Sustainable racism, grocery edition

So I live in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Los Angeles.  I live here because it is close to where I work, which is at my beloved USC. Yes, I still love USC though it drives me nuts sometimes.

As I recently pointed out, there are million dollar homes in my neighborhood because our little neck of the woods was home to the black entertainers of the 1920s onward who had money but were redlined out farther ‘up the hill’ (toward the Hollywood Hills).  My house has 12 rooms in it, and it’s on an 8,000 square foot lot. In the middle of a very expensive regional housing market.   And we own the smallest house on the block, and probably one of the smaller ones in Wellington Square.  These are not people without money to spend. Yes, when the 10 freeway got planted on the neighborhood, the nabe suffered, as things do when you plant 9 to 12 lanes of constant traffic on them.  But there’s suffering, and  then there’s suffering, and there are black professionals in my neighborhood who are dual income earners, both with much better jobs than mine.

Regular readers will also know I am a frequent consumer of South Central Gardener’s CSA Box.  This box of good-for-me stuff (think lots of kale and other yucky vegetables) has been delivered to USC’s campus in various locations, but it has been moved to a location on campus that is just straight up horrible for us to get to. Usually on CSA (aka commie-pinko) box day, Andy just drives the POS Rescue-Mobile to USC’s campus and picks up me and the CSA box at the same time. A better woman than me would take it on the train, but we usually get the big box of kale, and that’s just more than I can lift.

ANYWAY,  I was very excited to see that a locavore organization called Good Eggs was going to begin delivering the South Central Farmer’s CSA for $3 over the base CSA share cost. Hey,  great. Oh, and look! Lots of other wonderful, lovely edibles!  I love edibles!  Granted, not everybody really wants to buy $16 gallons of almond milk, but hey, I’m in. Sustainability requires extra effort, and  yum! Almond milk.  The company has a great concept, and I love it.  Vegan cashew cheese.  What’s not to love?

$170 worth of tangerines, artisanal chocolate, fresh bouquets and other sundries, including my CSA box in my shopping cart, and I go to check out.  Pick out my delivery area. Ok, fine! Great. They say they deliver to Central Los Angeles, which is where my beloved nabe is…..oh wait.  Here is a map of their delivery areas for Central Los Angeles, slightly modified by me:


Early on during our acquaintance, my good friend Richard Green and I were on a panel together, where I was talking about how great it would be to get a Trader Joe’s south of the 10 freeway. He made light of it: “Oh, everybody wants a Trader Joe’s.” I was on my good manners that day, and Richard is a very nice man,  and being almost brand-new to LA  and not being  justice person, Richard didn’t understand: saying that everybody wants a TJ’s belies the fact that some people can ALWAYS FREAKING GET the TJ’s when other people NEVER get the TJs.   Saying a TJs should try to move south of the 10  as a matter of business ethics is, IOW, more controversial than many affluent people really get because, natch, they know that everybody wants what they already have.  Yeah, but for some people, it’s not about the excellent wine selection and the charming holiday plants.  Some  would like fresh oranges they don’t have to drive 6 miles to get and a pretty good job in retail. And is that asking too much of life in a region of over 10 million people?  I don’t think so.   A grocery store south of the 10 and north of the 91 is a revolution of sorts.  It shouldn’t be. But it is.

But more annoyingly, this is a company selling the South Central Gardener’s CSA! The people in south LA are good enough to farm the food, pick it, and package it,  but not able to buy the box through Good Eggs through their own distributor?  THIS is the sustainable, community-oriented alternative to corporate capitalism? Um, yeah, except that it mirrors the same locational racism of  every other corporate grocery chain, except for Walmart and Target.   I mean Ralphs would go south of Pico.

Yeah, I get it, Good Eggs can’t serve every market.  But yet, they can serve Culver City no problem, but not Leimert Park, though both are right next to each other, and Leimert Park is right on the way, just off the 10,  to South DTLA on the east, which also gets delivery, but not the Round Loop of Blackness carved out in betwixt those neighborhoods in the service area.

Ten things to celebrate the heritage of the American South that aren’t the confederate flag

I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with the “confederate flag isn’t racist, it’s celebrating our history” arguments. The south seceded over chattel slavery; you can try to gussy it up by claiming it was about state’s rights, but nobody buys that argument. There are so many things to celebrate about the American South that don’t come down to a divisive reminder of worst war ever fought in a nation’s history over the desire to maintain a vicious, bloody institution like slavery. If there’s one thing I hear in white America, it’s that people should ‘move on.” Well, that applies here.

Here’s some things to love about the south if we need help:

1. Some of the most beautiful forests in North America throughout Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas

2. the mountains in Tennessee

3. Bourbon (I mean, come on)

4. Writers

6. Patriotism and military service

7. NASCAR (is pretty damn cool)

8. Some of the most amazing HBCUs in the county (Spelman, Morehouse, etc)

9. Hospitality

10. Gorgeous cities like New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, San Antonio, and many more.

There are dozens more. Why are we still arguing about flag?

