Friday, September 23, 2011

Pecan Equinox

Time was when folk would be out celebrating today, on the morning of the autumnal equinox, and the beginning of fall. Nowadays, of course, some might notice mention of the seasonal change in the morning papers or, more likely, hear about it on the morning TV show they watch whilst preparing for work. We don't get an actual celebration until the end of October, and then it's got less to do with fall than with other nonsense.

I'm still an odd bird, I guess, for checking my east-facing dining room window (my "house clock" of which I've made note before), to mark the last morning the sun will appear in that window until next spring. But I'm a great fan of seasonal moments, especially since the weather has cooled down considerably (it'll max out in the 80s today), and we've had a little rain. Things are greener than they have been all summer, and I've pulled up most of the dead things that had littered the garden. Soon, we'll be raking leaves for compost, as all those leaves begin to drop.

The fall equinox also marks the end of another quarter at my college, so I get to spend the first weekend awash in grading--at least until Sunday, when the Beloved Spouse and I will spend the afternoon at our last baseball game of the year. We like to attend the final home game, and this year it will be especially sweet, win or lose, because the Rangers should have clinched the Western division championship by then. Baseball is, of course, the quintessential summer game, but the heat has kept us away from all but one trip out to Arlington this year.

As I type this post, the roof is being pelted by pecans. Despite the drought, the trees (we have eight of various varieties) are loaded this year. But the tree rats are underfed and are having at the still-unripe nuts, nibbling bits and then tossing them aside. It sounds a little like a hail storm's going on, and I have to keep my clogs by the back door because I can't venture out of doors bare-footed any more, even for a few inches. Half-eaten pecans are no fun to step on.

Today's Skywatch Friday entries are nothing special. But the sky's blue, the light from the autumn sunrise looked pretty on those pecans, so that's what I shot. For the moment there's a bit of seasonal promise in the air: thoughts of harvest stews, squashes and pumpkins, baked apples, pecan pie, and all manner of goodies that couldn't be cooked all summer. I just wish, as a culture, we spent more time enjoying these moments, and less time rushing about. Any grading I do tomorrow morning will be undertaken out of doors, with the pups, among the birds and squirrels, and with a nice cup of tea. And a hat to protect me from pecan debris.

Have a great weekend, Folks. And happy fall!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The End, At Last

Over the years, I have tried to use the Farm as platform for extolling the virtues of community, and to suggest ways in which we can be better inhabitants of this planet.

I also grew up as a military brat, imbued with notions of honor, fairness, courage, and other virtues fostered and shared by the many soldiers, sailors, and airmen I met during my father's tenure as a non-commissioned officer in the U. S. Air Force. Being a good person became, for me, synonymous with serving one's country honorably. This didn't change during the Viet Nam war, even though I opposed it. It didn't change during the Iraq wars, even though I questioned one and abhorred the "reasons" for initiating the other. It hasn't changed since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, even though I think we betrayed that country when we failed to help them recover after the Soviet occupation. Soldiers don't make policy; politicians do.

And so this morning, when I received the following video in my e-mailbox from the Obama people, I could think of nothing better to do with it than to post it here. I should note that I try to consider as many points of view as possible, and receive mail from conservatives and No Labels people as well as liberals and progressives. But this video does a lovely job of marking this historic moment--this small step toward fairness and equality for everyone.

To the many gay and straight officers and enlisted people I have known through the years, and who taught me the true nature of patriotism, thank you, and congratulations. As much as I would love to live in a world in which your services would not be required, I appreciate what you do, and today I celebrate with you.

Friday, September 9, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different

The sky in north Texas has been decidedly uninteresting this week, but not so in other parts of the state. Much of the region is suffering wildfires brought about by drought and high winds, and skies have been filled with smoke and haze. This makes for lovely sunsets (we may see some on SWF), but causes enormous suffering for those whose homes are burning and whose lives are changing irrevocably.

