Saturday Tweets: A Very Old Pretzel

Getting Those Bees Back to the Garden

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Johnny, of the superb blog Granola Shotgun sent me these photos he shot near Bakersfield, California. They show some of the millions of hives that are trucked into the Central Valley at this time of year to pollinate almonds.

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Somehow the press never questions the practices of these industrial beekeepers and the role these practices play in the overall health of bees. This is not even to mention the profligate use of water to grow almonds.

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Johnny said that these beehives reminded him of Stalinist apartment blocks he photographed on a recent trip to the Ukraine.

I don’t intend this to be an editorial against the Langstroth hive (I think you can use a Langstroth responsibly but certainly not in the concentrations seen in these pictures). Rather, it’s interesting to see how a reductionist approach to bees and people leads to similar outcomes.

Nextdoor: Monetizing Your Neighbors

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How would you like to work for free? And while you’re working for free, let’s say that your boss deliberately orchestrates a state of mind of anger, distraction, idle chatter and gossip (see our post on Acedia). Now let’s say that boss is someone you’ll never meet, never see face to face and who dines in all the finest San Francisco restaurants, drives a sports car and assumes no personal risk for the business he or she operates.

This is exactly what happens when we use social media. We work for free while our Silicon Valley overlords harvest data to sell to marketers. I need not mention Facebook or the even more vile Yik Yak. We all know their pitfalls and, I’ll acknowledge, their benefits: staying in touch with family and friends and creating opportunities for small businesses to market themselves. But I’m really beginning to question whether those benefits outweigh their flaws.

I’m particularly angry this morning about a social media application called Nextdoor. When it began I thought it was a good idea. My neighbors even used it to organize some parties that got us all acquainted. But the Nextdoor folks started dictating to us what the physical boundaries would be of our neighborhood. Those boundaries got too big. Then heated and tedious discussion threads started up. Racist comments appeared. Recently Nextdoor asked Kelly to moderate questionable comments, framing this as a privilege rather than a scheme to get her to do their work for them. This disturbed her, because she couldn’t tell if racist comments would remain posted if she didn’t step in and do something about it. Yet she didn’t want to accept that unasked for responsibility, either. She unsubscribed from Nextdoor today.  I stopped subscribing to comments some time ago.

Right now Nextdoor is burning through venture capital money in the hopes of someday being an alternative to Craigslist.

And by the by: in 2014, the CEO of Nextdoor was charged with hit and run driving (and later convicted on a lesser charge).

Thankfully it should be easy to create an alternative to Nextdoor using tools provided (ironically) by other questionable Silicon Valley companies like Google. I’d like to create a Google group for our neighborhood with a set of, admittedly, draconian rules:

  1. No discussions that would not take place face to face, i.e. nothing that would be offensive to anyone in the group.
  2. Offering a few things for sale is o.k. but running an online business through the group is unacceptable.
  3. No real estate agent promotions.
  4. Political discussions relevant to the neighborhood can be facilitated through the online group but they must take place face to face. That is, if we need to get together to support or oppose something we need to have those discussions in person.
  5. No idle chatter or gossip.

The kinds of things I’d like to see handled by the group are straightforward and factual: Invitations to neighborhood events. Questions about utilities (Why wasn’t the garbage picked up? Is there a power outage?). Referrals for professional services. Security concerns, like suspicious cars or vandalism. Lost and found pets. Giveaways of furniture, plants, excess fruit, etc.  Everything else is just noise and distraction.

We’d all agree to the rules before signing up and there’ would be a small committee of three that would moderate comments.

My question for you, our dear readers, is have you been a part of a neighborhood email group? How has it gone? What benefits and pitfalls have you experienced?

Will the Lawn Rebate Turn LA into a Gravel Moonscape?

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That pesky law of unintended consequences! Drought conditions here in California prompted our water utilities to offer rebates for ripping out water hungry lawns. Unfortunately, as Ivette Soler has pointed out in a blog post, “The Road to Hell is Paved with Chunky Gravel and Indifferently Chosen Plants,” unscrupulous “landscapers” are taking those rebates and installing gravel and mulch moonscapes.

It’s an education problem. For most people plants are a sort of green background material. Our ancestors could distinguish between hundreds of plants, but that ancestral memory has been hijacked by commercial interests. Now, instead of plant identification skills, we name and distinguish things like cars and mobile devices. If there was a kind of car rebate program that inadvertently replaced BMWs with Pontiac Azteks I would guarantee you that there would be blood in the streets. We need a new cultural narrative and a crash course in plant appreciation.

Such a reeducation program is a long term project. In the short term, another local writer (who was a guest on episode 20 of our podcast), Emily Green, has a very useful series of posts, “After the Lawn,” that will walk you through a “safe and sane” lawn replacement.

Lawn replacement in our dry Mediterranean climate could serve as a positive step in bringing our culture, “back to the garden.” If we can shift away from lawns and gravel, we could create landscapes that support pollinators, birds and our own well being.