Friday, February 26, 2010
Over the past few days, it has come to my attention that Mr Brendan McCauley and Mr David(e) Mitelman read "Philosophy that Bakes Bread." I want to send a pleasant greeting and express my appreciation for their time and attention. I look forward to hearing more about Brendan's music tapes label, presently going by Grapes Tapes (Is there an apostrophe in there?) which I will probably link to on here or from the tumblr. You can find David--in Brazil, he was warmly referred to by the Brazilian adaptation Davide (Day-vid-gee), hence the parenthetical "e"--working away at Flat Cap Publishing, with its enviable photographs.
Without further ado, here is The Bridge.
The Bridge – Experimental Write
22 February 2010
It is strange to see the bridge from here. This angle, it has its own quirks. It extends over the tracks and tucks itself behind that far hill. You might think it goes on and on behind that hill, never again touching down. In a way, that is true.
Over the hill, in the distance, that is the familiar side. I am, you might say, out of my depth here. The bridge connects two, shall we say, distinct places, as bridges are wont to do. I have crossed bridges over streams, railways, sidewalks, roads. An acquaintance has a rather eloquent bridge between the two halves of his home, arching pleasantly over an internal courtyard. I have seen photographs depicting bridges between arboreal platforms so that the wildlife below might be observed undisturbed.
Having crossed the bridge, viewing it just so, the bridge does not appear all that different from any other. Long, swirling tendrils of iron decorate the pillars that hold it up and its balustrades on either side—though the opposite side, on the Northernly length, I obviously cannot see from here. The style may have come off of as curious when it was made, but now it has that touch of rust and wear that adorns all ironwork from that era. The pillars are composed of terra cotta, richly red in the later light of the day, and its long, vertical crevices are deeply shadowed. It bears that mystique of shadow places and unknown language; of unrevealed secrets.
Veil. Reveal. Unrevealed. The Greek for truth is alethia. A denotes the opposite of lethia, which means to cover or conceal. How strange a word. Is it so often the case that the truth is secreted away, that it needs uncovering? Generally, I have found the truth to be out in the open and that we tend to hide it from ourselves. We are sly in our efforts of obfuscation.
I have always lived near the bridge. I was born not far from its Eastern node. You can discover a hospital nearby, not more than a mile, though it has been remodeled once or twice since I came into it. My mother's home was further away, but planted in a hillock that put the bridge at a wonderful view that belied its distance. It is one of my oldest memories. How strange, that it looks so similar and so unusual from this reversed vantage. I took pleasure in seeing it, arching subtly away from all those comfortable neighborhoods of my youth.
Now, long since the close of my youth, I was ashamed to realize that I had not crossed it once. My childhood comrades failed to coax such adventures out of one another. I never found a lover to follow over it. No family members discovered affordable homes on its far edge, then asked for houseguests and extra hands for moving. It would have been wise to let sleeping dogs lie, I suppose, as one is wont to do.
I have met the stray occupants of that far city. They have that air of foreignness about them, that smell that one cannot wash out. They count to three differently on their hands. They have a slight inflection when a “g” precedes a consonant; an intonation that hints of an older people and their older ways. It was one such individual, having lost his way after a long debauch had traversed the bridge and made his way to a bookstore I frequent. I found him there, perusing titles that made him squint. His concentration was broken from the aftereffects of drink, but he could not escape his fascination with this novel place.
I bought him coffee and provided him an aspirin. He was younger than I would have liked, still touched with that unhindered extravagance with which young people speak. Then again, we think of ourselves as so much more matured, which comes with its own hindrances. I took pleasure in his recollection of the night before, which led to tales of other nights and other friends. We spoke at length and happily. With the swift approach of night, though, he decided he ought to leave, which he did with profound speed. I wished him adieu and shared some means by which he could contact me, but I felt it went unheeded.
The seed of that visit grew, its taproot gnawing deeper and deeper into my thoughts until I could not escape the notion. I have learned that the bridge has the air of the inevitable about it, the inescapable. It consumed me, and I am the worse for it. From the Southern side of the bridge I can see something different about secrets, about the things we keep hidden.
Even in this warm place, I cannot help but feel alien. I am unwelcome here, shrewdly watched by passersby and something in their eyes, in the curve of their lip, the glint of teeth that tells me I should never have come.
You may here assume I have misspoken, but perhaps it is more that I intentionally failed to reveal. You see, I came and left once before. I came to the far side and felt the stare of strangers, smelled their noisome musk, listened for that long-lived inflection on words with a “g” placed just so. I became fearful, I am loathe to admit, but it shook me severely. And I fled over the bridge, back to a familiar place and a time and people who might recognize me and I them.
That seed though, having given it the chance, germinated in my internal soil. Not long after my disruptive sojourn I noticed it about me. The smell, the sound, the sharpened edges of my lips, my teeth. Others had seen it in me first, smelled it; we are perspicacious and I could see the different looks, the long glances, the stares of children. Therefore, I arranged my subsequent departure.
From this angle, I can see those strange perturbations in the ironwork. The way its windings shift and unsettle in the long light of the day. On my crossing, I attempted that peculiar pronunciation, those other swirled sounds that have become more obvious over my brief stay. My worry, my doubts have faded somewhat with the pleasure of a drink and a smoke, as worries are wont to do. They watch me, these natives who have infected me, and wait for some subtle change.
Down the street a familiar face strolls by. I stare at him from the window. He is the young man with his stories and meanderings. He looks wayward, worn, lost. Then, he notices me and we exchange a glance, then a smile. I find strange comfort in that curling lip, that luminous, Cheshire grin.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Mary is full of ideas, arguments, stray thoughts, creative impulses, and determination. She makes an amazing conversationalist when she is engaged with someone. Her background in speech and debate, training in political science, and dedication to her principles (which may be too strong a word) means she won't stop until she is satisfied; that is unlikely until one if not both are thoroughly exhausted. I very much want to hear more of her thoughts, but beginning the process of writing, or speaking, or what-have-you (Mary is also an artist, and for many, that is a much more precise means of communication than spoken or written words) can be, well, traumatic.
By trauma, I mean that the message undergoes a rough and tumble transformation. Some people refer to this as "encoding," which is to say, the message is put into a transferable medium--usually thought of as spoken or written language, but by no means always--and then passed on fr "decoding," where another person or an audience takes the coded message and makes sense of it. I recall writing my philosophy paper for Professor Deane Curtin, "Dōgen’s Mountains and Waters Sūtra as Environmental Virtue Ethics." Most of the time I spent writing this paper, I was in the small commons room of Lundgren House, which no one used. I could hear the steps of people upstairs and some of the chatter in my proper apartment in that house, but it was pretty silent. I also worked late, which meant a bit more quiet and concentration. This was one of those pivotal papers for me; that is, I enjoyed writing it just for the act of writing it. One of the reasons, I suppose, was that I felt confident in my ability to encode my thoughts properly such that they were intelligible to others. I was able to argue my point--having knowledge of the text, familiarity with the language, a suitable mindset, and personal determination--with simple, direct words.
