Weekend Linkages: Perfection Salad

Strange Zillow listing of the week

Frank Sinatra’s Chatsworth Home Listed For $21.5M (It’s actually kinda nice)

Cat on a hot satellite dish: Elon Musk’s Starlink antenna hits surprise problem

Climate change, rising temperatures will lead to rise in kidney stones – study

Vision Zero failure: 18 bike riders killed in Los Angeles in 2021

Gas stoves and indoor air quality

There is No Red Pill

Hacked Prius Running on MUNI Power Lines (spoiler: this is one of the best April Fools day jokes ever)

Dystopia Report: The I-710 Corridor Aesthetic Master Plan

Fredric Jameson begins his essay “Utopia as Replication” (Valances of the Dialectic. New York, Verso, 2010) with the example of Los Angeles’ freeways, a kind of new order superimposed on an older kind of city. In the new Freeway city cars hover and over preexisting, denser, centralized spaces. In the collision of these two urbanities a new kind of city emerges, one that we’re all familiar with. The freeway builder’s utopian promise of speed and liberty delivers, instead, exurban sprawl, congestion and waves of urban decay and gentrification. That utopian vision of Freeway building is personified in mid-century figures like Robert Moses and the city fathers of early 20th century Los Angeles.

But Jameson goes on to question, “does anyone believe in progress any longer?  . . . are the architects and urbanists still passionately at work on Utopian cities?” An answer to Jameson’s question came this week in an astonishing and horrifying set of PowerPoint slides for the I-710 Corridor Aesthetic Master Plan released to the world via StreetsblogLA’s Twitter. The 710 freeway embodies the global, neoliberal economic order. It’s the main trucking route for all the crap from China that flows into the Port here and towards the massive distribution warehouses of Amazon and Wallmart. One of the many casualties of the global economy are the poorest residents of LA County who live in the pollution plume of the 710.

These PowerPoint slides prove that, yes, the engineers (architects?) are still designing stuff but they don’t believe in it anymore. It’s just a job. I suspect that at least some of them know that their work only makes things worse. At the end of the day these engineers and consultants get on the very same congested freeways they don’t believe in to commute to their exurban homes with the better schools. Gone is Moses’ utopian bluster, replaced with the most banal office PowerPoint slide pixel pushing, probably outsourced to some bored consultant.

This particular slide may be the best ever proof of the thesis of David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs book, that perhaps half of all people in Western countries are engaged in useless, soul-sucking office work. I mean, spend a moment appreciating the visual chaos that is this image. Ask yourself if it has any purpose whatsoever other than fulfilling some checkbox on a list of meaningless public engagement metrics. What possible purpose does this slide fulfill?

Then appreciate this bleak slide depicting a vista we’re all too familiar with.

Of this slide StreetsblogLA says in Twitter, “And, hey, @metrolosangeles @CaltransDist7 what’s this beige-clad blond businessman doing walking across the 710 Freeway in Southeast Los Angeles? Why not depict Latino families who depend on these bridges to get to school?” Indeed, that beige-clad business man has never seen the outside of his Tesla when out and about. Meanwhile the car-less in this city, largely Latino and African-American,  have faced a striking increase in pedestrian and bike fatalities in the past year.

The French have an expression for this one, “a bandage on a wooden leg.” Here in the U.S. we might say, “the cherry on the shit sundae.” Create a bleak, hostile landscape and put up some kind of bland mural that serves only to accumulate diesel particulate.

Jameson acknowledges something that the writer and philosopher Mark Fisher later built on, how stuck we are in the way things are, unable to imagine a different way of doing things. But that’s precisely what we have to do: imagine and tell stories about a better world. Jameson concludes the essay,

Utopology revives long dormant parts of the mind, unused organs of political and historical and social imagination which have virtually atrophied for lack of use, muscles of praxis we have long since ceased exercising, revolutionary gestures we have lost the habit of perform- ing, even subliminally. Such a revival of futurity and of the positing of alternate futures is not itself a political program nor even a political practice: but it is hard to see how any durable or effective political action could come into being without it.

We lost Mark Fisher in 2017 to suicide. After his death his students painted a quote from his book Capitalist Realism. “Emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.” Freeways may seem inevitable and necessary but they’ve been torn down in many cities now. We can do the same here in Los Angeles. Let’s stop composing Powerpoint slides and break out the dynamite.

Weekend Linkages: Omicron, Belgian Houses and Farts in Jars

Spotted in San Francisco: some strange brickwork.

Omicron could peak in U.S. fairly soon. Maybe.

30 Belgian Houses That Are So Bad, They’re Good

The Getty’s Gift to Locked Down Los Angeles: 71,139 Ed Ruscha Vintage Streetscape Photos Digitized

Column: He’s L.A. food royalty. He began with a taco cart. Let street vendors thrive

TikTok Star Who Sells Her Farts in Jars Starts Selling Fart NFTs

A Night at the Church of Salt Bae, America’s Newest Celebrity Chef

The old golden savages killed their philosophers

‘I felt powerless – so I started filming’: CyclingMikey on his one-man battle with dangerous drivers

Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement

America’s midlife crisis: lessons from a survivalist summit

Venice Bridge Will Be De-Calatrava’d to Keep Pedestrians From Face-planting

Seaweed Foraging

Kelly and I took a trip up to San Francisco over New Years to see relatives. While up there we were lucky enough to attend a seaweed foraging class with ForageSF that took place north of Bodega Bay.

