Friday, July 29, 2011

Gardens and Hatred

I did not know that there was more hate hidden inside me than what I feel towards injustice and repression and political grandstanding. But today, I found out that yes, there is a living thing that I loathe much more than any of these wrongs.

That living thing is...


Last night, I spent some time with a friend who was house-sitting for some organic gardeners with a lot more experience than I have.  These gardeners had left her pictures of the really bad bugs that must be killed.  On closer inspection, it turned out that these were familiar bugs that in fact inhabit my garden.  Several reliable-looking sources online recommended spraying them with a bit of soapy water, so I went outside to do just that, expecting a few peaceful squirts to deal with half a dozen menaces.

Silly me.  Living on my beautiful, vibrant squash plants were HUNDREDS of the little pests, each just chomping away on my precious darlings as if their lives were important too.  Me = LIVID.  Soapy water did help paralyze them as I went on a squash bug massacre, scraping their hideous little eggs of my plant leaves, squirting their despicable guts into a gallon of soapy water, drowning them, squashing them (ha-ha), sending them to bug hell however I could.  But there are just too many of them, and I might be too late--all the stems looked powdery on closer inspection.  DAMN SQUASH BUGS.   All the squash harvest is in danger now, and I can't pull up the potentially diseased vines without taking out my most promising butternut squashes, and damn I hate squash bugs, the non-human paraquats. 

These little blankety-blanks are actually going to replace all the other blankety-blanks in my vocabulary.  What worse could you possibly call someone or something than a squash bug, sucking life out of all that is good and beautiful, then using that magnificent healthy life to spread your pestilent evil?  

On the up side, I harvested four cucumbers, four large tomatoes, and a pint of cherry tomatoes today.  Last night I made a pesto pasta dish using several ingredients from my garden.  Almost everything I cook right now, actually, has at least an ingredient or two from the garden.  My work is helping provide food for my family and friends!  This is the desired outcome!  Garden Love!

Squash bug hate.  Garden love.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I Do Not Want Mercy, I Want You To Join Me | Common Dreams

I Do Not Want Mercy, I Want You To Join Me | Common Dreams

This week, Tim DeChristopher received the official word that he will spend the next two years of his life in prison and pay a hefty fine. His crime? Bidding up an auction of public land in an effort to demonstrate how large oil companies were using contacts in the government to pay criminally low prices for valuable natural resources.

His bravery inspires reflection: after I read his statement, I must ask how he is going to prison while oil and gas companies' executives remain on the loose. He offered to pay for the land that he bid on, but it seems such land is only available to those who will exploit it. His case makes obvious the reality that our government does not serve the interests of the people at any level, but the interests of those who pay the politicians.

Of course, this has long been an anarchist argument against government, which embodies power in various, corruptible authorities. Tim De Christopher is living proof that the United States holds political prisoners, a reminder that we are all one just action away from prison ourselves.

In his words:
When a corrupted government is no longer willing to uphold the rule of law, I advocate that citizens step up to that responsibility.

This is really the heart of what this case is about. The rule of law is dependent upon a government that is willing to abide by the law. Disrespect for the rule of law begins when the government believes itself and its corporate sponsors to be above the law.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Work

The Crimethinc Ex-Workers Collective ( recently released Work:  Capitalism.  Economics. Resistance.  I'm in the middle of it, and it possesses the unique quality of being the first anarchist book in my library and reading history where I find myself in frequent conflict with the authors.  However, one of the joyous things about all of Crimethinc's thought-provoking publications is their collective authorship.  Since the books come from the viewpoints of many different revolutionaries, they oppose a singular repressive hegemony (i.e., controlling worldview).  There are several disagreeable statements (i.e. "It's naive to imagine small businesses are somehow more accountable to their communities", pg. 89), but then within a few pages is a statement of such shocking acuity that I must keep reading (i.e. "For example, the curriculum for honors studens includes nothing about how to grow or prepare food includes nothing about how to grow or prepare food, make or mend clothing, or repair engines; the implication is that if these students do well, there will always be poor people to do these things for them.").

A particularly intelligent critique of "superstars" earned my respect for the book.  As a child of the culturally neglected Midwest, I remember feeling lifelong anger towards the Coasts and the the household names who got to express themselves (supposedly), while many people's artistic abilities and desires and needs are snuffed out.  Capitalism sells us the idea that Stars/Artists/Writers are Famous because they are Excellent, and mediocre art is a waste of effort.  I disagree.  Mediocre art can still be beautiful and life-giving.  And, many "stars" really do not produce such excellent material that they deserve our creative attention. Crimethinc puts it like this:  
"Perhaps we're drawn to [famous strangers] because they embody our creativity--the creative potential of all the exploited--purchased from us, concentrated, and sold back...Stories that once were told around the fire now circulate through the market, including the stories that criticize it."  
(pg 75, if you're following along in your very own  copy of Work)  I identify this concept with my early anarchist creations, the tiny comic-books and novels from my very early years, from before  learning that art was supposed to be excellent and recognizing that my stuff was far from excellent.  Indeed, during elementary school, I tried to start a school newspaper, write fan fiction of Anne of Green Gables, create secret codes for my friends, and distribute abstract watercolors as bookmarks. Most six-year-olds are anarchists in this way, celebrating their own freedom of expression.  They produce art for their pleasure and for the pleasure of their parents and grandparents, not for profit or advancement in a hierarchy.  

