Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Mark of Zorro

Just because this blog is primarily about trees going extinct because they are being poisoned by air pollution, that doesn't mean everything is paralyzed with doom and gloom at Wit's End!  For a change of pace, I think of this post as a Sunday Endtimes Sundae, heaped greedily with syrups and crushed nuts and chopped fruits and bits of candies lavished from every topping in the ice cream bar, randomly with no sort of gustatory rationale.  Besides, the next couple of days will be jampacked - I have to prepare for RAMPS, go to trial for Occupy on Tuesday, and then set out for West Virginia on Wednesday.  Quick, eat it before it melts!
I have discovered for instance, that if I sit motionless in the evening on the porch, which is shrouded in a tangle of vines - witchhazel, wisteria, trumpet, clematis and grape - and play birdcalls from the Cornell Ornithological Library on my laptop, the wild birds from the woods surrounding the house go berserk with a curiosity so intense they cannot resist.  They sing back in a cacophony, and flutter closer and closer, shyly peering into the dark shadows to discover what interloper has usurped the warbling and trilling of their songs.
 There is an orphan fox, just down the dirt road across from Wit's End.
He (she?) glared at me indignantly when I tried to take a picture.  I haven't thought about Zorro in years and had forgotten that his name meant fox.  I had a such a crush on him when I was young.
As I recall he was dashingly subversive, and possessed enormous wit, daring, flirtatious humor and virility.  Where is he now to save us, I wondered when I saw this silhouette?
It turns out, the wall was painted by a notorious and (semi) anonymous graffitti artist called Banksy, who clearly thinks paint can foment revolution by wielding a can of spraypaint and a roller instead of a sword.
There's a fascinating back story about how the entire cinderblock section was appropriated from this original location in Detroit.  It was controversial at the time when a local consortium of artists decided to remove it to a more protected venue.
Many more photos of his work, which is frequently rendered into a palimpsest shortly after installation, can be seen at his website.  He has been accused of being too commercial, or cheating by using stencils, but personally, I admire the subtle whimsy with which he manages to evoke the ironies of our human predicament, employing only the simplest of images and modest materials.
The small black letters in the mural above read:  * with our new 2 for 1 offer including a choice of wine.

