Home of the Brave


It’s not easy leaving one home for another one far off, as anyone who has ever done it can attest. If moving thousands of miles away from family and friends is difficult now, when electronic communication allows people to keep in touch, it was even more difficult in past centuries, when leaving behind familiars often meant permanent dislocation without any further contact. The emigrants, particularly if they were poor, had to be brave to make the momentous decision to leave, and then again to establish a new home.


Economics and politics are the biggest drivers of emigration, even for those leaving the United States. American government agencies don’t keep exact numbers on the amount of people leaving the country, but estimates over the past twenty years are that the number of Americans living abroad either on a temporary or permanent basis have more than doubled, from four million to nine million. People who live abroad temporarily, but longer term than tourists, are considered expatriates. The status of expatriates is usually fluid, with some eventually becoming citizens in their adopted country, and some returning to the United States.

Richard Redgrave - The Emigrants' Last Sight of Home
The Emigrants’ Last Sight of Home, an 1858 painting by Richard Redgrave (1804-1888).

As hard as it is to pin down statistics on American expatriates, it seems a reasonable inference from the increasing number of articles published online and elsewhere touting overseas retirement destinations that more Americans than ever are deciding to live abroad when they have a fixed, mostly predictable income. For some of these people, the political situation in the United States may play a role in their decision, as this country more and more resembles the banana republics derided in the past, with obscene income inequality, police state tactics employed by the governing class, and the mass of people working in a condition of debt peonage. Many of the countries listed as desirable retirement destinations are in Latin America, and the reasoning among retirees may be that since the United States has come to resemble those countries politically, at least the change for them won’t be that great on that account, and their money will go further.

It’s more complicated than that, of course, because for centuries the United States interfered in the politics and economics of Latin America, which it regarded patronizingly as its back yard. Latin American countries have lately been working to disengage themselves from the most sordid aspects of American interference, with the most extreme example being Venezuela. At any rate, Latin America is popular amongst expatriate American retirees looking to get the most out of their pension dollars. Europe is generally more expensive, with the more dysfunctional economies of southern Europe offering better deals. Southern Europe also offers warmer weather and high quality health care that is on a par with the rest of Europe. American retirees are more likely, therefore, to emigrate to the sunny beaches of Spain than the frigid fjords of Norway.

Director John Huston, an American expatriate for much of his life, in a cameo appearance early in his 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with Humphrey Bogart. The film was about a trio of down on their luck American expatriates in Mexico. Poverty is a miserable existence anywhere, but it causes even more anxiety among those who are adrift from the support of friends, family, and familiar surroundings.
The magazine articles for retirees typically mention a few destinations in southeast Asia, and hardly any spots in Africa or the rest of Asia. Presumably the heavy slant toward Latin America and Europe is because those places offer less of a culture shock to most Americans along with the aforementioned economic advantages and similar political climate. That slant also assumes the major part of the readers are of Caucasian European descent, which is not unreasonable considering American demographics, particularly of the middle class that can afford a comfortable retirement, or at least expects to do so if they can stretch their dollars overseas. Their numbers are increasing.

The propaganda in this country has long been that everyone in the world wanted to come here, and that we could pick and choose who got in. With some quibbles, that was mostly true for a long time. Now that may no longer be the case; now not as many people elsewhere may be attracted to these shores, while more people here may be looking elsewhere. For now, it is the people with dependable income, retirees among them, who are leaving. They are the brave ones, and as the political and economic situation in America swirls down a dark hole, and despite the ever more shrill propaganda about how everything is great, just great, more will surely follow to make their home elsewhere.
― Ed.


Too Much of a Good Thing


Sugar can be derived from numerous plants, including beets, corn, and the fruit of trees, but it has come into its own since the Middle Ages in Europe as the refined product of the sugarcane plant, a perennial grass. The plant originated in New Guinea, and from there traders introduced to Asia, where it eventually found its way to southern Europe by way of Arab merchants. As noted from its origin, the plant grows in tropical or sub tropical climates. Europeans quickly developed a taste for refined sugar, but since the plant would not grow well in Europe or northern Africa, they needed to find either another source or another place to grow, or forever be at the mercy of Arab merchants, who kept the price high.

