Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

April 30, 2012

Tea: the Drug Epidemic that Ruined Families and Home Breweries

Filed under: food, Vinting — Tags: , , , , — paragardener @ 4:06 am

This isn’t the first time I’ve floated caffeine as a hard drug. In The Devil’s Bean, I imagined a world where caffeine is illegal, and people see it as an addictive, life-ruining drug.

Too bad I hadn’t read William Cobbett’s tract on homebrewing — I could have really punched up my anti-caffeine propaganda. Cobbett, political champion for the poor and a noted hater of potatoes, wrote a book published 1824, called “Cottage Economy.” It’s basically a DIY manual for England’s laborers, who have a little land to grow their own crops on. In it, he argues that England’s poor are being ruined by a switch from homebrewed beer to tea.

“Only forty years ago,” laments Cobbett, “to have a house  and not to brew was a rare thing indeed.” By 1824, money printing had eroded workers’ purchasing power, and the sale of malted barley and hops was severely taxed. Yet, “even at present prices , home-brewed beer is the cheapest  drink that a family can use, except milk , and milk can be applicable only in certain cases.” (Note that drinking water was out of the question!)

Tea, subsidized by England’s global imperial might, was generally replacing beer. Tea has no nutritional value, and “besides being good for nothing, there is badness in it, because it is well known to cause a want of sleep in many cases, and in all cases, to shake and weaken the nerves. It is, in fact, a weaker kind of laudanum, which enlivens for the moment and deadens afterwards.”

By Cobbett’s analysis, workers spent approximately one-third of their income on tea and the associated sugar, milk, tea tackle, and fires. “But I look upon the thing in a still more serious light. I view the tea drinking as a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth, and a maker of misery for old age.” Any good and scary drug steals peoples’ money, health, and drive. Tea takes its users all the way down into the moral ruin, as well, since “the gossip of the tea table is no bad preparatory school for the brothel,” and England was filling up with hopeless young women who knew no skills except the tea-making ritual.

Tea causes workers to arrive late and die early: “He was up time enough; but the tea kettle kept him lolling and lounging at home; and now instead of sitting down to a breakfast upon bread, bacon and beer, which is to carry him until the hour of dinner, he has to force his limbs along under the sweat of feebleness… … to the wretched tea kettle he has to return at night with legs hardly sufficient to maintain him; and thus he makes his miserable progress towards that death which he finds ten or fifteen years sooner than he would have found it had he made his wife brew beer instead of making tea.” Wow! I think I’ll pass on tea and stick to methamphetamine and crack! (Scientific studies pretty consistently show that caffeine has no effect on overall life expectancy. It can, however, exacerbate stress.)

It’s funny how Cobbett’s Evil Tea story sounds just like an Evil Marijuana story, or an Evil Cocaine story, or so on and so forth. The real-world differences between drugs seem to be infinitely mutable to tellers of tales. That said… imported tea was probably a worse staple beverage than home-brewed beer. It is less nutritious for those in search of calories, and taking it with sugar causes tooth decay (did laborers in 1824 brush their teeth?). The worse tragedy was for people in Britain’s empire, who often went from some kind of homesteading, village life, into hard labor on sugar and tea plantations.

I had to share my weird encounter with the opposition to tea, there. What I’m more excited about is Cobbett’s homebrew recipe — it’s from before the time of Louis Pasteur, sterilization and the dried yeast packet! That’s what you might call a traditional sour-mash method of brewing. Until I get that going, I’ve got a Mr. Beer kit with its plastic barrel fermenter (bubbling away on an end table in the living room), and envelopes and cans of premixed ingredients. At least that will be enough to keep me away from drinking tea!

