Citizen Tleilax

Please do not Disturb the Weed Garden – Chickweed and an Inefficient Society

My companion and I have a small patch of space in the common area of our little apartment compound which we cleared with the intention of starting a garden. We haven’t exactly gotten around to planting anything yet, but we did some preparation and a sign that says “Please do not disturb the garden” now sits in the corner, directed at the over-zealous landscapers hired by our landlord. They have dutifully heeded the sign and left our space free of intervention, and recently it has blossomed with a bounty of vibrant weeds. Well, it’s mainly just one weed–chickweed (Stellaria media)–which also happens to be quite edible, nutritious and medicinally valuable. And it just grows there without provocation! Rather considerate of the cute little thing if you ask me; I have a strong affinity for those that get by without being too dependent on others to take care of them.

As I sit here munching on a bowl of fresh, raw chickweed (a nice, tasty green crunch) and drinking chickweed tea, I once again marvel at the ignorance and stupidity of our society when it comes to plants. If our sign hadn’t been there, the “gardeners” wouldn’t have hesitated to eradicate this plant, even though the slightest bit of research shows that it actually has a utility value for humans. For no real reason besides cultural conditioning, it appears “unsightly” to people who have pathetically limited notions of what is acceptable to grow and how plants should look. They may even know what type of plant it is, since it is a commonly hated weed!

This example (see another below) reflects a major systemic failure of modern society. Again and again, it refuses to acknowledge things which could easily benefit it. To me, some of the most omnipresent and “noxious” weeds are just plants trying to get our attention as a species. They pop up everywhere saying, “Hello, look at me! I can help you!” and they wait to be recognized for their positive attributes… but most people aren’t paying attention. It’s this type of cultural mistake that causes a horrendous inefficiency in the way we as a people operate, as countries, companies, or just individuals. Too much energy is wasted on doing things the hard way or wasted on goals that are just plain wrong, instead of looking at solutions that are right in front of our faces.

On top of it, this stubborn ignorance about weeds is regularly enforced through sanctions against those who don’t conform to rules dictated by the empty despot that is Appearance. Tragically, this means that even if some individuals occasionally recognize the value of a yard or field full of weeds, they may very well cave in and prevent their growth simply to avoid the social pressures that may result from doing something different from the herd.

Personally, I’ve long been acclimated to life outside the norm and relish my usual position as the “strange one” in a variety of respects. As is probably quite clear, I love “weeds” (I just think of them as plants) and am happy to have a weed garden. I’m also thankful that they’re so tenacious–it’s nice to know that I will be able to receive help from many of them almost anywhere I go.

Please do not Disturb the Weed Garden (chickweed)


*For another example, read Green Deane’s writing about how Florida failed to deal with a weed situation efficiently (scroll down to the bottom quarter of the page, the entry “14 March 2008: Attitude Makes The Difference”).

Bathroom Graffiti – An Exercise in Collaborative Folk Art

The scrawlings found in public restrooms are a strange exercise in collaborative folk art. While often mundane and inane, much like the YouTube comments which I also consider a natural folk art of sorts, they function in an interesting way. Written conversations develop from an original statement or question of some sort, via individuals who add a single part to what was there when they arrived, frequently pointing an arrow to what they are responding to. This often leads to rather lengthy arguments or speculations, yet each contributor likely never sees what else was added after they said their own piece.

Obviously the content of such “latrinalia” varies widely, but I find the phenomenon very attractive in general. I am particularly fond of bathrooms which are completely unregulated in terms of user-contributed decorations, veritable museums of the artform. There is something magical about a bathroom that has been completely covered in numerous layers of tags, art, stickers, and sentences–the depth and texture is astounding. Such a space appears to me like a secret lair within a deep and complex urban cave, a massive collision of culture and energy that would take years to fully dissect & uncover all the origins behind each ingredient in the mix.

I find such a space refreshing and comforting, because in addition to it frequently indicating the presence of potent creative spirit, it reflects the trappings of an autonomous zone. It is a space, limited as it may be, where freedom of visual expression is complete and uncensored, nothing removed or hidden aside from when other participants use their freedom to cover a part with their own contribution, whatever that may be. It truly is a social, community space in this way.

