Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

November 24, 2012

“Happy Birthday” Copyright Protects Legacy of Plagiarism

I’ve been investigating some old folk tunes to see which ones are in the public domain. “Goodnight Irene” and “The Pines” still sound good after all these years, but is it lawful for me to self-publish my own covers of these tunes, or is a recording house going to sue me into a lifetime of poverty for such bold theft?

The Public Domain Information Project publishes a little list of public domain songs, which could helpfully confirm that a work is out of copyright. “Goodnight Irene,” unfortunately, is not on there. I was intrigued to discover “Good Morning Children,” a song that goes:

Good morning to you,
good morning to you,
good morning dear children,
good morning to all.

Well, I can only imagine that being sung to one particular tune. Wikipedia and Google were able to flesh out the picture for me, no problem.

The origins of “Happy Birthday” can be traced back all the way to 1859. Horace Waters, remembered mainly as a piano maker, published a little tune called “Happy Greeting to All.” Follow the link and press the “play” button to hear the tune.

Happy Greeting To You sheet music

The chorus is recognizable as being much like “Happy Birthday,” and its lyrics follow the same repeating, repetitious, redundant pattern. Waters went on to publish “Goodnight to You All,” and, in 1875, “Happy New Year to All.” What a creative dynamo!

An aside:

Waters ripping off himself probably didn’t look too odd at the time, when lots of music was written through the folk process. To write a song, you “stole” someone else’s song (or your own!), rewrote the lyrics, and adjusted the music to suit your own playing style and band setup. As copyright enforcement became stricter and the public domain receded into the past, folk songwriting has been effectively outlawed. Our moral sense of a song being “ripped off” has even adjusted to harmonize with the law.

Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on my Trail” and “Travellin’ Riverside Blues” strike me as a couple of folk process tunes that no one would dare to call unoriginal, although “Hellhound” resembles Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman” and “Riverside” is a version of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” a song that “came out of the cotton fields.” You can easily find all of these songs on Youtube, if you’re inclined.

The modern songwriting process must treat each piece as original and unrelated to any other song, forged from the collision of beats, chords and melodic riffs in massive high-energy studio cyclotrons, and yet the result is only about as good as Britney Spears.

“Happy Greeting to All”or a variant was picked up by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill, who rewrote it as “Good Morning to All” for Mildred’s kindergarten class. The sisters published their song without the birthday lyrics in 1893. According to legend, the kids at school were so enthralled by the song that they in turn reworked it into “Happy Birthday” for singing at parties.  It saw print numerous times, and by 1924 the birthday lyrics were printed with it as an alternate verse. However, no one can name the person who wrote the birthday lyrics any more than we can know which cowboy first sang “Bury Me not on the Lone Prairie.”

In the early 1930’s, “Happy Birthday” was everywhere, being delivered by singing telegram and even sung on the Broadway stage. A third Hill sister, Jessica, decided that she’d had enough of people using her sisters’ song, and she was going to act to protect it. In 1935, the publisher of “Good Morning to All” copyrighted “Happy Birthday to You,” and even formed a new company specifically to enforce that copyright. The supposed composer of “Happy Birthday to You” was Preston Ware Orem, a piano-playing songwriter best known for weaving American Indian themes into orchestral music. Somehow the deal to protect the Hill sisters’ work included giving up their claim on authorship. Although everybody was stealing “Happy Birthday,” Orem looks to have crossed a line into plagiarism by actually taking credit for someone else’s song.

When a work is published, it is automatically copyrighted unless the author specifies a different license (such as the Creative Commons license, or simply releasing the work into the public domain.) Thus, the lyrics of “Happy Birthday” were copyrighted in 1924, not 1935, and the melody copyrighted 1893 at the latest. The publisher’s copyright and its extensions were not valid… not only because the company tried to copyright a song already copyrighted with a different composer’s name attached, but also because authorship of the lyrics is just plain unclear (neither of the songwriting Hills ever specifically claimed to have written the birthday verse.)

The phony 1935 copyright is now held by Warner Music Group, which collects about $2 million per year taxing the most-recognized song in the English language. Legal scholars view the copyright as invalid, yet artists are not exactly encouraged to challenge the music group and its Goliath parent.

