Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

January 2017 World Turned Upside Down.

Sunday, January 15th, 2017


The world has been turned upside down, the English ballad written in the 1640’s as a protest broadside, was traditionally supposed to have been played when Cornwallis surrendered to Washington and Lafayette at Yorktown in 1781.

There a world of hurt coming to the American public when the Trump machine and the Republican apparatchiks sing their tune of trickle down economics, trotting out that old line, an excuse for further aggrandizement of the worlds wealth into the greedy paws of the super rich. I don’t like to use such heated polemical phrases but I have seen this game played before and as in the old Who song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” it seems that the line should be - we love to be fooled over and over again.

Identity and Progressive Agenda 2016 Notes

Monday, December 26th, 2016


Testing the limits of tolerance in the post Coup Turkey.
Hundreds of Turks made a rare protest for LGBT rights in Istanbul Sunday after the murder of Turkish transgender icon Hande Kader, whose body was found burned in a forest earlier this month. Photo by Hande Kader/Facebook
From UPI article August 22, 2016

I have been fortunate this year. I managed to have surrounded myself with a family that is relatively loyal if somewhat dysfunctional, and my constant search for novelty in an ongoing campaign to give meaning to an otherwise seemingly meaningless existence, has got me in and out of a couple of problematic situations this year. One was my attempt at a truly transsexual alliance which turned out to be something of a pipe dream. Ultimately in my view relationships cannot be based on transitory sexual appetites. Commercial careers, perhaps, but not strongly based family ties. Poly fidelity, has its moments but I am probably more of a poor mans patriarch in the polygamous biblical sense of the word, than a trail blazer on the frontiers of human relationships, although I certainly do try to do my part in the romantic belief in the eventual progress of humanity into a truly trans-sexual-racial heterogeneity. The fact that in the US the discourse over the nature of human sexuality has been diverted to a conversation on toiletry is a bit discouraging though. Struggle in the world continues as post modernist struggles over liberation in identity politics continue in the face of repression such as is evident in Turkey. Whether identity issues have distracted from bread and butter issues of class struggle, is something that is being hashed out in the light of the on going right wing reaction around the world. Trumpism can be seen in the light of Nazi attempts to overcome decadence identified with sexual transgression of rigid sexual norms as was brilliantly portrayed in the 1972 film Cabaret.


From:, distraction or battle for control of personal space?

The continued demise of my own personal sexual prowess has been paralleled by the increased ability to encounter and intercept the lives of younger souls aspiring to some kind of continuity in an unstable and chaotic post modern world in which institutions have become both increasingly omnipresent and yet unable to fulfill the somewhat futile goal of social stability. Capitalism doesn’t allow for social and interpersonal stability. It’s pressure to excel and exploit resources, of any and all kinds pinned to a monetary value, has eroded social solidarity to the extent that humans of the modern period have become a hodgepodge of flotsam in a sea of potential resources to be adapted and rejected as required by the mindlessly grinding efforts of the mega machine.


From: Political Cartoon from Summer 2016 when US presidential elections were still in progress. The Russian factor was already in play as was the betrayal of the independent left push represented by the Sanders campaign.

The need for resistance and the creation of an alternative agenda to corporate capitalism as crystallized in the Bernie Sanders campaign showed that like in the McGovern campaign of an earlier generation, that there is in the USA an ongoing desire on the part of the young and the progressive thinking people for change at a fundamental level. It also shows how much better the system has gotten at eliminating such a challenge with old fashioned dirty politics and fear mongering. The left, liberal, minority alliance was unable to beat the right largely due to the decampment of labor and the white working class generally as those hurt by the modern economy abandon their intellectual allies who have shown them little gain. for the demagoguery on the right.


Life’s little Ironies. From:

There needs to be a clear headed assessment of what we desire and how we wish to get where we want to go. Post Modernism although it has liberated many from the fetters of normative identity has muddied the waters in the struggle to unite humanity in a broad based movement to progressive evolution of the human condition. This has been enhanced by the severe disruption caused by modernism and its industrial megamachine over the last couple of centuries. People’s desire for community in the face of the disruptive and depersonalizing power of technological progress gives evidence of the lag between social evolution and our ability to manipulate the physical world around us. We are now just realizing that humanity has to come to terms with the balance between technology and the social mechanisms that allow this tail to wag the collective dog of humanity. Faced with the potential disruption of all life on the planet, humans need to create truly world wide networks of community that put technology firmly at heel and leash capitalism to the service of humanity or train the dog with some new socially progressive tricks.


From: BLM queer and trans people of color contingent, Sept. 26. Durham, NC, 2015.
The issue of identity will continue to be important but it must be in the context of ongoing progress or the right wing backlash will cause delays in progress for humanity and the planet as a whole.

Black Lives Matter, Grim Sleeper, & Green Hope

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

Aspen Institute Conference on Race Relations Video.

I went to a Black Lives Matter event in front of City Hall in LA where the activists involved are protesting police shootings of minority youth. They are calling for the police chief to step down. Although I am no fan of Chief Beck and have never been personally helped by LAPD, I find calling for the removal of the police chief to be a step that while it may be personally empowering for the activists if the were to achieve this goal, it does not get to the root of the problem. This is a matter of power relationships. As long as the law is structured to protect the property interests of the wealthy, there will be no real reform. Underclasses are policed to keep them from spreading their undesirable ways into the areas of the city inhabited by the controlling class. Police are the thin blue line protecting property and those who have entered the sphere of the protected classes.

With that said, occasionally there is some basic policing, such as the recent capture of the murderer of many women in south Central Los Angeles, Lonnie David Franklin Jr., now better-known as the “Grim Sleeper” serial killer, convicted of at least ten murders, was sentenced to death recently. Margaret Prescod, founder of advocacy group Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, host of the Sojourner Truth radio show on KPFK, has pressured LAPD to find the murderers of these black women, and has accused the police department of neglecting solving the murders because the victims were perceived to be, as she put it, “Crack Whores.” In reality they were mothers, and daughters, persons who did not deserve to die simply because some of them were sex workers. Franklin claims he did not commit the murders according to the LA Times article on the trial “The ‘Grim Sleeper’ is sentenced to death for string of murders” by Marisa Gerber and James Queally dated August 10, 2016, when he was confronted by the victims families. But the evidence seems conclusive.

In an interview with NPR Prescod explains “We went down to what was then Parker Center Police Headquarters to find out about the murders, see what was being done about it, how the community was being informed, and we were told by the guy in charge, said, ‘Why are you concerned about it? He’s only killing hookers,” from Families Of LA Serial Killer’s Victims Still Await Closure by Kirk Siegler May 2, 2016 transcript.

This seems to be a glaring example of where police priorities have been. The murders have been going on in poor neighborhoods for decades. Police claim that there is a code of silence that often prevents residents from reporting crimes and helping investigations. But when the police act, as the recently released Department of Justice report on the Baltimore police that condemns the abusive culture of police treating minority neighborhoods as occupied territory, there is good reason why people may be reluctant to turn to the police. To quote from the report in another NPR piece ‘Lock Up All The Black Hoodies’: DOJ Report Details Abuses By Baltimore Police by Camila Domonoske dated August 10, 2016, the pressure to bring about significant reform in local police departments around the country is increasing as the establishment media gets the green light from the Obama administration to ramp up the coverage of cases of police maleficence.

I don’t want to just parrot reports from NPR that I hear on the radio as I drive to and from work in the Los Angeles traffic gridlock, so I went down to meet with Prescod at the Black Lives Matter encampment, and listened to the stories of those present including a woman representing a Gang Truce group who had nothing good to say about the police, her husband is currently locked up. Talk went around a circle of some fifty to sixty persons, mostly persons of color, but some white supporters such as my self as well. This was the weekend before the Republican convention. I heard of he incarceration nation where large swaths of black youths have been incarcerated for minor offenses and have since in many places lost their right to vote, as convicted felons in many states cannot vote and incarcerated persons are denied the right. Also due to the requirement on job applications to report convictions many are unable to find jobs, denied housing and public assistance, even food stamps. These mostly minority men become even more likely to return to crime or find themselves trapped in a marginal world of exploited off the grid employment often as sex workers.

I know quite a few denizens of the motels on commercial strips who have no ID, outstanding warrants, work selling drugs or their bodies, who survive from day to day with little hope other than the enthusiasm of youth. What these young persons need is opportunities to go back to school or to find entry level apprenticeships. Instead they find drugs, easy temporary cash from the sex trade, and the inevitable return to prison.

I know plenty of more fortunate twenty somethings who cannot find meaningful employment, live precariously depending on the kindness of strangers, all in an economy that seems to have left an entire generation outside and an increasing number of what were formerly middle class in marginal service jobs or in the gig economy with no benefits and no job security. I am fortunate to have a skill and experience, but I would hate to be an unemployed youth today. Education is a debt trap for them with no guarantee of employment. For minority youths it is worse, far worse, because not only is the limited opportunity, but also a police apparatus that has been designed to oppress and incarcerate with color and youth being the indicators that flag the individual as a target.

This dystopian view, most recently a result from the failure of the Sanders campaign to make real headway in changing the Democratic Party establishment, which the recent Wikipedia release of the DNC emails shows that the party apparatus actively attempted to thwart the Sanders campaign, leaves one again in the political desert seeking some kind of relief. In my case I am leaning back to the Green Party. I like the Canadian Strategic voting plan, vote green in Red and Blue states and only vote for the Democrats in swing states. This will help build the momentum for a Green Party presence in the next round of elections, especially if Green Party candidates can begin to show results in local elections. This may be a pipe dream, but many of those who rallied to Bernie have now got the grass roots campaign experience to work on an entirely independent manner. If the Black Lives Matter, Immigrant Rights groups and the Environmental movement can find common cause under the banner of a new party, Green or other, then there is hope for America. Otherwise we will have demagogues like Trump and establishment tools like Hilary Clinton running the show.

Gangsterism Reflects Failed Modern State

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Victims found dumped in Tijuana, Mexico

Narco-Economy: Review of Gangster Warlords Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America, by Ioan Grillo. New York: Bloomsbury Press. 2016. Hardback $28.00. 378pp.

The author, Ioan Grillo is a British journalist living in Mexico City who has been on the Latin American beat since 2001. He is the author of a previous book about the cartels El Narco Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (Grillo 2016). The book is thankfully footnoted and has an index and even though it reads a bit like a detective story, it has incisive analysis and references academic work to back up the author’s own on the ground analysis interviewing drug lords, street dealers, community residents, police, and government officials in Brazil, Jamaica, the UK, USA, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. With some 15 years of experience the author gives an on the ground perspective on the rise of the Narco shadow state in the Americas. Fueled by demand in the USA, the UK, Europe and increasingly, in the countries in which the gangs and Cartels operate, Grillo describes the conditions in which the gangs and Cartels thrive. Not focusing on the consumer end, or the production of the drugs so much as the sociology of the gang and cartel networks, how they manage to survive and thrive in nations with less well developed infrastructures than in the developed world providing real life alternatives for the chronically under and unemployed youth of the barrios and favelas as well as the small towns in where they are located.

