Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Farm Pictures

I've spent now a couple of weeks here and had ample time and opportunity to snap some photos of the farm as it awakes from spring into summer. Here they are, without much commentary.

Zeek, with his summer shave.

We've had a small bird hanging around near the gardens. Here it is with Zeek.


Here's a few shots of the Great Blue Heron that's been fishing the upper pond.



An Egret, shoreline (look closely).

Taking flight.

The Geese and our lone Duck.

The Geese have been planted on this nest for at least two weeks. I think someone needs to break the news to them that these eggs aren't going to hatch.

The Hawks have two babies this year, again. Here's one of the parents staring me down as I wander around below their nest.

Bee on a chive flower.

I'll post more as the summer progresses. Miss you all.


I notice the photo's didn't size very well with the formatting of the blog. To see the full sized ones just click on them, or go to my flicker page for some of the others I didn't post.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Haiku 2.0

Final instruction.
Six years - can you believe that?
Me, graduating.  

(breaking the rules)

Thanks for all of your encouragement over the years, as this hasn't been an entirely enjoyable process. But, here I am.  Your support has meant a lot to me.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Rite of Spring

Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Le sacre du printemps) stands as one of the most provocative and emotional pieces of symphonic literature of the 20th century. It's subtitled Scenes from Pagan Russia and was originally performed as a ballet depicting a pastoral landscape of dancers dressed in traditional attire, and choreographed within a ritualistic and nativistic series of scenes that tell the story of the sacrifice to the God of spring. The piece dates from the eve of WWI, 1913. Stravinsky was living in Paris and working for Serge Diaghilev, who had commissioned him to compose a series of ballets (The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring). Soon after the war broke out, Stravinsky fled to Switzerland, and then to America.

The story goes that on the opening night in Paris, a riot broke out in the historic Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The music was so shocking and provocative that the patrons of the theater revolted against it - securing Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring to this day with a kind of honor only shared previously by Beethoven's Eroica. Part of the listeners reaction though was caused by the musical dissonance Stravinsky used, and the use of polyrhythms and polytonality; the music itself is viscerally shocking. He also wrote for certain instruments like the bassoon and french horn in an unfamiliar way, stretching them to perform at the extremes of their ability.

The whole composition is worth watching. Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

I think Stravinsky could have as easily named the piece A Winters Lament, because of that very dissonance. He orchestrates the fight between geological forces of darkness and light, of winter and spring, in a way that makes you feel it in your gut. Pagan ritual was designed to aid on the side of spring, in order to help shepherd the world out of dormancy, but that struggle is something that even we in the modern world can understand. We don't sacrifice anymore, which is a good thing, but we can still resonate with the seasonal dissonance that Stravinsky was attempting to express in music, the pain and joy we all feel when the world experiences another rebirth. It is the struggle that makes us human, vulnerable, and interdependent.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Toture Memos

The Obama administration today released a series of four torture memos (dating from August 1, 2002 through May 30, 2005). The FOIA and ACLU brought a lawsuit against the administration to press their being made public, which the administration complied with today. The memos are authored by Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC (Office of Legal Council), and Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, in communication with General Council of the CIA.

This move by President Obama to respect the rule of law is encouraging - though I think the Democrats generally are dragging their feet in regards to legal action. AG Eric Holder and Congress each have the power to investigate the illegal activity of the previous administration, but out of some sense of comity or bygones they have chosen a path of wait and see; they want to know that the public will is behind them. Of course, public will is a morphing leprechaun that promises gold but can never be pinned down. So good luck following the rainbow - better really that on this issue the administration sticks with black and white, law and the breaking of it.

In the late 90s the Republicans impeached a democratically elected president for playing around in the oval office. Republicans have nothing if not temerity - that they could impeach for an affair and let GWB get away with war crimes is staggering. But our respect for the rule of law (legal, not parochial) is why this victory by the FOIA and ACLU in forcing the memo's public is important, because those that authorized the unlawful torture of detainees need to be investigated and brought to justice. We are a country of laws, not a country of men.

