Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | August 27, 2010

Gloats from the Winner’s Circle: “The Death of the McMansion”

 Sorry it’s been a while, but what can I say, I’ve been depressed. Anyone with half a brain would be depressed right now, watching the ongoing farce of collapse: the BP oil spill cover up, catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, forest fires raging across Russia, and the chorus of rank idiocy that passes for political discourse in an inept harebrained government that is owned lock stock and barrel by corporate Amerika. Things are so bad; people in this country have to work longer and longer, even into their “golden years.” Why Van Halen can’t even retire! And then I read this quote from Google CEO Eric Schmidt-– Regarding the capacity for his search engine to morph into something altogether more monstrous in people’s lives, Schmidt said: “I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”

What started out as sensible, garden variety melancholy over the state of the world, morphed into this kind of Zen hopelessness and pointlessness thing, y’know, like “what is the point of writing?” “Language is only a function of the discriminating mind,” “knowledge is useless,” blah, blah, blah. But, I just read something that gave me the enormous lift you can only get from a good dose of Schadenfreude: The McMansion has been pronounced “dead,” by the Main Stream Media.

It’s been a long time coming, but I knew it would happen sooner or later. We don’t have too many McMansion tracts in these parts of Upstate NY. Folks have been, and still are, either too poor or sensible to buy one of these things. Around Ithaca, there are a couple of McMansion style neighborhoods, especially up on the hills with sweeping views of Cayuga Lake. I refer to these neighborhoods as “Yuppie Reservations.” Where I used to live, though, Northern Virginia, I watched the gradual invasion of McMansions from the late 80’s to the heights of the real estate bubble. It was a gradual phenomenon at first, as one neighbor would buy a piece of prime country land, land that used to be a dairy farm or corn field, and build a garish monstrosity. Soon, neighbors were trying to outdo one another in a game of détente. Once the developers caught on to the trend, you might drive by a forest during your morning commute, and on the way home, it would be there—the access road and the ridiculous sign for “Bumfuck Egypt Estates Farms” or some pseudo English horseshit like “Kensington Manor.” In a week, what used to be viable farm land or forest would be chock a block with Chinese drywalled McMansions, their granite countertops leaking out their radioactive isotopes into the American dream addled brains of their inhabitants, the ones who’d paid for them with “interest only loans.” When I first heard the term back in 1998, I couldn’t believe anyone would be so stupid as to apply for one. One thing I’ve learned over the years, though, is that you could never go wrong betting on people’s stupidity. The supreme irony is that it’s the Free Market that will drive the final nail into the coffin of the McMansion, contrary to the Cornucopian fantasies of those who only worship the Free Market when it’s in their favor. It took $147/barrel oil to kill the Big Car. Now the epidemic of foreclosures and the rising cost of home energy will kill the Big House. What will it take to kill our American grandiosity?

The American Dream? DOA!

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In addition to my four categories, I’m also setting a goal in most categories as I am one of those types who needs to continually have a “firecracker put under my ass” so that I continue to do things…See the archives from May for an explanation of my reasoning behind each category in my ethical challenge.

Save something:  My new action in this category is totally based on something from Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man.  I became disgusted by the amount of energy it takes to dry my hands after washing them at work if I use the blow dryers. Also, the thought of truck loads of plastic trash bags full of compostable paper towels nauseated me.  So I’ve begun bringing my own cloth hand towel with me so that I can dry my hands in an angelic low impact manner.  Additionally, this makes me more efficient, because I can dry my hands while walking back to my cubicle, rather than having to wait with the blow dryer.  This might add like a full 10 minutes a day, because I wash my hands a lot!  My hands are angel soft because the towel is not so drying and rough as the hot air.  And we all know how important that is!

My new goal in this area is to start biking to work again.  Logistically, this is difficult, but between using the public bus and putting a bike rack on my wife’s car, I should be able to make it happen.  The Gulf of Mexico situation is spurring me to action.

