An important source of information from on the ground in Portland

As my readers may be aware, all is not well in the heart of the American Empire. There have been continuous protests across the United States for a number of months now. Some state and local governments have turned from repression to bargaining, and starting make concessions to the Black Lives Matter movement, and the protesters’ demand for a system that better serves the working class and racial minorities. The federal government, under the control of the Republican Party, has decided that justice and peace are less important than brutal domination. It has been pointed out, and I’ll write more on this tomorrow, that the Republican use of federal or other “law enforcement” personnel to detain, assault, and harass protesters goes against everything in the government’s manuals about how to handle situations like this. If we assume they are paying attention to the manuals, or to history, than more violence, chaos, and unrest are their goal. They want this to get worse.

That being the case, it’s important for folks to pay attention to what’s happening in Portland right now, because the GOP, under Trump’s leadership, has told us that they intend to replicate that “strategy” across the country.

Crip Dyke has been doing valuable reporting from the ground there, on her blog Pervert Justice, and I urge you all to check out her work there. It’s important to know what’s going on, to get reporting from sources other than corporate media, and to familiarize yourself with the tactics used against people exercising their right to protest, and the tactics being used by those protesters to defend their rights against state repression.

I was going to link to one or two of the posts there, but honestly, just go there and read all of them. Whether you’re an American citizen or not, whether you’re an American resident or not, it’s worth paying attention to this. The tactics used by the government mirror those that have been used by authoritarian regimes all over the world. One of the more graphic examples is the Law Enforcement tactic of aiming cause brain trauma or to destroy eyeballs – something they seem to be copying from the regime in Chile. At the same time, we’ve seen protesters adopting tactics used by those struggling for freedom in Hong Kong.

There’s a lot going on right now, and right-wing authoritarian governance seems to be on the rise. It’s up to all of us to keep an eye on that, and fight back as best we are able.

Check out Pervert Justice. Read Crip Dyke’s reporting, and be sure to follow her blog to keep up to date. I’ll have a post up some time tomorrow talking manuals, tactics, and rhetoric, but observations from on the ground are essential.

Michael Brooks -1983-2020

Today I’m mourning someone I never met, and never talked to. I’ve felt sad about the death of a number of famous people whose work was a part of my life, but this is the first time I’ve felt a sense of personal loss akin to losing a friend or a family member. I’m reasonably certain he had no idea that I existed, but I feel a need to write about the impact that his work and his attitude had on me.

He didn’t start my interest in international politics, but he broadened it, and he deepened it.

He didn’t start my interest in a better world than capitalism could offer, but he focused it, and gave it weight and guidance.

He didn’t give me empathy for people with experiences different from my own, but he gave me some of the tools to understand those differences, and feel a stronger commitment to the happiness of people I will never know.

He expanded my understanding of the world, and expanded my mind in a way that I never expected.

He didn’t give me the ability to speak my thoughts on controversial topics, but he helped give me the perspective and courage to do it in a way that might reach past the mental walls that people put up around those topics.

He wasn’t the first political journalist and commentator who was able to bring a combination of deep knowledge, empathy, and courage in the face of difficult or horrific subjects, while also acting as a comedian and entertainer. He was a great example of someone who worked hard, and lived well.

He did a lot of good work, himself, through writing, through The Majority Report, The Michael Brooks Show, and many other media. Beyond that, though, he had a remarkable ability to find people, perspectives, and information that was vital to what’s happening in the world, and to bring them to other people.

He taught me a lot, but more importantly he introduced me to a great many people from all over the planet who taught me even more. His life’s work was to elevate humanity, and he went about that in a very direct way. He lifted up other people so their voices would carry farther. He knew a staggering amount about the politics of the world, and worked hard to guide others to that same level of understanding.

I was never sure how I felt about him, as a person. It was always very clear that his guiding light was a commitment to the wellbeing of humanity, and to living a good life, while fighting a good fight. His personality grated on me sometimes. His humor, in particular, sometimes seemed a bit mean-spirited, and I often felt that I might not get along well with him, or him with me. Maybe he reminded me of someone I didn’t get along with in the past, I don’t know.  Hearing his friends memorialize him, I can well believe that the empathy and care for humanity that came through in his work also came through in his personal life as well.