When European explorers stumbled upon the New World in their search for a trade route to the Far East that bypassed Arab middlemen, they were interested in exploiting sugar resources as much as spices. The tropical and sub tropical bands of the New World – the Caribbean, much of eastern South America, Central America, and the far southeastern portion of North America – turned out to be well suited for raising sugarcane. The problem was finding a suitably cheap labor source for the backbreaking and dangerous labor involved in sugarcane cultivation as well as refinement. The Europeans, after exhausting the Native Americans as a labor source, turned to Africa as a source of slave labor.

There were other plantation crops that Europeans raised in the New World exploiting slave labor, such as tobacco (a plant native to the western hemisphere) and cotton, but sugar was the big money maker for them, the linchpin of Atlantic trade from the 1500s well into the 1800s. Sugar grown on plantations in the New World traveled, some in the form of rum, to northeastern ports of North America and then on to Europe, where it was traded for manufactured goods; some of the manufactured goods then were traded in Africa for slaves, who were loaded onto ships destined for plantations in the New World, their voyage across the Atlantic being known as the Middle Passage of this triangle of trade. Some didn’t survive the voyage, and of the ones who did, many suffered abominably under harsh conditions in the sugar growing regions and elsewhere.

No such thing as too much (4578918974)
Pancakes with syrup, or syrup with pancakes? Photo by jeffreyw.

Hundreds of years later, sugar is still exacting a toll from poor black people, as well as poor and working class people generally. The European quest for cheap sugar succeeded all too well. Now it’s found in far too many supermarket foods and beverages, where in the case of processed foods it masks the loss of wholesome flavors. Sugary beverages like soda and many fruit drinks are especially egregious sources of the endocrine disrupting carbohydrates present in refined sugar that can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes. These processed foods are easy to prepare and are relatively cheap and, because of the sugar in them, to some people they taste good enough.

“Big Rock Candy Mountain”, first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, is about a hobo’s idea of paradise. McClintock claimed to have written the song in 1895, based on tales from his youth hoboing through the United States. McClintock’s 1928 recording was used by Ethan and Joel Coen at the beginning of their 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

People could cut back their consumption of processed foods, and certainly they could drop sugary sodas and fruit drinks out of their diet and not lose any essential nutrients. People can use will power and self control, even though there is evidence that sugar’s effects on their health are more insidious than industry mouthpieces would have everyone believe. People can do all those things. But they don’t. Why not?

What if crack cocaine were as cheap as sugar? How about cigarettes? Opioids? What levels of consumption would we encounter then among the general population, and among the poor and working classes specifically? All those substances stimulate pleasure centers in the human brain, just like a good hit of sugar does in a smaller way, and all are ultimately destructive in high enough doses. Is sugar as destructive as those other addictive substances? No, not in the short term, and it would be ridiculous to equate a cookie with a hit of cocaine. In the long run, however, over the course of ten, twenty, or thirty years, sugar consumption at modern American levels of a hundred pounds or more per person per year is proving destructive enough. Time to turn some of that exhausted soil in the tropics over from growing monocultures of sugarcane for export to growing fruits and vegetables the locals could consume for themselves. We could easily cut back from two or three lumps of sugar to just one.
― Izzy


Please Leave It at the Door

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

― Excerpt from The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887). This is the poem inscribed on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.


Summertime is here in the United States, regardless of the timing astronomers would like to impose on it with their solstices and equinoxes. For many of us, summer starts with Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day. And for many of us, hot summer weather has us searching for a cooling alcoholic refresher that is light and may even have some beneficial vitamin C floating in it. Sangria!