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April 20, 2012

Potatoes, Peasants and Paradeisophobia

Filed under: gardening, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:05 pm

“The indolent and turbulent habits of the lower Irish can never be corrected while the potato system enables them to increase so much beyond the regular demand for labor.” – Reverend Thomas Malthus

During the mid-1600’s, England seized most of Ireland’s good agricultural land for Protestant owners, and forced Catholics into swamps and other lousy areas. Catholics went from owning 60% of the land to 8%. Many of the new owners made their living by exporting wheat or other commodities to England, shrinking away Ireland’s food supply. This was a disaster, and many Irish clans might have been headed for extinction. Fortunately, the potato had recently been carried to Europe from its home in the Andes. Potatoes generated more food per acre than any other crop known, and they provide as nearly complete nutrition as you could hope for out of a single food. The Irish increased  on a fraction of the land they’d once farmed, going from three to eight million in a century.

English economist Arthur Young. in his Tour of Ireland, found potato plots ranging from half an acre to and acre and a half in size. Typically, a plot would be sharecropped for no money, but merely the right to live on the land, keep a cow or two and eat some potatoes! Young found this potentially exploitative, but on the other hand, it meant that peasants were not subject to fluctuations in the price of food (the English poor sometimes rioted over the price of bread). In several ways, having no cash and farming your own milk and potatoes was better than the English system of getting paid wages of almost no money, and being subject to firings, price spikes, or costly vice binges.

William Cobbett, an English journalist and politician, railed against potatoes as a trap for the poor. He believed potatoes to be less nutritious than wheat, fooling the poor by filling their bellies with worthless bulk. Cobbett also had a visceral aversion to potatoes: they had to be stored in root cellars instead of pantries; they reduced potato eaters into uncultured hogs; they lacked the elegance of uniform white flour and its rise into airy bread. Potatoes didn’t require “preparation, forethought, and attention,” thus depriving the poor of character-building opportunities. To Cobbett, growing your own food meant exiling yourself from civilization and culture. It would be better, in his view, to buy white flour on the free market and die if the free market didn’t need you. (See “Selections from Cobbett’s political works.”)

Concern for the plight of the poor really drifts towards the genocidal in the works of Thomas Malthus. “Does [Arthur Young] seriously think that it would be an eligible thing to feed the mass of people in this country on milk and potatoes, and make them as independent of the price of corn, and the demand for labor, as their brethren in Ireland?” To Malthus, there should be no more poor people than the wealthy need to employ — the rest of the population is “redundant.” The price of grain is a free market mechanism for regulating the numbers of poor people — when their wretchedness and misery is uglying the country up, it’s time for a rise in grain prices to kill some of them off. Potatoes were a problem because they lifted the poor too far from starving. (See “An essay on the principle of population.”)

As I was shoveling two years’ worth of compost into a raised bed, I contemplated how worthless my yard is to the market. I don’t fertilize the lawn or herbicide the weeds, and I laugh at the little cards Home Depot sends me, telling me what projects I’m supposed to be working on at this time of year (invariably, these projects are purely decorative). Practices like composting and seed saving add nothing to the GDP! How useless!

Governments seem to have an irrational hostility to gardens, as I wrote about a couple of posts ago. Someone pointed out to me that the hostility exudes also from the upper classes. The aversion could be termed paradeisophobia, to carelessly jam together a couple of Greek roots. People with a little power want to keep the wee folk dependent and under control — whether on government or capital, or just on Home Depot’s outdated, consumerist, Leave It to Beaver vision of suburban bliss.

The power dynamic of paradeisophobia is shown in the putting-down of the Whiskey Rebellion, when our country almost fought a second Revolutionary War over attempts to tax whiskey. In the far hinterlands of Pennsylvania, pioneers were using whiskey as currency. Whiskey was relatively valuable for its bulk and weight, and enough people wanted it that anyone could confidently trade in it. Hard liquor is agricultural wealth, distilled. Pioneers needed their own currency, being far removed from sources of official money — so they grew their own! Taxing the whiskey was a way to force the pioneers into using the government’s currency, undercutting the independence of their communities. Government forces put the rebellion down but never succeeded in collecting much of the tax, which was repealed in 1800.

You don’t need to even grow food or medicine to inspire paradeisophobia. Pygmies were recently hunter-gatherers, not known to grow any crops except cannabis. Consider the rainforest as a no-tech garden. In 1985, Sandor Katz took a tour of Africa and saw Pygmies working on plantations, farming cocoa. Says Katz, “We came to understand that the government was trying to force these people to settle into cash-crop agriculture. Their migratory lifestyle was being outlawed, phased out because it was of no value to a state in desperate pursuit of tax revenue and foreign exchange to pay off debts to global financial institutions.”

