Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Time to empty my mind before I go insane. This should take awhile. I predict several thousand words before I'm sick of talking about myself.

Item One:

Every year about this time, I go into the same old routine. I freak out about where we're shopping, what we're eating, how much energy we're using, etc. I don't know if it's the weather, or just the fact that I grew up in the country so it feels as if I should have just harvested something, but every October, I do this whole environmentalist-anti-capitalist-anti-globalist-vegetarian-separatist routine. I threaten to move us out into a cabin in the woods. I decide to start building a turbine so we can live totally off the grid. I stare longingly at images of the off-the-grid house I wish I could design/build/own. I vow we're going to start shopping at Bloomingfoods more often even though it's all the way across town. And I swear we're going to start a garden of our own in the spring.

Last year at this time, I even went to far as to contact the local extension office about planting an organic garden. Then in January, the city came and tore up our entire yard, including the piece I had mapped out for gardening. And I have to admit, I wasn't *too* disappointed because the truth is, I hate gardening, and am only considering doing it because it seems like the responsible thing to do. I don't look forward to it with any sort of joyful anticipation, yet here I am, calculating the number of board feet of pine I need to build some raised beds this spring.

Quite coincidentally, I picked up a book that sort of feeds this "the world is going to hell in a handbasket so I'd better grow my own vegetables" mood I'm in. I grabbed it because of the cover art, checked it out because of the title: Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, by Gary Nabhan. (Also coincidentally, he has an article in this month's Sierra Club magazine, a publication that should never be allowed in my house because it sends me into a depression so deep I'm in danger of not being able to climb out of it.) NPR has a RealAudio file of Nabhan talking about his book, if anyone cares.

I like the premise of Nabhan's book, that eating locally (and organically) is the ecologically and economically responsible thing to do. Just a quote from the article to demonstrate the kind of stats he's using to support his position:

"Today, locally based diets are nearly nonexistent. Only a tenth of the food eaten in Iowa, America's breadbasket, is grown w/in the state; most produce now arrives by truck via a Chicago redistribution center, traveling more than 1,500 miles before it reaches the dinner table in Des Moines. According to a recent report by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, that distance is up 22 percent from 1981. Nationally, 93 percent of all fruits and vegetables make similarly long journeys, requiring tremendous amounts of fossil fuel and reducing freshness and nutritional value. And w/food passing through six to eight hands before it reaches you, the portino of the food dollar doing to the farmer who produces it shrinks, making family farms increasingly less viable. In 1950, a typical farmer got 41 cents for every food dollar. Today he gets 19 cents." (p. 32, Nov/Dec issue)

The book is interesting for the little bits like that, like the story of why we eat corn-fed beef: according to Nabhan, after WWII, there was a surplus of nitrogen that the military needed to use up, so they took the surplus nitrogen and turned it into fertilizer to boost grain production in the U.S. That created a surplus of corn. So pretty soon consumers were being encouraged to eat corn-fed beef, that corn had to be used for something. The problem is, grass-fed beef is better for you, w/less marbling and less fat. So this led to an overproduction of beef in feedlots, and they had to figure out what to do w/all the excess tallow and fat. That went into chicken feed. Suddenly eggs had a higher cholesterol level than ever before. All because of the military and its nitrogen (p. 72-3).

So, I can recommend it for anyone thinking about food production and global economics. But. Why am I not going to finish the book?

The book is actually about Nabhan's challenge to himself. He wants to go an entire year eating food that was produced w/in 250 miles of his home. This includes locally grown food that he has purchased from other farmers, and food he has foraged from the land. And I admire Nabhan's intent, I really do, but what starts out as a respectable pursuit ends up sounding condescending and classist.

Nabhan spends a lot of time wringing his hand over the fact that old food preparation/eating traditions have died out, and why did this happen, and why can't people see what they're losing, and why won't they just do what he's doing and eat grasshoppers for dinner? He assumes that the spiritual sustenance he gets from the food rituals he is (re)discovering adds some sort of validity to his life that other people's lives do not have. Because he can practically orgasm from eating a lush peach (while blindfolded, I might add), he believes that is a feeling everyone should experience, and that modern life is shallow and devoid of meaning because most of us aren't trading in sex for mesquite-smoked chipotle.