Me, I tried to produce Writing when I was in college, realized it wasn't my gift, and gave up all artistic or literary pursuits for five or six years.  Only NaNoWriMo and anarchist ideas of personal freedom allowed me to start producing again, and the artistic expressions I produce make me very happy.  My current liberating standard of writing is as follows:  if Glenn Beck is somehow qualified to spew his hideous ideas forth in print, I am certainly qualified to spew forth my ideas!  Low standards, not high standards, are the key to production.

Anyway,  Work is a sustain assault on using our lives and energies to profit capitalist powers.  In this sense, I agree with every word of it.  Life is too short, precious, beautiful, to use it for bolstering the processes that concentrate power and resources in the Upper Crust (I prefer social sandwiches crustfree).  However, this book sells short the  fulfillment many people get from performing worthwhile jobs that provide meaningful goods and services.  Sometimes it falls into anarcho-primitivist fallacies, as if we would all be happier without any trade or innovations whatsoever, existing in an idyllic state of Nature.  But the anarchist ideals will require not less but more work from every person involved, and not all that work will directly benefit only the individual doing it.  The revolution needs lots of gardens, and those gardens all need a lot of work.  

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Garden Is Relieved

This morning, we had a brief respite from nearly two weeks of intense heat.  We even had a little bit of rain.  I was happy, and my plants were overjoyed   Their flowers perked up at the prospect of not being beaten all day long by solar assault.  I perked up a little at not having to run the air for survival.

The national and state level news is simply too depressing to talk about, write about, or live through. I would be remiss, however, if I did not call attention to the recent article in the Lawrence Journal-World about ALEC's actions in Kansas:  Corporate-funded ALEC Has Strong Ties to Kansas Legislators.  Yes, yes.  There is, in fact, a corporate conspiracy that writes and funds a lot of the bills that get introduced/passed in state legislatures.  It sounds like a myth if it weren't so solidly evidence-based.  And so depressing that, again, I can't contemplate it.  As an anarchist, I'm just registering it as yet another of the abusive potentials of representative government.  

My garden, however, continues to be a source of great joy and happiness--especially now that we've had a little rain and relief so I'm not as worried about my plantitos. The tomato plants are starting to produce, finally;   here's a nice cluster of them just ready to ripen.  They're big and juicy and delicious.

 I have some butternut squash growing now, too; they look great! There are four little ones at the moment, and if the sun hasn't burned off the flowers too dreadfully, I look forward to at least another half-dozen (or more).  Yum!

At right, you can see the beginning of some type of summer squash.  Since I didn't think to label the plants, or pay much attention to what variety I was planting, I'm not sure if it's zucchini or yellow squash in infancy.  That squash varieties grow at the base of the flower was a complete shock to me.  Not sure where I thought they grew.  Just not at the flower base!

I am seeing many, many beginning cucumbers.  Right now they are tiny, prickly little ones; they should grow to about six inches.  Lots of gazpacho is in my future!

Lastly is my tiny non-vegetable garden.  I have one beautiful purple and green bush, and two straggling flowers.  It's lovely; next year perhaps I'll put in three or four of these.

Anyway, on this fine Sunday afternoon, I will end on a mention of today's gospel text, Matthew 13: 31-52.  Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven as yeast, as a mustard seed, as good seed.  I agree that the Kingdom of Heaven is found in food and its metaphors, in the joy and fullness that can be found in eating and sharing food.  Also the Turning, when the fires of God's justice burn, which is just another way of saying the Kingdom of Heaven's arrival.  And the revolution, which is another way also of talking about the Turning and the Kingdom of God.  The metaphor of a mustard seed growing into a great tree gives me great strength.  For now, those striving for justice may seem few and far between, but we grow and provide refuge, and eventually God's justice and peace will shade the earth.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Granny Made Me an Anarchist

Granny Made Me an Anarchist, by Stuart Christie

One of the few books to live up to a promising title, this terribly entertaining memoir chronicles the life of a Scottish anarchist.  It's effective and educational on several levels, and highly recommended for anyone looking for a first-person perspective on social change and anarchy in the latter half of the twentieth.  Stuart Christie achieved notoriety early in his life when, at 18 years of age, he participated in a plot to assassinate Franco, then-dictator of Spain.  Much to his credit, he did not parlay that into a life of speaking engagements and public policy statements, but of direct action and hard work.

