THE VEILS OF DELUSION

13 01 2019

Before I get going with my main topic for tonight, I want to briefly address “the government shutdown,” because what I have to say about it seems obvious to me,  but I haven’t heard it from anybody else: Reactionary political organizer Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wanted to shrink the government down to such a small size that he could drown it in a bathtub, and I think that is exactly what Pres. Turnip and his friends are attempting to do–not shrink the government, but see if it’s been shrunk to the drownable point yet. In all likelihood, we are not at that point, but those attempting the drowning are not prepared to admit failure about this, or it, seems, any other issue. Don’t get all smug, Democrats–in your own way, you’re the same kind of crazy.

That gets us back to the original point of this monologue/essay, so on with the show.

I had one of those spontaneous flashes of political insight the other day, the kind of thing that sometimes pops up when I’m trying to settle in and do my own mental housecleaning. There’s nothing like stumbling knee deep through your own mental trash to hang you up when you’re trying to do something to clean up the planetary garbage crisis. Inasmuch as I don’t feel like I’ve been terribly effective in my efforts to clean up the world outside, I guess I must not have done all that well at straightening my inner world, although I can chalk up a few achievements. I navigated a divorce without my ex and I, or the friend she left me for, hating each other, and I haven’t been pushy with a woman, punched a guy, or helped myself to my friends’ peanut butter in quite a few decades. Peanut butter? Yes, I used to be a compulsive peanut  butter eater. I no longer suffer from that affliction. Long story, actually several of them, but some other time, OK? We’re here to talk politics.

The flash of political insight was, “Climate change denial is to Republicans as Russiagate is to Democrats.” Let me lay out the parallels for you. Read the rest of this entry »





CONTROL ISSUES

15 04 2018

There are a number of seemingly disparate issues affecting the country these days. When I examine their roots, and the way our society is attempting to deal with them, I see that they actually have a lot in common, and that the commonly accepted responses to them are failing to have their hoped-for effects, for a common reason. Likewise, the optimum solutions to all these very real concerns, while individualized according to the particular manifestation they treat, all spring from a common root. I am going to describe these problems, the conventional-wisdom solutions to them, look at the unintended consequences that these solutions engender, and, as best I can, suggest a Green,  radical–literally “to the root”– solution to them.

GUNS AND PUBLIC VIOLENCE

Gun violence has been a hot-button heart breaker for far too long. The natural, and obvious, response is to make it more difficult to obtain firearms, or at least, as comedian Chris Rock has suggested, to make the price of ammunition prohibitive. Five-thousand-dollar bullets would certainly rearrange a lot of people’s priorities. Hey, the Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms–it doesn’t say anything about ammunition! I have no problem with making  high-tech rock throwers, or the rocks they throw,which have no other purpose than to harm or kill other beings, a lot more difficult to obtain.

But, in spite of the tremendous hue and cry about this devastating fact of American life, legislatures, especially Republican-dominated ones, remain deaf to the appeals of the growing clamor for gun control. Read the rest of this entry »





“REALISM” AND JILL STEIN

9 09 2012

Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala are running the strongest Green Presidential campaign  the party has yet seen.  While Ralph Nader, it’s true, had greater name recognition, Ralph’s personal style is not very “green.”  He is very much a my-way-or-the highway kind of guy, which sharply diverges from the Green value of grassroots democracy.  Stein and Honkala have incorporated Green values into their campaign organizing, generating an enthusiasm that has enabled them to raise sums of (noncorporate!) money far beyond what the Party has been able to summon up in previous elections, qualifying the Green Party for Federal matching funds, and even breaking into TV advertising.

Modern media maven that I am, I put  Jill’s pitches on my Facebook page, where, sure enough, one of them generated some pushback.   A long time friend, whom I appreciate for his thoughtful approach to life, wrote:

“Your protest and donation vote will accomplish what?…..If there’s no one who you like who can win, why not give your dough to some person who is starving or has a life threatening issue or something like that….don’t you think it would have more direct impact….everyone can spin an exciting story if they don’t have to execute the vision….the only difference between a hallucination and an inspiration is the execution.”

To which I replied:

“Why not give your dough to some person who is starving”?  Because I’d rather get ahead of the game and end the conditions that allow people to go hungry.  “….or has a life threatening issue”…..the Republican and Democrat programs are life threatening, endangering all life on the planet for the sake of short-term corporate profit.  Greens have “executed our vision” in numerous governments around the world, generally with positive and popular effects.