On the coast, at east beach, Galveston, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee created the skies shown here, gifts from my daughter who was visiting family and friends with her beau. Like many of my own chance photos, these were captured with an iPhone 4, and unaltered. I particularly like the opening shot, which shows me that my girl has a good eye as well as a generous spirit.

I'm hopeful that the Beloved Spouse and I will have a chance to take the pups down to romp on the beach before too long, but in the meantime I'll be enjoying the beautiful cool weather here in the north--while it lasts. Although I've had the A/C off for a week now, the forecast promises century marks for later in the week. I'm decidedly ready for Fall!

This post marks my 250th on the Farm. Thanks to my regulars for sticking with me through my rants and musings--and welcome to any new folk who stray in, attracted by my daughter's "walk-by" photography.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Useful Work: A Labor Day Meditation

As I mentioned on Thursday, my query about the origins of Labor Day last week elicited no correct answers, which doesn't really surprise me given the general lack of historical knowledge evident among the rising generation. Coincidentally, I showed a video on art between the wars (Robert Hughes's "Streamlines and Bread Lines" from his American Visions series), adding to the number of synchronistic experiences my students and I have been noting this quarter. Students were struck by the similarities between current circumstances and those that produced the WPA--but we were pretty sure that nobody would be willing to do much to put artists to work today. Nor do art and craft as "useful work" (in William Morris's view, the opposite of "useless toil") quite fit into our current political preoccupations.

Several headlines screamed at us this week, scaring the bejeezis out of common folk, but reflecting the realities presented by today's labor market. The "news" that no new jobs were created this month should actually come as no surprise, given the fact that corporations have figured out how to squeeze more hours and more work out of fewer people, and for lesser-skilled jobs have opted to seek labor from beyond our shores from those who will work for pennies.

Why should any of us be shocked by this? Those Americans who have jobs seem to be so afraid of losing them that they will work extra hours at no increased pay. Nobody likes unions any more, it seems, and "collective bargaining" has become code for "socialist policy" (although few actually know anything about what socialism is except what the far-righties tell them), so the over-worked and underpaid will likely not find their lot improving any time soon.

His Holiness, the Governor of Texas (HHGT), who is now running for President, touts his job-creating record in the state, neglecting to mention just how many of these are minimum-wage (of which he disapproves) labor involving fast food and cleaning up other peoples' messes. Yes there are high-wage, high-tech jobs in Texas. But our fair state also boasts a miserable educational record, and had I more time to check into it, I might find that many of those graduating from higher ed institutions consist of foreign students who will be taking their skills back home.

I frequently snort, impolitely, that my students know how to use all manner of techno-gizmos, but none of them know how to fix them. So if something goes wrong, they've got to call "Peggy" in Mumbai for tech support. Should something major happen--like the big EMP I keep promising--there aren't that many people around here who could figure out how to get the grid back up, let alone manufacture the toys to which we have all become addicted and upon which we have all become dependent.

But instead of properly educating our students (to think both creatively and critically) and putting them to work devising ways to fix the country and save the planet, and instead of valuing trades like plumbing and woodworking and home repair, we seem to be training people to be CPAs and tax lawyers whose main job is helping people to get out of paying their share of keeping the country running.

It's worth noting that even though no jobs were created last month, many of the potential job creators were sitting on their corporate earnings (which are in many cases at record levels), presumably "jittery" about the market. The simple equation is this: people need jobs to earn money to pay for stuff, and the stuff is being made elsewhere rather than here where it's consumed. But the companies that make the stuff don't want to have to pay a living wage because it would cut into their profits. Americans, its seems, won't work for crap wages, so I guess it's our fault that so many are unemployed. You hear it all the time: there are jobs out there for anyone who wants one. Yeah. Try supporting a family on 20 grand a year these days.

