The Great Water Conservation Grift

Governor Gavin Newsom shoveling something with Stewart and Lynda Resnick. Source: CalTech.

For many years we’ve been in a drought here in California as a result of climate change. In response our elected officials, through the mainstream media, push out a message of water rationing in cities. Here in Los Angeles we’ve all been asked to restrict watering to two days a week.

There’s no doubt that we’d all benefit from ditching lawns in favor of native and low-water landscapes. However, I believe these calls for household water conservation are a kind of misdirection from what’s really going on. In short, we as individuals are being blamed for a water shortage that would be better attributed to a class of Central Valley agricultural oligarchs whose profligate water use dwarfs what we use for our urban landscapes.

Journalist Yasha Levine did a superb story on the unholy relationship between governor Gavin Newsom and billionaire pistachio/pomegrante/Fiji Water oligarchs Stewart and Lynda Resnick that deserves more attention. Levine details a hustle typical for our billionaire class. The Resnicks launder their destructive, extractive capitalism through “philanthropic” schemes, in their case things like art museums and a “sustainability center” at the California Institute of Technology. Of course, they are also generous donors to politicians such as Newsom. Here’s now Levine describes Newsom’s trip to the opening of that sustainability center,

“Philanthropists” is an interesting way for the Governor of California to describe one of the most powerful forces in farming in the state — a billionaire family that owns something like 300 square miles of Oligarch Valley land, has its own toxic corporate farm worker town, and, from their ridiculous mansion in Beverly Hills, has been on a destructive quest to eviscerate the state’s river system and plunder its aquifers, helping fuel a mass extinction in the San Francisco Bay Delta…all so they can grow and export pistachios, a fringe snack food that people around here barely eat.

But then calling these rapacious oligarchs “philanthropists” is exactly the point. Governor Gavin was going out to Pasadena to do some public relations work: to lend his name and image and the respectably of his public office to Stewart and Lynda Resnick’s ongoing effort to rebrand themselves as do-gooders and environmentalists, rather than the industrial-scale destroyers of the environment that they are.

Levine also notes the irony of a family that exports water from Fiji and even had a journalist deported for digging around into their sleazy business practices in that country.

In addition to the misdirection issue, hastily conceived water conservation policies have gone poorly when it comes to our urban landscapes. Take, for instance, LA’s horrible lawn replacement rebate program that ended up in the hands of fly by night operators who exploited their workers and left us with acres of gravel and plastic lawns. Or, since most homeowners don’t have any understanding of climate or horticulture, we just get dead lawns or, at best, decomposed granite and a few sad cacti. Coastal California is not a desert yet, and our landscapes can be both lush and not use a lot of water. Plus we might want to use water for things like parks, schools and athletic fields especially when that use is small compared to what the Resnicks extract to make their billions.

My big fear is that, while technically the water restrictions don’t apply to trees, in practice people withhold water from trees and we end up with a further destruction of our already stressed urban tree canopy. Our cities get hotter and the Resnicks get richer.

Mr. Grumpy Needs a Home

Have a place in your heart and home for a sweet little cat? Got a text from some cat rescue folks I met recently:

Grumpy, our foster, is very far from grumpy. We had been feeding him in an alley near our home and thought he was feral, but when we trapped him we discovered he is friendly! He is the sweetest boy; a true lap cat. He is about 2 years old (estimated). Grumpy would love nothing more than to spend his most of his time snoozing on his owner’s lap. He isn’t super frisky or active, but he does play with wand toys. He is friendly with other cats, non-aggressive. When confronted with aggression, he hides rather than fights back. So he would benefit from a calmer environment, maybe a single person or a childless couple, who spend a lot of time at home and want a best friend like Grumpy. He could be in a multi cat household as long as it wasn’t more than a couple cats. He would be an excellent companion. He is very loyal, loving and snuggly.

Grumpy was neutered at FixNation, received shots, flea treatment. will be given dewormer treatment, and he tested negative for FelV/FIV1. One notable characteristic is his distinct limp – it’s likely he had an old injury on his front left leg which caused this. He had x rays and exams by two vets- there are no visible or palpable fractures, and there is no muscle atrophy, meaning he still uses the leg. So even though he limps, it won’t require any further treatment. He gets around just fine.

He is a special cat who has been through a lot (likely dumped on the street by a previous owner) and he needs a wonderful home. For any potential adopters, we will want to do a home check either in person or by video, and have a meet-and-greet at our home so we can see how they interact with Grumpy. Any renters will need to provide landlord’s contact info so we can verify that pets are allowed. A few character references will also be required, or I can take your word for it if you’ve known someone a long time.

Send me an email at [email protected] if you’d like to adopt Mr. Grumpy and I’ll put you in touch with the rescue folks. If you can’t adopt Mr. Grumpy please send this post around.

Hugo for CD13!!!