Foraging for seaweed is a lot simpler than my recent, rekindled interest in edible mushrooms. In California there are no poisonous seaweeds, just ones that taste better than others. In this class we focused on Kombu, Laminaria setchellii a California version of the closely related seaweed that the Japanese harvest (Kombu is just the Japanese word for kelp). You can use Kombu in Japanese recipes, as a flavoring in soups and stews, as well as a substitute for Beano.

To conveniently harvest Kombu you need three things:

  • Unpolluted water
  • A rocky beach
  • Ultra-low tide (so called “negative” tide)

You also need to learn to distinguish between “true” Kombu (Laminaria setchellii) and “false” Kombu (Pterygophora californica). [Editors note: I’m not 100% sure of the scientific names in this post so please correct me if I’ve got this wrong] False Kombu looks like a palm frond and is tasteless. They both tend to grow together.

Responsible harvesting means cutting no more than a quarter of the leaf like structure of the Kombu, leaving around an inch at the base of the cut for the kelp to regrow.

Seaweed begins rotting almost immediately after harvesting so you’ll need to start the drying process immediately. Before drying you need to wash the seaweed. Purists do this in the ocean. We didn’t have time for this so we did it at home. The disadvantage is that fresh water will dissolve seaweed so you have to work quickly and start the drying immediately. Drying can be done in the sun, on a dashboard, in a dehydrator or in an oven at the lowest setting. As it was dark and cold by the time we got home we used Kelly’s step mom’s oven.

Our very small Kombu haul dried and ready to use.

You should only harvest what you have space and time to dry within 24 hours after harvesting–the sooner the better. It’s legal in California to harvest up to 10 pounds of seaweed for personal use without a permit but you’ll probably want to harvest considerably less than this as scampering over the rocks, hauling it all back and processing it is exhausting work. It would be easiest to divide duties between a group of people if possible.

Our choice of footwear, loose fitting rubber boots used in construction work, was not up to the task. The best option would probably be a wetsuit. The water is cold, the rocks jagged, and you’ll want to also step around carefully so as not to kill starfish, anemone or one of the many other lifeforms that inhabit the shore.

In addition to Kombu we also encountered Bladderwrack Fucus distichus, the tips of which can be used in salads and a few other seaweeds. We hope to come back in the summer when you can find Nori.

The beach we were at also had enormous mussel beds. If I ever get around to attempting this I’ll blog about it but, from my initial research, mussel harvesting seems simple (leave a comment if you’ve done mussel or other shellfish harvesting). You just need a fishing license, a scale, a bucket and gloves. You’ll also need to check in with the state’s shellfish advisory website or hotline (1-800-553-4133) to avoid biotoxins that can be present in mussels at any time of the year but especially during the summer months. I should note that an unfortunate trend of irresponsible tide pool harvesting got going during the pandemic as reported by the LA Times.

Back to seaweed. Here’s a few resources:

California Native Plant Society article (pdf) on California Seaweeds
Fin + Forage Kelp Identification guide
A guide to brown seaweeds
The sea forager’s guide to the Northern California coast by Kirk Lombard and Leighton Kelly (has a short section on seaweed)
LA Times article on seaweed foraging in Southern California (I’ll note that I’ve heard conflicting information on whether SoCal beaches are too polluted to harvest seaweed)

Wake Up and Fight

Woodie Guthrie’s New Years Resolutions, 1942.

I had a dream the other night that an acquaintance of mine who used to have a blog did a negative review of my innocuous New Years post. In the dream he went on about how putting up that picture of a pupusa just wasn’t “serious.”

This is, of course, a silly anxiety dream. There’s no way this person would ever have complained about any of my posts let alone that one. But this dream crystalized two writing fears of mine: offending people and going off-topic. These fears lead to writer’s block and timid writing. They can also cause you to lose contact with the muses entirely.

To regain some of that muse contact I lost over the pandemic I feel like I need to let go of these fears even if I lose a few readers in the process. Which is itself a ridiculous fear since, if I were chasing clicks, I would have given up long ago.

Almost all of the “urban homesteading” blogs like this one disappeared years ago. That’s the result of many factors. One is the rise of social media, as capital found a way to monetize posting and shift the fruits of that monetization away from creators and towards large companies like Meta (gag) and all the others: Twitter, TikTok, YouTube etc. I’m sorry to say that I bought into the optimism about the internet in the 90s, that we’d all have blogs and disrupt Big Media. That turned out to be a dystopian joke. Now all we have are uncle Bob’s Qanon rants.

Another change happened during the last few years. Concern over “fake news” caused Google to tweak their algorithm such that results from large institutional sources such as The Washington Post, The New York Times etc. are favored over humble blogs like this one. In the golden age of blogging I could expect traffic from posts on niche topics. Now that search traffic has dried up.

And, yet, I still find this blog worthwhile even if traffic has greatly diminished. Root Simple functions both as a diary of sorts and as a way to explore new concepts and ideas. I hope that un-censoring myself will help me get back in touch with the muses. I think that the letting go of the fear of going off topic will actually be the biggest step. Wish me luck and I thank you all for sticking with us over the years.