Saturday, January 16, 2021

Invisibility of Mechanisms and the Half-Percent Revolution

The events of January 6, at the U.S Capitol, point me back to the invisibility of mechanisms that play a role in popular superstition, conspiracy-thinking, and suspicion. That invisibility which manifests a sense of something much bigger, more diabolical, than its true extent, also provides the cover for power and influence of a small group of actors or a limited number of terrorizing acts, that can manipulate political outcomes against the greatest good. If perceived power is power, the magnification of the actions of a few by media outlets, including social media, and the obfuscations created by time, distance, mistrust, ignorance, and the representational vacuum created by globalized economics have come together to destabilize our system. 

We have to ask who most benefits from this destabilization and follow that logic to its conclusions. 

It is said that it takes anywhere from 3.5% to 25% of the population to flip majority rule to minority rule, to enact a social, cultural, or political revolution. I'm inclined to believe the smallest number of actual actors, along with a larger number of inactive support or disinterest, is all that is necessary. The majority may fear the changes afoot, or the actions they witness on TV, or even the ideas inherent to the changes, but most will sit in shock or horror, unsure of how to act without the strongest leadership to shape the majority's actions. 

 "IT can manipulate people with weaker wills, making them indifferent to the horrific events that unfold or serve as unknowing accomplices."

Donald Trump as Pennywise the Clown
"I'm every nightmare you've ever had. I'm your worst dream come true. I'm everything you ever were afraid of."

Unlike the mythical spirits of ghost stories of the Continent, that rise up from the land to defend against transgressions born of arrogance and rationality, this American spirit rises up from its sewers to manipulate and encourage the arrogance of ignorance. American ghost stories are powered by our greatest crimes and recurrent ills.



Tuesday, December 8, 2020

When Absurdity Gives You Squash, Make Cake

large butternut squash
 The local Arboretum, where I manage photography education, employs a couple who've been growing an absurd variety of squash. In fall, it's quite a spectacular display. Some of these end up for sale and I happened to show up on two for one day, and that's how I ended up with two ridiculously giant "butternut" squash. I cooked one in the oven to eat as a side, but found it too fibrous and moist to enjoy the way we might delicata or acorn, or even ordinary-sized butternut squash. What to do?
Out of the oven, into the fridge until...

A cake was born. It had to be sugar-free, since that's the new way, here. Sweet is allowed, as long as it comes from fibrous sources like dates. If you google pumpkin bread, you'll get millions of hits. If you search for sugar-free pumpkin bread, you'll get a bunch of keto, vegan, gluten free, paleo wonk, but few, if any pages dedicated to the refined sugar-free. So, one must adapt, and adapt I did. Recipe follows:

Refined Sugar Free Squash Bread (Cake)


  • 1 cup of unbleached flour, all-purpose works
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, all the healthier -right?
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp all-spice, what a catch all name
  • 1 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg, ground of course
  • Zest of an orange, although, when in a pandemic, I pass up going to the grocery for one orange
  • 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 cups (more moist, less moist) of pureed (or vigorously stirred), cooked squash 
  • 1/3 cup oil (or 1 stick of softened butter in my case)
  • 2 eggs, preferably from your neighbor's chickens
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla (glad to get that jug of it from Costco, pandemic baking and all)
  • 2 cups whole, dried dates (thanks again Costco), one chopped and the other soaked in warm water and then pureed. 
  • Chopped walnuts, as much as you like, or none if you wish
  • Sugar-free Lily chocolate chips if you're into that (chocolate is one place the alcohol sugars hold up well)

On To It

Preheat oven to 350 F

Butter up a loaf pan, average size, maybe 9x4x3 inches

Warm 1 cup of water in the microwave or stove-top and place 1 cup of dates into it to soften. Once softened, mix manually or with a machine to puree (doesn't need to be perfect). In a medium-large bowl, combine both flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. In another bowl, place the pureed dates, oil or butter, squash puree, and orange zest (if you went to the store to get one orange) and mix well. Add the two eggs to this mixture, then the vanilla and mix it up. Add this bowl to the flour bowl and now you're cooking. 

Fold the ingredients together into a smooth consistency (well, as smooth as it can get, don't go crazy). At this time you can add the chopped dates, the nuts, and chips (if those are part of your diet), and fold it all together. Get that mixture into the buttered baking pan and it into the oven for, hard to say, 45-55 minutes. Check on it. Do the toothpick into the center test. When done, take it out and let cool for twenty minutes before turning it upside down for removal. Then enjoy. You can freeze it or refrigerate it, or eat it all in one sitting. 

Post Script: For a guy who teaches photography, those images up there are real orange, absurdly orange, like the times.

Monday, November 2, 2020

The Politics of Superstition


trump on stageI know a thing or two about Donald Trump. I grew up with him. 

We were both born in the same borough and more precisely, in the same hospital. Over the 24 years between our births, the populations served by that hospital had changed. For me, that change became part of my identity and for him, a repudiation that could only be salvaged by slapping his name on it. 

Throughout my childhood, our local media afforded Trump attention that out-sized his accomplishment. In those rough years, the seventies into the Reagan eighties, the media wanted something or someone to look at that wasn't the blighted hangover of the previous decade. Instead, we were served Trump's self-manufactured over-confidence, a salesman, as the nation turned away from its problems to fix on the shiny object Reagan had promised, but would never deliver. 

In this past, Trump's vainglory, gold-plated hucksterism and bald-faced opportunism was self-serving. Apart from the misguided attention provided by a talk TV media industry always in search of content, his effect on most of us, then, was negligible.

