Why are Southern Magnolia trees in Seattle?

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 41 of 52. I took all the photographs during the past workweek. The shots show (variants of) Southern Magnolia trees in West Seattle near the Chelan Cafe.

Magnolia fruit

Circa 2009, when I lived in North Texas, I enjoyed learning about trees with a field guide. I taught myself to distinguish between sycamores, oaks, and so on. That might not seem a big deal to those who grew up taught such things. But for those who grew up in front of glowing screens, stuck in their heads, identifying components of Nature can be a pleasant bridge toward actual reality.

One kind of tree that has stood out to me ever since has been the magnolia. You might have heard of the moonlight and magnolia myth, based on a line from the 1939 Gone with the Wind film. The myth refers to unjust romanticization of the antebellum South, likely alluding to the sweet smell of the tree’s blooming white flower, since the magnolia grows especially in the Southern portions of the US.

Perhaps the best known type of magnolia is the evergreen Southern Magnolia (Magnolia Grandiflora), native to the US South. In 2009, I wrote a blog post about the biggest Southern Magnolia in Dallas / Fort Worth, which lives at what was then called the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. This summer, I revisited the towering tree and wrote about how sadly, via a sweetheart deal, the City of Fort Worth took the 109-acre park out of the commons (well, city government-controlled commons) and handed it to the BRIT nonprofit, its private management, and its board of directors, who as of a 2019 tax filing included local billionaire Ed Bass. In addition to charging admissions fees, BRIT told the public to stay away from the region’s biggest magnolia by putting up chains and Do not enter, Do not climb signs. But are humans and magnolia trees free to touch elsewhere, possibly in the Pacific Northwest?

Urban setting, with tree

To my surprise, I recently noticed that along one of my jogging routes in West Seattle, multiple accessible magnolias grow. My 2008 copy of the National Wildlife Federation’s Field Guide to Trees of North America says that various types of magnolia are native to the United States and Canada. The entire book unfairly leaves Mexico out of North America; I don’t know if Southern Magnolias are native there. The book’s maps (showing US and Canada only) suggest that for the most part, magnolias are local to the US South. That includes the Southern Magnolia species, as you might expect from its name. So what are magnolias doing in Seattle?

The field guide explains that the Southern Magnolia is grown worldwide as an ornamental species. The only West Seattle magnolias I’ve come across so far are on the property of the Chelan Cafe, obscured from some angles by columnar maples. The long-standing restaurant, open since 1938, offers highly tempting but very non-vegan chicken fried steaks and other Southern cuisine, which maybe explains why decorative Southern Magnolias are around the property: to fit the theme.

In the last workweek, I asked a Chelan Cafe employee for more information, and while he didn’t know when and why these particular trees were planted, he said he believes they’re actually dwarf magnolias. Dwarf magnolias are variants of the Southern Magnolia that grow shorter, and are thus easier to plant ornamentally in rigid urban settings. The City of Seattle’s remarkable tree inventory map agrees that the Chelan Cafe magnolias are Southern Magnolias, but doesn’t say if they are or aren’t dwarf magnolias, or any other variant. Meanwhile, Lou Stubecki, who manages Trees for Seattle, the umbrella for the City of Seattle’s urban forestry efforts, told me by email today—I showed Stubecki the same photos you’re seeing on this post—that the plants look like the Southern Magnolia cultivar called “Little Gem.” They’re shorter in stature and have smaller leaves than the regular Southern Magnolia species. Plot twist: Little Gem and Dwarf Magnolia mean the same thing. Two names for the same variant of the Southern Magnolia.

So in a sentence: Southern Magnolias (at least the dwarf/little gem subtype of them) live in Seattle because in addition to growing natively in the US South (and perhaps elsewhere), they’re also planted decoratively worldwide.

I think two lessons can be drawn from this everyday life Q&A.

Southern Magnolia near electronic gizmos

First, the public shouldn’t risk taking the commons for granted, whether city- or genuinely public-managed, as the City of Fort Worth’s giveaway of the Botanic Garden shows. Many in the United States who wake up to horrifying “political” realities eventually choose to push them out of mind, limiting themselves to “toxic positivity,” lighthearted conversations, funny memes that are (apparently) apolitical, corporate entertainment, and the like. Rest and recreation are crucial, lighthearted conversations can be lifesavers, and resistance doesn’t have to mean sorting through terrifying data all day every day. However, I don’t think just putting scary topics on permanent ignore is a solution either, despite what the latest ’60s-esque quotes might claim about personal comfort. Injustice crops up in our neighborhoods already and will continue to do so, possibly taking our favorite trees down with it.

Second, states internationally employ a startlingly high degree of complexity and violence (or threats thereof) to control how such entities as plants are moved around worldwide. In my own efforts to emigrate, I’ve read through a lot of bureaucratic Canadian documents to try to determine if bringing my houseplants across the border by car would be permissible. The closest I got to an answer was that it would depend on the whims of the particular CBSA border guard, who would most likely wave my little green friends through as typical houseplants; but, that wasn’t certain, since the plants I take care of, while quotidian, nevertheless aren’t on Canada’s list of “automatically approved” species. (I’m now thinking I’ll go to the Netherlands anyway.) I can’t find anything intrinsically wrong with the concept of societies knowledgeably monitoring their geographic borders and responsibly regulating the movement of plants, which after all could qualify as invasive species or carry contagious pests. But like the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, understandings of why and how plants should be spread or constrained was stolen from the public over centuries and placed into the hands of states regulating ultimately on behalf of corporate supranational power. Consider this astonishing excerpt from human rights activist Heather Marsh’s 2016 blog post The supranational empire:

For almost one hundred percent of human history, people lived in autonomous, networked tribes. Their feats of exploration and the knowledge handed down over generations were equal to or greater than more complex societies, even in highly specialized areas. The medicinal knowledge of the Kallawaya in pre and post Inca society included brain surgery in 700 CE and using quinine to cure malaria before anyone else. The navigation and seafaring skill of the Polynesians brought them to over 25 million square kilometres of territory between Easter Island, New Zealand and Hawaii and also took them to America and possibly close to Antarctica. Polynesians and probably many others were not following or seeking food. They explored even when their survival needs were all met. Kallawaya still travel great distances to share their knowledge and skill, not because they need to but because it is their accepted social responsibility to do so. Kallawaya traditional knowledge includes uses for almost a thousand plant species and Polynesian traditional knowledge allows them to navigate using 220 stars. All of this knowledge was preserved in oral tradition for hundreds or thousands of years and was shared by the tribe, held by those with the interest and aptitude to learn it.

Leaves of another West Seattle magnolia

Try explaining public sovereignty/knowledge (when it exists) to a CBSA border guard giving you grief about the safe snake plant rising from your floorboard. Some ministries and bureaucrats do excellent work, of course, but ultimately, states and especially corporations have snatched knowledge away from members of the public, who often no longer know that they don’t know the details of, say, trade or FATCA agreements controlling cross-country shipments of currency or plants. That leaves us stuck with semi-opaque bureaucratic rules, the caprices of individual enforcers, and worse. Self-governance is violated or impaired. Thankfully, in many cases, our understandings and power have changed for the better across the last decade due to journactivists (journalist + activist) spreading quality information, human rights defenders putting their lives on the line, and other forces.

Finally, I’ve visited the Washington Park Arboretum only once, but readers interested in Seattle trees might find it a great place to go. I hope to check out the arboretum again soon. Below, let’s branch out to other items:

News blasts: Just some hyperlinks…

Screenshot from an anime shows an angry male character saying: "Fighting fascism is a full-time job!"
“Fighting fascism is a full-time job!” (From Star Trek: LD)

In the interest of time and brevity, I’m omitting important items from the past workweek regarding the United States, tech updates, and the worldwide trade economy collapse/change.

