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Thoughts on Sandy: We Must Change Our Ways, NOW

5 Nov

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I didn’t really think much about Sandy until I went grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon, October 28. The fact that Irene hadn’t hit Jersey City as bad as had been predicted meant little about Sandy. And I knew that. But still, how bad could it be? So I didn’t stock up on batteries, candles, and non-perishable food. Thus it’s a matter of luck that I had enough to get through four-and-a-half days without power.

Of course, I also had friends, June Jones in particular. A number of people met at her place for meals. She was cooking up a storm. Without power the food in her freezer would spoil quickly. She decided to cook it up and had her friends and family over.

Thanks, June!

And then there’s my friends at the Villain. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So I got home from shopping on Sunday afternoon and spent some more time on my Halloween costume: Trash Master. I was coming down the home stretch on it and figured it would be ready in plenty of time for the Halloween party we were throwing for the kids in the garden.

Did some more work on the costume on Monday and more this and that. Took some photos of wind whipping through the garden (see above) and planned my work for the rest of the week. Around 8:30 PM or so that evening the power flickered and then went out. But it came back in a minute or so. Every once in awhile I could feel the building shake. At 9:05 PM the power went out again, and didn’t come back.

Not to worry. I was ready for bed anyhow—I’m going to bed early these days, and getting up early, too, as always. I figured the power would be back when I woke up, or later that day.

I woke up Monday morning to darkness. I had some breakfast, grabbed my camera, and hit the streets by 6:45 AM. Very few lights were on anywhere. That was NOT a good sign, not good at all. Oh, some big buildings had lights on, buildings with generators no doubt. But mostly things were dark, in Jersey City AND in Manhattan.

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40 Days and Nights of Techno Hubris: Titanic

29 Oct

It’s 7:30 in the AM this Monday in late October, just before All Hallows Eve, and my thoughts turn to Titanic, not the ship, but a folk poem about that ship. It’s a poem about water, lots of it, and that’s one reason it comes to mind.

I’ve published it here before, back in May of 2010, but it’s time to bump it up to the top of the list, along with a new introduction. Why?

Here’s why.

Lafayette by the Bay

I live in the Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City, NJ, less than a half-mile from the Hudson Rive and the New York Bay. Sometime in the next 24 hours there’s going to be a storm surge in that bay and part of Jersey City is going to be flooded. Probably not my part, but, in those immortal words of Thomas Fats Waller, “one never knows, do one?”

Whatever flooding there is, and there WILL be some, will be driven by hurricane Sandy. Last year it was Irene. Irene wasn’t as bad as predicted, at least not in my neighborhood–though Communipaw Avenue had 3 or 4 inches of water near Garfield, just a few blocks from me. But it was bad enough, and inflicted considerable damage inland in small towns and hamlets that were wrecked by raging rivers.

I want to blame this one on anthropogenic climate chaos, aka global warming. But that’s tricky. There were hurricaines, and nasty one, long before us industrious industrial humans started messing with the climate. Not knowingly, not intentionally mind you, no more so that those ancient humans desiccated North Africa until it became the Sahara Dessert. Be messing with the environment we did, not doubt about it.

The thing, we can’t blame any specific weather even on global warming, because all of the weather, all the time, 24/7/365 (366 in leap years) is affected. It’s the general tempo and temperature that’s affected, not specific events.

There are, of course, those who imagine techno-fixes for this mess. Let’s pump some sulpher into the atmosphere, they say, it’ll blot out the sun just enough to set things right. Any maybe we should all hold on to our lucky rabbit’s foot while doing it, ’cause we’re going to need all the luck we can get.

No, I fear that putting our faith in techno-fixes is just going to make things worse. We’re not that powerful, not that knowledgeable. So let’s be wise. Let’s listen to the poets of Titanic, which is, among other things, about techno hubris. And water, lots of water.

What’s Titanic?

Toasts

Titanic is a toast, a form of boasting narrative in the African-American oral tradition that is a precursor to rap and hip-hop. If you go to this YouTube video you can hear Rudy Ray Moore recite a version from Dolomite. Continue reading

Simple Gratitude

9 Oct

I prepared a pot roast yesterday for the first time in two or three years.

