Casaubon's Book

Spring Cleaning Time!

Posting will be intermittent and light this week. It is time for spring cleaning around here – pretty much a full time job. Not only is there Pesach coming to motivate me, and my next home visit in the foster/adoptive parent prep cycle, but also there’s the fact that our weirdly cold spring is supposed to warm up, at least a bit. Once the weather hits the 50s with any regularity, and the garden season starts, it is all “House? What house? Who even goes into the house anymore?” Add to that the fact that we’ve hit the critical “8 weeks before last frost” date in the life of a grower, and well, you can see that dirt – the kind that you grow in, the kind you clean up from under the sofa – will be taking up all my attention for the coming week.

In the meantime, here’s some stuff worth reading while I’m off discovering what horrors live under the kids’ beds.

First of all, I’m tremendously sorry to see the death of Joe Bageant. I haven’t read his latest book, but it is on my reading list, and there’s no one who understood both where America comes from and where it is going better. I’m truly grieved.

Second, last week I had the pleasure of spending an hour or so talking publically on stage with Congressman Paul Tonko about energy, preparedness and environmental issues. The good news is that Congressman Tonko is incredibly thoughtful and aware, and he’s one of the best resources in Congress for those concerned with peak energy.

The bad news is that the Congressman doesn’t fully grasp all the permutations of the issue – I admit, I was outright stunned when, in a question about how disconnect the intersection of food and energy prices, he suggested more biofuels. I didn’t get a chance to fully argue this one out with him (although our discussion was a lot of fun), but in the meantime, the ever-brilliant Stuart Staniford has been doing more work on the implications of biofuels for t he world food picture that cover much of the ground I was going at. The first three posts presently on his site cover the issue.

There’s a great article by Rebecca Solnit, author of _A Paradise Built in Hell_ about how communities emerge from disasters. She explores what we need to shake off to survive a crisis:

So start this way. Open up that disaster kit in your mind and throw out two words that cause so much unnecessary confusion and damage in a calamity: panic and looting.

Immediately after the earthquake, I saw a video of a group of Japanese in a wildly shaking office with a British-accented voiceover calling what they were doing panic. They were indeed moving rapidly and in all directions, but they were taking shelter, stabilizing objects that were falling off shelves, and generally doing just what people should do in such situations. The New York Daily News ran a headline several inches high that just read “Panic!” Maybe they were describing themselves.

The media likes to call any rapid movement panic, even when it’s the wisest possible thing to do. When the World Trade Towers were collapsing in New York, the right thing to do was run — and most everyone did. That’s not panic. That day, “panicked” people also carried a quadriplegic accountant down 69 flights of stairs, slowed down to keep pace with their co-workers, got all the kids safely out of their nearby schools, and helped the fallen to their feet. More than 60 years of disaster research makes it clear that, despite what you think you know, ordinary people generally don’t panic in emergencies. So throw that out.

After both Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the word “looting” was used to justify shooting people down in the streets — the death penalty, that is, without benefit of trial — for what in ordinary times might otherwise be called “petty theft.” In extraordinary times, when the electricity goes, and there are no functioning bank machines, credit cards, or banks, and in many places no shopkeepers, you may need to acquire the goods that sustain life by taking them, often from wrecked or abandoned stores. The alternative is hunger, thirst, cold, and misery. To me, that’s not even theft. What we saw a lot of in Japan was people lining up to buy things in not-so-wrecked places where shopkeepers were actually still doing business.

Lots of reverse-stereotype articles have appeared about how Japanese don’t loot. In fact, there are accounts of Japanese citizens taking things without benefit of purchase, but since they’re not black, no one gets all that excited about it. Also there have been accounts of people getting really angry while waiting in line. I also saw a photograph of a guy siphoning gas from a minivan tipped up in some wreckage. Was it his? Who cares?

Over at Grist, the awesome David Roberts has a very funny and pointed post about toilets and water. Just read it, I:’m not summarizing.

Aaron Newton has a great post about planning your garden and how to figure out how much to grow here.

Greenpa has a lovely post about what comes out of a disaster – occasionally a miracle.

Finally, I’ve been reading Faith D’Alusio and Peter Mendel’s latest book with my kids _What I Eat:Around the World in 80 Diets_ – they build on their previous _Material World_ (which showed people around the world with all their possessions), _Women in the Material World_ (which focused on women’s roles) and _Hungry Planet_ (which showed a family with a week’s worth of food) to provide a visual understanding of social inequity. You see some of the stunning images here. I’ve already used the book multiple times a teaching tool – with a class of college students working on agriculture and food issues, with my children. It is well worth a read, as are all their books.

