Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Monday, September 1, 2014

thinking about cities 8...

The minimum amount of agricultural land necessary for sustainable food security, with a diversified diet similar to those of North America and Western Europe (hence including meat), is 0.5 of a hectare per person. This does not allow for any land degradation such as soil erosion, and it assumes adequate water supplies. Very few populous countries have more than an average of 0.25 of a hectare. It is realistic to suppose that the absolute minimum of arable land to support one person is a mere 0.07 of a hectare–and this assumes a largely vegetarian diet, no land degradation or water shortages, virtually no post-harvest waste, and farmers who know precisely when and how to plant, fertilize, irrigate, etc. [FAO, 1993]
From the FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Other sources indicate the absolute minimum to be 2 acres, including all the resources a family would need including firewood and animal pasture. Other sources state 1.2 acres. 

How many people can live here, on earth? There is a finite number, even if every patch was turned to production, and we lived in tiny tree houses in our cultivated orchards. This number would  not include the wondrous complexity of wildlife and non-human creatures. I do not seek the argument of Malthus. I seek instead to create a new dialog about how we build.

Zoning, itself, is only about a hundred years old. 

Grocery stores, as we know them, are far less than a hundred.

Cars as mass transportation tools are not centenarians. 

Our cities as we are designing them currently are so young.

We still have time to save ourselves from the worst of our imaginary constructions, our collective inability to see beyond what is delivered to us by tax revenue and corporate shells.

Good luck.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

thinking about cities 7...

How do urban planners bring that same sort of renaissance to the communities that are not rich? How do we bring the urban renewal into communities that struggle to make ends meet?
My answer is agriculture, but it is not the only answer. Urban agriculture - and the aggressive conversion of abandoned and dilapidated properties into arable farm space - not only suggests an answer to the urban decay into something less dangerous and more useful to the folks who remain, but also creates an instant industry where entrepeneurs can work land and seek out markets for the excess produce that is not eaten directly. It could create a meaningful alternative for the children of the poor who have only to choose between risking prison or joining the military for any escape from their poverty-stricken situations. Improving food security and health in these communities, as well, would also mean a reduction in missed school days. Healthy food means healthy kids. Sick kids miss school. The leading predictor of a potential drop-out is days of school missed. Protecting the health and promoting the health of children helps promote their education, and, as a result, the future potential of their whole lives being unlocked with opportunities.
The cultural barrier, of course, is that farming is hard work; farming is menial work; farming is what the white people dragged all those non-white folks around to do because it was just too hard for us to do. Agriculture, at a certain level, is an exploitive action that requires a huge amount of labor to generate the excess that passes along to the folks who do not need to work that hard to get by.
This is a barrier that will take a long time to break down, and one of the most important barriers to break down is the cultural barrier of white farming, itself, that refuses to see the humanity of the workforce as anything but a hindrance to good business practices. Farmers assume because they are paying their workers well, that is enough. Providing water, perhaps a place to sleep, all these things, are simply not enough. We must never stop trying to create a more humane system for our agricultural work force. If we wouldn’t want ourselves or our kids or our grandkids out there, hunched over the strawberry patch on a hot summer day with a bandanna and a jacket against the insects and wind-blown pesticides and chemical fertilizers, then we must find a different way, because everybody is somebody’s child, grandchild, and best beloved. Until the system is built upon respect for all workers, and a constant quest for equitable systems beyond just dollar payment becomes the norm, no one would want to abandon the office for the fields, and even standing on a street corner slinging drugs would be seen as a better alternative to hard work sunrise to sunset, such dehydration-inducing, cancer-causing, back-breaking work. Ultimately, everyone should participate in the life of the soil, and in agriculture. But no one should if it means dying young with complications of dehydration creating liver failure, and the various chemicals and pesticides encouraging cancer cells, and the back so used up that it creates disability.
Farming is only as hard as we make it. The most amazing thing is no one ever thinks that maybe the system needs to change. OFten, even the folks who notice it discuss how the economics are what they are, and no one is willing to be brave enough to change the economics. Ultimately, we are eating ourselves to death. Our system of agriculture, created by freemarket economics, is destroying the world and our fellow man. The cost of destroying others is figured into the payments made by the farmers. The cost of destroying the land will be borne by future generations, and it makes little difference over the course of the forty or so years any single farmer will be working his or her land. Over the course of 80 years, though, the constant desecration of soil life and microbial life and irrigation practices creates a cascading system of failures that threaten to destroy us all as a species. The cheap strawberries we buy at the store every spring have a hidden cost that we don’t pay today. It’s like the thing that financial advisers tell us about buying clothes and household goods: Buying cheap clothes will mean replacing them constantly, so buy quality things that will last and try to maintain them even if it looks more expensive today.
I read an article about strawberry pickers in the fields of California, and the backbreaking labor therein. The white farmer looked out at his fields and stated with certainty that only illegal immigrants would be willing to work hard enough to excel as a picker of strawberries. He said this with such moral and economic certainty, that I wanted to reach through the newspaper and grab him by the lapels and shout: “Than maybe there’s something wrong with the fields, themselves, that you’ve made such work like this for people! Maybe you are the one who has to change.”
In our own backyards, we have consumed the empty farmlands, expanding upon the dead ground around the city, where developers buy up cheap land near urban centers that used to be farms, because the ground is dead and the next generation of farmers have all moved off the farm, to other pursuits. THis is where our suburban tracks are built. These empty farms and old landfills that used to surround our urban centers have become empties out wastelands, because our food is being grown so far away, and shipped so far. We plant our castles on the deserted ground. We mark our fences, and our driveways, and hire policemen to stalk the streets against the urban flood.
And, we shop in stores where we can find anything we desire, nearly year round. Anything that isn’t available 24/7 is being developed so it can be available 24/7. The availability issue means more land is torn up and turned into farm country, farther from the city, where drones fly overhead and “farmers” who live miles away, where their kids can go to nice, suburban schools, manage workers with levels of science and research that are both very impressive and very depressing. I am not going to wax mythological about the sadness of the loss of the family farm. I am not depressed that science is involved. I am depressed at how science is being used.
The crops are vessels for our needs, and not independent, living organisms. By treating these living things as commodities, we aren’t using science to increase our respect for the crop. We are using science to exploit the crop, and use it up in full.
The recent GMO debate, to me, often misses the point. We have a system of agriculture so destructive to the very crops we propose to be cultivating that we must extricate and replace the very DNA of the crop, itself, annihilating a living organism at the genetic level and replacing it with this other, new thing. It will continue until the next build-up of tolerances, and then the cycle repeats of annihilation after annihilation until very little is left of our crops and ourselves that came from the soil and the wilderness and the aeons of time before us.
Speeding up the evolutionary process is dangerous because the process is by definition one of death. There is no way to know what the long-term effects of any new crop will be because crops dont stop breeding when we are done with them. They crops with Wild species. The super weeds continue on, as well, spreading into the wild. What changes we make Wil tumble forward into an unknown future where the changes can never be undone. In this, and for this, the wise elders who respect the land and the earth cry out about the dangerous changes wrought, by men who only see the danger of what can be proven in a laboratory. Safe to eat is not the same as safe for tge seventh generation of man. The number of unknowns is too great.
And, if we imagine our cities differently, and design them around different goals and dreams, and reshape this public imaginarium we call suburban sprawl, we would not need to commodity so many living things.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

thinking about cities 6...

