Thursday, November 1, 2012

Closing of the Commons: thoughtful little dawn essay

I woke up at 5:30 AM in Calabasas…not the best way to start a blog posting I know…but at least it’s true.  I’m beginning a ten day trip to Southern California, speaking to three cactus clubs, visiting nurseries and botanic gardens and attending a big cactus show and doing a bit of botanizing in the hills---at least that’s  the plan.
The place I woke up is a “Good Nite Inn”—a very low budget but clean, safe and pleasant enough motel chain right next to the Ventura freeway…my room far enough to escape the worst of the noise. I shall not waste good blog space detailing the several hours of confusion and delay (my Travelocity reservation had not gotten through to the “Inn”—and it took five or more interminable telephone calls [some simultaneous with the same music on hold--several to Indian subcontinent {where my daughter is wandering about} call centers {she’s not at these}] taking much of my first evening’s time to straighten things out).  Fortunately, the landing in late afternoon light (with giant Sweet gums scattered generously across the L.A. Basin like crimson lollipops or gumdrops next to the soaring palms and other generic green blobs) did much to buoy me up for subsequent travails.
Bruce Chatwin traveled compulsively (and probably traveled well)…he stayed in friends’ castles in picturesque valleys—and still fretted and rankled and had to leave after a week or two (just read two biographies of one of the best English writers of the last century dontcha know).  In startling contrast, I stay at Good Nite Inn—and am determined to be productive and not to fret a la Bruce…
But several things are dancing on my brain I must share: The Northeastern U.S. is reeling from Hurricane Sandy: it underscores our enormous dependency on 1) technology 2) one another 3) government. Coming less than a week before the Presidential election, I am pondering the implications of storm, spin and politics.  The sudden chumminess of Governor Christie and Obama fill the airwaves.
A friend I am very fond of sends me long email essays disparaging Obama and celebrating his opponent: I respect my friend enough to force myself to read these even though I intensely dislike the tone although I comprehend (and even occasionally agree) with some of the gist—without budging one iota from my almost genetically blue politics. Peter (for that is his name) is brilliant, and there is a diamantine kernel  of good sense in his ramblings—one that I believe the Democrats can honor better than the Teapublicans.  But this adds another layer of thoughtfulness to the morning’s coffee…..
Speaking of which I drove a city block down to McDonalds (where I was persuaded to get a $4.50 combo rather than a $1.00 coffee, $1.00 potato and $1.00 sausage McMuffin because it was “cheaper”—at six thirty one does not want to argue, so I paid an extra buck fifty for some egg in my McMuffin): yet another layer of thoughtfulness: the focus of big business nowadays is how to nickel and dime customers while bad mouthing government which has to bail out businesses (not to mention a third of America’s population this week).  What do you have to say to that, Peter?
But what concerns me most this morning is how botanic gardens across America (and the world) are abandoning their mission of exploring for, collecting and displaying plants to march in locked step in a new “conservation” agenda that seeks on the one hand to restrict commerce, stymie horticultural research while on the other hand imposing  scads of new regulations and rules and protocols without, of course, providing any additional resources to fulfill these, pretending that this is all somehow noble. Name me a single plant, prithee, that has been "conserved" as a consequence of this sham? Meanwhile, nature (or what is left of it) is altering drastically due to colossal global warming, destruction of wild habitats and cataclysmic human political and social turpitude.
Meanwhile, I must praise the landscaping at the Good Nite Inn..the hedge (Podocarpus?) is wonderfully trimmed, and the treeform  Nerium out front (double white flowers) are likewise lollipops—in full glorious bloom—their trunks must be 6—maybe 8” thick. I will photograph them but didn’t bring my cable so you must wait to see what they look like. There are alcoves here too full of lustrous, dark Aspidistra and glossy ferns (Dryopteris?).  All somewhat generic, but lovely (if strictly conventional) --maintained impeccably nonetheless…DIA, by contrast, comprises several times the acreage of Manhattan: all nothing but weeds and concrete and a few dozen sad little trees: I believe Ulan Bator has had more landscape attention than Denver's airport. That is a very cruel remark, btw.
Our day to day task is to take these threads of thoughts and try to weave something coherent and ennobling, something meaningful out of them that in the end leaves us a trifle further ahead than yesterday.
In ancient Rome they slew wild creatures in amphitheaters throughout the Mediterranean basin by the thousand (Cicero mourned the paucity of creatures to be captured in Anatolia due to Latin hunting efficiency). Los Angeles yesterday just banned pet shops from selling purebred animals (passed by the City Council nearly unanimously) in order to discourage puppy mills: pet shops must now sell mutts! I believe this represents progress. Botanical collections are not puppy mills.
In the 18th century, the "open range" throughout Great Britain was taken over by large private interests: this process was called enclosure. This process continues to this day as more and more of what we have taken for granted is subsumed by governments or private enterprise (I was impressed that water only cost $2.45 at LAX yesterday). Perhaps this is the price of progress? I hope not.