As Michael Lerner said, “Realism has been defined by the powerful and the media they control to mean any policy that does not significantly challenge the current distribution of power and wealth. So I say, “Don’t be realistic.” The God revealed to the Jewish people is a God that makes it possible to overcome systems of power and domination, starting with the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. All people, who are created in God’s image, can aspire to transcend the constant voices from outside and from inside our own heads that insist we accommodate ourselves to the existing reality rather than change it.”

So, friend, why are you such an apologist for the sorry state of the status quo?

I could also have thrown in Dom Helder Camara’s well-known bon mot, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.”  Or, in this post-communist era, “they tell me I’m being ‘unrealistic’.”

Let’s talk about this “be realistic” thing a little.  Read the rest of this entry »





241 THINGS A GREEN CAN SAY TO IRRITATE DEMOCRATS

10 09 2011

I recently ran across a cute little piece on the internet, called “100 Things You Can Say to Irritate Republicans.” It’s quite a mix.  Some of it is good talking points, such as

10. Reagan raised taxes eleven times as President.
11. Reagan legalized abortion as Governor of California.
12. Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency.
13. Ronald Reagan supported gun control.

Some of it is long-term historical stuff, like

1. A Socialist wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.
2. Jesus healed the sick and helped the poor, for free.
3. Joseph McCarthy was an un-American, witch hunting sissy.
4. Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee were traitors.
5. The South lost the Civil War, get over it.

And some of it is downright silly:

67. Republicans don’t want to pay for your birth control, but they want you to pay for their Viagra.
68. Republicans actually NEED Viagra                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 71. Republicans hate communism, so why do they refer to themselves as red states?

and some are good indicators of how much baloney run-of-the-mill right wingers are willing to swallow;

69. Fox News is owned by an Australian and has a Saudi prince as an investor.
70. Republicans complain about immigrants taking American jobs, then freely give American jobs to foreigners overseas.

What, I wondered, would be on the list of “100 things a Green can say to irritate a Democrat” ?Then I found that a peace group in St. Petersburg, Florida, had already done my work for me, and then some:  They came up with an “Obama Fact Sheet,” with 241 examples of Obama behavior that directly contradicts the progressive values so many of his supporters project onto him.  Here’s some samples, starting with, as it were, the high (low?) points:

hype we can believe in!

Waged war on Libya without congressional approval
– Started a covert, drone war in Yemen
– Escalated the proxy war in Somalia
– Escalated the CIA drone war in Pakistan
– Maintained the military occupation of Iraq
– Sharply escalated the war in Afghanistan
– Secretly deployed US special forces to 75 countries
– Sold a record $60 billion of weapons to Saudi Arabia
– Signed an agreement for 7 military bases in Colombia
– Touted nuclear power, even after the disaster in Japan
– Opened up deepwater oil drilling, even after the BP disaster
– Did a TV commercial promoting “clean coal”
– Defended body scans and pat-downs at airports
– Signed the Patriot Act extension into law
– Continued Bush’s rendition program

The indictment then moves chronologically backwards through Obama’s political career, showing how he has abandoned his earlier, more principled stands as he has risen in the ranks of power.

  • Obama’s military action in Libya contradicts his words from 2007: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation” (read)
  • Obama: Drill, Baby, Drill.  Obama to open offshore areas to oil drilling  — In June 2008, then-Sen. Obama told reporters in Jacksonville, Florida, “when I’m president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country that prevents oil companies from drilling off Florida’s coasts” (read).  Obama said offshore oil drilling is “not risky” (read).
  • Obama does U-turn on Guantanamo Bay terror trials – will restart military tribunals for a small number of Guantanamo detainees, reviving a Bush-era trial system he once assailed as flawed (read).

The list also includes praise for Obama from Republicans, and I don’t mean that rare breed known as “liberal Republicans.”  we’re talking about a former member of John McCain’s election staff:

The absence of a solid anti-war voice on Obama’s national security team means that US foreign policy isn’t going to change – “What does it say that, with 130 members of the House and 23 in the Senate who voted against the war, Obama chooses to hire Democrats who made the same judgment as Bush and McCain?”   Neoconservative leader and former McCain campaign staffer Max Boot summed it up best. “I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain,” (Jeremy Scahill, 12/1/08).