Personal freedom means I get to light a cigarette at 5 AM, throw back a shot of whiskey for breakfast and sit on a stoop shouting at people as they walk past about polarized political issues all day long. Freedom means that I have the right to do anything I desire within the boundary of non-harmful behaviour established by state and local laws. The very laws that prevent me from getting arrested if I decide to have a shot of whiskey for breakfast are of the same spirit of laws that make it possible for corporations to flood our communities with cheap and non-nutritious food, loaded with salt, fat, and sugar. This very morning, due to oversleeping, I had to rush to work at the community college, and along the way, I picked the best of the worst option available to me, along the way. My breakfast did not have a single vegetable, unless the starchy potato gets in on a technicality. It had an entire day’s worth of sodium. It will probably shave years from my life if I do this on a regular basis.
The way the laws work: It’s my fault.
I don’t think that’s true. I do the best that I can, every day. Some days that means I have to choose between making it to work on-time and making breakfast. On those days, I also must try to find the least bad solution to navigate my day. And, the city does not support healthy decision-making. In fact, I was up late last night working in the garden and washing dishes, because we try to grow some of our own food, and we try to cook for the week ahead. The end result of this reduction in available weekly time was an exhausted rush to work, and a decision of which method is the least bad. Life is a negotiation of competing, difficult, and urgent priorities. In this case, creating a system that promotes healthy decision-making will be a universal good.
Fast food should be regulated like a sexually-based business. I don’t believe strip clubs or sex toy shops shouldn’t exist. I do believe they should not be permitted to be ubiquitous and omnipresent.
Seriously, count how many burger shacks there are, all around you. Imagine the environmental destruction caused by all those beef cattle herded into close pens, wading through shit while eating corn and belching methane fumes. Imagine the corn they are fed, the cheap GMO corn, and how very much of it, along with GMO soy and GMO sorghum and GMO anything, we toss into the cattle pens, to fatten up beef to make burgers.
Burgers don’t come from the whole cattle, either. There are cuts of meat.
The steak available at nearly every sit-down restaurant in America came from many of the same cattle. The divided animal is raised and sold for a high volume of high-quality beef, and the rest is separated out to fuel the cheap burger joints that pollute our communities’ arteries with low-quality, low-health, discount food.
For me, this morning, even desiring a healthy breakfast, and even willing to pay premium to achieve one, I had no choice. The only fast option available to get me to work on time was fast food. I drove past a hundred places with sausage burritos, egg and bacon sandwiches, and egg and bacon burritos and sausage sandwiches. There was no vegetable stand. There was no fresh oatmeal without all sorts of strange and unknown chemicals, without a deadly dose of sugar. There is an unofficial line between “food” and “junk food”, but the way marketing works, the line becomes blurry, and the blurriness errs on the side of convincing people that “junk food” is actually a health food. You see, junk food is chemically-designed to be addictive. It is engineered to induce cravings that are only enhanced by marketing and branding efforts that reinforce the cravings with a media narrative that embeds into the brain.
Basically, this shit is evil, and we allow it. We welcome it because the consumer gets to choose their own addiction over their health.
And, we have zoned things in such a way that this lamprey can continue sucking the life out of our communities while extracting the wealth of the community, taking both and leaving nothing else behind.
Generally speaking, when wealth is traded for something the community truly needs, this is the purpose of wealth and a good thing; imagine the farmer selling CSA shares for organic produce and jars of fresh pickles. When wealth is traded for something that diminishes the community and causes irrepairable harm, this is the lamprey-like wealth extraction of corporate evil. Trading wealth for something that helps the community builds up the community and improves it. Trading wealth for something that diminishes the community, and takes away from its health and wellness, is a symptom of a diseased society. These weeds have taken root in the cracks of our sidewalks. They are noxious and polluting and harmful, but they cannot be removed without rethinking the way our cities and food systems work on a massive scale. These are the parasites in the system that exploit our personal freedom for their own material gain at our expense.
Urban planning has the power to correct itself.
Fear of regulation is a definite thing, and part of a healthy society that tries to balance competing interests that may or may not have uneven power distributions in the discussion. Fear of regulation prevents the powerful from pushing through changes that cause harm. Obversely, fear of too-little regulation also is part of a healthy society.
How many burger joints does your neighborhood actually want or need, and are they unbalanced regarding other forms of healthier eating choices? Where are the healthy, fast choices for a vibrant, wholesome society?
I propose two alternative solutions that each are likely impossible.
First, I propose strict dietary guidelines for restaurant meals based on their price points. The cheaper something is, the healthier it must be to protect our society’s poor and powerless from the myriad issues involved with the exploitation of corporations. This will create some issues because healthy food isn’t necessarily the cheapest food. But, a little of something good is far better than a lot of something bad, for your health. And, I suspect that once faced with the limitations of regulations, the companies that can create healthy, affordable options for a low price point will excel and expand quickly. This leap of faith, of course, supposes that once given the opportunity not to exploit, companies will refrain from doing so. Unfortunately, what we have seen is that whenever something is permitted, a corporation will attempt to profit from it, and whenever something is not forbidden, a corporation will attempt to profit from it. In either case, this is not a permanent solution to the food crisis ravaging our urban and suburban and rural communities. We are literally dying because we have put our faith in companies to do right by their customers’ health. Heart disease is our #1 killer. Cigarettes, if not for extensive regulation, would still be on the lips of everyone, everywhere.
My second proposed solution is to zone fast food restaurants exactly like adult entertainment facilities, and prevent them from dominating our communities. They need to be spread the fuck out, and dissipated as the sinful thing that they are. Currently, one could not go to a grocery store without passing multiple fast food destinations wrapped around it in a kind of obstacle course of temptation. One fast food restaurant per square mile is plenty. Strictly defining fast food, in this case, would come from the caloric density of the food set against the nutritional density. What is the set ratio permitted per meal per items? I don’t believe in portion control. I do believe in nutritional density. Set a strict nutritional density requirement, and anything that does not meet that requirement must be zoned like a sinful temptation that blights our community’s health, safety, and children. Anything that is more calorically-dense than nutritionally-dense belongs out on the edges of our towns and cities, where only those who are specifically-seeking them will encounter them, and they will know that what they are doing is potentially harmful to their health.
Also, any food company that needs to make television commercials instead of relying on the testimonials of customers and goodwill is basically making terrible food. That they target children with their horrible products, and attempt to create a lifelong bond with children through targeted advertising of food that causes Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Cancer, is one of the great evils of our society.
Corporations are basically robots. They are tools that are created to perform functions and operate independently of any one or two operating individuals, to make decisions without close direction, etc. That their processing power comes from a large number of managers and middle-managers and employees is irrelevant, because they function in all other respects like giant, amorphous robots. In this, Asimov’s laws of robotics must come first. They are not required to operate this way.
They certainly aren’t operating that way in our towns and communities.
Another corporation that seems disinterested in the health and wellness of the community - construction companies - are in the business of building things that can be used for profit through either the sale of the buildings or the leasing of them.
These have all been built according to codes, set by the government.
The government regulation that is often seen as some kind of evil has actually been subtly enforcing a status quo through building codes for centuries. These codes save lives, ensure appropriate access for disabled and elderly folks, and do all sorts of other hidden goods. But, they also ensure that doing things differently from what has been done before is prohibitively difficult. For a construction company to take a chance on unconventional urban planning, unconventional design, often means finding ways to reduce the cost of the procedure, and mitigating the risk.
The urban renaissance currently happening in our cities, where the wealthy and upwardly-mobile push into condos and residences that are deep in the heart of cities, as opposed to rushing out to the suburbs, is exactly how to do that, for a risk-averse construction firm. The vibrancy of repurposing old buildings happens because community leaders make it fiscally profitable through tax breaks and regulations, and the community gets behind the project. The famous Riverwalk of San Antonio is exactly that sort of project. A civic-minded community leader saw the value in a revitalized destination downtown, and united the community behind the idea that has since taken off and formed the heart of a revitalized downtown in a city that has since become a major tourist destination as a result, in part, of that Riverwalk project. In other areas, old factories left abandoned that happened to have a fortuitous location have been turned over into a multi-use notion, with condos above the restaurants, and shopping and various offices all sharing tiny pieces of lease space inside constructs that used to be used for a large, single purpose. Also in San Antonio, the Pearl Brewery Complex has become a major destination for locals, where once there was an empty and decaying former brewery of a beer notorious for its cheapness and poor quality, now there is the Culinary Institute of America, high-end retail, and all sorts of restaurants and offices.
How do urban planners bring that same sort of renaissance to the communities that are not rich? How do we bring the urban renewal into communities that struggle to make ends meet?