Mr Tim Loughlin works at Ivanna Cone with me. He has had longer and more defined education in philosophy. He is a logician, by training, and we have had a few debates in the time I have known him. We often disagree. On one point I think we disagree is on language. For me, language is essentially a metaphor: One uses language to represent that raw material in our minds to be taken apart by others, to be interpreted; language itself is meaningless without the activity of coding and decoding it by persons. Language is a tool. I am under the supposition that language is stronger for Tim. Language has a definitive role on ideation in the brain and for some, that means that our ideas are demarcated by the language we are able to explore. Mary expressed amazement at people's diligence in their quotidian experiences when they are environmentally ravaging and intellectually numbing. Perhaps she is more tuned into this because she has the language and, therefore, the ideas to express herself so. Many people are not as skilled in understanding and expressing themselves, even if it is just to oneself, the way Mary does.
This is not purely academic or linguistic. Take, for example, the thousands upon thousands of religious, mythical, and folkloric stories all the cultures of the earth have to tell one another. The characters in these stories undergo trials and travails, joys and hardships, triumphs and failures to rival most any single listener has or will experience. All the same, the reality of those characters allows a narrative by which most people, living in communities with narrative traditions (anything we would think of as a society or culture), can come to appreciate their own experiences via comparison and contextualization. Lore acts as a metaphoric language itself for understanding ourselves and the experiences of those around us.
I asked Mary to write me a letter. In it, I want her to tell me what has been on her mind and why she thinks those ideas have gained her attention. In a way, that is how I began writing here. Friends of mine mentioned that they would miss speaking with me, so now I can "write" to them what I have on my mind. The notion is that this is less like a day-to-day log and more like a sounding board or "whiteboard session" that dear friends of mine shared at school. It is an effort to make my own ideas meaningful to those around me and to do so well, clearly, creatively, and pleasurably. I wish I wrote more, but writing is often a difficult, trying process. It is a skill I must maintain and develop. Here is just a prime locale to do it.
In many ways, I feel far from the conversations that surrounded me at school. Classes and study sessions, conversations over coffee and tea, late nights with wine and beer, each provided venues for dialogue. Now, I try to keep up with others' blogs and certain periodicals in an effort to work my way into a wider conversation, a national and global one, which itself maintains connections with the individual speakers. I explore in a way that is dominated by written language, which I fortunately excel at myself. (That is not to say everything I write is golden. Virtually everything posted herein is a first draft, un-outlined, and spurred by recent experiences. This comment I make with the support of friends, colleagues, and mentors.) I am greatly interested in the musical exploits, the artistic endeavors, the dramatic developments of others who are trained and practice in those media, which I myself enjoy but have not fostered an ability therein.
I long for dialogues. I enjoy reading and writing, listening and conversing; and I love to argue. Argumentation is, at its best, an affectionate act. I do not mean shouting, I mean real arguments in which two people earnestly debate and explore together. It is a fraternal act, a unifying act because it connects two people, over time, by their minds, their ideation, their vantages on the world. It is a method for expanding one's vision and leaning deeply into the lives of others. It is intimate learning.
Friday, February 12, 2010
A Garden in Winter
Everyone in this city calls it by a different name. I call it Winter and I have been here longer than I can say. Snow piles higher than my head on each side of the street and with each snowfall, moraines gradually ascending by successive glaciations. At the end of Winter are endless deserts of drifted snow and ice, carved by wind into towers that compete with the city. One day they will reach above the city and crash down on us, burying it suddenly, quietly, and I do not know if I will bother to leave.
We are all émigrés here, with broken recollections of other places. The snow wipes it away over time and Winter becomes our ill-fitting home. In its center, tall spires of black metal pipes and half-corroded chimneys weave together and more than once I have imagined, half-waking, of a web made to catch dreams made by a people from another place. Beyond the heart, one can find comfort and even beauty in the city. Over steaming coffee or next to a fiery hearth, one finds company and we all share our stories.
No one refers to the city by the same name. To each, the name one uses is obvious. The expanses of snow outside, the chill air, the blinding sun on the clear days, the crisp sharp darkness of nights gave me the name of the city. Others, though, have found other names by which to refer to this hostel for refugees. A tall, thin, bent man with his unkempt beard and scraggy hair has been here longer than anyone I know. A woman with whom I was close believed he was an architect of the city, one of its first inhabitants; but the old man, Giorgio, denies he can recall. He calls the city by a first name, Francesca, when he is in good, amiable spirits, and di Roma, when he is sour. Upon inquiry, he said that the city has many moods to which he attends, as one attends to a woman; cordiality in certain times, politeness at others secures a man to a woman, or a man to his city. Once, I saw him shouting profanities to the high, industrial towers at the center of the city, but they were in a language of which I was unfamiliar.
Loraina always curses the city. She has one name for Winter that she tells no one. It is a name she curses under her breath and defames with her fists. When she can find it, she wields aerosol cans of paint and bottles with rags that she lights and heaves over the fences at the edge of the dark heart of the city. We were once close, but now I feel that she regards me like she regards the city, speaking not of my name but only of despicable appellations. Sooner or later, I will find her bricks come through my window. Loraina is a woman not to cross but who, upon meeting, one recognizes one will eventually cross. Like most citizens of Winter, I move from place to place frequently; I have more reason to than most.
Most consider Mukherji mad. He wakes early—if he sleeps at all—and wanders the street practicing “Laughing Yoga.” No one else has heard of it, but he preaches that it heals him and will eventually heal the city. Of what the city is sick, he will not say. He calls the city Mylapore, but will readily share that it is not Mylapore. When asked for more explanation, he says only that Mylapore is a name and that it may as well apply to the city as to anywhere else. Wherever else it may apply to is a mystery to me. Sometimes, Mukherji is referred to as simply the yogi, to which he laughs and slaps whoever has called him thus heartily on the back. He is short, but solidly built and when he pounds on your shoulder or shakes you by the side of your stomach, you feel some slow, earthen force behind it. Around Mukherji, one tends to laugh more easily.
Iosef collects what he finds on the streets of Winter. He sets up residence in old homes with broken ceilings and sagging floors—of which, there are plenty in Winter. He plasters his walls with newspapers and grocery lists, creates furniture from empty milk crates and discarded appliances, the structure haphazardly reinforced by recovered wooden beams and sides of automobiles. Few people speak with Iosef because his name for Winter is Not-City and argues that somewhere one might find a the true City which is Not-City's opposite, but that the faraway City and Not-City cannot both exist. Iosef's explanations are broken, as he speaks another language than no one else understands. Over his headline wallpaper he scrawls its characters: Letters punctuated by arrows going between them, brackets and parentheses demarcating groups within groups. When the walls and floors and ceiling of his home become overfull with the traces of the city, he leaves. Once, his departure was marked by a neighbor burning the house to the ground. When I told Iosef, he only tapped his head, saying he had all of it in his head already and that house was not so flammable.