From that Republican eminence grise, Karl Rove, we hear a tweet:  “Thanksgiving Cheer From Obama – He’s assembled a first-rate economic team” (read).

Plus, there’s a link to an article in which the likes of Newt Gingrich and Richard Perle applaud Obama’s selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State:

Newt Gingrich told Fox News that she would be “a very formidable secretary of state, and frankly, a lot tougher in defending American interests than some of the liberal secretaries of state we’ve had in the past.” Republican Senator Jon Kyl lavished her with praise, calling her “a very good selection.” The Weekly Standard gushed that she had become “The Great Right Hope.”

“On the whole I’m quite pleased,” explains Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and an architect of the Iraq war. “She seems to me quite tough-minded. That’s not a worldview, but it is a predisposition. That’s a good thing. It’s not an easy world out there.”

….Perle says he would rather have a hawkish Democrat than a Chuck Hagel-style Republican as a token bi-partisan appointment. “I heard about others on the list [for secretary of state] that I wouldn’t be happy about,” he says. “Those were mostly Republicans.”

….Perle predicts that Clinton will likely perpetuate the foreign policy approaches that have typified Bush’s second term, when the president pursued goals such as tighter sanctions on Iran. “I’m relieved,” he says. “There’s not going to be as much change as we were led to believe. I think she’s very much in the mainstream. By now, I think the Bush foreign policy is, as a practical matter, the same policy as the policy of the Department of State–which is what I’d expect it to be under Hillary Clinton. Contrary to expectations, I don’t think we would see a lot of change.”

Note:  neo-con man Perle says he likes Hilary Clinton better than the unnamed Republicans who were also on Obama’s short list for Secretary of State.  Obama was considering Republicans for one of the most critical positions in his cabinet, right from the get-go.  So much for all that “hope and change” stuff, eh?

Well, I was curious to see what kind of reaction these 241theses, to be Lutheran about it, would have on our local progressive community, so I nailed them to the wall at Mid-Tenn. Progressive Strategy’s Facebook page, where they provoked a storm of comments, mostly expressing denial and affirming that the only way to create change in America was to work through the Democrat Party.  (And I, Sisyphus, will roll this huge boulder up to the top of that hill!)  There was one comment, though, that actually did cut to the chase:

…so you’ve successfully brought the problem to the table. I appreciate presenting a problem, but like I told my kids when I was raising them…you can always bring the problem to me, but please bring it with at least an attempt at a solution. What is your solution?

And so I wrote a response, including my best shot at a solution.  I will share it with you after this musical break.

music:  Will Kimbrough, “I Lie”





THE CARVER GARDEN BLITZKREIG, AND HOW TO MAKE SURE IT NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN

7 05 2011

By now, if you live in Nashville, you’ve probably heard about the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s bulldozing of essential components of Carver Food Park, and you probably have an opinion about it.  Hey, I do, and that’s some of why I’m talking about it.  But I don’t think it’s, you should pardon the expression, a “black and white issue.”

I have known Sizwe for about fifteen years, and I love the guy, but he, like me, and probably like you, is no saint, and when those of us who are not saints set out to do something good for the world, we invariably step on some people’s’ toes, misjudge situations, overestimate our own power and influence, and underestimate the possible negative consequences we could unleash in our effort to do the right thing.   If we are lucky, we may take six steps forward but only five steps back by the time we are done.

When it comes to Carver Park and its relationship with the gentrifying neighborhood around it, Sizwe has done all of those–as have I, in my own ways, which are not relevant to this story.  What he has yet to do is figure out that sixth step forward, but I believe that, after some processing, he will take it, whatever it may turn out to be, and maybe even a seventh and eighth step forward, so that not only he but the entire Nashville community garden movement will see great benefits from this initial setback.  Carver Park’s location at the edge of I-440 sure exposes it to a lot of exhaust fumes, and that can’t be healthy.

One evening not long after the raid, there was a gathering at the Quaker meeting-house, billed as a chance for people to a) vent and b) brainstorm on how to respond to this rather brazen offensive in the class war.