Friday, August 29, 2014

thinking about cities 5...

People love their cars.

Okay, what’s the most dangerous thing people do every day, with the highest-likelihood of our own death, dismemberment, etc.? It’s driving. Driving is extremely dangerous. More people die on the road every day than die from getting mugged or carjacked in the urban communities of our country.
People love their cars, right?

In urban California, people had better love their cars, because they’ll probably be spending more time in their car than they will eating meals, and one daily meal will probably be eaten inside of a car. The average commute for people who drive to work in San Francisco is over 30 minutes one-way. One hour every day is lost to a mechanical action, with no physical activity, extremely high risk, and very low levels of human interaction, skill mastery, and personal development. It is a loss of time, and a loss of happiness. The hole in the day also takes away from time spent cooking meals.

Ask this question, then: How many fast food restaurants do you pass on the way to and from work? It is very likely that people in households where every adult works, the norm in America, will be able to mentally drive to work and count restaurants because it is very likely that people in that household stopped in those restaurants for meals, because time is a precious commodity for the American worker. In a sixteen-hour day, eight of it will be spent working. One will be spent commuting. That leaves seven hours for showering, eating, cleaning up after ourselves, and taking care of our pets and families. Often, the negotiation of time that happens never impacts our careers, which must come first. Our negotiation of time comes from the rest of the day, where the easiest things to let slide - housework, eating - happen in the kitchen. Eating out not only saves preparation time; it saves cleaning time. 

It also destroys our personal health, our personal happiness, decimates our communities’ well-being, and turns our planet into a disastrous superheated ball of death.

The side effect of eating out: We eat shitty food. We are tired, stressed, looking for comfort. We eat shitty food. It is cheap. It is readily available. At no point in the creation of the shitty food does a company think about the health of their customers. In fact, food exists that seems to revel in how unhealthy it actually is as if that is a selling point. Size of the meat patty sells burgers. Bacon added on to meat patty sells burgers. Even relatively healthy-ish options like sandwiches with vegetables on them are quickly doused in over-sweetened and over-salted sauces that will trigger our primordial impulse for fat and sweet.

As a country, we are eating ourselves to death.

The solution is to eat out less, and make healthy meals at home.

Even people who do not eat out will rely on prepackaged foods and sauces as time savers at the house. How many frozen pizzas does a family of four eat in the average month? (Answer: tk seeking source on this.)

Pre-made foods, pre-packaged foods, frozen heat and eat foods, all must be pumped with preservatives to retain shelf life, and are often made extra-enticing by hidden fats and sugars that seem out of place. Time is a precious resource, and it is consumed by long commutes, which, in turn, lead to consuming faster alternatives to prepared, healthy meals.

Health is time. Time is health. We trade one for the other, caught in a system that rewards us with time temporarily for making decisions that will impact our health some day. Why anyone would do this, even knowing the cost to their own health, is often because of the value of the home and the quality the schools. Wealthy people have many choices for schools, including private schools. Poor people have no choice. Their children's future is circumscribed by their zip code. Education opportunities increasingly go to the people who can disconnect from their communities, and chase the wealthier neighborhoods and better schools. Financial advisers do regularly suggest pushing a family mortgage to the limits of what is possible if it means a substantially better school for the kids. Building a better future for the next generation is a worthy investment: What's the point of money without a better future for our kids? But, it is unevenly distributed. Poverty accumulates in poverty. Kids from poor neighborhood have no exposure to kids from rich neighborhoods. Kids from middle class neighborhoods remain with middle class kids. We sort ourselves by our wealth, and we sort our children by it, too, and train them to sort their future by wealth. 

Wealth also buys better food. When we are poor, we will often die young in terrible chronic pain that drains our bank accounts and leaves little for the next generation. If we are a little luckier, we who are poor, we will die suddenly without lingering from some unknown chronic condition, and some part of our life will be passed on to our children, who may be able to get out of poor neighborhoods with that boon of minor generational wealth. 

Anyway, revenge comes in the form of commuting times. Rich people often commute greater distances, eat terrible junk food as a result of long commutes, and face many of the same conditions as those who spend an hour on a bus will face.

Driving is the most dangerous thing we do, and we do it every day. We move out into the hills to escape minor likelihoods of criminal attempts, and we extend our commute, increasing the likelihood of accidents, which are a leading cause of death. And, this drive feeds into our gnawing addiction of terrible fast food, and this leads to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, which are all leading killers of men and women.

Move out into the suburbs if you must. But do so with your eyes open. Time and health are the only two things you truly have. Everything else is a cultural affectation.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

thinking about cities 4...