Build Community:  I continue as “Secretary” on the Board of our home school cooperative.  I don’t know if this counts as “community building,” but I’ve started cleaning up trash whenever I go to one of our local swimming holes.  Sadly, it seems like wherever college students and/or rednecks go swimming, they tend to leave lots of trash behind.  The worst thing I’ve found was a wet disposable diaper.  Fortunately, it was not contaminated with fecal matter as the swimming hole in question forms part of Ithaca’s water supply.  I started keeping disposable gloves and plastic bags in my swimming hole bag for trash cleanup.  Normally, cleaning up trash left behind by pathetic losers brings out the hateful misanthrope in me.  I’m trying to make this into a spiritual exercise by realizing that the hateful thoughts don’t accomplish anything, but to poison my own mind and that by cleaning up the place, I’m serving a higher power, the stream, the swimming hole, nature, whatever you want to call it.  The idea is just to shut up the mind, and do it, rather than gabbling about it.

My goal in this area is to set up a neighborhood tool swap/library.  This is probably fairly long-term.

ReWild!:  A poor doe was killed in my yard, probably hit by a car.  I thought about saving the hide to make moccasins or something, but when it came to cutting up the carcass, I just couldn’t do it.  I should probably start smaller.  So I dragged her poor body out to the road for collection by the highway department.  Otherwise, I’m harvesting lots of “wild” tea herbs from the yard–St. John’s Wort, clover, yarrow.

My goal is to camp more, at least even in the yard.  I was realizing that it’s been over six years since I’ve set foot in a federally or NY state designated “wilderness area,” a place where “man is but a visitor.”  One of the ironies of “homesteading” is that you tend to get closer to wild nature on a micro rather than macro level, more Wendell Berry than John Muir which is all fine and good.  However, I should be spending some nights outside, even if it’s only in my own woods.  Since I have a six-year-old who is very excited by the idea, it is my fatherly duty.

Be prepared:  Food preservation is in full swing.  I bought a 20 pound bag of salt at Wegmans.  I just wish they had iodized salt in bulk.  I also bought a StoveTec Rocket Stove.  I cooked on it once and it was awesome.  I’ll write a full review after I try it with charcoal.

My goal is to inventory my pantry and to make sure everything is set as I restock during the “dog days” of summer.

Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | July 11, 2010

I’m Proud to Be an American, Where at Least I Know I’m Free?

Americans are looking to be cheered up. The signs are all around. How else to explain the short-lived, but vigorous World Cup Fever that overtook an American public normally apathetic about soccer, or shall I say, “le football”? Last night, as I watched our local fireworks display, on Canada Day incidentally, the action was hot and heavy with what seemed like fireworks shooting machine guns going off for 10 minutes straight during the Grand Finale. I’ve never seen anything like it. Around here, at least.
America could certainly use some cheer. A foreign company has effectively stalemated us in the War on the Environment. The UN is actively calling for the dollar to be replaced as the Global Reserve Currency. The Too Big to Fail Banks, such as Wachovia , that just received a tax payer funded bailout are laundering money for Mexican drug traffickers.  And the entertainment industry whose principal purpose is to keep us distracted from our existential anguish with summer blockbusters has only tepid remakes of bad 1980’s TV shows to offer us like some sort of lame consolation prize.

"Cheer up, fool!"