But he provided an insight into the world that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and that I will always miss, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to replace.

And damn, he died too soon.

He was 36.

I learned of his death because Lula da Silva, one of the most important political leaders on the planet today, tweeted about it.

It’s been said many times now, but he had so much to give. He hit the turbulent waters of the 21st century hard enough to ripple across the world, and I think I’ll always feel the loss of the work he would have done with another 36 years.

If I do as much to lift up other people by the end of my life as he did by the end of his, I’ll feel good about myself, even if I live twice as long as him.

I’m not on the same path as he was, but his life and his work are one of the stars by which I hope to navigate as I find my own way forward.

I’ll continue using his material on my blog, but please look into him on your own, and if you want to learn about him from those who worked with him, check out the Majority Report memorial show. It’s a long video, and paints a moving picture of a loving friend whose passion for humanity shone out like a beacon.

Environmental rights, human rights, privatization, and climate change: A podcast conversation, and supplemental article.

Last Friday I went on the new podcast, Rights and Wrongs, to talk about environmental and resource rights with George Oakes and Scott Twigg. Check it out below. I do want to apologize for my own sound quality. The only mic I had available was a small one on a short cable, so I had to hunch over it to be audible, and didn’t think to put a piece of cloth over it. My breathing gets in the way about, so sorry about that.

It was an interesting conversation to be a part of, and hopefully, an interesting one to listen to, despite the audio problems. I recommend listening to it. There’s not currently a transcript for this, so if you can’t hear it for whatever reason, the best I can offer right now is the youtube version, with auto-generated captions. They’re not great, but they’re more than nothing if you really want them. Fair warning, the audio on that version is worse, includes more “ums” and the like, along with a barking dog at one point.

The rest of this post, which is a bit long, is to add in supplemental information and thoughts. It’s not a blow-by-blow of the conversation, but hopefully it’ll be a useful companion piece, as well as a stand-alone blog post.

First, on the issue of the Male’ Declaration on the Human Dimension of Global Climate Change (PDF), I think it’s worth noting a couple aspects of the discussion of economics vs human rights. The first is simply that the language of economics and capitalism has become far, far too embedded in our discussion of pretty much everything, in an inconsistent manner that always benefit those with wealth and power. This has been mentioned frequently in the discussion of universal healthcare in the United States – any time it’s brought up, someone will demand to know how it’s going to be paid for, in a way that is never asked of things like military activity. At the same time, economic calculations that show that a particular humanitarian action would actually save money in the long term are ignored. Part of this may be an ideological quirk – that anything that helps people and saves money is simply too good to be true. Another part is, I think, a very dangerous false dichotomy that has been drawn between The Economy, and the needs of people in general.

I don’t think I could pinpoint where in history this trend came about, but versions of it seem to go back quite a ways. The Economy has become a stand-in for “the greater good” in a lot of ways. It seems that our entire society has been structured – at a global level – around the notion that if The Economy is doing well, then the entire world is doing as well as it possibly could be. Along with that come the claims that anything that seems like it ought to benefit the population at large are actually bad, because they would hurt The Economy. Workplace safety, better wages, pollution, environmental degradation – all of these would help pretty much everyone in pretty much every way, but they have all been opposed as being dire threats to The Economy. What it really means, as far as I can tell, is that these measures which would so improve the lives of so many people threaten not our nation’s economy, but the people around whose interests The Economy is designed – the capitalist class, from which capitalism derives its name.

Workplace safety makes everyone’s lives better with one exception – it costs money, and therefor reduces the profits received by the owners of the company. The same is true for better pay for workers, and for environmental protections. The only time things that benefit humanity as whole become “worth it” in the eyes of The Economy, is when continuing to oppose them would cause enough of a mass uprising that it would harm the power and profit of the aristocracy even more than the beneficial measures in question.

