Monthly Archives: November 2016

A request for D.C. readers.

UPDATE:  We are all set and grateful.  Thank you!

I would like to join the protests against Trump on January 21st.  Do I have any readers who could host me and a friend for the overnights on Jan 20 and 21st?  We don’t need more than places to sleep.  If you are willing, please email me at onthepublicrecord @ gmail . com.

Thank you.


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Be gentle with yourself during grief.

I find the usual recommendations for grief a little silly, because my experience was that grief was the boss of me and decisions to do any particular thing never went anywhere.  That said, yes, all forms of self-care are a good idea: yoga, meditation, exercise, hygge, journaling, being with your loves, being with animals, going outside.  Sure.  Do what you can manage.

Here is my realistic list of what you can do about grief:

  • You don’t have to do anything.  If you are healthy, grief will pass.  Sleep.  Eat what your body wants and sleep some more.  Notice when you start to feel energized again.
  • Give yourself permission to go small.  For two years, I was a tiny person, with nothing left over to give to friends, no interest in anything abstract, no capacity to follow any plot beyond my own.  It is OK to be that way for a while, and for healthy people, grief will pass.
  • Give yourself permission to be OK sometimes.  Grief comes in waves; between the waves you may feel good.  That is also natural and fine.  So is black humor.  Do not waste energy on guilt for feeling good or for laughing at bleakness.
  • If you weren’t healthy going into grief, jesus fuck go get help.  This is time for therapy.  Grief and its depression will find all of the unhealed places and re-open old hurts.  Addicts are at very high risk of relapse during grief.
  • Of the standard recommendations, I got the most from going outside and from getting a dog.  I found myself compulsively driven to plant and garden, but I don’t know if that’s a widespread grief response.
  • As an overarching guide, I found Ro Randall’s presentation of the tasks of grief much better than the mainstream concept of the stages of grief.


After your grief, this situation will still be astonishingly bad and we will still have to respond. I don’t mean to suggest anything different.  But right now, grief is an additional burden, its own thing.  Respect it; one way or another, grief will take its full toll.  Also know that the part that is grief will pass.  It just does.


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The part that is grief.

Friends, I find this a bit bizarre and further, I dislike talking about myself here.  This week, however, two of my strongest intellectual interests have converged.  During the years this blog was silent, my partner and I were given cause for great grief.  We were essentially obliterated; my absence from the blog I love is evidence of that.  I was too reduced to have abstract interests, including water, but I read everything I found about grief.  (I am also astonished that I didn’t find the work Dr. Kearns pointed me to, which is about the best I’ve read on grief.)

While reading about grief, I was substantially frustrated.  In our state those years, everything was explainable by grief, which is essentially useless.  I did not find the stages of grief useful either, especially when I was told they could intermix.  I wanted to know what was natural to grief and would lift of its own, what was situational, and what was potentially pathological and should be addressed.  This week, as we are back in grief, I’d like to sort it for you in more concrete terms.  These are ways you are likely experiencing grief:

  • That stoned numb feeling is grief.  Clumsy, knocking into things, losing words, feeling disembodied –all grief.
  • Your exhaustion is from grief.  It isn’t just the time change, nor staying up to see the election results.  Grief is exhausting and you need to sleep.
  • Crying during transit.  When you are grieving, you cry when you move between places.  Driving, walking, even cycling all become times to sob.
  • Appetite regression.  The stronger the grief, the more the appetite goes back to childish foods.  When we got our bad news, at first we couldn’t eat, then we ate nothing but breakfast cereal for days.  Expect to crave the comfort foods of your childhood.  I didn’t really love Didion’s book on grief, but she pointed to the most useful tip on grief I saw anywhere.  Emily Post wrote:
    • “It is also well to prepare a little hot tea or broth,” Mrs. Post advised, “and it should be brought them upon their return without their being asked if they would care for it. Those who are in great distress want no food, but if it is handed to them, they will mechanically take it, and something warm to start digestion and stimulate impaired circulation is what they most need.” [Emily Post’s 1922 book of etiquette, Chapter XXIV, “Funerals”]