In honor of this Fourth of July, here are some reasons to be proud to be an American, or at least glad that you don’t live in some worse off country. Though, Ecuador is looking better all the time
1) Homeschooling is legal and the number of homeschooling families is growing every year.
When compulsory attendance laws were first introduced in 1647, in Massachusetts, brave citizens were ready to fight off the government at gunpoint for the right to educate their own children. Now, the same Teabaggers who are ready to fight off government-run health care at gunpoint happily send their children to be brainwashed at a State Run DayCare Facility and pay the taxes to support it. It could be worse, though. You could live in a country where homeschooling is either illegal or so difficult to do that it might as well be illegal, such as Germany, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Greece, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, or Japan. In Germany, your only alternative to a state school is Waldorf education, a system invented by whacked out egghead philosopher Rudolph Steiner and originally intended for poor factory workers’ children. I don’t know about you, but anything intended for the “poor factory worker’s children” immediately makes me highly skeptical. So be happy you’re an American! You could live in Germany and your kids could be making fairies out of wool and dancing around a Maypole for their education.
2) You could live in a country where the water supply has been privatized and it is illegal or you need a permit from the State to collect rainwater. In Bolivia, a subsidiary of Bechtel Corporation pressured the government to require private landowners to get a permit in order to collect rainwater on their own land. In the developing world, multimillion dollar corporations are trying to seize public water supplies and force consumers to purchase their “product” by making it illegal to collect rainwater. Sadly, this practice is not limited to the third world: In California, multimillionaires with connections to Big Agribusiness are trying to privatize the water supply of southern California.  In many Western states, such as Utah and Washington, it remains illegal to collect rainwater. So if you’re lucky to live in a state like New York, where you can harvest rainwater to your heart’s content, be glad for your rights and do everything you can to safeguard them. Back when Ithaca’s water supply was privatized, in the good ol’ Libertarian 19th century, water-borne illnesses like Typhoid were rampant. Let’s not allow this to happen again.

3) You won your independence from England!  Be glad!  It may seem like civil liberties have eroded substantially in America over the past 10 years (well, you’re right), but at least you’re not English, where Closed Circuit Television Cameras spy on every corner of the country.  According to the Wikipedia entry on “surveillance society

“As of Feb 2010, many larger cities in the UK now have CCTV in which if an operator spots anything illegal or troubling, they are able to speak through the cameras via loudspeaker into the street, and some also have microphones to allow them to hear what the public are saying. Also many suburbs and areas that don’t have permanent CCTV are now patrolled with state-owned CCTV vehicles which have CCTV cameras attached to the roof of the vehicle

Now, that’s just creepy! America is vast, hopefully too vast to cover with CCTV cameras.

Additionally, England is starting to catch up with America in terms of rates of obesity, alcoholism, and drug addiction. One in four Britons are now considered obese.  While the USA is still number one in FAT, with 30.6% of the population considered obese, England is running neck and neck with Mexico for the number two slot.  Just give them Wal-Mart and they’ll be set. 

So this 4th of July, remember to celebrate your freedoms.  Most of the a-holes who mouth off about “freedom” would really just impose their own fundamentalist version of sharia on everyone else.  In light of this, it seems doubly important that we counter their hypocrisy with a genuine appreciation for how free we truly are…or at least a tip of the hat to the fact that it could be a lot worse…

Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | June 7, 2010

Ithaca is Doomed does the Ithaca Festival

Every year, it happens, a celebration of all things Ithaca–The Ithaca Festival is three days of fun and music kicked off by the best parade in small town America.  Being the Doomer I am, I saw the darker side of things when I covered this year’s Ithaca Festival.  Here’s a photo essay:

Street performers enact a scene from Cormac McArthy's, "The Road--The Musical" coming to the Hangar Theater

Estrogen in the water supply? My hypothesis proven once again...

"I find your lack of faith disturbing..."

An Ithacan who realizes you can never store away too many plastic bags for when TSHTF

"Nice marmot."

Just as I predicted, the Volvo Ballet took on decidedly Maoist overtones with the acquisition of Volvo by a Chinese company...

These women belong to the Roller Skating Ministry of Interrogation. One of them is named "Chairman Meow!"

A sculptor celebrated the BP oil spill...

A proud Ithacan exploring the future of winter transportation...

Many found the Ithaca Police Department's Mobile Command Center "disturbing." At least we'll be safe if anyone ever tries to throw shoes at the Mayor again...

Ahhh! It's the truck from THE ROAD!!!!!!

Chainsaw wielding Cannibal Rednecks!

Hee Haw Nightmare--What happens when you give Cannibal Rednecks musical intruments...

Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | June 2, 2010

Why is Ithaca Doomed?