Our ballots just arrived in the mail here and, in lieu of my usually links roundup, I thought I’d speak to my neighbors to suggest that you vote for Hugo Soto-Martinez for council district 13. The current occupant of this office, Mitch O’Farrell, has had nine years to work on issues such as homelessness and the safety of our streets. He’s spent those years virtue signalling and doing the bidding of his wealthy patrons. Mitch’s campaign funders include wealthy real estate interests, slumlords, lobbyists and gig economy companies such as Doordash and Airbnb.

We need someone like union organizer Hugo Soto-Martinez who, I believe, has a compassionate approach to homelessness as well as solid positions on transportation and the environment. You can read more about Hugo on his website Hugo2022.com.

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep

The early war on sleep: Arkwright’s Cotton Mills By Night, 1782 by Joseph Wright of Derby.

Our beat on this blog has been appropriate technology, gardening and urban homesteading (whatever that means!). Ironically, Kelly and I have had to spend a lot of time in front of screens researching and writing about these very analog subjects that, for the most part, involve an off-line engagement with the natural world. We’ve done this at a time of the explosive growth of social media. Early on there was a line of thought that social media could be used for positive social movements. I think it’s safe to say that, at this point, only the most fervent Silicon Valley cultists still have any faith in garbage products like Facebook and Twitter.

My own ideas about the internet have whipsawed over the years from an enthusiastic optimism in the 1990s to, more recently, a gut feeling that we need to just burn it all down. Two books I’ve read in recent months fall into that burn it all down category. One, a collection of William Morris’ political writings, and the other, Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Morris and Crary have much in common. Writing in the 19th century, Morris could see the brutal trajectory of industrial capitalism. Writing in our own century Crary itemizes the wreckage in a screed that the Los Angeles Review of Books described as, “a polemic as finely concentrated as a line of pure cocaine.”

24/7 takes, as its central metaphor, capitalism’s war on sleep. The book opens with a description of the U.S. military’s attempt to develop the means to eliminate the need for sleep as well as its use of sleep deprivation as torture. But we don’t need to reside in some CIA black site to find ourselves sleep deprived. Capitalism, ever seeking to extract value from the planet and from human life, seeks to eliminate, though keeping us glued to screens, the hours we sleep.

Central to Crary’s argument is capitalism’s “relentless capture and control of time and experience” through the use of addiction technologies that both keep us tied to our screen and control, narrow and channel the content of our communication. For Crary, the idea that these technologies are somehow neutral is absurd and, in the words of philosopher Giorgio Agamben, a “product of the media apparatus in which they are captured.”

Crary believes that the internet co-evolved with a particularly brutal stage of free-market capitalism that’s come to be called neo-liberalism. This isn’t a coincidence. Our communication technologies, Crary believes, are intertwined with our economic system.

Bowling Alone
I was particularly excited by a passage in the book where Crary mentions something that I’ve long noticed but never heard anyone else talk about, the media’s obsession with religious cults. It’s not that there aren’t such destructive groups, but the sheer number of documentaries about cults seems more about what Crary calls a “bourgeois horror of the crowd” that forecloses the possibility of communitarian forms of mutual support.

There are the countless narratives of cult-like communes of obedient converts ruled by homicidal madmen and cynical manipulators. Echoing bourgeois fears in the late nineteen century following 1871, the idea of a commune derived from any form of socialism remains systemically intolerable. The cooperative, as a lived set of relations, cannot actually be made visible–it can only be represented as a parodic replication of existing relations of domination. In many different ways, the attack on values of collectivity and cooperation is articulated through the notion that freedom is to be free of any dependence on other, while in fact we are experiencing a more comprehensive subjection to the “free” working of markets. As Harold Bloom has shown, the real American religion is “to be free of other selves.”

We get, in Crary’s words, “the elimination or the financialization of social arrangements that had previously supported many kinds of cooperative activity” through the false communitarianism of social media.

This brutal, every man for himself ethos intersects with the war on sleep in issues such as the way we deal with homelessness.

Public spaces are now comprehensively planned to deter sleeping, often including–with an intrinsic cruelty–the serrated design of benches and other elevated surfaces that prevent a human body from reclining on them. The pervasive but social disregarded phenomenon of urban homelessness entails many deprivations, yet few are more acute than the hazards and insecurities of unsheltered sleep.

Where do we go from here?
The book was written almost 10 years ago in 2013, but the only thing that dates this book is Crary’s attack on blogging which he calls a “one-way model of auto-chattering in which the possibility of ever having to wait and listen to someone else has been eliminated.” Guilty as charged, but blogging now seems quaint next to the horrors of social media which was only just gestating when Crary wrote 24/7.

Perhaps to update his argument a bit Crary’s has a new book, Scorched Earth: Beyond the Digital Age to a Post-Capitalist World which continues many of the themes developed in 24/7. To extract a personal strategy from either of these books is to miss the point. Pervasive, addictive technologies must be confronted in solidarity with other people. Nevertheless, books like these make me more inclined to pick up a garden spade or hand plane rather than a laptop and recognize how privileged I am to be able to make that choice.