Below are a few old photographs I’ve taken of bathroom graffiti. They aren’t perfect examples of the types I was specifically referring to in this post, but interesting nonetheless.

Bathroom graffiti at Foufounes Electriques, Montreal
Foufounes Electriques, Montreal, December 2006

Bathroom graffiti at Chain Reaction, Anaheim
Chain Reaction, Anaheim, March 2003

Bathroom graffiti in southern California restroom
Unknown location, Southern California, February 2004

A Hiking Adventure on Local Trails

May 21st, 2009:

Two sunny days ago, my companion and I embarked upon our weekly ritual of traversing the various trails of our local mountain wilderness. We arrived at a location previously unexplored by ourselves, and of the few possible paths accessible to foot-travel, we decided to take the westernmost trail. The entrance to this trail lies subtly amongst the scrub brush behind a half-circle of stone which serves as a bench for those who ascended to this point merely to look out into the canyon, a view which is admittedly quite fine. Because the trailhead could be easily overlooked by most, it in fact stood out to me as one which ought to be explored with immediate haste.

The trail followed a rather sharp decline down a northern facing slope. After perhaps a mite more than 5 minutes of steady travel, the path flattened out for merely a couple of yards, largely beneath accommodating trees with horizontal branches perfect for resting upon for a spell if one were weary on his way back up. As indicated by the ancient, fading black spray paint which decorated nearly all of the trees’ surface area with now indecipherable text and the surrounding multitude of much younger bottles and cans once filled with cheap American beer, the spot had indeed been used as an out-of-the-way respite. One traveler had even left a zippable sweatshirt behind, perhaps as a gift to the tree in exchange for its temporary shelter.

At this point, my companion and I decided that the road to the canyon bottom was too steep to further descend without walking sticks. Using a black plastic bag from a liquor store conveniently left behind, we proceeded instead to gather all of the aluminum cans, as I am in the consistent habit of doing wherever I happen across significant quantities of them. Aluminum is one of my most favored metals, from a purely practical perspective. Its utility value is high, and when converted into appropriate forms of energy–a process executed with fair simplicity–it propels both my vehicle and myself with the fuel it provides.

After depositing our unexpected bounty of metal into the trunk of my motor carriage, we proceeded down the easternmost trail. Following this trail, we walked upon a path which was on one side an often precipitous drop to the canyon floor, and on the other a hill raising itself at various grades. Throughout the trail was a wide variety of herbaceous growth, most of which are common and considered weeds. Many of them I could not yet identify, having still much to learn in my studies, but I will provide a small list of those whose names I know: sweet fennel, milk thistle, mugwort, blessed thistle, sagebrush, horehound, tree tobacco, and castor oil plants.

The trail ended after less than a mile near a group of unoccupied houses, mostly obscured from view by the vine-covered growth on the close hillside. A shaded staircase made of half meter long dirt steps reinforced by wooden blocks steeply ascended into a backyard which featured a swimming pool completely greened by algae. We descended stairs on the opposite side of the pool and walked around to the front of the house which brought the others into view. A cursory glance noted that two had suffered severe structural damage, perhaps as the result of a previous earthquake or natural erosion. The two with damage were quite easily accessible, with no efforts made whatsoever to block entrance to their interiors. The more elevated of the two, however, looked as though it would be a significant physical risk to wander through. We therefore entered the less damaged one and began to walk through its rooms, examining the remains.

Magazines were strewn about each room, popular ones dealing with very surface-level fashion trends and sex advice. Drawers remained, empty and without dressers to plug into. In the kitchen, vines had covered the windows and let only a thin and greenly tinted light into the room–a very attractive effect which I would consider worthy of designing for on purpose. Many things had been left behind in the various cupboards and drawers. Among the objects we retrieved were an unused spool of white thread with needle attached, a tomato-shaped pincushion filled with pins, four cans of vegetarian-suitable baked beans, a new box of Earl Gray tea, a tin emblazoned with the British flag containing cigarette rolling papers, a ball of rope-like twine, and some fabric. There were more items worth taking, however we did not wish to burden ourselves too much for the hike back and so perhaps another visit shall be in order for the future.