And so “Happy Birthday to You” becomes a glaring example of how intellectual property law can be twisted to work against the interests of artists and instead promote the interests of those who already have some money. Copyright laws have also limited the techniques available to artists, from the folk writing process to sampling, and in their current form they constitute a real cultural attack. Joe Hill wouldn’t be framed for murder and executed today, they’d lock him up forever for copyright infringement. Eyes on the Prize, a documentary about the Civil Rights movement, was actually held back from going to video for several years, partly because of a scene which featured Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a birthday cake.

“Happy Birthday to You” is not under any legitimate copyright. It is rightfully part of the common heritage of all people.

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August 18, 2012

Is My Anti-Concentration Camp Stance Unreasonably Radical?

It takes a lot of bravery to stand up and tell the world this, but I am opposed to rounding people up because of their politics or ethnicity, and sticking them in concentration camps. I know that this may place me outside of the political mainstream, into the “extremes” populated by terrorists and morons.

Asked my Facebook crowd:

“Any limit to what kind of tyranny a politician can support, and you will not vote for them? Would you boycott politicians who supported the Patriot Act? Indefinite military detention? Concentration camps for dissidents? Please tell me where you draw the line.”

Received an answer with four “likes”:

“The whole thing is rigged! I don’t want to vote for anyone because they all seem to suck!! I however feel compelled to vote Democrat, to keep the Republicans out of office, but damn, its like you are sitting on Death Row, and they’re asking you,…. how do you want to die? Lethal Injection or the Gas Chamber….”

Really? I know some smart and tough-minded people. Can’t we draw a line at concentration camps? Instead, we’d split a hair as to which way we’d rather die: “I support Mitt Romney for Zyklon-B! Oppose Obama and his one-step incineration plan, it will kill jobs!”

We need to be able to coordinate, draw a line, and not allow our government to cross it. In this world, governments turn against their people all the time. “Democide,” murder by one’s own government, is a leading cause of death in the world. In the twentieth century, you were more likely to be murdered by your government than to die in a car crash OR battle OR be murdered by a fellow OR drink yourself to death. Democide is a bigger killer than tobacco or diabetes. Alert the public health department at your local university.

My source on democide claims that only about 2,000 Americans were killed by the American government during the 20th century, in lynchings, attacks on striking workers and so on. It’s more of an export than a locally-enjoyed product. America, however, we’re exceptional in our own special way.

The police state in America is on par with the Soviets’ at their peak of repression

If, like me, you grew up in the 1980’s, you remember that the Soviet Union was known as the Evil Empire, and we and they kept enough nuclear weapons pointed at each other to obliterate all of our cities and irradiate the countryside for decades. The Soviet Union was Evil because it granted its people no freedom of speech, no meaningful vote, and it sent ridiculous numbers of its people to inhumane prisons known as “the gulag.”

The United States imprisons a greater proportion of its people than any other nation in the world (760 / 100,000). That proportion blows away the EU’s rate of 135  or the world average of 166. It’s similar to the rate of imprisonment at the Soviet Union’s repressive peak (823 / 100,000, or, to be honest, it depends on what estimate you accept, as apparently the gulag did not have its paperwork together).

“Sure, there are that many Americans in jail,” you say. “That’s because Americans are drug-addled, church-shirking moral midgets. We still have more rights than people in those other countries! We still have the freedom to tape patriotic slogans on the bumpers of our cars, and they don’t have that!”

Meanwhile, the FBI is posting flyers in the back rooms of coffee shops, encouraging baristas to narc on anyone who views content of “an extreme/radical nature with violent themes,” such as my blog entry today (tip your barista well). A diet blogger was charged, earlier this year, for “practicing nutrition without a license” for discussing the diet that cured his diabetes. So freedom of speech doesn’t extend to health or politics: however, thanks to the cussing canoeist and his lawyer, it is lawful in Michigan for me to swear in front of women and children. Well, to quote Detroit’s homeboy Eminem, “fuck, shit, cunt, ass, shoobadee-doowhop.” Any freedoms we have, we have because some brave soul was willing to risk prosecution testing the laws out in a courtroom. You can’t just count on your rights being there for you tomorrow, as some prosecutor is always out there, also testing your rights while not personally risking jail time.

As for due process, a major obstacle to rounding people up into camps, government lawyers are arguing in court for the right to kidnap Americans in the name of national security, and stick them in military custody. Tangerine Bolen, a plaintiff in the case against NDAA’s due-process ending provisions, wrote in the UK Guardian:

In a May hearing, Judge Katherine Forrest issued an injunction against it [the bad NDAA provision]; this week, in a final hearing in New York City, US government lawyers asserted even more extreme powers – the right to disregard entirely the judge and the law. On Monday 6 August, Obama’s lawyers filed an appeal to the injunction – a profoundly important development that, as of this writing, has been scarcely reported.

