. My point was that I just want the killing to stop, and he didn't quite get it. Huh? Whut?

The killing. To. Stop.

We seem to be locked into this situation where killing is the number one option when things go sideways or there's a perception of a threat of some sort. When police kill, they're just taking their cue from our Dauntless Leaders. Killing is their Go To solution to practically everything. They're no too bright are they?

Meanwhile the White House (and many other prominent elements of society) are enveloped in one scandal after another. I don't think we've ever had a mobbed up gangster sitting on the throne, but we do now, and our institutions have no idea how to deal with it/him. He's been hamstrung in various ways, but that's not sufficient. He uses what powers he has remaining for making much mischief and propping up his frail ego. This is hardly presidential, but I don't think it much matters any more.

The presidency itself has long since been diminished by various unfortunate and unpleasant occupants and their scandals, deceptions, and military adventures. It's close to time for something else again.

The Ruling Class seems happy to have the Rabble wallowing in it. Distraction? Sure. Entertainment? Yep. A masque?

The downward spiral seems inescapable.

And yet, there must be hope somewhere.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"The Crisis Is Upon Us"

We've been hearing this for over a year now, ever since Trump ascended the throne and before.

"Existential Crisis!!!! Run and Hide!!!! Resist!!!!! The Republic is Doomed!!!!! Russia! Russia!!! Russia!!!!" Yadda, yadda.

And  I've been thinking all this time that if the situation really is as described by the Doomsayers then surely there would be an intervention. Surely there would be.

Our government is quite adept at dealing with existential crises by any means necessary. And over the course of the current regime, we've seen plenty of instances in which this or that crisis or looming catastrophe brought on by Himself has been... handled... one way or another to mitigate the damage and effects that following the dictates from On High would have caused.

That's not to say things have been stabilized by any means. This has been a roller-coaster ride of unprecedented whipsawing and violent slides. It's wild, but I get the impression that the Overclass is so far fine with it.

If they felt any of the previous Existential Crises brought on by the regime were significant enough to do something about, they would have done it by now. That they haven't done it by now is the clearest sign I can think of that they're satisfied that Trump has been sufficiently limited in his ability to precipitate real Existential Crisis and that what he and his wrecking crew are allowed to do is essentially just what the Overclass wants done and would have done through any pretender to the throne.

Mrs Clinton would have gone about it somewhat differently, but the outcome would have been essentially the same. Maybe not so much Crisis and Chaos, but following the same path toward the same denouement.

But this time, what I see of the punditry (remember, no cable teevee in the Ché household --ever) seems to be saying "It's different." As if this were the Real Thing, we're reaching the end of the roller coaster ride, and it will be over sooner rather than later.

Skepticism is warranted. Too many people are profiting too much from keeping the ride going to shut it down now. Trump has shown that he can be rather easily hamstrung from doing what would jeopardize class and gang interests while he can be guided toward actions which enhance their interests.

The tax cut for the wealthy* was a step, not the end point, of an overall scheme to recreate "government" as the ham-fisted, jack-booted enforcer of Overclass interest. Of course, it's always had that aspect, but over the last generation or so (since Reagan), the purpose of government has been shifted almost entirely away from "public interest" toward private, pecuniary interest and enforcement of increasingly oppressive rules and laws over the Lesser People.

As has often been pointed out, the so-called tax cut actually increases tax liability for a significant percentage of the middle and lower classes. That's by design -- and it happened under Reagan, too. The Overclass simply doesn't believe it should be paying for government. Like medieval lords, they believe the Rabble should be paying them to lord it over all creation, and that all taxes should be extracted by any means necessary from the Rabble. That's the direction we've been headed for a very long time, and the tax cut is just another step.

When we examine what ICE and other agencies are actually doing we see the outline of what Our Rulers have in mind for all of us: No protection from social/political predators and despoilers at all. Unless you have the power (and money) to hire your own fixers and Guidos, tough luck, suckers.

Gangster rule.

Some people -- and it seems most People Who Matter -- are fine with it. It's what they've wanted all along. So now they're closer than ever to it. Calling it "The Crisis" may be accurate enough, but they're not planning to do anything about it. And even if there is a Dem Wave this fall, so what?

Apart from style, what would really change?

And even style may not be that different.

So despite all, I'm not seeing buy in from the Overclass that Trump has to go. He's proved his worth to them as entertainment for the masses over and over again. He's also a money-maker for them. Pence wouldn't be that. Not on a bet, and likely, if he rose to the presidency, he would have to be removed for cause. Not so much for Trump.

So let's say Trump does something really stupid and it has negative effects on the Overclass. The Crisis manifests in ways they don't like. What then? Remember, "Never let a crisis go to waste. Every crisis is an opportunity." In other words, "So what, let's make money."

And so it is likely to go.

The Crisis has been upon us for a very long time, hasn't it?