The book is split into three sections, each initially published as a separate pamphlet.
The first section addresses his early life and initiation, via anti-war and anti-nuclear protest groups, into anarchist thought and action.  The title refers to his grandmother's inspirational participation in many labor-rights groups.
The second section discusses the attempt on Franco's life, and the three-and-a-half years he spent in Spanish prison after that.
The third section details his life and projects after his release, especially the year and a half he spent imprisoned in Britain. The government accused him of participating in an illusory "Group of 12," or unknown circle of people detonating bombs a la Weather Underground, and held him without bail for some time.  By his account, they had no evidence against him other than his self-proclaimed status as an anarchist; the jury agreed and freed him.  Upon his acquittal, his former employment was not available to him, so he started a publishing house and has been involved in related industry ever since. 

I found Christie admirable for several reasons.  For one thing, he has not confessed shame and indignation at his part in the attempt against Franco.  It would be easy for him to shrug it off as a youthful mistake, but he chooses a more nuanced approach than that.  He outlines why various anarchist and exiled groups wanted Franco to be gone--highly justified reasons--and why they thought only a violent act could prevent more death and torture.  The closest he comes to expressing regret is saying that he hadn't thought through the possibilities of killing innocent bystanders, and that he is ultimately glad that he has no blood on his hands, even tyrant's blood.  

For another thing, he emphasizes that he worked a day job, and did the very best he could at it; anarchists must be very good laborers, in his estimation, in order to effectively join unions, exert pressure on employers, and ultimately to control production.  None of the Edenic paradise free of labor for him--a focus on justice, equality, and mutual aid, but not on leisure.

Christie's writing is fluid and subtle, funny, arresting, convicting.  This success, despite his lack of formal education, made me wonder what we do wrong in formal writing education.

Finally, he helped reorganize the Anarchist Black Cross.  I am ashamed to note that when I first read that name, I thought this must be an underground group of freedom fighters!  Not a bit of it.  It's a support network for anarchist political prisoners.  Often other aid groups ignore people accused of participating in violent actions (never mind that, like Christie himself, they may not actually have done the violent action, or had defensive purposes twisted for the sake of conviction).  He remains an advocate for justice in the courtroom, as long as such things must remain.

I learned a lot from the memoir about international anger towards the Vietnam War, circumstances of life in prison, the ease of turning our legal system towards people with unpopular ideas, etc.  If you find yourself interested in these topics, please, ask your library to ILL a copy and read this delightful book on your own!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The growing garden; Bangers and Mash (a variation)

 My garden continues to grow beyond my wildest dreams and expectations.  And, we continue to get delicious CSA food weekly.  This summer has been food-tastic.

I found my first little cucumbers today!  They are totally unelegant, clumsy, darling, catching the dew on their tiny prickly skins.  There's also three small butternut squash working on becoming full adult orange goodness, and one tiny beginning summer squash whose variety I have forgotten.  Even the green peppers have started to appear on their parent plants, late but alive and kicking.
All the herbs are flourishing. They enrich my life every day, when I sneak out before most meals to trim some of this or that herb.  

Recently, they enriched my bangers and mash variation.
Anyway, we had some extra bratwursts around from a weekend barbecue, and they needed to be cooked up soon.  So I thought, why not have a bangers and mash theme with these.  The brats themselves I sauted up with half an onion, and they were delicious.  We had some new potatoes from our CSA.  But it was just too freaking hot for mashed potatoes, even tho they are one of my favorite foods.  So I thought, what's a cool summery alternative?  POTATO SALAD.  But I had no egg, and I also kind of hate hard boiled eggs, and, sometimes, mustard.  Searching for recipes without these two ingredients brought me to this recipe:

Minted Potato Salad Recipe (Sandra Lee)

Which looked good, with some basic fixes.  I experimented and made the best potato salad of my life.  And used several fresh herbs, too!

Disclaimer: I have also never made potato salad before, but I will again.

So here it is:

Angela's Minty Potato Salad
4 or 5 medium-sized new potatoes
       Cut the potatoes in cubes/slices and boil until soft.  Strain them, and put 
a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary
2-3 T. olive oil
       on the potatoes, then let them cool in the fridge or freezer.
      After they are reasonably cool, add:
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
1 Hungarian wax pepper, finely chopped (I am sure some other form of pepper with a bit of heat would be fine)
4-5 sprigs of fresh mint, finely chopped
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1 T. lemon juice
abundant salt
Pepper to taste
        When all of this is reasonably mixed together, add
1/2 cup yogurt
Mayonnaise to taste. (I used probably three or four tablespoons.  what the heck.  I kept adding mayo until it reached my desired consistency)
More lemon juice, if you want.
Chill it for a while more.  Then eat it.  This was two servings with leftovers.

One thing I am learning is that fresh food in reasonable combinations is pretty much always yummy!  I'm getting freer of recipes--although a long ways from being a truly creative cook, I'm improving at altering recipes to suit whatever happens to be in the pantry.  This is a kind of true liberation, making everyday moments more magnificent and sensory!

Brownback wants to change tax structure /

Brownback wants to change tax structure /

Well, looks like more of our public services will drain away by the end of this slide to serfdom. Why on earth are we citing Texas as one of our models? They have a massive budget mess. Also, it seems like all changes to the tax structure have to benefit the wealthy.