Besides the occasional interactions with birds, and exploring art through the genius of cybersace, it is a never-ending journey of discovery to encounter prolific and brilliant writers in far corners of the blogosphere.  Choice among recent finds, all of which I was honored to add to the blogroll, the better to visit them daily, is Sarcasm Alley, written by a Mr. Harry Homeless.  He may be temperamental so I can only hope he wouldn't mind being compared to a modern Bukowski, albeit with Texan credentials such as being (or at least claiming to be) "...a convicted felon. I once shot a man in Nacogdoches" (once only, mind you, be not hasty to judge - and he was aiming for the stomach).  Aka Cheshyre Grin, Mr. Homeless is an acerbically droll critic, poet, and a master of short stories.  He writes with agonizing depth and manages to unearth clever photoshops, unless he makes them himself...either way, I guess if you're living in a shelter you have time on your hands.   Actually, he just moved into an apartment.  He writes searing fantasies (I sincerely hope they are not autobiographical) that lasso you right in like this one:
First you stop living. Then you start dying. Then you start crying. But to keep it all going you must always be lying. It's like having money stop coming in, living off your lifetime's savings. Seems the same to the outside world but an internal clock starts ticking down to That Day when life comes crashing down. Whatever you do, don't tell anyone of this horrible condition. Most of all you've got to keep it from the kids.
"I am nothing. I can have nothing. There's nothing I can do."
Big Man Daddy hears this every day in his mind's life. He wants to scream for help, to be held by understanding arms, to come in from the cold withering wind. But that's not what a real man does. He stands tall in the face of adversity - even if it's of his own making (especially if it's of his own making). Here in the frontier of what would one day be called the Old West, hard men were required to tame the land. Anything less and you were coward of the county, an unperson.
Big Man Daddy's tears expanded with the years. His wife died, leaving him to raise his two sons. A terrified and cowering soul on the inside, the hissing "nothing" voice convinced him he wasn't up to the task and never could be. His sons must accept him as he is: the image of a strong man lacking truth. But his sons were hurting too. They wanted to scream for help, to be held by understanding arms, to come in from the cold withering wind. But a good father shows no mercy.
He also offers, from experience, indispensable advice in this age of displacement and unemployment, like the sage column How to Get that Dream Job which begins:
Have you ever had this conversation??: 
"Hey, you lazy worthless BUM! What in the hell is WRONG with you? OTHER people have jobs. Why can't YOU get one, you NO GOOD piece of shit. You make me SICK! Stop breathing air REAL PEOPLE could be using and START getting your goddam ass to WORK! I don't want to hear any of your SHIT! Now get out the FUCKING DOOR and don't come back until you have a JOB! You HEAR me? I'm gonna SHOOT YOU where you sit you X-Boxing loser FREAK!" 
"Yes, mother."
Another intriguing site is the quirky, often satiric, and sometimes heart-rending Free Thought Police.  You should start with the unabashedly imperious "Why You Are Obliged to Read My Blog" and before going on to his topical entries and especially his poems (listed on the right under "Categories"), here is the History of All Things which I cannot resist reproducing in its entirety:
In the beginning there was no beginning but there was room and the room was nervous.  Would it always be merely room or would it be occupied?  Perhaps it needed to hire an interior decorator.  And really, why was it being so mysterious. 
An infinite number of universes appeared and then, noisome humans. 
Humans liked reproducing.  They did not have much room but what room they had required enough privacy for copulation.  The land was covered with humans and they considered expanding underground, on the surface of toxic planets, and across the bottom of the sea. 
They couldn’t all agree and cooperate, and all of them seemed to want to lay claim to whatever they could.  Science ruined the natural order and life became long, dull and pointless.  Entertainment was the most valuable commodity. 
Blogs appeared.  They were often stupid, puerile, loud or crass.  Sometimes they were truly bizarre or compelling but it was really hit or miss. 
Bloggers became increasingly serious animals.  Getting traffic was all that concerned them.  They resorted to baser, more foolish, and dangerous tactics all the time.  They were reports of copulation with all manner of things, mass amputations, mass suicides, mass clonings and sacrifice, and it was good for a chuckle.  Still, this didn’t distract sufficiently from the lack of parking space.  The teeming hordes yearned for privacy, freedom, mental contortions, or perhaps a sneak preview of Mark Zuckerberg killing his next meal. 
The people demanded The Freethought Police. 
But they did not fully appreciate it until their way of life imploded upon repeated viewings. 
Then, they finally had a little gratitude. 
For their way of life was for crap and they knew it.  They had all worked incessantly at being “positive,” and congratulating each other for successfully exploiting their fellows, and acquiring goods and services thereby, and at convincing themselves the Maker of the Universe really approved of how they were going about it, but they knew in their hearts they were just having their cake and eating it too by ultimately eating themselves, and this cake was all quivery with the foreknowledge of the grave. 
And so, they read on, and in the spirit of The Freethought Police, they died to their rapaciously hypocritical mannerisms, and were reborn into the artless scum they had always desired to be.  No more games for them.  The naked shape of an unconscious universe devoid of meaning urged them to let loose their appetites without apology or regret. 
And no one was even taxed in the process, though trillions of dollars of public funds were confiscated, just in case.

Pretty soon, I'll get around to the bad news about our collapsing ecosystem but first just a couple more references, one to a blog referred to by its Norwegian host as a "harvesting" of endings from books and articles over the past several decades (or longer, counting Malthus), the wisdom of which has been universally and studiously ignored.  In their aggregate these endless tomes amount to an indictment of humanity's colossal stupidity, and so this compendium is called simply Endings.  It's a humbling compilation, a sort of Predictions of Peak Oil, Resource Extraction, Climate Change, Habitat Destruction, Overpopulation, and Environmental Pollution for Dummies, a Cliff's Notes of our hubristic march into obdurate oblivion.  A must-read, in other words.