Tax revenue is the key to urban bliss, isn't it? It certainly looks like the only thing that is truly measured and taken seriously.
With the proliferation of WalMarts across my fair suburbs, I have done some research into why big box stores seem to be the preferred method of physical retail space in this country. Certainly, they are full of things that people might like to buy. The cost savings of piling them all together into a silo probably does lower the costs. The large bulk purchases likely does create a discount possibility where everyone saves money, and that’s basically fine as long as no sweatshops and child labor operations are involved. Heck, the modern organic milk movement’s defining moment was the embrace of organics by WalMart!
Still, as a consumer, I find big box retail unpleasant. I have to cross great distances on foot to get what I need. Customer service is harried, at best, and absent most of the time. Much of what I find in these places is made in foreign nations under questionable conditions, and it often breaks quickly, needing to be replaced again with another inexpensive thing from the same unpleasant shopping experience and the purchased thing will also break. With this experience in mind, and ignoring the critique of Big Box retail from those that mythologize a diverse Main Street with many little shops, it is absolutely no surprise that on-line retail is clobbering Big Box stores, and will likely dominate these festering cesspits of oversized Americana.
But, more important to our current debate, is this question: Why do these huge shopping experiences take hold in drought-stricken areas, small towns with few resources to spare, and even densely-populated urban areas that can barely afford the parking space, much less the square feet of cluttered, messy shelves?
Tax revenue is the answer. The local city councils see tax dollars in their eyes.
The store comes in, and presumably will become a source of employment for many, and a steady stream of sales tax for the community, and this drives the decision to approve construction of the hideous thing.
Tax revenue is also tied to the revenue for the city in that residences are taxed based on property values.
Tax revenue has created a system where the better a neighborhood looks, and the larger and newer and more valuable the homes are in that neighborhood, the more money the city has. Tax revenue has also created a system where the larger the stores, the cheaper the stuff, and the more likely the stuff will need to be replaced, the more revenue the city generates in sales tax.
Ergo, push. Push out into the surrounding hillsides and build. The infrastructure and roads and highways will all be paid for by someone else with bonds both municipal and federal, but the tax revenue will continue and continue for years. The organs, once opened, will pulse with the liquid green blood of economics and spoo out their revenue stream into the municipal coffers.
The municipal coffers will swell and burst in a monthly pulse to pay down the bonds that were approved to build the streets and police stations and fire brigades that support the town.
The bondholders will own shares of the big box stores muted and dispersed among funds and portfolios that will include the bonds. This gelatinous green goo congeals into a ticker somewhere in a bank, that someone owns. Our taxes paid to our government, and the profits paid to our local big box businesses, are actually a fee paid to a banker for the privilege of debt to the banker. This debt is dispersed into the portfolios of thousands through all sorts of mutual funds and funds of funds and funds of funds of hedge funds and funds designed to mitigate risk to the investor and/or maximize return to the investor.
At no point in the process is our community’s health and well-being part of the equation. It is all strictly based on the notion of tax revenue. The whole pulsing, beating spoo heart of Big Box Store materialism is the hydra vampire of global finance extracting the life essence of our communities on every front imaginable, to accrue wealth from time, debt, and raw materials. The roads, themselves, that connect the Big Box store to the city, likely paid for with a bond issuance, is built by another company that is paid out to the other owners of fund management firms.
When WalMart comes to town, wages drop, household income drops, and American-made products are driven to the brink by products made in slave labor conditions in some of the poorest and most desperate places on the planet.
The amount of oil and carbon that goes into the production and distribution of these goods is substantial. Again, the same individuals and organizations that extract wealth from our cities and shopping malls also extract wealth from the gas and shipping lines. Every step is monetized, and becomes a dividend or stock to someone, somewhere, and the accumulated ownership has congealed into a clear overclass and underclass. Global warming happens as a result of the extraction and long shipping and power plants and it is a very profitable thing for the  profit-reapers. 
It all began, of course, with the notion of tax revenue. The city council desired tax revenue, jobs that will increase municipal and state funds, and went about this goal by destroying the world for the 1%. It approved zoning plans, expanded city limits perhaps, and issued bonds to pay for roads and infrastructure to support the retail establishments and new homes (fly from these inner cities, somewhere safer, somewhere newer, with gates and an HOA!).
Hyperbolically reductionary, I know. Life is always more complex than this simple thought experiment.
But, this thought experiment did exactly one thing: It followed money. The very city managers that push tax revenue growth will be invested in retirement portfolios managed by the very companies that are approaching them for bonds. Everyone has a financial interest in creating this horrible, destructive hellscape of what is commonly referred to in speech, among employees of these places, as “retail hell”. Again, the financial rewards go to people who are willing to inflict this monstrous retail hellscape upon their communities, destroy their local “mom and pop” shops, and submit their communities and landfills to wave after wave of cheap, plastic crap shipped in from distant, wage slaves. There is no alternative system. Opting-out is opting out of a roof over our heads, a municipal fire engine, and building code enforcement. Which is to say, it’s an even worse idea for individual safety to step away from the herd on this one. The best thing for us is to go along, and let it happen. For us, it is where the rewards outweigh the risk in the system we have built.
And, the broken cheap stuff we buy doesn’t just go away when it is placed out in the street for pickup. The landfills swell with all these things that are potentially toxic to our environment and build up and build up in vast architectures of piled-up wastematter.
Consider the landfill. It is your neighbor as much the city park. In fact, it will likely someday become a park as the piles of filth are buried and covered with sod. New houses wil be built upon the junk. We will buy junk to fill our houses built of junk, and everyone will be smiling and keeping up with their neighborhood’s appearances, and it will all be so wonderful.
I’m smiling. Everybody smile.
Someday we will run out of plastic from the available oil, and we will strip mine old landfills to recycle old plastic. At this time, presumably, the ocean gyre will be so dense, we can just scoop it up in trawlers like we used to do with fish, and from there it will be recycled, thrown out, built up…
This is the system we create when we build our cities based on the measurement of tax revenue.
It is a very profitable system for us on the short term, and it is particularly profitable for the people who will not end up working in these retail nightmares.
The majority of Americans who work in these hellscapes are paid below a living wage and must supplement their income with food stamps and government assistance to get by. Ergo, the very taxes that are presumably raised by expanding tax revenue should be measured against the expenditure of so many families on welfare and public assistance.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

thinking about cities 3...

Inner city crime is a thing, and it is not a small thing. But, how can any community curb their crime when their responsible homeowners and residents flee to the hills? Instead of staying behind and forming community watch operations and working with local community leaders to create a healthy, happy community, the American method is for individual households to save up enough money to escape, and then to escape. Imagine what would be different about the mythical inner city if the drug dealers had no great concentration of poverty to exploit. They can mark their territories and lay down their exploitations, but they wouldn’t be pushing against powerless people without money, but the very landed gentry who can buy security measures and operate effectively with lawyers and politicians and policemen. In some sense, the us versus them aspect of race and class relations might exacerbate, but on the whole, I suspect that staying and fighting in our blighted communities would make it harder for crime to operate unchecked, harder for blight to take root, and easier for the young people in those neighborhoods to see a better way of living. But, it would be asking us to be fighters, and asking our kids to be fighters, and it is a hard thing to ask, when the community at large does not support the idea. We chase property values. We fly out to the hills and edges of our towns and communities. We see the encroaching decay not as a call to action, but as a call to flee.
One of the great myths of urban crime is the relationship between crime and poverty. In fact, the vast majority of impoverished people commit no crimes whatsoever. [] The small percentage of people who commit crimes will commit them whether rich or poor. The difference is, in urban planning terms, in the environment where the crime occurs. Concentrated poverty creates an atmosphere of hopelessness and decay that creates a system of crime recurrence in the community.
To protect the value of our personal investment in homes, we flee.
Ergo, the people who do not flee the encroachment of urban blight for reasons of wealth or personal values or a sense of community in their neighborhood will be damaged by the escape of those who can afford to leave, and have a low-enough commitment to their neighborhood that they can leave without feeling a loss.
In this, we reward people who have no connection to their community. We punish people who would stay and push back against the encroachment of decay. The property values of people who move into these gates suburban communities at the edge of cities are rewarded with a false sense of security. [citation:] The rising crime rate is not in our inner cities, but in our suburban communities, where gun violence is on the rise. [] Depression, alcoholism, drug use, all are on the rise in our suburbs. They are on the decline in inner cities that have exactly one common thread: viable public transportation. When the situations of poverty are allowed a release valve into the larger community of jobs and opportunity, the people who live in those areas find less crime in their areas.
Critics will argue that it just means criminals have a broader base from which to operate their illegal actions. Again, there are criminals everywhere. Some percentage of the population will engage in criminal action no matter where you live. The alleviation of poverty conditions does change the cost-benefit-analysis of crime for a large number of people living in poverty, because it reduces the desperation that would otherwise drive marginal members of society into the true fringe where crime becomes the path of least resistance.
The most dangerous thing we do, every day, is drive. Nothing else we do has the potential for severe bodily injury and dismemberment and sudden death. Increasing the distance we drive everyday has a direct correlation to our level of personal safety. Extending the taxbase out into the hills around the city, and permitting more and more construction farther and farther away from the city center ensures that risk goes up across the community.
Infrastructure does not always follow our housing developments into the hills, and the winding loops that prevent casual entry and cross-through in our neighborhoods make it harder for emergency services to access our communities.
And, fear stalks the streets out in the gated communities. People live in fear of difference, of declining property values, of imagined criminality spilling out from the inner city. It causes the continued criminalization of our brown-skinned young men, and the targeting of them by violent, terrified white people. [I would love to see statistics between the number of crimes committed by white men upon black men versus the number of crimes committed the other direction.]
The castle mentality does not extend to land management.
The most irrigated crop in America is turfgrass. It is irrigated with potable water, that has been treated and includes chemicals that are mostly fine for people but bad for soil, like chlorine and flouride. Exacerbating this incorrect water usage, turfgrass, itself, is a monoculture that provides no meaningful pollination opportunities for insect life, and chokes out competition for other plant species that might thrive on native soils without the continued watering, overwatering, and overwatering - in a serious national drought, no less! - of turfgrass. Lacking enough resources in the soil to maintain said turfgrass, fertilizers and weed killers are purchased en masse. [citation needed about fertilizer sales figures and weed killer sales figures] These additives salt the ground with excessive mineral content, causing the need for more and stronger fertilizers, which exacerbates the issue. The effect of these chemicals on our environment, on a large scale is clear. [citation needed about run-off of fertilizer and weed killers in the environment.]
The manor house mentality, again, traditionally was primogeniture. The eldest would inherit the home and grounds upon the passing of the head of the household. The land was managed to provide not just for the peace and happiness of one person, but viewed as a legacy that is to be passed down from generation to generation. In our modern iteration of that mindset, the house is sold upon the passing of the head of the household, and the home value is what is passed on. The land, itself, then, is managed by everyone to promote high home prices. The community that forms around children and homes does not extend to the next generation. Once again, the people that are willing and able to disconnect from the community, and from the land itself, receive the highest rewards in our culture.
The material rewards are highest for people who have no connection.
Is it any wonder our society is fragmenting into gated communities, politics is polarizing, and we are becoming a lonely bunch of depressed people, living in giant, empty palaces with few real-life friends?
The homeowners associations that exist to maintain home value do so because that is more important than existing to promote charitable works for residents. Keeping up appearances is more important than addressing the isolation that plagues our communities. Keeping out people who might not be able to keep up with the Jones’ with the maintenance of homes is more important than reaching out to other communities.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