We have a sales tax of 8.5% in most of Lawrence now. While I understand that it is an important revenue source for both city and state, we have to remember that pushing ever-more of the budget onto sales tax is extremely unfair. It amounts to an additional 8.5% income tax on those who must spend their entire income just to survive. Meanwhile, those who make several times the income of those in poverty may only spend twice as much; a person making $20,000 a year probably has to spend all of it, all except rent, on sales-taxed items. Their tax bill just from sales tax: approximately $1200 (9% of 14,000, which I'd guesstimate as after-rent income). A person making $200,000 might have $50,000 worth of taxable purchases (that is a total approximation), making their tax bill right around $4500. Person B's income is 10x greater than Person A's income, but their share of the taxes is only 3.5 times greater.

The above numbers are totally invented except for the 8.5% sales tax rate, but you get the idea. Reducing the income tax will push the burden of public resources more on those who can least afford it, effectively redistributing wealth upward.

And pushing our schools and public services downward.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Free Minds Free People 2011: Radical Professional Development

Free Minds Free People began on a Thursday this year, with an afternoon session just for teachers.  This "Radical Professional Development" represented a sharp twist on the professional development we usually endure.  Often, of sad necessity, our in-school p.d. must conceal the political nature of public schools and of the attacks on us.  At Rad PD, we were able to call spades spades, to label and criticize the neoliberal agenda of "reformers." 

 How does neoliberalism relate to education? Well, it tries to impose business models on education, treating students like products, trying to turn the public good of education into a private privilege and wealth-accumulating mechanism. I read a lot about neoliberal policies, and this wasn't news to me.  But it's good to refocus on how neoliberalism tries to make you blame yourself for not having work, or the students blame themselves for their hunger and lack of medical access.  This is a vehicle by which neoliberal thought stigmatizes collective action and makes us believe it is inefficient, ineffective, cheating our employers, etc.  If social problems were only individual failings, then we would have only ourselves to fix, and not the society.  

Overall, we discussed the need to create institutions where students, teachers, and parents are all allies rather than enemies.

In the first presentation, the speakers did praise unions as pretty much the only thing standing between corporations and complete control over education.  However, then we heard representatives from three different crisis situations in this battle:  a teacher in an embattled ethnic studies program in Tuscon, AZ; a representative of NYCore, who helped organize against massive teacher layoffs in New York City; and two women from the fight in Wisconsin.  In all these cases, they reported that the union was less than helpful for on-the-ground organizing work.  That was so discouraging--the union in Kansas is pretty supportive, I think, compared to all the negative pressures on teachers here.

All emphasized that "teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions!"  Sane, happy, balanced teachers are GOOD for kids, not detrimental to their well-being as those who would turn teaching into high-stress, low-wage labor would have us believe.  The teacher from Tucson discussed the bizarre, Orwellian character of teaching an Illegal Class; his department (Mexican American studies)  has been declared illegal by a strange new law in Arizona (see Save Ethnic Studies for more information).  How peculiar to have a class outlawed!  Under false charges that it teaches overthrowing the American government too...I guess teaching how non-whites have contributed to our cultural makeup is not part of what our ruling elite want students to know.

In any case, I very much enjoyed hearing from educators around the country who are fighting the good fight for social justice education.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

#OccupyWallStreet: A Shift in Revolutionary Tactics | Common Dreams

#OccupyWallStreet: A Shift in Revolutionary Tactics | Common Dreams

This is an interesting concept--get 20,000 people to occupy Wall Street with one simple demand, to be determined. But I'm just not sure how effective it would be--Wall Street would claim they don't have any power, and I'm not sure how much actual power for change they do seems to me (in my ignorance of all things financial) that it's mostly a system-propagating machine, and has little revolutionary potential even if people on it would listen to such demands.

Also, "End the Corporatocracy" is not a demand. It's a slogan. It's a command. But. Not a demand. As several commentators identify, good and achievable demands are very, very specific, not prone to twisting, not prone to evasive answers. "Mubarak Must Go" is a good (utilitarian) demand. No More Taxes is also a utilitarian demand, although I can't bring myself to suggest it is good in any way--clear, concise, exacting.

But what would be a clear demand? One of our current political problems is that none of the issues can be summed up in a sentence, without a lot of qualifiers. "Make sure social security is there for me, and for my grandparents, unless they are already billionaires" is not a very good crowd-chanting expression. "More Beer Now" is clear but useless...

If we could change just one thing, one crowd-chantable concept, as a result of a mass action, what would you vote for? I'm going to think about it and post my answer later. But I'd love to hear other thoughts!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Free Minds Free People 2011: Buying, buying--the throes of capitalism

There was a mall in Providence.  Amidst all the buildings that are older than the Midwest's annexation to the US of A, the five-story monstrosity seemed especially odd.  I meandered through the building out of aimless wandering, trying to understand more about the history of a city, about the humans who move in its arteries.  Free People Free Minds had released for the evening, with reunion promised at a street party--not really my style. So I was somewhat lonely, somewhat vulnerable to the temptations of Shopping.