The arsonist behind Iosef's burned down home, I believe to be Andre who refuses to wear clothes. His nudity is unassuming, though he eats prodigiously and walks with an unapologetic quiver about him. Andre's eating is remorseful, quick, and distant; it is a chore to him. Andre despises the city and calls it Gehenna, the trash heap. He cannot articulate his hatred into an argument or statement, only that he wishes to purge Gehenna from himself, that in it, he sees his own reflection and that by destroying it piecemeal he hopes to establish something purer. I am fearful of Andre, I have seen him kill men who have earned his disgust.
Teresa came to Winter not long ago. Her recollections from her other place were still strong and she began to recreate them here. She opened a restaurant, a diner, and began to serve people food from it. She hired a cook named Julio and cleaned a modest, red and white striped dress which she wears to wait the counter and tables. She calls the city San Fernando, saying that that is where she always lived and figured that that is where she must still live. Teresa serves coffee endlessly and her candor is unlike anyone else in the city. Sometimes her presence is painful for its contrast to most others I know, but Teresa has changed Winter, has changed San Fernando into something else.
Julio, who has lived here longer, paints when he is not working, painting the scenes from out his window down the street from the diner. He looks at the paintings from before Teresa came and after, showing that the sun is brighter, the snow thinner, the windows cleaner. Julio sometimes calls the city San Fernando when talking with Teresa, but his name for it is long and beautiful and comes from a name for a goddess he no longer understands, Coyolxauhqui. He has made an altar in his apartment, around which he places certain paintings of the night sky and a powerful, female mystic. I have seen him through the window enacting potent ceremonies.
Andre told me of a woman who surprised him. He spoke of her with the most profound confusion. She was planting seeds, Andrew told me. She had cleared away the area where Iosef's house had burned down and had spent the last few weeks setting up rows and picking stones out of it. A garden, he said, as if it were something sacred and unknown. She wants to grow a garden in Gehenna.
Andre absently walked toward the old lot. It was some blocks away, but I had no reason not to while away the time following a certain fancy of someone new to Winter.
The sun stood high in the sky, casting a certain clarity on the four and five story, buildings. The buildings, most of the buildings in Winter, were gray, but a gray that seemed to veil some other hue; in this case, the buildings looked to have once been red, maybe even bright. I had been eating at Teresa's; more precisely, I had been sipping coffee and reading a roughshod newspaper cobbled together by another patron. Andre had stood staring into the clear blue sky outside, lost in thought or meditation, and when I finished my third mug, I went out to peer at him more precisely. That's when he told me about the planting woman.
She did not speak. I do not know if she can.
I took the time to watch Andre walk. He moved in that peculiar way that proud, portly men walk: head and shoulders up, with a remarkable posture, while his weight dangles unsure of what to do with itself. It was easy to imagine him in a business suit or a monk's robe. I had come to view Andre's nudity as curious happenstance, like a facial mole or a shock of white hair.
It is nearby. The lot's starkness always pleased me. It is a shame to see it empty.
Not for long, if her seeds take root.
Andre, have you ever seen plants here?
Oh, some scrub in cracked cement, dried grass in an empty lot here or there.
A flowerbox or herb garden?
No, I can't say so.
Andre stopped then and smelled the air. He would swear that this or that person was near or that someone was cooking food, but the cold killed most smells to me. I cannot recall many smells, I don't have much of a sense of taste anyway. Teresa's coffee is dark, firm, rich; I can say that at least. Sometimes Julio brings down a light, Latin cerveza which we share. I have smelled peculiar incense on him, then. Out of doors, though, I couldn't smell a garbage fire from one of Teresa's pancakes.
Then it was in front of us, the frightfully geometric shape of a missing building, and in between the parallels of each of its neighbors, a small hunched figure dug about. She wore a long apron, already worn threadbare but with fresh, earthen stains over her knees. She wore yellow, rubber cleaning gloves and I could see a neatly arranged set of tools leaning against the rightward wall. I then noticed that the sun hung almost directly above the lot, slipping just slightly behind the fence at the back of the nascent garden.
At the edge of the cleared lot stood Giorgio and behind him Mukherji, chuckling at the small woman digging and patting and exploring the soil. Andre had halted some thirty feet from the pair and I had not noticed until I was standing with Giorgio.
Have you talked to her?
Hmm? Giorgio responded.
Have you asked her what she's doing?
No, no. Well, Andre did when he was here last and she didn't say anything. Mukherji went up to say something, but he nearly trampled her rows and she shewed him off. He just laughed and stood aside.
Have you been here a while?
Oh, you know how it is. She has made progress, Giorgio gestured to small, empty bags, each with a different brightly colored picture on it. I went over and picked up one. On it was a long, hearty green zucchini. On another, I noted bright orange blossoms, exploding in different directions. The color was wonderfully vivid and I stood for a moment, distracted. It was the sharpest color I had seen in some time. It triggered some memory, something misplaced and forgotten; but it fell out again, leaving only a nagging space where it had been.
Are you planting these? I shouted to her, it came out sounding as much like an indictment as a query. She made no acknowledgement and so I went over and joined Giorgio and Mukherji. I noticed that Andre strolled off, head up and feet aimless, but sharp in his own way. She worked diligently, picking up this or that spade and determined to make it work in the soil, willing away the compressed soil. She uncovered deep, dark depths of soil, quietly shocking me. It all felt peculiar, but logical.
Eventually, having loosed the dirt for a dozen rows and gathered some stakes for some of them, she settled to the side, resting on a sagging wooden crate. I went over, and waited for her to regain some composure. I moved slowly, avoiding anywhere that might be damaged by my steps. I felt imbecilic in my squarish, heavy boots that sunk so deeply in the dark earth. When her breathing calmed, she looked at me, so unflinchingly that I flushed.
Can I help?
She cocked her head ever so slightly and smiled. Her teeth were worn, but clean, and her smile was without contempt. Her skin was a rich mahogany and she wore a long, draping cloth, wrapped everywhere around her and apparently of one cut. Her clothes shimmered dimly with various green hues and the lightest, worn accents of orange, reds, and yellows. As she sat there, the light flickered between clouds and it looked like fire in a forest.
Holding herself, she stood up again and strode to the stakes, swooping down for her hammer set against the wall; she took one of the long stakes, apparently made by splinting planks into thirds and cutting at one end, forced it into the earth in one of the rows, and pounded it in with her hammer. Then, she gestured toward another stake, which I picked up, and handed me the mallet. I looked at her—the mallet in one hand and stake in the other, thinking faintly of stories of vampires and other nightly monsters—at which point she measured out with the next hole by holding her right hand perpendicularly to her left shoulder; and so I placed the next stake in the ground. Then, with both hands, she urged me on, handing me stakes one by one.
After the first row, Giorgio and Mukherji shook from their stupor and joined us. The woman had us hammering in stakes to half of the rows, Giorgio taking a second, smaller hammer, and Mukherji using a flat stone she had dug from the soil. Others soon came to watch us and Andre occasionally returned to absently meditate on our endeavor. We proceeded to dig holes for seeds, erected a makeshift trellis composed of an old shipping palette, and assembled a small box lined with wire where we threw weeds and some bits of food—though she picked out furiously anything that came in a package. Sometimes, the woman struck one of us bumbling men on the head or arms or legs and showed us how to use this or that tool or to properly construct this or that piece of the garden; to which we eased our disciplined appendage and meekly resumed the work in the appropriate manner.