I can understand why people at the top of the heap feel differently, but in my view people don’t exist to serve markets, markets exist to serve people. If there is such a thing as a “free market,” that means at a minimum that you are free to walk away and provide a need for yourself. Think I’ll try to get something edible planted today…

April 15, 2012

Day of the Dregs

Filed under: food, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 2:44 am

The day before yesterday, I took an exploratory look at three gallons of cider I’d left in the basement and forgotten about all winter long. For several weeks last fall, I’d let the stuff ferment in its plastic milk jugs, venting the caps when native microbes had puffed up the jugs with carbon dioxide gas. Then I just left ’em there. I figure that they experienced temperatures from 55 to 75 degrees F (two of the gallons were near both the furnace and an exterior wall), over the months.

I siphoned the cider off the sediment (aka lees ) by mouth, taking a drastic risk in the process. Would I be sucking hard cider, vinegar, or some sort of unspeakable spoilage? It turned out to be hard cider, some sour, flat, alcoholic cider. Thank goddess I hadn’t lost gallons of potential booze. The cider is off the lees, in new jugs under a cap or fermentation locks.

Gallon jugs and mug if cider

The cider that lived!

The cider hasn’t resumed fermenting, despite the addition of some sugar water and a few granules of yeast nutrient. I think that the yeast in it is truly dead, and it needs a new surge of freeze-dried microbial troops to get going again. A good second fermentation with the right additives might make this into a really nice batch. One of the gallons might be turned into vinegar, by inviting in aerobic bacteria. It seems like a shame to destroy perfectly potable booze, but hard cider goes by the glass, cider vinegar by the tablespoon.

In the meantime, I am left with a big blob of sediment: it’s the sort of deceased yeast that vegans use as a nutritious substitute for Parmesan cheese, and New Zealanders press into Marmite. I remembered that Sandor Katz used it in “Wine Dregs Soup:” when I looked it up in Wild Fermentation , the idea of the soup is to substitute out 1/4 of your veggie, chicken or beef stock with wine dregs (“dregs” = the lees and left-behind wine/cider after siphoning). Katz suggests French onion soup.

I nabbed a recipe for Onion Soup from Mark Bitman’s “How to Cook Everything,” and promptly bastardized it into something I could manage on a day’s notice (no “real croutons” or homemade beef stock.) I took 6 sweet onions and sliced them up as thin as I could, then melted 1/4 cup of butter in a cauldron and tossed the onions in. I cooked them about 40 minutes over medium heat, turning them occasionally so as to have less browning and more turning-into-jelly.

Cooked Onions

Cooked 'em Onions!

Next, I dumped in a quart of Kroger beef broth, a pinch of dried thyme, three chopped sprigs of fresh parsley, and a bay leaf. Finally, the scary ingredient: the leftover stuff from the cider production, the sediment at the bottom of an old milk jug. I swirled the dregs into a homogenous cloudy substance, then measured out a cup and a quarter into the soup. I brought it to a simmer for fifteen minutes, during which time it gave off a most awesome smell of apples, onions, and alcohol.

Dregs

Do you really expect me to eat that?

After the simmer, I tossed store-bought croutons, shredded mozzarella and parmesan from a can onto the soup, and stuck the cauldron in the oven at 400 degrees F. After awhile, the top resembled a well-baked pizza (this isn’t the authentic way, but Tamara said that if she was eating the crud from the bottom of that jug, she was going to get a proper American proportion of cheese!)

Although she had to block out the memory of the jug, Tamara liked the soup, and I did, too. It’s very rich. In the future, we’ll use a better quality beef stock, and a little more liquid. I’m satisfied with the experiment: I learned that there is really nothing wrong with the dregs!

