Election Day morning: haiku

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Election Day morning.
I wake from lascivious dreams
to a screech owl’s quaver.


Election Day morning.
In the bathroom, small toothmarks
all over my soap.


Election Day morning.
The factory whistle seems
to go on forever.


Election Day morning.
Smell of rain, sound of woodpeckers
banging their heads.


Election Day morning.
I make a neat little pile
of my toenail clippings.


Election Day morning.
My wristwatch is now six days
& four hours behind.


Election Day morning.
Gray squirrels forage in the oaks.
The clatter of acorns.

* * *

Feel free to leave your own Election Day haiku in the comment boxes. And read this.

Via Negativa endorsement: kiss of death?

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

The editor of Via Negativa would like to announce his official endorsements of candidates in the 2006 U.S. general election — which, in case you’ve been living under a rock, is tomorrow.

True, Via Negativa is not a political blog. We have few readers in Central Pennsylvania, and quite likely none of them are going to be influenced by what we have to say about politics. At least, we sincerely hope not! But who can resist the temptation to speak of himself in the first person plural and wax self-important on the burning issues of the day? Political endorsements by the editors of small-town newspapers are an endearing and enduring form of all-American entertainment, a chance for the editors to show that despite their paper’s general focus on high school football scores and drunk driving accidents, they are high-minded public citizens with a deep commitment to, you know, voting and stuff. We would like to pay homage to that tradition in our own, small way.

  • U.S. Senate – None of the Above
  • Unlike the main-party candidates, None is not an anti-choice candidate who supports capital punishment and the invasion of Iraq and opposes an Iraq withdrawal policy. While we acknowledge that Bob Casey, Junior (D) would make a more tolerable — or at least less embarrassing — senator than Rick Santorum (R), and while we admit to being somewhat influenced by the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club, of which we are a member, we are annoyed and offended by the cynicism of Democratic Party operatives and their allies in putting forward such an anti-progressive candidate solely because he is likely to kick Santorum’s weasely little ass win.

    Please note that None of the Above is a write-in candidate. Voters in Blair County might want to familiarize themselves with the proper procedure for write-ins on the new ESlate voting machines — check out the nifty online demonstration. Alternatively, you could vote for one of the third party whack-jobs whose names will undoubtedly be on the ballot, but we can’t be bothered to research any of them, because let’s face it, none of them stands a chance.

    Alert readers may observe at this point that None of the Above doesn’t stand much of a chance, either. However, a vote for None is not a vote for a candidate or a party, but a vote for a principle. Hell, more than a principle: a value. We’re strictly “values voters” here, you know, and we believe in freedom! In particular, we believe that people who want to vote against a given candidate or slate of candidates should have the freedom to do so, without the obnoxious necessity of expressing a positive choice. We support a nationwide re-jiggering of the electoral process to make None of the Above a valid option in every race at every level, from President to Dogcatcher. If None should win over half of the votes cast in a given race, a new election would have to be held with all new candidates. We believe that such a re-jiggering would inspire more people to register and vote, especially in the elusive, toxically cynical 35-and-under demographic. Even better, it would inspire a healthy fear among candidates, who would suddenly be faced with the prospect of losing to Nobody.

  • U.S. House of Representatives, Pennsylvania 9th District – Tony Barr
  • We like Tony Barr (D), and not just because he is other-than-Shuster. (We have written about the corruption of the Shuster political dynasty here in the past.) Barr — unlike Casey, for example — has more things going for him as an environmental candidate than simply a pledge not to support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a vague set of promises to advocate for renewable energy. Barr has specific proposals that would actually result in a large and fairly immediate reduction in fossil fuel use if implemented, such as bringing back the goddamned railroads.

    Well, that’s not quite how the Barr campaign phrases it:

    To protect our environment, our economy, and our national security, we have to change our priorities. We are a petroleum dependent society facing a rapid reduction in petroleum availability. The result will be fuel scarcity and escalating prices, not just for travel, but for goods and services. Petroleum dependence has the potential to destabilize our economy. We can’t continue to depend on cars to get us everywhere.