Anyone have any other good reads for the week? Post them in comments for everyone!

Comments

  1. #1 Ao
    March 28, 2011

    After both Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the word “looting” was used to justify shooting people down in the streets — the death penalty, that is, without benefit of trial — for what in ordinary times might otherwise be called “petty theft.”

    I’d quote Jensen on this: “Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below.”

    I’m also reminded of this:

    http://www.dvorak.org/blog/images/katrina/

  2. #2 A Texan
    March 28, 2011

    “After both Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the word “looting” was used to justify shooting people down in the streets — the death penalty, that is, without benefit of trial — for what in ordinary times might otherwise be called “petty theft.” In extraordinary times, when the electricity goes, and there are no functioning bank machines, credit cards, or banks, and in many places no shopkeepers, you may need to acquire the goods that sustain life by taking them, often from wrecked or abandoned stores. The alternative is hunger, thirst, cold, and misery. To me, that’s not even theft.”

    I assume that by quoting that passage from Rebecca Solnit’s article, you approve of it… and I have to take issue with that statement. No, I don’t think it a crime of any sort to take water or food or critical medications or anything else needed to sustain life and health in a disaster, not when it is literally impossible to clear a transaction in the normal way, because the electricity is out, no one (or few) have sufficient cash and (perhaps) no one is even at the store to take money or an IOU. What I support is shooting people who take NON-necessary items, like big-screen TVs, cases of beer, etc. Those people are practicing a special kind of evil, stealing (whether petty or not) during a time of disaster when police are busy elsewhere with true emergencies (like saving lives) and people are trying merely to survive. How is a store owner supposed to recover and rebuild – and have a place for his/her workers to return to so that THEY can recover – if all of the NON-essential merchandise is gone because the disaster in question is looked upon as an opportunity to “get what’s mine” without paying for it? The shooting of looters is designed to stop such behavior in its tracks – it is, itself, an emergency measure taken during the course of an emergency to stop the descent into anarchy, because if there is such anarchy then no one will be comfortable helping others, and more people will die unneccesarily.

    Another problem is that even when taking necessities, some people are quite likely to take all that they can carry, leaving others without those necessities, to die of starvation, dehydration, disease, etc. Why the sympathy for looters? Again, taking JUST what you need (say, 1 case of bottled water for your family) and leaving a note with contact information – i.e. doing what’s necessary to survive, but still being a decent and honest person and not trying to take advantage of others when there’s a disaster.

    Frankly, if more people were responsible enough to prepare in advance for a couple of weeks without food, water, access to drug stores, etc., then the number of people needing these items would be reduced dramatically, and then the issue of looting vs. just taking necessities would be easier to deal with…but that’s really irrelevant to the question of how you treat the guy carrying away the big-screen TV in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane.

  3. #3 BetsyR
    March 28, 2011

    Book recommendations:
    “Life Rules” by Ellen LaConte (The reason we are in crisis is because we’ve ignored the fact the Life rules, we don’t.)
    “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood” by Janisse Ray (Journey from a childhood in a junkyard to environmental activist)
    “Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream” by William Powers
    “A Girl Named Zippy” by Haven Kimmel (laugh-out-loud memoir, just to lighten things up)
    I also love the D’Alusio/ Mendel books especially Hungry Planet and Material World. They reinforce my belief that most of the world will hardly notice as we in the “First” world go through the great shakedown.

  4. #4 Mark N.
    March 28, 2011

    Back in the early eighties when I was on a tree-planting crew in western Montana I suddenly became flat broke and hungry. I stole a jar of peanut butter from a member of another camp. I think it belonged to a Native American, probably a Flathead Indian. It kept me alive until payday. Then I visited his camp again and replaced the jar I had taken. I think the Indian knew, but never said anything to me about it. He was probably used to seeing his stuff get stolen, but only surprised to see it come back. You gotta’ do what’cha gotta’ do, as they say.

  5. #5 Alan
    March 28, 2011

    I would like to read that awesome article about toilets on Grist, but there’s something wrong with their website. The link to the article doesn’t work, even when I click on it from within their site. The introductory paragraphs are there on their list of David Roberts’ posts, but nothing will bring up the balance of the article.

  6. #6 Sara in Alabama
    March 28, 2011

    Folks might want to check out this cool film about the survival of the world’s bees. It’s called Queen of the Sun and you can see a trailer at http://www.queenofthesun.com/ Blessings of the Spring to everyone (and the fall to those of you down under!) Sara in Alabama

  7. #7 Joseph
    March 31, 2011

    I’m going to miss Joe Bageant. I only got to exchange a few emails with him on politics and on spirituality. Now we will have to get by without his great insight, humor and critical eye.

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