The Daily Dish provides a roundup of some of the initial reaction. Glen Greenwald is as always, an essential read.
These memos are now becoming available, and do appear to be almost entirely unredacted. They are unbelievably ugly and grotesque and conclusively demonstrate the sadistic criminality that consumed our government.
And this snip highlighted by TPM:
Sleep deprivation may be used. You have indicated that your purpose in using this technique is to reduce the individual's ability to think on his feet and, through the discomfort associated with lack of sleep, to motivate him to cooperate. The effect of such sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep. You have informed us that your research has revealed that, in rare instances, some individuals who are already predisposed to psychological problems may experience abnormal reactions to sleep deprivation. Even in those cases, however, reactions abate after the individual is permitted to sleep. Moreover, personnel with medical training are available to and will intervene in the unlikely event of an abnormal reaction. You have orally informed us that you would not deprive Zubaydah of sleep for more than eleven days at a time and that you have previously kept him awake for 72 hours, from which no mental or physical harm resulted. (our itals)
(My Bold)

11 days.

The Obama administration has been fiercely pragmatic in their approach to governance - though they are willing to capitulate at necessary moments, this being one of them. They hold all the cards right now; they're in a position of great strength when it comes to repairing the damage of the last 40 years. Inch by inch, I guess. Glaciers are not receded in a single day, nor societies moved in one election cycle.

Do yourself a favor and read through some of the links. We all need to be reminded what happens when we elect bad leaders.

(Cross posted at CUP)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Matter: Energy: Time

Monday, March 9, 2009

Book Review

Timothy Egan: The Worst Hard Time

Behold, I have smitten my hand at thy dishonest gain which thou hast made…
- Ezekiel 22:13

Timothy Egan’s dramatic telling of the rise and fall of the high plains farmer is a tremendous historical narrative, a cautionary tale encouraging us to guard against speculation and greed; unchecked growth can destroy more than just peoples lives, it can ruin whole ecosystems. Egan’s masterful work follows the rapid settling of the Great Plains grassland (Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, western Kansas and parts of Colorado and New Mexico) following the slaughtering of its natural inhabitants, the Bison, and the forced relocation of the Comanche. Encouraged by the government through the Homesteading Act, farmers flocked to the region to grab a section of the vast prairie. As Egan notes, “in 1914, the peak year for homesteads in the twentieth century – 53,000 claims [were] made throughout the Great Plains.”(1)

Egan follows the stories of a few of these homesteaders over the course of the following decades, and slowly paints a picture of how the infamous “dusters” came to be. Motivated by the price of wheat and the invention of the tractor, a farmer could make a handsome fortune cropping hard red winter wheat during the wet decade of the twenties. A price-fixed commodities market during and shortly after WWI fueled “sod busters” with plows to churn up the native grasses that had held the soil down on that wind swept plateau for millennia. “The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation possesses,”(2) the Federal Bureau of Soils proclaimed, and it was treated as such. Millions of acres were turned upside down in a frenzy of farming unlike anything the country had yet seen. All parties were complicit in breathing more air into the massive bubble. The government motivated the rampant speculation while the farmer was all too happy to plant when he was looking forward to four-dollar wheat prices. Technology greased the wheels of progress, literally. By providing the farmer with a tractor, the burgeoning prairie yeoman was able to convert a few hundred acres, with much less work, into a viable and cost effective business venture. What was missing in the equation were the rain records of the previous hundred years. “If the farmers of the High Plains were laying the foundation for a time bomb that would shatter the natural world, any voices that implied such a thing were muted.”(3) Any except the Native Americans who were deprived of their land, and the cowboys who were forced to watch the spectacle that slowly robbed them of the best grass feed range in the world. A few voices spoke up, but none were loud enough to get the attention of the free-marketers and government interests.

The wheat dream wouldn’t last, and the bubble was primed to pop. “On the giddy ride up, there had been no cop, no regulator to enforce basic rules of an American economy that had become the world’s biggest casino.”(4) Indeed, the depression that arrived in the early thirties was now global, and wheat prices fell to historic lows. Farmers on the High Plains responded by churning over even more grassland in an attempt to boost profit by raising production. It didn’t work; “every five bushels of wheat brought in from the fields was another dollar taken out of the farmer’s pocket.”(5) The situation, as related by Egan, was just beginning to get desperate. The suitcase farmers were the first to leave, abandoning their sections fallowed and naked beneath the harsh sun and wicked wind. Adding insult to injury, the moisture that fed the speculators of the previous decade, vanished; “the rains left and did not come back for nearly eight years.”(6)

The “dirty thirties” was a time of immense desperation for the farmer of the Great Plains. Egan relates how some were so impoverished during that decade that they subsisted on pickled tumbleweed and canned rabbit, a truly depressing thought. But, it was a bed that they had made, and the staunchest among them insisted they stay and sleep in it. But, none were prepared for the dusters that awaited them. During the dry years of the thirties, they hunkered down in their dugouts and rickety shacks, waiting out the furry that nature was pelting them with. From North Dakota south to the Texas panhandle, a vast swath of exposed soil lay helpless against the torrential winds. The drought meant the farmers couldn’t sustain a crop, so there was nothing to be done to remedy the situation. As the turned soil tumbled away before their eyes, they could only wait and pray for rain.