    A critical piece of the solution to our problems is public transportation, and in particular, rebuilding our derelict rail and light rail systems. It currently takes 7½ hours to travel by train between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. A modern bullet train could make the journey in about two. Absence of rail transport forces us to use cars, which burn far too much fuel, or fly, with flights becoming costlier and less frequent every day. Trains are cleaner and more fuel efficient than auto-mobiles and airplanes. They emit fewer volatile organic compounds and carbon dioxide than cars and planes, and fewer nitrous oxides than cars. Per ton-mile, studies show that a freight train uses between one-third and one-ninth as much fuel as trucks. Trains can move a ton of freight (or passengers) 410 miles on a gallon of diesel. While trucks will always be needed for local delivery, for transport across long distances, we must start moving to rail.

    In addition to its other benefits, rebuilding our rail system will provide work for years to come, help to revive Pennsylvania’s steel industry, alleviate city and highway traffic congestion, reduce accidents, and increase the speed of freight delivery. And if we reduce the need to import fuel from other countries, we can increase our national security by disengaging ourselves from regimes with poor human rights practices that give rise to terrorism.

    Barr has also staked out shockingly non-vague positions in a number of other areas. He supports: public financing of all campaigns for Federal office; higher taxes for corporations and wealthy individuals; better funding for Head Start and other public education programs; a single-payer, universal health care system; a living wage; better funding for veterans’ hospitals; reproductive rights for women; and the return of paper ballots in every election. You may not agree with all these proposals, but you have to admire the guy for sticking his neck out, especially in such a conservative district. We like the fact that he’s a special education teacher, which suggests that, if elected, he may have a pretty good idea how to get along with his colleagues across the aisle. And finally, Barr is a hunter and gun owner, so we don’t think he’ll try to take our guns away. We like guns.

  • Pennsylvania Senate District 30 – John Eichelberger
  • Having just endorsed a progressive Democrat, we feel compelled to endorse a conservative Republican to demonstrate that fairness and balance for which we are legendary. We like Eichelberger in part because he beat the incumbent, Robert C. Jubelirer — the most powerful member of the State Assembly — in last spring’s primary, capitalizing on voter anger at the notorious Pennsylvania pay raise scandal. We find most of Eichelberger’s positions on social issues odious, but as you may have gathered, the environment is our number-one issue. We like the fact that Eichelberger cared enough about the environmental vote to show up at our local Audubon chapter’s annual banquet last spring and bore us nearly to tears with a rambling, poorly delivered, semi-coherent speech. We feel that his lack of charisma and Pillsbury DoughBoy appearance are positive attributes for any candidate for higher office. He does not strike us as a child molester or sociopath.

    Eichelberger’s support for the environment as a Blair County Commissioner went beyond rhetoric. I asked an environmental activist friend who is intimately involved with local politics for his assessment of how Eichelberger measures up against his Democratic Party opponent, Greg Morris. He wrote,

    I am voting for Eichelberger (R) because he has a great record of
    supporting land acquisition at Fort Roberdeau County Park ($800,000 for the purchase of an additional ~150 acres) and he’s been a faithful backer of the Blair County Conservation District. He’s also a critic of the financial incentives given to industrial windplant developers.

    Morris (D) specializes in purchasing land that is subject to regulatory hurdles (e.g.: wetlands and steep slopes) cheaply and then developing them. At his fundraising dinner a month ago he boasted that he’s restored more wetlands than any other developer in PA. That’s because he’s destroyed more original wetlands than any other developer in PA.

    Morris is personally responsible for devastating hundreds of acres of prime, interior forest habitat along the very ridge we live on (Brush Mountain), as the lead developer of the Logan Town Center, an unneeded shopping center. Further, he brags about his conservative views and says, quite correctly, that he is a Republican in all but name. So it’s not as if he presents liberal voters with much of a choice.