Most of the time my dinner preparations are embarrassingly primitive. Yes, I do eat out of get take out—mostly cheap take-out the year and a half I lived in Hoboken. But for most of my adult life I’ve prepared dinner.

Two or three times a year I’d do a pot roast. Certainly nothing elaborate or fancy. Still, it’s a step above rock-bottom basic. After all, it does require that you peel onions, carrots, and potatoes—though I didn’t peel them this time. I do like the skins. You have to dredge the meat in a flour and spice mixture. It’s got to cook for several hours, so you’ve got to watch it, help it along.

There’s enough to do that one has a sense of involvement with the food. It’s something you think about, tend to, and care for.

It felt good.

And when I put the food on my plate, I blessed it. I didn’t say anything, but I felt something. That something was a blessing.

Which I realized only as I composed this note. That blessing is the point of the note, it’s why I set out to write it. But the specific word wasn’t in my mind when I sat down to type.

It’s one I associate with Coleridge, his poem “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” at the very end:

My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beat its straight path across the dusky air
Homewards, I blest it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory,
While thou stood’st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creeking o’er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.

The Tomato Incident | Vermont Commons

25 Sep

The Transition movement is rooted in permaculture principles, which some people call “social permaculture.” Applied on a social level, the principle of observation leads to some important foundational questions. Where are we? What’s going on? Who’s involved? Where are we going? How are we getting there? How do we work together?

This isn’t something that we can simply read articles about. We need to experience these questions together in shoulder-to-shoulder, hands-on kinds of ways (kind of like my tomato plants) to see—by trial and error- just what makes us lush, green and bountiful! Reading articles can ignite good ideas—but they have to be tried on, worn and felt. We have to experience what works and what doesn’t in order to make choices for our communities (and our gardens) that will give us thriving resilience.

This means getting out there and doing it. It means shucking off the social isolation that, as Americans, we have unquestionably accepted for the past two decades. It means letting go of the concept of ‘rugged individualism’. The Transition  movement is about transitioning away from overly individuated singularity toward an integrated synthesis. We, as individuals, will necessarily awaken to our roles as a part of the collective. We will reclaim our rightful place as ‘citizens’ instead of being merely content to be ‘consumers’.

via The Tomato Incident | Vermont Commons.

Political Connections: Lafayette to Montpelier

19 Sep

On the one hand I’m involved in projects in my neighborhood (Lafayette in Jersey City, NJ), most notably a community garden, but also an anti-litter campaign, and I’m looking to do something with music. On the other hand I just got back from a trip to northern Vermont where I was part of a five-state aggregation of nine musicians that provided music for a conference on Vermont independence, which means Vermont seceding from the United States and establishing itself as a sovereign nation once again (Vermont was a republic between 1777 and 1791).

What do these two spheres of activity have to do with one another? What are the connections?

Some People Links

There is, of course, the fact that I’m involved in both sets of these arenas. I live in the Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City and am working to make it a better neighborhood. Lafayette’s my home.

I traveled to Vermont at the behest (when was the last time I used that word?) of Charlie Keil, an intellectual and musical compatriot. Charlie is an anarchist, as am I, and a pacifist, ditto. We were both conscientious objectors during our years of draft eligibility. And we’re both musicians.

In particular, Charlie is interested in getting more people to make live music and he’s interested in what he calls a 12/8 Path band, which is a strolling brass band at home in 12/8 time. We’ve played many demonstrations together in New York City, including a large anti-war demonstration prior to the invasion of Iraq and an anti-nuclear demonstration where Japanese and out-numbered everyone else.

But, how’s that get us to Vermont celebrating the future independence of Vermont? Simple, really. Charlie believes in “small is beautiful” and I’m OK with it. Breaking the USofA into a number of smaller and more flexible states seems like a reasonable thing to do. That’s something advocated by Thomas Naylor, an economist and an activist for Vermont independence. It’s Naylor who brought Charlie to Vermont and I came along.

Me and a bunch of other guys. Since this post is about connections I could legitimately talk about these others. But I won’t. For one thing, that could easily go on and on and on as I start moving out along those networks. For another, I don’t know much about most of them except that they’re good and versatile musicians, which I learned from playing with them, some of the for the first time in Vermont. But I’ll mention one, trombonist Steve Swell, who’s sympathetic to Charlie’s politics and mine. You can track his musical links through his Wikipedia entry. Also, Steve’s loosely familiar with my neighborhood as he went to college in Jersey City. Continue reading

Our Gardenbrain Economy – NYTimes.com

11 Jul

YES! The economy’s a garden, not a machine. It must be tended, not cranked. Right now the cranks are ruling the country and they’re making a mess of it!