Rarely does nature exact so immediate a payment for having wronged her. Rarely do we see the karmic effects of our behavior toward the land manifest years later, instead of decades or centuries later. “Of all the countries of the world, we Americans have been the greatest destroyers of the land of any race of people barbaric or civilized,” Bennett, Roosevelt's new Soil Czar, said in a speech at the start of the dust storms. What was happening, he said, was ‘sinister,’ a symptom of ‘our stupendous ignorance.’”(7) Indeed, that sentiment characterized the attitude of the new Roosevelt administration toward righting the wrong Americans had committed against the land. But, again, there was only so much that could be done while the drought and dusters fought tooth and nail against every living thing on the High Plains.

Egan concludes his unquenchable narrative of the dust bowl years with Roosevelt’s visit to the southern plains. On July 11, 1938 the president’s train arrived in Amarillo. On the same day, remarkably enough, it rained. The new Democratic administration had established the beginning of a new policy toward the plains, and at the time of Roosevelt’s visit, operation dust bowl was in full effect. The area would be restored to grasslands, as nature intended, with small strips of farms sandwiched between bands of trees. It would work to mitigate the damage, but as Egan points out the land has never fully recovered. Government oversight, it was realized, is necessary to curb our more ignorant intentions. Soil conservation districts replaced the majority of private farms, and the grasslands slowly returned, and some questionably sustainable dry farming continues. The buffalo are gone, the Comanche reservationed and still denied their rightful land by treaty; some hard lessons were learned, and are still in need of learning. As evidenced by the events of the past few months, I'd say that is most likely the case.

If your going to read one book this month, make it this one. The parallels between our present financial crisis and the events that led to the great depression are worth considering. Though I have neglected to include it in my review, Egan's work deals furtively with the 1930s financial crisis that surrounded all these events. History shows traditional democratic reaction to social crisis, i.e. Roosevelt's response to crisis following Hoover's non-response. And Obama's response, following the Bush era of irresponsibility. Funny how history repeats itself.



(1) Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time (New York: Mariner Books, 2006), 36.
(2) Ibid, 51.
(3) Ibid, 43.
(4) Ibid, 84.
(5) Ibid, 102.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Ibid, 125.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Haiku thread

Here's my bit for the day.

WTF! Really?
Fear of one and three?

Offer your 5-7-5 brevity in the comment section; I'm sure we would all like to hear each others poetic short stories.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Tiko and i both really appreciate this beautiful quilt that tam made for us. i thought maybe some of you didn't get a chance to see it since she mailed it off before christmas. thanks tam. i love you.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

a few bits from christmas on the farm.

Here are some farm Christmas moments.  Missed you Reese and Myo.  

Friday, January 2, 2009

Arnold Toynbee

Few modern historians enjoy similar levels of praise and scrutiny toward their work as the late Arnold Toynbee (1888-1975). Born in London to an affluent, well-educated family, Toynbee took at a young age to the study of classical culture and history. He was smart, diligent and above all embodied that function of all great thinkers which allows them to see a bit deeper and further than most. Toynbee’s main contribution to historiography is his magnum opus, a three-and-a-half-million-word A Study of History (1934-1961) wherein he lays out a philosophical justification and almost parochial reasoning for the rise and fall of civilizations. Agree with Toynbee or not, his History was perhaps the single most important piece of historical narrative to come out of the twentieth century.

Toynbee attended Balliol College, Oxford, “where he pursued ‘an old-fashioned education in Greek and Latin classics.’”(1) Shortly after graduating (1911), Toynbee took employment with the British Archaeological School in Athens. For the next 13 years Toynbee’s successes landed him numerous chairs and appointments, even attending a British delegation to the Paris Peace conference following WWI. His accomplishments led to connections, and in 1924 Toynbee “began 33 years as Director of Studies at Chatham House and produced the voluminous Survey of International Affairs…”(2) The position was well suited to Toynbee’s style and current interests, allowing him to research a wide variety of political and cultural trends, which he no doubt applied toward his History. His annual reports were in themselves extraordinary feats of erudition.