Without a doubt this is an issue of import and as I read the book I became engrossed with the tales of these alternative state-lets emerging in the collapsed world of the global economy. Not only has neoliberalism failed to deliver the goods, but it has been complicit in destroying the infrastructure that would provide an alternative to collapse. This is the Disaster Capitalism Naomi Klein wrote about in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine where she describes how the shock doctrine to curb inflation in Bolivia prescribed by Jeffrey Sachs in the 1980’s led directly to massive unemployment, and pushed thousands of Bolivians into the Cocaine trade with an estimated one in ten in the coca business by 1989 (Klein 2007, 188). The victory of neo-liberal economics forced upon the Bolivian people, in a coup-less victory unlike the previous model Pinochet’s Chile, where the democratically elected communist Allende was overthrown in a CIA backed coup (78-80). But the neoliberal connection to the rise of the drug trade is unfortunately not very evident in Ioan Grillo’s book which is long on narrative and folksy descriptions of the Narco commanders and foot soldiers but is short on background analysis. His book certainly raises alarms as to the extent of the problem, and he does spend some time describing the vigilante movement in Mexico that emerged to contest the Knights Templar of Nazario Moreno in lieu of an effective government which had essentially ceded control of vast regions of Michoacán and Guerrero provinces to the cartels (Grillo 298-300). But while mentioning the Zapatistas as inspiring indigenous people to rise up by their example of a successful resistance to the Mexican state in forming an autonomous region, he does not really seem to understand the import of the rising which he almost dismisses as not serious. “Their armed challenge lasted only twelve days before a bishop brokered a cease fire” (299). What Grillo does not mention was the timing of the rebellion to coincide with the initiation of the NAFTA trade agreement which has proven to be so devastating to small farmers in Mexico were every farmer who could follow the debates over NAFTA knew that in the early 1990’s Mexican corn sold for $224 a ton and US Iowa corn sold for $110 a ton on the border (Womack 1999, 22). Free trade would be the death of the Mexican small holder farmers and inevitably would lead to the flooding of the markets with cheap American corn. John Womack’s description of the EZLN upon the towns of Chiapas has a different ring. “On January 1, 1994, some 3000 booted, uniformed, masked, and well trained men and women, all armed, many with Stern Mark II’s, AK-47’s, M-6’s, and Uzis, moved out from numerous clandestine bases, concentrated in several units, and captured San Cristóbal, two towns not far north, six more eastward toward the cañadas, two of them in pitched battles, and many villages elsewhere in the region” (12). Developing the background in some detail of the policies of the Mexican government, and attempts on the part of the mostly indigenous peasant farmers to call attention to their plight including a major anti NAFTA protest on the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the white oppressor in 1992 in which protest was largely peaceful (22), Womack unlike Grillo, explains the social, economic, and political context, including many supporting texts, including statements from the Zapatistas, with specific reference to symbolism of the January 1 rebellion as it related to the first day NAFTA went into effect (42).

Grillo mentions the traditions of the leftist guerrilla insurgencies of the 1970’s in Guerrero and to a lesser extent in Michoacán, noting the 1968 Tlatelolco Square massacre in passing, he treats the left in Mexico, as he did the revolutionary left in Brazil, and in Jamaica in an almost scornful manner, as merely the breeding ground for a more effective brand of gangster, writing of the Red Commando in Brazil, Grillo describes the leader he William da Silva Lima who “sees his crimes as political in a broader sense, and himself as a robber because he was born poor. This echoes the self-justification made by gangsters across the Americas (Grillo 2016, 64, 242). Simplistically noting that gang leaders tend to be readers and studious, as if that were the link that made gangs as powerful as they were (53). Grillo describes the M8 revolutionaries in Brazil dismissively describing Fernando Gabeira as the Green Party politician “photographed on Ipanema Beach wearing a purple women’s G-string…. [and] kidnapping the U.S. ambassador in MR8’s most notorious operation in 1969” (55). His description of the series of dictators who overthrew democratically elected governments, aided and abetted by the CIA as the result of a “moth bitten document with SECRET stamped on it” (51), as if the period was merely the result of US government paranoia. This dismissal of the period of the generals, the disappeared, the torture, and murder of leftists, unionists and others who merely attempted to express their civil rights, seems to play into the rather shallow content of the analysis overall. The author is constantly making pop cultural comparisons as he describes Williams as being like the Paul Newman character in the movie Cool Hand Luke, trivializes the oppression of the poor and turns the leader of the Red Commandos into a pop cartoonish figure, easily dismissed (44).

The recent murder of the indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres brings home the brazen level of violence in the nation of Honduras which has the highest per capita murder rate in the world (186). Co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Movements of Honduras (COPINH) which had participated in the opposition to the coup government in 2009 as part of the Refoundational Space resistance group (Webber and Gordon 2013, 46), Cáceres had more recently been active in opposing the building of a massive dam project by a Honduran company, Desarrollos Energéticos S.A., or DESA and had convinced several of its backers to withdraw funding from the dam project drawing the ire of DESA. The environmental activist had won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2014 among other awards (Pestano 2016). The environment of impunity in Honduras has fueled the violence against environmental activists in a nation where some 111 had been murdered between 2002 and 2014 (Global Witness 2015, 16). The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights at the UN has called for an independent investigation due to the lack of credibility of the President Juan Orlando Hernández government efforts to investigate the murder of Cáceres and her fellow activist Nelson Garcia (OHCHR 2016). As Blitzer in his article of April 11, 2016, in The New Yorker, pointed out that the Honduran regime claims to have the support of the FBI in its investigation of the murder was not true and the investigations were being conducted by a private investigator from New York. The fallout has even affected the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton where protesters have accused her of being responsible for the death of Cáceres due to Clinton’s involvement as Secretary of State in the U.S. government position not to call the overthrow of the Liberal Zelaya government in 2009 a coup (Pestano 2016).

Webber and Gordon state, the 2009 coup represented a consolidation of the neo-liberal agenda fused with militarism across the region from Columbia to Mexico (Webber and Gordon 2013, 18). Their research indicates that as neo-liberalism kicked into high gear in the 1990s, after all threats from the leftist groups in neighboring states had been defeated or otherwise neutralized, the Conservatives and Liberals implemented reforms that resulted in the dispossession of peasants of much of the gains from previous land reforms. People headed for the urban slums and the United States as rural poverty reached some 70% in the late 1990s (26). Maquiladoras expanded and in the slums gangs gained a foothold so that the conservative government under President Maduro was able to expand the military in a “war on gangs” (23-25, 32-33). “Violent crime has increased dramatically in Latin America in the wake of neoliberal restructuring. Central America is at the leading edge of this phenomenon” (32). Corruption in the government of Honduras with extends to the highest levels of the police force as well as prominent politicians as they have been implicated in the murder of the former Honduran Drug Czar in 2009 (Arce 2016).

Skipping this entire history, Grillo in his synopsis on the recent history of the Central American states glosses over the 1980’s leftist insurgency in El Salvador, the Sandinista overthrow of the U.S. backed dictatorship in Nicaragua, the brutal dictatorships in Guatemala, and the strongman rule in Honduras where he mentions the U.S. campaign against the Sandinista government under the Reagan administration which used the air base at Palmerola in Honduras to arm and support the Contras (Grillo 2016, 188-189). While mentioning the CIA backed coup in Guatemala in 1954, his three paragraph history lesson is boiled down to another pop cultural representation the Oliver Stone movie Salvador (189). While giving factual information, that he must assume readers are familiar with due to the briefness of his background briefing, the constant pandering to the reader with pop references, indicates a journalistic bias that assumes the reader will be lost or bored, without entertaining cultural titbits. Where Grillo has an interesting use of pop culture is in his identification of certain gang names and symbols with pop culture such as the relationship between the El Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha with a movie starring Charlton Heston The Naked Jungle, translated in Spanish as ‘Cuando Ruge la Marabunta” which translates as “When the Ants Roar” thus the Maras are a group of friends who gather together like ants in a mutual protection society Grillo gets his information from an anthropologist Juan Martinez (189-200). While this and other rather trivial information, such as how the Maras were originally associated with heavy metal culture in Los Angeles, where the gang formed among refugee and immigrant youth in the 1980’s, such trivial is not a substitute for a deeper analysis of the background of the conditions in Central America (195-196). Revealing that the child immigrant wave of 2014 was a direct result of U.S. deportations of gang members in Los Angeles back to their countries of origin, does not tell the reader much about the underlying conditions there other than to say the wars of the 1980s led to a refugee population settling in Los Angeles (203-204). Facile arguments such as the gang members fought because they liked to, and as a way to establish a reputation among the gang, does not go far in explaining the persistence of the gangs or the economic drivers behind the attraction of the gangs (199).
Grillo does do a decent job in tracing the cultural roots of the gangs and the sociological attraction of being in a gang as a way to protect the recent immigrant youths in the potentially hostile streets of Los Angeles. A better analysis of the U.S. policy to deport plane loads of El Salvadoran gang members onto the impoverished streets of El Salvador after the 1992 truce between the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the El Salvadorian government would have been useful. The short sighted U.S. policy, out of sight out of mind came back to haunt the U.S. with the exodus of the children in 2014 (185-186). Interesting factors also indicate that simply eliminating the gang wars with truces don’t necessarily work, as the short term results may be a dip in violence but quickly return to previous or higher levels (Katz and Amaya 2015). This would seem to indicate that the drivers for the violence is not a socially driven factor but has a strong economic driving force behind it and larger political dimensions that are not directly related to the immediate activities of individual gangs.


As the U.S. goes from one drug epidemic to another, with high grade heroin being the most popular in the news cycle of late (Ahmed 2015). The American appetite for drugs remains unabated and will not necessarily result in a decrease in the activities of the crime syndicates as drug legalization and harm reduction becomes increasingly the focus in the United States and other countries, witness the recent drug policy conference at the United Nations where the split between those who would double down on the punitive approach to drugs, were countered by the increasing view of the harm reduction parties who would reduce the violence resulting in something of an impasse (Glenza 2016). Clearly the policy of focusing on the war on drugs has been a disaster that has led to tine militarization of and occupation of poor communities around the world. If there was an intentional policy to oppress the poor around the world, the war on drugs could hardly have been improved upon. As neo-liberal practices have been increasingly causing disruption to traditional cultures and live styles around the world, there has been an increased disparity between the concentrations of wealth in the hands of the few, at the cost of social services in many countries, education, and traditional work opportunities, The results have been masses of young ambitious and desperate young men seeking out a path to follow their own aspirations to a better life. For thousands around the world and especially in Latin America that opportunity is in the cartels and the gangs.