Upon our return to my vehicle, I took a square of cardboard and a knife and, grasping with the cardboard in my left hand, proceeded to slice off one freshly tweening cladode from three different opuntia specimens in the area, distributing my harvest among them out of respect for their new growth. We then vacated the premises and retired to our abode. After despining and chopping the opuntia cladodes, called “nopales” in Mexican cuisine, I added them to a pot filled with the canned beans we had acquired from the deserted residence, wherein they served as a delicious and nutritious vegetable in this meal which was fully and freely provided to us by the day’s adventuring.

YouTube Comments Have Literary Merit

FIRST! – A Book of YouTube Comments
Edited by Pablo Capra
Published by Brass Tacks Press
Zine/Booklet – 23 pages

Well, perhaps “literary merit” is an overstatement–however there is certainly a value in such expressions, however base they may predominantly be at first glance. The comments referred to here are mainly those which are posted as instantaneous reactions to what has just been viewed, requiring probably less than 2 seconds of thought on the part of the authors. These types of comments are of course not limited to YouTube; they can occur in various places across the internet: Facebook statuses, 4Chan (and related) forums, etc. Taken as a whole, the myriad collections of such comments on all manner of topics across the web present a revealing view into the state of mind of a mass segment of our internet-infused culture. I view them as a sort of collaborative folk art, combining to create a humorously absurd, abstract tale of the frivolity and often intellectually stunted nature of many of the internet’s denizens. These negative aspects abound, certainly, yet a keen sense of highly developed and succinct comedy appropriate to its environment is perhaps just as frequently displayed, if one has the correct mind to interpret it.

While one need not look far to read multitudes of such commentary in their natural habitats, Capra’s published collection recognizes that this incidental output from our society deserves more than a cursory glance as we wander through these very spaces on our own missions. Presenting these small blips of text on paper as a uniquely modern form of automatic poetry or literature imbues them with the strength of cultural documentation, a strength which allows them to outlive their inherently unstable environment where all might be lost when a video is removed or a thread deleted. I have myself thought on many occasions that similar things should be published, and I am glad to see it done here in this small booklet.

NY Times Exposes Egregious Corporate Waste, Sabotaging Dumpster Diving

On January 5th, 2010, Jim Dwyer published an article in the NY Times exposing how H&M Clothing destroys and discards large amounts of useful items. As I am completely against corporations sabotaging their useful trash, and completely supportive of people dumpster diving for useful trash, I was very happy to see an article exposing this egregious offense and wrote a letter to Dwyer with a CC to the editor of the NY Times:

I would like to thank you for writing an article exposing H & M’s irresponsible and completely insensitive actions. This is far too common of a practice for corporations all over the country, and the amount of waste that is generated from perfectly usable items of all sorts is utterly disgusting. That usable items are regularly disfigured and trashed is an insult to the communities they are supposedly a part of, and a slap in the face to those who can’t afford to patronize the company. Such actions show that ultimately they’d rather let people freeze to death than see them get a useful, discarded item for free from a dumpster. That is far too cold-hearted a practice to tolerate if we are to be a “civilized” society, and I believe your article sends this message.

Exploration of Local Territory on My Bicycle

June 8th, 2009:

Today I embarked upon a mission of exploration throughout the topography of nearby urbania, accompanied only by my bicycle. This particular mission lasted a total of five and three quarter hours. I brought a small bag of peanuts but no money or tools, as I was confident if I needed anything for some reason, I would find items which would help me. The universe frequently provides me with resources in unexpected ways, consistently enough to almost count on it. Other than thoroughly decorating the streets with my energetic trails and increasing my general knowledge of the local territory, this mission provided a few notable elements which I shall describe below.