The most successful project of the 20th century and the Cold War was creating a global capitalist system, with no real alternatives. In many ways, “developing nations” have taken on a role, in relation to the various imperial/colonial powers of a “free” working class. On paper they have rights, and sovereignty, but as the signatories of the Male’ declaration point out, those rights only really exist when respecting them does not interfere with The Economy. Historically, this has been most evident in the ways in which international activity has affected the politics and national economies of the countries in question. The end of colonialism came with various arrangements that left countries that had long been looted for the benefit of their colonizers with few options when it came to actually benefiting from the wealth that made them targets in the first place. Attempts to actually exert their sovereignty have resulted in everything from economic sanctions, to coups, to outright invasions. In reality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the sovereignty of nations – none of that matters unless it does not interfere with the endless hoarding of wealth by the capitalist class.

Small wonder, then, that climate change has followed a similar trajectory. The entire history of the efforts to deal with climate change has been plagued with this insidious, false dilemma. The only reason that the inaction might have surprised the “developing world”, who are long used to being treated as disposable, is that unlike other environmental issues, there’s no real way for the capitalist class to avoid the consequences of climate change.

But boy, are they trying. Unless we build solidarity as a global species, and work to value human life and happiness over the priorities of capitalism, the island nations will not only lose their homes, they will then be subjected to all the worst abuses we’ve seen inflicted on immigrants the world over.

Because helping them might hurt The Economy.

As Scott rightly points out here, we’re in a situation where this endless homage to The Economy now serves not to minimize and erase the suffering and death of portions of the population, but to minimize and erase the possible – and avoidable – demise of our entire species.

The second bit is on the phenomenon of enclosure, and how it applies to water. As I’ve said many times, I’m no expert on this, but here’s where my understanding is currently at:

The transition from feudalism to capitalism required a major shift in how the ownership of land was considered. Under feudal society, while the nobility had nominal control over the land, the lower classes also had rights to that land, and it was generally used for the maintenance of the society, rather than the creation of excess – what we now call “profit”. There were people who accumulated wealth, of course, but that wasn’t really the driving force of production at a systemic level. In order for capitalism to exist, all of that common land had to become someone’s “private property”, as did the resources needed to work the land. That allowed for production to be driven not by the needs of the local community, but by the creation of excess, which belonged by law to the landowner, in one form or another.

This process did result in the creation of excess material resources, at least in some ways, but it also changed the rules by which a person had to survive. You couldn’t make your living by hunting, gathering, or working common land for food and shelter, you had to work for wages, and use those to get those simple bear necessities of life. It was a long process, with some benefits, and some downsides, and it’s worth learning more about. I think this article from Socialist Appeal is useful in this regard, but there’s a lot more out there if you want to look into it.

One of the problems with this, as I see it, is that capitalism wasn’t just born with the enclosure and privatization of the commons, its existence has also always depended on endless new enclosure. That has been the engine of the “endless growth” economic model, and it has been largely hidden from most of the people benefiting from this process – the middle and upper classes of so-called “developed” nations. The colonial powers had limited space available for enclosure within their own territories, and so they began to conquer and enclose other territories around the world. On the continent of Africa, this resulted in the mass removal of some people through the slave trade to the American continents, the extermination of other people to make room for settlers, and the mass enslavement of others, most notoriously in territory that Belgium conquered in the Congo River region.

In North America, the process was primarily one of ethnic cleansing through forced relocation, a never-ending series of broken treaties, the destruction of food sources to create famine, biological warfare, and direct mass murder. South and Central America endured similar fates to Africa and North America.

Asia, Australia, and various island nations saw the same thing happen, to varying degrees.

In the United States, at least, all of this is treated as largely in the past. It’s History, and so part of some closed chapter that no longer affects us much today. If you ask the various Native Americans, I think they’d tell a different story, as would most minority groups in the country. The reality is that this process never stopped. The Dakota Access Pipeline is one recent, famous example of the effort to seize and enclose Native land for private profit. A couple other examples are the ongoing deforestation in Brazil and in Indonesia. As climate change alters the entire surface of the planet, the capitalists and their enablers are actively planning to expand this process into the Arctic as well, to continue the fantasy of endless growth, with no regard for the cost.