Grillo describes the symptoms, and the personal stories of the actors, foot soldiers, tactical middle men and masterminds of this new world in which the alternative economy has emerged. His focus is on sensational descriptions with some background information for the casual reader with a focus on the criminal sociology of the gangs and cartels. The book was interesting in a tabloid journalistic sense, although having personal experience in the underground economy and with gang members the voyeuristic aspects of the book were not particularly interesting. Grillo does not propose particularly profound solutions but he is to be admired for his willingness to tread upon the paths local journalists have been reporting upon for years, describing the development of the underground economic and quasi-political response to the neo colonial and neo liberal policies of the wealthy elites of the world.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Azam. Aug. 29, 2015 Young Hands in Mexico Feed Growing U.S. Demand for Heroin. The New York Times. Accessed 2 April, 2016. to-meet-heroin-demand-in-us.html?_r=0
Arce, Alberto. (April 22, 2016). Honduran Ex-Police Chief Says Government Faked Documents in Assassination Case. The New York Times. Accessed 24 April 2016. police-antidrug-assassination.html?_r=0
Blitzer, Johnathan. (April 11, 2016).No Answers in the Murder of Berta Cáceres. The New Yorker. Accessed 22 April 2016. answers-in-the-murder-of-berta-caceres
Glenza, Jessica (21 April 2016). Decriminalize all drugs, business and world leaders tell UN. The Guardian. Accessed 21 April 2016. -session-global-drug-policy- failure-critics-say
Global Witness (2015). How Many More? 2014’s deadly environment: the killing and intimidation of environmental and land activists, with a spotlight on Honduras. Global Witness Limited Accessed 22 April 2016.
Katz, Charles Max and Amaya, Luis Enrique (2015) The gang truce as a form of violence intervention : implications for policy and practic. Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo, San Salvador, El Salvador, América Central. ISBN 9789996149313 (E-Book, inglés, resumen)
Klein, Naomi. (2007). The Shock Doctrine The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Picador.
OHCHR. (22 April 2016). Honduras murders: UN Expert urges independent investigation into killings of rights defenders. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR). Geneva. Accessed 22 April 2016. hash.pI5j67VO.dpuf
Pestano, Andrew V. (April 19, 2016). Why this protester is blaming Clinton for the murder of a Honduran activist. UPI. United Press International, Inc. Accessed 23 April 2016. for-the-murder-of-a-Honduran-activist/8981460996811/
Webber, Jeffery R., and Todd Gordon. 2013. “Post-Coup Honduras: Latin America’s Corridor of Reaction.” Historical Materialism 21, no. 3: 16-56. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 24, 2016).
Womack, John Jr. (1999). Rebellion in Chiapas an historical reader. New York: The New Press.

Indigenous Tribes & ‘Green’ Energy Exploitation in California Desert

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

This paper was presented in a Geography class studying the DRECP plan for Southern California. Since this was written the plan has been announced. There is a comment period in December 2015 before the Plan is finalized for Federal Lands in the California Desert. It allows for fast track development of Green energy in designated areas.

The Tribal Perspective on the Draft DRECP and EIR/EIS
By Gary Crethers, Nicole Beatty, Cheyenne Armstead, Cassandra Casapulla, and Derek Sanders
December 10, 2015.

Abstract: The draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), proposes to give renewable energy companies a fast track to cutting red tape by creating Development Focus Areas (DFA’s), where environmental impacts will be the least harmful. The affected regional tribes have concerns that Cultural impacts have taken a back seat and that the tribes were invited late to the process of critiquing the proposals. The Tribes have concerns over a lack of access to data from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), responsible for the plan, and have been pitted against one another in attempts to mitigate impacts on traditional lands due to the nature of the process of designation of one area of greater value over another. This paper addresses the concerns of the Tribes focusing on the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT), and the San Manual Band of Mission Indians (SMBMI).
Key Words: Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, Native American Tribes, Renewable Energy, Colorado River Indian Tribes, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Bureau of Land Management.