Dark came on us suddenly, Winter's sky uninterested in long, warm-hearted sunsets, and so we set our tools against the wall and the woman covered them with a tarp. She smiled widely at us as we stood in a row behind her. Some others had come to lend a hand, others to watch for a while, but the small space did not allow many more and she eventually shooed away her surplus helpers. With the close of the day, even the audience dissipated. She walked up to me and put her arm around my waist and guided me—and therefore, Giorgio and Mukherji—nearby to a tidy, ground-floor apartment where she made us tea. It had rich, dark scent, to which she added honey and milk before serving it in pale, chipped tea cups. We sat, happily sipping in silence. When our eyes began drooping, she gestured for something to write with and Giorgio handed her a thick marker; with it, she drew a large, elegant form that resembled a three with a swooping tail, and a mark above and between them, then circled the whole.
Mukherji smiled when she finished and said, She would like us to pray.
To whom? For what? I asked, sounding more surprised than I intended.
Pray to whom you wish, Mukherji said. Be thankful. Giorgio nodded in agreement.
So the night came in around us, ushered in by the threadbare, fluttering curtains in the cracked window, and we prayed, or meditated, or otherwise expressed our gratitude; to what I cannot exactly say, but I attempted to feel grateful all the same.
As they are oft to do in Winter, the days passed uninhibited and unaware. A week must have passed before I returned to the garden. It was because Mukherji remarking on the progress of the mute woman's endeavor that it occurred to me to make another visit. When I arrived, she seemed to understand with her eyes and the engraved lines around her mouth that I had not intended to disregard any obligation.
She immediately put me to work.
In the days since, ramshackle wooden and wire structures had been erected in various places in the garden. They were arranged by a logic I could recognize but not myself conceive. Small signs with symbols and the seed packets had been righted in all the various crannies of the garden and I could see small green sprouts and nodules creeping out of the soil. These first growths took me some time to identify in part because they were so foreign to Winter, nestled so far back in my memory that I could not immediately understand what they were.
The other reason for the difficulty was because of my occupation—as gesticulated by the gardener woman—was to tug out the equally small bursts of weeds all over the tended soil of the garden. Calmly and gently, laughing more than once at me and thwacking me more than that with the back of her hand, she went about distinguishing the leaves, sprouts, shoots, and early buds of the plants and the weeds. It became clearly to appreciate the patterns of cultivation and tug out the rest. She had me dump all the unwanted leaves in a large, tightly woven basket. Only too quickly did my back ache from all the leaning; then I tried to crouch and pluck the way the woman did, only to feel new pangs in my knees and thighs. Eventually, I collapsed on the hard, flat cement adjacent to the young garden.
She came over and made tsk-tsk noises with her tongue and teeth and I smiled, hoping to play off my weariness with outgrown childishness. Fortunately, she laughed at me rather than attack me again for the purpose of coercive instruction. Her laugh was high-pitched, but came from deep within her small frame. I felt surprising assurance in her tone, in the richness with which she dealt with me. And so she settled on an upturned pail near me and began sifting through the basket of discarded leaves and stems, setting them into three distinct piles.
I must have dozed briefly, but I stirred, a small clay flowerpot had been set on my chest, lightly heaped with pale, soft greens. She was not around, it seemed, so I set the pot to one side and stood up. Usually unacknowledged muscles and joints shouted at me, every twist or shift complaining in its particular way. In the far corner of the garden, sputtered a small fire and over it say a shallow pan; over it, she wielded a broad, short-handled wooden spoon with which she shoved the pan's contents around. Steam twirled above the pan in curlicues, sharply defined in the cool evening and the late-day light. The smell of it fluttered over: earthy, solid; like broccoli and potatoes and the slightest hint of gravy or steak.
She noticed me propped up on the sidewalk and gestured eating with her hand; pinching her thumb against her fingers and lifting it to her mouth. She pointed again and again to the clay pot I had set on the ground and gestured once more before fiddling more complicatedly with her immediate task. I peered into what continued to be a flowerpot and discovered many of the small leaves I had plucked from the earth earlier; now, though, they had taken on elegant and aromatic qualities. I looked into the pot for a while longer and considered my options. Then I reached in and ate some weeds.
The baby greens were sharp and distinct. Sometime between lifting up the pot and putting the leaves in my mouth, I had decided to see the collection as a salad and not as a pot of leafy detritus. After tasting the calm medley of flavors, I realized that the combination was both a salad and discarded leaves. I was suddenly hungry, deeply, thoroughly famished and all that interested me was eating the greens. They did not satiate me.
I at first peered furtively toward the steaming pan on the modest flame, but then the wind changed and it drew me over. In the pan with just the barest puddle of water were more greens and many of their roots—washed and trimmed—with some scant scraps of beef or pork. She gestured for the pot, which I had left on the cement, and pulled out a battered bowl for herself. The edge of her clothing served as a potholder so she could pour out the thin stew into our makeshift receptacles. Having split the brew between us, she looked at me, then into me, and finally past me; all the while gripping my right hand with pious firmness. Then we supped in the dying light of the day, feeling the certainty of food in me as if I had never known it before.
The meal passed slowly, quietly. Afterward, she just looked at me and smiled, highlighting all the long, deep marks of her face in the twilight.
Outside of Teresa's diner, in the late morning with the sun suspended high and brilliantly white, something caught my attention. I heard music. At first, it was not obviously music, but as I stood with the wind whipping at the fringe of my coat, I could discern the rich, thrumming bass of some sort of drum. It did not sound exactly like any drum I could recollect, but the methodical reverberations became clearer and clearer. It was coming from Julio's apartment above.
His windows were thickly curtained, which kept others' eyes out, as well as the crisp sun of Winter, and softened the music. I softly exclaimed under my breath because without all the muffling, the sound in the apartment above must be deafening. From street level, I could feel it as much as hear it, and it felt like a tremor shaking me from my feet to my scalp. It was not unpleasant, nor was it sudden, but distinctly peculiar to hear.
Teresa and some of her employees had told me of Julio's practices. His practices had to do with a faith, long-lived in his ancestors and his homeland, but he spoke of it only glancingly to others. Julio would not dodge eye contact or muffle his voice the way one might when abashed; rather, he would cut his sentences abruptly, clearly, decisively so as to pinpoint the limit of one's welcome into his world. It came to be seen as a sharp frontier of his life into others which some people—friends of friends, or perhaps an acquaintance who might appear in Teresa's diner from time to time—had explored, but never spoke of their knowledge to others. Everyone regarded Julio with kind deference, humbly recognizing the strength of his beliefs in contrast to the thinness of our own.