When it comes to water, the situation has always been a bit more fluid. By its very nature, water is generally difficult to enclose, and because it’s so essential to every aspect of life and society, there’s a degree to which enclosure was simply not practical. The claims of territorial waters, and the various international disputes over things like fishing rights are a good example of this. This has come up recently in the conversation surrounding the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union – fish don’t respect lines that humans draw on maps, and their life cycles often take them from one country to another. If the UK were to over-fish “their” waters, that would hurt the fisheries of other countries that border on the North Atlantic, and that’s something that can get pretty heated. Look into the Cod Wars if you want an example.

So even as capitalism took over the world, water remained a commons, primarily restricted, protected, and exploited at a governmental level. Some corporations bought rights to bottle and sell water, but they often had to compete with municipal water supplies, or with the ability of people to simply draw water from nearby rivers, lakes, streams, or wells. That meant that while bottled water might often be a convenience, as long as a person had access to either clean tap water, or the means to boil or filter water for themselves, bottled water was mostly a luxury. It was a way to get clean, safe water quickly and conveniently. There are two problems with this situation. The first, from the point of view of corporations that profit from selling water and other drinks, is that they have to compete with water suppliers that aren’t trying to make a profit, and therefor can keep prices right around the cost of production.

The second is that as a commons, water sources are very vulnerable to things like pollution. The environmental movement was driven, in part, by the horrific consequences of water pollution – almost entirely by capitalist corporations – for those relying on those water sources. A lot of progress has been made, at least in some parts of the world, but even with much of the industry supplying the United States now operating in and polluting other countries, the problem has not gone away.

In January of 2014, a chemical storage tank owned by one “Freedom Industries” broke open and released thousands of gallons of  4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol – a chemical used in coal production – into the Elk River of West Virginia. The spill was upstream of an intake for the public water supply. Much of the groundwater in West Virginia is polluted, and has been for some time. when the Elk River spill happened, the river was the only “clean” water source available for that community, and the citizens were forced to rely on bottled water from outside their region. The spill not only highlighted negligence within the coal industry, but also the degree to which industrial pollution has put some parts of the United States right on the edge of being without a clean water supply.

In reality, millions of Americans have been without access to safe drinking water for some time, and the situation is as bad or worse around the world. In general, the closer an area is to industrial activity, the more likely it is that the water will be contaminated in some way, and that the people living there will be poor and politically powerless. Most decisions that result in poisoned water supplies are made by people who are not, themselves, exposed to the consequences of those decisions.

This is a problem all by itself, but unfortunately the situation is worse. It’s not just reservoirs and rivers that are being polluted, but aquifers are being put at risk by the natural gas industry, and are also being drained faster than their natural rate of replenishment.

History has show us that corporations are usually among the first to know about the harm that’s being done by their products or their byproducts. History has also shown us that with no exceptions I can think of, they respond to this information by doing their best to bury it, and silence anyone who tries to sound the alarm. While this is most likely done to serve the interests of short-term profit, in the case of water pollution, it has resulted in the gradual elimination of safe water sources that can be easily accessed by the working class. By accident or by design, the corporations that profit from selling water have seen their competition being eliminated.

Climate change has been rightly described as a “threat multiplier”. In the case of water, the implications of a hotter Earth are dire. Not only is water one of the most central ingredients for all known life, it is also the primary means of cooling available to a vast array of organisms, ourselves and our food included. Higher temperatures mean humans need to drink more, so our bodies can cool off through sweating. We also use water to cool ourselves through swimming, cold showers, and so on. Plants also require more water in higher temperatures, meaning the water demands for outdoor farming will be increasing. Without adequate planning, this will mean that the draining of reservoirs and aquifers will accelerate as the temperature rises, and much of the world will become increasingly reliant on water shipped in from elsewhere. This problem will be compounded again as refugees leave parts of the planet that are no longer habitable, further concentrating other populations.

As dire as all of this is, at this point I think it’s essential to emphasize that many of the problems of scarcity we’re facing, whether it be water, food, or housing, are artificial. Just as we have more than enough for everybody today, odds are we’ll have enough as the planet warms, as well.

But if we continue to use a system that prioritizes concentration and accumulation of wealth over human need and happiness, then that abundance will be as meaningless as it is today. Ever more people will become hungry, thirsty, and homeless, not because we can’t provide for them, but because we can’t provide for them, and also feed the endless greed of the capitalist class.

