The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America’s Middle Class

They had good, stable jobs – until the recession hit. Now they’re living out of their cars in parking lots.

Photo: Mark Seliger

Janis Adkins lives in her van at the Goleta Community Covenant Church in Santa Barbara.

Every night around nine, Janis Adkins falls asleep in the back of her Toyota Sienna van in a church parking lot at the edge of Santa Barbara, California. On the van’s roof is a black Yakima SpaceBooster, full of previous-life belongings like a snorkel and fins and camping gear. Adkins, who is 56 years old, parks the van at the lot’s remotest corner, aligning its side with a row of dense, shading avocado trees. The trees provide privacy, but they are also useful because she can pick their fallen fruit, and she doesn’t always­ have enough to eat. Despite a continuous, two-year job search, she remains without dependable work. She says she doesn’t need to eat much – if she gets a decent hot meal in the morning, she can get by for the rest of the day on a piece of fruit or bulk-purchased almonds – but food stamps supply only a fraction of her nutritional needs, so foraging opportunities are welcome.

Prior to the Great Recession, Adkins owned and ran a successful plant nursery in Moab, Utah. At its peak, it was grossing $300,000 a year. She had never before been unemployed – she’d worked for 40 years, through three major recessions. During her first year of unemployment, in 2010, she wrote three or four cover letters a day, five days a week. Now, to keep her mind occupied when she’s not looking for work or doing odd jobs, she volunteers at an animal shelter called the Santa Barbara­ Wildlife Care Network. (“I always ask for the most physically hard jobs just to get out my frustration,” she says.) She has permission to pick fruit directly from the branches of the shelter’s orange and avocado trees. Another benefit is that when she scrambles eggs to hand-feed wounded seabirds, she can surreptitiously make a dish for herself.

By the time Adkins goes to bed – early, because she has to get up soon after sunrise, before parishioners or church employees arrive – the four other people who overnight in the lot have usually settled in: a single mother who lives in a van with her two teenage children and keeps assiduously to herself, and a wrathful, mentally unstable woman in an old Mercedes sedan whom Adkins avoids. By mutual unspoken agreement, the three women park in the same spots every night, keeping a minimum distance from each other. When you live in your car in a parking lot, you value any reliable area of enclosing stillness. “You get very territorial,” Adkins says.

Each evening, 150 people in 113 vehicles spend the night in 23 parking lots in Santa Barbara. The lots are part of Safe Parking, a program that offers overnight permits to people living in their vehicles. The nonprofit that runs the program, New Beginnings Counseling Center, requires participants to have a valid driver’s license and current registration and insurance. The number of vehicles per lot ranges from one to 15, and lot hours are generally from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Fraternization among those who sleep in the lots is implicitly discouraged – the fainter the program’s presence, the less likely it will provoke complaints from neighboring homes and churches and businesses.

Common Pesticide Makes Honey Bees Picky Eaters

A new study offers further evidence about the dangerous effects of pesticides on honey bees. Biologists at the University of California at San Diego have found that a commonly used crop pesticide makes honey bees picky eaters and also makes them reduce the number of waggle dances they perform. Waggle dances are how the bees communicate the location of a food source; bees exposed to the pesticide performed four to ten times fewer dances.

Indeed, as Daren Eiri, a graduate student and the first author of the study in the Journal of Experimental Biology, says, some bees simply stopped performing waggle dances altogether after exposure to pesticides.

The chemical in question is imidacloprid, which is a type of neonicotinoid — which has been linked to bees’ deaths. Imidacloprid has come under increasing scrutiny in the US and is banned for use in some crops in some parts of Europe. James Nieh, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who also authored the study, notes in Science Daily that, in 2006, imidacloprid was the sixth most commonly used pesticide in California. Besides being used in agriculture, it is also used in home gradens.

Read more…

4/20: How Weed Day Got Its Name

This article was originally published on April 20, 2009, and has been reposted each year since. This year, it is updated to include the full identities of the men behind the coining of the term “420,” as well as additional details. Carly Schwartz contributed to this story.

Warren Haynes, the Allman Brothers Band guitarist, routinely plays with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, touring as The Dead. It’s the spring of 2009, he’s just finished a Dead show in Washington, D.C., and he gets a pop quiz from The Huffington Post.

Where does “420” come from?

He pauses and thinks, hands on his sides. “I don’t know the real origin. I know myths and rumors,” he says. “I’m really confused about the first time I heard it. It was like a police code for smoking in progress or something. What’s the real story?”

Wavy Gravy is a hippie icon with his own ice cream flavor who has been hanging out with the Dead for decades. HuffPost spots him outside the same concert. Asked about the term 420, he suggests it began “somewhere in the foggy mists of time. What time is it now? I say to you, ‘Eternity now.'”

Depending on whom you ask or their state of inebriation, there are as many varieties of answers as strains of medical bud in California. It’s the number of active chemicals in marijuana. It’s teatime in Holland. It has something to do with Hitler’s birthday. It’s those numbers in that Bob Dylan song multiplied.

The origin of the term 420, celebrated around the world by pot smokers every April 20, has long been obscured by the clouded memories of the folks who made it a phenomenon. Read more…

Related:

Harmony House Stanford University

Harmony House Stanford University

A picture I took of a mural on the wall at Harmony House.

The Harmony House is Stanford’s home to the Committee on Black Performing Arts (CBPA). CBPA is an interdisciplinary program in the arts that engages students in the exploration of culture and identity through artistic expression. Through examinations of the complexities of artistic practice, racial construction, and cultural expression, CBPA reaches beyond the classroom to create collaborative art forms that are not currently part of the university art curriculum.

The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

San Francisco City Hall after the 1906 Earthquake

The California earthquake of April 18, 1906 ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Today, its importance comes more from the wealth of scientific knowledge derived from it than from its sheer size. Rupturing the northernmost 296 miles (477 kilometers) of the San Andreas fault from northwest of San Juan Bautista to the triple junction at Cape Mendocino, the earthquake confounded contemporary geologists with its large, horizontal displacements and great rupture length. Indeed, the significance of the fault and recognition of its large cumulative offset would not be fully appreciated until the advent of plate tectonics more than half a century later. Analysis of the 1906 displacements and strain in the surrounding crust led Reid (1910) to formulate his elastic-rebound theory of the earthquake source, which remains today the principal model of the earthquake cycle.

At almost precisely 5:12 a.m., local time, a foreshock occurred with sufficient force to be felt widely throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The great earthquake broke loose some 20 to 25 seconds later, with an epicenter near San Francisco. Violent shocks punctuated the strong shaking which lasted some 45 to 60 seconds. The earthquake was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada. The highest Modified Mercalli Intensities (MMI’s) of VII to IX paralleled the length of the rupture, extending as far as 80 kilometers inland from the fault trace. One important characteristic of the shaking intensity noted in Lawson’s (1908) report was the clear correlation of intensity with underlying geologic conditions. Areas situated in sediment-filled valleys sustained stronger shaking than nearby bedrock sites, and the strongest shaking occurred in areas where ground reclaimed from San Francisco Bay failed in the earthquake. Modern seismic-zonation practice accounts for the differences in seismic hazard posed by varying geologic conditions. Read more…

The Majestic Plastic Bag

I am so happy they have started to ban plastic bags here in California. I for one prefer using my own reusable bags, it just makes better sence.

Narrated by Academy Award-winner Jeremy Irons, this “mockumentary” video, hammers home the stark reality of California’s plastic bag pollution situation.

Charles Moore: Sailing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Capt. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation first discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an endless floating waste of plastic trash. Now he’s drawing attention to the growing, choking problem of plastic debris in our seas.