Yet, here we are, today, in a confused haze, a political fog of war.  On the precipice of this election, whose over-stimulation of the senses is experienced by the political spectrum, I cannot escape my supposition that our political body has a tickle of calamity in its throat. A deep, possibly unconscious, metastasization of threat and decline that may have begun with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, or was it the election of 2000? Hard to say -it was all too easy to dismiss the subtle symptoms back then.

Social, cultural, or political conservatism has roots in the fear underpinning the premise of stability. If I were to discard Trump's means, leaving only ends, I would say this opportunist has successfully re-established the minority's conservative vision of defunded government (so-called tax cuts), reduced environmental regulation, religious fundamentalism, "law and order," racially-stratified liberty, extraordinary defense spending, and more. These ends are not new, but Trump's simple arithmetic of means and ends cannot possibly calculate all the potential consequences his means can bloom.

What began as a circus of comedic take-downs of various GOP suitors has become a theater of tragedy. What makes a tragedy is simple: it wasn't inevitable; it didn't have to be. Maybe the western wildfires are an apt metaphor. This tinderbox, full as it is with combustibles, shouldn't be governed by those apt to play with fire. Yet this president revels in flicking lit matches. His support is easily ingratiated; their laughter and applause entertain him; he becomes bored without it. His boredom excites his drive to upset those who've long had disdain for him. It is easy to get the political class yammering and even easier to attract the cameras. Trump thrives with this attention, more so than most when it's negative. Now, on the stage that political norms ushered him to, he uses it to destroy the vehicle on which he arrived. There may be no way back.

Is Trump irresponsible? His support doesn't think so, not as long as he is satisfying their belief systems. Yet, beliefs do little to solve the problems our nation or species have before us. Under threat of calamity and fear, beliefs have a history of promulgating persecution, mayhem, imprisonment and murder. First, identities are grouped into others, then they are targeted. The ravings of Q Anon have grouped Democrats, for instance, as pedophilic satan worshipers stealing children from pizza joints. The "China plague," it has been suggested, is a communist plot to destroy the United States with a manufactured virus. In China, conspiracies promoted on the web suggest Covid-19 is a U.S. plot to destroy China. Undoubtedly, we will see countless conspiracies around manipulation of our election, many not resolving for years -if ever.

Conspiracies are born out of a union of fear, ignorance, and an invisibility of mechanisms. Conspiracy-thinking is a form of political superstition -a mental salve and impetus for action. Can any good come from overwhelming ignorance (of which we are all capable), fear, or acting on that which is indemonstrable? We should all say not, were we to fully believe that we act from a place of unknowing. 

Superstare [suˈper.starə], the Latin root of the word superstition, means 'to stand over,' sometimes implies 'to survive.' To stand over, of course, is to overcome, even to conquer. The Latin root indicates, to me, standing over reason, standing over what is knowable -the material earth, from which facts and reason can begin to be derived. Facts, reason, rational argument -these are underfoot, stood over, and overcome under the spell of superstition. This is the characterization I would apply to the base support of Donald Trump. Even if I were to stretch superstare to the meaning survive, it could be easily shaped to describe an identity politics of survival based in personal belief. This is the politics of superstition.

Where do we go from here? Some scholars believe the recurring European plagues of the 14th through 16th centuries led Western civilizations to the period known as the Enlightenment, from which many of our social and political ideals were founded. But, I understand if you think three centuries of change doesn't offer much hope today. If you have the time this winter, watch The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague. And, if not so much for its contemporary analogue, the historical description of a small pox outbreak in Montreal, documented in Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague, assures us that the psychological and political responses to wide spread infectious disease are entirely unchanged. See -order can be provided by knowledge.

As for Donald Trump and his rhetoric of disinformation, racial othering, blame, conspiracy, hubris and guile? I'd rather ignore him, because it deflates him, and consider this election, more than anything, a referendum on our nation's citizenry.

Vote, stay safe, reason, touch the earth.


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Forced March


The day was not ideal -but was it ever going to be? I mean, at least the wind was a breeze and the temperature above 30°. As far as I could tell it was the best day out of the following ten or the previous three. Sleet and graupel, thunder and lightning, snow, wind and temps dropping to ten degrees forced me to plant in the snow on a day more like March than October.


 I tilled last Sunday before I knew for sure what was coming and that tilling modestly displaced the snow so that I could mostly make out my rows. The little hump in the top center is a few kale I left in place should things change and another few leaves can be eaten.

Despite the drought this year, several heads of garlic sized up well and even when they didn't, there were plenty of large cloves. Above, Porcelain variety named "Music," a well known large garlic. My other Porcelain is the strain known as "Armenian."

wheel dib
The real trouble was the snow drenched soil which, as the image of my wheel dib should tell, clung hardily to my gloves and glued the cloves large and small to it! The weight of the accumulating goo slowly pulled my glove away from my fingers, disabling dexterity and my attempts to push the glove back with the slick left handed glove were fruitless. The soil, wet and cold, clung to soaked gloves made for cold hands, but that was the worst of it. I completed the project in a scant three hours if I cut the clove popping done in the morning from the calculation.

Garlic patch 
I’ve reduced my garlic count this year to about 500 -my lowest count since my first year growing garlic. At the end of the day, the patch looked like I had a fight with a tub of Oreos cookies and cream, but was glad to be done and not out there today or any of the days to come. 
I still have, ahem, a few projects sitting unfinished under snow. I'm holding out for a brief warm up that I tend to think will come whenever the temperature drops so incongruous with the season. So, some porch work this November, or if I am lucky, just before Halloween? Scary thought is how many things sit under the snow that were near completion or that I thought I could get to, but simply couldn't, by dint of weather and age.