Introduction: In 2010 the BLM agreed to permit a 709 Megawatt solar farm to be built in the Imperial Valley desert, it would have taken up 6000 acres of public land. Problem was, the tribes were not consulted and The Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation opposed on those grounds, citing section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), among others. They claimed some 459 cultural resources were affected and they sued. Quechan Tribe v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior, (755 F. Supp. 2d 1104, 1108-11 (S.D. Cal. 2010)). (Dreveskracht 2013, 433). The project, which would have been the largest in the nation, suffered a severe setback and lost most of its backing. The tribal complaint was one of procedure. The tribe had not been invited to the table and stood by their legal rights, making the point that they were not opposed to alternative energy, but to the lack of consultation, a costly error on the part of the BLM (Dreveskracht 2012). The Colorado River Indian Tribes have sued over the Blythe Solar Power Project known as the Genesis Project for a “mass disturbance” of cultural artifacts, in this case the BLM claims to have consulted the tribes but evidently the consultation was inadequate, costing additional millions to the project. In this case there was mitigation which Daniel McCarthy claims to have been adequate CRIT may beg to differ (Copley 2014; McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Dreveskracht 2012; Patch 2015). Clearly litigation causes the development of alternative energy resources setbacks, for energy development to proceed in the future, the tribes must be consulted and sensitivity to cultural factors must be maintained through the entire process. On the other hand in the suit against the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility Project, Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation v. United States Department of the Interior, (43 ELR 20047 No. 12cv1167-GPC, (S.D. Cal., 02/27/2013) (Curiel, J.)), the tribe lost.
The validity of tribal claims to the spiritual inheritance associated with sacred spaces has been acknowledged by the government and is part of law in “the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA 1979), the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA 1990), Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA 2004), and California Senate Bill 18 (SB 18 2004)” yet sacred sites are still not respected fully by government authorities and private industry (Greenberg and Greenberg 2013, 30). The ethical care of the environment is imbedded in Native American beliefs and with traditional notions of the sacredness of nature lending itself to ecologically oriented belief systems, which due to the lack of “pro-environmental” views of faiths such as that of the Puritan founders of New England, make it hard sometimes for non-natives to understand the significance of sacred sites and artifacts (35). This miss communication has led to legislation meant to alleviate some of that misunderstanding with indigenous consultations mandated by the NHPA Section 106 whenever Federal lands use changes on tribal lands or significant cultural resources are affects. Further SB 18 mandates tribal consultation at the beginning of these procedures (32, 35). The violation of these Federal and State mandates partially are due the fact that consultation is not the same as legislated rights prior interest, leading to being ignored, or lengthy legal wrangling and lawsuits (Dreveskracht 2012, Greenberg and Greenberg 2013, Patch 2015). This seems counter intuitive when Native belief systems have a profound propensity to favor environmentally sensitive perspectives with their “sense of autochthony – the spiritual experience of belonging to a place” (Greenberg and Greenberg 2013, 33).
The Native peoples who live in the Southeastern California Desert have a vested interest in how the development of alternative energy impacts their tribal lands and their traditional cultural environment. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that the impact on any historically significant resources be submitted for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and the Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) determined from their NAHC Sacred Site data base that the tribes would be affected and as the State body responsible for oversight of Native Interests in that regard, submitted to the DRECP in 2011, a list of Native tribal contacts and a copy of a recommended guidelines for consulting tribes that had been submitted to the California Department of Fish and Game Renewable Energy Action Team in 2009 (Singleton 2011). The process of contacting the tribes on the state level had thus become part of the bureaucratic process in meeting the State of California goals for renewable energy initiated under Governor Schwarzenegger wherein some 33 percent of the state energy had to come from renewable sources by 2020 (Singleton, 2011). Tribes cultural concerns had not been in the original planning for the DRECP, and many tribes perceived their interests as being “a late ‘add on’ to the core biological goals and have been given short shrift in the Plan” (Coyle 2015, 1). This view was reiterated by Daniel McCarthy in a personal interview (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015).
Even though the planners of the DRECP had been notified of a legal and procedural basis for tribal input, the tribes themselves have indicated a lack of ability to participate or contribute to the outcomes, with the “deferral of in depth cultural resource studies until after project developer has submitted an application to develop a specific project inevitably results in the destruction or removal of such cultural resources and landscapes” (Patch 2015, 6). Thus the tribes have deep reservations about the efficacy of the DRECP process and advocate that the cultural resources be put on the same level as the biological resources for the tribes to consider that their interests are being taken seriously (4). It is our interest in this paper to develop and advocate for the interests of the native peoples affected by the DRECP.
Methodology: Interviewing at least one interested party, and reading the submitted testimony of several of the tribes to the California Energy Commission comments, as well as some of the relevant literature on the subject, including the portions of the DRECP draft report related to the Native American Issues, provided the majority of the material from which the research was developed and conclusions arrived.
Results: The propensity for the BLM to not consult the tribes, ignoring statutes such as Section 106 of the NHPA, the provisions for consultation in NEPA, the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), Archeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA), and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, Executive Order 12898 Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (1994), and the Council on Environmental Quality’s Environmental Justice Guidance Under the National Environmental Policy Act (CEQ), the National Policy Issuance 94-10 USFWS Native American Policy (1994), Executive Order 13007 Indian Sacred Sites (1996), Executive Order 13175 Consultation and Coordination With Indian Tribal Governments (2000) and Secretarial Order 3206 American Indian Tribal Rights and the Endangered Species Act (1997) to mention only a partial list of Federal regulations and laws regarding relations with Native people, should provide an exhaustive basis for covering the interests and concerns of the tribes (Draft DRECP III.9 2014, 2-9). In fact the legislation only claims the Native American rights to be consulted, not to completely block Government action which is a critical issue that the CRIT brought up in their critique of the DRECP as having sham effectiveness (Dreveskracht 2013, 435; Patch 2015, 4). The approach of the tribes has been less than welcoming although repeatedly they all claim to support the need to develop renewable energy and have expressed interest in participation in the process especially if granted control of the development of their own resources, something that is currently severely restricted by federal law (Dreveskracht 2012; McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Paresa 2015; Patch 2015).
The BLM has accumulated enough data to understand that renewable solar and wind energy can be “especially harmful to biodiversity, scenic landscapes, water supplies, natural quiet and cultural resources” (Nagle 2013, 62). The evidence shown in the case of the Native Americans regarding cultural resources, natural quiet, and the scenic landscape in particular have been shown to be causes for concern acknowledged in the Draft DRECP with a listing of potential impacts that would require site specific environmental impact statements (EIS). Tribal concerns being listed in terms of cultural resources impacts, specifically physical destruction of cultural resources, isolation of cultural resources from access or alteration significant to be considered under the standards of NRHP, CRHR, or CEQA by tribal members, introduction of sights, smells, or other atmospheric elements that are not characteristic to a site. Excessive impacts to sites linked to tribal identity and “disproportionate impact to places that play an essential role in the perpetuation of the generations” (Draft DRECP IV.9, 6).
It is critical to note that there are some 50 tribes listed in the DRECP as having an interest as defined by the various laws, statutes, and executive orders. Each of these tribes has specific concerns, cultural resources, and histories that may go back for some 10,000 years (Draft DRECP 2014 III.9, 14-16; McCarthy 2015). CRIT is concerned about the I-10 Corridor being developed which contains many sacred sites. None of the plans in the Draft DRECP addressed their concerns and past experience had led them to believe that litigation was the path to take. Tribes historically have been ignored. Beginning in 1970’s legislation was passed to empower the tribal governments to be treated as sovereign powers. Over the past half century legislation has been passed, in which the standard of living has increased but at painfully slow rates. There has been little headway in terms of the development of alternative energy within the Reservations due in part to a lack of capital and expertise but also due to the lack of Federal legislation to empower the tribes to make their own decisions. Tribes are still, treated paternalistically and thus their sense of autonomy been constrained by a tradition of treating the Tribes as wards of the state (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Dreveskracht 2012; Patch 2015).
Historically the tribes have lost continuity due to the disruption caused by colonization, and genocide on the part of the colonizing powers, Spain, Mexica and finally the United States. Indians early on were treated to Christian civilization where “Spaniards… acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples … to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola, once so populous (I estimated to be more than three millions), has now a population of barely two hundred” (Las Casas 2004, 36). Later the Americans hunted Indians like wolves, as one hunter said “the best buckskin I ever seed was tanned with Injun brains” (Smith 2011, 84). The disappearance of history, and languages, have left the Native Peoples unable to locate ancient remains, leaving them dependent upon surviving traditions and archeology. As McCarthy stated the BLM expects the Tribes to have complete data bases, while the BLM was not forthcoming in providing access to data (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015). The “cumbersome structure and extensive cross referencing thereby undermining the Executive Summary’s claim of a ‘transparent’ approach” indicated to tribes that the BLM may not have been taking tribal concerns seriously, with the entire process called in to question (Coyle 2015, 1). The lack of access to adequately trained cultural survey persons, professional geologists, anthropologists, archeologists, geographers among others to both adequately respond to the demands of the Draft DRECP or to implement their own Renewable Energy Programs through the Tribal Energy Resource Agreement (TERA), which is supposed to bypass many of the onerous regulatory stipulations of the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), with the tribes setting up their own equivalents to the EPA, something of a hurdle that no tribe had been able to successfully negotiate (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Draft DRCECP III and IV 2014; Dreveskracht 2012, 444-446).
The lack of a truly comprehensive listing of cultural resources has compounded problems associated with the Draft DRECP. The CRIT noted that the DRECP has based its analysis on the “online list of California Historical Resources” which admittedly “includes only as a small portion of the resources that may actually be present” (Patch 2015, 5). Tribes have repeatedly requested that there be an extensive cultural resources inventory taken before leases are granted instead of the due diligence after. The tribes want comprehensive surveys done (Patch 2015, Coyle 2015). Once a lease is in motion it becomes very hard to stop a multi-million dollar project and tribal concerns become downgraded or even presenting the tribes with a false conception that there will be “significant and unavoidable impacts on all sites for energy development” (Patch 2015, 4). Independent scientific reviews of earlier phases of the project cited poorly handled data and a lack of adequately rigorous science in the Draft DRECP process. ”The panel unanimously concluded that DRECP is unlikely to produce a scientifically defensible plan without making immediate and significant course corrections, including strengthening leadership of the scientific program, increasing transparency in decision-making and documentation, improving scientific and technical foundations and analyses, and improving integration and synthesis of all analytical processes and products” (The DRECP Independent Science Panel 2012, 2). Interestingly there was not one mention of cultural resources in the report, reinforcing the position of the tribes regarding the focus of the DRECP.
Tribes with different approaches and specific needs are vulnerable to manipulation from the process by which the DRECP process has given the benefit to tribes and groups that are well funded as opposed to those that have limited resources. Complaints that the BLM was not forthcoming with cultural resource data, plus the lack of adequately trained cultural resource workers and professionals in the related fields of renewable energy development and the ecologically focused sciences has led to a situation in .which the tribes with greater scientific, legal, and financial resources are pitted against those without. The lack of comprehensive regional cultural resource surveys with the BLM depending largely on a 1980 data base, has led to a situation in which those in areas where the cultural resources have been not examined thoroughly face greater pressure as the DFA’s have been located on BLM land where the perception is that less damage will occur. The lack of specific data being available or released in a meaningful manner is problematic and undermines the fairness of the process (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Dreveskracht 2012; Patch 2015; Draft DRECP 2014).
The Draft DRECP plan expects that specific sites within the DFA’s will undergo the EIR/EIS process once potential developers have been granted the right to access a particular site. As has been noted once the lease has been granted the likelihood of the tribes to be able to stop the project or move it becomes greatly reduced and the expectation built into the process that damage will occur makes the mitigation process more of a remedy that often is acceptable to tribes with many tribes refusing to accept what are seen as bribes (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Patch 2015). The inability of the plan to perceive that some cultural resources may have very great value even if they are few in number as opposed to perhaps an area with many resources of which there may be few of any value, has caused a weighting to sheer numbers which is also problematic (Copley 2015; Draft DRECP 2014; Patch 2015).
Conclusions: The Tribal position is clearly one in which there is reason to suspect the methodology of the DRECP as noted in the comments by the tribes (Copley 2015; Paresa 2015; Patch 2015). The science has been criticized by the scientific review panel established by the DRECP, as well by the advocates for the tribal positions. There is an imperative to get the process of development of renewable resources done right as the process is in its early stages to avoid unnecessary litigation. The tribes are willing to participate in the process but their concerns must be taken seriously and respected for all parties to benefit.
Recommendations: 1.) A thorough and scientific evaluation of the cultural resources in all the areas being considered for DFA designation before the process of allocating leases has begun.
2.) Training of cultural resource workers and assignment of adequate resources to the tribes to adequately determine their best interests in the development process, including access to BLM data, training and resources for tribal representatives to process and interpret the data.
3.) A focus on preventing the necessity for mitigation by adequately determining site acceptability based on protocols that are agreed upon by the tribes affected.
4.) A fair and holistic process that incorporates environmental justice to remove the tendency to pit tribes against one another in the attempt to protect valued cultural resources.
5.) Development of the ability for the tribes to become stakeholders in the process by streamlining of TEFA to allow tribes access to participation in renewable energy development.
6.) Respecting the legislation and statutes already in place and treating the cultural resources on the same level as the biologically impacted ones originally considered by the Draft DRECP.

References Cited.
2014. Draft DRECP and EIS/EIR. Native American Interests III.9. Draft DRECP and EIS/EIR. Accessed November 3, 2015.
2014. Draft DRECP and EIS/EIR. Native American Interests IV.9. Draft DREP and EIS/EIR. Accessed November 3, 2015.
Copley, Michael. 2014. Tribe Suing Federal Government to Block Construction of Blythe Solar Project. SNL Energy Power Daily.
Coyle, Courtney. 2015. Re: DRECP NEPA/CEQA, Tribal Comments on Draft EIS/EIR. Carmen Lucas, Kwaaymii Laguna. Courtney Coyle Attorney for Carmen Lucas. Energy Docket Optical System, Docketed 09-Renew EO-1 TN 75066 February 23, 2015. Accessed November 21, 2015. nts-2015-02-23.pdf
Dreveskracht, Ryan D. 2012. Alternative Energy in American Indian Country: Catering to Both Sides of the Coin. Energy Law Journal. 33, no. 2: 431.
Greenberg, Joy, and Gregory Greenberg. 2013. Native American Narratives as Ecoethical Discourse in Land-Use Consultations. Wicazo Sa Review. 28, no. 2: 30-59.
Las Casas, Bartolome de. 2004. The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account (1542). Voices of a people’s history of The United States. Ed. Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove. New York: Seven Stories Press. 35-42.
McCarthy, Daniel. 2015. Personal Communications. Director of Cultural Affairs San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Interviewed November 18, 2015.
Nagle, John Copeland.2013.Green Harms of Green Projects. 27 Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy 59. Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 1332. Accessed November 21, 2015. Available at SSRN:
Paresa, Jerry, J. 2015. Re: San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Comments on Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan “DRECP”. San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Email: to David Harlow March 10, 2015. Accessed November 21, 2015. ments_2015-03-10_late.pdf
Patch, Dennis. 2015. Re: Comments of the Colorado River Indian Tribes on Draft DRECP NEPA/CEQA Documents. Colorado River Indian Tribes. Colorado River Indian Reservation. California Energy Commission. Docketed 09-Renew EO-1 TN 75205 Feb. 23, 2015. Accessed November 21, 2015. 015-02-23.pdf
Singleton, David. 2011. California Energy Commission, Dockets Office, MS-4. Dear Mr. Chew. Native American Heritage Commission. Docket 09 Renew EO-1 August 8, 2011. Received October 5, 2011. California Energy Commission. Accessed November 21, 2015. mments.pdf
Smith, David Livingstone. 2011. Less than Human Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
The DRECP Independent Science Panel. 2012. Final Report Independent Science Review for the California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. Renewable Energy Action Team. California Department of Fish & Game, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the California Energy Commission. nt_Science_Review_for_the_California_Desert_Renewable_Energy_Conservation_Plan _%28DRECP%29/links/550b1ce60cf265693cef6859.pdf

Related Materials.
2010. California Energy Commission Selects Bureau Veritas as Delegate Chief Building Official for NextEra Energy Resources’ Genesis Solar Energy Project. Energy Weekly News. 422.
Morris, Amy Wilson, and Jessica Owley. 2014. Mitigating the Impacts of the Renewable Energy Gold Rush. Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology. 15, no. 1: 293
Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation v. United States Department of the Interior Citation: 43 ELR 20047 No. 12cv1167-GPC, (S.D. Cal., 02/27/2013) (Curiel, J.) Environmental Law Reporter. Accessed November 22, 2015. states-department-interior#content

Personal Update

Sunday, November 1st, 2015


Frances Crethers circa 1974 (1925-2015) My mom was a trick rider in the Rodeo and was able to ride her horse until early this year 2015. She always loved animals and her horses.