For next weekend, I aim to post about Belarus. But if you want a head start, check out these two writings from Charter97.org, editor in chief Natalya Radina. Amnesty International named Radina a prisoner of conscience after her 2010 arrest for “organizing mass disorder” (reporting favorably on pro-democracy protests by the opposition to Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko). She’s now an exile in Poland and said in 2011, when the Committee to Protect Journalists gave her an award, that “all of Belarus today is a big prison” because of, among other reasons, “foreign indifference.”

I’ll leaf it at that!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Why are Southern Magnolia trees in Seattle? by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/10/17/why-southern-magnolia-trees-seattle/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Revisiting the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW; news blasts for Cuba and Texas

Note: In 2021, I’m posting a new entry to my blog every weekend or so. This is number 29 of 52. All photos were taken by me on 23 July 2021, except the small one identified in the caption as from my 2009 post. I took that photo then.

Note: See last week’s post for a reply by me to a reader’s question in the comments.

Texas Native Forest Boardwalk at Fort Worth Botanic Garden

More than a decade ago, in June 2009, I wrote a blog entry titled “Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW” (Dallas/Fort Worth). From my recent IP addresses in North Texas and Seattle at least, if you google “What’s the biggest Southern Magnolia tree in DFW?” my writing comes up as a “featured snippet” search result. As strange as it is to be honored by Skynet, I’m glad the Google algorithms prioritize the post.

Anyway, Friday afternoon I visited — just before flying back to Seattle on Saturday — the hometown tree, which I hadn’t seen in years and years. I discovered some things have changed, not only the TexasTreeTrails.org webpage I cite in my long-ago entry for facts on the champion plant. (That webpage has moved here.)

You’re probably familiar with the structural device of dividing a topic into the good, the bad, and the ugly; let’s do that in reverse order, to end on an upbeat note before plunging into news blasts for Cuba and the Lone Star State.

The Ugly

The color photo shows the Cityview Car Wash building in Fort Worth, Texas. The Cityview Car Wash sign is partially burnt out. No people are visible; things seem a little decaying.
The world has moved on

On Friday I stopped by Fort Worth’s Cityview Car Wash too, because in the past few years, from a distance, I’ve often thought about this odd antebellum-esque store — in some ways, an opposite of the grand Southern Magnolia — where I took family automobiles as a prep school teen, not knowing any better. While the globe continues to warm (see my recent post on the Pacific Northwest heat-dome), it’s possible such expensive car washes in the South will keep going till the last possible moment, so rich white men can take their antique Mercedes and Jaguars there, and sit inside, having their shoes shined by elderly black men, or sit outside, watching their vehicles be towel-dried, by not-so-rich, not-so-white young men.

A streetside sign for Cityview Car Wash advertises monthly carwash plans
Your monthly car wash bill awaits

Along with the global weirding of weather we in the U.S. are already witnessing, my understanding is that water crises will be among the earliest and most salient enduser-facing problems of the coming climate change disasters. Of course, the outlandish car wash shops rely heavily on large amounts of water. I called Cityview Car Wash on Sunday to ask if they use recycled or reclaimed water. The low-level employee who answered the phone frankly said No, they use fresh water.

Picture it like a movie. Even as, by 2040, pollen counts double, and even as, by whenever, Fahrenheit temperatures in the 120s and higher become the norm, sweaty, sneezy Texans will still be sitting at Cityview Car Wash. The TVs will be blasting Fox Weather; security for the business will be provided by militarized police-tanks. The old white men will keep on watching teens haul huge long hoses to the parked Porsches. Close-up on a hose-sprayer held in a dark-skinned hand: the water is only dribbling out… only barely dribbling out… Close-up on a spigot valve being turned hard by a brown hand again and again. Another close-up on the hose-sprayer: it’s waterless now. It’s futile. With itchy eyes, the old Texan men look at each other. The South will not rise again.

But can the City of Fort Worth control such non-essential water usage during droughts? After all, they sell water to businesses in their jurisdiction, sourcing much it from the Trinity, the river discussed in my post last week.

Such local government regulation has had an effect on DFW car washes before. Due to dry spells in recent years, car washes in Witchita Falls, a corner of North Texas, have been required to change procedures when water conservation regulators threatened to shut them down. A City of Fort Worth drought contingency and emergency water management plan, effective May 2019, says (to oversimplify) that when a dry spell gets bad enough (“Stage 3” in the document),

“Vehicle washing … [at a] commercial car wash […] can only be done as necessary for health, sanitation, or safety reasons […] All other vehicle washing is prohibited.”

Note: According to City of Fort Worth water conservation manager Micah Reed in an email reply to me on Monday July 26, the emergency plan is updated every five years. The 2019 one I link and excerpt is the one that would come into effect in a qualifying emergency. I bet Micah Reed would make an interesting interviewee on this topic.

In short, the forthcoming water crises might bring power struggles between the Texan-beloved auto industry, and governments, not so beloved by Texans except when their business gets a gub’ment handout. Everyone underfoot getting stomped on by the two hierarchs going at each other, if they do, hopefully will intensify their growing interest in self-governance, taking care of themselves, each other, and the land as the giants continue their slow implosion.

Let’s turn to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden to see an example showing how power struggles between local government and industry typically go down. This weekend was the first time I’ve visited the Garden in something like seven years.

The Bad

The Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW, now chained off. Signs read: “Do not enter” and “Please do not climb in the trees. Thank you!”

Not far from adrenal-fatigued Texans and their thunderous, wastefully washed SUVs on one of the city’s busiest streets, University Drive, the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, 109-something acres nowadays and the oldest major public garden in the state, grows peacefully. Depending on how you slice it, construction began on the Garden, then smaller and known as Rock Springs Park, in 1921, followed by, in various phases, early construction continuing on the area, renamed the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in 1934; some of that labor was part of FDR’s New Deal. The park debuted in 1935. However, none of the 750-or-so poor laborers from the earliest construction days were allowed to attend the opening ceremony, because the authorities wanted present only those who could afford fancy clothes. With limited exceptions, the Garden was also segregated, banning humans with dark skin, until roughly 1961 (more sources would help; anyone?). In 2009, the National Park Service (well, a bureau of the NPS) listed the core portion of the Garden on the National Register of Historic Places. The 111-page registration form can be found here; that certifying document and the 2010 Fort Worth Botanic Garden Master Plan (put together by various stakeholders including the city and a high-priced consulting agency) supply a great number of details on the Garden that this paragraph skips over for the sake of quick summary.

Same mighty plant, from my 2009 post. Note absence of chains. Neither a “do not enter” sign, nor a “do not climb” sign, back then.

The City of Fort Worth has owned at least some of the underlying land since 1912 and still owns all the Botanic Garden land today, but while I was happily living in Seattle, a bigly change transpired. In October 2020, the City of Fort Worth transferred its management of the Garden to the Botanic Research Institute of Texas, the BRIT nonprofit among whose board of directors — according to a 2019 tax filing — sits Ed Bass, of the billionaire oil-rich and locally powerful Bass family.

BRIT’s nonprofit structure notwithstanding, the management of the Botanic Garden has been privatized; the immediate ire the public has felt regarding the new biz centers on the Garden replacing the free admissions policy, more or less upheld continuously since 1935, with an in-real-life paywall. BRIT, on Saturday, charged me the $12 per adult fee to get in. (I was able to pay at the entrance; maybe tickets sell out sometimes, I don’t know.) Judging by a search of the #fwbg twitter hashtag, I’m by no means the only person frustrated about very rich, very faraway people putting a fence around local native trees, hoarding an imaginary right to visit them, then charging everyone to do so.

