Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium. Fruit on the bush.

Harvested fruit.

Fruit processed into jam.

Tall Oregon Grapes (Mahonia aquifolium) are now ripe.

They are edible, but they are also sour, so they tend to be best used as an ingredient for sweetened dishes, rather then eaten as-is. I have however learned that if they are fully ripe (which means not just so dark they are nearly black under their waxy bloom, but actually starting to shrivel), they actually are palatable when eaten plain. For making jelly or jam, however, you naturally want them to be plump and juicy.

There are actually two species of Oregon Grape on the Island, the other one being the Long-Leaved Oregon Grape (Mahonia nervosa). As their names imply, the Tall Oregon Grape is the taller-growing of the two, while the Long-Leaved Oregon Grape has longer leaves containing many more leaflets. The two also grow in different environments: the Tall growing in open, sunny spots and the Long-Leaved growing as an understory plant in forests.

Of the two, it tends to be easiest to make harvests of the Tall Oregon Grape’s fruits, because it tends to fruit more heavily than the Long-Leaved Oregon Grape.

The inner bark of both our Oregon Grapes is bright yellow, due to the presence of the alkaloid berberine, which has long found traditional use as a yellow dye. Berberine-containing extracts of these and related plants have also been used traditionally for anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-fever, and other properties. This compound is currently the subject of mainstream medical research; it has already been demonstrated to be therapeutic for diabetes.

Helsinki: No Surprise

It’s been obvious to me for well over a year that the most simple available explanation for Trump’s behavior is that he is a Putin puppet, and in Helsinki he acted precisely as a Putin puppet would be expected to act.

My only surprise is why so many other people, mostly longtime anti-Trumpers, are surprised. My guess is related to my own radicalism: it’s not emotionally very expensive or difficult for me to put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4, because I believe the bourgeois state is basically a steaming load anyhow. However, for someone more personally invested in the system, it is very painful to consider this possibility, and people tend to want to avoid emotional pain.

But, eventually, enough straws will break the camel’s back, and I must admit that what happened in Helsinki today was quite a load of straw.

Airbnb is a Bigot-Friendly Platform

Why? It requires people to register using their real names, and encourages them to post their photo in their profile. I doubt they intended it do be bigot-friendly, but intent matters little: it is bigot-friendly.

More than likely Airbnb’s awful design is the result of the privileged, affluent, mostly white “tech bro” culture: Airbnb’s designers weren’t even aware of the bigotry problem when they designed the platform. And to the extent they are aware, they seem to be in denial about how serious the problem is:

“The photos are on the platform for a reason,” King said. “It really does help to aid in the trust between the guest and the host . . . You want to make sure that the guest who shows up at your door is the person you’ve been communicating with.”

The problem is so common and pervasive that there’s even a phrase for it: “Airbnb while Black.”

Thankfully, there seem to be better alternatives such as Innclusive.com, a site started by a Black guy after he ran into discrimination on Airbnb.


Only the Beginning

This turned out to be an innocuous threat, though it was definitely a threat (the security perimeter around the president was breached). Expect more such threats to hit the news: Trump is a uniquely unpopular president (and rightly so), therefore there’s a uniquely great motive for actions against him.

There are no perfect security measures; all measures have their holes and oversights. The Secret Service knows this, and their response to it is redundancy. They have multiple shells of security surrounding the president. Each shell is imperfect (see my first point), thus has a slight chance of being breached. However, the overall chance of breaching all the shells is vanishingly low.

George W. Bush was in his time astoundingly unpopular, as well, yet he served out both his full terms. The Secret Service successfully stopped all threats against him. The strategy of having multiple security layers worked.

And yes, there were foiled assassination plots. Such plots have existed against all modern presidents. The reason you haven’t heard of them is that the Secret Service lives up to its name: they deliberately keep news of foiled plots classified so as not to have the news of them inspire copycats.