In the earlier March hearing, US government lawyers had confirmed that, yes, the NDAA does give the president the power to lock up people like journalist Chris Hedges and peaceful activists like myself and other plaintiffs. Government attorneys stated on record that even war correspondents could be locked up indefinitely under the NDAA.

Judge Forrest had ruled for a temporary injunction against an unconstitutional provision in this law, after government attorneys refused to provide assurances to the court that plaintiffs and others would not be indefinitely detained for engaging in first amendment activities. At that time, twice the government has refused to define what it means to be an “associated force”, and it claimed the right to refrain from offering any clear definition of this term, or clear boundaries of power under this law.

This past week’s hearing was even more terrifying. Government attorneys again, in this hearing, presented no evidence to support their position and brought forth no witnesses. Most incredibly, Obama’s attorneys refused to assure the court, when questioned, that the NDAA’s section 1021 – the provision that permits reporters and others who have not committed crimes to be detained without trial – has not been applied by the US government anywhere in the world after Judge Forrest’s injunction. In other words, they were telling a US federal judge that they could not, or would not, state whether Obama’s government had complied with the legal injunction that she had laid down before them.

So what exactly is supposed to make me feel safe from the US government, and its ever-growing system of prisons and surveillance? In what way are we the land of the free?

Gone Campin’

States have actually been shrinking the proportion of people they imprison due to a lack of cash, however, Federal prisons continue expanding.

If there is a huge increase in incarceration despite a lack of funds for such, this will lead to the housing of people in camps. They will not be called “concentration” camps, but “internment,” or “reeducation,” or “safety and relocation” or such. Imperial powers have been rounding people up into camps since 1896, when the Spanish locked up masses of Cubans to cut guerrilla fighters off from the population. Defining characteristics of concentration camps are preemptively targeting people who might  be a problem (as we do in this country by defining broad swaths of terrorism suspects, and even classifying Insane Clown Posse fans as a criminal gang), and administrative detention, aka being held with no trial (which the Obama administration is claiming it can do even against  the courts and the rule of law).

In 2009, Congress considered creating camps out of closed-down military bases, for housing people displaced by natural disasters. That sounds like a good plan, but the bill authorized using the camps up for any purpose chosen by Homeland Security!

Our military is trained in containment and resettlement operations. Consider the problem of resettling Cuban refugees…

In less than a month, federal officials announced as many as 15,000 Cuban refugees would come to the 60,000-acre Fort McCoy military base between Sparta and Tomah.

Officials at Fort McCoy had only a few days to prepare 121 barracks, 40 mess halls, 15 administrative buildings and other facilities for the Cubans. Seven miles of 6-foot-tall, chain-link fence soon lined the perimeter of the refugee center.

About 1,000 military, federal government and support personnel arrived, and 850 civilians were hired to prepare and run the Fort McCoy refugee center, the fourth designated as a U.S. refugee resettlement center. (source)

By the way, the Cubans were not allowed to walk in and out of the “resettlement center.” It only takes days to put such an operation into effect. And, it can be done on a larger scale, as was done to Japanese ethnics on the West Coast during World War II.

I’m not saying that nefarious government agents are conspiring to lock us up in camps as we speak. I’m just saying that the conditions are developing. We’re losing our rights, building more police state apparatus, pushing the economic limits of our ability to lock people up by conventional means,  and on top of that we’re living in a population prepared to accept concentration camps as long as they retain their ability to vote against the party they fear more.

I’m thinking to incorporate an advocacy not-for-profit organization here in Michigan to oppose rounding people up into concentration camps. Clearly we are fuzzy as a culture on the concept that “concentration camps are bad.” The group will be organized, incorporated and ready to roll in advance of actually having an issue to assert. Actually, I suppose that racial profiling, an anti-medical marijuana pogrom, targeting raw milk providers as terrorists, authorizing the disappearance of people to torture chambers… all of these government actions should be monitored to track our progress towards a more brutal totalitarianism, such as would feature purges or concentration camps.