First came the venting.  I’m going to be self-centered and report what I said:  that this attack came out of the same mean-spirited, repressive selfishness that has attacked ACORN, Planned Parenthood, and National Public Radio, that doubts the reality of peak oil and climate change, trusts chemical agriculture and nuclear power  (gee, that includes lots of DEMOCRATS!), that wants to cut taxes on the rich and social services for the poor.  In the case of Carver Food Park, we saw people driven by a neurotic idea of neatness, cleanliness, and order, people whose world view is so profoundly distorted that they look at a compost pile and see “rotting garbage.”  These people were offended, not to say threatened, by the somewhat disorderly appearance of the garden, by the noise levels that occasionally emanated from it, and by the skin color of the people who gathered there to work and play.

Neurosis.  How else do you explain people who live across the street from a very busy interstate highway complaining about the smell of compost and occasional noise from gatherings at the garden?  If they were really looking for peace, quiet, and clean air, what were they doing buying property near the intersection of two very busy interstate highways?  Talk about selective perception!

music break:  James McMurtry, “Storekeeper

It’s difficult to penetrate the local politics of this situation, but I get the impression that there was not a lot of communication going on between those who disliked Carver Food Park and those who made use of it.   In spite of the fact that it was, at least in theory, an open-to-all community organization, it seems that little effort was made by the Park’s detractors to get involved and change it–but then again, how do you compromise with somebody who looks at a compost pile and sees “rotting garbage”? I think it’s a sad commentary on the cultural divisions and polarization in our society that what should have been a neighborhood matter ended up in the lap of the Codes department.  Hey, it happens.  When I was sick a few years ago, our neighbors called codes on us because I wasn’t mowing our lawn.  but I digress.

Back to the gathering at the Friends’ Meeting House.  Sizwe has an attorney and is doing what he can to go through legal channels about this and see what kind of satisfaction he can get.  After all, the state tore down a tool shed and took all the tools in it.  Confiscating those tools was probably illegal, but the legal proceedings are not something I’m privy to, so, egomaniac that I am, I’m going to tell you what I’ve been up to on this subject.

One of my suggestions at the meeting was that, since Nashville officials are much more open to influence by regular folks like us than our current, ideologically driven state government, we need to get Metro Nashville  to alter its code regulations so that individual or community gardeners cannot be cited for simple, low-tech greenhouses, tool sheds, picnic shelters, and compost piles.  After all, as a codes employee once told me, “We’re not too concerned about what people build for themselves; we figure they’ll do it right.”

One important step in lobbying local government, I pointed out, would be the formation of a “Nashville Federation of Community Gardens” that could speak to the city with one voice and the power that comes from unity.  Sizwe said he liked that idea and had the contact list to make it happen.

Once I got home from the meeting, it occurred to me that a letter-writing campaign might be a good place to start influencing the city, and, after some consultation with Sizwe, here’s the letter I wrote:

Dear…..
I am writing to you about the bulldozing of George Washington Carver Food Park, and what I think the city needs to do in order to prevent further incidents like this.  I  would like to see an investigation of this action. Sizwe Herring, as I understand it, was given a few hours to agree to TDOT’s terms (which would have made it virtually impossible for the garden to continue to operate). When he went to the office of Winston Gaffron, TDOT’s regional director, he was told to sign on to TDOT’s demands or be arrested for trespassing in Gaffron’s office. Gaffron’s behavior towards Mr. Herring reminds me of Hitler’s ultimatums to Czechoslovakia. (If that’s too extreme for you, consider the time Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett sent the TBI to investigate fair voting advocate Bernie Ellis as a terrorist.) Mr. Herring was also led to believe that he had a month to straighten out the problems codes was citing him for, but TDOT’s bulldozers, not unlike Hitler’s tanks, arrived the next morning, destroying a tool shed that had been built with the assistance of the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department, a stage that had been built with the explicit permission of TDOT, and a greenhouse and picnic shelter that had been in existence for years. All of these structures are important components of a community garden. In addition, TDOT took down the fence around the site, and removed the leaf composting project that was, in many ways, the heart of the garden.