The mall looked just like any of its kind in Kansas City, in Omaha, in Minneapolis.  Same stores, same expensive but boring products, same fervor to quell any revolutionary zeal under mounds of shopping bags.  Now, these stores manage to create a lot of desire in me--desire to fit in, to wear clothes that will make people willing to talk with me and not shun me or look down on me, desire to celebrate my successful (well, kind of successful--I have a full time job) professional status by Making Big Purchases.  I grew up with very strict limits on what could and could not be bought, so I've been on a multi-year "binge" of enjoying my ability to buy new and stylish clothing.

But in the middle of Free Minds, Free People, I walked around the mall with a sensation of disgust.  I did not want any of the things there.  I did not need any of them to validate my status in life.  I was participating in something larger than consumerism, a movement more exciting and challenging and aesthetically pleasing than anything in the mall.  Consumer culture has to destroy solidarity, because with solidarity you don't need to buy things to be acceptable--you start out as an acceptable being, one who deserves to have needs met, rather than starting out as a naked being who must clothe oneself with Good Choices and Nice Things to be acceptable in polite society.

Strategies for teaching, the history of anarchy, ways in which we can keep kids from being pushed out of schools--theses are all so much more interesting than any purchase.  Talking with other workers for social justice much more rewarding.  Consumerism keeps us all in poverty of emotion, always in a scenario of Want, Want, Want.

I wondered if this freedom from consumer desire would end upon arrival home.  But yesterday, while shopping at some stores that, very effectively, have created my desire for their products, I was able to walk away without any unnecessary purchases.  I tried on a dress in three colors, then realized that I didn't need or even particularly want the dress--only to own a part of the store's aura. Which I don't need.  It's not that my life has no self-control, it's just that usually I have to force myself not to buy what is unnecessary, overpriced, produced by slave labor.  Not having the desire to buy in the first place is totally liberating.

Now, I foster no illusions that this disaffection from consumption will last me long.  My job, much as I like it, makes me feel inadequate and isolated nearly all the time.  And my response to that is usually to buy more stuff.  This is a conditioned response.  It is also harder to not feel it when work has me beaten down, unable to focus on anything like history or strategies or structures.  But I have known for a bit some glimpses of liberation from consumerism--not just self control, but a lack of Want.

The revolution must contain in itself explicit strategies to free us from both want (poverty) and Want (seeking status and fulfillment in consumer desire).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Free Minds Free People 2011: Providence, R.I.

Providence housed me for four days, all delightful.  The Biltmore Hotel gave us a great deal on rooms.  Four of us stayed in a very comfortable suite with a good view of the city:

From there, it was just a brief walk to the high school complex hosting the conference.  I was really impressed that the Providence schools offered their buildings to us; one Twitter user pointed out, and I agreed, that it was good to have a conference that focused on K-12 education actually in a high school instead of a college or convention center.

The first night, one of my roommates and I visited a small local-food eatery called AS220 Foo(d).  This is a non-profit organization that uses all proceeds from the restaurant to support arts programs for kids and a radical art space nearby.  I think there is a theater there too.  Great food, a bar with creative/local drinks, and arts support?  This was a cause I could support whole-heartedly.  And the salad specials were named after musicals!  You can't see them quite as well in the picture, but I chose "The Sound of Music" (a tasty watermelon-pumpkin seed-feta combo) over the also-appealing "Cannibal: The Musical."
I know, pictures of me with drinks and raised eyebrows
are so flattering.  But in the name of science:  Organic
Prairie Vodka, some kind of raspberry liquor, and some
oranges or something.  Surely enough of these and the
Midwest would again erupt in popular fervor for equality.
Promptly I decided this was the best place in Providence, and possibly the world.  Yum. It was also so good that I returned for a second night, with another roommate, and enjoyed an appropriately named drink:  the Radical Praerie.  Someday, someday, we will liberate the inter-coastal lands and make ourselves models for the coasts, models of public transit and mutual aid and food sovereignty.
I didn't actually have a lot of time to spend in the city.  Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design were on my must-see list, but they got bumped in favor of the Roger Williams Memorial Park.  I don't get teary-eyed much over our Founding Fathers, but Roger Williams really was quite a defender of human rights (for his time and circumstances, anyway).  His ideas about the separation of church and state still help structure our national culture.  Also, I really like the idea of a memorial park as opposed to just another museum.  There were paths for wandering around, and plaques along the way discussed Williams' life and the development of the Rhode Island colonial life.

Three innovative pieces marked the park:  a video project on the American Dream, a grassy slide with a chalkboard and chalk, and gardens demonstrating colonial agriculture.  The video project involved an artist asking people in contemporary Providence about their understanding of the American Dream and how it fit into their lives.  It ran on a continuous loop, in a weather-protected TV surrounded by flowers.  Pretty cool.  

Of course, I had to add my
own thoughts on the
The grassy slide-sculpture-apparatus had a chalkboard anyone could write on, with a little bucket of chalk beside it.  Publicly responsible graffiti.  It was different both times I wandered by it.   