First was the discovery of a small collection of accidentally discarded items which appear to have formerly been possessed by some sort of middle-aged “bum”. These were lying in disarray halfway on and off a sidewalk. There were a few calling cards, a bunched up gaudy thing that used to be a cheap necklace but was now hopelessly entangled, three almost-full lighters, a ticket for drinking in public dated three days ago (indicating the ticketee as a male in his forties), and two giftcards. One was for a store I can’t recall but had no interest in, the other for Starbucks– I took the latter, leaving the other as a potential gift for someone else who might find it. I suspected the cards might have some value still, because the loss of these items did not seem intentional, which I judged by the ticket and the fuel levels of the lighters. I also took the necklace bunch (I’m fond of such things), two of the lighters (the third was covered in grime), and went to the nearest payphone to check the balance of the giftcard. It had $2.75 left, and later in the day I used it to refresh myself with an iced green tea from a company I would never patronize otherwise, guilty as it is for its deplorable role in the homogenization of culture and aggressive approach to stamping out independent competition.

Much to my elation, on my way home I discovered a community of flourishing dandelions in a nice little unused patch of space short-walled off from the sidewalk and adjacent to a rundown looking motel. The green of their leaves was healthy and vibrant and they were in various states of growth, many having already gone to seed, with others soon to convert their yellow flowers into the familiar white spherical puff of pappus-equipped seeds. They were poking out of several cracks in the cement and between the paving and the side of the motel, with a few young ones growing in a weedy square patch of loose dirt. Using a nearby discarded plastic bag from 7-Eleven, I gathered leaves from many different plants, being sure to not take an amount that would cripple any given individual one of them. This is to ensure they remain viable for future gatherings. I uprooted a few of the young ones, as the dandelion’s thick taproot is very valuable as well. As payment for my harvest I took several seed wands and blew them around many locations to help the dandelions establish themselves elsewhere–much, I’m sure, to many people’s ignorance-induced chagrin. Were they aware of the myriad nutritional and medicinal benefits this plant provides, they would relish its presence.

As I proceeded to work my way back home, I rode through a neighborhood filled with very nice–and expensive–houses. Ambling down the street, I noticed an alley which had a wall almost completely covered in perhaps 50 brightly colored neon posterboard rectangles, each with writing on them. Thinking this must be some sort of school project from a nearby private school, or perhaps someone’s fun decorations, I approached the wall to read what it had to say. Interestingly, nearly every single one said almost the exact same thing, but worded in different ways with a unique message every once in a while. All of them were accusatory declamations against the person who apparently lived in the house opposite the alley from the colorful wall of disapproval. The main topic was four cameras which were located around the person’s heavily fortified property, pointing at the sidewalks and the alley. The author of the posterboards was very upset that people were being filmed against their will and in violation of their rights by the “coward” and “peeping tom” who installed them. The writings emphasized that he is purposefully focusing on children and that one of the cameras is aimed at a playground across the street, implying the man is a pedophilic pervert.

This was a very strange sight in what seemed to otherwise be a calm neighborhood populated by well-off people. I looked at the camera positioning, and while they are indeed filming public territory, they could also simply be security cameras installed by a paranoid and overprotective property owner. However, in order to receive such a virulent public rebuking, I suspect the issue goes much deeper than surface appearances. I rode on and, upon arriving home, made a delicious sandwich with the dandelion leaves I had acquired. Thus conclude the mild tales of another day’s experiences, garnered while wandering almost aimlessly, going in whatever direction any fleet whim propels me.

“Easily Seduced” Not Limited to Youth by Any Means

Recently Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill that lowers the voter registration age in California from 18 to 17. Note that this does not affect the actual voting age, but is intended to engage students still attending high school and interest them as citizens in preparation for when they become eligible to vote once they do turn 18. The prospect of actually lowering the voting age would certainly provide a great deal of controversy, because many people tend to feel that the youth is much more likely to be “easily seduced” by slick politicians who make attractive promises with no intention of actually following through and delivering them. People would argue that young folk are simply too irresponsible to be handed such power, seeing as they are so commonly in the throes of idealistic passion, only partially thought out viewpoints and the like, and would vote for anyone who claimed to represent some romantic, yet unrealistic, perspective.

