Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gardening Midsummer

Greetings all! I have many deep and insightful things to write about, of course (not least of which is my fury at the most recent Batman movie), but today is not the time for that. I am outside for the first time in weeks. We finally had some rain last night, at last some moisture, and it is now below 80 degrees. Also for the first time in weeks. I'm sure most of you noticed the heat wave, though.

We are now smack dab in the middle of gardening season. I'm harvesting a lot from my plot, and starting to think towards what I can plant in the fall for a last little hurrah. For sure I will put in garlic to overwinter, and plant some more greens just for fall salads. I think spinach is a viable fall crop in these parts, too, but I wasn't very happy with my first experiment in growing it and might leave it alone.

Sadly, one of my last squash plants succumbed to the squash bugs earlier this week, making two years of failure in the squash growing department. Apparently I'd have to use pesticides if it were meant to be. I need to investigate my organic options before trying again. The unrelenting heat didn't help, either.

I harvested my first cucumber yesterday and am on board for another few today. They are not as happy as they could be, between the heat and the cucumber beetles. The sweet potatoes appear to be developing properly. The peppers are still alive, which is about all one can expect given the drought.

But the tomatoes are so very, very, very happy. I can't walk through the tomato jungle without smashing some poor little one underfoot! If I forget to harvest for just one day, they're rotting off the vines the next. And they have knocked over most of their wholly inadequate cages.

Yesterday I cooked this recipe with my glut of cherry tomatoes (canning, freezing, eating off the vine--nothing puts a dent in them. These suckers are PROLIFIC), and I have to say that roasting them is the best. The particular heirloom variety that I planted is almost sour if eaten raw, but sweetens fantastically with a bit of olive oil and a half hour in the oven. These guys would be delicious dried--maybe I'll have to look into a dehydrater.

We've been eating a lot of gazpacho and pizza, too. Anything to make use of the delicious tomatoes. But I think that Saturday will be another canning day, based on the rate this next round is ripening. Canning continues to be very effective, and I've almost filled up a self in our pantry two deep with tomato sauce, salsa, pickles, and jams. My canning recipes mostly come from the book "Canning for a New Generation." This particular book is neat because it has a lot of herbal additions to jams and jellies, a lot of pretty pictures, a low-sugar approach (more work but quite fun regardless), and recipes for how to use the canned products. I have tried:

  • Strawberry Jam
  • Strawberry Jam with Thai Herbs
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
  • Pickled Beets
  • Spicy Carrot PIckles
  • Nectarine Jam
  • Classic Peach Jam
  • Peach Jam with Lemon Thyme and Almonds
  • Cardamom Plum Jam
  • Hot Cumin-Pickled Summer Squash
  • All-Purpose Tomato Sauce
  • Charred Tomato and Chile Salsa
And I still have several others to try (Tomato and Basil Jam, Red Onion Marmalade, apple butter, pear and ginger preserves, and perhaps Pickled Greens with Fresh Chiles, Grapefruit Marmalade, and the Cabernet Sauvignon Jelly). If you can't tell, canning is my new crochet--all absorbing, totally enjoyable, and a welcome product at the end of all the work. Also, it fits into my general effort to reduce consumption: I have bought almost no new clothes this summer, because canning fills the same place as retail therapy for me, but with less expense and a more useful product. Canning food from my garden is unalienated eating at its finest!

Finally, my dear husband has gotten into the preserving spirit. I got home from a trip to find that he had frozen kernels from a half dozen ears of corn from our CSA! I was so proud of him and grateful he took over a task I couldn't do! If the apocalypse hit now, we'd probaly have enough calories stocked up for, like, two weeks!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (with Class Consciousness and Spoilers)

We saw The Dark Knight Rises this weekend, and it's a fine and entertaining film, in some purely aesthetic ways. The plot and characters drew me into the action and I wanted to know what happened. But beyond that, it's a movie made by rich white men addressed to other rich white men. It's a warning about inequality--but not a warning to the suffering, oh no. A warning that if the wealthy do not take charge of the redistribution of wealth, the suffering masses will take it into their own bloody hands, so they better let them have some crumbs.