I haven’t written much on the blog this year and most of what I have written have been papers for school. This year has been one of deaths in the family. My mom passed in August and my youngest son’s mom passed in October. I had to organize the funeral and the disposal of the ashes for my mom. She was living in Florida and wanted her ashes taken to the family plot of her parents in Connecticut which I duly did.
My ex who was only 51 passed in France and I had to fly over there on a long weekend to attend the funeral and spend time with my 20 year old son. We spent a day looking at cave art after the funeral and under the circumstances had a good but brief visit. I made him promise to come to America next summer.
My step daughter has been living with me on and off since last winter and her four year old daughter is a lot to handle.
School and work have been exhausting and I have been sick more than I like this year. My girlfriend and her kids have been great and supportive and I feel a little guilty at not being able to spend as much time with them as I would like. Overcompensating with trips to Disneyland and Legoland, places I would not normally recommend, but it is part of my ongoing attempt to normalize my relationship with America and not be such a commie, anarchist critic.
Interestingly enough much of my old anarchist and Marxist critique has become part of the curriculum of many of the classes I attend and it is somewhat fulfilling to find myself vindicated on an intellectual level, even if I don’t gain any monetary or status compensation for the years of critique and struggle. I have been just one more foot soldier in the war against capitalist aggrandizement.
Watching the antics of Donald Trump, the representative of Corporate Capitalism at its most extreme make a public fool of himself, is an indication of capitalism’s imminent demise. The fact that a socialist can run for president and be as successful as Bernie Sanders is the first sign of progress bubbling up from beneath the surface since the imposition of Reaganomics. Obama’s last minute attempts to bring the US into some kind of structural integration with the perils of climate change may be too little too late but it is something none the less. How much further along we would be if Carter had won reelection in 1980
Let us hope President Bush or Clinton don’t set us back too far in the next presidency.
That is about all I have to say for now.

Myth, Sex, Forgetting: The Promethean Experiment at Love Canal

Friday, July 24th, 2015

Young residents in Love Canal joined the protest. (Center for Health and Environmental Justice)

Myth, Sex, Forgetting, and the Promethean Experiment at Love Canal
By Gary Crethers
The erotic symbolism in the “Love Canal” events cannot be missed, and if one takes a feminist, or psychoanalytical perspective on this, one discovers a fertile ground in which to plant the seeds in the darkness, where hidden from view, life takes form, in a sense every pregnancy is an act of faith, a forgetting of all the pain and suffering that will come as a consequence. In this case the ground was planted with the seeds of destruction and the forgetting of pregnancy, led to the literal birth of monsters. Myth, informs the story, whether the sewing of the dragon’s teeth to raise the sons of Ares, the opening of Pandora’s box, a subsidiary myth to the tale of Prometheus, or the Herculean task of clean up afterwards, these examples help inform us as we attempt to comprehend what man has wrought. The female sex organs, receiving the seeds of life, in this case can be seen metaphorically as being seeded with death by the male dominated social system. While forgetting of painful events such as prior child births, and in former times, the very likely chance of infant mortality, in this case the natural process taken in analogous form to any cycle of creation can be aborted or cruelly deformed. Forgetting is a natural process but when it has been deliberately intercepted by parties with consciously or unconsciously evil intent, it becomes a rape, in this case of the place called love canal, we forget traumas, sometimes to our peril (Ricoeur, 259, 445).

Children and babies were the most at risk for health effects from chemical exposure. (Fierce Green Fire)

The sexual undertones of the controversy run through the chapter. In the first paragraph of the Chapter “Love Canal and the Law of Unintended Consequences,” Professor Andrew Jenks writes “The canal thus became an attempt to create a new and more perfect world, a ‘Model City,’ in the words of its creator (Jenks, 43). Here we see creation, the “mysterious man named William T Love” (43), already fraught with symbolism, the Marlboro man, myth is full of mysterious strangers. “Love told rapt audiences that the region had been passed over” (44), add the imagery of a pied piper, a demagogue with promises of harnessing the powers of nature, to create the “most beautiful city in the world’ (44), add Cinderella, being lifted out of obscurity to her rightful position by the potent Prince Charming, and we have Niagara falling into his lap and the state willing to give this promethean spirit the power to create his own “Model City” (44).

In the late 1890’s, William T. Love got the idea for a industrial city built around a 6 mile long canal connecting the Niagara river to lake Ontario.

The excavations were begun; the Earth was plowed for the seeds to be planted for this wonderful child of William T. Love, and the seduced Niagara Falls. But alas the man turned out to be no hero, he failed, abandoning his commitments, leaving an unattended gash 3000 feet rather than the 5 mile trench he had advertised. Blaming the general depression of the times, Niagara went to find new suitors, in this case Hooker Electro-Chemical, another name fraught with symbolism like the dastardly landlord coming to take advantage of the abandoned maiden with a new career, no longer producing “a monument to the progressive spirit,” but “bought the canal and transformed it into a chemical waste dump” (44). The ingredients now existed for a Frankenstein’s monster, as Mary Shelly wrote “I kept my workshop of filthy creation…dissecting room and the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion” (Shelley, 39). Notice the filthy location, the waste material utilized, the human nature that would have him turn away, and the compulsion, such as perhaps the creators of the Atomic bomb felt, urged on by an itch, in this case a war, a competition among male scientists in World War 2, to create this monster that had been conceived of in the decades before the war. Pandora opened the box. The God’s to punish Prometheus and man had created a baleful gift in a beautiful woman who given to Prometheus’s brother Epimetheus whose name means afterthought, had let loose the side effects from the theft of fire and these, given to the forgetful brother, were to have consequences in the Love Canal (Schwab, 33-34).

Athena and Hephaestus working on creation of Pandora (Ancient White Ground Vase Painting)

Better nature, the feminine aspect, noted and ignored, the deed done, as we return to Love Canal. The seed had been planted by the clients of the gatekeeper personalized by Frank Ventry, who when the Army came to unload, “I was requested to loosen up the dirt in the area where the drums were to be dropped,” acting as the abettor of these midnight visits, he further states, “At no time during my tenure of responsibility in the Love Canal area was I required to sign for material placed in the dump nor maintain an inventory…there was no specific criteria to reject material from being dumped” (Ventry qtd. in Jenks, 69). All that was lacking was the passage of a satchel of cash into Ventry’s hands to make the image of a pimp complete. That we would assume was being handled by his superiors, or worse, this was a case of a negligent spouse allowing his ward to be abused by strangers willy-nilly. “Most of the factories in the surrounding area dumped including the Army” (68), Ventry stated. Love Canal was open to all comers, in the stealth of the night they came and dumped their loads and then left (47), without a trace, only the fading memory of the warden Ventry. Forgetting being important in the period of gestation, just as the chemical brew was allowed to form into its vile creation.

Ten years after the incident, New York State Health Department Commissioner David Axelrod stated that Love Canal would long be remembered as a “national symbol of a failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations.”

People were allowed to move into the area. The Niagara Falls, school board, allowed a school to be built on the site where dirt had been placed over the swill, in 1952, seemingly oblivious to the warnings that Hooker gave the school district when selling the land for a symbolic dollar (44, 48). A suburban development was built in the area named after Love, and the State of New York built a road through the enclosed area, providing a breach in what little containment there was, an example of amnesia as Jenks notes (49). By the 1970’s “residents noticed a nasty black liquid percolating through, the cracks of the school playground” (49), and the disaster had begun. The monster was beginning to rear its head. The seed planted in ignorance, as Oedipus had slept with his mother in an ignorance that ignored prophecy. Schwab describes in his version of Oedipus, who had sinned against nature, “the Furies were to give Oedipus peace and absolution for his sins against nature” and these female spirits of vengeance for the wronged earth were the only ones to show man a way out (Schwab, 241). Trapped in a materialistic linear view, focused on profits and goals, there was no way for the male dominated forces who created the mess in Love Canal to bring their attention to the problem without some power representing the elemental aspects of nature, the furies of the offended environment.

Lois Gibbs, a former resident and community leader, looks at Love Canal during a commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the toxic waste landfill August 1, 2003 in Niagara Falls, New York. (Harry Scull Jr./Getty)

Women, the betrayed females, not direct participants in the unspoken bargain between the companies, the workers, and the governing officials, which sacrificed the area for the sake of jobs and temporary prosperity (Jenks, 48), were now the leaders of the revolt as they formed the Love Canal Home owners Association, and women such as Lois Gibbs took the forefront demanding assistance from the responsible parties to get them out of the area which reporters and health officials increasingly proved to be dangerous to the health of residents (50). This female led revolt, by the primary care givers of children, the ones who primarily nursed sick children, met at PTA meetings and while picking up the kids from school and playgrounds (this might be anachronistic, back then most kids went to school and playgrounds unsupervised), would have opportunities to compare notes and notice the direct health effects that their spouses, could not, or would not due to participating in the unwritten contract. Amnesia for the men was a coping mechanism, a way to do the job and ignore the consequences. Jenks writes of Lois Gibbs recollection who “was stunned when she witnessed grown men crying for the first time” (51). This a direct result of being forced to face the realities and wake up from the walking dream that all was well and being done for the sake of the family. It was being done for survival by the workers and for profits by the corporations. The blind eye, and forgetting was good for business, Hooker had grown “from $19 million in sales in 1945 to $1.7 billion in 1978, around the time of its sale” (47). Business, national security, a plethora of male determined profit and national interests had become the driver and the reason in which this particular forgetting had become convenient. Like the former beauty queen haven fallen upon hard times, no one wanted to look, or remember what had once been. Instead there was the cosmetic of dirt thrown over the problem and the demon seeds planted in toxic soil rose like so many warriors from the Greek tale of Jason and the Argonauts who had sewn the dragon’s teeth it was a woman, Medea with her knowledge of nature who saved Jason (Schwab, 115-121). It was the actions of women like Rachel Carson, and Lois Gibbs, bringing attention to the nation via an astute use of media that awoke the nation from its sleep to reveal the many headed Hydra of toxic waste. The Herculean task of clean up, again we resort to Myth, to cope with the sheer overwhelming nature of the task we can look to the fifth labor of Hercules, cleaning of the Augean Stables (171), to gain some comprehension of the task. It is in myth that we find our answers, because it is in the collective mythology of progress that we created the mess, like young Frankenstein, obsessed with his urge, following it despite his better, and female influenced nature. By following the lead of the nurturers, and not the seed givers alone, thus, we awaken from the dreams sterile creation. Without nurturing the ground from whence life derives, all efforts seem to come to bitter consequences as the sleeper is rudely awakened.

In 1978 the EPA came to Love Canal along with the Federal Disaster Assistance Agency and started the clean up.