Why is Ithaca doomed?  A logical question, begging to be answered, for no one wants Ithaca to be doomed, least of all me.   As I have mentioned elsewhere, Ithaca is no more doomed than anywhere else in the United States of Dysfunction — which is to say, totally screwed.  However, aside from some of the more obvious causes of our future demise, such as packs of feral dogs, cannibal rednecks,  invasive species, hydrofracking for natural gas, and the overabundance of estrogen in our water supply (something I’ll write about at a later time), Ithaca has a problem uniquely its own. I’m not sure what to call it, “liberal asshattery” perhaps?, but Providence has recently provided an archetypal example. 

 Tragically, during the course of the 2009-2010 academic  year, there have been 6 suspected suicides amongst the Cornell student population, three of whom were young, male Engineering majors.  Many of these young adults chose to end their lives by jumping from one of the bridges on campus into one of the two gorges from which the “Ithaca is Gorges” slogan takes its name. There have been so many suicides from these bridges that, over the course of the past 30 years, Cornell has garnered a reputation as a high stress “suicide school.”

Quoted in  a recent New York Times article on the Cornell suicides, Timothy Marchell, a clinical psychologist in Cornell’s campus health services whose specialties include suicide, said that “despite the half-dozen known or suspected suicides this year, historically, Cornell suicides have not been higher than what national statistics predict for a university population of 20,000 students: about two per year.” What makes these suicides unique, and more disturbing, is their highly public aspect and the ominous juxtaposition of beauty and death going on when one contemplates ending it all by jumping into a gorge, a place normally associated with tranquility. 

In response to this “suicide epidemic,” Cornell asked the Ithaca Board of Public Works to erect some “temporary” chain link fences, “suicide barriers,” on some of the dubiously popular bridges.  Originally, the fences were slated to come down on June 4, but Cornell has asked the BPW to extend the deadline another eight to 10 weeks while the city and Cornell work on interim and then permanent bridge barriers.

A Cornell tm suicide barrier

Many feel, as do I, that the barriers mar the inherent beauty of our natural areas, giving them a prison-like atmosphere. What’s more, the entire city resembles a construction zone during the summer months anyway, so it’s all the more disconcerting to see our bridges begin to look like them.  I’m all for preventing suicide, I’m just not sure “suicide barriers” are the means to accomplish this and I’m not sure I want “the Big Nanny state” telling me these ugly chain link fences are for my own good.

On May 24, one of these “suicide barriers” was put to the test.  A local man, not a Cornell student, climbed behind the barrier on the Stewart Avenue Bridge and threatened suicide.  First Responders were called to the scene because an alert citizen had time to see what was happening and called.  Fortunately, Ithaca is not the kind of place where people would chant “jump” ( not yet anyway) at a person contemplating suicide.  Nor was he a Wall Street Banker. 

According to Ithaca Fire Department Deputy Chief Tom Parsons, “people actually saw what was going on and were able to call emergency services and that delay in slowing down the process meant the emergency services responders got there sooner and were able to make personal contact.”  He went on to add that “Firefighters used bolt-cutters to cut through the fence ‘like butter,’ and it didn’t inhibit their rescue efforts.”  Others have disputed this idea, saying that the suicide barriers may have actually hampered the rescue effort.

The Board of Public Works debated extending the deadline for removing the fences at its most recent meeting.  Various issues surrounding the “suicide barriers” were debated, among them the aesthetic and financial concerns. (Cornell has financed the fences thus far. But who would pay for a more permanent solution?)  Jennifer Streid-Mullen, executive director of Suicide Prevention & Crisis Services,weighed in, saying that  “her agency has been advocating for bridge fences since the 1970s. Ithaca’s bridges have become ‘suicide magnets’ and installing well-designed, permanent barriers could help reduce suicide deaths in Ithaca.”

Several Board members questioned the feasibility and efficacy of the suicide barriers, but it was BPW member Cynthia Brock, who really nailed it:   “Only 2 percent of suicide deaths are from jumping,” Brock noted, “asking whether this is really the best strategy to reduce suicide.”  And she went on to encapsulate the whole problem:  “I think it is a patch and allows us in some ways to pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘We’ve done a great job,’ when ultimately, as we’ve seen (Monday), people who are committed to suicide will get over the fence,” she said.