Without all these features—fence, compost, greenhouse, tool shed (and all the tools that were in it), and picnic shelter—it will be difficult if not impossible to maintain the integrity of this twenty-year old community garden. TDOT’s blitzkrieg was apparently set in motion at the behest of a few politically connected neighbors who thought the food park was depressing the value of their homes. This is an outrage. TDOT’s plans had obviously been in the works for some time—you don’t just wake up in the morning, go to work, and decide to send heavy equipment and a prison labor contingent in on the spur of the moment. It seems as if somebody lied to Sizwe, telling him he had a month to work on or appeal the changes, so they could go in the next morning and do what they wanted. I, and a lot of other people in Nashville, would like to know what was going on behind the scenes.

I am also concerned that “codes violations” may be used as a pretext to destroy other community gardens in Nashville. To prevent this, and encourage the very positive step of increasing the number of community gardens in what Mayor Dean would like to be “the greenest city in the south” I think we need to look at rewriting Metro codes so that community gardens (and individual gardeners, as well) have the explicit right to create compost piles and erect simple greenhouses, tool sheds, and picnic shelters. I am sure that Mr. Herring and other members of the community gardening movement in Nashville would be happy to work with city officials on the nuts and bolts of this.

Recently, we celebrated  Earth Day here in Nashville. Please let me know that those of us in the community gardening movement have something to celebrate.

Thank you very much

In true 21st century fashion, I posted this letter, an invitation to send it to Metro officials, and the link to Metro’s “contact” page on Facebook, as well as posting it on the mid-Tennessee Green Party’s listserv and the local Bioregional Council’s mailing list.  I made no attempt to keep track of who followed through.  Some people did, but it didn’t, as they say, “go viral” and create an avalanche of email to our elected officials.  Oh, well.

I did receive three replies from city officials–one from the head of the codes department, who protested that since the city has no codes enforcement powers over state-owned land, he had merely passed the buck, I mean complaints, on to TDOT; a one-liner from an at-large Council member affirming his support for community gardens in a general sort of way, and a response from my own district rep, Lonnell Matthews, Jr..  That’s the one that mattered.  In a phone conversation, he  told me he had been talking with Council member Jerry Maynard and longtime local environmental activist Mack Pritchard about setting up a Metro Nashville “Community Gardens Commission” that would function similarly to the Metro Greenways Commission, and he asked me how to get in touch with Sizwe.  I gave him Sizwe’s phone number, but, as it happened, Matthews ran into Sizwe that same afternoon.  It’s cool when things click like that.

As a bit of an aside, I was touched to have Mr. Matthews contact me.  We had been on opposite sides of the Maytown issue, and I had been pretty hard on the guy.  I thanked him for reaching out to me on this issue.  But, after all, my disagreement with him was over policy, not personality.  We have to be able to work with people we aren’t necessarily in full agreement with, or it gets hard to get anything done.

What would a “Metro  Community Gardens Commission” look like?  What would it do?  How would it function?  There are differences between establishing a Greenway, which is a public trail, and a community garden, but let’s look at the Greenways Commission for some guidance.

Composition?  From the Greenways website:

The Metro Greenways Commission is a division of Metro Parks, a department of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County, and is charged with the planning and development of greenways throughout the county. The sixteen member Commission was established in 1992. It is comprised of seven Mayor-appointed citizens, four Metro Council members, and representatives of the Park Board, Planning Commission, Metropolitan Development & Housing Agency, and Public Works Department. The Commission is served by a staff of three.

The Greenways Commission works with a private, non-profit fund-raising outfit, “Greenways for Nashville.”  Between them, they identify potential Greenways locations, raise funds or solicit right-of-way donations to accomplish these aims, and are the first resort for dealing with any problems that may arise with neighbors, neighborhoods, and potential misuse of the greenways.

This actually translates fairly readily to a gardening model.  Composition of the Board is a possible sticking point–it would need to be well stocked with people involved in, or certainly sympathetic to, the community garden movement– but, given a friendly disposition, it’s easy to see that such a body would have been a helpful intermediary in the situation Earth Matters found itself in with TDOT, where a casual, friendly, unwritten, handshake agreement was suddenly axed at the whim of a new TDOT commissioner.

(Note to Sizwe:  next time, get it in writing!)

