Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Power of Poetry

A while back, I posted a poem written by Drew Dillinger. It begins:
it's 3:23 in the morning
and I'm awake
because my great great grandchildren
won't let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?

Words have power. And these are powerful words.

I am not the only one who think so. Recently a congresswoman quoted the poem during Congressional hearings on climate change legislation.

DellingerPoem_Congress from drew dellinger on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The media have finally discovered homelessness. Not surprisingly, they get the story wrong

One of the fundamental human requirements is shelter. How do homeless people survive? Where do they sleep? On friends and family's couches and floors (if they are lucky), at shelters, in churches, in parks, on sidewalk grates, in abandoned buildings, in doorways, under bridges, in cars, or wherever else they can.

And of course, they sleep in tents. The burgeoning tent cities in the U.S. have finally made the national awareness. Interestingly, it seems as though the media is only interested in the newly homeless, those middle class folks who lost their homes because of the economic collapse. In other words, those who they believe are homeless because of circumstances, not because of some kind of individual moral failing. Unlike, you know, the other kind of poor.
Over the past few months, reporters from around the world have flocked to the now-famous tent city in Sacramento, Calif. When they find out that 55-year-old John Kraintz has been living in a tent for almost seven years, they turn around and walk away.

"They don't want to talk to me," he says. "They're searching for people who just lost their homes. It's kinda tough to lose a home when you've never owned one. Sorry, but most of the people here have been homeless for a long time."

Homelessness is seen as an anomaly, a sign of the economic crisis, not as a structural problem with capitalism. But there are homeless during the boom times, too, lots of them.

"The other day, I heard a German reporter ask if this is happening because of the recent economic collapse," says Kraintz. "This has been happening for 30 years, but the powers that be have been able to pretend it doesn't exist. Why aren't reporters asking about flat wages, jobs being shipped overseas and the lack of affordable housing?"

Burke agrees, saying one of the many issues ignored in most articles about tent city and homelessness is the fact that poor people cannot afford housing, especially in an expensive state like California.

"People who are poor end up homeless through no fault of their own, but because people higher up on the food chain have made affordable housing a very scarce commodity," she says. "If we had sound housing policies and programs that helped people when they have a run of bad luck, we would not have a tent city."

Kraintz says he knew the system would finally blow up. It was just a matter of time. The question, according to him, is this: Do the powers that be have the political will to create a fairer, more just economic system? <Alternet>

Photo Credit: A tent city in Fresno, from a 2004 article by Mike Rhodes on Indybay

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Early Farmers in the Americas - Farming because they wanted to, not because they had to

This is an interesting article, especially for me, with my interest in indigenous precolumbian agriculture in the Americas.
Three thousand eight hundred years ago, long before U.S. plains rippled with vast rows of corn, Native Americans planted farms with hardy "pioneer" crops, according to new evidence of the first farming in eastern North America.

Because the area appears to have been well stocked with wild food sources, the discovery may rewrite some beliefs about what led people to start farming on the continent, scientists say.

Rather than turning to farming as a matter of survival, the so-called Riverton people may have been exercising "free will" and engaging in a bit of gastronomic innovation, archaeologists say.

This does not surprise me in the least. We always assume 'prehistoric' peoples started farming because they had to, as a survival technique, but we don't ever stop to think that they might be just like us, inventing new things simply because they want to. Did we need the iPod or the car? Was our survival significantly enhanced because of either of them? We grow later to think we can't live without electricity, flush toilets, and the internet, because they make our lives easier or more enjoyable.
Around the world and throughout ancient history, people switched from mainly hunting and gathering to farming as a way to cope with environmental stresses, such as drought—or so the conventional wisdom says.

But the new research "really challenges the whole idea of humans domesticating plants and animals in response to an external stress [and] makes a strong case for almost the polar opposite," said lead study author Bruce Smith, curator of North American archaeology at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Before they began farming, the Riverton people lived among bountiful river valleys and lakes, apparently eating a healthy and diverse diet of nuts, white-tailed deer, fish, and shellfish, the study says.
But that doesn't mean farming didn't give the Riverton culture a practical advantage: In addition to their normal fare, the people may have relied on the crops as a stable source of food—insurance against shortages of wild food sources..