And therein lies the Doom, for the “great suicide barrier debate” is but one link in a long chain of asshattery that stretches back  over the years, possibly even into the 19th century.  If one reads the public comments on this Ithaca Journal article, one discerns a couple of dominant themes amidst the inane babble. One is that if you are anti-suicide barrier, you are instantly an unfeeling cad who has no sympathy either for the victims or the families of anyone who has ever committed suicide by jumping into an Ithaca gorge.  The other theme is more subtle: It involves identifying with the “victimized” group, even though you may not have any direct ties to said group.  This process of identification then allows for you to sit astride the moral high horse.  Even though you may have never given a thought to Cornell college students before, aside from trying to keep out from under their tires, you can now identify with those afflicted by the specter of suicide.  A comment such as this typifies this sort of psychological process: “The FACT is that Suicide is preventable with treatment and by limiting access to the means. If it was your teenage son or daughter who committed suicide from these bridges, you’d think differently about the issue,” wrote one poster in response to someone who suggested tearing down the barriers. 

Here is how it works:  Why question the deeper issues when one can simply respond with quasi-moralistic statements designed to make the other side in the debate feel guilty for even suggesting that suicide barriers are not the real solution, or that the best way to solve racial discrimination in Ithaca might not necessarily be to rename the most visible street in town after Martin Luther King Jr., or that it might not be a good idea after all to invoke the right of eminent domain in order to complete a pedestrian trail?  Many in Ithaca cherish their knee jerk, highly visible “patches” to the deeper problems that beset our fair city and they will defend them with as much vituperative name calling and morally judgmental statements as it takes to get their way.  Sure, there’s some inherent hypocrisy involved, as in “I’ll get all bent out of shape about killing the Cayuga Heights deer while I continue to eat factory farmed meat,”  but aren’t we all hypocrites to a certain extent simply by nature of living in 21st century America?  Dig a bit deeper into the motivations behind many of the most vociferous and there’s often some grant money, some social standing, or some career-building riding behind that “patch,” whether it’s a street name, a pedestrian trail, or a suicide barrier. 

Before I moved to Ithaca, I lived in Chenango County, New York, a county that has a literacy rate approximating that of Afghanistan.  The idea of living amongst such an educated populace as can be found in Ithaca was a dream come true.  People warned me about Ithaca, though, saying it had a nickname, “The People’s Republic of Ithaca.”  At the time, I shrugged off their criticisms, thinking it was just right-winger talk or that they were just “jealous,” stuck in their dying small town while I was on my way to one of the most vibrant places in Upstate New York.  Having been here for almost a decade now, I’m beginning to see what they meant.  There are a few people in this town who could stand to watch a bit more South Park, until they develop a sense of humor.  T.S. Eliot said that the world ends “not with a bang, but with a whimper.”  In Ithaca, New York, the world may very well end with humorless, angry accusations of intolerance and insensitivity from the mouths of the “enlightened.”