Then, by a small interpretive center, were two sets of gardens: one demonstrating the agriculture of the area's Native American peoples, and another set of gardens that showed what a typical New England housewife might have planted in the colonial period.  What a delightful little piece of horticultural education.
Overall, I thought this was a town where a person could spend some pleasant and relaxed summers.  There was a large street music festival on Thursday night, with bands and parading groups and vendors and all that jazz.  A pretty nifty city.

If you are still reading and interested, I found out that Roger Williams thought that the first four commandments should not be enforced by human authorities, and that was the basis of his belief in religious freedom.  He also learned some Native American languages and wrote some of the first textbooks on that topic.  He was a little more sympathetic to the rights of non-white inhabitants of the U.S. than most of his contemporaries, although I don't want to make claims about some kind of great multicultural understanding that I can't document and find possibly false.  He did seem a lot more progressive than a lot of our other "founders" though, and it was cool to see the Baptist church that he attended--still standing!

Monday, July 11, 2011


That wonderful part of summer has come, where there are enough tomatoes to make delicious gazpacho.  The tomato-cucumber cold soup has been one of my favorite foods since fall 2004, during my study-abroad in Sevilla, Spain.  Anyway, I have worked with a lot of gazpacho recipes, but the one I just threw together is my best gazpacho EVER. And the best part?  It included three ingredients from my own garden*; the rest of it was from our CSA subscription.   And all ingredients, except the onion and the garlic (ok, and the lemon juice and olive oil, if we want to get technical, and the salt), are currently growing in my own garden--just not ready to harvest yet.

This is only about two servings:

3 large tomatoes
a handful of cherry tomatoes (could replace with a fourth tomato)*
1 peeled cucumber
1 green pepper
1/2 onion
3 large garlic cloves
2 hot chili peppers*
Handful of fresh basil*
salt and pepper to taste
Generous drizzling of olive oil
Generous squirts of lemon or lime juice

Chop all vegetables and combine in large bowl.  Add olive oil and lemon juice, and salt generously.  (Add pepper if you like--with the chili peppers, this already carried  quite a kick.)  

If you like, you can chill it like this for an hour or two.  It will be tasty.  I prefer mine pureed, however, and used a handy immersion blender to blend the flavors more completely.

I liked the ratios of this immensely.  

My garden flourished so much while I was gone this weekend.  It appears that humid days of 100+ degrees, while unbearable for humans, are really great for tomatoes and peppers and basil and cucumber.  My cucumber plants grew more than a foot in just four days.  They are so amazing.  And my bell pepper plants, on which I had totally given up hope, actually started making some peppers (yes, continuing with the theme of Angela-is-always-shocked-when-the-plants-don't-die).  

And I posted this on Facebook, but I did want it more permanently recorded.  I had a nightmare last night where someone was trying to get us to leave our house.  The reasons for it were characteristically murky.  But, while I was unable to give rational reasons why we shouldn't have to move out, I did know that NO ONE was getting to my tomatoes.  Someone else was going to get my tomato harvest over my DEAD BODY.  Literally.  And what I was really, really mad about was not getting to see the cucumber and zucchini plants mature.  For my unconscious, irrationally leaving our beloved house--not a problem.  Leaving my garden?  Unimaginable.

Free Minds Free People 2011: Chance Encounters

I am recently back from Providence, Rhode Island, where I attended Free Minds Free People, a conference discussing issues of educational justice.  Although this was not a particularly religious gathering, several circumstances of the event made me more convinced that there is a beneficent higher power overlooking us, that sends people to each other in their times of need.  So, I was pretty nervous about attending this--excited, but nervous.  No acquaintances let alone friends of mine were attending, and the presenters all had serious leftist credibility--amazing magazine editors, community organizers, the sorts of people that make our large-corporation-overlords shake in their boots because they exist.  Unlike me; I have a lot more knowledge about anarchist theory that most people, and not much else.  Also, I have a lot of phobias about cosmopolitan urban folk and the prejudices they might hold against a simple, married, church-y Midwestern girl like me.  
But the forces of the universe smiled on me.  On the first stretch of my flight out there, I sat next to a major teacher union organizer from Kansas, and was able to discuss our current situation extensively.  That in itself was a pretty amazing coincidence.  Then, on the flight from D.C. to Providence, my seatmate was a very kind middle school art teacher from Rhode Island.  After I told her about the conference, she confessed that it sounded like her kind of thing but she couldn't tell anyone she was liberal because of her family.   So we also had good solidarity-building conversations, and I got a little bit of the lay of the land from her.  
I arrived at the hotel with absolutely no transportation problems at all--there was a bus from the airport straight to the hotel, for only $2 (oh public transit, how I love you and want you in the Midwest).  Then, I walked into my hotel suite, and met my first roommate, a high school drama teacher.  She lives in New York now, but is from--wait for it--