That policy only works if the outermost layers enable plots to be stopped before they start. If surveillance allows a plot to be broken up before anyone can be deployed on the ground, or an agent arrests a gunman well before he gets within even a mile of a motorcade route, it can all be easily hushed up.

It’s basically impossible to hush things up once the outer layers get penetrated. The president is accompanied by a retinue of reporters wherever he travels, and it is newsworthy when the security perimeter gets breached.

That’s what made the Greenpeace action so successful: once that guy got through, it was virtually ensured there would be multiple videos and reports of his action hitting the news. It also made it risky, of course: he could easily have been shot out of the air and killed.

But I am digressing. Go back to my initial points about all security measures having their holes, and Trump being uniquely unpopular. Put those two together and it means that the chance of the outer layers getting penetrated is much higher than for most presidents, simply because there’s more people attempting to penetrate them.

This time, it was a harmless penetration. The Secret Service may well have even been aware that Greenpeace might be planning such an action, and have decided to deprioritize it in favor of focusing on more serious threats. Greenpeace, after all, has a long, proud tradition of confining itself to only nonviolent direct actions, so the worst that would likely happen is what did in fact happen: an embarrassing penetration, but no actual harm done to anybody.

The next time, however, the penetration might not be so innocuous. It probably still won’t be successful in physically harming Trump (odds favor the inner layers of security working), but the news will be more dramatic and dire than it was this time. Also, keep in mind the copycat effect: now that there’s been one such story hitting the news, it will probably inspire others to make their own attempts.

So, this is probably only the beginning.

Umberto Eco and the Trade War

Liberal columnist Paul Krugman makes the pretty obvious argument that we’re in for a trade war in his most recent column. Towards the end, he points out that the capitalist class seems pretty much oblivious to that threat:

For what it’s worth, I don’t think most businesses, or most investors in financial markets, are taking the threat of trade war seriously enough. They’re acting as if this is a passing phase, as if the grown-ups will step in and stop this downward spiral before it goes too far.

But there are no grown-ups in this administration, which basically makes policy by temper tantrum. A full-blown trade war looks all too possible; in fact, it may already have begun.

Of course it is, because they’ve fallen for Trumpism, Trumpism is a form of fascism, and fascism is founded on the words of the leader alone, irrespective of those words’ truth value. Since human vanity will inevitably cause that leader to engage in self-delusions, fascism is inevitably based on lies.

Which brings us to Umberto Eco’s observation: “Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.” Those words are as true for a trade war as they are for the shooting kind.

Dewberry (Rubus ursinus)

Rubus ursinus

Rubus ursinus

The Dewberry, also called the trailing blackberry, is probably the least-known of our wild blackberries. This is most likely for two reasons:

  1. They are physically smaller than the more well-known Himilayan (Rubus armeniacus) and Evergreen (Rubus laciniatus) blackberries.
  2. They have been outcompeted by these two nonnative species thus are not as numerous, either.

As alluded to in the list above, the Dewberry is our native wild blackberry; the other two ones mentioned are the introduced ones that take over and dominate virtually any vacant space in short order. While its numbers may be somewhat reduced, despite that there is thankfully no shortage of Dewberries in this region.

While it can be easy to find Dewberry plants, finding ones that are bearing fruit can be significantly harder. That is because unlike its introduced relatives (and most plants), Dewberries, like most animals, come in separate male and female individuals. So unless you find a female patch with at least one nearby male patch, you will not be seeing any berries on these. (The Dewberry’s canes tend to root as they trail, so this plant is typically found in large, clonal patches.)

Instead of having giant, ferociously thorny canes that can grow 20 feet or more per year and make thickets 10 or more feet high, the Dewberry is a much smaller and less aggressive plant. As its other name implies, it typically trails low to the ground. While thorny, its thorns are far smaller and thinner than of its two introduced cousins.

I hesitate to mention it, because it might increase competition for the berries I harvest, but the Dewberry is one of our best-flavored berries. It figures in the parentage of the loganberry and the boysenberry, and was bred into these cultivated berries specifically for its flavor.