April 6, 2012

Garden-Variety Repression

The planting season hasn’t yet peaked, and government agencies are already busily kicking gardeners’ asses in the name of law and order. In the City of Flint, the Genesee County Land Bank sold property out from under Peace Mob Gardens’ lease, to a private owner, having apparently lost Peace Mob’s paperwork. In Oakland, California, multiple Federal agencies raided Oaksterdam University, the nation’s foremost school for medical marijuana workers and patients (a group which includes some of the world’s most sophisticated gardeners.) It’s business as usual in the Land of the Free, just your garden-variety repression.

Peace Mob Gardens

The Genesee County Land Bank is an entity created by state law, to return foreclosed-upon property to the tax base. Flint is a hollowed-out, deindustrialized city not unlike Detroit or Gary, in need of redevelopment as the only alternative to blight. GCLB is supposed to provide a community development function, since they are entrusted with so much land and can have a big effect. Peace Mob Gardens converts abandoned properties into livable, owned homes and/or community gardens. They offer the community educational opportunities from classes and work days to demonstration greenhouses built from recovered materials. Thus, GCLB should be eager to sell / lease land to Peace Mob, with its five-year track record of rehabbing properties.

Peace Mob tore down the dilapidated house at 1425 Illinois Street, but rehabbed the garage and planted on the property. They used the shed to store materials for gardens covering four residential plots on the block. The Peace Mobsters believed that they were leasing all four of those properties from the GCLB, although the GCLB held the only copies of the leases. Then, neighbor Larry Young purchased 1425 Illinois from GCLB for about $200.

According to Mobster Phillip Jacks, “Although we have offered to purchase the land many many times from our local land bank, for up to twice what Mr. Young has just paid, they have refused sale to us and sold it to him. Last year he also tried to purchase our land, and we made a verbal agreement to let him have a lot next to him, if he stopped trying to buy our land. I guess we should have got that in writing.” Larry Young allowed the community-based Peace Mob to rehab the property, then bought it for himself from the Land Bank which supposedly exists to facilitate community development and property rehabilitation! Peace Mob lost the property on March 30, and was moved out by April 4.

Why would GCLB not sell to Peace Mob, possibly even pretending to lose the paperwork? I think that community gardens, especially those built along organic lines, are an unpleasant reminder of the unsustainability of suburban life. Take away imports of petroleum-based products, and the two most sustainable places in Flint are the scattered Mob Gardens and the Occupy camp. “Damned dirty nonconformists!” think the developers. “Urban properties are for growing topiary and grass from synthetic fertilizer. Your obsession with a livable ecology is degrading the appearance of normality around here! Drive your SUV to the grocery store if you want to eat.”

You can petition Larry Young to not steal the property.

Oaksterdam University

Oaksterdam U was founded in 2007 by medical marijuana activist Richard Lee (he started California’s Prop 19, the first medical marijuana law in the country to stick). This is the best place in the nation to learn cannabis growing and medical use. There is a building with a large classroom and a grow lab, and a student union across the street. Besides Richard Lee, legendary medical grower Ed Rosenthal and hemp advocate Chris Conrad teach classes — national figures of the marijuana movement.

Many say that Oaksterdam U and a cluster of loosely associated dispensaries helped rehabilitate their Oakland neighborhood. Medical marijuana has rehabilitated many people — one patient I know was confined to a wheelchair and diaper for years, despite all the care he could get through conventional doctors and hospitals, until he started using medical marijuana. He now walks and uses the bathroom like anyone else.

To the Federal government, all marijuana use is criminal, and Oaksterdam U is not place of healing and learning, but a threat, a crime school. The Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Marshals and IRS descended on the school, taking computers, records, plants and other evidence. (The IRS participated in a raid to shut down a tax paying business?) The school is still operating, with a slimmer selection of classes available. The nursery service is gone, as all of the mother plants were destroyed along with their precious genes.

At the same time Federal agents were gathering evidence to lock away teachers and healers at Oaksterdam, a student named One L. Goh opened fire in a building at Oikos University, about half a mile away. Goh killed seven people and injured three more. Oakland’s local SWAT team rushed to the scene, but could only secure the area and locate victims, because Goh had quickly fled. An hour later, Goh admitted the shooting to a security guard working at a Safeway. Where were the U.S. Marshals during the manhunt? They were half a mile away, engaged with the important work of investigating teachers and ripping plants up by the root, of course!