For nearly all of its residents, Winter inevitably wore on what one believed. I have witnessed ministers preaching and causing convulsions in new followers, politicians and academics arguing their way into fisticuffs, and even prophets prophesying about the days and months and years ahead. The prophets all claim to know the true name of Winter, to explain its verifiable nature; though most come to laugh at their claims when they themselves run out of steam.
Julio managed something different. Perhaps it was in the discretion with which he practiced his believe, or the depth to which it held him. In Winter, it was difficult to discern divine hands at work at all. I do not recall having beliefs, though Giorgio once told me he recognized in me some familiar patterns, the fulfilling of certain beliefs. It is hard to doubt Giorgio because he speaks with such earnestness; as for accepting his claims, I haven't gone out of my way to do so either.
Those who shared some spiritual ground with Julio—those friends of friends and reserved patrons of Teresa—shared little with one another. The smells of incense or the burning of particular herbs, the stains of harsh ichor or blood, the signs of weariness or strain on hands and faces pockmark—to greater or lesser degrees—all of Julio's guests save a handful who come to share a vague family resemblance.
It was not hard to imagine some of those people, echoing Julio's own history and ties to land and bloodlines, performing with certain instruments or fulfilling the ceremonial rites to accompany such potent harmony. At first, the music enchanted me. In it, I heard the rootedness of deep history, of stones and soil and trees like grandparents; it tugged at me and pushed, rolled with unfamiliar tidal forces. Within those subsurface forces, I could feel the ripple of something alien and terrible, powerful not only the way the unknown is powerful, but in itself. Then, before I could turn away and find something to dull that unreadable subtext, I came to hear and then to listen for that comfort of greater things: The warmth of the sun on the skin, or a building touched by a loving family, or a child held by her parent.
I must have stood a long while there in the street outside of Teresa's.
Regularly, I went to visit the garden and the woman who maintained it. We had established a quiet but certain rapport and doing the little chores she assigned me felt important, regardless of how infrequent my visits were. Some days in Winter shuffle away like dust under rugs or behind sofas and at least once, a single event marks a day and assumes all the time and energy one has. One of these days in between was when Loraina appeared in the street outside of my place.
To the best of my knowledge, Loraina was unfamiliar with the neighborhood surrounding Teresa's diner. I live nearby and the garden was not far, either. All the same, I saw her wrapped up tightly in her patchwork clothing, old cotton blouses and pants sewn up with blankets and curtains, then layered again and again looking not unlike a single, long quilt wrapped cleverly around her. She wore a sort of ragged scarf around her face, but her long, slightly dirty blonde hair rippled down her back and fluttered with each long-legged stride giving her away. A workman's belt ran unevenly around her hips with her aerosol cans and other, less obvious and more disheartening odds and ends poking out.
My ground floor window is heavily veiled by old, thin paper that marked the store as closed long before I came to take advantage of the space. At the bottom corners of the window, age and light and clime have caused it to peel, through which light filters and rebounds off of the polished wooden floor and ricochets through the old grocery shelves, refitted with a bed and demarcations of a living space. It was by these peepholes I stood affixed, holding my breath as Loraina meandered down the street in her mishmash clothing and certain, peculiar, potent gait.
Across the street, she glanced through a few windows, not exactly searching but nor was she browsing. Loraina, I then recognized, has more on her mind than the petty repercussions of bad decisions and old romances, but she came with a history of making time for them all the same. I hunched down, tying up my muscles and feeling the strain of my left kneecap, feeling like a coil preparing to spring out. She took out a few canisters of paint and began elegantly marking the window across the way in long whispers in rich, crimson and oranges, then accenting it with fine lines of black and white. She peered around at the vacant street, the black paint aerosol resting weightlessly in her right hand while her back twisted mysteriously behind her clothing.
She glanced down at a loose, fractured brick and hefted in her hand. It was rosy red, not rusty like most of the buildings' bricks, and nearly shone in Loraina's fair skinned hand. Again, she scanned the apartment and storefront windows, which forced me to slide, furtive and vague, behind the plain, peeling paper of my dwelling. Then, I looked back through as I saw her fling the brick nonchalantly over her shoulder in a high, thin arch before smashing to dust against the curb. As she strode confidently away, her garb caught a gust and fell away from her knotting, forming a banner or flag behind her. She looked the conqueror, surveying her new domain.
I lay on the floor a while, breathing deeply and watching the glistening of dust motes. Perhaps I dozed momentarily there. It was not until the light coming through the window changed distinctly that I stirred. I felt the minor ache of unmaintained muscles in my calves as I rose and scrambled for my coat. With it, I stepped outside, stopping for an instant to check the far ends of the street. On the opposite side, I examined Loraina's tag. It was tall and tightly woven, like crochet, and I could not make sense of it at first, seeing only the delicacy with which the lines mingled and gnarled.
It was new; not just fresh, but novel and stylized differently than I had seen before. At first, it read like a map depicting the streets of Winter in a particular area. The outer rims of Winter run like her design, with few perfectly perpendicular cross-streets, but twiddling together in lengthy, uneven orbits around the city center. Then, as the letters became clearer, I felt the distinct impression of fire and warmth and even sunlight that the fluidity and hues elicited. Though I resisted it at first, I could sense a friendliness or comfort in this new marking—though I never believed it was so intended for me. Finally, the letters became clear: Between two stylized quotations were three simple letters, s-o-l, which I spoke aloud. It brought a smile to my lips and I unthinkingly touched the slender “s” as my mind went to the garden and the sunlight that nurtured it.
Inside of Teresa's, I sat over a cup of coffee and a plate of bare toast. As Julio passed outside for a cigarette, I tried to establish eye contact, but he refused to acknowledge me. Then, as he returned and returned to his kitchen, he glanced out at me from his rectilinear window. He held my eyes for a long time, unmoving and determined of something, and all I could do was stare back. The corners of Julio's lips sneaked up after long seconds, but I could not discern the meaning.
The next time I came to the garden, the plants were peeking out of the soil, fair and green and succulent. The excitement took me and I knelt down to see many of them. Lightly, one hand would rest on the soft, rich soil while my ankles quietly complained, my kneecaps straining just so. It had been some time since I last came and I realized that, nearer the far end, some of the plants had shot up straight into the air. One plant in particular caught my attention: A stake had been set and long, spindly leaves hugged it, pulling the timber against the green like a lover, but also pulling itself into the air the way I child might with the help of a parent or instructor.
For some time I crouched, gently grazing its firm but pale stalk and marveling at the certainty with which it had grown. I must have been smiling. The gardening woman made a sound—not a word, of course, but a expressive exhalation—and she was against the wall, nearby, smiling widely at me. I blushed at my childish captivation and she came over, took my shoulder with her warm, rough hand, and shoved just enough so that we made eye contact. She hugged me and I hugged back. I might have been shaken somewhat, but I was more comforted than I would have thought.
How are you?
She gestured around, presenting the garden to me, and smiled what would have been coy had she been younger. Or maybe it was and I was too sheepish to see it clearly. Her body language, her communication spoke of much greater age than her laugh lines and crows'-feet and well-worked fingers suggested. In a way, that was when I saw her as older than age, that she after so many years she had become young again.