thinking about cities 2....

“Little boxes made of ticy-tacky”

Homeowner Associations (HOA) often appear in the news negatively, but people who love their HOA, along with people who are mildly disinterested in theirs but vaguely positive, seem to outnumber the people who would abolish their HOAs at a moment’s notice, if given the chance. With current drought conditions all over the country, including neighborhoods under the stewardship of HOAs, have competing goals. Goal 1) Conserve water. Goal 2) Keep up appearances. Along with the latter goal, homeowners who have been lax in keeping their lawn green have recieved ominous and threatening letters from their HOA boards about keeping up appearances. Maintaining property value is the goal of an HOA, and the way to achieve that is to make sure that neighborhoods have a sameness, as if the houses are sitting on a shelf in a store waiting to be purchased and personalized, slightly, within the strict boundaries permitted by the HOA.
The original goal of a “covenant community” was to separate and push back from the poor and lower-classes, to create the kind of gated suburbia that only the few and the select could ever achieve. But, we’re not quite there, yet. First, let us consider the process of the creation of a new homeowners association, to understand how these things continue to dominate even as they often make the news, and as many of these organizations struggle to find people willing to sit on their boards, at all.
First, new home builders choose a plot of land that is ripe for development. In Texas, this generally means finding a place that is sort of within half an hour of a major employer of some sort, though it is currently empty land or an aging, fallow farm. This area is stripped bare, all trees removed, and giant holes are dug for pipes and electrical wiring. The ground is surveyed. The land is checked. The land has been checked and checked again. Then, construction happens and houses go up. Along with the first houses, a corporation forms strictly to manage the property through the home builder, and it is the birth of a new HOA.
Anyone looking to buy new houses in large swaths of the country are practically required to join in to an HOA of some sort. These organizations exist to keep up appearances, and make sure - initially - that the homebuilder has some control over what the first residents do until all the houses are sold. At the time when the home builder is done building houses, the management corporation of the HOA is handed over to residents, unless 75% of the residents want to get rid of the HOA. (Good luck going door-to-door to get 75% of a neighborhood to sign any petition whatsoever, on any subject.)
The new HOA enforces policies, strictly or loosely, that attempt to create a series of standards for the community, nominally to ensure the value of homes in that community remain high.
The idea of landownership, homeownership is one where the owner of the property can do whatever they want to do, on their land, and as long as zoning isn’t impacted. Right, it’s your land. Make your mark on it, if you can.
Here’s a question for every homeowner in the audience: What are the names of the people on your street? Generally, what happens in these neighborhoods is this: People come home from work and pull into their garage and barely know anyone in their neighborhood. [need source about isolation of suburbs like Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam...]
Free from the shackles of urban decay, people live alone and lonely in little boxes, and everything looks the same. The community is judged by its appearance, which feeds the property values, which feed the tax revenue, not by anything that measures the robustness of a community to face a crisis, and not by the ability of the community to weather climate change, and not by the happiness of the people therein. What the people have done, by planting a few landscape trees and having a fenced in yard for a dog, or perhaps children, is create a miniature castle in the hills, fortified by picket fencing and security lighting. And, everyone is watching everyone else’s castle for signs of decay. We fled out here to get away from it, to protect the value of the home requires protecting ourselves from decay. Any sign of decay, unkempt and messy, means the value of our homes goes down, which means the HOA must do something..
Most of these constructions, push out the urban community, spreading away from the center of the city, lengthening commutes, and building into zones at higher risk of natural disasters - wildfires, floods, mudslides - because the federal dollars that fight against these fears are not connected to the tax revenue that the city generates through property taxes. The local city council has every reason to approve new construction in disaster-prone areas. Homeowners move there by choice, after all, and the risk of an occasional disaster can be factored into homeowner’s insurance rates which are, again, a choice. The expanded tax revenue creates an incentive, locally, to permit the new construction.
People, then, have much longer to drive to get to work. How much time does anyone have in a day? The amount of time it takes to cook a meal and clean up after a meal is relatively fixed. Let’s say, an efficient home kitchen cook with a microwave and some frozen foods can get a meal on the table and clean up from the meal in half an hour. For many, that half-an-hour is stolen by the long commute past numerous take-out and eat-in options. That’s time in a fitness center lost to a commute. That’s time with kids doing homework lost to a commute.
Time and health, and their interactive exchange, are, in fact, the only resources humans actually have. Everything else is ephemeral. Trading time for this mythic dream of land, space, and room away from urban decay creates a system where we are chasing our own lonely, sickly death far from the communities where we spend the most time of our days.
Again, the question becomes: What are we running from?

Monday, August 25, 2014

thinking about cities...

    Within about five miles of my house, there are three different Wal-Mart stores, a mall, a Super Target, a community college, multiple Big Box home improvement stores, and a metric ton of hamburger restaurants of some sort or another. 

In San Antonio, out on the northwest side of town, our houses and big box stores are all relatively new. About thirty years ago, this was a big, empty scrubland. The flood of development hadn’t turned this way much. We came here because the highways were built here, really. Our lives are pushed into the box we live in, in our community and our society. We keep our yard as the HOA demands. We shop increasingly at what is most convenient to us. We eat what is available to us when we are hungry. How we live is deeply marked by the space where we live. We only have a limited power to alter our living conditions. Much of the decision-making happens far above us. And, our health is generally going to be decided by our zip code. Our longevity and happiness will be tied to the community that provides for us. 