    We thought about endorsing None of the Above for this seat, but remembered how pivotal Senator Jubelirer’s support for the Logan Town Center was in over-riding the state Department of Environmental Protection functionaries who wanted to deny Morris the permit to destroy wetlands in that instance. State senators don’t have much influence on the war in Iraq, but they can have a lot of influence on the war against nature. If Eichelberger’s record is any guide, he may be able to stand up against the “property rights” fanatics and work for open space protection and comprehensive land use planning at the state level.

    In general, we believe strongly that the Republican Party needs to recover its once-strong support for conservation. It’s extremely unhealthy — literally as well as figuratively — for one party to have a virtual lock on the environment. Democratic politicians have little incentive to do more than make vague promises on most environmental issues as long as they think tree-huggers like us will vote for a Democrat over a Republican no matter what. So that’s why we are going to hold our nose and vote for the Pillsbury DoughBoy tomorrow. We’re sure his campaign will be happy to collect this ringing endorsement, which could well provide that extra little nudge to put him over the top. Then, power and influence will be ours!

    That’s all the endorsements we have time or stomach for today. We do, however, have one additional suggestion for voters all across this great, freedom-loving land: take off work tomorrow to vote. In many parts of the country, polling places close long before working people can get to them, so if you want to cast a ballot, you may have little choice but to take the morning off. A general strike might convince the next Congress to make Election Day a national holiday, as it is in virtually every other so-called democracy in the world. Only when that happens will we at Via Negativa feel compelled to take all this voting stuff seriously.

    Now, about that last football game

    UPDATE: We have just been informed that the Pennsylvania governorship is also in play this election. Oops, right! We knew that. A football star vs. a sports commentator. Wow. That’s a toughie.

    UPDATE #2: We have just been chided in the comments for not endorsing Richard Pombo’s challenger, Jerry McNerney, for the 11th District in California. Richard Pombo is an environmental disaster, a veritable walking Superfund site. If you happen to live in Pombo’s district, and you need help deciding whom to vote for, lord help you — we certainly can’t.

    Beneath the surface

    holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

    leaf in water 3
    Yesterday, I kept looking at leaves in shallow water (slideshow). I was entranced by the play of sunlight on patterns in the surface. Floating leaves reminded me of sealed-up windows; sunken leaves were like sealed-up doors.

    ghost windows

    It was a quick trip to town that had gotten me thinking that way.

    red wall

    In standard Western dualistic thinking, it’s commonplace to scorn the surface in favor of what lies beneath. Deep is good; shallow is bad. “Beauty is only skin deep,” we say, which of course is utter nonsense. But supposing that superficial prettiness were the whole of beauty — wouldn’t that constitute a pretty strong argument for superficiality?

    lichen on birch stump 2

    “Only a facade,” we say, as if there’s such a thing as a true face underneath all the masks. And as if one doesn’t have a perfect right to choose which face one wants to show the world, and to keep the rest private.

    beech face

    If seeing were the whole of knowing, we would have nothing but surfaces to go on. Fortunately, though, there’s also hearing. When something emits a sound, relative pitch and quality of tone suggest things about its internal structure that the unaided eye could discover only through dissection. Hearing respects the wholeness and integrity of the other in a way that looking never can.

    black locust face

    It’s in our nature to see faces everywhere, and to impute personality even to the most impersonal forces of nature. The encounter with the face of another may be, as Levinas suggests, the very origin of ethical behavior. But there is also something that resists our looking, along with any and all attempts to domesticate it. We know it by the music that appears when, to our limited way of thinking, a mere cacophony should prevail. Go crouch beside the stream sometime and you’ll see what I mean.