But guess what. We don't want the crumbs. We don't want loaves. We want the whole f****** bakery. (I quote a wise t-shirt.)

SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW. Many leftist critics are describing this film as fascist propaganda. I am not sure if I would go that far, and I'm not ascribing it "Republican" ideals or anything like that; it's more status-quo enforcing, fear-mongering, anti-social movement lazy politicking. Heck, it is a screed against inequality, just from the perspective of the rich. But it sure as hell tries to demonize the masses and any movement that might come from them (most especially Occupy Wall Street). OKAY HERE ARE SOME SPOILERS.

Let's start with our most vulnerable members of Gotham society: the boys in the orphanage, the ones that Bruce Wayne used to support until his company ran out of money (and here is a lesson for us all: philanthropy depends on the largess and profit of the wealthy, and while it is better than untrammeled greed, it's still not a reliable way to feed the hungry and clothe the naked--still prioritizes profits over people). We see their seamless transition from children, spottily cared for by the state, deserving pity and charity, into impoverished adults, deserving scorn, imprisonment, and death. This is a real problem that happens in the real world. Drawing attention to it is good, except the movie participates in their criminalization. One day the kids are orphans deserving help escaping the city; they cross a magic age line, and become superfluous monsters who want to kill, maim, and destroy. The movie never allows those boys, once they become desperate adults, a moment of humanity, a spark of individuality. Poor kids are the object of pity until they become poor adults, who are criminals and thieves and will follow the first murderous thug who comes along and promises them anything. This demonization is necessary so that the audience continues to sympathize with Batman; it's also necessary for capitalism to maintain that poverty is a moral failing instead of a social structure failing.

And let's talk about that murderous thug, Bane. Indeed, his back story is so sympathetic that it's hard to understand why we shouldn't prefer him to Batman. For most of the movie, we believe he was the only escapee of a terrible jail; then we find out, even better, that he was the only person who loved and helped a small child in a terrible jail! How can you not cheer for that guy? He has a lot of good qualities that Batman lacks: he builds cameraderie among his peers, he protects his associates, and he tells the truth. The only way you could not like him is if, I don't know, you were working from a perspective of wealth, or if...I know! He has a nuclear bomb and is illogically going to blow everyone on the island, himself included, to kingdom come with it! Oh my goodness! That makes perfect sense!

The bomb makes literally no sense. I know that the secret society wants to destroy Gotham because of its decadence (which also doesn't make a whole lot of sense), but Bane has already helped some of Gotham's undesirables make a life for themselves, and all his reforms seem directed at that same goal. The bomb seems like a not-so-subtle poke at Iran (if they have nuclear energy, they will weaponize it and use it for destruction!) and more generally at attempts for clean energy. As well as a plot device. And a reminder that the poor just need a charismatic and crazy leader to tell them what to do, and they'll all help destroy the world through terrorism.

The tensions that wealth and privilege feel about Occupy Wall Street saturate this film. For starters, Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless movement, but this film is insistent that there must be leaders somewhere if a social movement asks for some redistribution of wealth. Such a cry could never come from the people! Of course, there's Bane, but there's also Scarecrow, the corrupt psychiatrist from the first movie, serving as a Robespierre-style judge killing off Gotham's elites. Not only is he a connection to the first movie and to the French Revolution, which is invoked numerous times, but he also stands in for the overeducated trust-fund radicals that stereotypically "lead" social movements, taking from the oppressed their sad acceptance of How Things Must Be and stirring up desires that can never be fulfilled.

If you want to maintain that the film is not commenting directly on OWS, well, let's look at the first crime Bane commits in the public view: on Gotham's stock exchange. Bane takes the stockbrokers hostage, in a way, and they are forced to come out to the police, hands held high, a dream of many an Occupier--that the real financial criminals would be forced to take responsibility for their crimes, embarassed in front of the nation they hurt, thrust into the spotlight as the villains they are (recognizing, of course, that the guys down on the floor are probably the youngest and most vulnerable members of the firms they represent, and possibly only lackeys for the criminal class, not necessarily the criminals themselves). But all too soon, Bane and his people are recognized as the 'real' criminals. The progressive fantasy of the police actually arresting financial criminals is popped immediately, and the desire for that to happen is equated with hostage-taking. I was reminded of when a very rude U.S. representative apologized to BP for Obama insisting they should pay for some damage of the oil spill.