    • Carbs.  This is a peculiar observation and I don’t know the mechanism, but I can tell you for certain.  Carbs are important right now; they are called comfort foods for a reason.  If you restrict carbs in your diet, the depths of your grief will be deeper.
  • Spontaneous crying.  It is OK and appropriate.  Do not be afraid; you will not cry harder than your body can take.
  • The feeling of being encased in fog, or moving through a viscous fluid, or greyness or bleakness.  This is grief-related depression.  It should go away, but keep an eye on it.
  • Low motivation, difficulty initiating movement and plans, fatigue that makes all functions hard.  This is also grief-related depression.  Frankly, we just submitted to it and did almost nothing.

If you are otherwise healthy, your grief will pass.  It just does, lightening for small stretches of time that lengthen into days.  You will know that grief has passed when intellectual interests return, when you find the energy to tackle something big you want to do, when you feel like your old self.  When grief passes, we will all still face this incredibly horrible reality.  But you will be assessing and participating in it with your usual capacities, without the incremental burden of grief.

UPDATE:  I got some commiseration that makes me think that this post isn’t clear.  We had a very bad couple of years, but have gotten much better.  For two years we have been well and happy.  The grief did indeed lift.  This election knocked me down, but not nearly so far.


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See? We have lots of common ground.

Noted asshole Buddy Mendes wrote an op-ed for the Fresno Bee.  I was delighted when I saw that, because I love reminding local bigwigs that there are lots of kinds of authority in the world and they lost some of theirs when they indulged in asshole behavior.  How better than writing an anonymous post, tearing apart whatever sophistry he can manage?  Unfortunately, the central thesis of Supervisor Mendes’ op-ed is entirely correct and unassailable.  He is right.  The remainder of California, including our elected officials, neglects the Central Valley and its poor.  As he writes, we are committing a moral failure when we know “these policies are having a harmful impact on the region but choose to ignore the human and social consequences.”  We should be ashamed.

Mr. Mendes’ solution is that in the name of the poor people of the Central Valley, the State should take water away from communities more powerless and vulnerable (fish, Tribes, riparian habitats) and distribute water to landowners who incidentally create jobs in the process of privatizing resource wealth.  So, you know.  Fuck that.

But his problem statement remains true.

Even more cynical is the fact that the activists and government officials calling for further restrictions on water supplies are offering no plan to assist the San Joaquin Valley region with the damage they are creating. They encourage policies that take land out of production, eliminate farm jobs, and strain the resources of local governments.

He is right.  The current water policies do have moral and economic consequences.  Rather than back away from the water policies, we should predict the consequences, mitigate the ones we can (with money, not water), and make moral choices based on explicit criteria to decrease the effects of our current water policies.  Then we go ahead with the instream flow plan and SGMA.
A few other thoughts:
  • Frankly, to my mind, the current water policies are only an excuse to throw money at the Central Valley.  We’ve shamefully neglected it for decades and if there were no drought and climate change, we should still throw money at the poor in the Central Valley.
  • Dr. Michael wrote this about the funding for the AroundDeltaWaterGo.  I found it persuasive.

The Valley economy has many, many needs.  It breaks my heart to think that anyone in government would contemplate a $6.5 billion subsidy to Valley agriculture that provides no net benefit to the Valley economy.  If such a subsidy were to happen, it would be a tragic example of ineffective and wasteful government.  If the government feels compelled to spend billions in industry subsidies in the Valley, I would suggest spending a much smaller amount to entice some other industries that would diversify the economy and create good paying jobs.  If a subsidy proposal is ever formalized, every mayor in the Valley should oppose it and offer up an alternative economic development package that is much cheaper and does more for their constituents.