Sangria is not a kind of wine, though one may get that impression from some bottled varieties at the grocery store. Sangria is in fact a wine punch, and that is what is packaged in the bottles. Most people prefer to make up their own Sangria by combining ingredients from the wine aisle at the grocery store, the produce section (especially citrus), and possibly the soda aisle. Some will make a side trip to the liquor store for brandy, cognac, or other spirits to add depth and punch to their Sangria. The possibilities with Sangria are enormous, and in summertime it seems the rules relax for a lot of things in life. Make a batch that suits you and keep it chilling in a pitcher in the refrigerator.
Ambersweet oranges
‘Ambersweet’ oranges, Citrus sinensis, a new cold-resistant variety; photo by the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
There are some problems here that you should be aware of in our times of racial purity, and you would do well to take note of them. Let’s take the last item first – refrigeration. You are probably okay there because while no single person can be acclaimed as the inventor of refrigeration, the numerous contributors all appear to have either Anglo-Saxon or Germanic heritage. So far, so good.

Looking at the liquor store offerings, we get into murkier territory. To begin with, alcohol as a word originates from Arabic, which is strange considering the Islamic prohibition of alcohol. Next, brandy and cognac come from France, so no good there considering the Frenchies reluctance to back us in our military adventures. Unlike the British, the snooty French ask too many uppity questions. If you want to spike your Sangria, stick with Kentucky Bourbon or Tennessee Mash, or maybe some backwoods Moonshine.

You ought to be okay with soda, but be careful of things like Canada Dry ginger ale and some of the Mexican sodas which are produced with Caribbean sugar cane instead of good old American high fructose corn syrup squeezed from – what else- corn, also known as maize. The Indians introduced us to maize, but let’s not get into all that. We have done them one better at least by introducing Roundup-ready corn into the food supply.

The citrus fruits you may want to include in your Sangria, well now there’s a puzzler. Oranges, while they are currently grown in Florida or California, originated in southern China or southeastern Asia. That’s a thorny problem. The same goes for lemons and limes, which also originated in the same area of the world populated by little yellow and brown people speaking gibberish, possibly anti-American.

If you are to remain racially pure then, there’s not much you can do with Sangria, regardless of the multitude of recipes available. Now we come to the base of the Sangria, which is by definition some sort of Spanish or Portuguese wine. Using anything else, like German wine, would not really be Sangria, at least not in spirit (so to speak). But while the Spanish are pure bred, unlike the Mexicans who are mostly an unholy mix of Spanish and Indian known as Mestizo, with their short stature, brown skin, and Otherness, the Spanish are still not entirely with us. They used to be better, when Generalissimo Francisco Franco was in charge. But since then, not so much. Their wines for Sangria are therefore suspect. Take that under advisement.

The amount of varieties out there serves no other purpose than to test your mettle. It’s hot. You’re sweaty after a long day outdoors. Sangria in its multitude of varieties generously contributed from around the world is not for you. If you were to enjoy it all, you would have to ask that the little brown and yellow skinned peoples leave it at your door, and then scuttle away quietly before the neighbors noticed. Maybe cold lager beer from central Europe is the answer to your summer sweats, if only it weren’t for the fact it’s history can be traced back to beginnings in the Middle East. Those devilish Wogs, at it again!
― Izzy


The Lilac of the South


Describing Lagerstroemia species starts with what to call them in English, whether crepe myrtle or crape myrtle. Both spellings are correct and have their adherents, and even a botanical pedant would have no basis for sneering at either preference. It is a multi-stemmed small tree originally from southern and southeastern Asia, but to stop there is to ignore the enormous variety of size, flower color, and shape of this plant that has become so ubiquitous in the southern United States that it has become known as the Lilac of the South.


The hardiness zones where crepe myrtle takes over from the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris, are 6 and 7, or roughly a horizontal line through the country’s mid-section. Besides differences in cold hardiness, there are differences in size and shape, with lilac being more of a large, rounded shrub, while crepe myrtle ranges from a small shrub to a medium-sized tree and is generally vase-shaped. Lilac flowers in spring and its flowers are always fragrant; crepe myrtle flowers in summer and, depending on variety, its flowers may or may not be fragrant. Some crepe myrtle varieties, like the white flowered “Natchez”, have exfoliating bark that adds to their winter interest. Lilac is not known for any particular winter interest. Differences aside, each plant holds a favored place, North or South, that marks them out as special and at the same time as necessities in every garden.