But the very worst, and most direct, anti-OWS attack comes near the end, when the police come out of the sewers and attack city hall. Yes, yes, they are trying to stop the killing in the context of the story, but the footage of the brawl itself reminded me so much of the brutality filmed at Occupy Wall Street that my innards twisted up at that point. See for yourself--there's an abundance of footage on You Tube of the police in NYC and California (specifically Berkeley and UC-Davis) getting out the batons and beating the heck out of peaceful protestors, and that footage looked exactly like the movie (except that Bane's army is well armed, and I don't know of any armed OWS protestors). I heard rumors that Nolan originally wanted to film at OWS but didn't get the chance. I was so excited when I heard that, last summer--little did I imagine he wanted to film in support of police brutality and against the occupiers.

The only bright spot in the film, for me, was Catwoman, who spoke frankly about the devastating effects of inequality on her and hers. She also spoke with a friend of hers, briefly, which was as close as the movie got to passing the Bechdel test (do women speak to each other about something other than men for more than 30seconds in the course of the movie). It wasn't more than thirty seconds, and men were involved in the conversation, but that was as close to humanization as women got in this testosterone-fueled capitalism junkie ride. However, I thought she was lesbian until the heteronormative ending kicked in; I would have liked there to be something off limits to Batman and was disappointed that she changed because of her romantic interest rather than because she wanted to do the right thing.

I will say that Batman also was not quite as bad as the rest of the film. He did follow the biblical edict for how a rich man can be saved: give all he has to the poor. He wanted to help and inspire people with his example, no matter how misguided I think that might have been at times. As an audience memeber, I wanted him to get better and escape from the jail, and I wanted him to save Gotham from the bomb. He tried to work with other people. He's just not very good at it.

But finally, this was a very violent movie that sought to discredit social movements, especially Occupy Wall Street. It was made to keep the masses complacent and waiting for a savior from above (literally--all that flying) while rejecting any leader from below (also literally--sewer and pit jail anyone?). It celebrated hierarchy and oppression. And nothing not discussing global warming has any right to be as damn depressing as this was.

Don't bring me down, Bruce Wayne.



Saturday, July 7, 2012

Garden update

Cucumbers before I leftI returned from the relative coolness of northern Minnesota to oppressive heat here in Kansas. But dear husband kept the garden watered enough to survive in my absence. That is, except for my oregano, which is wilting and sickly looking. These oregano plants have never before done anything but provide enough herb for seven or eight hungry households; their suffering communicates the plant reality of drought.
Cucumbers Today
Anyway, the rest of the garden is doing pretty well. My cucumbers have grown a lot in just a week. They don't really like the poles I set up for them and are climbing nearby tomato cages. And I don't actually have any little cucumbers yet, but they are in bloom.

Pests are a problem but not so bad as last year (so far). Right before I left, I found two of the biggest tomato hornworms I'd ever seen, attacking a couple of beloved tomato plants. I was so worried about leaving them alone with the pests, but no more appeared in my absence and they are thriving, huge, unbelievable.

Tomato Varieties

I'm growing several varieties of tomatoes this year, including some traditional red ones and red cherry tomatoes, but also golden cherry tomatoes and Cherokee purple and some other strange green and pink striped tomato that Rachel gave me. The first couple of pounds have come in and many more are ripening quickly. Actually, most of them have completely overwhelmed their cages. Some are strung out on the ground, having pushed the cages over and lifted them out of the earth. Others have simply exploded over the tops. Who could be so silly as to think plants would contain themselves in these tiny little cells we give them? Anyway, I'm going to have to figure out how to can the cherry tomatoes, for they are numerous beyond the stars.

Nearly all the onions came in, several pounds from such tiny little bulbs to start. In the end, growing onions was very easy. Next year I hope to plant them in rows alongside a sidewalk going up to our front door and grow enough to use and store too. In the meantime we enjoy going outside and digging one up every time we run out!