    Advice for prospective troglodytes

    holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

    Living under
    a rock, you learn
    to listen.
    It’s not all thuds
    & rustles & the odd
    shriek. Things
    grind, other
    things grow,
    & the difference
    can be subtler
    than you imagine.
    A slow wheel
    can sound
    a lot like a snake.
    You learn to tell
    a clock from
    a bomb, if only
    for analog. Living
    under a rock, you
    won’t have heard
    anything from
    the digital revolution.
    But voices sound
    so much better
    for traveling down
    through the body
    & coming out
    the delicate
    bones in
    the feet.
    sound like
    the thoughts
    that bore them,
    grave & resonant.
    Living under a rock,
    the news
    may seem
    one-sided, with
    an over-emphasis
    on body counts,
    but the ground
    can only catch
    whatever falls.
    You hear little from
    the affairs
    of distant stars,
    & from the wind’s public
    whipping of the trees,
    you pick up
    nothing but
    the applause.
    But at least
    with the proper
    sort of rock, rolling
    will never be an issue.
    The neighbors
    won’t complain.
    Moss gathers
    like a second,
    softer head.


    holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

    It’s hard to remember a time when I haven’t been somewhere else, barely conscious of my immediate surroundings. With high-speed internet, high-definition TV, video games, iPod, cellphone, all the buzzing distractions of the latest flame war or celebrity gossip, sometimes I can go for half a minute without even remembering to draw a breath. If someone else were in the room with me, they’d probably notice the sudden, sharp intake of breath and assume it indicated surprise, or some other strong reaction. But the great thing about being entertained 24/7 is the way real surprises are kept to an absolute minimum. Surprises interfere with comfort.

    But one day, I couldn’t ignore it any longer: something fungal and pustulent had flourished in my neglect. It was like something from a B-grade horror flick. At first it grew in a corner of the living room, and I thought I could simply ignore it and continue to focus on the screen, any screen. But then it drifted forward on an army of pseudopodia and colonized a small backpack I carried with me everywhere I went, because it had handy compartments for laptop, water bottle, cellphone, PDA, digicam and umbrella, not to mention a hidden pocket with three, 20-year-old tabs of LSD that I kept on hand as a hedge against apocalypse.

    What the hell was it? I didn’t care; I just wanted rid of it. It swelled into a purplish brown pod or capsule some eighteen inches in diameter, and I began to get a little apprehensive. I went down to the fire station and got someone to blast it with a hose, which peeled off the outer, spongy layer and revealed something even more repulsive underneath — a kind of amorphous, yellow goo. I had seen this kind of thing before, I realized, but I couldn’t remember where. Perhaps in a blog?

    I abandoned the pack, but the thing took human form and began to trail me. It turned into a quiet little girl with a runny nose and a head permanently bowed, as if mortified by shame. Quiet people scare me — it knew this. Quite people, and girls. But I began to feel responsible for her, and re-shouldered the pack with her in it. Fortunately, she hardly weighed a thing, being at some level still just a hollow capsule.

    It was spring, and the trees in the park were just beginning to burst their buds. I went and looked at the fountain, which had been turned on for the first time that morning, and found that I liked the sound of the water better than any of the tunes in my iPod.

    Passers-by began to notice the creature in the bag: Your daughter? they’d ask, and I answered Yes, because it was easier than telling the truth. My loathing had subsided, but not the feeling of dread. Finally, though, I stopped being a coward and spoke to her.

    I had sat down on a park bench with the pack and its strange passenger resting beside me. I think you can go now, I said. She raised her head and I looked straight in her face. I saw she was a full-grown woman now, and not at all bad-looking. Her eyes focused on something beyond me, and she smiled the vaguest of smiles. Then she stood up, slung my pack over her shoulders, and joined the stream of pedestrian traffic. I lost sight of her in less than a half a minute. I took a deep breath. It was almost noon.


    holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

    chickadeeThe main thing about trees, I’ve noticed, is that they are big. Not to mention hard. So if you plan on adding trees to your regular diet, you’d be well advised to chew slowly and take many small bites.

    There’s a lot to chew on at the new Festival of the Trees #5 — the blog carnival for all things treeish. True to form, British blogger, photographer and journalist Rachel Rawlins has put together a very aesthetically pleasing post. Her own contribution (apart from the compilation itself) is the festival’s very first example of tree audio! I hope others will be inspired to record tree sounds for next month’s festival — or simply get out in the woods wherever you live and try and take it all in.