Having a branch of the city government dedicated to promoting urban gardening would be a major advance for Nashville as we transition into a time when locally supplied food moves from being a “niche market” into an increasingly important source of basic calories.  There are several locations in the city that, since the flood, are no longer considered appropriate zones for buildings; Lonnell Matthews pointed out that these would make excellent garden locations.  Mack Pritchard supplied the historical/agricultural information that the bottom lands along White’s Creek, between Ashland City Highway and Clarksville Highway, hold “the best agricultural soil in the Cumberland Basin,” and Mack opined that “you could feed everybody in Bordeaux out of those fields.”  Doubtless there is other land available around the city that, if not quite so prime, still has enormous productive potential.

Finding those places, and turning them from fallow land, or former building sites, into gardens, is a big project.  It will take a good deal of organization, investment, and infrastructure to bring such a vision into reality, but the reality would bring many benefits along with it.  It wouldn’t just be the local food.  It would provide healthy, hands-on, meaningful work.  It would provide a place where people could share knowledge and skills across cultures and across generations, a sharing that would empower and enrich both the givers and the recipients.  It’s part of the recipe for a revitalized, re-integrated community, something that puts the machinery of local government to its best possible use, and it just might happen.  Stay tuned.

music:Adrienne Young, “Plow to the End of the Row”





I, ME, ME, MINE

13 03 2011

I don’t know what Jules Dervaes was thinking when he trademarked the phrases “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading.”  I don’t know how he managed to convince somebody at the trademark bureau that he was the originator of these terms and of the techniques they cover.   He did not originate these terms, nor did he originate the practices they describe.  I suppose this is indicative of the vast cultural divide that exists in America:  to those of us who have been urban homesteaders over  the last forty years, the movement is widespread and deep; to somebody who lives inside the beltway (mentally if not geographically) and commutes to the copyright office, we are apparently invisible, and Dervaes was the first person who brought our movement to his attention.

Anyway, since getting his trademark, Dervaes has been acting like a bully, sending threatening letters to long-established urban homesteading groups and authors, getting Facebook pages banned, and generally making it harder for urban homesteaders to network with each other.  Will somebody please put a pie in this guy’s face?

The urban homesteaders who have been blocked on Facebook have started a “Take Back Urban Homesteading” Facebook group, as well as a petition to revoke Dervaes’ trademark.

A bizarre twist is that Dervaes shut down these Facebook sites alleging violation of “copyright,” but there is an important legal difference between “trademark” and “copyright.”  None of these sites used any of Dervaes’ copyrighted writings, but Facebook shut them down anyway, and says it won’t allow “urban homesteading” pages unless Dervaes withdraws his complaint, which he shows no sign of doing.  This is a disturbing precedent for Facebook–does it mean that Monsanto can use its trademark to get Facebook to bump pages like Millions Against Monsanto by OrganicConsumers.org, Say NO to MONSANTO, and Exposing Monsanto,  just to name a few?

Fortunately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has joined the fray on the side of freeing “Urban Homesteading,” putting their considerable legal resources to work and adding the Dervaes Institute to their “Hall of Shame.”  (EFF, by the way, was started by Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow….makes me glad “the music never stopped”! )

Dervaes did not originate the term “urban homesteading.”  Recently I was looking at a 1980 copy of the Whole Earth Catalog, which has a couple of pages devoted to “urban homesteading.”  At Dervaes’ website, a “history” page indicates that in 1980 Jules D.was  practicing rural homesteading in Florida, and did not move to Los Angeles and begin homesteading in an urban area until 1985.  So no, he didn’t coin the term.  And no, I’m not giving you a link to his website.  He can toot his own horn.  I ain’t gonna help him.

And yes, “urban homestead/ing” is in widespread use. At the “Urban Homestead” website, the opening statement reads, ” Since 1992, we have helped supply home orchardists with some of the best apple trees ever grown.”   An internet search yields 258,000 mentions of “urban homesteading,” and the the Dervaes are not at the head of the list.  Jealous, Jules?  Ruby Blume, of the Oakland Institute of Urban Homesteading, told me in a telephone interview that she had never heard of the Dervaes family before she got a letter from them recently, informing her of their 2010 copyright.  Blume’s Institute of Urban Homesteading has been up and running since 2008.  She wrote them back, requesting more information and informing them that she intends to contest their trademark.  She has yet to receive a reply.