What we require now is a new framework for thinking and talking about the economy, grounded in modern understandings of how things actually work. Economies, as social scientists now understand, aren’t simple, linear and predictable, but complex, nonlinear and ecosystemic. An economy isn’t a machine; it’s a garden. It can be fruitful if well tended, but will be overrun by noxious weeds if not.

In this new framework, which we call Gardenbrain, markets are not perfectly efficient but can be effective if well managed. Where Machinebrain posits that it’s every man for himself, Gardenbrain recognizes that we’re all better off when we’re all better off.

via Our Gardenbrain Economy – NYTimes.com.

What’s a Community Garden Community?

9 Jul

Two questions, closely related, but not the same:

What’s a community garden?

What’s a garden community?

So, what IS a community garden? I suppose it’s a garden that, in some sense, belongs to a community rather than belonging to a private individual or organization.

In what sense CAN a garden belong to the community? There is the legal sense. This requires that the community form itself into a legally recognized organization and that that organization, in turn, owns the land on which the garden is created. But, legal ownership of the land is not necessary nor sufficient. The land can be donated, and it need not be donated to anyone or any group in particular. It need only be made available.

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Gardens require labor. This IS necessary. Where does that labor come from? Why, from the community. People donate their labor to the garden, creating the beds, planting, weeding, watering, aerating, and harvesting. Where do the fruits go, the vegetables, flowers, herbs, and, yes, fruits? To the community.

And so it is with the Lafayette Community Learning Garden in Jersey City, NJ. While is has been organized out of the Morris Canal Community Development Corporation, MC CDC doesn’t own the land. The land has been donated, if only for a couple of years, by a local developer. Local businesses provided materials, supplies, food and drink on work days, and plants. The community itself has been providing the labor. Some people knew about the garden before ground-breaking and signed up ahead of time. Others pitched in when they saw things happening. Continue reading

Global Warming Isn’t Going Away

9 Jul

Public Prayer and the Power of Ritual

4 Jul

I belong to a small block association that, as often as not, ends its meetings with a prayer. We stand, join hands, and one person will say the prayer—there’s two or three lay ministers in the group.

Though I don’t entertain any conventional religious belief, I like this little ritual. It feels good.

If a loaded gun were put to my head and my life depended on it, I might say I was an atheist. Might. Otherwise I’d just as soon not say any such thing. Nor even agnostic. Too damn rational.

And yet this Christian prayer, uttered by a devout Christian among other devout Christians, that doesn’t make me feel at all uncomfortable. As I said, I like it.

Question: Could this ritual be done without religious belief?

Ah, son, you ARE doing it without religious belief.

True enough. But I don’t think I could offer the prayer myself. For one thing, I don’t have the words and phrases ready to hand, couldn’t improvise one at all.

Getting back to the issue: If there is no religious belief, then to whom do you address the prayer? Certainly not to the mayor, nor to the CEO of Walmart, nor to Beyoncé, nor to the Japanese Emperor. Perhaps to some abstract entity such as the powers of abundance and fecundity throughout the universe? That’s edging up on a deity, no?

And there’s the hand-holding. Intimate, but not personal. Without that address to WHATEVER intimate hand-holding could be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Without the intimacy the hand-holding would be meaningless.

How do you engineer a way to have public intimacy that enlarges and enriches the group without being embarrassing?

We Live in a Culture of Fear

3 Jul

Barry Glassner. The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things. Basic Books 1999.

From the introduction, p. xxvi:

Mary Douglas, The eminent anthropologist who devoted much of her career to studying how people interpret risk, pointed out that every society has an almost infinite quantity of potential dangers from which to choose. Dangers get selected for special emphasis, Douglas showed, either because they offend the basic moral principles of the society or because they enable criticism of disliked groups and institutions.

p. xxviii:

The short answer to why Americans harbor so many misbegotten fears is that immense power and money await those who tap into our moral insecurities and supply us with symbolic substitutes. Continue reading