What are the probabilities of that?  We connected over the internet through a roommate-search service the conference provided.  And right away, I had a friend.  It meant the world to me to have someone to hang out with, someone who was in fact aware of the existence of Kansas.  (East coast people, I know you mean well, and I love a lot of you, but...Kansas does not border Ohio.  Nor Canada.  Nor California.  Seriously, people?) So my new friend L. and I spent all of Thursday together, jigsawing some workshops.  More on Thursday (Radical Professional Development) in a later post.
On Friday, I started getting a little discouraged by the difficulty of making connections, but some wonderful math teachers from New York were very welcoming to me and talked me through a close approach to meltdown.  Then I met the editor of my favorite educational magazine, and she invited me to submit an article to them!  I was pretty much floating after that.  
Also, an anarchist publishing house set up shop at the conference and had several Chumbawamba albums that I had been looking for in record shops up and down the Midwest, to no avail.  SCORE.
On Friday night, another roommate went out with me.  We had a great time.  Then on Saturday, I went out for supper alone, a little bit sad at my failure to make serious connections (my faithful roommie from Lawrence was still awesome and still friendly, but had work to do).  I wandered around, then on a street corner found another soul in search of solidarity.  She turned out to be a fabulous documentary filmmaker from NYC, and hoping to meet a friend as much as I was; we spent the next five hours wandering around the city, eating, drinking, sharing life stories.  Glorious.
My new friends showed me the mafia-owned part of the city

One of them even let me try her swank
electric-powered bike.  What a thrill!
Finally, I thought surely my luck must have run out by Sunday.  But at the final closing ceremony, I met some delightful young teachers from Providence, who invited me to spend my final few hours in the city with them.  

I don't always believe in an interventionist God, and surely these wonderful and random meetings are partially due to my openness to meeting new people, and partially due to having a lot of like-minded people in one place at one time.  But still, I do think some sort of sympathetic universal power helped me connect with exactly the humans I needed to stay engaged at every level of this conference.  
Also, when I was writing my Great Anarchotheist Novel last NaNoWriMo, I had one of the sacraments of anarchotheism as "the sacred conversations with strangers, after the example of Jesus who spoke with the woman at the well."  I intended it as a somewhat tongue in cheek sacrament, as I find the focus on what constitutes a sacrament useless and arbitrary most of the time.  But now I'm considering taking that less ironically.  If we could all connect with strangers on a regular basis, could it bring us closer to the turning, to a new society founded on mutual aid and humanity rather than fear, top-down authority, and resentment?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Weeding Metaphors

It would be false to say my garden is completely  weeded at this point, but certainly fair to say it's as close as it's going to get.  I've been practicing gardener yoga for two days, nearly continuously, and have perfected the Downward-Facing Windmill (where one bends over at the waist and moves one's hands about delicately), the Fidgeting Dreamer (seated, with chin on knees and hands busily pulling at the ground), and the simply elegant Weeder's Squat.  My garden is larger than I remembered, when one systematically deals with it foot by foot.

I admire the weeds.  Few living things are so unwanted yet so resilient.  But weeding really made me think about Donna Haraway's book and her writing about metaphor.  She commented, somewhere in the several of her tomes I read in grad school, on the arbitrariness of separating flesh and blood, muscle and bone. We use the metaphor of their separate existence to be able to talk about useful characteristics.  But what is the muscle without the bone or without nerves?  Something else entirely.  Nerves and bone and muscle and whatever else are all bound up in a body, interacting in ways that exceed the limited capacity of any part, as a whole that transcends such divisions.  So is it with soil and root.  Where do the roots end and the soil begin?  I tried to shake off the soil from the weeds' roots--inevitably, roots return to the soil that way, enabling the weed to regrow.  And where does the soil end?  It takes part in the root-i-ness too, and will always be part of the roots.  In weeding, I remove some of my precious topsoil.  These seemed like more academic points to me until this afternoon, when the true and genuine marriage of soil and root and leaf became very, very apparent.

Even the mulch that I put on just last week has interlaced itself with dirt and root.  It would be impossible to remove all the mulch; it is impossible to remove the weeds without likewise disturbing the mulch.   As soon as the mulch entered my yard, it was part and parcel of the Garden Tapestry.  Reminds me of the myth of "native-ity."  When I entered Argentina, I became part of it for a while, and it became part of me.  Am I any less American for this?  When immigrants enter the United States, as soon as they enter the land they begin to be shaped by American cultural forces and policy and the land itself.  How can our country decide so many people, living in these United States, are not sufficiently American to be welcomed?

Also, an update on the Brownback Watch:
Unsurprisingly, the governor and his minions don't wish to respond to direct questions and won't participate in an interview about the decision to close the SRS office in Lawrence:

Dictatorial thinkers see no reason to justify their decisions to the affected masses.  We must demand community control over the community resources distributed to those most in need; and lacking that, community access.  This is small government from a fascist perspective--reduce the number of offices and the services provided (the access to government), increase regulations and control over our day-to-day lives.  Reduce the funding for "government schools," increase the penalties for people who can't use their ever-more-limited education to succeed in the job market.