The raid on Oaksterdam, flagship of the medical marijuana armada, has galvanized medical pot supporters. Lawmakers from five states have written the Obama administration, demanding it live up to its campaign promise to leave medical marijuana to the states.

Why all of this repression against planters? Because plants put power in the hands of people — the power to feed ourselves, the power to provide our own medicine, the power to make friends and allies in our communities. Governments instinctively want to keep us dependent, and will often display passive aggression to community gardens, or irrational and violent hostility to marijuana grows. The death suburb of today will still become the community garden of tomorrow, because there will simply not be enough fossil fuel energy to keep up a massive police state, nor the appearance of Apollonian order on every front lawn.

Go ahead and spray Roundup on that dandelion today, but tomorrow you may be jackhammering the entire sidewalk out, looking for more area to cultivate.

April 4, 2012

Intelligent Design is Apparently True

Filed under: science — Tags: , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:18 pm

The theory of Intelligent Design is very annoying to mainstream science and its supporters. The theory posits that life on Earth was designed by God (or space aliens), rather than evolving through many iterations of natural selection. I.D. supporters usually point to some complex structure like the human eye or a ribosome and say, “This must be the work of a designer, because it won’t work without all the parts. I can’t imagine, and you can’t either, how such a thing gradually came to be, so evolution is not the valid theory to apply here.”

There’s something very unsporting about cutting down evolution’s explanatory power, and offering nothing in return except the insinuation that God did it. God can do anything; God can make monkeys fly out of my butt; God can make time run backwards and explosions unburst back into grenade shells; God could’ve made the world any old way He wanted to, and is known to work in mysterious ways, so what does it really tell us to know that God did it?

I looked around for some I.D. predictions, in case these might actually exist. According to ideacenter.org, besides the non-prediction of “irreducible complexity,” there should be “rapid appearance of complexity in the fossil record,” “re-usage of similar parts in different organisms” and “function for biological structure.” To spin hypotheses in the I.D. fashion, you watch how people  design things. Then, you presume that the engineer of life on Earth works in a broadly similar way.

“Rapid appearance of complexity in the fossil record” is an interesting prediction. If someone were tinkering with life on Earth all along, they might sometimes turn out a really novel batch of organisms in a short time. Unfortunately for I.D., this prediction is also part of conventional evolutionary theory, what is called “punctuated equilibrium.” Punctuated equilibrium holds that life on Earth get into stable grooves for thousands or millions of years, until perturbed by a meteor strike or whatnot, when life will suddenly evolve into different, sometimes more complex forms. Complexity does  rapidly burst into the fossil record (Cambrian explosion, the dawn of flowering plants), but that fact supports I.D. and evolution about equally.

“Re-usage of similar parts” suffers from the same basic problem. Similar parts evolve in different organisms because they employ similar strategies to survive, a phenomenon recognized as “convergent evolution.” It is  pretty freaky to recognize that an octopus, more closely related to a clam than a man, has eyes just like ours (iris, lens, humor, retina). Well, an octopus has a much more active lifestyle than a clam. All of the fine details are different, anyways (no land animals have rectangular pupils, for one thing.) Sometimes genetic similarities are found in disparate species. I think that that is evidence of genes moving about by means other than sex, such as viruses. If conventional biology does a piss-poor job of explaining these things in the future, that will give a little credibility to I.D. — Someone keeps using the same building blocks in all His designs.

The last prediction on Ideacenter’s list is “function for biological structure.” I think that this is a great prediction for digging into the philosophical issues around evolution and I.D. There are a few little biological structures with no function — the eyes of cave fish, the xiphoid process below your breastbone that can only break off and harm you. Possibly, a lot of DNA is junk. But, overwhelmingly, when you look at living organisms what impresses you is the functionality of the parts: the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone with ligament, tendon and muscle all arranged in a complex way, such that people look at it and say, “why, the knee’s purpose is to allow you to walk.” References to evolution are somewhat rare in my Physiology textbook, being reserved for broader, more reflective essays or explaining weird glitches in the human body. On the other hand, the book freely talks about the “function” of the kidneys, heart, liver and so on just as if it were describing the parts of a machine.  Do things have a function if they lack a designer? What is the function of a lump of granite or a cloud?