The local alt-weekly, the aptly named Fort Worth Weekly, tracked the City’s giveaway to BRIT with multiple stories, rightly troubled about the public getting dispossessed of the nearly century-old treasure. Lon Burnam, a longtime Democrat in the lower half of the Texas state legislature (not currently), a former executive director of the Dallas Peace Center, a Quaker, and a member of the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness, co-authored a May 2020 piece in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that warned the City of Fort Worth was giving BRIT a “sweetheart deal” (a yearly $3.35 million management fee the City pays to BRIT, separate from a one-time $17 million from the City to BRIT for repairs), unless specific steps are taken to protect the commons. A month later, Burnam told the North Texas NPR/PBS member station: “Basically, the city has abdicated a lot of control and a lot of their responsibility for managing the gardens.” Vaguely citing to the station some unspecificed “plans in progress,” BRIT didn’t even deign to be interviewed.

Friday photo of DFW’s biggest Southern Magnolia, leaving out the signs/chains

What I dislike about BRIT’s very-Texan management of the Garden isn’t just the admission costs, but also the practice of blocking patrons from the trees, further dissociating humans from Nature. I do remember, especially as the years went on (say, circa 2000-2015), that disrespectful people would trash the park and hurt plants (for instance by walking over them), but improving norms around respect for Nature would be the best solution, and could be implemented immediately by hiring knowledgeable employees who, in a manner similar to the best Park Rangers, would politely patrol the Garden and teach guests not to dishonor or disrupt the plants.

Ignore expired metaphors about balancing govs and biz; above, the true power structure (Source)

Instead of gentle monitoring and education done by live humans, BRIT opts for the economic efficiency of brute force: chain the trees away, stop humans from touching them. For decades no chains locked up the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW. If you look at my 2009 post’s comments, you’ll see youth climbing Southern Magnolias, including the grandest one itself, is quite ordinary. Tree-climbing (and tree-hugging!) should be encouraged along with respect for Nature. BRIT’s attitude reminds me of the Fort Worth Zoo, also a place dirtied by the oily hands of the Bass family. In December 2007, the Fort Worth Weekly discussed how Lee Bass and Ramona Bass led the creation of the Fort Worth Zoo’s Texas Wild! exhibit, falsely “showing how wildlife — mostly dead, stuffed wildlife — could exist in harmony with oil and gas drillers.” Reading any decently curated list of news articles from any day of the week should disprove that. I wonder if the new BRIT boardwalk at the Garden, pictured at the top of this post, so resembles the boardwalk I remember at the Fort Worth Zoo because of some Bass family contractor connection.

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden giveaway suggests the regional government hierarchs, supposedly protectors of the public, will work hand in glove with the auto industry hierarchs when the forthcoming water crises fully arrive. Maybe any battling on our behalf will be, already is, and always has been, very minimal. Instead of abdicating oneself and begging intoxicated rulers to do something, we could try something else. What’s to be done?

https://twitter.com/fabianacecin/status/1394633434610511874

The good

Another Friday photo: the biggest Southern Magnolia tree in DFW

I did enjoy some aspects of the new BRIT-era Botanic Garden. The Texas Native Forest boardwalk is nicely done; I’m referring to the actual physical boardwalk, which is well-built and fun to walk on. It’s clearly good to protect against some of the trash and decay that had built up over the Garden’s long years (the myriad disrepair was cited as a main reason to give the management to BRIT); of course, rather than the helpfully educating employees I proposed above, it seems the same strategy has been used as with public schools: governments underfund schools/parks, then victim-blame schools/parks for the resulting problems (e.g., trash build-up), and finally give them away in sweetheart deals to industry as the supposed saviors. Anyhow, this is supposed to be the good section!

Regarding governance, whether of car washes and parks or anything larger or smaller, it’s sad that large-scale democracy — clearly better than outright fascism — similarly turns, eventually, into oligarchy (rule by the few): remember that 2014 study by Princeton University and Northwestern University professors who found the United States to be an oligarchy? The Italian sociologist Robert Michels’s infamous iron law of oligarchy from 1911 states: “He who says organization, says oligarchy.” In other words, Michels argues that oligarchy can’t be avoided. Refuting such dark fatalism is the goal of philosopher Heather Marsh’s Binding Chaos books, so I recommend those thought-provoking texts to readers.

As for reconnecting with Nature, consider this menu of options:

  • Go vegan or close to it, which I’ve found helps build interest in, and empathy with, animals and their ecosystems

  • Learn orienteering (using a map and compass well). It helps individuals perceive and identify landforms and direct travel safely. In contrast, I’ve found relying on GPS blinds me to my environment. I have the third edition of champion orienteer Björn Kjellström’s book Be Expert With Map & Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook, but have sadly yet to read it. Looks really good though. Surprises me that most locals in Washington state and Oregon cannot name the various mountain peaks visible in the distance. Compare that with the worldbuilding/setting in better fantasy novels, as in Le Guin’s and Tolkein’s, in which you have a sense as you read that certain differing, named mountain peaks are northward while such-and-such plateaus are in this other compass direction, etc.

  • Use field-guiding books to identify plants and animals. Field-guiding improves visual ability overall and helps you learn names of plants and animals, in whole but also their various parts, as well as their ecosystems and the dependencies within those ecosystems. There are also ways to learn about the medicinal benefits of various plants, such as books or communities around such topics. Wandering around peering at birds or plants, a field guide in hand, also makes a good cover story for sneaking around to spy on what resource corporations are up to.

  • Read Ursula K. Le Guin’s middle and later fiction, which stresses the importance of leaving hyped-up “heroic” (adrenalized?) states, or just using them temporarily, and appreciating, and usually residing in, a calmer, seemingly slower approach to life. For instance, her 2000 Hainish science fiction novel The Telling describes the protagonist’s preference for conversation topics: “She heard about them, their cousins, their families, their jobs, their opinions, their houses, their hernias […] These dull and fragmentary relations of ordinary lives could not bore her. Everything she had missed in Dovza City, everything the official literature, the heroic propaganda left out, they told. If she had to choose between heroes and hernias, it was no contest.” The protagonist prefers to hear not about puffed-up heroes, but about everyday struggles with hernias. (Perhaps an exaggeration to make the high-contrast point, as the protagonist is heroic herself, as are her comrades, in a good way, unlike the official heroes of the state propaganda.)

  • For me, outdoor camping is intimidating for a variety of reasons, several of them irrational. But baby steps such as visiting parks, or going on day hikes (or running mountain trails!), can lead down the road to more challenging adventures. There are tons of websites and online communities around camping, but also around the simpler excursion styles. Even walking or jogging city trails can be adventurous. For instance, Seattle has a Seattle Trails Alliance; maybe an urban location near you has similar. I usually prefer going alone, but some enjoy having a travel buddy.

  • Somebody could make it a goal to liberate the Fort Worth Botanic Garden plants and figure out the steps to achieve it.

Any or all of the above have more “political” implications than might seem evident at first glance. Because a healthy society is made up of heathly individuals.

Compare liberation — such as reconnecting with Nature — with the practice of taking cold showers. I have two friends in Seattle who take cold showers every morning. At first, they told me, it was miserable. But soon after, they acclimated, got stronger, and the cold showers became enjoyable. Feeling their vitality in the morning became enjoyable. Strengthening yourself should feel good. If it doesn’t, or if it seems an abstract duty to be fulfilled like an awful chore, maybe you’re still heavily weakened by the wider world, and need to piece together the baby steps for escaping the damage and the comfort zones. Given the way things are going, the sooner each person improves how harmoniously they interact with Nature, the better. Nature isn’t going anywhere, and as time goes on, She’ll have more and more blunt things to say to us all.