Economic opportunities are circumscribed by our physical location, while the less dynamic career choices exacerbate the options presented to us in our little corners of the world. There are statistics that can be looked up, but the esoteric numbers about health and happiness and economics and pet ownership, and I’ll talk about those. 

What I think is important, though, is that physical space is a kind of destiny. Where you live will change who you are. And, urban planners in America generally don’t do a good job of planning our cities. If they did, we’d be healthier, more-connected, safer, and green. Instead, we have palaces built for white flight and cars, extending deep into the hills. The redlined urban communities are left to rot alone, in a self-fulfilling prophecy of corrupted corruption, impoverishment becoming poverty, and criminal districts begetting crime. The rich folks drift out into isolated enclaves, where the disconnect from the rest of their community is so palpable, they can be seen watering their lawns in a serious drought, and actively discuss ending welfare benefits for people they do not know in neighborhoods they don’t ever see, because they truly don't know anybody in their lives who is from outside their way of life. 

There is a destiny in urban planning. The statistics, in this case, are humans. The way cities are planned out, mapped out, and built, is a kind of destiny. It is the path of least resistance down which our lives flow. And, our urban planners have almost universally betrayed health and happiness by following myths without true meaning.  

Everything is designed. Every road is planned out, run through a committee. Every building is commissioned based on plans made by architects, approved by people with money who have a vision for that space. We live in a public imaginarium, and all we do and all we see is part of that shared dream of what our city is, and what it needs, and what it ought to be.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


[author's note: I decided I don't like this one, and will not be continuing to work on it. If you like it, feel free to try your hand at improving it. I was rewriting a random fairytale as a writing exercise, and it's done now, and I think it is mostly a failure of a story, if a useful exercise.]