In the apparent world, living things grow according to designs. Saying that leaves were designed to collect the sunlight is no more wrong than saying that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West (when really, the Earth is rotating and the Sun is practically still). In fact, for the first several hundred years, when science was called “natural philosophy,” everyone was operating under the assumption that God had indeed designed the world. The whole point of natural philosophy was to better understand God’s design — the practical results were mere side effects until science was melded to capitalism and power.

Intelligent Design is looking to return to that noble, if outdated, philosophy. When I.D. proponents point to apparent design and function in the natural world, it is really there… just as the world really appears flat when my horizon is blocked out by trees and buildings. And for many, many purposes, I really can work from the theory that the Earth is flat (as when using a level).

If Intelligent Design is rejecting Darwinian explanations in favor of a traditional, really pre-scientific view, it is what you call a “null hypothesis.” The null hypothesis says that nothing interesting is going on: eggs aren’t good for your cholesterol, they’re not bad for your cholesterol. Until someone proves that eggs really are good or bad for cholesterol levels, everyone should assume the null hypothesis. This accounts for I.D.’s lack of interesting predictions: it’s essentially a rejection of Darwinism and an acceptance of traditional beliefs and apparent reality, a default position to fall back on, although it’s struggling to become its own distinct scientific theory.

I just sharpened my own philosophy of science by considering the evolving position of Intelligent Design. Can our schools encourage students to question science, and discuss it, and imagine things from another point of view? Or must students accept the word of the High Priests of Curriculum?

I fear that we really can’t discuss evolution vs I.D. in a typical K-12 school. All anyone knows is one line of propaganda or the other, so that would surely be a discussion with zero brain engagement and maximum noise.

April 2, 2012

The World Needs another Damned Opinion about Trayvon Martin’s Slaying

The Tree-Hugging Dirt Worshiper watched more than one consecutive hour of MSNBC the other day and is ready to tear out his own eyeballs again. All shows on the network must frame the story in the same way: Trayvon Martin, 17-year old black man, was walking back from the store when George Zimmerman, 28-year old racist White Latino overzealous neighborhood watchman, started following him. Zimmerman was on the line with 911; Martin knew he was being followed and started to run; perhaps a struggle ensued. Because of his fanatical racism and Florida’s “Kill at Will” self-defense law, Zimmerman felt justified in shooting Martin to death. Because of Florida’s pro-vigilante self-defense law and their own racism, the police let Zimmerman go. Moral: We must change Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law and stomp out all racism.

For a little while, I found MSNBC more bearable than the conventional news because their pro-Democrat bias better matches my own. Fox is biased to the Republicans; CNN is biased to the ridiculous story that Republicans and Democrats are just equally wonderful. But I can’t stand being propagandized to, and spoken to like a little child anymore, from any news source. I can’t stand seeing a human story stripped to the studs that will hold up the message of the day,  then having that message repeated and repeated and repeated at me. (Note: Al Sharpton went into Martin’s Sanford neighborhood to broadcast, and talked to the family and politicians in town the day after his own mother died, and generally treated the thing with some thought and respect. He didn’t have to tiptoe around race or the questionable self-defense law, either. Good job, Reverend.)

The same propaganda story appeared in many permutations on AlterNet. In “Trayvon Martin and America’s Racist Underbelly, ” Gary Younge writes that:

 “To assume that when you see a black man you see a criminal is rooted in the fact that black men have been systematically criminalized. That excuses nothing but explains a great deal.

Add to this lax gun laws, entrenched segregation, deep economic inequalities and a statute that endorses vigilantism, and a murder of this kind is inevitable.”