All this has been said before, and I really don't have the answers because thinking about it makes my brain hurt and raises my blood pressure. Other people, like Paul Krugman and Juliet Schor and Warren Buffett, offer solutions that nobody wants to hear, but might help turn things around. My only suggestion involves figuring out a way to get investors to stop treating the stock market like a casino and start putting money into promising, necessary industries with potential to help rather than harm--like alternative energy, local farming, regional grids, and less destructive forms of transportation. But as long as Wall Street is fueled by fear, rumor, and hedge funds, nothing will change and things can only get worse.

The President is scheduled to reveal his plan to get Americans back to work on Tuesday. I have little hope that it will address many of these issues, and I'm absolutely confident that the far-righties will shoot it down like so many clay pigeons being flung across the skeet range.

What we really need is meaningful work that serves a genuine purpose, whether it's farming sustainably, repairing necessary equipment, managing waste, educating young people, building thoughtfully, manufacturing responsibly, or simply finding ways of promoting the common good. What we don't need is more fast food, more cheap and/or disposable tschochkes, more expensive toys, and more ways to speed up environmental degradation.

Here's to a future in which workers are paid what they're actually worth, rather than what some over-paid CEO thinks they should earn; where we focus more carefully on needs rather than on desires or on what advertisers try to convince us that we absolutely must have; where people live comfortably without reducing the probability that their grandchildren will have to suffer from smog, drought, or other hazards that could be avoided if we change our ways now; where our representatives actually recognize that no state is an island unto itself, and that what we spew into the air or the waterways affects us all; and where people think carefully, evaluating innovations and choices instead of simply adopting the next big thing.

Happy Labor Day--especially for those who remember why this day was set aside in the first place.

Image credit: "Fruit Store," a Works Progress Administration poster created between 1938 and 1941, via Wikimedia Commons. I thought it fitting to use a poster that promoted something I'd love to see more of: fruit stands full of local produce.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Looking Skyward

It seems as though I spend a great deal of time these days looking up: for clouds, signs of rain, tokens of impending change. But I'm tired of writing about the weather. It rained last Friday, providing a steady, sweet, cool respite from the heat that lasted for about an hour. The temperature fell to a balmy 103 F in the days that followed, and it should only get up to 101 today, according to the weather sources that have been wrong more often than not. From now on I'm only going to rely on the approaching equinox to signal change.

But not thinking about the weather leaves mental space for worrying about civilization and its discontents: war, famine, politics, economics, environment, health, education--with all their creeping dystopian possibilities.

So lately I've been taking refuge on a different planet. One called Phoebe, where the protagonist of my latest "old bats in space" saga (Petunia) has just disappeared. She finally reached that point after I'd spent several months thinking about how to get her there, and after I'd spent another several hours rereading what I'd already written and filling in the missing bits. None of this is for publication; rather, it's my own escape from here and now and a means for imagining alternatives to what ails us at the moment. Writing this stuff is fun, and Petunia's having fun, and it beats drinking as an avoidance mechanism.

I've also got several reads going: books that run the gamut from Sayonara Michelangelo by Waldemar Januszczak, to The Atlantis Syndrome, by Paul Jordan, to Robert Charles Wilson's latest, Vortex and John Scalzi's engaging but silly newest book, Fuzzy Nation (both just finished). Some of these I'm reading for my classes (Januszczak and Jordan), so they sort of count as work, but I don't actually have to read them. I do so mostly so that I don't deliver the same stale stuff over and over again and can add fresh material to my stand-up art history and mythology routines.

But I won't be able to avoid the real world for much longer, so for anyone who's interested, here's what's on the Farm menu for the near future: musings on cucina povera (fancy Italian for peasant food) and utopia, energy options, food deserts and obesity, creating an oasis, and coming to terms with advancing age. Probably not all at once, though.

In the meantime, here are this week's Skywatch Friday entries, all taken with the new iPhone (but not the Camera+ app, which I'm still trying to figure out how to use properly) in the early morning during the last couple of weeks. The bottom two were shot in parking lots at or near school.

For those who celebrate it, happy Labor Day weekend. But please take a moment to remember what it represents. When asked, none of my students knew. Their most frequent response was that it has something to do with having to go back to school. Sigh.