Welcome to the convoluted musings of my dawning brain!


  1. Hi Panayoti,

    I was going to ask you, "Who is Ulan Bator?" However, a quick Google search made me realize I should be asking "where?" This only proves that for me, reading National Geographic all these years did not create a geography bee champion.

    Your unwavering support of government is both inspiring and unnerving. Considering the suffering the government of your home country has put on its own people, I would think you would be more skeptical than to think government is always the answer. Personally, I live in the state that made Rob Blagojevich governor. This makes one realize, whether one researches Wall Street or Town Hall, the organization is only as good as the people. Often government even admits that private organizations can do a better job. This can be seen in education, where charter schools perform better than public schools. It can even be seen in conservation, where my local county government gives money to Audubon because that organization can get work done more efficiently, intelligently, and at a lower cost.

    On the topic of DIA’s landscaping, I would not be so critical. I have never been there, but given the surrounding view I doubt any landscaping effort would be able to draw people’s eyes away from those beautiful mountains.


  2. My Heavens! Someone actually read my post! That being YOU, James! I appreciate your thoughtful response, and I must underscore that I do not approve of "government" in the guise of Idi Amin, Stalin or Hitler: that's not government but a perversion of government. I defend "Government" when it is truly democratic and just--which it is much of the time. If government is less than efficient it is usually due to corruption or influence peddling: which is intolerable. And I agree that we only need "Government" for certain tasks--not everything. I am only a quasi-socialist.

    Greece's government is dysfunctional because Greece is still fighting a civil war: when the Left is in power the Right sneaks their money out and refuses to pay taxes. When the Right is in power, the leftists go on strike every other day: we are headed in that direction, so don't be too hard on Greece.

    As for corporations working "efficiently and intelligently"--I accuse YOU of being the hopeless romantic. I think that calling corporations "people" is just plain silly (they do not have spleens or toes or aortas like real people). I do think you could call them Governments in most every sense of the word (even THEY speak of Corporate "Governance"). The difference between Corporate Government and Government Government is that the former has no oversight or direct control by the People, and the last supposedly does. Or used too before Corporations poured billions of dollars into influencing elections so they could lead the people around by the nose.

    The mountains above Denver are fetching, I admit. But the prairie that has been busted to build Denver (and the vast sprawl around it, and the farms that feed it [albeit they are being starved for water lately] and otherwise damaged by overgrazing, etc. etc.) that prairie ought to be what occupies the land around DIA: it would not be impossible to re-create true shortgrass prairie there: it would cost a FRACTION of what we spend there on everything else...but "Nature lovers" would rather harrass horticulturists for introducing exotics than team up with them to restore nature in the face of colossal human ignorance.

    Not that I have opinions about these (and other) things. If Paul Ryan becomes our next Vice President, much of this will cease to matter because we will suddenly find outselves in an Ideologue hell half way to tyranny and the nuthouse and America's soul might well be irreparably compromised in the process. That man is bona fide nuts--while Mitt is just plain sleazy-camp. God save us from both!

  3. Panayoti, one word -Courage! I continue to remain hopeful and wait...

  4. Hope and patience rewarded!!!!

    1. Thank you, Paul: my hopes have been fulfilled. But there will be much work to do in the coming years for all of us. Our nation is terribly polarized: Obama has to get by in from enough Republicans to proceed powerfully, and we need to help de-toxify the political atmosphere. I think it can be done.


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