Another story points out that the Stand Your Ground law is connected to the foul arch-conservative Koch Brothers, and another is titled “Let’s Be Honest: Trayvon Martin is Dead Because Black People Are Scary.” On the liberal side, acceptable explanations for the facts include race, race, race, and faulty self-defense and gun laws. (Conservatives are taking a “wait and see” approach, hoping that the known facts will change to give them some kind of acceptable story. Usually, the NRA would speak out about such a high-profile shooting and suggest that things would have gone better if the victim had been armed. Yet, they are being spineless silent cowards at the moment, creepily suggesting that they only favor an armed White  populace.)

So, every way I’ve heard the story, it makes no sense. Maybe George Zimmerman was afraid of black people, toted a gun, and was aware of Florida’s forgiving self-defense laws. Those things don’t quite add up to shooting a fleeing man. Now that I’ve Clockwork-Oranged the story into my own consciousness, I have to arrange it into some kind of sense for myself, or live with the irritation of not understanding. Therefor I find Trayvon Martin’s slaying decent fodder for a blog entry; may you glean something from it, also.

Poor Trayvon Martin, his only motivation was to get home with some Skittles and tea. His role in the story is that he was going about everyday activities in the neighborhood when a paranoid person ended his life senselessly. He may have smoked weed, gotten into trouble at school and posted naughty Tweets, but so what? Perhaps he fought back (we know that he tried to run away, because Zimmerman said so to the 911 operator.) But who the Hell is George Zimmerman and what motivated him?

The Huffington Post reports on Zimmerman’s rageful history: his ex-girlfriend, Veronica Zuazo, reported several violent incidents involving an out-of-control Zimmerman; police once dropped charges against Zimmerman for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer; Zimmerman’s tailgating once inspired a driver to spit his gum at Zimmerman’s car, causing Zimmerman to call the police.

Zimmerman loves calling the police, and he loves to use force in defense of law and order. From 2001-2005, Zimmerman worked security for house parties. He was fired from one agency for being too aggressive with out-of-control partiers, having thrown a drunken lady, twisting her ankle. An anonymous coworker reported, “He definitely loved being in charge. He loved the power.” Neighbors have reported Zimmerman following them home and otherwise acting outside of the normal scope of a neighborhood watch volunteer.

So George Zimmerman loves to play enforcer, but lacks judgement about what move to make when. He’s called 911 47 times in recent years, trying to catch bad guys, which suggests to me that his paranoia is extreme to the psychotic — he inhabits a dream world far, far from consensus reality. Bad guys are lurking everywhere — doesn’t the evening news inform each of us about that? There is  a strong racial element to the paranoia — the bad guy tends to always be Black or Muslim.

Let’s sideline the race issue, because there are all kinds of stories circulating about that. I get it — the Bad Guys programmed into our subconscious minds are disproportionately dark-skinned. Most people can’t grapple with this in themselves because admitting to a single racist thought would send them into conniptions of self-flagellation. Dark-skinned people therefor suffer from extra suspicion, from the disproportionate scrutiny of supermarket security goons right on up to judges handing down wrongly-weighted sentences.

Allow me to flesh out the racism and gun violence stories by presenting a complementary story, an equally flat morality tale called “Trayvon Martin’s Slaying Illustrates Epidemic of Paranoia.”

George Zimmerman embarked on his career of party security guard the same year that some murderers steered jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. There was a nationwide surge in security measures, from offices to chemical plants to shopping malls to government buildings. Everyone was advised to look out for the terrorist threat, which might reveal itself through political views or unusual behaviors. Most people felt that crime was on the rise, even during stretches when it wasn’t. And every night the local Miami news stations were leading with stories of murder, robbery and rape.

George was going to stand on the side of Law and Order. Capable of snapping and going into violent fits, Zimmerman saw himself as Thor, his gun as Mjollnr, the bad guys as Ice Giants threatening Middle Earth. (Well, he probably wouldn’t go with the Viking motif, but something similarly grand and mythic.) If he didn’t have the makings of a Navy Seal, then Zimmerman was going to make a difference in the neighborhood watch, doing battle with the foes of suburban suspended animation, keeping things quiet and Evil-free.