The sweet potatoes are poking out of the ground already. Their vines are spreading like crazy and I can almost taste the sweet potato enchiladas, fries, and soups that are to come. This makes two successful root vegetable ventures this year.

At this point, the most resounding failure of the year was kale, which I didn't manage to protect from marauding caterpillars, and carrots, which I didn't water enough and did some other bad stuff to. I fear that my squashes may suffer the same fate as last year; a few squash bugs have appeared, despite my best efforts to kill them promptly, and managed to lay eggs. At least I now know enough to crush the eggs immediately and check for them every day. And despite these setbacks, the garden is turning into a great success this year. Now to figure out what to do with the bounty!


Experiments in post-capitalism

I'm just back from a week in northern Minnesota, at an IWW event called the Work People's College. Labeling events as life-changing seems a bit trite when they won't especially change one's daily behavior, but this was still a pretty spectacular week for me. If you have ever experienced a very good week at Bible camp, with all the late night conversations and the intensity of being around a terrific, supportive community of like-minded people and out in nature somewhat isolated from the doldrums of life in ordinary time, then you'll have an idea of the setting. An exquisite lake formed the backdrop for our camp, and we swam or canoed near every break. Of course, we weren't discussing theology but political praxis most of the time, and we sang labor songs around the campfire.

How was this post-capitalist? We still depended on grocery stores in the nearby town to supply our food needs, of course. We were not able to extract ourselves from the capitalist economy as it stood. But we were able to carve out six days of liberty, of learning, and of mutual aid. We took turns cooking and cleaning up; we all watched out for the children in our midst; we practiced respect of our fellow worker human beings. We were able to trust each other and live simply out of tents. We strove to delegitimize the divisions down the lines of race, gender, and perceived class that the bosses use to separate the workers from our deserved control of the economy.

I have heard that in Barcelona, before the Spanish Civil War wherein the communists and fascists alike killed the anarchists, people were able to look each other in the eye and live with a sense of great equality, greeting each other as Comrade regardless of profession. And indeed in this space we all introduced ourselves with little aplomb. My fellow workers were the best-read group of people I have ever met (bearing in mind that I went to grad school in English, that is saying quite a bit), all knowledgable in some dimension or another of the situation of working people.

For security reasons, I'm not going to go into specific tales online. I learned a lot about IWW culture and process, all of which would pretty boring to non-Wobblies among my readers, and reduntant to Wobblies. But I have decided on a few ways that my life needs to change as a result of this camp.

First of all, I need to pay less attention to the news. I've been a very well-informed citizen indeed for the past few years (what with my two hours a day of NPR), and resultantly depressed and despairing. During the past week I had very limited news access, and I was happy and productive. The actions of the capitalist state are always going to be against the working people unless we apply massive amounts of pressure. The laws in Kansas are horrible, discriminatory, infuriating, and compel good people to do deeply immoral things. But that is always the status of law imposed by a state for the good of the bosses. Most important liberation must be done by ordinary citizens, anyway, and we can never depend on law or justice in the capitalist legal system to fight discrimination--that must be done on the ground. Laws on the topic are nearly irrelevant. If a community wants to work against the various supremacies that divide us, it will do that work regardless of laws uphold them. If a community remains mired in those supremacies, no law can compel it to embrace our common humanity. So I am going to practice ignoring the abominable legislative attempts to justify oppression, and focus on the work I can do against it.

Secondly, I want to camp more! I proved to myself that I don't have to be inside and recently showered at all times, and that I can set up a tent (although not keep it sitting on the ground and relatively dry--that lesson must come later) and sleep on the ground. There's a certain freedom from possessions and acceptance of nature's commonality in camping and I want to practice those acts more often.

And finally, I need to reduce my consuming tendencies further. For the past three months, I've tamped down my impulsive wishes for new clothing more effectively than usual. When I get depressed, buying clothes is my most effective retail therapy. But I must recognize that the whole system is designed to pull me into consumption by causing alienation, and seek out other ways to bolster the spirit.