As a historian, Toynbee’s ideas grew naturally out the earlier work of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. However, unlike Spengler, Toynbee “did not regard the death of civilization as inevitable…[and] unlike Marx, he saw history as shaped by spiritual, not economic forces”(3) Toynbee rejected the idea that history is simply one damn thing after another, and in his History set out to prove a Universal thesis of parallel progress across “twenty-one distinct civilizations…genesis, growth, breakdown, disintegration, [and] reconstruction in [a] new synthesis...”(4) In a profession of pragmatists, he had faith - in a world of increasing secularism, he saw deeper religious themes and overarching narratives. His History is both praised and challenged precisely because that, again, almost parochial feel. Indeed, Toynbee has been characterized as the “most attacked historian in history.”(5)

Toynbee diverged from the growing academic consensus toward the secularization of history. His History is the antithesis to Marx’s thesis, Capital; God, not labor markets and economics, directed human affairs. But his ideas of God were neither theologically nor ideologically entrenched; his concept of God would be more like that of Spinoza’s (pantheist), as opposed to Augustine’s (personal and revelatory). Still, his approach was parochial, eclectic, and unusual in the current climate of historiography, and indeed would be wielded as the singular weapon by many his detractors.

Marguerite Howe’s article in The Nation (Oct. 1973) challenges Toynbee’s overarching theme of memesis/nemesis; “the choice of words betrays the Christian and classical biases that deal a coup de grace to Toynbee’s already overtaxed empiricism, indeed, to his very reasoning powers. Cause and effect begin to look suspiciously like sin and retribution…most readers will have parted company with Toynbee long before he concludes that some miraculous spiritual improvement will yet ‘reprieve’ our failing Western civilization.”(6)

Although his detractors were numerous, they by and large “agreed on the sweep of his vision and the earnestness of his convictions.”(7) He wanted to find meaning and purpose to this long parade of events called human history, and he succeeded in that. “In a curious way Toynbee seemed to recapitulate almost all the phases of Western historiography. He was a positivist seeking scientific laws; he was a historicist finding a plan and pattern in the past…[and] he was also an exemplarist finding in history lessons that might be applied” to the present. But, as Conkin points out, his masterpiece was “as much a dead end as Finnegans Wake.”(8) There was nowhere to go from the house Toynbee had built; it was a stranded island of faith in a sea of skeptics.

Toynbee was forced to edit his opus later in life, and published a shortened version for the casual reader. Though particulars of the work changed, and the edges softened a bit, it remained very much the same in its fundamental conclusions. He believed, and believed strongly that “we are now moving into a chapter in human history in which our choice is going to be, not between a whole world and a shredded-up world, but between one world and no world. I believe that the human race is going to choose life and good, not death and evil.”(9) Bold conclusions for a modern historian - a profession that treats belief in God more like fable than scripture. Toynbee will continue to stir controversy, as his life and work are very much a manifestation of that long tradition which aims to make sense of history, as opposed to just recording it.


(1) Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, vo. 36, s.v. Toynbee, Arnold, 430.
(2) Kenneth Winetrout, Arnold Toynbee: The Ecumenical Vision (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975), 14.
(3) The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., s.v. “Toynbee, Arnold.”
(4) Contemporary Authors, Arnold Toynbee, 430.
(5) Paul K. Conkin and Roland N. Stromberg, The History and Theory of History (Wheeling: Forum Press, 1989), 101.
(6) Marguerite Howe, “Two Prophets of the Absent God,” The Nation, 315.
(7) Alden Whitman, “Arnold Toynbee, Who Charted Civilizations’ Rise and Fall, Dies,” New York Times, 23 October 1975, p. 1.
(8) Conkin, Heritage and Challenge, 102.
(9) Whitman, “Arnold Toynbee,” New York Times.

© 2009 D. Reese Zollinger

The idea behind this essay was to write a bio in three pages double spaced. Brevity is a bitch, I must admit. How does one sum up the life of anyone in three pages? The point being that encyclopedia articles do it all the time, so that is part of the lesson. Toynbee is an interesting case study in modern historians enamored with the impact of "God" on human affairs - and his Study is brilliant albeit long-winded attempt to prove that phenomenon.

I don't necessarily agree with his conclusions, but you have to respect the brilliance.