On the other hand, maybe a campaign narrowly opposing only the construction of bona fide concentration camps is still too radical. I don’t want to stir up trouble, alienate my friends, or ruin the Democrats’ plans for new and improved social programs. Maybe I should narrow my mission statement to opposing only death camps.

Jesus F. Christ, I’m going to post about pickles or beer next week.

July 27, 2012

Vigilante thugs keep beating crap out of raw milk provider

Filed under: food, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:22 pm

Last year, Rawesome Foods was raided by LAPD and associated forces. Illegal unpasteurized milk was dumped, records were seized, people were seized.

James Stewart, the retirement-aged kingpin milkman, was taken to the LA County Jail and tortured for eight days for his terrible crime of providing raw goat milk to people who wanted it. As is usual, he wasn’t told what charges he was being held on, wasn’t fed for a day, and generally was bullied into extreme compliance as he was processed into jail.

Then, an Officer Sexton interrogated him, asking him over and over, “are you a sovereign?” Stewart replied “what are you talking about?”, yet he was still given a red armband to indicate that he was a terrorist and a danger to the general population. He was then shackled with his hands cuffed to chains around his waist and to a bench for two or three hours while waiting for medical tests, which he was put through while still handcuffed. After hours of medical testing, he was held in a cell in an empty area of the jail with a temperature around 55 degrees F, with only basic pants and a T-shirt to wear (hypothermia as torture was pioneered by the British Army for use against the IRA, and has recently been used by US intelligence against terror suspects). He was finally sent to his own cell and fed a few cookies. Raw sewage flooded the cell, and several hours passed until trusties came by offering squeegees. After a day and a half in the filthy cell, he was woken up in the middle of the night and sent back to the cold cell for six hours, from where he was finally shipped to Ventura County Jail and treated as well as a common criminal.

Incidentally, Stewart’s family and attorney were trying to find him, but he wasn’t allowed a phone call and officials were claiming that he was “lost in the system.” Anyone who thinks you can’t be disappeared in Obama’s America had better pay attention to that point. Once the local enforcement machine admitted to having Stewart, his bail was set at $1,000,000.

On July 19 of this year, Natural News broke a story revealing that “cops” who participated in the raid had never signed Oaths of Office, and therefor have no immunity from charges of assault, theft, malicious destruction of property, or kidnapping. The perpetrators were nothing but vigilantes impersonating cops! Even the Health Department official who signed the search warrant had not signed an Oath of Office, making the entire sordid affair extralegal. Amazingly, the DA attempted to fend off these charges by releasing Oaths of Office with signatures redacted for privacy! Um, so it looks as if the Brownshirts are exercising free reign over there in LA and Ventura Counties.

On July 27, James Stewart was assaulted, pepper sprayed and taken by bounty hunters. Inexplicably, these angry dudes were driving brand-new luxury cars with no license plates. They refused to produce their legally-required certificates of training and proved what kind of people they are by calling a filming eyewitness a “retard.” Way to take down an old milkman! Was anything about this legal, or was it (another) kidnapping?

You can annoy the Ventura County DA’s office by following the contact information here. Ask them to end their insane crusade.

Thanks to Mike Adams “The Health Ranger” for doing basically all the original reporting on this story.

December 18, 2011

Flogging FDA

Filed under: gardening, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 6:29 pm

Almost a year in, how has the Food Safety Modernization Act been affecting your food? Well, it didn’t prevent an outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe, which killed thirty people, the worst listeria outbreak of decades. When FDA inspectors arrived at the Jensen Farms facility that was sending out contaminated melons, they found water pooled on the floor, dirt on the machinery and a truck parked outside with cow manure all over the tires — conditions that were substandard under the old laws, too.

Small farmers were supposed to be exempted from newly excruciating Good Agricultural Practices requirements imposed by the Act. However, the exemption was written so narrowly that experts at the Michigan State Extension Service say it “creates confusion and false hope among small growers that expect to sell their crop without requiring attending or implementing a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program in their farms.”

A farm-to-fork dinner for a Community Supported Agriculture project straddling Utah and Nevada was raided and all of the food destroyed, largely because the food was approved in Utah but was to be eaten in Nevada. We’re talking about local farmers using organic technique and working with a certified chef, here. Who does the local health department think they saved? However, it doesn’t look like the Food Safety Modernization act was invoked. It wasn’t needed, since (I’m not making this up), sliced vegetables may be seized as biohazard material.