Works Cited
Jenks, Andrew. “Love Canal and the Law of Unintended Consequences.” Perils of Progress. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2011.
Ricoeur, Paul. Memory, History, Forgetting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Schwab, Gustav. Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece. New York: Pantheon Books, 1946.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. New York: Signet Classic, 2000.

Burford’s Arcadia: Ancient Greek Agriculture, Slavery and Democracy

Monday, May 4th, 2015

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Image: Berlin Foundry Cup,Foundry Painter, Red figure kylix, c. 490
From lecture podcast on Ancient Greek Slavery by Dr Gillian Shepherd

Below is a book review written for my Classics class on Ancient Greek History I had fun writing it but had to edit it down for the class. Perhaps I will post the long version at a later point in time. I focus on the issue of slavery in the ancient Greek world as well as agriculture and the creation of the classical Greek demos.

Burford, Allison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.
Allison Burford’s study of the ancient Greek agricultural world is based primarily on the extant ancient literary sources with some reference to archeological research, epigraphic and papyrus material as well as numerous secondary sources. As she states in the preface, Burford has not written an exhaustive reference work on the legal and technical aspects of land ownership, nor is it a statistical study of land tenure and agricultural practices over the course of the period, roughly the Eighth through the Second centuries BCE (Burford, ix). Basing her study upon a suggestion by M. I. Finley, she examines aspects of ancient Greek agricultural practices (x). The author argues that Greek civilization was based in agriculture and the ability to find free time from agricultural labor to via the labor of others, indicating that chattel slavery in Athens, and the institution of helotry in Sparta, for example provided much of the means for this freedom (1-3). She focuses more on the fundamental relationship between town and country emphasizing that agriculture concerned much of the population’s interest (3, 10). She also argues that the farming practices described in Hesiod’s Works and Days, were essentially the same as those of the time of Xenophon in his Oeconomicus written some three centuries apart, negating much of the idea of a transition from pastoralism, or the concept of an agricultural revolution in the Fifth century BCE (8-9, Morris, 1294). For Burford “the Classical city-state is, then, the developed image of the early community, not an entirely different creature” (12). Burford is interested in showing the continuity of the dependence upon agriculture and how it shaped ancient Greek civilization (12).
Alison Burford Cooper published studies in ancient social and economic history, including The Greek Temple Builders at Epidaurus (1969), Craftsmen in Greek and Roman Society (1972), and Land and Labor in the Greek World (1993). Born in England, she read Classics at Cambridge University. After teaching at the University of Nebraska and the University of North Carolina–Asheville, she and her husband Guy L. Cooper retired in Ann Arbor (Cooper, 1). The work under consideration, written near the end of her academic career seems to sum up her position regarding the importance of agriculture in the ancient Greek world building upon the work primarily of M. I. Finley.
Burford describes the dependence upon domestic food production and anxiety over the annual harvest as being primary to the Greek economy and civilization (Burford 2-3). She describes agriculture outside of Attica and Athens, especially descriptions of the Spartan system, but because of the dearth of literary source material, her focus is primarily, almost necessarily, upon Athens and Attica. She goes into some detail on the types of agricultural practices, division of land between productive agricultural and the more marginal upland where grazing occurred. She asserts that it was the exchange of surpluses locally and not dependence on international trade, even in Athens, except briefly during the Imperial period, was the driving force of daily life and policy of ancient Greeks (3).
Burford focuses on the mechanisms of land ownership, asserting that the state had overriding concerns and that the polis could and would intervene in private ownership, calling the polis “proprietor in chief of all landed assets within its boundaries” (16). This was true in Athens as well as the more obvious case of Sparta. She goes into some detail on efforts to make land distribution among citizens equal, not only in the new colonies but within the polis, citing Aristotle among others and examples from city states besides Athens (28). She then discusses the actual inequality of land distribution and the “concept of ‘ancestral portions’” asserting that the relationship between families and their land as going back to the foundations of communities and the preservation of the oikos through the “assured transfer of inheritance within the family, preferably from father to son” (29, 34-35). The legal dispute over distribution of the estate of one Hagnias of Athens, who had no children, became a multigenerational affair involving increasingly distant relations, to me indicates the power of families in property rights and privileges of the citizens within the context of the polis, whereas Burford sees the fact of intervention on the part of the courts as an indication of state power (43-45). Litigation rather than blood feuds is an advance of sorts.
She goes into some discussion of the position of the female inheritors, the epikleros who “had no independent rights to property,” but essentially used as a means of insuring that property stayed within the greater family or oikos to the extent that a male relative designated to marry an epikleros, had to divorce his existing spouse (46). Burford sees this as an indication that the community was more concerned with maintaining the stability of the oikos as the basis for the polis, citing Solon’s law providing for the dowry of an epikleroi with no estate by proscribing that the members of the pentakosiomedimnoi provide for epikleroi of the thetes within a family group (47). It seems to me that the state control of property is exaggerated and the families of the oligarchs still seem to have undue influence in the countryside even after the reforms of Solon as I will discuss further.
For the most part Greeks rejected feudal like peasantry an unacceptable status, one of being subservient to a greater lord, as was the case in Athens when Solon abolished indentured servitude. Defining helotry as feudal peasantry, according to Burford is not helpful, although I personally did not clearly understand the distinction she was trying to make other than to insure that readers would not look to medieval equivalency (85-86). The popular rebellion against indentured servitude by the citizens led directly or indirectly to the increased slavery of foreigners in Athens in my mind.
M.I. Finley’s contention that Athenian democracy was a result of chattel slavery, is taken up by Burford with her initial assertion that “chattel slavery became concomitant of radical democracy, and at the same time many landowners took a hand in working their own land” (3). Michael Jameson, agreeing with De Ste Croix, says “one might almost say that in the ancient world there was no true freedom without slavery” (Jameson, 122). Finley asserts that large scale agriculture of the wealthy classes was largely undertaken by slaves, including the overseers, indicates in my mind an oligarchic reaction to labor cost increases and the desire for control (Finley, Was Greek Civilization based on Slave Labor, 149).
Burford argues that in “Attica as in Chios and numerous other places, chattel slavery became the most important form of labor, not because the pelatai or thetes, the ‘nearby dependents,’ were reduced to slavery but because they were emancipated” (Burford, 209). This is an important point, as Finley points out using the analogy of the USA slave states before the American Civil War, he notes that three quarters of the land owners in the south had not connection to slavery and were small holders, yet close to one third of the population in the slave states were slaves, whereas in Classical Greece the practice of slave holding was more widespread (Finely, Was Greek Civilization, 151). Burford, discussing Attica, believes that the reforms of Solon reduced the availability of easily coercible labor, increasing the dependence on chattel slavery (Burford, 209). Burford cites Homer’s story of Eumaeus (Od. 15.415-84), Odysseus’ swineherd who had been kidnapped by Phoenician traders and sold into slavery as an example of piracy as a source of slaves as well as an example of the prevalence of slavery (Burford, 208). The question of Athens increased participation in the slave trade as a driver of empire, especially mass collusion versus resistance on the part of the thetes is an interesting issue. Were the oarsmen active slavers?
Contrasting Burford’s decidedly landlocked views on the shaping of Greek civilization are the views of those who would emphasize trade and naval power especially during the period of the Athenian Thalassocracy. Ian Morris, in his review of Burford, claims she doesn’t give enough weight to the “new model” of Greek agriculture with a shift to a market orientation Athens in the Fifth century BCE (Morris, Review, 1294). John Hale in his Lords of the Sea claims that without the navy there would not have developed the extreme form of Athenian democracy, the degree of democratization was due to the dependence of the Athenian Navy upon the urban poor for oarsmen (Hale, xxvii). David Lewis notes that trade with Barbarian parts of the world was required to maintain the extensive slave population required in the Athenian economy (Lewis, 91). This would tend to support the contention that there were economic drivers to the expansion of the Athenian Empire. Lewis considers the Greek Comedies as rich source of information on Greek attitudes about slavery; Aristophanes Scythian archers, the slave police force of Athens, are prominent in Lysistrata (Lewis, 100; Findley, Was Greek Civilization, 152; Lis. 15-24). Burford gives little if any information about the complexity of the relationship between overseas trade, slavery and agriculture.
I think that exploring further the implications of the slave trade and the economic basis of the more industrial aspects of Athenian agriculture in particular would have been helpful as Jameson points out the locus of slavery in Athens, unlike the more feudal like conditions in Sparta, where helotry actually inhibited urbanization similar in some ways to the American pre-civil war south, rather he points to slavery as being indicative of the importance of Athens as a trade and industrial center (Jameson, 123). One could be tempted to see the relative sympathy of the Oligarchs in Athens to the Spartans due to a confluence of interest in maintaining a lucrative slave market, with Nicias having some one thousand in the silver mines alone, the would have been sufficient economic reasons for a convergence of interest (Finley, Was Greek Civilization, 149). Aristophanes reminded his audience of the Athenian rescue of Sparta from the helots, (even if this was fictional, it would seem to have been a popular fiction) “Then Cimon went, taking four thousand infantry, /and saved the whole of Lacedaemon for your state,” indicating a resounding normalcy of slavery in Athens making a keener focus on the nature of dependence on slavery to be of even more interest (Lys. 42).
As the entire world population at least until the nineteenth century was primarily agricultural, and much of that of a subsistence nature, Burford’s focus on what the majority of the population did for a living is a good idea. D.W. Rathbone, reviewing Burford, is critical of the lack of focus on the growth of monetization, or any exposition of the field surveys and excavations of rural sites in more than a cursory manner (Rathbone, 330-331), to which I would add lack of geographic and topographic imagery in the form of maps, charts or photographic information, is to be regretted. Stylianos Spyridakis although largely praising her work, found the omission of evidence for a stronger case to be made for wealth generation outside of the purely agricultural sphere, pointing to trade in particular (Spyridakis, 107). Overall the impression is that Burford certainly went to great pains and into great detail to prove her point as to the rural nature of the Greek economy, but it presents a relatively static view of Greek agriculture. The book presents a massive amount of research mainly from the literary sources. The author tends to focus on detailed information giving the impression of a relatively static rural society over the time period with Hesiod and Homer side by side with Xenophon and Aristotle, where things happen, but there is not the focus on trends in population pressure, climatic conditions, the slave trade, etc. that would create a more dynamic model of the Greek world as it relates to the natural systems and practices of the populace over time. The book provoked a desire in this reader for more statistical data to verify the literary sources.
Works Cited
Aristophanes. Lysistrata. Translation and introduction by Donald Sutherland. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. 1961.
Burford, Allison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.
Cooper, Alison Burford. “Feasting and Fasting in Classical Greece.” Repast Quarterly Newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor. 20. 4. 2004.
Finley, M. I. “Was Greek Civilization based on Slave Labor?” Historia: Zeitshrift fur Alte Geschichte, 8.2 (1959): 145-164.
Finley, M. I. The Ancient Economy. Updated Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1999.
Hale, John R. Lords of the Sea The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy. New York: Viking Penguin. 2009.
Jameson, Michael J. “Agriculture and Slavery in Classical Athens.” The Classical Journal. 73. 2 (1977- 1978): 122-145.
Lewis, David. “Near Eastern Slaves in Classical Attica and the Slave Trade with Persian Territories.” Classical Quarterly, 61.1 (2011): 91-113.
Morris, Ian. “Forward.” The Ancient Economy. Updated edition, Berkeley: University of California Press. 1999. ix-xxxvi.
Morris, Ian. “Land and Labor in the Greek World.” The American Historical Review, 99.4 (1994): 1293- 1294.
Rathbone, D. W. “Burford, A. ‘Land and Labor in the Greek World’ (Book Review).” Classical Review, 44.2 (1994): 330.
Spyridakis, Stylianos. “Land and Labor in the Greek World.” Agricultural History, 68.1 (1994): 106-107.