Perhaps a resident of the nearby lagoon, a duck, or maybe a mud hen, takes a stately, solitary walk across Cityview Car Wash

News blasts: Cuba and Texas

Cubans protesting, 11 July 2021, Havana. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini for Reuters

Cuba) More than six decades ago on the Carribean island of Cuba, the U.S.-backed right-wing Fulgencio Batista military dictatorship, which accommodated U.S. organized crime and human trafficking, was overthrown, resulting in the rise of leader Fidel Castro, who died in 2016. Prior to that leftist revolution in the fifties, the United States murdered thousands of Cubans. Since Fidel Castro took power and continuing today, the United States has harassed Cuba, including via an ongoing economic embargo/blockade (called by Cubans “el bloqueo“) enforced not by navy, but by law and sanctions. The embargo is an effort to collapse the Cuban trade economy. It causes much poverty there. Every year since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has voted in favor of resolutions calling for an end to el bloqueo, the most prolonged embargo in modern history. Even recently, the United States made it difficult for expatriate Cubans to send money (“remittances”) home to the island, where some 11 million people live today. However, Reuters reported this month that the Biden administration might ease those remittance restrictions soon, and might also lift the “state sponsor of terrorism” designation that Trump hurled at Cuba like a curse days before he left the White House. These hints by the Biden administration are likely trial balloons, a way for the Biden admistration to test the waters by observing others’ reactions, and were publicly made probably due to the protests in Cuba earlier this month — I’ll get to those in a second. Another way the U.S. has harassed the country has been via a travel ban that has at times prevented ordinary US citizens from going to Cuba as tourists. There are many nuances of this ban, which has thickened or loosened with time and different White House administrations, which I won’t get into the weeds of here. The ban has served to keep USians ignorant of Cuba, as they are of most countries and most of humanity currently alive. The ban has also served to sabotage Cuba’s tourism industry. Cuba initially closed its borders for the pandemic, which also hurt its tourism industry severely. An additional item that should be mentioned as background before getting to the protests: the very high-quality Cuban healthcare system. At a former web directory for criminology professor Dr. James Unnever, there’s a short paper on that system, I believe written by Dr. Unnever, though I’m not exactly sure who wrote the paper, nor when. The paper more or less fits with what I know from others who have told me about their experiences in Cuba. Further, a YAC.news article from 12 July 2021, “Why are Cubans protesting and how can you help?” (the source for much of this Cuba news blast) states:

The small island nation of Cuba has one of the world’s best healthcare systems even after an ongoing embargo and sabotage campaign by the United States […]

In Cuba, there is a health center per 25,000 [people], neighbourhood clinic per 5,000 people, and a personal family doctor per 500 people. In [the capital city of] Havana alone, there is a clinic in virtually every street corner, each with a family doctor and nurse. Health workers nationwide have been out in full capacity visiting patients at every home. They have been educating residents about the new Cuban-made coronavirus vaccine [called “Abdala”] and informing them it has arrived while setting up appointments for vaccination. 

Throughout 2020 Cuba largely kept the [novel corona]virus beyond its shores, [but] the number of infected patients is […] now rising fast, with a record-breaking 2,698 new daily cases on Saturday [July 10], and a seven-day average now above 2,000 [as of July 12]. Cuba is facing the biggest known surge in the Caribbean. Critics of the Cuban government’s failure to contain the virus point out the government’s approval of foreign tourists, according to sources on the ground, specifically Russian tourists. They claim that the virus was allowed in despite warnings from the healthcare community. [Meanwhile] the island is undergoing an economic crisis and healthcare emergency as inflation and COVID continue to rise.

In Cuba, all citizens receive health care free of charge. According to the YAC.news article, “In the past several years, [Cuban] health workers have eradicated polio, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and diphtheria. The amount of malnutrition among 1-15 year olds is 0.7%, compared with 5% in the United States. Initially based in hospitals, the Cuban health system evolved into a primary care system that is based in communities”. The Cuban medical system prioritizes preventive care, public participation, community interventions, and a very high ratio of primary-care doctors to citizens. With those priorities inexpensively driving their health care system, the Cuban population scores very high on health measures. Yet I’m curious to know 1) Aside from human health, what was the strategy around the Castro government making medicine a sort of “unique sales point” in the international trade economy, and 2) how does the Cuban healthcare system approach severe mental health problems?

Color photo shows masked Cuban protestors marching, sometimes with their hands in the air.
Havana, 11 July 2021. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini for Reuters

That finishes up the background on Cuba. Now, to the protests, which made news in mid-July.

Earlier this month in Cuba, thousands of protesters hit the streets countrywide, calling for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down; Sunday 11 July was one of the biggest protests the country has seen in more than two and a half decades. Diaz-Canel angered the protesters because of Cuba’s growing inflation and other trade economy woes, plus his government’s failure to contain COVID-19 since it let infected travellers in. These are legitimate local grievances. Reuters reported some violence by security forces against protesters, and notes that mobile internet (and thus widespread social media) was introduced to the country only two-and-a-half years ago, a huge factor in prompting civil unrest of whatever sorts.

While the protestors correctly have a point, the U.S. media megaphone, along with U.S. thinktanks and others, have used the local anger as a way to boost unhelpful voices calling for serious destabilization of the Cuban government in such a way as to benefit foreign interests, including United States interests. This has made following the protests online, via the #SOScuba hashtag for example, a bit confusing.

The YAC.news article also says:

Due to the lack of resources on the island an international campaign has been launched to supply the island with the materials needed for syringes. The campaign is being led by Cuba’s diaspora and international solidarity movements. Global Health Partners (GHP), a New York-based non-profit, has launched a campaign to address a shortage of 20 million syringes. Bob Schwartz, GHP’s vice president, told international media, “To date, we’ve purchased four million syringes. We hope to purchase an additional two million” 

Those who might wish to help with the GHP syringe collection campaign for Cuba’s vaccine rollout are directed here. I’ll note that a shortage of syringes in the United States federal stockpile was a problem noted early on in the U.S. response to novel coronavirus by Health and Human Services Dept. whistleblower Dr. Rick A. Bright. It’s mentioned in his whistleblower complaint from May 2020, in which Dr Bright explains how he was retaliated against by the Trump administration for insisting “on scientifically-vetted proposals” to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and for pushing “for a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19″ (among other related reasons).

Havana, 11 July 2021. Plain clothes police blocking a road during protests. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini for Reuters

Back to Cuba, the twitterati also verbally sparred over blaming the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which is only one member of the U.S. “intelligence community” (a pro-spy rebranding of the more exact descriptor “spy agencies”). No smoking gun has surfaced proving meddling by specifically the CIA in these July Cuban protests. Surely the CIA is interested in Cuba, and history gives many examples of CIA-sponsored assassinations and coups in the Central and South Americas, see for instance Operation Condor and Operation Northwoods. But the twitterati spoke as if CIA meddling had already been definitively proven. It costs nothing and takes little effort to tweet opinions; investigation to find proof takes serious time, money, and effort.

Last time I checked, the U.S. has 16 or 17 (depending on how you count) spy agencies on the federal level. For instance, the FBI, the Navy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Coast Guard, and many other federal agencies all have spy bureaus that are part of the so-called intelligence community. There’s also the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and still others. Maybe the newly minted Space Force, the fifth Pentagon branch, has a spy agency component; if so, that would bring the total up to 17 or 18. And that’s just one country, the United States. There are nearly 200 other countries. I’d wager almost all of them have at least one spy agency; most probably have many more.

