Friday, August 6, 2021

Power to the Plants!

Okay, so hear me out:

A cartoon show for kids about plants as superheroes. It all starts out cute, as you’d expect. Then in the natural progression of the show over seasons they start battling “polluters” and then it becomes “corporate polluters” and then it becomes “extractive corporate polluters” and then “capitalist extractive corporate polluters” and then “capitalist corporations” and then “capitalism” and then “capitalists” and now a whole generation is wearing berets and rejecting the essential tenets of a profit driven society. They stop working in offices. They start farms on rooftops. They ban billionaires. Healthcare is free. They don’t pay rent. The entire current economic paradigm collapses. It turns out people are happier and healthier. The plants did that. It turns out theory really were superheroes.

Remember how Captain Planet taught people my age that protecting the environment was an individual’s responsibility? That’s because it was made by a capitalist corporation.

But who are we kidding? Have you heard that koan about how it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism?

Did you know that in Mexico the firearm maker Colt’s Manufacturing Company sells a handgun engraved with the likeness of Emiliano Zapata, whose name and philosophy of agrarian socialism have been adopted by the Zapatista Army of National Revolution? Capitalism is wild.




Thursday, August 5, 2021

Get Your Gear and Go West.

There’s a scene very early on in the Danny Boyle movie 127 Hours where James Franco (blah) decides to go out hiking and in a montage we see him quickly gather up his gear and toss it in his truck and head out on adventures. Now if you’re familiar with the movie then you know that this whole adventure does not go well for him (He has to cut off his own arm. Long story).  

Be that as it may, I have always liked the gear gathering montage. This is probably because when it comes to outdoor adventure stuff I have always been a meticulous planner. You should see the research I did when I went kayak camping on Catalina island!

Over my last few moves though, I have shed a lot of my gear. I got rid of stuff because I didn’t have much time to use it in grad school or because some of it was worn out or because the technologies have gotten so much better in the last few years that I knew it would be worth the money to eventually upgrade.

Recently I have slowly been putting together a new kit of stuff. I needed a new sleeping pad, a new water filter, a new little light weight tent, a small solar charger, etc. Well over the last few months I have researched those things and rounded them up. As I’d suspected, the technology has gotten better. I found a 1-person single walled backpacking tent that I can get down to less than three pounds if I swap out the tent stakes for titanium. It cost $30 dollars. Now three pounds is two or three times as much as the absolute lightest similar tents out there, but those cost ten times as much. I found a Sawyer filter that is smaller than the one I bought six years ago and cost a third of what I’d paid back then. It really is amazing what the quiet and boring march of incremental improvement can do. The kit I’m going to end up with will cost less than $200 and a similar kit five years ago would have cost (I estimate) about $1,000. 

How cool is that?

My plan has been to assemble a set of stuff that I can toss in my little car on a whim on a Friday afternoon and at least go out car camping for the night. I even have some freeze dried meals and extra Clif Bars and a couple gallons of water. I am good to go!

But then … as always … there is something I forgot. I don’t know where to go.

I live on California’s Central Coast and I’d just assumed that there were campsites and whatnot all around. That is only kind of true. There are some. But the problem seems to be that they are all located on California’s Central Coast and it is August and they are full. I am still getting used to the idea that I live in a place that people come to to vacation and to get away from everything. Honestly, it was easier to find campsites when I lived in LA. 

So maybe the idea was flawed from the outset. Maybe the reason that the gear gathering montage appealed to me so much was because it speaks to this kind of light and free fantasy of being able to grab and go that simply isn’t true of the world we live in. Maybe on some level I knew that. The reason it is appealing is because it is impossible.

But fear not. I’ll figure something out. Maybe it will just require waiting until September, when the tourists begin to ebb away. Or maybe it will mean sitting in front of a computer, refreshing State Park websites like I’m trying to score concert tickets. That seems like an odd way to start a nature adventure: online. 

That getting away from all the dreary things about modern life requires more deeply engaging in those dreary things tells us something about modern life and why we want to get away from it.




Wednesday, August 4, 2021

What Are We Supposed to Do Now?

I can feel two different things happening in my head lately. They’re occurring concurrently and in near parallel, but I do think that at some point they’re going to converge.

Like many of us who are vaccinated, I’ve been making some small plans to do some real traveling. Airports! Cities! Adventure!

But at the same time, I still watch the news. I’ve been watching Delta spread, I’ve been watching the numbers as hospitals fill up again. And last night I heard for the first time about this “Delta Plus” variant which is apparently even more dangerous and transmissible than the normal Delta, which itself is even more dangerous and transmissible than the original Covid that send us all into our homes last year.

I go to meetings during the day about returning to work in-person and about campus repopulating. I check my vacation time and look at flights. I look at the calendar and ponder when I could take some time off. I have tickets to Hamilton in October for God’s sake!

And yet, I think back on the trip I took with friends to Washington state in early June. We were all vaccinated of course, but that trip required two airports, airplanes, being around strangers … I felt comfortable about it at the time and the CDC said it was fine at the time and Dr. Fauci said it was fine at the time, and yet … I’m not sure if I would make that trip tomorrow under our current circumstances. I’m not 100% sure I wouldn’t either, but I would really have to think about it.

The thing that really worries me is the recent announcement from the CDC that fully vaccinated people who get a breakthrough infection can spread Covid. That’s really bad. When this all started in 2020, when we first learned that asymptomatic spread was not just possible, but common, I sat myself down and had a little conversation about how to be; what was the ethical way to live? This was back before vaccines and before testing was even reliable. 

I realized then that if it was functionally impossible to know if you had it, then the only responsible way to behave was as if you knew that you had it. As much as that sucks, there really was no other way under the circumstances to protect other people.

So I was pretty responsible about my quarantine. There are a couple things that — in hindsight — I would not have done knowing what I know now, but on the whole, I followed the rules, because that’s how you keep people alive.

As I look at the way things have been changing in these last few weeks, I am beginning to feel like our situation is getting worse and worse by the day. It makes me angry, because we didn’t have to end up here, but there are so many people who won’t get vaccinated — people whose calculations about proper and ethical behavior are the polar opposite of mine — that I really have started worrying that I won’t get to see my family at Christmas this year either. 

I don’t think that American society has the will or the fortitude to really do another Quarantine. I think that the last year — to say nothing of the last four — has really demonstrated what a feckless nation of petulant children we are. So I don’t know what happens if our collective situation keeps getting worse day by day.

And yet. There is an optimist in me. So I still check on flights. I still make my lists of places I want to go. I still check my calendar. 

I just haven’t booked any tickets yet.