There are a few links to relevant resources in the “sources” document linked on Rights and Wrongs, including, but not limited to these two videos from The Michael Brooks Show:

 

As always, these issues are fare more complex than can be meaningfully addressed in a single blog post, but I hope this serves as a good introduction to the topics, and a useful angle on some of what’s happening in the world today.

If you found this post useful, please share it with others, and consider signing up to support my work at patreon.com/oceanoxia. You can give as little as $1.00 USD per month, though more is obviously welcome, and every little bit helps. This is currently my only source of income, and it’s not enough to actually pay the bills yet. Patrons get my undying gratitude, some extra blog posts, and a monthly science fiction story set in a version of New York City that survived the coming century, and continued existing for at least another couple thousand years, with much higher sea levels.

The United States Eviction Crisis of 2020, and some resources that might help people.

Unfortunately, the United States seems to be entering an eviction crisis, caused by the pandemic-triggered mass unemployment, combined with a government policy designed to use poverty to force people back to work. The reality of the situation is such that this policy is doomed to fail. Service jobs either don’t exist, or won’t last. As the COVID-19 pandemic spikes again, more and more people will prefer to do things for themselves, rather than risking their health and that of their loved ones to have someone else do them.

This crisis, though preventable, seems likely to unfold without any useful action from the Republican-controlled federal government, and the states are limited in resources, power, and goodwill. Either way, you may know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who has fallen behind on their rent due to lack of income, and is facing eviction. Homelessness is dangerous, economically damaging, and can be difficult to recover from. Hopefully some of these resources will be useful to someone, somewhere.

First, here’s a link to my most recent COVID-19 mutual aid post. It’s not 100% up to date, and I might have missed some resources, but there’s a lot there, and hopefully some people will find something useful there. As always, let me know if I left anything important out.

Second, a note from a friend of mine who works for the USPS:

The evictions have started. It’s been a terrible Monday at the post office.

If you are or have been staying at a hotel/motel, you can have mail sent to that address…BUT!!! You can’t put in a Change of Address from that business to another address whenever you might decide to move later on. Only the business owners can forward mail from that address. In this situation, about the best thing you can do is just notify everyone you possible can where you want them to send your mail when you move. Update account information, call your bank, etc. Businesses like hotels will most likely just return your mail even if you lived there for quite some time.

If you only have the option of staying at a hotel/motel, you might be able to open up a PO Box at your local post office if the business owner allows use of their address or if you have another address that could be used on the application. You can also ask your local post office about General Delivery, which would allow you to temporarily forward your mail to that post office’s address. Usually, it only lasts for 30 days, but talk with the clerks and your local Postmaster and I’m sure they would be able to come up with longer term solutions if necessary.

If you move in with friends or family and they’re okay with it, have your mail sent to their address. This is probably the easiest option when it comes to forwarding your mail. And you can always just alter your forwarding status if you do decide to move elsewhere later on, and that’s a simple process on our end.

There are options. We will help you figure things out, and find solutions so that you don’t miss important mail pieces. Just go to your local post office, explain what’s going on, and we’ll help you however we can. The biggest thing is to just let us know what’s up. We can’t find solutions for you if we don’t know you need help.

Here are a couple helpful links:

General Delivery:

https://faq.usps.com/s/article/What-is-General-Delivery

Official Change of Address form:

Note: Change of Address services are completely free at your local post office and should only cost about $1 online. If a website tries to charge you more than that, then it is very likely a third party for-profit scamming website.

https://moversguide.usps.com/mgo/disclaimer?referral=UMOVE

The USPS can be a powerful tool for American citizens, which is probably part of why conservative politicians and their backers want to destroy it and replace it with private corporations. Fortunately, it still exists, and for all its flaws, it’s there to help you, so use it if you need to.