April Easter Meditations: Myth of Progress

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Moai Statues on Easter Island.
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I am feeling inspired this morning. Well perhaps inspiration is too strong a term, let me just say I am awake. It started at 4:38 AM and at that ungodly hour I awoke, thinking I was late for work, checked the time, and then remembered it was Sunday. Instead of falling back in to slumber land, I pondered, rather than feel existential anxiety over my piddling fate, I was struck by the big WHY question. Why now, why me, what is the purpose of all this. Perhaps it was because of a lingering sense of duty to adhere to some normative relationship to the great Christian holiday ensuing in the world around me, or perhaps it was because the last comment I made to a fellow human being before drifting off into the land of Nod, was how I thought the whole Easter business was nonsense but entertaining for humans in need of reassurance that their lives had meaning, whatever the reason, I found myself facing the eternity abyss without panic or defensive humor, simple wonderment was sufficient.

Ruminating over the Ancient Greeks whom I have been studying of late, especially thinking about how complex and modern seeming their society was, although watching a National Theatre Production of Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers, emphasized the alien nature of Greek drama, what with the masks and chorus, but overall the Greeks seemed to be a pretty sophisticated bunch. Trying to follow the ins and outs of an ancient law suit Haginas Versus Haginas, to borrow the name from modern legal terminology, I was amazed at how tenaciously a group of fairly distant relatives battled over the estate of an ancestor who died without progeny to inherit the property, which was mostly agricultural land as described in Alison Burford’s book Land and Labor in the Greek World (Burford, 43-45).

I don’t know if the persistence of wrangling over property is a sign of advanced civilization, but it certainly is a sign of consistency in human endeavor. Artistically there seems to be evidence of a progression from geometric oriental influenced art to idealized human forms degenerating into naturalistic kitsch, or so the classical art historians would have us believe with their fetish for 5th Century Greek formalism, mostly surviving in Roman copies, which to my mind speaks more to nineteenth century European elite than ancient Greek taste. Which brings me to my question of the day, why did technology take off so grandly in the modern epoch? If humanity is not measurably more intelligent than before, except perhaps in the sense that more of us have the luxury of not having to work as physical drudges than before, it is not clear to me that all this excess brain power is feeding into the greater wisdom of the species, unless Youtube cat videos count as adding to the enlightenment of which we are the alleged beneficiaries. In truth, as ever was, the spark of genius that lies within, is only allowed so much physical candle power before it burns out all the moths that gather round its heated light.

Am I condemning us all to perpetual ignorance? No only to perpetual indulgence in phantasies of progress. The Hegelian in me rebels against such pessimism, but when I look at the past, I am amazed at the sophistication and complexity I see and my sense of the present day as having advanced is replaced with the concept that we have merely changed focus. By indulging in spending so much of the planetary resources in a brief incandescent moment of technological fixes, are we creating an enduring base for a vastly superior golden age to come, or merely depleting our resources in some recreation o Easter Island systemic collapse on a grand scale as Jared Diamond describes in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed(Diamond, 79-119). I am just as suspicious of fads in doom and gloom as I am of eternal optimism. We may be on the Titanic, but oh, how glamorous our departure into the depths. Perhaps some future civilization will write a Homeric epic on the fall of oil based technological civilization as the ancient bard wrote of Troy falling to the barbaric Greeks. It is hard to imagine aircraft carriers launching jet fighters and rockets red glare with solar and wind power. On the other hand in a collapse, these would probably be the last hold outs of the technology of the children of the Enlightenment as we moderns are.

Okay there I go again with my pessimism. But it is Easter Sunday, at least according to the revised Gregorian calendar, and we are here to celebrate a renewal of life, a second chance as it were. We, the people of the world, choking in our oil petrochemical waste, plasticizing our oceans as we are, eating organic produce wrapped in petrochemical products, etc, are we hell bent on removing the possibility of redemption simply because we have so clogged the arteries of divine cleansing that we are insensible to its effects? Divine cleansing, as if the divine could be reduced to a detergent, Mr. Clean genii popping out of another bag of tricks to provide us with an escape, just in the nick of time from our own childish refusal to see that over our shoulders there are dues to pay. Jubilee, indulgences for all, please divine daddy…

I should not be so dramatic, after all, there is progress in specific areas. It is just the unintended consequences that become problems. I am thinking about the extended life spans of people. Resources are spent on caring for the elderly that could be spent on early childhood education and poverty elimination. But we could also do that by simply eliminating the huge military budget. If the US spent as much as European countries we might even be able to afford socialized medical care, and take care of the young and elderly. One can dream. Maybe even throw in free university education, Obama has the right idea for free community college.

Perhaps we as a world civilization will move on to the socialist paradigm, and away from the Capitalist one but then there will be issues of the individual against the bureaucratic machine, Ayn Rand followers might then actually have a case. The State in the US is merely intrusive rather than overwhelming. Interestingly enough it wasn’t until I had a catastrophic illness that I really benefited from the state. Going back to school, medical care and tax relief were some of the most evident benefits, it made kidney failure almost enjoyable. Being back at work has been somewhat traumatic, especially because it has forced me to cut back on school. The experience has shown up the class distinctions in the US with education becoming again a luxury for the affluent, unless massive debt is something in your aspirational vision. Hmm not doing too good with this optimism thing, not really my forte.

This was what we used to do for Easter when I was a kid. Only our eggs were not so fancy.
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Works Cited

Burford, Alison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking. 2005.

Flora of Stoney Point Park, California

Saturday, January 10th, 2015


Stoney Point rock formation and city park, in the western San Fernando Valley. A Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument located near Chatsworth Park North, in Chatsworth, Los Angeles, California From:

Flora of Eight Transects at Stoney Point: Significance Indications of Transition from CSS to Chaparral at Intersecting WTR and SCo region of California Floristic Province

Samantha Antu, Justin Chong, Gary Crethers, and Natalie Espinoza
Report written by Crethers. Data collected by Antu, Chong, Crethers and Espinoza.
Photos and tables as credited.


The flora data from eight transects taken in the southwest region of the Stony Point Park, Chatsworth area of Los Angeles County, was used to determine the vegetation type community according to the University of California Natural Reserve System and the Jepson Manual, Hierarchical Outline of Geographic Subdivisions. The data compared with data from three other groups examining other locations in the SW region of CA-FP, using Chi data analysis initially and then using Alpha, Beta and Gamma Biodiversity analysis. The determination that the vegetation in the Stony Point region was so divergent from that of the other regions, all of which were in the CSS, led to the tentative conclusions that this was a hard Chaparral plant community with some aspects of valley and foothill woodland vegetation. The plants in the region were suffering from prolonged drought conditions making plant species identification problematic. The constant use of the area by rock climbers also affected the vegetation. The authors recommend further study, including historical plant data correlated with climatic conditions and disturbance factors.


The Stony Point Park is a seventy-six acre complex of trails around a rocky outcrop located in the western region of the Valley in Los Angeles near the intersection of the 118 Highway and Route 27 Topanga Canyon Road, approximately 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This is an area where the California Floristic province or CA-FP, SW region (southwest region), WTR (western transverse region) intersects with the SCo (south coast) (Hickman; 1993, 44-45). The plant communities of this area are described in the NCR (University of California Natural Reserve System) as “Chaparral (Hard Chaparral) same in Muntz” and the “Valley and Foothill Woodland (includes Northern, Southern Oak Woodland; and Foothill Woodland)” (Ornduff, Faber and Keeler-Wolf; 2003, 115-118). The area is part of the Chatsworth Formation the oldest geological formation in the Simi Valley region, forming in the Upper Cretaceous period 75 to 70 million years ago. Sandstone is the major component of this formation originally part of deposits left by turbidity currents in a submarine canyon creating deposits 6000 feet thick. The transverse zone created by the end of subduction 30 million years ago with the beginning of the transverse slippage process by which the Pacific plate is moving in a northwesterly direction relative to the North American plate represented by the San Andreas fault has created the current geological conditions. Layers of grayish rock when exposed to weathering appear brown to reddish brown in layers of thick sandstone interleafed with thin layers of mudstone (Squires; 1997a, 294-296), figure 1.


Figure 1 us geological survey paper 1515 san andreas]fault 1990-1991. Map shows elevations.

The region fragmented in terms of urban development in relationship to natural ecosystems. Stoney Point itself is a popular rock climbing and hiking area. The area transected could be qualified as disturbed with many hikers seen tramping around the sites. There is a horse stable directly adjacent to the south of the region we selected. Datura Wrightii, the first species examined seemed to prefer the disturbed area with a lot of human activity. Stoney Point is part of the Mediterranean climate zone (mild, wet winters and hot dry summers), which has recently been undergoing drought conditions which may be a reflection of climate change. Recent studies of Brassica rapa have indicated that evolutionary change is occurring in species as well as natural plant plasticity (Franks, and Weis; 2008). Drought in the region cannot be specifically determined to be a result of warming in the SST due to the contradictory effects of the high abnormality over the eastern Pacific and the increased atmospheric humidity (Wang and Schubert; 2014). The vegetation is dispersed with clumps of denser vegetation near the dry water channel and at the edge of the horse stable and homes where there may be some runoff creating the potential for an oasis like microclimate, although no water flow was observed. These species included Centaurea melitensis, Quercus agrifolia, Rhus ovata, and Eucalyptus globulus. The rocky southern slope of the hill studded with large boulders that provide some shelter for vegetation. Stipa coronata especially seemed adapted to this environment. Santa Ana winds are particularly strong in the region, with the author experiencing gusty winds on a second visit to the site.