She held her hands out, palms up, raised an eyebrow.
This is beautiful. I... I did not expect it to be like this.
She frowned and wagged her finger at me, toying with me. She let her hands fall and waited for me to continue.
I have been anxious. Someone I know, an old—here I stumbled, lacking the words to describe Loraina tactfully—well, we aren't on good terms. She walked down the street where Teresa's diner is. I live near the diner. Loraina, she would rough me up a little if she saw me.
Her hands had come up to rest on her hips, not sharply or peeved, but distinct and I held my tongue. She shook her head slowly and subtly raised her shoulders. Something sympathetic and the slightest bit condescending danced over her face, I look that rang in the back of my mind, unplaced and foggy, but weighty with meaning.
Then, she took my arm and walked me over to the other far corner of the garden where the compost bin had been built. It had grown taller and through the chicken wire mesh I could see the small, ruddy red pulsations of worms. She lifted the lid, which was at her shoulder, and pointed inside. At the very top were bits of discarded food, mostly fruits and vegetables, but some moldering bread and peculiarly undisturbed chips and packaged cookies. Underneath that first crust were less obvious masses; something that, had the light been better, I might have concluded was shit and some dulled hues of apple peels, carrot skins, and still bright yellow bananas.
She then tugged on my arm and pointed at the base of the bin which was equipped with a sort of trapdoor. She tugged it stubbornly open and out spilled black, damp, fertile earth. With one hand, she scooped it up and smelled it, then held it near my face. It smelled, like labor or thick sweat or unearthed roots; somewhere in it was the odor of eagerness, youth, good-humor. I took it in my hands and felt it, holding it closer to my face than she had done. This must have been from the first clean up we did when she first began her garden. It could not have been all that long ago, scant weeks maybe, but it can be difficult to track the days in Winter. All the same, what had been refuse had become soil, earth.
She tapped my head with her index finger, her right arm extended nearly to its limit to reach my height. With one hand she gestured as if to envelope the bits of vegetable waste and with the other, presented the potent compost that had spilled from the base. Then, with both arms, almost with her whole body, she seemed to envelope the garden itself. Her motions were subtle, but in with her and in this place that she had made, they were immense. I felt her insight dawn on me.
It takes work, doesn't it?
Her head tilted minutely
To do this, and I presented my full hands, to make something that grows.
She placed both hands on my shoulders, my own gradually emptying their contents, and we looked into one another's eyes. I thought of the grasping green plant, arms all wrapped around its support. I said nothing.
When she let go of me and turned her eyes away, I breathed, unaware that I had been holding it.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
I tend to think of this as a place for personal essays. In the face of spasm-inducing overload like Twitter and Facebook feeds, constant updates, and increasingly brief blurbs, I like to take the time to write about what is on my mind. Anyone who has had a late night conversation with me knows that I spend a lot of time picking the right words and explaining my meaning and intention. This may not make for enjoyable reading. Some sort of feedback on this would be nice.
No Impact Man Documentary,
Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country About True Sustainability by David Owen,
Cafeteria Confidential articles by Ed Bruske from Grist,
The Power of Half advanced gossip off of Grist,
Matthew Wheeland on the iPad (though I have read a bit of it on FastCompany, too),
Cities vs. Suburbs by Jonathan Hiskes on Grist,
VURB, a European urban planning sort of organization,
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell,
and--as always--some on agriculture, like Small is Beautiful and Radical from Grist.
(I also have Hope: Human and Wild in the back of my mind constantly, now.)
In the future, there will be cities. Great, big, vast cities that reach high into the sky. These are not the wet dreams of early 20th century futurists, nor is it bland prognostication. What it is is a statement. Save a new-future apocalyptic scenario, this planet is going to be home to many billions of people for a few decades, if not centuries to come. If the future has much in the way of biodiversity and agricultural land, then many of those people will live and work in cities very close to one another.
That is not to say cramped, nor is it to suggest few farmers. Around the beginning of the century, about 60% of Americans were farmers, feeding the rest of us. Now, it is down to 1% of the U.S. population farms for the rest of us. If we want to look out for the wellbeing of the landscape--farm or reserve or "wilderness"--then we need people there, too. We cannot house people far from each other, get those people to work, provide access to social services, and get them to grocers and the like efficiently if we are spread out. Cities provide a focus for population, services, business, commerce, and the arts. Compact living spaces may not have backyards to grow crops and flowers close by, but they do make heating and cooling much more practical. We need farms, we need farmers, we need a re-democratized and re-populated countryside to effectively steward our land. Those stewards, though, cannot live in McMansions or summerhomes located so as to "get away from it all."
In Green Metropolis, David Owen's agenda is admirable but comes off condescendingly. Yes, we do need to critique the environmental movement's notions of living "green," especially if it might be coined "sustainable." In brief, sustainability is not buying more junk, even if it is made out of bamboo and recycled plastic bottles. If it ought to mean anything, sustainability will come to mean living with less. For apartment bound New Yorkers, living with less is a necessity of smaller living spaces. As The Power of Half and No Impact Man/Family explores, going with less is not at all the same as living less; as in, living less joyously, less productively, less intelligently. As it was put in No Impact Man, (and I am paraphrasing from memory) the things given up kept them inside; without TV, lighting, heating, they necessarily got outside more, explored and conversed with neighbors and strangers. As Michael Pollan is oft to address, without a TV in front of your family, we eat meals more slowly, leisurely, and enjoyably; we take the time to talk to one another, pause and chew our meals as part of active listening and shared company.
Food in the cities-that-are-to-come will mostly be local and, hopefully, seasonal. I critique Owen here (and others on my Flickr) because he underestimates the importance of local, seasonal foods as connecting people to places and to one another. This practice is, and well ought to be, both joyous and connective--it is one of the most loved parts of the experiment in No Impact Man by his often frustrated family--and generally worth working a little less to exploit. Take the township model, with businesses and most homes in a central hub, with farms spreading out around it. Such a model--if the crops are really food crops and the farmers use diverse agroecological methods--can feed many, many people. As addressed in Ed Bruske's Cafeteria Confidential, the push for a real change in what we eat needs to work in schools, and that needs to happen now. Whether it is obesity, diabetes, attention-deficit, school grades, graduation rates, life skills, or innovation and creativity in our students, real food and knowledge about it helps in ways we won't see in full until they are happening everywhere. We need a healthier society and that ought to start in schools.
The release of the iPad further marks the multiplication of gadgets and gewgaws in our arsenal of technological toys. Matthew Wheeland has his comments on it, but I think that between Apple and Google, we might actually see some real, widespread innovation in the way we work with technology. I am not jumping for an iPad, though I do think it is mighty cool. What I am jumping about is what comes next. I don't mean the newest model or the dawn of 4G networks, what I mean is dropping the materials more and more and upping the mobility of communications technology. What I am looking for is the integrated circuit-city-community-citizen. The real green technology is, almost out of necessity, going to be technology that is nigh invisible: If your hardware is small enough, then its impact is similarly minimized. Take that thinking and integrate into a city, mix in the user-centrism of Google and Apple, bake it in a setting of optimal creativity and integration, and you get a whole new place to live.