  • It gets extremely touchy to talk about this stuff, but one of the mitigation strategies could be to help people leave.  I know they don’t want to, but I also know that those areas don’t generate enough wealth for people to live by first world standards, like not having arsenic or nitrates in their water.  It is a real dilemma.  There are relocation funds in the last water bond, and from what I hear, no one has been interested in them.
  • The consequences on farmworkers of decreased farmwork is fairly well described.  There is another set of social consequences that I don’t see in mainstream conversation.  Retiring farmland will create a lot of loss, grief and dislocation for farmowners.  Perhaps we don’t think the State has any role in addressing that.  Fine; that’s an understandable policy position.  But I continue to think that directly working through the emotional side of land retirement (analogous to climate change grief) would open up strategies that we can’t predict (like letting owners have life tenancies on their farms but not farm, or finding ways for them to continue in their roles as stewards by directing the next uses of their land).


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How I read this revenue and water use chart.


From PPIC, California’s Water, October 2016, Section: Water for Farms, page 47

This chart neatly illustrates my continuing gripe about one of the media clichés about California agriculture.  You can justify California ag’s water use, but you cannot justify it based on the ubiquitous quote: ‘California grows half the nation’s fruits and vegetables‘.  California does do that, but in this chart, that’s only 4% of agriculture’s water use.  (I can’t tell from this chart whether “Orchards” includes table fruit, in which case, it would claim some of the 34% in the bar above.) I’ve been especially disappointed to read the Brown administration’s representatives using that cliché to lump all of agriculture’s water use into the most sympathetic sliver of ag water use.

From the top down:

I view a large portion of this bar as resource extraction and privatization in classic colonial style.  The proceeds from sales of tree nuts abroad go to already wealthy people who don’t live in the regions they farm.  Ironically, the worst of them won’t be in this chart, since they’ve planted their nuts and vines since 2010, the data-year for this chart.  This is the segment of agricultural water use that outrages people, since almonds are not more important than a snack and the profits go to billionnaires.  Wine is also in this bar.  I’m personally no more fond of wine than almonds, but I generally don’t rail against it because I recognize that wine has deep cultural importance.  The only argument for this category of water use is basically ‘the market really likes it’.  Mr. Wenger  expands on that to say that it would be ‘un-American’ to deny resource extractors’ desire to follow the market.

The next line, Truck and specialty, is the part of ag that is easy to support.  It is your salad in winter and provides farmworker jobs like picking and handling.  I too support this segment, possibly with more policy fervor than you might suspect.  If I thought we were ever going to be so water short that this ag sector were in danger, I would be advocating for strong food security measures.  But IT IS NOT VERY MUCH WATER.  Even with climate change, instream flows and SGMA, I believe we will have enough water to provide for this type of agriculture for the foreseeable future.

Four of the next five lines are animal fodder.  (Please, lets skip over rice until next paragraph.  Also, that corn is not table corn.  It is corn grown for animal feed.)  There’s a lot of water in those lines; it adds up to half.  Not much revenue either.  I understand that this category provokes scorn; it looks like a poor use of water.  But this category of water use is the underpinning for cheap meat. The scornful soul is in danger of hypocrisy.  However you feel about eating meat more than once a month is how you feel about this category of water use.

Next is rice.  I see that rice is weighted to the right, a relatively high water user for the revenue.  However, like wine, rice is an important food for humans with deep cultural importance.  Further, rice growing worldwide is endangered.  I’m not opposed to using water for this.

Last is cotton.  Cotton is a pretty useful product.  There isn’t that much of it, a couple hundred thousand acres.  I can’t get riled up about cotton.

My takeaway:

The way I look at ag water use is twofold: does it produce an important food for humans, and do the proceeds from that use do good work in the ag valleys?  I don’t believe tree nuts meet either criteria (because they don’t generate many jobs; the proceeds go to very rich people; they’re just fucking snacks), so I complain about them a lot.

I resent that all of California’s agricultural water use gets defended on the basis of table crops, because THAT ISN’T VERY MUCH WATER (or acreage).  I definitely agree that they’re great; table crops meet my criteria of being important food for humans and supporting farm communities.

I would object to wine/vine plantings and cheap meat, but I’ve been convinced that they’re really important to other people, so I save my strength for taking cheap shots at ACWA.


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