Of course, if anybody believes these things only apply to those under 18, they must not be very observant when it comes to social matters. Perhaps “idealistic passion” is more common among those who haven’t yet aged into jaded or apathetic pessimists (since most people certainly don’t age into intelligent and conscientious activists), but I think that being idealistic is a good thing, if one approaches it in a practical manner. In any case, I would certainly posit that, in general, high school age adolescents are equal in their decision-making abilities to the average American voter from any other age bracket. I will partially illustrate my perspective using an example from my personal experience with numerous “responsible” and “thorough” (as they often are assumed to be) citizens of legal voting age.

During August and September of 2009 I volunteered with a grassroots campaign for LA City Council. It was a race which had a few extremely well funded candidates, and several barely funded independent candidates. One of my roles in the campaign was to call voters on the phone, as well as engage them face-to-face in public places like Farmers’ Markets. Since the candidate I was volunteering for had little money, his name was not known to the thousands of voters who received several mailers from the big-money candidates. I definitely talked to far more people than what sociologists would consider a truly representative sample (at least of people living in a particular district of LA), and of those who were planning on voting, a massive majority had no interest whatsoever in learning about a candidate they had not already heard of–they had already chosen based purely on what came in their mailboxes, or in the instance of one candidate, how their official party affiliation told them to vote. If this does not qualify for “easily seduced”, I’m not sure exactly what to call it… other than completely willful ignorance. Voters absolutely did not want to pay attention to–much less authentically consider–the actual choices they had or look into the differences in the actual issues, simply because the grassroots candidates did not have material that arrived en masse in the voters’ mailboxes with flashy colors and almost insultingly simplistic promises and goals.

These voters were not informed, nor did they want to be. Very few knew enough to tell me anything about what they were actually voting for or why (besides just whimsy or being told to), and these were the people who actually were voting–which ultimately was less than 12% of eligible voters in the district. And they are the ones who decided which candidate was elected to City Council–which by the way is a very important post, particularly in Los Angeles. I can honestly say that high school students, (hell, even middle school students!) have the exact same grasp on issues as many of these people–people who paid attention to nothing but the base fact that there was an election, and a plethora of shamefully superficial ads that came in their mailboxes. A child of any age can point at an image it likes and “choose” it. The quality of information commonly presented in mailers is more or less equivalent to a promise to give the voter candy in exchange for a vote, while the opposing candidate(s) will take it away from you if you vote for them–useless and deceptive.

While I don’t know what would happen if the voting age was lowered, I definitely wouldn’t make the typical arguments against it. For all I know, it might even be a positive thing to shake up our desperately ignorant country. There is already a massive problem with voters not being authentic or informed, so it is a rather incompetent move to hold voting-age people up as any sort of example opposed to what slightly younger voters might be like. My experience with directly talking to hundreds of voters in a very condensed period via phone calls and face-to-face conversations has clearly illustrated to me that the youth in general is no more “easily seduced” than every single other demographic.


As a side note, it’s well known that local elections generate less interest and turnout than statewide or national elections. They are of course just as important, perhaps even more so at times since these are the people that directly affect our immediate environment, and ones that we have easier access to as our representatives. Despite this decreased interest, I believe that the same amount of ignorance and deceivability is present in larger elections. Though I have only my own experience to draw from, I find it reasonable to assume that the percentage of ignorant voters versus highly informed voters scales for any size election for an official (ballot propositions are a different matter). I.e. if only 5% of voters in a local election are truly informed, I find it likely that only 5% of voters in a larger election are truly informed. There’s more of them, but still the same percentage of those actually casting a vote and making the decisions in our society. This assumption is reinforced by the fact that mass media consistently refuses to cover candidates who are not Democrat or Republican, and the fact that candidates of those stripes rarely convey detailed information themselves, requiring people to actually dedicate an often significant effort towards doing their own research. And anybody interested in politics knows how few people actually spend their valuable time on that.