That may come off as pie-in-the-sky techno-jargon, but I doubt it. Urban planners, architects, and designers are going to jump at making malleable, interactive community spaces; a star which has already peaked over the horizon. If we can instigate a city more involved in place, more involved in its own people, and get those people more interested in spending time out of doors and with one another, we will see a different sort of urban community. As Gladwell points out, Brooklyn changed into a more street-friendly city over five years, and once people got out on the streets, then everyone was out on the streets again. With more people out, the push for attractive green architecture and park design, changes in business and industry, and diminishing needs for automobiles and wide streets will spontaneously generate.
The best thing, we are on our way. If Congress can change the school lunch program into a local, fresh foods program, one that would encourage healthy eating for our children, then the subsequent change to agriculture will fall like a domino. Likewise, if the Food Bill can incorporate farming for real foods rather than commodity crops (listen up Senator Ben Nelson), then the encouragement for farmers to grow food very well might explode, making currently unsubsidized whole foods cheaper and more affordable for low-income families. Likewise, if we can discourage sprawl in our cities, we can maintain resources and taxes in tighter circles, thus providing resources for making cities all the more livable and sustainable. We are on the edge of a sudden, precipitous transformation, and I earnestly hope we can provide a collective push over the edge and into something new.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Little Brother takes advantage of older "schools" of sci-fi, too, by dropping the fortune-telling pretense and makes the future palpably familiar, and putting the story in San Francisco--a city I do not know personally, but definitely have a feel for already. So, if you think sci-fi is all about aliens and rocket ships, fantastic battles between cosmic forces, or giant robots, then Little Brother is something else entirely. The main characters are high school kids (the narrator is Marcus, though he has two other handles throughout), well-versed in their digital folkways--programming, hacking school computers, blogging anonymously, sharing music, etc.--and are getting by. The schools and increasingly the city of San Francisco are surveiled for "your own good," supposedly protecting the bystanders/good townsfolk/students from the malice of terrorists. This obviously draws on the Bush era wiretapping and the birth of Homeland Security--which is named specifically--as well as more than a nod to the detainment of supposed terrorists over the last decade. It is very easy to feel proximity with the characters, the setting, and their issues.
This, though, isn't why I love the novel. It is, on the surface, intended for a high school-aged audience, with the characters hovering around seventeen and doing things like skipping school, guzzling coffee through long nights, and navigating the mysterious terrain of adolescent romance. All of this is accomplished quite well. What gets me, though, is that if that is the intended audience, Little Brother is also a handbook for contemporary intellectual property rights issues, challenges to personal privacy, and modern civil disobedience. Doctorow knows this material very well because he is an activist in it; the future he wants to foster, the future he generally writes about, is a creative one in which individuals succeed and overcome the bad guy through not just outwitting them, but doing so with definitive style.
Not only that, but for the characters to hold up their arguments to--in the case of Little Brother--teachers, parents, schoolmates, and the government, he draws on the real court cases, citizen organizations, and historical documents that are part of making that future a possibility. To dig through the mixture of classic information theory and cryptography, prognosticated technology and programming, and the clever creations of teenage hacker geniuses, you book gets quite a bit of exposition, which in no way hampers the read. Not only does it illuminate the depth of Marcus/W1n5t0n/M1k3y's knowledge, but it educates the reader on real issues and movements presently afoot. And the best thing? A high schooler knows it!
In a way, it all sounds a little absurd. I didn't really attend high school thinking all that much about the activism of the Nineties, and the civil rights movements of the Seventies were all the more vague. I certainly could not refer to activists and attorneys by name. Then again, I do not doubt that some of my peers could and would if they thought it pertinent. What Marcus is though, is the type of kid who takes his education into his own hands and explores his passions. For anyone who has spent a few hours on TVtropes.org or Wikipedia can attest to the infection that is information in hyperlinked databases. Marcus and his friends have grown up on, were raised by a world immersed in information. Whereas some people tend to become parrots of what they here on news or on the computer, Marcus and his friends are sharp, articulate, and critical in ways that happily surprise me.
I am halfway through and I heartily recommend Little Brother to anyone the least bit interested.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Cherry Almond Bread
*This is presently in the oven, was a bit rushed, and may not be what I want in the end. We shall see.
1 cup warm water
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp dry yeast
Blend together in a large mixing bowl. Allow to rest for 45 minutes.
1 cup water
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter, soft
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Stir in the water, then sprinkle some of the flour over the dough (about 1/2 cup), followed by butter and the brown sugar, and then the salt. Stir together. Add cherries and almonds (which I actually kneaded in later when I decided to add them), and mix up a little more. Gradually add flour and stir together until you make a soft dough. Sprinkle the counter generously with flour, turn out, and knead until even. Return to the bowl, pat with water, cover, and allow to rest until doubled in size--about an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 F and place baking sheets in the oven. Turn out the dough and knead slightly, noting the texture and stickiness so as to not add too much flour, and divide in two. Shape each loaf (I made baguettes), pull out the sheets, quickly grease the sheets and sprinkle with flour, then place the loaves onto the sheets and allow to proof until doubled--twenty to thirty minutes. Bake for 30-45 minutes, turning if necessary to bake evenly. I have been spraying my loaves as they bake with water to make a slightly sturdier crust, which also raises the baking time. Pull out and set on a cooling rack.
Black Pepper Cheddar Bread
1 & 1/2 cup warm water
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp dry yeast
Blend together and allow to rest for 45 minutes.
3/4 cup cheddar, cubed
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
~If you can use fresh ground black pepper, you can drop this to 1 tsp (1/3 Tbsp).
Mix a little so that pepper sticks to the cheddar.
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg yolk
~Keep the white for eggwash.
Drop the egg yolk into the starter, then generously sprinkle with flour, add salt, cover with more but not all of the flour, and stir. Add more flour as needed before stirring in the cheddar. Turn out onto floured counter and knead somewhat, but try to avoid crushing the cheese. Allow to rest until doubled in size--one hour. Turn out and divide into two pieces, shape the dough into boules/rounds and allow to proof for 30-45 minutes. When the loaves have doubled, use the egg white--optionally mixed with a little honey, oil, or water--to coat the loaves. You can brush on or use a paper towel to dab on. Bake at 400 F for 25-35 minutes.
"Cowboy Cookies," or Chocolate Chip Cookies with Pecans & Coconut
This recipe was lifted out of a Southern Living or something of the sort, but it also showed up in The Best American Recipes for 2008 book--though that may not be the exact title. You can make these with pecans, but I am more likely to have walnuts around than pecans, which are much cheaper anyway so that is what I have used thus far to make them. I will post the original recipe here with small notes of my own modification.
2 cups white flour
~or 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
8 oz/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
~or drop the white sugar for 1 & 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 & 1/2 cup thick oats
6 oz semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
3 oz pecan halves
1/2 cup shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 350 F and spray baking sheets. You can line with parchment paper, but I haven't needed to. Blend together flour, soda, salt, and baking powder into a medium bowl.