The tunnel-vision focus of twitterati on the CIA would be like — let’s assume the demons of Abrahmic religions are real for a moment — Christians, hooked on televangelists, seeing Satan behind every misfortune, and refusing to consider what roles in the misfortune might have been played by the Ifrit of Islam, or Samyaza from the Book of Enoch, or hundreds of other demons. With hundreds of spy agency opponents to choose from, it’d be best to find evidence, set goals, and execute, rather than compete to see who can yell “CIA” the loudest, which ultimately just ends up advertising the spy agency that the activists say they hope to obliterate. (Something JFK also hoped to do!)

The Cuban authorities admitted in tweets that a government website had been taken down by denial-of-service attacks. Anons participating in #OpCuba claimed responsibility. More on that in a 14 July 2021 YAC.news article.

https://twitter.com/YourAnonOnline/status/1415263475169906692
Translation: “We denounce that the website of our foreign relations chancellery has received a denial-of-service cyberattack since 11 July 2021. This attack generated false accesses in large quantities, compromising our servers.”

Texas) Some concluding thoughts about my approximately two weeks in North Texas. My trip improved as time went on, though the humongous Nissan Armada the rental car company stuck me with (see last week’s post) did start to sink: the check engine light came on some 48 hours prior to my flight home departing. But I turned the gargantuan vehicle back in at the airport no problem. No harm, no foul, I suppose. As my trip continued, I discovered more research data (for family and personal history) than I expected, including some fascinating and healing revelations that are too private to share on a main channel like this. Catching up with friends and family members I hadn’t seen in a long time was beneficial as well, and sometimes revealing about both sides in the interactions, in expected ways, yet also in unexpected ways. Bottom line: people are always changing, even if slowly; there’s no stasis outside abstraction; the only question is, will the changes be for the worse, or for the better? The changes are more evident when you haven’t seen someone offline in eight or so years. Three additional observations about North Texas in July 2021 might be of general interest. First, as at some Seattle places, multiple restaurants in Fort Worth are doing away with paper or laminated menus altogether, forcing customers to scan QR codes. Are laminated menus environmentally friendly, or are they plastic? Either way, you can’t even obtain a regular menu by asking, since they’re all gone. What about customers who don’t have phones, or who use their devices atypically? Avoiding needless paper is great, but everyone carrying around EMF-generating phones to scan QR graphics isn’t my preference: here are thousands of categorized studies showing EMF harms. I solved the problem by looking at the menus the stores had pasted on the windows. Or just using the blasted QR codes, if I had a phone handy. (In Colombia, where protests against president Iván Duque’s narco-state are ongoing, the cops are considering replacing their badge ID numbers with QR codes, which are small and difficult to scan for those with phones and impossible for those without; making matters worse, the public still has to know the cop’s badge ID number to get from the QR code to the actual identity, meaning, I think, the cop’s legal name.) Second point: I heard more Spanish spoken in North Texas than I used to hear, this trip. Maybe it’s a change in me and what I notice, but it could be (or could also be) Spanish speakers feeling safer or more comfortable asserting their primary language. That’s a change for the better. Finally, I got a chance to try out Belently’s Love Vegan Mexican Restaurant on Blue Bonnet Circle. Their all-vegan menu offers many gluten-free items, and their walls, painted wonderful colors, include delightful murals. That’s opposed to the default no-color beige walls that white people in the United States typically have in their homes and stores. Vegans, including those who also avoid gluten as I do, now have three strong vegan-specific options in Fort Worth that I can highly recommend: the long-standing Spiral Diner (largely comfort food and thus not the healthiest), the new Boulevard of Greens with organic juices (including beet juice!) and bowls (including broccoli and quinoa!), and Belently’s Love. See, even Texas changes.

Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW, still bearing fruit in 2021

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This blog post, Revisiting the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW; news blasts for Cuba and Texas, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/24/revisiting-biggest-southern-magnolia-dfw-cuba-texas/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Summer 2021 thoughts from North Texas

Note: In 2021, I’m posting a new entry to my blog every weekend or so. This is number 28 of 52; omg, the year’s more than halfway done.

The color photo shows a tray on a table at a Whataburger fast food chain store in Fort Worth, Texas. On the tray sit a large vanilla milkshake (over 900 calories) and a triple meat Whataburger (over 1000 calories). They look disgusting.
Fort Worth, TX, summed up? I took the Whataburger pic this weekend, but didn’t actually eat the “triple meat” burger or drink the large vanilla shake

I was travelling through central Washington state and northeast Oregon for a few weeks earlier this summer — now, in mid-July, I’m visiting my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas for not quite half a month. Besides seeing family and friends, I’m here to do research of a personal sort. Yet after six years as a Seattle resident, I can’t help noticing several things about the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex, some bad, some good. I’ll share those observations. I was going to then provide news blasts about the current situations in Cuba, Haiti, and Germany, but this entry simply grew too long, and I gotta do some other stuff. Hopefully next week I’ll take on news blasts for those three countries. I’m an untimely fellow.

Bad stuff about North Texas

Graphic of SimCity game. Would you want to live here? Source.

Gridlock) Aside from traffic jams and the Lone Star State’s uniquely deregulated, isolated power grid — meaning during disastrous outages (including this year), Texas, its leaders boasting with pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps lies, cannot, unlike all other 47 contiguous states, receive energy sent as assistance from beyond its borders; the privatized electric system has yet to be fixed or replaced, even though lawmakers knew of its vulnerabilities: they chose to serve the power companies instead — I want to talk about another type of Texan gridlock. In Seattle, multitudinous fairy-tale roads wind up hills, passing idiosyncratic houses with quirky paint jobs, and in the distance are bridges, sailboats, mountains. Many of my Seattleite friends have never lived anywhere else, nor have they ever been to the South. Comparing my place of birth with the Emerald City’s highly commercial Northgate neighborhood (an exception to the usual Seattle beauty), I tell them North Texas is primarily composed of tract houses, billboards, strip malls, fast food joints, and car dealerships. That truth was really evident from the sky as my flight descended toward DFW Airport. During landing, I was reading the first chapter in a thought-provoking collection of essays from 2006, edited by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.: Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes. It’s research for my fiction project set at least partially in northeast Oregon and 2036, because all time connects, and the colonial histories of NE Oregon often begin by trumpeting the settlers Lewis and Clark, whose expedition, commissioned by slaveowner Thomas Jefferson, journeyed, between 1803 and 1806, from Pittsburgh to the Pacific Northwest coast and back to St. Louis, thanks to aid from the enslaved, pregnant, and raped Sacagawea, of the Shoshoni and aged merely fourteen to sixteen years or so at the time of Lewis and Clark’s wrongly idolized quest. That’s not the version you heard in school, right? In the United States we aren’t taught the truth that Jefferson’s top goal for the expedition was establishing evermore commerce, nor that the explorers called the indigenous peoples Jefferson’s “children,” an insult that should call to mind Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha. Rivers also have hidden truths… In his essay Frenchmen, Bears, and Sandbars, in the Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes collection, Vine Deloria Jr. discusses how “Rivers do not, as a rule, create long straight embankments.” Indeed, rivers move over time, something a character mentions early in Cynthia Shearer’s excellent 2004 novel The Celestial Jukebox: “What you looking at there used to be the Mississippi River. Long time ago the river moved itself over […] River just change its mind and move sometime.” As the virtual flight attendants on the seatback televisions were politely ordering me to stow my tray table in the upright position, Deloria Jr. was telling me how Lewis and Clark misinterpreted Missouri River sandbar deposits, insisting with Enlightenment rationality that measurable straight lines must exist to explain the deposits as human-made, when actually they were natural phenomena. Lewis and Clark didn’t understand how chaotic rivers and Nature are. I glanced out the airplane window, and below, behold, North Texas, designed and coerced into “rationality” by long straight lines everywhere. Tract houses separated by long straight congested roads. Like some Cartesian grid Texans are all locked into. The pain caused by living apart from Nature should not be underestimated, even if Texan natives aren’t aware of it, as I wasn’t for a long time, though toward the end of my residency in Texas (I left at the end of 2015), I was frequently going to parks for just that reason. It makes me think of the ideology implicit in the 1991 Super Nintendo game SimCity, which I spent countless hours playing as a kid.