Crepe myrtle tree at Univ. of VA IMG 4278
Crepe myrtle trees on the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia; photo by Billy Hathorn.

Red Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
Crepe myrtle flowers, showing their crinkled appearance; photo by Flickr user Hafiz Issadeen.

What a shame then that every late winter crepe myrtles throughout the South are subjected to topping by “professionals” on landscaping crews and, like the practice of volcano mulching also carried out by “professionals”, homeowners then feel encouraged to mimic the skulduggery of the “professionals” in their own yards. Topping crepe myrtles this way is known as “crepe murder”, and it is not a good or wise practice.

People can of course do what they like to their own crepe myrtles. They should not, however, continue to be able to get away with spouting bogus reasons for murdering their innocent, flowering friends. If they wanted to keep its size in check, they could have planted a shorter variety to suit the location in the beginning, rather than subject the poor plant they did choose to violence year after year. Don’t let them try to claim the high ground by saying they are pollarding, either, because 99% of these knuckle-draggers couldn’t identify a proper pollard if it descended out of the trees and bit them on the buttocks. No, they are doing it strictly from a deep-seated monkey see, monkey do limbic reflex that is not subject to conscious control. And giving the reason of promoting flowering is also bogus, though because four to six months elapse between butchering and flowering, and the American attention span is very short, almost no one thinks to disprove this claim. To honor the memory and teachings of Dr. Alex Shigo, the Father of Modern Arboriculture, the Lilac of the South deserves better.
― Izzy

Winter interest created by the branch architecture of a well-pruned, or at least unmolested, crepe myrtle; photo by Berean Hunter.


I’ll Have the General Tso’s Chicken

Davidia involucrata inflorescence foliage 01
Dove Tree flowers and foliage; photo by Myrabella.
January 28 is the Chinese New Year, which this time is the Year of the Rooster. The Chinese celebrations include an acknowledgement of America’s current influence on their culture, and in reply the Supreme Leader no doubt will wish “Good Luck” to all our Chinese friends, perhaps with a tweet or a cluck. Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, we look back on Ernest Henry “Chinese” Wilson (1876-1930) and his accomplishments in bringing hundreds of Chinese plant varieties to Westerners in the early years of the Twentieth Century.


“Chinese” Wilson was English by birth, and he started out on his plant collecting in China on behalf of the English firm of James Veitch & Sons, who primarily sent him to retrieve the Dove Tree, Davidia involucrata. Wilson made numerous trips to China, Japan, and other Eastern, African, and Latin American locales over the first twenty years of the Twentieth Century, eventually collecting plants on behalf of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. In 1930, he and his wife died in an automobile accident in Worcester, outside of Boston.
E H Wilson
Ernest Henry Wilson
Weiße Königs-Lilie (Lilium regale)
Regal Lily; photo by Pimpinellus.


Wilson sent back to the West a staggering number of plant species, many of which, like Camellia, Magnolia, Azalea, and Crepe Myrtle, while not entirely unknown here before his collection efforts, have become so common since he gathered their multiple varieties that Westerners could be forgiven for thinking they have always been here. Wilson himself was most proud of his discovery in 1907 of the Regal Lily, Lilium regale, on an expedition to the Min River valley in western Sichuan Province, where he paid the high cost of having his right leg broken in two places in a rock slide. He made it out of the wilds safely in three days and recovered, but ever after he walked with a limp.


This New Year of the Rooster it does us good to remember a good man, “Chinese” Wilson, and his positive contributions to the Western world borne of his expeditions to China and the Far East. It’s better still to think of how the Chinese reservoir of plant diversity has enriched our own gardens. And it’s best of all to realize in these difficult times that the influence of Wilson’s good work will over the long run outweigh the tribulations visited upon us by one petulant, puffed-up rooster of a man. The General Tso’s Chicken is good; let’s enjoy that and leave aside for now it’s American variant, Orange Chicken.
― Izzy