Neither was the FSMA needed to enable FDA raids on the Rawesome raw milk collective (crime: live food), or Maxam Nutraceuticals (crime: posted customer testimonials to their website). The Food Safety Modernization Act may not be relevant because the food and medical regulatory system has been tooled to go after small guys since an early time, when agents closed down all of Dr. Hoxsey’s cancer treatment clinics and smashed all of Dr. Reich’s orgone accumulator boxes. The worst scenarios of FSMA-empowered FDA agents raiding kitchen gardens have not come to pass, but look forward to government authorities continually leaning on the alternatives to Hot Pockets and McDonald’s. It’s what they do.

November 26, 2011

The Devil’s Bean

Filed under: science, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 7:18 pm

One morning, I was in a hurry to get some herbs weighed out and packaged, so I skipped breakfast. Instead, I drank three or four cups of straight black coffee as I worked. The caffeine mobilized enough stored energy to float me through the task. By the time I was done, though, I felt pretty woozy and I had to go lie down. “Man,” I thought to myself, “this is worse than any drinking hangover of recent memory. I can’t get up and do anything — I might as well be dozing in a heroin nod, and that would feel much nicer anyways (so I’m told). Why is it that caffeine is treated as a soft drug, or even a non-drug? It’s clearly an evil, disabling substance!”

The acceptance or rejection of drugs into American society has been a bit arbitrary, as cultural taboos often are. Packaging and promoting tobacco like candy turned out to be a clusterfuck of global proportions — we probably should have left tobacco with its traditional indigenous users. On the other hand, ibogaine has mainly been used in this country as a one-shot cure for hard drug addiction, so you would think that the anti-drug folks would be promoting the stuff instead of banning it. I guess it’s too weird and African. There is a whole lot of culture and history reflected in the drug laws, sometimes pretty ugly. They weren’t exactly handed down by God on numbered tablets, you know what I’m saying?

So, let’s go together down the rabbit-hole of caffeine-inspired delusion, and imagine a world in which coffee, cocoa and tea have never been accepted into American society. For a long while, various state and local caffeine bans targeted Arab, Chinese or Latin American immigrant populations. Finally, in the late 1960’s, the federal government put caffeine into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act — that is, the lawbooks declared coffee to be dangerous and without medical benefit.

You can’t get coffee from a nice, safe grocery store in this world. “Coffee house” has all the sinister connotations of “crack house.” (Starbuck’s still exists, slinging different flavors of coca tea). Skinny, twitchy “caffiends” prowl the streets, committing petty thefts and muggings to raise cash for their next cup, because coffee is pleasurable, highly addictive, and illegal — much like heroin. It is also known to cause paranoia. Caffiends are totally consumed by a cycle of obtaining coffee, drinking coffee, acting wild under its influence, sleeping off the drain on their bodies, and then looking to score some more coffee before the dreaded withdrawals hit them. In this alternate reality, John Lennon still wrote the song “Cold Turkey,” but it’s entitled “This Headache.” Users are afraid to seek treatment for their addiction, or even discuss caffeine use with their doctor.

Coffee now costs $200 a pound, and it’s a crumbly, pale-tan bean you can expect for that price. Often, the bean is processed into crystal caffeine by laboratories in the coffee-growing countries. The beans are crushed by exploited children working giant mortars, and then a mixture of acetone and other solvents is poured over the grind, collected in drums, and evaporated to leave a somewhat pure white powder behind. Crystal caffeine is more dangerous than the natural form, and overdose cases are common in most emergency rooms across the United States. The massive illegal profits of the coffee business have supported violent criminal cartels, who wage civil wars in Columbia and (of course) Java.

Lately a new form of caffeine has hit the inner cities, a liquid form cheaper than the crystal. “Snap” is manufactured by basement cooks who dissolve the caffeine in dilute carbonic and phosphoric acids, and then add flavoring and a chemically modified form of sugar. Especially appealing to children, snap causes an ugly condition of dental decay and gum disease known as “snap mouth.”

Tens of thousands of Americans are locked up for caffeine or coffee-related offenses, though critics of the drug war point out that rehab would be a better option than jail. Some also point to coffee’s spiritual use in certain Muslim prayer traditions, and its medical use by migraineurs, as reasons to accept use of the drug in limited contexts. Police and prosecutors claim that the reformers are just trying to get their foot in the door for full legalization — it’s a thought that scares everyone but the hardest-core libertarians and radicals. Society would surely fall apart. Do you want to see a coffee house on your block, or what?