Screenshot of video showing tract housing in Fort Worth. Source.
Graphic of SimCity residential donuts. More industrial zones needed, but why? Image source.

A well-known strategy among SimCity gamers is to create “donut” neighborhoods: squares imposed on the land, usually in nine-by-nine arrangements, with train tracks or roads boxing them in, and a park in the middle to appease the unhappy residents. In SimCity, players are rewarded for engineering such supposedly rational cities. In real urban life, rivers are forced to flow “logically” in straight lines, like trees in some parks, lined up in discrete pots. As a video game-playing kid, I didn’t quite understand that these efficiency setups clash with harmonious ways of living with land, though I did play in undeveloped lots regularly, needing that. To be honest, not until very recently did I put two and two together, comparing rivers in rural areas with rivers in urban places, although a 2019 Seattle Public Library exhibit did briefly puncture my conventional consciousness on the subject. In Fort Worth, I grew up walking and jogging on the sidewalks by the Trinity River, and just assumed the embankments were naturally steep and unchanging, shaped conveniently for urban planners to impose at a moment’s notice, above either edge, unchanging sidewalks…

Despite Seattle’s beauty, the same story plays out there, too. Unfortunately I haven’t read it yet, but BJ Cummings’ 2020 book The River That Made Seattle: A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish looks amazing from this interview and this review. The book talks about how without displacing Salish indigenous peoples and trashing and forcibly diverting the Duwamish River, the city of Seattle as we know it wouldn’t exist. There would be no city forums for identitarians to debate which sect should get paid more wages for helping corporations drive us extinct. And in contrast to the dolla dolla bill, let’s-go-extinct-ASAP civilization of biz, which argues each individual is an autonomous sole proprietor capable of not caring what anyone else thinks, and worthy of paralyzing shame for any mistake actually caused by corporate destruction, I hope my discussion of rivers and gridlock ⁠— not to mention what volcano Mount Rainier and the Cascadia Subduction Zone might have to say — helps to show how people are in fact creatures of their environments, which of course doesn’t remove each individual’s responsibility to fight for something better. It’s interesting, too, how fiction-writing instructors typically badger writers into obsessing over their supposedly autonomous characters’ ex nihilo motivations, rather than learning about the settings they’re in: for instance, how does the local power grid, or train track, or river characterize a protagonist, or for that matter, a protagonist’s grandparents or neighbors? The so-called “Golden Age” of science fiction in the 1950s presented familyless protagonists singlehandedly subduing the universe; but in the ’90s, science fiction writer Octavia Butler presented characters with extended families walking fiery highways as refugees, an entirely different take on life.

Photo by me this weekend beside wonderful Trinity River in Ft. Worth

Coronavirus confusions) From observation, I guesstimate that ten percent, or fewer, of North Texans are masking. As of 16 July ’21, for Texans ages 18 and up, only 53.9% are fully vaccinated and only about 62.6% are partly vaccinated (one jab of a two-jab series). By way of comparison, in King County, home of Seattle, as of the same date and for ages 16 and up, 75% of residents are fully vaccinated, and 80.7% of residents are partly vaccinated. That’s all according to public health data managed by regional government entities. As for masking, given my observations a few weeks ago, in the Seattle areas that might be described as very progressive or Green Party-ish politically, for instance, inside co-ops selling organic foods, I’d guesstimate that indoors, 90+% of people are masking. How this came to be so politicized, I’ll address in a moment.

This does not look good. Source: John Hopkins Univ COVID-19 map.

A disproportionately high number of those masking in North Texas are individuals categorized on bureaucratic paperwork as minorities (and then identitarian activists tell us we must all heed our opponents’ paperwork). Sometimes those groups tend to have less resources to pay for healthcare yet simultaneously tend to sometimes have more empathy and altruism, gifts of being slotted into negative image roles (differing from the idealized images, you know, white businessmen in suits and the like, who tend to live in grandiose, puffed-up headspaces). Because some of the people I’m visiting indoors are elderly, I wore a high-quality mask the whole time, and received mockery for it. In crowded North Texas restaurants, diners aren’t masking whatsoever. The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that’s fine if you’re vaccinated; the UN-based World Health Organization (WHO) disagrees, telling even vaccinated people to mask, since they might be asymptomatic carriers — however, growing evidence suggests those vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna are far less likely to be asymptomatic carriers; studies are underway in this regard for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — and in rare instances, vaccinated people can still become diseased with COVID-19 (a “breakthrough” case), including as a sufferer of Long COVID. Adding to everyone’s confusion, the CDC stopped actively tracking all breakthrough cases, and now tracks only breakthrough cases resulting in hospitalization or death. Meanwhile, the Delta variant of the virus, a more contagious mutation that grows faster inside people’s respiratory tracts than the original, currently accounts for at least a fifth of all United States cases, and COVID-19 is now on the rise in every US state; Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the country, just resumed mandating masks. Getting two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as I did in March, is effective in protecting against the Delta mutation (though less effective than against the original novel coronavirus), so that’s the basis on which I’m travelling (while masking, handwashing, physically distancing, and meeting only outside insofar as possible), plus the greatly decreased likelihood of a person with an mRNA vaccination being an asymptomatic carrier, something a Harvard-trained doctor I know puts his trust in. Apparently the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines similarly protect decently, though not perfectly, against Delta. Perhaps surprisingly, nobody on my flight to Texas (I’ve yet to fly back to Seattle) caused any trouble; each passenger masked as required without incident. Based on this 2018 study suggesting window seat airline passengers are least likely to catch respiratory illnesses, I got window seats. But SNAFUs (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up) prevented me from getting tested knowledgeably, namely not receiving a timely response back from my primary care physician regarding how vaccination affects COVID-19 tests, likely because her underling completely didn’t answer my question. I asked something like: “How does being vaccinated, versus unvaccinated, affect COVID-19 serology and PCR test results?” And they replied something like, “Are you wondering what type of test you should get?” And it’s like, answer my question or link me to an answer! I’ve taken to replying to such responses, or front-loading my questions with, “If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to just say that,” and I find interlocuters usually react better. Instead of them trying to extract my motivations. Really, I should have figured out about the testing myself. But testing-while-vaccinated is another example of coronavirus confusions people are enduring. I’ve shown zero symptoms, not even mild ones, since the pandemic began; in fact, I haven’t had any sort of respiratory illness in years and years, probably owing in part to a vegan/glutenfree and low-sugar diet as well as frequent cardiovascular exercise and better sleep than in my past. That’s not to brag; it’s to link you to experience and info that might help. Best I can figure from the CDC in July ’21, for vaccinated people, serology tests to detect past infections no longer work (due to confounding with the vaccine-produced antibodies), but swab tests to detect current presence of the virus do still work. I’d like to get that done prior to spending extensive time with (vaccinated) elderly people indoors, just to be on the safe side; will see how that goes in North Texas. Finally, as for all this being politicized, let’s not forget in February 2020, the Jeffrey Epstein associate and likely Putin asset, former and probably forthcoming US president Donald Trump called coronavirus a “hoax” (as he calls global warming a “hoax”), and his administration punished US Health and Human Services Department whistleblower Dr Rick A. Bright for Bright’s insisting “on scientifically-vetted proposals” to overcome the pandemic and for pushing “for a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19.” At least two-thirds of a million people dead of coronavirus in the United States since the pandemic started, a decrease in population handy for the oligarchs who, thanks to advanced technology, no longer need as many toiling masses. Locking down hard everywhere for just 100 days would end coronavirus; that’s feasible (see New Zealand’s zero-COVID approach), yet the authorities in the US and elsewhere apparently do what they can to ensure COVID-19 continues, a new permanent paradigm of endless variants, a bit like 9/11 introduced a new permanent paradigm, terrorists as military targets instead of law enforcement suspects and everyone a potential terrorist. Well, maybe the forthcoming University of Washington vaccine will help. Or maybe people will read about coronaviruses prior to 2020 so that they understand masking against respiratory illnesses is a sensible precaution commonly done elsewhere for decades — not tyranny. Next thing you know, libertarians will whine about having their freedumb right to litter taken. I do think those badgering vaccine-hesitant people generally need to have better appreciation for why so many are correctly suspicious of conventional science and conventional medicine, though quacks exist in the alternative science/medicine realm as well, see “the disinformation dozen” spreading fear, uncertainty, doubt, and denial around the coronavirus vaccines. As the last few years have especially shown, propping up subject matter celebs like Neil deGrasse Tyson or whomever, conventional or alternative, and then trying to cheerlead them into winning an advertising blitz on behalf of vaccines or whatever else, is insufficient; having a propagandized public is harmful, whereas having a public capable of self-education is helpful. That requires overhauling our information system.