Materials and Methods

The group used a tape measure to divide each transect into segments of 1 meter over a 10 meter length for 11 identifications each. GPS data gathered at the beginning and end of each transect using GPS Status data available as an app for cell phones. The closeness to the rock wall of the hillside and some of the larger boulders made readings less than 100 percent reliable. Data was recorded manually on transect forms with pen and pencil with the tasks being shared by all participants. Eight transects were taken, sampling two on the trail entering the site from the Topanga Canyon Road. There was one transect taken among the rocks on the south side ridge of Stoney Point. One transect taken in a grove of trees among sheltering boulders. Another three transects were done along the dry watercourse and a final transect was made among trees that were on the edge of the park paralleling a housing development to the south. The choices made sampling different terrains and vegetation in a random manner as we moved in an easterly direction, and then doubled back for the last transects. Antu, Chong, Crethers, and Espinoza took data sampling on November 8, 2014. Crethers did a follow up on November 16,, 2014.

Plant identification was done with a combination of photographic images taken on the spot and cuttings from species observed at the transect points. The images checked against Calflora, Google images, the NPIN: Native Plant Database at, Wiki articles, Jepson Manual of Higher Plants and Introduction to California Plant Life as well as consulting with Professor Rodrigue who initiated the research site and methodology proposal. The plant data analyzed by Gary Crethers and Justin Chong; Chong then created an excel spreadsheet with the data. This data further modified by Crethers and Professor Rodrigue and reviewed by Antu and Espinoza. The data gathered was subject to a Chi-square test by Samantha Antu, and then Antu performed a comparison analysis with alpha, beta and gamma diversity tests against the data gathered by three other groups for the Southern California region. These included data from transects taken from the Bolsa Chica Wetlands, Palos Verdes at the Portuguese Bend Reserve, and Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve.


The identifications hampered by the extremely dry conditions of the drought. (Swain et. al., 2014, S3; Wang and Schubert, 2014, S7). See figure 2.


Figure 2 California Precipitation over long historical periods. From:

Plant images for identification purposes were almost universally from when the plants are flowering. There were large areas with no visible plant life or unidentifiable plant debris. Of the 88 separate identification locations, 38 were bare ground or rock face or 43 percent of the area. This indicates the discontinuous nature of the vegetation. Species tended to clump together. Only twelve species identified in transects with dirt being the most common. Only twelve species identified in transects with dirt being the most common. See Table 1 below.


Chi-Square results showed the region to be anomalous in relationship to the other groups. Bolsa Chica Reserve and Portuguese Bend Reserve are both CSS environments directly on the Pacific coast. Sepulveda Basin Reserve has riparian CSS, with indications of a transition to the chaparral of the WTR, as the SepulvedaF14 data shows. Species Salix goodingii, or Gooding’s willow, Baccharis salicifoila, or mule fat, and Baccharis pilularis, or coyote brush, predominant in the groups transects, indigenous species. Whereas Datura wrightii, jimsom weed, Ambrosia psilostachya, or ragweed, and Hirshfeldia incana or Mediterranean Mustard predominated in StonyPointF14 data, with ragweed and mustard both invasive species, according to the results posted by Rodrigue (Geog.442, 2014).

The Alpha Beta diversity comparison below indicates the degree of diversity of the other sites. We have twelve different species at Stoney Point indicating the least diversity among the sites. But then when compared to the other sites on the Beta diversity Stoney Point has the least divergence with Sepulveda and the greatest with Bolsa Chica. The Gamma diversity of the region is 52.


Figure 3 Alpha Beta Diversity comparing Stony Point Data to the other three sites (Samantha Antu 2014).
That would indicate that geographical distance maybe significant as a factor, as Bolsa Chica is the furthest away from Stoney Point at approximately 50 miles. Palos Verdes is next at 38 miles and Sepulveda is closest at 10 miles, but physical distance is not necessarily significant in and of itself, if the climatic conditions are the same over the entire regional environment. A more important factor would be the distance from the maritime influence of the ocean. As has been stated, Stoney Point is 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean. It is almost due north from the mouth of Topanga Canyon. Bolsa Chica and Palos Verdes sites are both less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean. Sepulveda site is approximately 10 miles from the ocean, almost exactly half the distance that Stoney Point is from the Ocean. Looking at the topography, the Palos Verdes site has a rapid increase of altitude from near sea level at about 50 meters to 280 meters or almost 1000 feet. Bolsa Chica has elevations that are all very near sea level all less than 5 meters, 15 feet or less elevation. Sepulveda is on the other side of the Mulholland Pass. It is a riparian site with the LA River running through it and as figure above indicates it is in the 205 to 220 meters altitude range about 600 feet. Whereas the Stoney Point readings were at about the 310-340 meter level over 1000 feet. Elevation in itself clearly is not the distinguishing factor. A combination of elevation, distance from the ocean, wind currents affecting rainfall, whether or not the microclimate is within a rain shadow or not all are factors. Stoney Point partially blocked by the higher Simi Hills to the west and the Santa Monica Mountains to the south does not benefit as directly from the coastal CSS climate as the other areas.


Figure 4 California Floristic Province Map from the Jepson Herbarium From:

The constant influx of visiting humans and the proximity to residential areas, provide many opportunities for invasive species to infiltrate the park that is isolated from the larger, more natural ecosystems of the Simi Hills. The species along the dry watercourses were a mixture of introduced species such as the Eucalyptus globulus, brought from Australia to provide drought resistant timber in the nineteenth century, Rhus Ovata or sugar bush, and Quercus agrifolia, or coast live oak. The last two are native and the coast live oak used by Native Americans for the acorns to produce one of their dietary staples. This expected as the climatic conditions change from SCo with its milder temperature range due to the mitigating effects of the maritime ecosystem along the coast inland. In addition, the coastal fog in the summers mitigates the transfers a greater degree of moisture to coastal plants spared some of the effects of the hotter and dryer conditions as one moves inland. The hot, dry summers and cool wet winters reflect a Mediterranean climate, which transits to a montane environment moving inland and upland, with its Chaparral, Valley, and Foothill ecosystem.


The results would tend to indicate with the lack of shared species, that the Stoney Point data is from a different plant community, than that directly on the Pacific coast, in this case identified as Chaparral and Valley and Foothill Woodland. Dirt appearing as the most common identifier indicates the lack of foliage density. This seems to be the result of human use of trail areas and the severe drought conditions have caused many species to die back and subsequently become hard to identify. Still we concluded the species reflect those found in Inland Scrub or Chaparral zone. Twenty miles from the ocean, species in Stoney Point have more of the characteristics of species found in the inland scrub rather than CSS, although identification was somewhat problematic. The group bolstered fieldwork by checking the Jepson Manual of Higher Plants and Introduction to California Plant Life area maps to confirm this conclusion. See Figure 4 above.

Further research:

Prepare a historical study of introduction of invasive species and the advisability of removing them from such a small ecological island.
 Pre-Colonial Indigenous influence on species and habitat has been profound and needs further research, see Appendix 1.
 Effects of Climate change and extended drought on whether the CSS area is reduced and replaced by Chaparral species or if the opposite occurs or some more complex adaptation.
 The Urbanization effect on habitat and species resilience, including the effects of pollution, small versus large ecological islands and the possible linking of the park with other areas to provide corridors for native fauna and flora is another area for further study.

Appendix 1: Notes on Native American Land Use and Datura Wrightii

Datura Wrightii used by the indigenous people of the region for a variety of purposes. According to Edward D. Castillo in his article on California Native Americans, Datura or Jimsonweed was used male puberty rituals due to its hallucinogenic properties (Castillo 1998). The area around Stony Point was a traditional site for the local Tataviam tribal people called Momonga and was a mortuary area according to the tribal web site of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. They also claim the use of jimson weed in the making of baskets. “The historical Tataviam ate acorns, yucca, juniper berries, sage seeds and islay, and they hunted small game. Jimsonweed, native tobacco, and other plants found along the local rivers and streams provided raw materials for baskets, cordage, and netting” (Fernandeño Tataviam Band, History).


“Momoy (Chumash) – Datura wrightii

Also called California Jimson Weed or in Spanish, toloache, this small bush is common in disturbed areas and often considered one of the most sacred plants in the Chumash world. According to Cecilia, Momoy protects and tickles the soul, brings you back to earth. Ingestion of the root mixture would initiate young boys or girls into adulthood and can induce sacred dreams or hallucinations. Unfortunately, the dreaming-dose can inhibit breathing, become poisonous, or induce blindness. It can be dangerous or deadly, and not recommended outside of sacred, not psychedelic, Chumash ceremonies. In small amounts it can help a patient breathe as aromatherapy mixed with yerba santa leaves (Eriotdictyon crassifolium) or destress as a foot soak” From:

The issue of how First Nation Californians managed their ecosystems largely through controlled burns and the introduction and removal of species makes the issue of what is native, even more complex. The example of the fox population on the Channel Islands has become an issue as Sharon Levy points out that there are strong indications that the fox was introduced by Chumash or other early human arrivals (Levy 333), which has become controversial in determining how far back one should go in restoring original ecosystems. It also brings up the question as to whether there is such a thing as an original ecosystem since the complex nature of the environment is constantly adapting and changing, at what point is restoration simply advocacy for an ideological position? Standards seemingly based on some aesthetic of diversity as an aspect of beauty, rather than a vain attempt to recreate a frozen moment in time because of some purported scientific reason, or perhaps based on the best pragmatic determination as to what will enhance our own survivability. Self-interest ecology seems like it might appeal to the rightward shift in Congress for continued funding.

Jan Timbrook points out that before the arrival of Europeans the local Chumash and Tongva peoples used controlled burns to modify the natural environment. The practice ended by the Spanish missionaries causing the ecosystem to change and gradually lose much of the character it had at the time of the arrival of Europeans (Timbrook, 244). This has led some such as Kat Anderson and Michael Moratto to suggest that the Native American land use practices led to much healthier forests in the Sierra Nevada and bringing Naïve practices back into use. The claim is that protection of supposedly pristine eco-islands is not even historically an accurate view of pre-invasion California, particularly in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (Anderson and Moratto, 187-188).

Certainly a deeper look at what is the natural environment to be preserved needs to take into account thousands of years of Native American husbandry practices as well as the world wide phenomena going back perhaps hundreds of thousands of years in Africa in particular.

If you would like to see the original paper in full color you can contact me at “” and will gladly email you the article.

Works Cited
Anderson, M. Kat, and Michael J. Moratto. 1996. “Native American land-use practices and ecological impacts.” In Sierra Nevada ecosystem project: final report to congress, 2: 187-206 (accessed December 12, 2014).
Calflora: Information on California plants data contributed by institutions and individuals, including the Consortium of California Herbaria. [web application]. 2014. Berkeley, CA: The Calflora Database [a non-profit organization]. Available:, (accessed: Nov. 14, 2014).
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