On throwing away writing you slaved to do, and taking writing advice that doesn’t work for you

On Wednesday, I faced facts: what I had for Chapter 2 was not working.  I had had the sinking feeling around Chapter 2 for close to two weeks, and I had ignored it, but by Wednesday I clearly heard the sounds of the toilet flushing every time I looked at what I had. So I poured myself a gin and tonic, and I walked away from roughly 5000 words in a chapter that was, simply, collapsing.

I was having so much trouble writing this chapter that I did something I almost never do: I launched into it without an outline.  I know. But there are the free writing people who argue that you will uncover your thesis if you just allow your creative juices to flow, and if you let volumes and volumes of words come pouring out of you.  So I let myself free write for about a month, and then I began trying to pull a draft out of that free writing, thinking there had to be a ‘there there’ despite my strong feelings that it was just a mess.  I forged on, despite my sickish feeling.   The free writers assured me, turn off your inner critic and just create! You’ll have something by the time  you are done. It’ll be janky, they said, but it will be there, they said.

What can I say?  It just didn’t work for me.  By Wednesday, it was quite clear to me that I had oceans of writing about nothing in particular, nibbling at the edges of themes that had no core thesis, and I was getting further away from finding a thesis, not closer.

I have always been a careful storyboarder/outliner for manuscripts. Deviating from my normal routine occurred in the name of experimentation, and it failed.

Wednesday I was sick with annoyance.  I looked for consolation online, among writers, for how to console yourself when you let writing go.  I found nothing.  I talked about it yesterday with people, and one of my colleagues I respect a great deal, Nancy Staudt from the law school, said, “Well, I think the best scholars do this kind of thing–they edit out bad work and don’t try to hang on to it.” It was a very kind thing to say, and I also think it’s true. You can substitute writers in for the word  “scholars” and there you have it.

There simply isn’t any point in keeping writing that you are not proud of. When you are freelancing on a deadline or when you are an assistant professor or graduate student and you need to get material out, you make deals with yourself that you’ll do it all much better when you have tenure, or when you have more time.  Well, I have the time, and  I don’t need to make these compromises any more.

Goodbye and good riddance Chapter 2. Your replacement will be rigidly outlined.  That’s just how I have to do things, and I’m at an age that I should probably just accept that what works for me doesn’t work for others, and vice versa.  For those of you who can and do free write successfully, go forth with all the creative mess you need.  I have to go back to outline. It’s a security blanket, and that’s just fine.

Do I regret the experiment? I guess. When you have to go back to teaching and you’ve wasted a good two months of your sabbatical on writing that went nowhere, it’s painful. But maybe I needed to relearn what my dissertation taught me: that my creative process is unique, and while it’s good to try out advice, listen to your gut.  My internal critic isn’t a mean mom trying to wreck my life; she’s a level-headed scholar who knows when something is good enough to be going with and when it isn’t. Maybe I needed to learn to respect her more.

Dr. S and the Mystery of the Magic Pebbles

So I have already whined about the difficulty of organic gardening (Don’t yell at me; I still do it), and so one of the its practices involves the spreading around of what I can only refer to as magic pebbles. Why? Because I have no idea what I am doing or why. John and Bob’s soil amendments are supposed to help your soil: the PENETRATE, NOURISH, OPTIMIZE, MAXIMIZE routine. I have no idea whether they do or not. They have very scientifical sounding rationales for the magic pebbles (which is the OPTIMIZE product).

Here is either John or Bob explaining OPTIMIZE. He might as well be speaking Klingon, I have no idea what is going on. But I spread my magic pebbles around the garden like good girl. When does the magic happen? Anybody know?

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Why read (Stephen Bryer on Proust and the humanities)

This lovely interview with Stephen Breyer appeared in in my Fboo timeline via the NY Review of Books, and it’s very worth reading. Here’s a choice bit:

SB: It’s true, I’ve always thought that it was not particularly useful to study law as an undergrad. We are only allowed to live one life: it’s the human condition, there’s no escaping it. In my view, only by studying the humanities can we hope to escape this fundamental limitation and understand how other people live. Because literature, history, or philosophy all provide extraordinary windows on the world. Foreign languages, too, are fundamental.

The glorious return of pork (thank heavens)

I was so worried about the shutdown yesterday that it was making me nauseous to talk about it with Andy. By the time I checked my news after a late dinner, and they had something. It’s not great, and it’s another punt, but they made some deals and got ‘r done. How? There’s some pork in there. McCain is grumping about it:

“These people are like alcoholics. They can’t resist taking a drink. It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona to the Daily Beast, referring to the dam project. “It shows that there are people in this body who are willing to use any occasion to get an outrageous pork-barrel project done at the cost of millions and millions of dollars. It’s disgusting.”

You know what? I don’t mind paying a little backpay for a widow, and I’m glad we are sending some money to Colorado. Yeah, it adds up. But these deals have been part of legislation for a long time. I have a feeling that the backlash against pork has been good for us, but we have obviously reached its limits with each and every budget grinding to a standstill. We have hit a point where it really is used to grease the wheels, as it needs to, instead of being an ordinary tactic. That rolls it back from where we we are, but also allows enough to close a deal. I could be wrong, but that’s what I am thinking about this morning.