The color photo shows a grassy residental lawn with a Trump 2024 sign and US flags.
Pic I took this weekend of a Fort Worth lawn near Camp Bowie

The Decline of North Texas Civilization) I’ve been in Fort Worth a full week, and I get a general sense of exhaustion and torpor from Texans. I’m also witnessing little things falling apart. It’s just an anecdotal observation, but the motel I’m staying in — the same as when I last visited two years ago — is even more run-down this time around. When I arrived, the bed lacked pillows, the bathroom lacked towels, and various objects were broken. I’m not the kind of picky person who makes a fuss over such minutiae; the point is merely that North Texas appears to be slowly breaking down. The world has moved on, as those Stephen King Gunslinger books say. I feel tired and lazy, too, which I think is probably a partial result of the overall lower quality of life here, decreases in things like water quality, relative to Seattle. Although that could be my imagination, or more about the odd feelings I’m experiencing around being back here. Except for family member funerals possibly, I don’t think I’ll return to Texas any after this, which is a big change to accept internally. I’m finding the research information I was looking for, and long-ago acquaintances don’t want to meet face to face, probably because deep down, we both know we’re no longer actually friends with a fun energetic connection, or even shared values and interests, beyond fairly superficial things like Star Trek … so that makes sense. I was just curious how their lives have played out, and if they have anything new and exciting to say. Despite half the region now differing — a change I’ll get to below — at least half this region will still likely celebrate the probable return of a Donald Trump presidency, howling once again their bloodthirsty approval for his ideas like bombing accused terrorists’ innocent civilian family members. I hope someday even more people emphatically and consistently insist loudly that adopting If they aren’t paying your bills, then fuck ’em as a civilization-wide strategy has negative consequences for all.

Good stuff about North Texas

Pic I took this weekend of the Boulevard of Greens storefront near where Camp Bowie and I-30 cross

Refuge) Prior to my leaving for the Pacific Northwest at the end of 2015, Fort Worth had only one dedicated vegan restaurant, the noteworthy Spiral Diner on Magnolia Avenue in the Near Southside neighborhood. That neighborhood has continued to develop admirably since I lived here, although I don’t know what the unhappy underbelly might be. Of course, besides Spiral Diner, restaurants for pho and thai and other non-USian (“ethnic”) vegan-friendly food have existed in North Texas for a long time, I think particularly in Arlington (where, an elderly Republican in Fort Worth, panicking from a diet of FOX News, once told me, non-white terrorists are assuredly lurking and soon coming to get us). But now, in 2021, there are more, specifically vegan restaurants even here in Cowtown. There’s Belently’s Love on Bluebonnet Circle, which I haven’t tried yet, serving TexMex. There’s also the amazing Boulevard of Greens, where everything is vegan and gluten-free. They offer a number of smoothies, juices, bowls (including with quinoa and broccoli!), and other invigorating items. Boulevard of Greens really has shifted my visit from miserable to manageable.

It also deserves mentioning that North Texas, especially Fort Worth, has a lot of art museums and other cultural institutions. There’s the Modern Art Museum, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and the Kimball Art Museum. I’ll probably go see this exhibition at the Amon Carter of work by a photographer born in Saigon during the Vietnam War. The perfectionism of the classical music world can be misery- and stress-inducing, but the performances associated with the Fort Worth-based Van Cliburn Foundation can still be beautiful. And besides art, North Texas has plenty of parks. There’s a once frequent, but now rare due to that “rationally imposed” urban development, ecosystem in Arlington, a bog with unusual plants and animals, that I went to years ago. And of course, the excellent Fort Worth Botanic Garden, where I’ve gone many times. More than a decade ago, I wrote a blog post about a specific tree there, the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW!

Before the pandemic at least, there were also multiple enjoyable bars/nightclubs with live rock music, that I used to frequent. I can’t find it in me to look up if there are any outdoor shows by musicians I once knew. Guess I just don’t relate to Texas anymore. Reminds me of the song “I’m Not From Here” by the great James McMurtry, himself born in Fort Worth: “Hit my home town a couple years back / Hard to say just how it felt / But it looked like so many towns I might’ve been through on my way to somewhere else […] We can’t help it / We just keep moving / It’s been that way since long ago / Since the Stone Age, chasing the great herds / We mostly go where we have to go.”

Wait, what?) Tarrant County, home of Fort Worth, has long been one of the reddest counties in one of the reddest states, Texas. But in the 2020 presidential election, Tarrant County went blue for Biden. Unfortunately, discussions of elections are dependent — a point still not often acknowledged — on secret, corporate, closed-source computerized vote-tallying. Who counted your vote, name the person! Where was your vote counted, go to the place! Can’t answer those, can you? Yet in the past in the United States, and in the present in Australia and elsewhere, people use(d) handmarked paper ballots, and the ballots were/are counted publicly, observably. Here’s a book and another book on the topic, worth reading. Not to mention the problems with democracy altogether (including direct, representative, and liquid): propagandizing hundreds of millions of people to come to an oversimplified consensus on things that don’t affect them and that they don’t know about, among other troubles. Anyway, I digressed. It’s just interesting to see my hometown turning blue for the first time in my life, if turning blue it indeed has. How can a person begin to appreciate perspectives considered very far-out, like anarchism, if they’re terrified of, or get screamed at or worse for, something as mild as voting for a Democrat? It takes a lot of strength to be a dissident. Maybe the reportedly Biden-blue Tarrant County heralds a change for the better for North Texas.

