Sunday, October 28, 2007

The ghosts among us, Part II

Speaking of the ghosts among us the recent fires have illuminated some of our dirty laundry. We like to keep our insatiable need for cheap, exploitable labor and throwaway people neatly hidden.

The NY Times wrote about how the Glare of Fires Pulls Migrants From Shadows.
Ms. Trujillo and others who help the immigrants said they saw several out in the fields as the fires approached and ash fell on them. She said many were afraid to lose their (agricultural) jobs.

“There were Mercedeses and Jaguars pulling out, people evacuating, and the migrants were still working,” said Enrique Morones, who takes food and blankets to the immigrants’ camps. “It’s outrageous.”

Some of the illegal workers who sought help from the authorities were arrested and deported. Opponents of illegal immigration, including civilian border watch groups, seized on news that immigrants had been detained at the Qualcomm Stadium evacuation center as evidence of trouble that illegal immigrants cause.

The Border Patrol also arrested scores of illegal immigrants made visible by the fires. Agent Fisher of the Border Patrol said 100 had been arrested since the fires started Sunday.
Migrants hide in the canyons at the urban-wildland interface. It appears that many (perhaps most) of the fatalities last week were migrants burned alive in their hiding places. Their remains are being found as the fires are slowly conquered.

Also don't miss another article, Rethinking Fire Policy in the Tinderbox. Here's a graphic from the story.

People outside this region are often not aware that LA is a broad basin ringed by mountain ranges. The basin is built out. The growth has largely been in canyons or in the mountains, at the urban-wildland interface (shown in yellow). The only reason that LA county's percentage is not as high as those of neighboring counties is because of urban infill developments such as the townhouse I call home.

I have mixed feelings about urban infill. I am collecting photos and other supporting documentation for a long post later.

You may want to visit Volker Radeloff's website. He collected the land category data for the map above. His website has a link to the paper, The Wildland Urban Interface in the United States.

Coincidentally (or maybe not), Radeloff and Yi-Fu Tuan are both at University of Wisconsin, Madison. Tuan writes short essays in "Dear Colleague" format. I don't always agree with him, but I enjoy reading him from time to time. When I reread him, I discover thoughts and ideas that I didn't see upon earlier reading. I highly recommend his website! I found this in his archives about the difference between science and magic.
Magic is knowledge and knowledge is power. Magic is full of esoteric knowledge, backed by test tubes, burners, and bubbling liquids, the end of which is power—that is, the ability to change the world or navigate effectively in it. In the sixteenth century came science, toted with great vigor by Francis Bacon. To him, science and not magic is knowledge and power. In the end, as we all know, science displaced magic, not because its knowledge is more esoteric or because it has fancier test tubes or because it is backed by a more prestigious social network, but because it has triumphed in the one area that truly matters to people—power.
At the end of this particular essay, he cautions against studying systems just so we can mess with change them.
Magic predates science. But so did something else—wisdom. Wisdom strove for knowledge about reality, but not so much to gain mastery over it as to enable humans to adapt. Ecological science is thus more like ancient wisdom than it is like modern, technology-driven science. The word "community," which frequently crops up in ecology, suggests that one studies it not to control or change it to something better, but rather the opposite, to preserve or restore it. When "human" is added to ecology, as in human ecology, the word "community" is retained, and with such retention, the implied conservative posture of wisdom. Political ecology, on the other hand, is more dynamic. Implied is a need to alter the socio-political structure of a community. Alter to what? Do ecologists say that a mangrove swamp or a tropical rainforest ought to be something ecologically better? No. But political ecologists do say of any existent human community that, yes, it can and ought to be better. Ecology is like old-fashioned wisdom in that it studies what exists and how creatures ought to adjust and adapt. By comparison, political ecology is more power driven, and is in this regard like modern science. On the other hand, the power it interests itself in is not physical power, like the ability to throw things, but rather socio-political power. So what is political ecology? A science, a wisdom, an ideology? All of the above, none of the above?

1 comment:

  1. "as we all know, science displaced magic, not because its knowledge is more esoteric or because it has fancier test tubes or because it is backed by a more prestigious social network, but because it has triumphed in the one area that truly matters to people—power."

    Power? If he means that science triumphed over magic because alchemists uniformly failed to turn lead into gold whereas Cornish coal mines were able to improve productivity by using primitive steam engines to drive pumps, then I guess he's right.

    "Power" is awful shorthand for what I just wrote, however.

    A second read through of the quoted passage has convinced me that I have to visit the source to gauge exactly how off kilter it typically is. Feh!

    My favorite off kilter commentator can be found in the blog Adamant.
    http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/

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