Trademarking “urban homestead” is akin to trademarking “alternative energy” or, for that matter, “home bible study.”  For Dervaes to attempt to prevent anyone else from using the term is, simply put, nuts.  Bill Mollison couldn’t copyright “permaculture” because it had already be become common enough to be in the dictionary before he applied for the copyright, and he is quite clearly both the inventor of the term and the codifier of the practices involved.  The Green Party has been unable to trademark “Green Party” because there is just one other group in the country that calls itself “The Green Party.”  There are dozens of authors and local groups who use the phrase “urban homesteading” to describe their work, or in the titles of their books.  How could Dervaes get away with such arrogant nonsense?

Even Eric Pelton, the lawyer who helped Dervaes obtain the trademark admitted, in an unrelated interview, that

“Weak trademarks are descriptive or generic words. Generic words like ‘laptop’ for computers or ‘quick subs’ for a sandwich shop are very very weak trademarks and are only entitled to minimal, at best, protection.”

Or “weak, generic terms”  like “urban homestead,” for that matter?  Just because a lawyer will take your money, doesn’t mean he thinks you’re right.  In that light, it’s probably significant that Jules Dervaes, and not Eric Pelton, is the originator of the effort to shut down “rival” urban homesteading sites.

Here’s Dervaes’ defense of his trademark move:

“as the popularity of Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading increased and began to label everything from television productions to big agriculture products, we couldn’t shake the warning bells in our minds. You tell us… who would you rather own the trademarks? Us or a big business corporation?”

But Dervaes has not gone after big corporations.   He has gone after other urban homesteaders who have written books or established educational organizations, a  farmers’ market,  Facebook groups of urban homesteaders,  a library, and a community radio station.  No big guys, just little guys.  In the press release I just quoted, Dervaes ironically refers to Wikipedia to define what he is doing, rather than to anything he wrote himself.  The Wiki article has numerous links to urban homesteading sites, but only mentions Dervaes in relation to his effort to trademark the term.

Can you say “credibility gap,” boys and girls?

Some of what this story is about is that urban homesteading, as most of us who engage in or encourage the practice are aware,  is not just a set of material techniques.  The urban homesteading movement–and the rural homesteading movement,  too, for that matter–is  about creating a community, and about creating community consciousness.  The Dervaes family, in contrast, has never had much to say about creating community.

Nobody else who uses the term ” urban homesteading” has attempted to trademark it because it makes no sense to most of us to get territorial over language. Creative Commons is more our style than copyright and trademark.

At a deeper level, too, Dervaes’ ego trip demonstrates that technique is not enough.  To create a new paradigm, we need to purify our own consciousness first, or we will just end up creating the same mess we were attempting to escape.

This story also fits into a still wider question, the question of “intellectual property rights.”  I don’t have time to go deeply into this issue right now, but here’s a quickie about it:

There’s a place for intellectual property rights.  If you actually create a technology or a piece of music or a book or a photograph, you should be able to control its use.  Part of that control should certainly involve getting paid for your  effort and inspiration if somebody else is using it to make money for themselves.  It’s OK to prevent others from stealing the results of your own efforts.

Our trademark and copyright laws, however, have been taken to such an extreme that they threaten to cut us off from our cultural heritage. For instance, if you want to perform or record a Beatles song, you have to make arrangements with the estate of Michael Jackson, who bought the Beatles’ song rights in 1985.  Even if you have no plans to make money from use of a Beatles song, you must pay to perform or record it.  Never mind that Paul and John’s heirs will do fine for the rest of their lives and then some without another penny of royalties, and that most of the money actually goes to a bunch of lawyers.  You got to pay,

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, won my cheers when, in an interview on NPR, he said that he would love to buy the rights to the Beatles’ songs and release them into the public domain so that everybody could play them.  Then the economy fell apart, and it never happened, but it was one of those great radio moments.

Another example–some friends of mine are trying to put on a grassroots music festival,  which they are calling “The Black Swan Alternative Arts and Music Festival.”  It’s really more of a big open party than a commercial event, BUT they are getting hassled by ASCAP to pay royalties up front, even though most, if not all, the music that will be played will be originals, if not downright improvised on the spot, and most of the bands are playing for free.    My friends are just a couple of poor hippies trying to throw a party, and they’re getting jacked around, held to standards that are pretty irrelevant to what they’re trying to do by an outfit that, like that hapless dude in the copyright bureau, hasn’t got a clue about what’s going on out here on the other side of the cultural divide.