Well, that’s just a drug-fuelled fantasy. Is it realistic? Some American consumers would still want coffee if it were illegal, and it’s a truly addictive drug, to boot. So I would expect a black market to form, something that would fuel organized crime and gang violence, as well as promoting purified caffeine over bulky (hard to smuggle) coffee and tea. Coffee addicts might well feel paranoid, face social stigma, and just possibly go broke supporting their habit. I’m not trying to minimize the danger of hard drug use by comparing it to caffeine, but many of the health problems hard drug users experience are related to issues like irregular eating and sleep or sloppy injection techniques, and they’re just not inherent to any particular substance. Use caffeine stupidly enough, and you could wind up looking pretty rough.

The government would propagandize against caffeine and Hollywood and the local news would follow, so people would drink coffee with fears of addiction and insanity in mind, and lots of health problems and insane behavior would be blamed on caffeine.  The relative dangers of coffee against other foods and drugs would be almost impossible to weigh rationally. (If coffee turned out to be socially and medically benign even under harsh prohibition, the establishment would fall back on the “gateway drug” theory — coffee users are driven to find something stronger, like methamphetamine or cocaine. Since you’d have to break drug law taboo and talk to a drug dealer to get coffee, it might well be the beginning of a broader relationship with illegal drugs.)

It looks to me as if the danger in a plant or a chemical has a little bit to do with what the chemical does to the human body, and everything to do with how we treat it. We’re a multicultural country with access to basically the entire world of drugs, traditional or designer, and we’ve not found a way to handle that yet. Pop (aka snap), alcohol and Zoloft are aggressively marketed by their makers, their dangers downplayed to a disclaimer at the most. Coca and opium products, and methamphetamine are used secretly, and frequently with the expectation of self-destruction, which enhances their dangers. And a pariah like marijuana would cause very little harm were it not legally outcaste — the big downside is the risk of being caught, which can lead to paranoia and secretive behavior, besides the possible financial loss and jail time.

I drank some more coffee to fuel this rant. Now I’m sweating and my hands are shaking, I’m wondering if I can eat with my appetite ruined by this powerful stimulant, and I might be raving like a lunatic. I’ve tried to quit coffee (on account of worker exploitation and rainforest destruction), broken the physical addiction, and relapsed weeks later because of the hold the stuff has on my psyche. I’ve also enjoyed its flavor and buzz, stayed awake when needed, and bonded socially over coffee. By a certain logic, I ought to be arrested and thrown in jail or rehab with years of urine testing ahead of me, but I think that it’s better for both society and me if I’m allowed to handle my issue with a little more independence. Anyways, in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Most Prisoners, you can at least make up your own mind, as to what’s your cup of tea, and which cup of tea you think ought to be spiked with stigma and prison time.

Coffe and Tea

Drugs of abuse.

July 16, 2011

Everyone belongs in jail

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , — paragardener @ 3:32 pm

I saw a sign posted over the bottle return at Kroger’s, informing me that it is a crime 1) to return an out-of-state returnable and 2) to throw any returnable in the trash. So if I had an out-of-state bottle, I’d have to carry it with me through the whole store and find a way to recycle it afterward (ok, I happen to have curb-side pickup, but for people in other areas it could be a real pain in the ass). If I lazed out and returned my New York can, I’d face a $100 fine. A second violation can lead to 93 days in jail — for ripping off the state to the tune of $0.20.

Many towns impose a general penalty of up to 90 or 93 days in jail, plus fines, for violating their ordinances. Some crimes for which Michiganders can serve three months’ time: growing any “unsuitable” plant anywhere on your property in Oak Park; dropping a fast-food cup on someone’s lawn in Mount Clemens; being found in a house where lewdness is allowed or encouraged in Mount Clemens (like a house where people have a dirty sense of humor?); fraternizing with the patrons of your bar in Rochester; idling, loafing, or eating food in the Rochester cemetery; providing “harbourage” for snakes in Sault St. Marie; and storing building materials without a building permit in Walled Lake (nails and screws count).

Those are just some crimes you can commit before you try to correctly pay your taxes or drive on the public streets.

Of course you say, “Ethan, that is absurd. No one is going to jail because of a garter snake burrow or a ‘disappeared’ returnable.” That’s mostly true. Governments use some discretion to avoid the rational consequences of their outrageous laws. But if you make an enemy in the local government, all bets are off. The law becomes a toolkit with which your enemies in government can harass you, lock you up, and/or seize your property.

