I usually never watch the news, but I’ve been keeping up with the goings on in Baltimore this week, mostly because I used to live there and have many friends, co-workers, and colleagues who are taking part, in many different ways, in the resistance.

My first thought is that inciting a police curfew is a brilliant strategy, whether or not it was intentional; the cops have effectively spread the economic pain that these neighborhoods experience throughout the rest of the city by hurting businesses that would otherwise be uninvolved. Nobody can go shopping, or they’ll get arrested. It’s genius.

My second thought is that if you say you want things to “calm down” in Baltimore, you’re actually saying that you want things to go back to normal—normal being the constant systematic violence visited upon the common citizen by the state (which indeed would falter quickly without widespread violence). You just want this to go away, so you can go back to shopping and ignoring the consequences of our “lifestyles.”

My third thought is that if you think the recent news from Baltimore is “sad,” what you’re saying is that it wasn’t sad last week, when a number of people were murdered without fanfare. It wasn’t sad last year or the year before, when a large portion of city residents lived with hunger, lead paint, police brutality, and utter divestment in their neighborhoods as the stats quo. It wasn’t sad decades ago, when major corporations (notably auto companies) segregated, ghetto-ized, and gutted the area, setting up the now well-documented “good” neighborhood next to “bad” neighborhood patchwork (with little transit between them) that pretty much everyone who has been to or lived in Baltimore will inevitably talk about when describing the city to someone who’s about to visit.

My fourth thought is that I love Baltimore. I’m proud of Baltimore.

Mulberry Smoothie

This is a good time of year for foraging here in Austin, and this weekend I got off to a great start ahead of summer by singing “Pop Goes the Weasel” while collecting mulberries. The mulberry tree is sometimes difficult to spot, as it pretty much looks like an oak from a distance, but once you find one, you can forage for days and seemingly never run out. You can find all you need to know to start your own search on Foraging Texas.

I have a personal garden plot at the church down the street, and I also volunteer at a community garden in East Austin, and there happens to be a mulberry tree at both locations, so I didn’t need to walk around much to gather about 100 or so of the berries, which are sweet and kind of grassy tasting, if that makes any sense. I know that there are also a couple of mulberry trees along Willowbrook Reach in Cherrywood, specifically along 38th 1/2 Street, but I’m going to collect all the fruit I can reach next week so you better hurry!

Combining the berries with some blueberries, a banana, some yellow chard from the garden, local honey, and pomegranate juice, I made a damn tasty smoothie, which looks delightfully purple. You can also make wine from mulberries, but I’m going to shelve that project for now, in favor of loquat or dandelion wine. Loquats are also abundant in Cherrywood (look across the street from the café), but approach them carefully because poison ivy is also abundant, and even the most summery wine is probably not worth weeks of itching.

Anyway, here are some photos of my smoothie-making adventure:

mulberry 1

mulberry 2

mulberry 3

mulberry 4

Fighting the Problem with the Problem, Again

For Earth Day, here’s a somewhat helpful primer on the debate over population growth: “The Biggest Threat to Earth? We Have Too Many Kids”.

It’s got all the usual suspects: mentioning Malthus but not explaining his theory, nor the general principal of carrying capacity; the assumption that human rights trump all non-human lives (family planning is totalitarian, end of discussion); and the assurance that while many, or maybe most, realize the danger of ecological bottlenecks caused by unchecked reproduction, nobody—nobody—would be crazy enough to suggest that perhaps the solutions to our environmental problems might require a radical shift in our lifestyles (“Bradshaw agrees that it’s important that societies that undergo demographic transition aren’t denied the comforts of post-industrialization.”).

Here’s my favorite section:

And some people working on the population problem even think we need to be stabilizing the population by having more babies.

It’s OK, you can take a moment to read that again. “I see people as the ultimate resource,” says Steven Mosher, of the Population Research Institute in Virginia. According to Mosher, more people means more minds to contribute to solutions, and more competition leading to more innovation—innovation that can tackle the problems created by too many bodies.

Here we have, like with the technotopians, a case of using the problem to solve the problem. I was glad to see, in the very next paragraph, an appropriate response:

Other experts are skeptical that the population can balance itself out. “That idea is so wrong in so many ways that I don’t know where to begin,” says Bradshaw.

News from the Gulf

In case you forgot about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: Looking for Answers Five Years After the Gulf Oil Spill

Another project involves DEEPEND, which stands for Deep-Pelagic Nekton Dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico and focuses on deep oil and gas wells and their effects on marine life. It will key on the pelagic (open ocean) realm, from the surface to depths of over a mile, by far the largest ecosystem component of the Gulf.

Since the spill, more than 1,000 dead dolphins have washed ashore from Texas to Florida, about four times the normal rate.

In addition, the number of sea turtle nests has declined since the spill, 12 percent of the brown pelicans and 32 percent of the laughing gulls may have died as a result of the spill, and 2010-2011 had the lowest numbers of juvenile red snapper since 1994.  DEEPEND researchers want to know conclusively if the spill contributed to the large kills and declines.


Obama has planned some new regulations to mark the anniversary, at least.

Meanwhile, the chemicals BP is using to “clean up” the spill may be just as harmful as the oil: Chemical Capable of Injuring People and Wildlife.

Nearly five years after the worst offshore spill in U.S. history, a new study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that an oil dispersant widely used during the cleanup of the BP disaster is capable of causing damage to humans and marine animals alike.

In the study, published in PLOS ONE on April 2, scientists focused their attention on a dispersant called Corexit EC9500A.

Nearly two million gallons of Corexit were sprayed atop the oil spill to help break down the petroleum. But in their study, the UAB scientists found that the dispersant can seriously damage epithelial cells, such as those in the lungs of humans or the gills of marine animals.

This is our culture, folks.