What are you thinking about? I had a wonderful visit at CU Denver yesterday–wonderful students and bright, energetic young faculty building a program.

In which Tom Scanlon scares the daylights out of me

I’ve only just started reading T.M. Scanlon’s What We Owe Each Other.   It’s an amazing book, and it’s proving very useful in working in Chapter the second.  My sabbatical has been a humbling experience in terms of how much I really got done, but Scanlon’s acknowledgements made me dribble coffee all over myself: 

In September 1979, I set out to write a book in moral philosophy.  I had leave from Princeton fro teh year and a Visiting Fellowship at All Souls College in Oxford, and I expected, quite unrealistically as it turned out, to complete a draft of the book that year.  Now, more than eighteen years later, I have finally finished the task.



Thunderous stets in the editing process

Donna Tartt has a new book out, which is worth celebrating in and of itself. But she and her editor, Michael Pietsch,  discuss their editorial process over at Slate

Every edit is different. Some writers like to show a chapter at a time or even individual scenes, as they go, for comment; I’ve worked with writers who wanted to read a passage over the phone just after they completed it. Others want to write in total privacy, not revealing a single thing until it’s finished. Sometimes editing consists primarily of a letter asking questions about plot elements, or about pacing, or character, and sometimes it’s entirely line-by-line comments on language.


Go read. 

More shadowboxing with the Hyperloop

Eric Jaffe has a column up over at the Atlantic Cities that is making my brain squirm a bit. It’s called Another Reason Not to Build the Hyperloop. The reason is, I guess, this quote from Sir Edward Lister who is the deputy mayor for planning in London:

“The trouble we always have, especially when dealing with government and trying to negotiate funding packages, is you always get this argument: you don’t want that scheme because this next scheme is going to be more modern, much faster, much cheaper,” he said. “Therefore you kill off the current scheme but you never quite get to the next scheme because another few years have rolled by. That is a danger. I’ve come to the conclusion that it almost doesn’t matter what you build, just build it. It always gets used and it gets used very quickly and fast becomes overcrowded. In any kind of mass transit operation, get moving with whatever you’ve got, which is current technology.”

The whole piece just strikes me as wrong-headed, and normally I agree with pretty much everything Jaffe writes about. It’s a short piece so maybe I don’t understand what he’s saying, but with what’s there, I have some grumps.

Ok, first of all, to the title: nobody is really proposing to build the Hyperloop. HSR’s enemies might have jumped on the idea to flog HSR with, but I haven’t seen any state reps sponsoring any bills to divert HSR money to the Hyperloop. Plenty of people just want the HSR to go away because the public management of the project has been less than stellar so far, but that’s largely independent of the Hyperloop.

Second: speculative designs about transportation are to designers what food is to your tummy. We see these things constantly in transportation. They’re fun, and necessary, and nobody usually takes them all that seriously until they are dug up for retrospective shows years later.

I have never once, not in nearly 25 years of working in infrastructure, ever seen a speculative design ‘kill’ a proposed project by distracting project supporters. Yes, there is usually kvetching that the project is ‘too expensive for what we are getting’, but I have never seen a project go down because somebody came in with a speculative design that distracted us from building the actual project on the table or that stole the project’s thunder. Why? Because infrastructure IS actually breathtakingly expensive, and people always ask: shouldn’t we be getting more given what we are spending?

And then whatever it is usually gets built anyway, except for some projects that deserved to die from the get-go. (Rick Perry’s SuperHighway comes to mind, but even that one appears to be getting new life.)

Anyway, I wish Lister would give me a list of projects that actually died because of an alternative speculative proposal. Anybody got a story of how pod cars snuffed a light rail proposal? Anybody? If California HSR dies, it won’t be the Hyperloop’s fault. Hyperloop might not be helping, but there are plenty of good reasons why the HSR might go down at this point, and none of them have to do with people being too starry-eyed over the Hyperloop.

The attitude of just build whatever you have and it will all be crowded strikes me as awfully complacent. Plenty of systems that aren’t London build and operate under capacity for decades, and with negative marginal revenues, the idea that we should just build and build strikes me as just as wrong as dismissing every project as too expensive. The public is not an endless source of money, and major systems that can charge what London does for fares strike me as uniquely privileged in the transit world.

And how do you ever innovate if your answer is always: just build what we have?

Olympia Snowe on “I gotcha” votes in Congress

I always looked up to Olympia Snowe even if I didn’t always agree with her. She has an Op-Ed in the LA Times that is worth reading:

Instead, Congress has arrived at a moment when policy-making has been virtually abandoned. It has devolved into a series of “gotcha” votes for political leverage. Rather than legislating, it’s all about “messaging” amendments, which aren’t designed to solve a problem but to create the basis for appeals to each party’s political base and 30-second soundbites for the next election.

As a consequence, Congress lurches from one self-inflicted crisis to another, and that is no way to govern. This abdication of leadership has led us directly to a government shutdown and a potential default on our country’s financial obligations that profoundly threaten our economy precisely as we struggle to emerge from the worst post-recession recovery in our history.