The Man in Green walked the woods only when the sun was up. He carried a good musket that shot straight and true even through the heaviest foliage. He had two axes across his back in case one of them became too dull from hacking his path clear in the deep woods. He also carried a skin of wild strawberry wine, a block of cheese, and a loud whistle that would wake up the dog ghosts that lived under his cherry trees. He was hunting meat, of course, and he also had a sack for anything he could find lying around. It used to be that people paid homage, but these days, the church had outlawed such offerings. The Man in Green was reduced to petty thievery, calling it a sacrifice in his honor that he could strip the shoes from the hanging dead, and rummage in the burned piles of bodies for coins that had slipped through the hands of the executioners. It was grim, but it was his due for permitting the community in the forest, and he didn’t have the heart to cast the humans out, anymore, considering how much they were suffering. Still, it wasn’t his concern, as long as he was paid, and there were still deer in the woods, and wild hares, and the occasional satchel of musket balls or saltpeter or gunpowder left in an unlocked barn.
This trip through the woods had proven futile. Early spring was the hardest time of year for the mammals and people and birds. The insects woke up, and swarmed upon the budding leaves and flowers, spawning and feasting indomitably in the warming wind. The larger creatures of the world suffered, ate rotten meat from the empty buildings, and sought out anything green and digestible, anything tubrous and green to boil in a pot.
This is the only time of year when people might see the Man in Green walking in the forest. The leaves were still bare enough it was harder to move unseen, but the snow and clouds had faded, and there were so many foragers and so many people digging up squirrel caches and stripping into the green places of bark.
Out in the woods, a woman was hung while still alive. An infant was strapped to her body. Crows were circling.
The Man in Green has long ago decided to ignore the foolishness of man, but he was not a monster. It was irresponsible to glut the crows on all this easy flesh. It would not last for long, and then they would forget how to survive in this time. The dogs running wild had become a hazard for the deer and boar and hare. Everything was much worse with all these people hanging from trees and languishing in semi-cooked heaps under wild brush. There was very little that the Man in Green could do short of canceling the arrangement and casting all the men and women from his woods, along with their noxious church, but for now, he saw a babe hanging from a tree so like his own daughter at home. He saw a woman unconscious but breathing, circled by crows who had already begun to peck and scratch at her face. He had his axes, and it would be so easy to chop her down, and claim the child for his own.
He took an axe and swung. The rope, where it was tied against the tree, was flimsy and poorly-made. It snapped with one, clean blow. She tumbled, with her babe, to the earth below.
His daughter had long desired to see the crowded streets of men, and until this gruesome time ends, no decent father would permit such a thing. It would be better to bring her a child of men, instead.
The babe, exhausted and nearly dead from exposure, had green eyes, and that meant that somewhere in the past, someone had been sired by one of the forest folk. It was surely a sign to see a green-eyed child with a mother whose eyes were red-veined and streaked with deepest blue.
This boy belonged to the forest, and in the forest he was left in a tree, and this would be payment enough to permit the city to continue for a while, even in this time of war and misery and famine.
The Man in Green dipped a tissue in the watered-down wine in his wineskin, and let the child suckle that to get some life and energy back into his skin and bones. The poor thing was nearly dead. Passing a farm, he noticed again a goat heavy with milk, mostly ignored by the farmhouse, with skinny legs and a skinny neck, and a dead kid beside her. He called out to the creature, and lifted it over the wall. He carried it home to be the nursemaid he would need for the child.
Once back at the old Manor House, the girl was skipping rope under an elm tree. She jumped into the tree and over the fence into the woods to greet him, and see what treasures he had brought.
“This child is nearly dead,” he said, “but we’ll fix that.”
“It’s a hedgehog!”
“It’s a human boy child, and he will need nursing back to health.”
He shook the goat’s bones loose, and rattled it into a better shape for her job, and the creature’s legs straightened with her back, and her hooves became gentle hands, covered in fine, white hairs, and she felt the cobwebs dust away from her goat brai. She stood, unsteadily on two little legs, with her belly distended from the famine and the milk that was still coming from the udders in her stomach. Her beard was fine and downy, and her face was long, but her tongue could speak well enough to obey her new master’s commands.
“This boy is in your care, for now,” said the Man in Green. “Take him inside and clean him up. He needs milk, a warm bed.”
“I had a son,” she replied. She choked up. “He stopped moving. He woudn’t get up. He got so cold. Please, my son.”
“It is too late for him. It is not too late for this one.”
“You are a powerful creature,” said the goat nurse, “Could you save him?”
“I have no power over the living and the dead, except in this: If this boy dies, so shall you. We will serve your meat for supper.”
“Hush, girl. I will not have animals speak to me with disrespect. I am the Man in Green, and everything dies. It was not me that killed your son, and it was not your new boy’s fault, either. Weep if you must, but obey.”
She bleeted in terror, and took the child. Inside the house, she was weeping while she worked. She drew a bath of hot water for the boy from the hot spring beyond the mushroom patch, and held the child to her stomach even as they bathed together. The milk that had been meant for her own lost kid flowed out into the boy’s mouth. It dribbled along the sides of his face into the dirty bathwater.
“Go and see to the boy,” said the Man in Green. “I have to attend an important meeting. While I am gone, you are to see to the child. He is my gift to you. Make sure our new servant does well by him, and perhaps he will be our champion against the awful humans that have come to spoil our woods.”
He gathered his traveling gear while his daughter ran to see to the child in the bath with the goat nurse. He would not be here to watch the child grow, but he would be back someday. The moon rose in the clear blue sky, and the long winter was coming. He had seen enough death, here. He had to go to council in the earth and pay homage to the king for solstice. When he returned, he would hope for a greener return to his home.
The girl did not wear green. She wore dusky brown, and orange calendula petals and squash flowers were sown along her dress’ seams. She had golden hair, like the sun, not dark like her father who was so shrouded below the tree canopy. She ate only long-season crops: rye, wheat, pumpkin, and apples. She was amazed to see the swaddling babe in the water, splashing where it gurgled and returned to life.
“It’s hideous,” said the nurse. “I hate it.”
“He’s beautiful,” she said. “He was found with the birds, hanging in a tree.”
“I watched a man slaughter my husband. They cut his throat and drank his blood raw. Then, they carved him up for supper. My own child is dead.”
“Stop your bleating,” said the girl. “I will take the child if you’re done feeding him.”
With the child in her own arms, she felt his damp warmth, his vulnerability. He looked up into her own eyes with such trust that she wondered what it must be like to have one of these creatures, and then lose one. She reached out a hand and petted the weeping nurse. “I’m sorry your child is dead,” said the girl. “I’m sorry that your husband was killed. These things will turn with the seasons, until the world is well again. Get something to eat and I will watch the boy. There are dresses, here. There is hay in the yard, and plenty of trees and shrubs around us in the woods.”
“I don’t want to be alone,” she said, trembling. “Please, don’t leave me alone.”
It was no way to treat a goat. The girl looked around the room and saw her own toys spilled across the floor. She picked them up, one at a time, and shook a little energy into them. The bones of birds formed a tiny soldier that saluted and rattled the beak-bone shako, The patch of dead ivy curled into a shaggy dog and sneezed through it’s leafy mouth like a ghost barking. A preserved ball of snow sprouted tentacles and tumbled over itself to pull away from the hot water, though it was not melting.
“It’s not the same!” bleeted the goat nurse.
“It will have to do. Come, Fundevogel, and we shall pick flowers of autumn and nap in a yard under the harvest moon. When you have finished your bath, and eaten your supper, clean up and make cheese from your milk.”
Upon thinking more, the girl paused and asked the goat a question, “How did you have a kid so late in the season? I thought goats closed up their wombs at the vernal spring?”
“I was so sick. I carried my child so long, through famine and famine. I was so hungry. The humans fed me to get to my kid. I knew they were going to kill him, but I couldn’t do anything. All I could do was hold onto him as long as I could. When they died of the plague, I let my child come, but… But…” The weeping started again. “Humans have sinned against me and my kind. You are a great being. Help me avenge my accursed race.”
She rolled her eyes at that. “You are not cursed because we did not curse you. Continue complaining and we might.” She left with the babe burping in her arms.
The goat, mumbling murder turned to the toys left behind, the bone soldier and the vinedog and the amorphous ball of preserved snow. “We must do something. My child is gone. My beautiful kid. My hope is gone. I will not have another after this.”
The goat nurse dressed in a light summer dress and wandered unsteadily on two legs into the back fields, fenced badly against the woods. Hedges and trees pushed the wooden slats over, and no protection from wild animals would be afforded by such a flimsy fence. The bone soldier saw the fear in the goat nurse’s face, and marched stoically to the edge of the dark woods, back and forth, on firm patrol. The vinedog sneezed and sneezed and then went sniffing into the underbrush and came back with a wood vole in its jaws that it swiftly swallowed alive. The vole pushed free of the vinedog’s belly and scampered back into the darkness of the underbrush. The snowball, with nothing to offer,merely held out its tentacular, icy appendages for a hug that would never come.
“I hate it here,” said the goat nurse. She marched out to the fenceline and began to chew upon the leaves, there. She plotted her revenge against all her tormentors.
She decided she would eat poisonous sumac and poisonous ivy and night shade flowers, and let it poison her milk. When the babe would suckle, it would die, and it would not be her fault the child wouldn’t survive where a good goat kid would thrive. She could just tell them she was following orders, and eating in the yard before cleaning up, and the death of the child meant nothing to her.
She took a bite of the vinedog, thoughtlessly chewing at it because it was poisonous and it filled her with joy to be spiteful to the child that made the creature.
The bone soldier, in horror, ran to the vinedog, and grabbed it, and pulled it until it snapped from the jaws of the goat nurse. The maimed vinedog flailed helplessly in the bone soldier’s arms.
“I see where your loyalties are,” said the goat nurse, to the snowball, which continued to do nothing but fail at anything at all.
The bone soldier returned soon, and continued patrolling like nothing had happened. The goat nurse knew her milk was going to be poison, soon, with such deadly ivies inside her gut becoming milk. The piece of creature inside her, of vinedog writhing, upset her stomach so, but she knew her milk would spoil and curdle and rot with such a vine, except for other goats that could digest such things.
Smug, the goat nurse sought to fulfill her duty. She went in and poured the bathwater into the garden. She scrubbed the bath tub with a brush and soap. She felt her dugs swelling with poisoned milk.