Of course I’m thinking of Julie Bass, whose front-yard vegetable garden set off a fight with the City of Oak Park. When they realized that there was no law against having a vegetable garden in the front, cretins working for the City decided to charge Julie with dog license violations that had already been dealt with when Julie bought the licenses and paid late fees… it’s kind of like charging someone with possession of marijuana because you can prove that they smoked a joint sometime last year. Speaking of marijuana, that’s the tool of choice for going after “hippies” … the Nixon White House almost succeeded in deporting John Lennon due to an old pot charge. So these fights can involve the biggest movers of culture, or people who totally expected to go on about living their lives in quiet anonymity.

In the interest of fairness, I suggest that everyone be permanently sent to jail. I mean, consider every time when you couldn’t find a public trash can or you made an ass — a “public nuisance” — of yourself. You males have, each and every one of you, urinated in a public place (perverts!). Have you even bothered to read the law? You belong in jail! Plus, it will provide lots of jobs, building and maintaining and operating our gulag nation. Should any of us earn a release, the outside world will be pretty safe with all the criminals locked up. There won’t be any lewd houses or fraternizing barkeeps out there to mess up your moral compass.

There is one other possibility, but it’s pretty radical. We could trim the law down so that everyone isn’t constantly in violation. Then, we’d have reason to believe that a rule-breaker had actually done something wrong. But really, will governments ever cut back their own power to harass and neutralize “troublemakers”? I just can’t see that happening.

 

Special recognition to Municode.com for providing me with some absurdities.

July 14, 2011

Outlaw gardens

Filed under: gardening, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 3:22 am

When I think of outlaw gardens, I usually think of the major medicinal plants: coca (cocaine, the prototype local anaesthetic), opium poppy (the prototype painkiller and cough suppressant), marijuana (still underutilized), or magical cacti and mushrooms. But a garden doesn’t require any mind-blowing substances to drive local bureaucrats into a psychotic abyss.

Julie Bass appears to be a Normal Suburban Mom, but she’s one bad motherfucker in the eyes of the City of Oak Park, Michigan. She crossed a line you see: in the Code of Ordinances, Appendix A, Article XVII, Section 1716.A.5, it clearly states: “All unpaved portions of [any] site shall be planted with grass ground cover, shrubbery, or other suitable live plant material.” But Julie planted a vegetable garden in the front, which at least one neighbor found unsuitable. The city told Julie to rip out her organic bounty and sow Chemlawn-perfect grass like a good suburbanite, but the bitch won’t back down!  She’s dragging the City into a jury trial, and facing up to 93 days in jail if she loses.

I like how City Planner Kevin Rulkowski bizarrely defines “suitable” as “common.” Were there some hallucinogenic morning glory seeds in his coffee, or is he intentionally making things up? Just who do these guys think they are to say which plants can go where? When the usual food imports are disrupted by declining oil production, climate change  or currency collapse, the city officials who now persecute Ms. Bass will be begging her for help to keep their citizens fed. For now, the officials float in a denial narcosis, believing that they can impose arbitrary concepts of normalcy on their little suburban bubble indefinitely into a Jetsons-inspired future.

Growing your own food and medicine is a basic human right — if you can’t do it for yourself, you must depend upon “the global economy” for everything you consume. In such a way everything you need to exist is a commercial transaction, and subject to controls like taxation, “safety” regulations and monopoly power — in other words, governments and corporate cartels decide what you can eat or medicate with. In fact, part of Ms. Bass’s motivation for gardening was to glean some organic food she otherwise couldn’t so easily afford.

Besides the issues of human rights or property rights, Ms. Bass’s case rattled my cage in the sense of: “Oh my Goddess! We’re living in a cage!” Julie consulted the city planner and was left believing she was a little bit free, to grow some vegetable boxes in the front lawn and share something a little bit different with the neighborhood kids. But when she used that freedom: POW!  She’s threatened with being taken from her kids for three months. You don’t know you’re living in a cell until you hear someone stumble into the bars.

It’s exhausting to ponder the degrees of unfreedom we live under. But, Julie Bass’s stand may open things up a crack. Check out her blog, Oak Park Hates Veggies. Take note of the Useful Links sidebar on the right, ’cause that is where you can take action to support this brave lady.

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