One rainy day, Zimmerman was driving up and down the streets in his SUV, trying to spot Bad Guys. He spotted a young black man in a hoodie, and being a watcher of the evening news, he thought that he might be onto a Bad Guy. He would tell the 911 dispatcher: “It’s raining and he’s just walkin’ around, lookin’ about… He’s just staring. He was looking at all the houses…” So there is Trayvon Martin’s suspicious behavior: he was walking in the rain, looking at houses. Good suburban people, in Zimmerman’s twisted view, are so physically unwell and averse to the elements that they require aid of an SUV/super-cushy-wheelchair to move around the neighborhood during times of rain. Walking is suspect, with or without a hood to keep the rain off your face.

When you walk through a neighborhood, you naturally look at the houses you’re going by. It’s a more interesting view than the sidewalk in front of you. These days, you’re supposed to walk with your eyes down. Eyes elsewhere, and you might be casing joints or picking fights. The best way to look non-suspicious is to go out in a ridiculous outfit that says “I’m only moving about out-of-doors to get my aerobic exercise!” I won’t say that the hoodie did him in, but Trayvon Martin would never have been shot wearing Spandex pants and sporting a yellow-green reflective stripe on the back of his jacket.

Zimmerman thought that there was something wrong with Martin, that he must be on drugs. Martin probably had a concerned face because he knew he was being followed! So remember, citizens, that displaying an emotion in public is a warning sign of deviant behavior. Face dead, eyes down!

Finally, Zimmerman couldn’t stand letting the 47th criminal slip away, so he drove that pedestrian down and hopped out of his SUV for a confrontation. According to the young lady Martin was talking to on the phone, “Trayvon said, ‘What are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell.” Someone (not Zimmerman) was heard screaming in the street and then shots rang out from Zimmerman’s 9mm handgun.

Poor Trayvon, he talked back to someone with delusions of authority. In Zimmerman’s head, he was following Martin because of his role as Neighborhood Watchman, and what kind of scummy criminal would question his honorable position? That’s the equivalent of quizzing a police officer on the Bill of Rights (lately considered a warning sign of a terrorist bent — along with “people acting suspiciously, departing quickly when seen or approached, or in places where they do not belong“). Zimmerman probably used to wear a Hall Monitor badge and beat up his classmates, and people thought he was just a little overzealous. The local police apparently thought of him as one of their own, ’cause who else would they drop the charge of assaulting an officer for? Apparently no one was concerned enough about Zimmerman’s violent outbursts to steer him into some counseling or psychiatric help. The authoritarian thug is a welcome character type in our society. We seem to feel that we need people like that to stand between us and anarchy.

Black people, I can understand that you are really tired of this type going after you.  Hoplophobic liberals, I can understand that you are tired of stupid disputes and petty crimes escalating into shootings. But let’s not forget the roles of good old-fashioned paranoia, and the urge to righteously inflict violence on another. George Zimmerman’s crime stands out because he only thought  he was in a position to inflict “legitimate” violence on the Other — he was just a volunteer on the neighborhood watch, but if he had the state’s proper authorization for violence, Trayvon Martin would only be another Black victim of police brutality. As it was, police almost managed to hide the murder for their friend George.

Kind of like how these cops acted to protect themselves, endangering everyone around them (shooting in all directions from the middle of an intersection on a busy street, then threatening witnesses with their guns). I don’t claim to know the ratio of honorable cops to abusive cops, but I do know that there are enough videos of cops violently abusing people in circulation to keep you occupied 24/7. The nation will tolerate a lot of violence in the name of maintaining order.

Our nation as a whole occupies and violently abuses Afghanistan and shoots anybody anywhere in the world for any secret purpose, even our own people. Could there be connections between the “global cop” role of America’s CIA and military, the swelling police/intelligence apparatus, abuses by hometown police, news media obsessed by crime and terrorism and the case of the Psychotically Overzealous Neighborhood Watchman? Out there beyond my window, it looks a little bit like a Twilight Zone episode where everybody gets infected by a creeping paranoia until they start preemptively murdering each other!

April 1, 2012

Is This Some Kind of a Joke?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paragardener @ 9:45 pm

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