But what mostly bothered me was the basic classism underpinning his political position. He has a year of essentially leisure time (or at least it seems that way) to pursue his goal. It's not clear to me if he's on sabbatical, or what, but let me say, the average working American simply does not have the possibility of spending a full day foraging for saguaro cactus blooms. The average working American can't drive all over the county to buy eggs from one house, milk from another, tortillas from another, and so on and so on. The average working American *works* and works for damn little money. And where are they going to put the 2.5 kids while they're out digging up sand roots on the weekends? It just seems to me that Nabhan has a particular lifestyle--that of an academic--that is considerably more flexible than that of a factory worker.

Add to that the fact that the guy has a graduate degree in agriculture, and you can see his goal can't be met by most Americans. I grew up on a farm, but that doesn't mean I know how to grow stuff. Not well enough to live off a garden, at least. I don't know. Overall, I just didn't think his experiment was viable. The knowledge behind it, the political motivation, yes, I liked that. The rest of it? Not to my liking.

Also, I'm not a spiritual eater. Every meal Nabhan ate was some kind of ritual. I don't like food enough to eat that way. Pretty much I could live off Chef Boyardee pizza and water and be happy. Food doesn't have to have great meaning in my life, or even much flavor. It just has to be handy. And I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing. I don't think that I'm single-handedly destroying the world by eating when I'm hungry and not turning each bite into a cultural celebration.

But that's just me.

Item Two:

I thought I was all WTCed out, but it turns out I'm not. Also on the floor next to me is a book of essays: After the World Trade Center: Rethinking New York City, edited by Michael Sorkin and Sharon Zukin. A lot of the essays have appeared elsewhere, most in substantially altered forms.

One essay I knew I would appreciate before I even read it was "The Janus Face of Architectural Terrorism: Minoru Yamasaki, Mohammed Atta and Our World Trade Center," by Eric Darton. Catherine read Darton's Divided We Stand this summer while I was reading another book on New York, and we spent a lot of time reading passages outloud to each other. Anyway, Darton continues the same theme: the building of the WTC was as much terrorism as the destruction of the WTC. He argues that buildings like the WTC separate us from our humanity, and although I think he's a little unfair to the architect, it is interesting to watch him construct an argument that says Atta and Yamasaki were the same man.

Quoting his own book (written in 1999 about the WTC), Darton writes about how the design of the buildings gives no signal to passersby as to their function, and suggests that once you realize this

"you realize the trade towers disappear as sites of human habitation and reassert their power at the level of an esthetic relationship. And it is through recognizing this process that you may be become uncomfortably aware of a kindred spirit linking the apparently polar realms of skyscraper terrorist and skyscraper builder.

"This analogy between those who seek to destroy the structures the latter thought it ratinoal and desirable to build becomes possible by shifting focus momentarily to the shared, underlying predicate of their acts. To attempt creation or destruction on such an immense scale requires both bombers and master-builders to view living processes in general, and social life in particular, with a high degree of abstraction. Both must undertake a radical distancing of themselves from the flesh and blood experience of mundane existence "on the ground."...For the terrorist and the skyscraper builder alike, day-to-day existence shrinks to insignificance--reality distills itself to the instrumental use of physical forces in service of an abstract goal." (p. 88-9)

Well, he wrote that in 1999, after the first bombing, but continues to believe it's a valid assertion. Darnton goes on to conclude that the building of the WTC and the destruction of it are "enactments of polarized daydreams of domination. Whether a master plan entails casting away stones or gathering stones together, the project rests up the creation of an abstract, quantitative logica that supposes itself to operate on a higher plane than that inhabited by the human material beneath it." (p.91)

Well, yes, I do think he's being unfair to Yamasaki. He's pulling a single individual forward and pinning the destructive act of building the WTC (and it was without question destructive in so many senses of the word) on him. He claims Yamasaki is like Atta--the man w/the plan. Sure, Osama bin Laden was behind it, but Atta was the planner. Rockefeller/Tobin were behind the WTC, but Yamasaki was the planner. And I totally see the parallel, but Darnton hasn't convinced me. I just don't think you can single out an architect and blame everything bad about the WTC on his design. I mean, Darnton continues on to say that the building was "an attack planned by the city's oligarchs and carried out w/the general consent of its populace," so I fail to see how he can really set Yamasaki up to take the fall. He was definitely partially responsible, but he had a lot of help.

Anyway, also to be considered is Neil Smith's "Scales of Terror: The Manufacturing of Nationalism and the War for U.S. Globalism." Smith puzzles over the fact that the destruction of the WTC was both a local and an international event: local to Manhattan/NY, international because people from all over the world died. How, then, did Americans manage to co-opt the event and turn it into a national event?