Lastly is the erudite, learned and stylish Monsangelorum - Moving from a Dark Mountain to the Angel Mountain.  Naturally, it's erudite, learned and stylish...the author is English!  She appears to be disenchanted with the Dark Mountain Project, or at least some part of it, and is stepping out in her own unique way to reconcile the quest for spirituality and meaning with the ugliness of the impending crash.  I am looking forward to reading new entries and exploring the archives.  The page Imaginary Solutions concludes:

What is to be done? Remember pataphysics – the science of imaginary solutions? In the absence of any real solutions, I suggest the pataphysical route is the only realistic option for a sensitive, caring individual to take on an island populated by criminals and willing amnesiacs. Choose your place. Find your place. Find your spark of wildness. I don’t mean Golding’s Lord of the Flies wildness, I mean Ian Niall’s Poacher’s Handbook wildness: 
It is not a new thing. It is old, old like the scent of peat smoke from the lonely cottage; the cairn on the hill; the flight of geese in late October. In the flat country of East Anglia a man rose at five today to take a pheasant, and last night, in Wiltshire, kindred spirits were running out the long net, stopping to recognise the yelp of the fox and the cry of the owl. 
I think the bottleneck is coming. I think each person should look into their own heart and see if there’s something they love, and then take that thing and cherish it, so that maybe there will be a chance that it gets through. It could be a bluebell wood, a reed bed, an estuary, a wildflower meadow, or playing the uilleann pipes or archery or knitting, or the skills of the blacksmith or stone mason, or rare breeds of poultry or sheep or fruit trees, or anything that resonates with grace and integrity which merits preserving and handing on. 
What can be abandoned and discarded? What don’t we need? I believe that the ship is sinking. For smart people, that means gathering up whatever few things seem useful and precious. When you can’t take it all, you must make choices. May you choose wisely.

Thanks to Michele in Quebec for sharing this link to Body Remix Les Variations Goldberg, as performed in Montreal in 2007.
The youtube is almost an hour in length (although originally there would have been an intermission), so go back to the video when you have time and are in the mood for something completely bizarre and original.  It's absolutely extraordinary - well, especially if you like ballet.
Most reviews of this marvelous choreography relegate any message to the confines of a limited self-referential context of classical dance technique and style...while I like to think it has much deeper implications for the human predicament.  But maybe that's just me.

Okay now it's time to get to the essentials of Wit's End - more to add to the mounting pyre of evidence that trees are dying from ozone.  Let's start with fires...lots of them.  The first photo is from what looks like a tornado but is actually a seething, searing spiral of flames and smoke in Oregon.
 The article called it a "fire whirl"...something to look forward to as the landscape desiccates?
Amazingly enough, there is a weekly fire update from California that posts video on youtube, which is where the screen shots were obtained.
The pictures are from various fires around the state.
The trees are plainly thin, dry, and ready to be torched.
These bare pines are typical of what I saw visiting the state, minus the smoke and flames.
The same is true in scenes of fires from all around the world.  In the photo below, this horse is one of many that had to be taken away from danger where wildfires threaten a herd in Greece.
John Nelson of IDV, who would probably admit to being some sort of software nerdy type, took data from NASA and created a flip book progression of the increase in wildfires - both number and intensity - over the last decade.  Below are screen shots from 2001, and 2011.  On the far right is the graph of frequency.  2012 is lower but then, it's nowhere near finished - he may have to make the image larger to accomodate it when the year is out.
You can watch the animated version at his blog.
His flickr account has this image that includes another graph on the lower left indicating intensity.
Here's the caption:
Each dot represents a moment of pretty extreme heat, down to the one square kilometer level (I only retained fires greater than 100KW and of those only fires that the system was more that 50% confident of). They've been colored and scaled by "units" of the typical American nuclear power plant's summertime capacity to provide some sort of baseline of the fires' magnitude. Data provided by NASA’s MODIS satellite and the USDA Forest Service’s fire detection service

If you want the vicarious thrill of seeing what it looks like up close when everything is being incinerated, you could safely watch this quick glimpse from Spain's Canary Islands.