The Big Wheels, and Dignity) Since there’s little to no public transit in North Texas, I had to book a rental car for my trip. I reserved a polite, Seattle-sized compact vehicle (i.e., very small) and a GPS unit, one of those add-on devices that suction-cups to the front of the automobile. (Yes, I know most people just use their smartphones.) When I arrived, of course the rental car company had overbooked to protect itself against cancellations, so with few cancellations, there were no GPS units available. (And the capitalist Texans explain to each under how “rational” and “Enlightened” this system is, versus the depositories in Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed, where nobody owns non-personal items, so if you want an object, just go grab one from the nearby depository, maintained by people who like to do that sort of thing and receive social approval for it.) With no add-on GPS units, the Alamo rental car company (Forget the Alamo, lol) asked me if I was okay with a car that had built-in GPS. I said yes. Except the only vehicle they had with built-in GPS was a Nissan Armada! It’s a full-size, Texas-sized SUV so huge it makes Suburbans and Hummers look tiny. I actually had trouble in a parking garage because the Armada almost hit the ceiling, and almost couldn’t squeeze through the entry lanes, you know with the lowered gate where you take your ticket. In US schools, you hear the word “armada” in connection with the Spanish Armada, a fleet which in battle with the British was completely destroyed! Maybe the Nissan marketers figured no one would remember such a trivial detail as the armada sinking. Once I figured out how to adapt my driving for the Armada — it brakes more slowly than a smaller car, for instance — I started having a hilarious time driving this ridiculous battleship, as a lone guy without a family to pack the air-conditioned seats. All other passenger cars, tiny next to my vehicle, fearfully defer to the surprisingly fast Armada, so I can easily change lanes at whim, king of the road in my big wheels. Guilty pleasure. More seriously, the Armada has Sirius XM satellite radio, enabling me to listen to — wait for it — Ozzy’s Boneyard. A few days ago, the channel/station/whatever was playing an interview with Ross Halfin. The rock photographer told a story about how, in short, a Led Zeppelin member (I forget which) disrespected him in person. Halfin said that after that, he decided never to let anyone else diss him similarly again; the radio hosts murmured their approval. What strikes me about this otherwise mundane conversation is that Halfin didn’t specify the means-whereby, how, he’d ensure others wouldn’t disrespect him — and the hosts didn’t ask. What actions does Halfin take when someone tries to disrespect him in person? What words does he say, and how does he say them? I mean, he (or most anyone) could say something like, Hey fuck you, I don’t take this kind of shit, a string of words that doesn’t exactly require a Ph.D. in Rhetoric to formulate (in fact, most intelligentsia I meet are completely clueless how to handle confrontational situations, stuck abstracting in their ivory towers). While bullies usually back down, what do you do if the bully doesn’t back down? What if it comes to fisticuffs, and what if you’re concerned about getting indicted for assault afterward? I’ve never seen a flowchart for this sort of thing, how to protect one’s dignity, the details. I think it’s extremely important and very overlooked. Insults have a way of piling up over the years, breaking down a person who’s never learned how to respond to them skillfully and quickly, making the person fall prey to internalized oppression and making the person suffer all sorts of health and psychological/sociological problems. Didn’t the civil rights movement in the ’60s address this? What if you don’t want to do a strictly nonviolence-only approach, perhaps because you’re itching to say, Hey shithead, cut it out, or I’m gonna run you over with my Nissan Armada! (Unless it sinks.) If you want to waste eight minutes of your life, here’s Out of Spec Reviews’ youtube take from DFW Airport on the 2021 Nissan Armada, so you can actually see this big-ass Behemoth. Or read about problems of car culture instead.

This blog post, Summer 2021 thoughts from North Texas, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/17/north-texas-thoughts-summer-2021/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Photos from Snoqualmie Pass’s Gold Creek Pond trail

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays. Here’s entry 5 of 52, just something simple and fun.

Last weekend, I departed from Seattle with some friends and went up to Snoqualmie Pass, just an hour’s drive outside the city. There I snowshoed on the easy Gold Creek Pond trail. It was my first time to ever snowshoe. The path started at a trailhead by a street, continued through a valley, and reached the snowed-over Gold Creek Pond. Other paths progressed past the pond, but I didn’t get a chance to check them out. Except for the final pic, I took the following DLSR photos of the snowy surroundings. I had a great time and plan to go again.

Right by the trailhead for Gold Creek Pond path. Some wore masks; others didn’t

A valley the trail passes through

Looking back at Summit East from the frozen-over Gold Creek Pond

Amazing how far you can see, out in Nature

Makes me think of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness

Part of Gold Creek Pond wasn’t frozen over

On the shore, a shirtless guy after diving in the icy lake

Until next week!

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This blog post, Photos from Snoqualmie Pass’s Gold Creek Pond trail by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/05/photos-snoqualmie-pass-gold-creek-pond-trail/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW

The most impressive Southern Magnolia (Magnolia Grandiflora) in Dallas-Fort Worth lives at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. The picture above shows a view of it from near one of the Garden roads (along with a few tiny, other trees). Many magnolias in Fort Worth are impressively tall — for example, the one pictured below, which grows next to the library of my alma mater, TCU — but the one at the Botanic Gardens is the best!

A TCU Library Southern Magnolia

A TCU Library Magnolia

From some angles, the Garden’s huge magnolia can at first look like many trees, not one. That’s why I never(!) truly noticed it; I mistakenly saw a big stand of multiple trees, not a single special individual. This past May, however, Kate — a special individual herself — showed me one of the “secret entrances” to the “cave” made by the magnolia’s drooping branches.

A Secret Entrance to the Big Magnolia Cave
A Secret Entrance to the Big Magnolia Cave
Once you go through the secret entrance (no password necessary), you’ll see a scene like something out of Lord of the Rings or a King Arthur tale. This cave hides in plain sight near University Drive, one of the busiest streets in the city! Here’s a shot of it. The branches go all the way around, 360 degrees.

The Secret Magnolia Cave, 2

The Secret Magnolia Cave

Texas Tree Trails has a page with many facts and pictures about this particular magnolia. A few facts about the tree taken from that site and elsewhere:

  • As of 2004, the tree is 64 feet tall.
  • Leaf: Leathery top, fuzzy red-brownish underside, evergreen, alternate simple (whorling at tip), asymmetrical base, pinnately veined, oval-shaped, 5-8 inches long, untoothed margin.
  • Flower: Large (6-8+ inches wide), creamy white, fragrant. Borne singly, May-June.
  • Fruit: Cylindrical aggregate of follicles (“seed pod”). Green changing to red. Matures Oct-Nov.
  • Twig: Stout. It gives off a citrus scent if broken.
  • Bark: Brown to gray, thin, smooth when young, but plating or scaling later in life.
  • The Southern Magnolia is sometimes called an Evergreen Magnolia, or a Bull-bay.

I took four pictures of the tree’s flowers, each illustrating a different stage of the flower life cycle. You can learn much more about the magnolia flower life cycle, and see pictures of it, at this website.

The Flower Before Blooming

The Flower Before Blooming

The Flower Begins Blooming

The Flower Begins to Bloom

The Flower Has Bloomed

The Flower Has Bloomed

Once the petals fall off, the center of the flower remains — the fruit or seed pod:

The Fruit. Flower Petals Have Fallen

The Fruit; Flower Petals Have Fallen

In the last year I’ve taken to learning about trees via field-guiding. While field-guiding is certainly enjoyable in itself, I started mostly because I wanted to improve my ability to see, both during observation and with my mind’s inner eye. Routine close observation of details — samaras, leafstalks, whatever — definitely has lead to improvement in both areas. For example, a mechanic showed me some small parts of a Civic brake system a few months back. My eyes would have simply glazed over a year ago. But as a result of field-guiding, I could see just what he was talking about. As to the inner eye: I’ve always had difficulty visualizing in my mind. Many people are startled when I confess that while I can close my eyes and picture a stop sign, I can’t mentally change its color. Still can’t. But the more I scrutinize small visual details, the better my mind’s eye becomes. A specific instance of this is what I think of as “stabilizing” my mental imagery. Before field-guiding, if I closed my eyes and visualized the sycamore fruit I have sitting on my shelf, the image would sort of wobble and vanish after only a second or two. Now I can more or less keep it in my inner eye for as long as I can concentrate.

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The Best Field Guide to North American Trees

I use the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Trees of North America (above). Highly recommended; full of color photographs.

I have to say it, I have to conclude with the cheesiest line ever: Enjoy the forest…and the trees!