One paragraph in particular really caught my attention (given my recent rant on the Baku oil fields). Smith was considering the role of the attack on the Pentagon, and why it was eclipses by the attack on the WTC, and what it all meant, etc.:

"...the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center have given the U.S. elite the opportunity to pursue a war conceived as an endgame of globalization. It is a war whose real interest is to establish U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, a power broadly eroded in the 1970s with the assertion of OPEC's influence and the 1979 revolution in the client state of Iran. For its possession of massive petroleum resources, the Middle East is a vital geopolitical region, but this is not a war, as some on the Left have claimed, over oil. Such old-fashioned geopolitical calculations are not entirely obsolete today, but they are secondary. Rather, it is a geoeconomic war to reassert control in the only remaining region of the post-Cold War world that mounts a serious threat to the vision of neoliberal globalization emanating from New York, Washington, and London since the 1980s. Various strands of Islam represent an alternative modernity--not just vis-a-vis the United States, but often agasinst Arab states themselves--and "antiterrorism" is a convenient galvanizing ideology for this war. This is the real meaning of repeated calls to move on from Afghanistan, to "finish off Saddam Hussein," attack Somalia, smash Sudan."

So, there you have it.

Well, I could quote the book all night long--19 essays, 19 different points of view. The historical ones are the best ("The First Wall Street Bomb," about the 1920 "car bombing" of Wall Street). And "The Odor of Publicity," which starts out with a consideration of 18th c. cemetery in Manhattan full of the remains of 20,000 or so African slaves (40% of the original Dutch colony, 20% of the original English colony), most of whom were literally worked to death. It's a good essay that can take us from the 1700s to 2001 in six pages.

The best quote of the book came in the first essay written by Marshall Berman. He comments that he doesn't miss the buildings, who does?

"It's a lot harder to feel empathy for those buildings. The earliest epitaphs for the towers were of the don't-speak-ill-of-the-dead variety. The Discovery Channel did a show on the buildings, hosted by John Hockenberry, an NPR commentator I used to admire. "Everything that is best in America," he said, "was embodied in these buildings." I felt America's enemies could say nothing more insulting about us than this compliment." (p.6)

Item Three:

Hockey. I've made an executive decision. I have a home game Nov. 10, and I'm going to skip it so I can go to my hockey lesson here in Bloomington instead. Puking aside, I had a lot of fun on Sunday (again). I've decided to do what I want to do for a change, and have fun. I'll go to practice, I'll go to the rest of my games, but I'm no longer getting emotionally involved w/the outcome. I'm just going to treat them like extra ice time and take what I can from them, skills-wise, and focus on having fun on Sundays for awhile.

I am excited about going to Cleveland this weekend. Not for the hockey. Actually, I'm kind of annoyed w/how freaking *team-like* everyone is acting. Everyone wants to caravan to Cleveland, and we're all supposed to exchange cell phone numbers so anyone can get ahold of anyone else at any moment, and I'm, like....why? Respect my privacy, okay? I'm driving by myself, staying in a room by myself, and not handing out my cell phone number to anyone. So, I'm a misanthrope. But I've got plans of my own that don't include my teammates. I want to drive my own pace, stop when I want to stop, get there and spend a quite evening reading in my room, blah blah blah. I'm not a member of the team until I get to the locker room. So sue me.

But, I'm excited because there is a Frank Gehry exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art, about the new Gehry building at the Case Western Reserve University (conveniently located .45 miles from the museum), so I'm going to leave here early on Friday a.m. so I can take in both before the game Friday night.

Anyway, I've got a ton of work to do over the weekend, and I need to be away by myself to get it done. I just don't have time to live by someone else's agenda right now.

Item Four:

Our anniversary is in two days and I haven't even bought a card, much less a present. I am such a freak.

We have stopped arguing about Son of Beast. Catherine thought hard about giving her back, and even mentioned it again today, but we're going to stick with it. At this point, I'd feel mean if I sent it back. Oh, I'm not supposed to call it Son of Beast anymore (and if you don't live in the Midwest, you won't understand it anyway). It's name is Luna, and we bought some film, and an incredibly annoying kitten toy w/bells on it this evening, so I guess it's here to stay. Jack still hates it, but maybe it will get better with time.

Item Five:


"No...that would be your other daughter."

Mom called and said Dad is out of the hospital. Oxygen forever, and I bet my dad is completely pissed off. If I could figure out how to bring the tobacco industry to its knees, I would. It might take me awhile, but I'll figure out how to crush them.

7:32 PM

Yay! I found my watch and my wedding ring, underneath the last tissue in the Kleenex (tm) box in the bathroom.

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