No matter what else happens, we'll still be in Crisis. Our Rulers like it like that.

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Spate of Police Killings Hits the News

[Note: as this hiatus continues, I've been going to physical therapy to try to deal with my increasing left-side lameness. Mixed results: able to walk a bit better most of the time, but various hip and back pains following treatments suggest the onset of sciatica -- which the therapist acknowledged might be triggered. What a drag it is getting older...]

There's been a fairly regular spate of police killings in the news lately, reminding me a bit of the coverage uptick after Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, MO, all those years ago. (Can it be almost four years now?) Of course, it was the shooting of James Boyd in Albuquerque in March of 2014 that set off numerous protests, not just of his killing by police, but of dozens of killings over the previous few years. I was involved in some of those protests though not as much as I might have wanted to be -- thanks to my lameness even then.

The killing of Stephon Clark in his grandmother's Sacramento backyard was very disturbing. I didn't know him, but I know the Meadowview neighborhood where it happened, and it's easy to imagine how terrifying the whole thing has been. Meadowview is not an easy place to live, but many people who live there have no choice. They have been pushed out of other neighborhoods, either through gentrification or because of some stain on their records.

I understand Stephon's grandmother had lived in the neighborhood for decades, and for all the trouble with the law Stephon had been in, he was a potential community leader with a magnetic personality and a vibrant presence who was "turning his life around."

This is a common enough story in many communities of color throughout the nation. What's also common is that up and coming black male community leaders are intentionally or accidentally targeted for elimination.

This seems to be an "accidental" elimination perpetrated by a couple of panicked cops on the hunt for someone who was reported to be breaking car, truck and house windows. They found a Negro who they thought had a gun and blasted away at him until he was a riddled mess of bullet holes and then let him bleed out until he was dead, dead, dead.

In New York, Saheed Vassell, well-know to be a harmless kook in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, was shot down pretty much on sight by specialist crew of killer cops deployed because of reports of a Negro with a gun threatening people on the streets.

In American society, cops consider an armed Negro or the report of an armed Negro -- doesn't have to be with a gun -- to be an existential threat to be neutralized promptly. Saheed was reported to have a gun. He didn't, but it didn't matter. The reports were sufficient, and apparently cops are not trained or required to ascertain the truth of the matter; in the case of Saheed, they were deployed to kill, which is what they did, BAM, BAM, BAM. Dead.

There was a recent incident in Portland, OR, in which a deranged white man, said to be armed with a knife, was being hunted by police based on accusations of a carjacking earlier in the day and a wreck of said car on the poor side of town. Man enters homeless shelter, shirtless and acting bizarre. He has a knife and (apparently) is threatening to kill himself with said knife. Police converge, man is cornered and (according to reports) man starts stabbing himself in the neck. Police "deploy lethal force." Man is "deceased."

And so it goes. It should be stated this goes on all the time. More than a thousand times a year, every year (looks to be even more this year) are killed by police, and some of these killings become news items that garner a lot of attention nationally and internationally. The US has a widely recognized problem with gun violence, police killings and mass shootings, a problem that seems completely intractable on some levels, is rather easily dealt with on others.

Police killings are an issue because the officers involved are almost never held to criminal account, are rarely even reprimanded by their departments. Many times, officers who kill -- regardless of circumstances -- are rewarded and hailed as heroes, in part because police consultants like David Grossman and William Lewinsky have been going around the country for decades telling police that killing the Bad Guy is their highest accomplishment, and they'll have the "best sex of their lives" afterwards. No lie.

Many of these killings are nothing but summary executions disproportionately afflicting black,  brown, and poor white subjects, many suffering mental health crises for which no treatment or services are available. Obviously something is wrong but supposedly nothing can be done about it.

Much like periodic episodes of mass shooting, it's just something Americans have to live with as "the price of freedom." Or something.

It's happened so much for so long, I believe we're dealing with deliberate, cynical and cruel policies of murder/mayhem that are intended to keep the Rabble in fear and helplessness... Over and over again, the Rabble are shown that they cannot rely on police or officials to protect them; over and over again, they are shown that they are helpless in the face of American Gunners. Over and over again, they are shown that they are targets of whoever wants to target them, and there is nothing they can do about it.

So here we are, again.

And what do we do about it? Ideally we change it, but our policy makers don't seem to be interested. They're satisfied with things as they are (except for the movements and demonstrations that arise). A relatively steady number of police killings, infrequent but increasingly deadly mass murders, constant low-level gang and other murders, constant suicide by gun, all of it just fine with our Overclass -- because it never (or very rarely) affects them. It is always something for the Lower Orders to deal with. Too bad if they can't.

I'm too old and infirm to have much of an effect on these things anymore, but I hope and pray the young folks will make the changes necessary. As many people have testified in the recent cases, "We know what's wrong and we know what to do about it."