 

Richard Wolff on Venezuela and socialism

With public interest in socialism rising in the United States, there has come a renewed effort to cast any and all forms of socialism as inevitable disasters, and to use whichever example is conveniently to hand to demonstrate this “fact”. Venezuela is the current go-to for the defenders of capitalism, so it’s worth spreading awareness of some of the factors that got that country to where they are today. Wolff, as usual, does a good job covering the facts of the situation:

In particular, it’s worth considering the role played by oil and other fossil fuels, not just in the economy of Venezuela, but in those of countries around the world. If we’re going to take a realistic approach to dealing with the threat of climate change, it is essential that we not only work to end our use of fossil fuels, but that we also work to help those countries who depend on the fossil fuel economy make that transition with as little pain as possible. They need to survive the coming changes just as much as the rest of us do, and it’s likely that without a global effort that accounts for the needs of those currently relying on coal, gas, and oil, the transition will be far harder than it needs to be, and those countries will suffer far more than they need to. We need to be doing everything at once.


If you find my blog useful, interesting, or entertaining, please consider helping to support it. You can become a patron for as little as $1.00 USD per month at patreon.com/oceanoxia, though larger donations are obviously welcome. Bills need paying, and finding gainful employment is still fairly difficult right now, what with the global pandemic and all. If you can’t afford $1.00 per month, sharing my posts with other people is also a great help. Thank you!

Death of the Author, J.K. Rowling, Orson Scott Card, and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lindsay Ellis is generally worth listening to, but I especially liked this because the comparison she made between Rowling and Card hits home for me. It was shocking to learn about his political views and activities after reading Speaker for the Dead, and it took me some time to come to the conclusion that while he was alive, I could not, in good conscience, support him financially or socially.

This brings me to Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Hamilton.

First, I want to be clear: based on what I know about Miranda, I do not think he belongs in the same category as Rowling and Card. He seems to have a general liberal desire for the world to get better, he’s on the right side on most things, and I’m aware of no bigotry on his part. That said, he has also not been and entirely benign and positive influence in the world specifically when it comes to Puerto Rico, and I think that’s worth paying attention to.

I like Hamilton. I really do. I love the music and the writing, and its ability to make me feel feelings. I also think it’s worth noting the hard work and skill of the many people who created that musical other than the author, and I don’t blame them for his actions any more than I blame the cast of the Harry Potter movies for Rowling’s bigotry.

Just as Miranda has used the wealth, power, and fame he got from Hamilton, and his earlier hit “In The Heights”, I think it’s important to use the spotlight that’s currently on him and his work to also highlight the ongoing damage of colonialism. This isn’t just to shame Miranda, or to get him to personally change how he thinks about and uses his power. It’s nearly certain that he will never read this blog post, though I hope he has read @lxzdanelly‘s twitter thread, and it would be nice if he would listen to his critics in Puerto Rico and change his behavior accordingly.

My purpose, in writing this, is to play some small part in using Hamilton to draw more attention to the situation in Puerto Rico, and the role Miranda has played in it. As we keep seeing, the problems of people with little wealth or power rarely make it into corporate news. The massive Black Lives Matter uprising in the United States hasn’t stopped, but with a decrease in showy property damage, and the media’s propensity to lose interest in ongoing events, the coverage has dropped off in a big way.

Puerto Rico got a lot of attention when it was hit by Hurricane Maria, but while those troubles, and the thousands of needless deaths continued, the attention paid to them by the United States, as a body, faded far too quickly.

It has also been noted – and bears repeating – that Hamilton tells a story about a chapter in American history, while making no mention whatsoever of the people indigenous to this continent, who were forced out their homes to “set the stage” for the events fictionalized in Miranda’s play. Reality is messy and complex, and it’s not possible to capture every nuance of history in a single work, but this is a glaring omission, particularly given the thought that went into the racial dynamics of how the story was told.

The problems faced by Puerto Ricans, and by Native Americans, are likely to continue for as long as neoliberalism holds sway in the United States and around the world. The path to a more just world is long, shifting, and hard to see at times, but raising awareness of perspectives and commentary like this twitter thread seems to be an important part of the process.

I can’t give a comprehensive list of places to learn about these issues, and I won’t try. There are some links to follow in this post, and you could do worse than checking out this article on neoliberalism and Puerto Rico from Solidarity.

While you’re checking things out, I highly recommend you listen to this Native America Calling episode from April of 2019 on socialism and capitalism.