Recent news from the Air Quality Index monitoring site:
The first image below, courtesy NOAA HMS, shows the fire locations across the United States. The red dots correspond to active fires, and the grey areas are plumes. The largest plumes are dominated by the Canadian fires which have been emitting smoke and debris into the atmosphere for the past few days. 
The animation below shows the GASP AOD loop for today. You can see raised values of AOD corresponding to fire and smoke locations (not only from Canada, but also in OK/TX/KS).
The first image below shows the measured OMI tropospheric NO2 from today. You can see the increase in today for the Mid-Atlantic region. NO2, mixed with the large amount of heat and sunlight that has been hitting the east coast this week, is a strong precursor for ozone formation. 

The next animation shows the EPA AIRNOW hourly ground based values for ozone monitoring.

Despite my relentless efforts to educate foresters and other scientists about the effects of ozone on trees, virtually all of them persist in the theory that the reason forests are in decline worldwide is either localized insects, disease or fungus, and mainly, drought from climate change.  That's why this graph published today in the NYTimes is of particular interest, because it assembles drought impact since 1896 as amassed by NOAA.  You could say 2012 is unprecedented, particularly combined with added heat.  But looking at 1934 and 1950 it's quite clear that trees 80 years old or more lived through much worse droughts than anything since then, up to this year.  So sorry, drought from climate change or any other source is not the reason trees have been dying off since 2008, when I finally noticed it, and certainly before then as well.

While looking into the fires that are going on around the globe, I came across a terrific picture that was featured at, apparently a site for kayak enthusiasts (why not?  Every hobby, no matter how obscure, has at least one home on the web!).

In this photo, a US Forest Service Officer and Minnesota DNR Officer help paddlers escape from danger during the Pagami Creek Fire in September of 2011.  I became enamored of the photos so much, I copied several of them just to illuminate the usual - people are so used to dead trees now, they inadvertently include them when trying to produce beautiful photography...probably because the are so predominant now, there's no way to avoid it.
Check them out:
St. Regis Lake, Adirondacks
Tampa, FL

Fourth Lake at Rocky Point, Adirondacks

Teton National Park

Lake Drummond, Dismal Swamp, VA
Kerr Scott Reservoir, NC
Redfish Lake, Idaho
Jongunjoki River, Finland
Brule River, Northern Minnesota

To finish up, following is an excerpt of an interview with Chris Hedges about his book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.

Scenes of desolate, abandoned American cities are illustrated by Joe Sacco.
The photographs that follow, however, are by David Tribby as published in the UK Guardian.  They depict the ruins of a once thriving city, Gary, Indiana.
By Adrian Mack, July 14, 2012

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco is one of the infernal documents of our new century.
With Sacco providing vivid illustrations and Hedges furnishing the fearsome prose, they visit four of the most devastated communities in the U.S. and uncover what unfettered corporate capitalism has done to American life, finding despair, blight, poverty, crime, addiction, violence, and environmental degradation on an inconceivable scale, in all cases enabled by the total corporate takeover and corruption of government at all levels.
In the hopelessness, violence, and addiction they encounter at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Hedges sees a picture of America’s immediate future. “The tyranny we imposed upon others is now being imposed upon us,” he writes.
In the post-holocaust conditions of Camden, New Jersey, they find the grimly logical final act of the “weak being forever crushed by the strong”. Hedges describes the country’s poorest urban centre as “the poster-child for post-industrial America”.
In the mining towns of West Virginia, schools are equipped with inhalers because of the coal dust saturation, entire communities sit beneath toxic slurry impoundments waiting to collapse, and disease and addiction run rampant while the Appalachian Mountains are blown to smithereens.
In Immokalee, Florida, Hedges and Sacco meet “the model worker in the corporate state”, finding slave camps where illegal immigrants pick pesticide-laced and nutrient-free tomatoes for Walmart. Already imprisoned by debt peonage and fear, they are literally, in some cases, kept in chains.
Finally, they arrive at Occupy, where Hedges presents a rousing corrective for the “radical and retrograde forces within the body politic”. With the force of history at its back, Hedges states, Zuccotti Park is where “the revolution began”.
[excerpts from the interview by Georgia Straight]