My standard answer to bureaucratic hassles like the Dervaes’ stink bombs and ASCAP’s legal threats is that the system that upholds such bizarre legalities is already coming apart at the seams, or, as with the mega-earthquake in Japan the other day, the fault lines, and all we have to do is be patient.

But even a creature in its death throes can do some damage.  Sometimes we can’t ignore crassness and stupidity, because they thrust themselves in our faces, our websites,  our wallets, or sometimes even our pants.  (Can you say “‘right to life'”, boys and girls?)

At such times, we have to depend on whatever level of inner peace and stability we have built into ourselves, trust that we will respond as appropriately as we can, pay close attention, and learn from what happens so that we, unlike so many in our crazed society, don’t end up doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result.

In urban homesteading, just likethe rest of life, the most important thing to cultivate is our own sanity.

music:  The Beatles, “I, Me, Me, Mine”





A DOG IN THE MANGER AT THE URBAN HOMESTEAD

21 02 2011

(I don’t usually write posts between radio shows, but this particular cause means a lot to me, so here goes. There has been a call for a massive array of blog posts on urban homesteading today, and this  is my contribution.  It’s late and I’m tired, so this is only going to be a sketch, and may reappear, fleshed out and updated, in March.)

I don’t know what Jules Dervaes was thinking when he copyrighted the phrases “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading.”  I don’t know how he managed to convince somebody at the copyright bureau that he was the originator of these terms and of the techniques they cover.   He did not originate these terms, nor did he originate the practices they describe.  I suppose this is indicative of the vast cultural divides that exist in America:  to those of us who have been urban homesteaders for the last thirty-five years, the movement is widespread and deep; to somebody who lives inside the beltway (mentally if not geographically) and commutes to the copyright office, we are apparently invisible, and Devraes was the first person who brought the movement to his attention.

Anyway, since getting his copyright, Devraes has been acting like a bully, sending threatening letters to long-established urban homesteading groups and authors, getting Facebook pages banned, and generally making it harder for urban homesteaders to network with each other.  Will somebody please put a pie in this guy’s face?

The urban homesteaders who have been blocked on Facebook have started a “Take Back Urban Homesteading” Facebook group, and are the ones who called for the day of “urban homesteading” blogposts yesterday.

Just ysterday I was looking at a ca. 1980 copy of the Whole Earth Catalog, which has a couple of pages devoted to “urban homesteading.”  At Devraes’ website, a “history” page indicates that in 1980 the Devraes were practicing rural homesteading in Florida, and did not move to Los Angeles and begin homesteading in an urban area until 1985.  So no, they didn’t coin the term.  And no, I’m not giving you a link to his website.  He can toot his own horn.  I ain’t gonna help him.

And yes, it is in widespread use.  Copyrighting “urban homestead” is akin to copyrighting “alternative energy” or, for that matter, “home bible study.”  For Devraes to attempt to prevent anyone else from using the term is, simply put, nuts.  The Green Party has been unable to trademark “Green Party” because there is just one other group in the country that calls itself “The Green Party.”  There are dozens of authors and local groups who use the phrase “urban homesteading” to describe their work, or in the titles of their books.  How could Devraes get away with such arrogant nonsense?

Some of what this story is about is that urban homesteading, as most of us who engage in or encourage the practice are aware,  is not just a set of material techniques.  The urban homesteading movement–and the rural homesteading movement,  too, for that matter–is  about creating a community, and about creating community consciousness.  Nobody else who uses the term urban homesteading” has attempted to copyright it because it makes no sense to get territorial over the language. Creative Commons is more our style than copyright and trademark.

At a deeper level, too, Devraes’ ego trip demonstrates that technique is not enough.  To create a new paradigm, we need to purify our own consciousness first, or, as the example of the Soviet Union shows, we will just end up creating the same mess we were attempting to escape.

That’s my short, late-at-night-and-my-brain-is-failing, take on “urban homesteading” and the Devraes controversy.  I’ve just come in from the Transition Nashville local food potluck.  It was a good turnout, many new faces and a broad mix of ages, great food, and a lot of new connections made.  My apologies if this post is not up to my usual standard.  I usually hone my work carefully before I turn it loose, and this one is pretty much straight off the top of my head.  but it’s late, and I promised, so here it is.

Jules Devraes, loosen up!  The mind you save may be your own….








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