The fruit is smaller and not borne in the great profusion that it is on our introduced blackberries, so it can be difficult to find Dewberries in quantity sufficient for use in recipes calling for blackberries. I have my secret spots, and have managed to make large enough harvests several times; in each case, the results got rave reviews from all who sampled them.

And before anyone asks: no, I will not be sharing the locations of these spots!

Abolish ICE

Really, the entire fact there’s a disagreement with the parameters of the one that’s apparently emerging shows how fucked-up and detached from reality Establishment political narratives tend to be.

First, when Democratic politicians talk about “ablolishing ICE,” they’re talking about a rebranding, not an abolition. Politicians in the service of the State will stay politicians in the service of the State, and the State will remain the State. It will still have borders and laws, including laws that mandate respect for borders. The laws will be meaningless absent some way to enforce them.

ICE hasn’t existed forever. It’s only been around since 2002. Did the USA have borders prior to 2002? Were there laws about those borders prior to 2002? Were there people enforcing those laws prior to 2002? Of course! It’s just that the enforcement was done by other agencies called by other names and operating under a slightly different management structure, that’s all.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe that any Democratic Party-backed bill which “abolishes ICE” would accomplish any amount of overall change more significant than the one that happened when ICE was created in the first place.

Second, there is going to be no anarchist world of no nations and borders in the next few years; it is simply not possible to create one in so short a time frame. Third, it is a contradiction in terms to suggest that such a world would be possible to create by legislating from above via the machinery of electoral politics.

So, we are now at three very good reasons why the whole premise of this emerging “debate” is totally bogus. Not that I expect such facts to make much difference when it comes to the continued presence of the “debate.” Establishment politics is often totally divorced from reality.

A far more relevant short-term question to be arguing over would be how to defang the State, as permanently as possible, so it is not so easily able to engage in the sort of cruel, authoritarian policies it recently has been engaging in on a wholesale scale.

Rebranding might be part of this, because labels can be powerful things. Changing them can be a way to express and continually remind people that the standards and rules have changed, and that what was done in the past is no longer acceptable today. On the other hand, rebranding can also serve as a smokescreen to distract from how a “reform” is just a pseudo-reform and the same injustices are still happening at the same scale, just under a different name.

Ultimately, the rebranding is far less important than the need for underlying change which should accompany it. Arguing about the rebranding while mostly ignoring the need for underlying change is just stupid.

This suggests the best way to respond to any Establishment figure who asks about “abolishing ICE.” Reject the question and challenge its premises. Say something like:

I think the fact that there is so much obsession over this topic is in and of itself a sign of the fundamental sickness of the system and the need to change it. Because, really, who cares what label is attached to the name of those enforcing border laws? What matters are the actions, not the label attached to them. This cruelty to children must stop, and there must be permanent systemic changes that make it impossible for any president of any party to ever order it into existence again!

A Few Thoughts on AMLO

  1. He’s almost certainly going to win. The polls have consistently been showing him leading his challengers by 15 points or more. Polls can sometimes be wrong, but they almost never are wrong at predicting the winner when the gap is this big.
  2. He’s not another Hugo Chávez. Yes, he’s something of a populist and a buffoon, but he’s not a newcomer to politics; he was mayor of Mexico City, and seems to have done at least a passable job at it, and he doesn’t seem to have been a Chávez-style authoritarian while he was in office.
  3. He’s apparently moved to the right in the past year, going by this article in the Washington Post.
  4. The elephant in the living room is corruption. It’s a terrible problem in Mexico, and is intertwined with violence (another terrible problem). While AMLO is atypically clean for a Mexican politician (and this is part of his appeal), it’s unclear whether he’s going to be able to do much about the huge number of corrupt individuals.
  5. Speaking of corruption and violence, his expected victory is mostly the result of Mexicans’ frustration at their country’s domestic problems. It doesn’t have much to do with the Mango Mussolini’s childish insistence that Mexico pay for his stupid wall.