And finally, I can’t afford not to make my regular plug for myself. If you want to support this blog, and my ability to keep a roof over my head and food on my plate, please consider signing up to be a patron at patreon.com/oceanoxia, at whatever rate you feel you can afford.

The Enemy of Old has taken the land, so I must garden in the sky

When I was a young warthog, I attended Waldorf Schools. One of the things required of me was the artistic decoration of the various essays I wrote. We were required to illuminate our work, in imitation of European monks copying religious texts. The exact details of these decorations were generally left up to the students. Sometimes it was faint drawings behind the text, sometimes it was color gradients around the edges, and sometimes it was doodles in the margins relevant to the nature of the essay.

What I didn’t do, really was spend much time studying the phenomenon of marginalia. For those of you who have, it’s likely that you’ve noticed a lot of snails. So. Many. Snails.

The image is a drawing from the margins of some medieval text. It depicts a knight in chain mail with a helmet and a shield, wielding a club. The knight is fighting a giant snail - slightly larger than himself. They are both a grassy lawn, with some sort of bush in the background, and a red-leafed tree nearby. It's possible that rather than the snail being huge, the knight is tiny. I can't tell.

Yea, slimy things did crawl on grass, and poke their eyes at me

There are snails fighting knights, snails minding their own business, even the occasional Divine Hoversnail with attendant worshipper:

The image shows a leafy branch extending sideways from the bottom of a large, decorative letter - possibly a T? Kneeling on the branch is a knight in full chain mail, with a tower shield behind him, and his sword stuck in the branch in front of him. His hands are held together in prayer. A snail, about the size of his torso, is hovering in front of him.

All Hail the Hoversnail

There are various theories as to why snails fill the borders of these texts, but having lived in Scotland for almost a year now, I have come to believe in one theory in particular.

Even to this day, the inhabitants of monasteries generally keep gardens. Over the centuries these have provided food and medicines for monks, as well as  occasional means for generating a little income to help meet the expenses of the monastery. This meant that the monks creating these marginalia likely spent a great deal of time maintaining gardens, and as any gardener knows, it’s an activity that will regularly bring you into contact with snails.

What I did not realize – what had not really sunk in – was just how many snails there are here.

There are a lot of snails here.

Like – a ridiculous amount of snails.

I let Raksha out three times a day usually, and we generally just go into the courtyard seen in the various pictures of her I’ve posted. Once the sun goes down, the snails come out.

The image shows a garden snail on grass. There's a daisy in the bottom left corner of the picture, closed up for the night. The snail has a brindled brown and tan shell, and dark pebbly skin. Its eyestalks are extended, actively searching around. It seems interested in the world around it.

An active, interested snail, scanning the world for more plants to eat or knights to fight.

 

Snail on gravel. This snail has a brindled brown and tan pattern on its shell, with the tip of the cone on its right side (left side of the picture) white. I can't tell if it had some sort of residue on it, or the shell is just white. Its eyestalks are extended, looking for something tastier than gravel.

This snail is in the barren desert section of the courtyard, crossing the harsh gravel desert to reach the bounty that is the lawn. Over the years, as the knights died out, the snail population boomed, no longer held back by their natural predators.

 

A snail on the brick walkway, moving along a line of moss between bricks. Its shell has the same pretty brown and tan pattern, and its pebbly dark gray skin has a white dotted line down the back of its neck starting between its eyes. The eye stalks are less extended than the others, but still looking around.

This snail is following a line of moss between the bricks of the walkway. With the downfall of the knights, the monks were left without protection from their ancient foes, leading to a long-running direct war between the Monastic Orders and the snails.

 

This image shows the lawn at the edge of the courtyard's gravel section. The grass is spotted with closed daisies and buttercups. There are 6 snails in an area of about one or two square meters

Here are 6 snails in a small patch of the lawn. Not stepping on them has been a challenge. No longer able to rely on the knights for protection, the monks had to take up the fight, leaving them with little time to illuminate manuscripts, which is why we no longer see many such works.

 

The image shows a turquoise window box attached to a sturdy railing over a parking area. The brown soil has several dwarf broad bean plants with white and black flowers.