….GS: You visited four places for Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, but how many other “sacrifice zones” are there in America?
CH: Well, a lot. You know: the state of Ohio, the state of Michigan, the state of Mississippi… I mean, the fact is these were the first sacrifice zones, and the fact is these corporations are just harvesting what’s left. We went purposely to the worst, but you drive through all these states and it’s pretty depressing. I mean, Ohio is a wasteland. All these former manufacturing centres—there’s nothing left. And the signs of physical decay are everywhere.
GS: The first time I really noticed anything like it was on a drive to Tacoma in 2000. What I saw just on the highway was outrageous enough.
CH: It is, and it’s invisible because these corporations fill the airwaves with fantasy and celebrity gossip and tawdry crap and the Kardashians… That’s part of the power of having Sacco draw it out, as these people have literally been rendered invisible.
GS: In the book, Maria Gunnoe tells you that the department of environmental protection doesn’t work for the citizens, it works for the coal company. How systemic is that?
CH: Completely. I mean, in southern West Virginia, politicians, the judiciary, big coal writes the school textbooks… It’s like a Communist state. Everyone is on-message, everyone works for the same company, and there is nothing within the traditional systems of power that is not beholden to big coal, including the senators in Washington.
But don't despair...there's always hope!


  1. hopium (one of three definitions.)

    a political narcotic distributed by vested economic interests that makes moderate social liberalism, ethnicity, individual purity of heart, and soaring rhetoric appear to be substantive progressive change; co-optation of the left by vested economic interests
    "The health care bill is a triumph of hopium over experience."

    You didn't know you were waging a war on drugs, did you?


  2. Well Gail, look on the brightside: remember when you first discovered the trees were dying? You thought there would not be a leaf left on the trees in New Jersey within a few summers. I though the same thing when I saw what was happening back in 2009 here on the West Coast. Clearly this is not the case and we are just going to slide down slowly and painfully to a greyer and greyer world over the next few decades. I'm not sure that is actually looking at the brightside, come to think of it.

  3. True, I badly underestimated the resilience of trees. Which actually makes it so significant that many DON'T have any leaves left in New Jersey. It would be far more but it's a populated state, and the busy tree workers are cutting them down like crazy. I've kind of stopped taking pictures of them - what's the point? They're obviously all dying in fact, when I first would say that to people, in 2008, they would look at me like I was nuts. Now, no kidding, virtually any random person will just nod their head and agree.

    I actually doubt it is going to last anything like decades. I think we passed a tipping point, and everything I've read says that the downside happens in a blink compared to the upside.

    And climate change is really kicking in which will exacerbate the ozone effects enormously.

    But, we'll just have to wait and see!

  4. Greenland’s surface ice cover experienced a broader thaw during a three-day period this month than in nearly four decades of satellite record-keeping,

    Researchers said it is too early to connect the new readings with broader climate change.......

    «scientist» also said: I wouldn’t want to discuss that

  5. Well I'm glad people are noticing at least then, but if that is the case then it has truly gotten really really bad. I don't I could get the same response out of the people on the West Coast as it seems we're lagging few years behind you on the decline. The trees constantly being cut down does certainly make it a lot harder to tell just how far along things are.

  6. As the Electronic Gothic art depicts, humans have transformed themselves into mere peripherals.

    The dancers mirror the submission of humans to the machinima.

    Perhaps it all started with future engineers being forced to conform their bodies to those damned chairs by a strict schoolmarm. Sit up straight!

    Our society's relationship with gadgetry reminds me of Harry Harlow's experiment with baby monkeys using harsh wire mother surrogates.


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