In an electric mixer--though I have done this by hand if you soften the butter enough--beat the butter and sugar(s) together until creamy--about 3 minutes. Reduce speed and add eggs and vanilla.
Reduce speed to low and gradually add the flour, mixing until just incorporated. Add oats, chocolate, pecans, and coconut; blending until just combined.
Spoon dough out onto the greased cookie sheets, spacing them by three inches.
Bake until edges are brown--11-13 minutes--and remove to allow to cool on a wire rack. (They're good for *at least* three days.)
Makes 5 dozen (though I make mine larger and get 3-4 dozen).
PS. I may have posted this recipe once already.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
China's Cyber Warriors,
Cyberwar and Cyberspace Treaties (via Beyond the Beyond),
The Advance Persistent Threat Attack (via Beyond the Beyond),
China China China hack hack hack china china (via Beyond the Beyond),
Google vs. China Round 3 (via FastCompany),
Meanwhile, somewhere at the Chinese soft-power retaliation board (via Beyond the Beyond),
Digital Doomsday from the New Scientist,
and Clinton's speech from the Newseum (BBC & CNN).
Google works with Chinese government, part of which involves The Great Firewall and other means of censoring access to the Chinese people.
From time to time, cyber-attacks on businesses and other governments (India, Tibet-in-exile, etc.) are localized to Chinese sources but little can be done except for encouraging "internal policing" by the Chinese.
Google and diplomats to China using Gmail or other services experience malicious hacking that is likely coming out of China.
China's proficiency with digital censorship, monitoring, and hacking--not to mention its internal politics--leads some to hold the Chinese government itself responsible for at least some of the digital malice toward governments and businesses beyond its borders.
Subsequently, Secretary Clinton has made a number of specific comments on internet policing, censorship, and hacking; recently remarking on the aspiration of many that a distinctly liberalizing technology like the internet would have opened up China's sociopolitical barriers overtime, as aspiration that has come to naught.
China continues to hold that the Google vs. China affair is a business matter and not a political matter, ignoring claims of violation into other businesses and governments.
Okay. Deep breath...
I cannot stop thinking about all of the developing news, rhetoric, and politics that have resulted from the attacks on Google. The above, I attempted to make pretty neutral, but I cannot help but take up a certain opinion. Before that, it is important to note something particular about cyberwarfare, whatever the scale.
Bruce Sterling assesses that there are twelve "entities" capable of powerful, society crippling cyberattacks--ten nation-states (including the U.S. and China) and two businesses (Microsoft and Google). In essence, though, high-impact attacks on databases, records, and security information are not particularly expensive. And in the Advanced Persistent Threat Attack, the author notes that the primary requirement for successful infiltration and information theft is patience. That is because any intruder finds access through the weakest defense and, because it is so easy to move information quickly, many access points can be tried simultaneously; any one of which then breaks down the first wall.
To confront this, Secretary Clinton--among others--argue for some sort of international cyber-policing and treaties to protect against cross-boundary attacks. Given that these attacks require a small group of specialists working under loose authority, sometimes only barely associated with one another, this old paradigm of security (determine threat, establish protectorate, respond to dangers, maintain) doesn't make the grade.
Sterling argues that it is a matter of limitations of civil society and the lack of a global society where such an agency can function properly. This may be true, but the type of strategy itself evades policing. These small groups of "cyber-warriors" may be in the employ of governments or businesses or individually operative, the latter of which I find ultimately unlikely, unless the goal is to demonstrate utility for a sponsor. Whatever the method, they are professionals at dodging the usual tracing and identity markers and--as Digital Doomsday in the New Scientist points out--digital information storage is not meant to stick around. Sure, given a hacker's slovenly kept apartment, even a reformatted harddrive can relinquish some of its secrets; but in the case of real geographical distance, establishing hard evidence on the liquid tides of data is nigh impossible. Besides that, it makes remarkable sense for powerful entities to take advantage of hackers for surveillance on rivals; particularly if any infringement can be easily cleared away behind political hurdles and red tape.
Their is a certain weightiness to the discussion when considering personal privacy, but more inevitably gets pushed down on citizens and consumers by the dictates of the perpetrating and defensive entities. Clinton is giving distinct voice to the rhetoric of the digital politics ahead; that is, the game is changing and she is articulating the position of the United States--and the liberal West more broadly--for the path ahead. In case this doesn't sound like a big deal, consider the following: Facebook and Twitter were used thoroughly by organizers of Iranian protests following the election; the Haiti Relief via text messaging has raised over $25 million, in ten dollar increments; and in 2007, Estonia's society was essentially shutdown by flooding government, media, bank, and other websites with hits and malware. Quality, accessible communication services are both one of the greatest tools for building and managing social voice, as well as one of the least understood pressure points of the modern world. How governments and businesses plan to maintain functioning will determine the ways in which we can have a voice in cyberspace. What I mean is that there is an significant personal impact from these matters, it just isn't where you first might look for it.
I am not exactly coming around to any sort of conclusion except that this discussion matters, and it matters significantly. Google may be one of the first businesses to really flex its political muscle in geopolitics now that it has been pushed to do so. That, by no means, ignores the weight of corporate interests in domestic politics and the pushing around of small and poor countries to get lax environmental or safety standards to save a couple of bucks. What I mean is that Google has been put into a spot where it might act in a distinctly political way, making demands and arranging itself strategically the way nation-states generally do. In addition, China is coming into its own in a very different, very volatile way. The current century will be marked by a number of novel characteristics, but China's economic and political role will be the most obvious distinction from the century before. Meanwhile, Western governments are scrambling for the best way to respond to decentralized but highly empowered entities; these include both the nascent wave of cyber-warfare as well as the attacks of more obvious terrorist cells.
This is not the voice of a paranoiac, but one response to this drastic reorganization of global power and the subsequent change is rules is a lot of over-reactive gesticulation and floundering. In reality, no one has to fight for a place here, governments and citizens alike are in a position of recognition of new equilibria, of new balances where before there were inequalities. What does that look like? Well, it means more actively raising living standards as a means of considerate foreign aid and defensive politics; call it reparations for colonial actions or call it aid or debt relief, it doesn't matter because it can cut off violence and discontent more deftly than bombs and sanctions. It also means adapting to the politicization of businesses globally, which need not be a death-knell for workers' rights if corporations are identified as businesses rather than political persons. This, given the recent Supreme Court ruling on corporate spending on campaigns, is an uphill but extraordinarily important battle. (Fair And Clean Election Reform is one key to opening the door forward here, but it is not the only one.) Finally, it means a new economics not built on bubbles growing, bursting, and picking up the pieces that others let drop all around us. On this, I am less learned, but just want to point out that now more than ever we need a maturation of economic politics and theory; and by that I mean a calming of growth and a more considerate approach to building wealth. Wealth, that is, in its widest sense. In the end, real, living wealth needs to be the goal.