Flowering dwarf broad beans in our window box The snail wars are secret, so it’s hard to know how they’re going. That said, I’ve seen many more snails than monks around here, so it’s safe to say the snails control this region.

 

The image shows three cans and a plastic container inside a turquoise window box. The containers contain soil and some chard and kale plants. The parking area below is visible in the background

We’re a little short on soil, so the greens are still in the containers we used for the seedlings. With the ground under the snails’ control, we’ve had to elevate our gardening. The window boxes are booked over a sturdy railing, and further secured with parachute cord. It might be overkill, but we don’t have to worry about them falling.

 

Image shows give cans with kale growing in them. The cans are in another turquoise window box, attached to the railing with hooks and parachute cord.

Our kale crop, still a bit stunted by lack of soil. We’ll be able to buy more soon, but in the meantime, they’re doing OK. The snails either don’t know, or are satisfied with controlling the ground.


Unfortunately, life costs money, and my income from this blog has yet to meet minimum wage for the time I put into it. If you can afford to, please consider pledging a couple dollars per month or so through my Patreon. This will help me continue creating and improving this blog by keeping a roof over my head, and food in my carnivorous pets so they don’t eat me. It will also help save my crops from the Molluscoid Menace. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can pitch in a little, it would help a great deal!

Capitalism, global warming, and the fear of change

Years ago, when I was first learning about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I heard about strict limitations imposed on foreigners visiting that country. It wasn’t just about limiting what they said and did, but also what items they could bring in, cell phones in particular. The purpose of this was to control how the citizens of North Korea viewed the world and their role in it. A foundational dogma of the Kim dynasty was that North Korea was the most advanced nation in the world, and that while life wasn’t perfect there, it was better than anywhere else.

I’m sure not all North Koreans believe that, but the point was to have enough to send a clear message – change could lead to disaster. You think you have it bad now? Rock the boat and it’ll get worse for you. Some of that threat was from the government itself, of course, but at the same time there’s the idea that this leaky, dangerous boat with its brutal captain are all you’ve ever known, and the choice presented is not between that boat and a better one, but between that boat and no boat at all.

And when someone complains to much, the captain makes a big show of throwing that person overboard to remind everyone else that things can always get worse.

When news broke of the efforts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in the United States, there were a lot of people trying to work out what Putin’s interests might be in meddling in the American government. First, to be clear, America is a near-global empire, perhaps the first of its kind. Its military reach covers the whole planet through a massive air force, and a huge network of military bases. All of that power has gone not towards controlling territory, but rather towards ensuring the global economy is a capitalist one, as much as possible. That means that there’s a very real way in which the control and activities of the American government are a legitimate concern for everyone on the planet.

Setting that aside, one of the proposed motivations for Putin’s activities was very similar to that narrative I had heard about North Korea. Putin’s interest wasn’t in controlling America, though he’d doubtless be fine with expanding his power, but rather in convincing the Russian people that while his rule might not be everything they wanted, it was the best they could expect. No other system that might look better from the outside is stable enough to last. Having the United States operate in a way that directly benefited Putin would be nice, but more valuable than that was the chaos and decline in standard of living that would come from a Republican administration under Trump. Under that analysis, it didn’t matter whether Trump was fully controllable, or even that he always worked for the benefit of the Russian government. What mattered was that he continue to be divisive, chaotic, and corrosive to the United States and its allies, to provide evidence that the notion that America’s claimed democracy was so unstable that it wasn’t worth trying for.

Hearing this discussion about Putin, and linking it to what I had been told about North Korea, made me think more about the United States, and the narratives fed to us as citizens of that country. Various flavors of nationalism are ubiquitous. Slogans like “America #1” can be found everywhere, as can the claim that it’s the “greatest country in the world”, to the degree that it causes a bit of a scandal if anyone suggests that that’s not the case. When we talked about improving our healthcare system, we were told that what we had was already the best possible healthcare system, and given justifications for the downsides, and outright lies about what other countries had.

This is a preview of a piece for my $10+ patrons. If you want access to the whole article, you can support my work at patreon.com/oceanoxia