To combat my furious rage, I'm going to plant carrots.  Veg out, comrades.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Brownback Watch

Just in case any readers had forgotten about Sam Brownback, the governor of Kansas, and the magical shrinking rights and services our state government provides,  here are the most recent atrocities:

Lawrence is losing its SRS office (which oversees food stamps, child protection, disability insurance claims, etc., etc.), while many, much smaller towns are keeping theirs.  What is different about Lawrence from these towns? Ah, well, Lawrence historically votes for Democratic candidates.  Hmmm.  I am sure that our government would not be so small-minded as to deny and/or complicate services to a large community simply because the majority of that committee isn't part of your political party. This is a democracy, not a fiefdom where you must kowtow to the nobles in charge to meet your needs.

I have heard tell of protesters going to the state capital to demonstrate, only to be told they had to have permits to protest.  When asked why a group of anti-abortion activists were allowed to demonstrate, the police explained that was a rally, not a protest, which was permitted.  Now, I can't find this story again so it may be apocryphal.

This, however, appears to be a solid news source:  Brownback seeks to boost marriage rates.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for marriage.  I enjoy my marriage.  I sincerely wish that a dear friend of mine did not have to move out of state to have her marriage with her wife honored.  And I am all for improving conditions so that marriages can flourish (i.e. economic equality, more leisure time so spouses can actually spend time together, community support of marriages).  But what?  As if non-Christians can't have good marriages?  As far as I can tell, quality of marriage just doesn't have much to do with the religion of the spouses.  And I feel that polygamy actually does threaten me as a woman and as a wife; same-sex marriage does not threaten me at all.  If I or any other woman does not wish to enter into a same-sex marriage, I simply do not enter one.  That is not always true for polygamy.  And people who unfortunately get divorced should not suffer by losing all their property and access to their children.  Good policies would want to help people WANT to stay married, not just make it impossible to end a marriage legally.

All right, that's all for now.

Gardening: God's Abundance Spills Forth

I have returned to my wonderful husband and home after a romp through Iowa, with a foray into Madison, Wisconsin.  There, I took a class on gifted education, visited several of my bestest friends forever, and met new people and ideas.  My load of anarchist books was mighty and wonderful--I have reading material for quite some time now (not that I lacked before...).  Iowa City has several well-stocked, quirky used book stores; Madison has some of those but also some great book cooperatives that stock only the kind of books  I like to read (i.e. social justice screeds).  I saw farmers' markets in I.C., in Dubuque, and in Madison; all are lovely, of course.  I was surprised by how far behind Kansas their growing season was.  Our early spring salad greens are virtually over here and have been for some time.  There, they are in full spring lettuce season.  Kale was still a staple of the stands in Wisconsin and Dubuque, and my friends were just beginning to grow some; it is too hot here to easily grow, now.  About three or four weeks' difference, I would say.  

When my family went on vacations, my mother loved to visit different grocery stores and compare their selection, layout, etc.  Now, I mostly stay out of grocery stores during the summer, but like her I've become a connoisseur of food shopping options--this is really my favorite tourist activity--go check out the local farmers' market and organic food coop.  Madison's market circled around the state capitol building, and there was a vegetable garden planted along one of the sidewalks there!  I noticed some shops that had kale growing in place of flowers in front.  What a great commitment to fresh, local, healthy food.

Anyway, in my absence my own fresh local healthy food-growing area, my garden, flourished.  J. (dear husband) watered the wee little ones and mostly maintained them.  And wow, now that the summer heat has come, they have exploded!  My tomato plants have completely taken over the front of the house:  

Tomato plants spilling over onto the sidewalk 
 So they are busy making literally hundreds of tomatoes.  Gazpacho, salsa, tomato soup, tomato juice, pizza, tomato and basil salad, tomato and oregano salad, juicy hamburgers with thick slices of tomato...I can't wait!  Apparently, I sort of forgot how many cherry tomato plants I put in.  It appears that we will not be short of those.  I had my first ripe little tomato today and popped it in my mouth.  YUM.  
My little broccoli head!  I thought all the broccoli were
hopelessly dead, but I may get some florets out of them
at least.  This is actually a theme.  I thought the basil plants
were dead, so I planted two more.  Now I have five
healthy basil plants.  I kept thinking the cherry tomatoes
were dead, and planting more.  None of them are dead.

 To the left is a cucumber plant--this little guy is only a couple of weeks old, and already growing like a weed.  It's twirling vines up the sticks just like it is supposed to do.  I'm still surprised when it does that instead of dying.
 And here's a lovely little cucumber blossom.  Some people advocate for picking the blossoms and deep frying them.  While that is an intriguing concept, i hear if you let the flowers develop they turn into cucumbers and squash.  So I'll let them do that this year.

And this charmer to the left is one of the squash plants that I photographed earlier as a seedling.  They're getting so big!  I am so proud!

Anyway, all of this reminds me daily of the abundance God intended for our lives.  God created this bountiful nature, and yet we tamp it down and stifle it and pollute it; scarcity is not what God intended, poverty is not what God intended. The story of the Garden of Eden testifies plainly to a memory of a God who wanted all humans to flourish in freedom and plenty.  Gardens help bring just a little bit of that plenty back to fruition.

P.S.  If you want any basil or oregano or sage, let me know.  I have all three in abundance.
PPS  Check back in a few weeks if you want to sample some tomatoes :-)