When the babe cried for milk in the night, she would be ready for him.
She wandered into the front yard where the babe was chasing butterflies with his benefactress. She turned and saw the goat nurse coming. She threw the remnants of the vine upon the goat, and they swelled and swirled and became a net that swallowed her up, like the vole, except there wasn’t a way out from the ivy.
The goat nurse howled. “I have done nothing but obey!”
“You ate the very friend I made for you! It will sour your milk, this old, dead vine!”
“I had to eat to make milk to obey!”
The baby wailed in fear.
“You’re making the baby cry!”
She wrapped the child up in her arms and soothed it to sleep with a word.
“Stay there and think of how you have offended me,” said the girl, to the goat nurse.
The goat nurse slowly and methodically chewed her way out, but it took her all night and she was still entangled, and by the time the next day had come, the babe was still asleep, and the poisons the goat had accumulated leaked away a little at a time, while the babe still slept in peace. Soon, there was only the tiniest amount left.
“GIrl who torments me, hear me! The babe is still asleep. Did you murder it with your spell, or do you wish to let it starve while still asleep?”
The girl, who had been climbing trees and naming all the seeds in their imminent pods, had forgotten the child, and the goat nurse, and everything but her task. She turned and crossed her arms. She turned back to her task, and kept naming. “He won’t starve, yet,” she said.
The bone soldier tugged at her dress and pointed to the child.
“Is something wrong?” she said, to the toy.
The bone soldier saluted the birdbeak shako, and gazed up at her with empty eye sockets. It could not speak, but it could be understood.
“Go on,” she said, to the bone soldier.
He raced to the remains of the vinedog and cut it all away with it’s jagged fingers. Released, at last, the goat nurse sat up and stretched. “You mock me,” she said. “I never asked to be your slave.”
“Animals ask nothing of my kind. Only trees may ask. They are a greater race than yours. See to the child. He pleases me. He is grateful for his salvation, unlike you.”
The bone soldier saluted his true master, and then the babe. It started to patrol around them in a circle. The babe clapped for the bone soldier.
The goat nurse, upset that even this creature created for her amusement had chosen the child and the cruel taskmaster, decided she would have to do something worse to kill the child, and she couldn’t deny it.
Still, perhaps a little poison was left in her milk. She held out her hooves and said, “Does he hunger?”
The babe held out his hands for her, and it was clear that he did.
The girl let her take the child, then, and the milk was not poisonous enough, but it did sicken the child. Afterwards, it burped up green bile, and howled in agony at the pain in his belly. All night he screamed. The bone soldier was clearly upset and paced and fretted in the moonlight. The girl, with her ears stuffed with fallen leaves, shouted at the goat nurse to do something.
Not everyone’s favorite, now, thought the goat nurse. She took the child from its bed in the tussocks of grass and considered it a wonderful opportunity while only the bone soldier was alert to the danger. And, he was so small, and as fragile as bone, and he would be so readily kicked aside when she knew what he might do.
She picked up the bone soldier, and held it in her other arm, just as she held the screaming babe. The babe struggled and kicked, and the bone soldier struggled and kicked. With both of them in her arms howling, she struggled to hold them as long as she could. When she dropped them, she made certain the jagged, and sharp bones were on the bottom of the pile, and the child would fall upon him.
The bone soldier fractured in a crush, and the howling got worse.
“Make the boy stop!”
“Your bone toy attacked him! Now he is crushed!”
The girl couldn’t hear with her ears plugged. Her eyes were white as moonlight and pleading. She had her hands pressed over her ears. There were so many leaves stuffed there, they fell from her mouth while she spoke. “Make him stop crying! Bone soldier, go get the snow toy!”
There was a rattle of bones, but nothing moved.
The child rolled over and crawled to the tussock. Shattered on his back, harmlessly, the bone soldier’s fractured remains. The babe rolled on the ground and howled, clutching at his stomach.
Finally, coughing up leaves and inhaling and exhaling the leaves that had been stuffed and stuffed in her ears until she more closely resembled a scarecrow than a child, the girl rose from bed and gathered up the snowball. She placed it on the boy’s lips. The tentacles were cold, but they were inviting. The snow became the suckling toy that silenced all his screams. The slight hints of melted ice soothed his stomach, and the magic in the toy counteracted the magic of the devoured vinedog.
The bone dust made his back itch, but there were no serious injuries or cats. In its dying gesture, the bone soldier had ripped itself apart, and jammed its most jagged places into the ground, itself. Only bone dust and fractures clung to the clothes. Only foiled, again, the goat nurse considered another way to vengeance. She thought of drowning the child in the bath water in the morning. It would need a bath, after all, for it had gotten sick upon its shambled clothes.
The goat nurse slept soundly, with the certainty that she would have her revenge in the morning upon the race of men and the ones who would not save her own kid from such terrible harm.
In her sleep, she muttered and whinnied.
The girl was awake late, extricating the leaves from her skull with a long twig and the help of a passing crow she had paid with the promise of venison jerky. She observed the child, and how dirty it was, and how much he stinked, and she did not like that. She did not want to keep anything that would be so upset and so unhappy and so smelly. The child, for a time, was worse than the goat nurse, who was unpleasant, but could be silenced with a word. The child was innocent, understood nothing, and did not act like he was supposed to act. At first charming, this had suddenly became a sticking point to the girl.
Leaf after leaf escaped her ears. The crow blew hard with its beak to push away all the dust and particles.
The child was not as constant as a tree.
Snuffling and grumbling and hungry again, the girl decided to try and feed the child the sap of a tree that it might turn into one someday. This time of year, the chill air dragged the sap high in the branches. She could pluck a single twig and suckle upon it, and it would feed her drips and drabs of sweet sap. She attempted this with the child. At first the sweetness was soothing, but soon it coughed and shivered and coughed some more. It didn’t like the bits of wood that were coming through the sap and getting stuck in his throat.
He rolled over to crawl away into the grass, towards the goatnurse, who was.
“Foolish babe,” said the girl. “Don’t you know she wishes to avenge her misery upon you?”
The babe crawled up to the nurse and suckled upon her teats. The milk flowed fine, even from her slumber. She unconsciously raised a hoofy hand to stroke the child’s back.
Upon waking, the goat nurse saw the defenseless child nuzzled into her belly, and felt a great sadness wash over her. Life had been disastrous for her. The very thing she had wanted, with her own kid, had been lost again and again, and the ones who had taken it from her had their chosen child pressed into her stomach, blissfully unaware of all the pain and misery she felt in her heart. The innocence disgusted her because her own kid had been innocent. All of her kids had been innocent. And fate, men, nature herself, had all taken them from her.
The child would be snuffed out, as hers was. She reached out her paw and attempted to get a good grip upon the child’s throat with her hoofy magically-altered hands.
The ball of snow reached out a tentacled arm, all this time inert and now drawn to action. It snatched up the child and pulled it away from the goat nurse and pushed the child towards the sleeping girl.
The ball of snow knew better than the goat nurse what it means to lose. Born in a day and smothered in a day, snow was only supposed to form those perfect crystals for a moment in time, a beauty unreal and original and never-before-to-be-seen. It was the way things were supposed to be for all living creatures. Though it appeared to be a ball of snow, in fact, it was a colony of flakes that had been selected by the girl and her father for being more perfect, more beautiful, and the most wondrous of all the flakes of snow. Accumulated into a ball, and preserved, every winter new flakes were added. Inside the molecules of preserved snow, symphonies were written for the lost. Every flake remembered the cloud that birthed it. Every flake had billions of brothers and sisters who had melted in death. The songs they sang were only heard by the girl, for even the man was too tall to hear the subtle vibrations in the air beneath the birdsongs in the still of winter. Oh,and the loss they sang, and the pain they sang of too-long lived frozen in ice, never to let their souls evaporate to the clouds and be reborn. Oh, the snow knew better than any creature on the world the misery and futility of existence. And, given tentacles, and witnessing the attempt to snuff out the beautiful life of the babe, the snow could not bear it anymore. The pain inside built up beyond what any heat that could be kept at bay by sorcery. The misery exloded in pent up misery, like a lake born in a moment of agony, existing only for a moment, but in that moment, it poured itself into the mouth of the goat nurse, and swarmed her lungs with hot, hot energy.
The girl, in her sleep, though nothing of clutching the child to her breast, and wrapping her arms around it, No water touched his throat. She was immune to such trivial things as dying snow.
Once drowned, the goat nurse was devoured by insects, and became mere bones. By the time morning came, the girl yawned and saw that all her pretty snowflakes had exploded again, and she was very glad to see her father coming up the way.
The infant, unknowing of death, climbed towards the bones of the goat nurse, and suckled upon the dry rib cage, confused that there were no more teets flowing. He was curious for a moment, but hunger and frustration won out, and he began to wail.
Frustrated, and fed up with all the troubles of humans and goats and all her lost toys, the girl picked up the child and sang a song to shush him. She looked around for anything he could eat. Finding nothing, she stepped into the woods and placed him in a tree.  
Caught between sky and ground, it was worse than when he was caught between the girl and the goat nurse, but only slightly more so. Soon, the Man in Green knew, the surviving villagers would find the child, and all who carried it would carry the blessing of the woods, for it was a good lesson for his daughter, and she would be wiser for it in the spring, when it would be her turn to rule the house. He stroked his long white beard and sat hunched over his cane. He asked his daughter what she thought of the world of men.
“I think I shall let them stay, for now,” she said. She placed the goat’s skull over her own like a helmet. She wrapped her rib cages around her like a whalebone corset. She looked to the moon in the sky and heard the howling of the wolves.
“Good,” said the old man. “The council has decided nothing. We are all waiting to see what the humans do next.”
She hopped about braying like a goat. She held a stone to her stomach and pretended to nurse. Then, she went into the kitchen and pounded the bones into flour for her father’s gruel. She served him in the moonlight and watched his eyes flickering.
“Girl in green,” he said. “Walk your forest. I will see you again when winter ends.”
She was taller than him, and more fair. She took the hunting horn, the bow and the blade, and walked the forest. Everywhere she went, the leaves turned brown.
From the tree, where he hung, the baby boy’s green eyes flickered and flecked with brown, and he reached for her, passing below him. She was done with him, though, and as she abandoned him, there, he wept.
It is the weeping that was heard by a passing curate, with his legion of men. At first, they feared witchcraft, but no religion permits the murder of innocents, and he was taken from the tree, and returned to the world of men.