On her blog, the Chatelaine’s Keys, writer Sharon Astyk has a feature called “Independence Days.” Independence Days is a way of marking her progress in self-sufficient living. She divides the column into several categories: Planted, harvested, preserved, waste not, want not, Eat the food, Build Community Food systems. Needless to say, the column is skewed towards the food side of things.
I wanted to try a similar strategy for keeping track of my own progress in not only becoming more self-sufficient, but also for living the ethics of “Deschool, unjob, rewild.” As those words are loaded with connotations, I leave it to the reader to infer their own interpretation. I am content to forge on, trying to figure out the meaning for myself. I presume no expertise and am but a fellow traveler on the road to greater freedom, self-sufficiency, and connection with the rest of the world. That being said, here are my categories:
Save something: Any action taken to cut down on waste, eliminate needs, or otherwise tread more lightly on the face of the planet.  Think of Colin Beavan’s, No Impact Man.
Build community: Any action taken to foster the development of connections with other people.
ReWild: Any action taken to foster greater connection with wild nature, the elemental, primal forces of our innermost being. I realize that sounds a bit woo woo, but specifics will elucidate what I mean.
Be prepared!: The Boy Scout motto, and any action taken to get ready for TEOTWAKI, whatever form that may take.
I feel like these are all areas I need to continually challenge myself to delve into more deeply. The Dalai Lama has said that “Every individual has a responsibility to help guide our global family in the right direction. Good wishes are not sufficient; we must become actively engaged.” I feel that when I take action in any of these areas, it leads me to a greater sense of personal power, a deeper sense of ethical meaning, and a deeper recognition of “the common good.” It’s a patient way to be a better person, to continually erode the barriers that separate me from the rest of the world.
Here’s the run-down for this week:
Save something: I now keep a clean five gallon bucket in our bathroom. Every time I wash my face in the tub or run the water to get it warm, I save the excess water in the bucket. I can then use it later for flushing the toilet.
Build community: I am serving on the board of our home school cooperative. I am also the Secretary, which means I will simply listen for a while, instead of trying to push any agenda.
ReWild: I harvested Stinging Nettle from my forest garden. I dried it and drank a delightful spring tonic tea.
Be prepared: I purchased a 25 pound bag of soybeans and a 25 pound bag of hard red Spring Wheat from Cayuga Pure Organics.  We are really lucky to have this farmer’s cooperative supporting our local food system.
Maybe I’ll redo my Links to feature resources both local and not that support my Live Free or Die Tryin’ categories.

Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | May 22, 2010

UnThink!

Sorry it’s been a while…It’s planting time here in sunny Ithaca. Spring works in a funny way here—you catch the first glimmers in February—the sun’s strength increases, some of the birds begin to sing—and then it’s slow and steady until about mid-April, as you track the progress of Spring with the bloom of each new plant or what seed you’re putting in the ground. Come May, it’s an all-out frenzy to take advantage of the increased warmth, day length, and time, always a battle against time, when you have to leave the dew-scented garden to get to your job.
I’ve also been kinda depressed. The mercury in the Doomometer has burst its protective tube and is now leaking into the Gulf of Mexico along with 100’s of thousands of gallons of oil a day. I’ve been awash in feelings of powerlessness and despair, like a Pelican coated in crude, black slime. I’ve been resorting to some of the more juvenile types of activities in order to keep myself sane:

Watching The Colbert Report on the interwebs eases some of the pain, allows one a few hearty guffaws of the liberal intelligentsia breed. While watching, though, I’ve been bombarded with the same, seemingly asinine commercial for a sick new Kentucky Fried Chicken product :

UnThink!

 The KFC Double Down–Two slabs of grilled chicken with bacon and cheese melted in the center beneath the grand slogan, Unthink. The idea, I suppose, is that we should“Unthink,” as defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as “to put out of mind,” what we previously thought about KFC, namely that it sells products that are Unhealthy. One would definitely have to “unthink” to eat these two slabs of greasy, carcinogen laced meat from tortured, anti-biotic residue ridden factory farmed Mcbirds, not to mention some abused Mcswine thrown into the center and some factory farmed Mc Cheese melted in for good measure. Eating such an abomination is eating of the very body of death.
The commercial would also lead a man to believe, if he were to unthink, that eating this execrable thing will increase his manhood, that eating such a thing is a manly need, instead of something that will, in all probability, cause a man to grow breasts, due to the estrogen-mimicking chemicals that might be present in it. This all just goes to show that you can’t “unthink” the devil, for I’ve never consumed a KFC product in my entire life. The torturous show continues to roll on despite my lifelong boycott.
However, the idea of Unthinking has really taken root in my mind. After all, there are many thoughts I’d like to “unthink” right now. UnThink tm. It’s such a great slogan, right out of 1984. It reminds me of “Quietus,” the  suicide kit people could obtain free from the government in the film Children of Men. I get that same sense of over-the-top propaganda from the ads, as well as the fact that eating a few of these things could accomplish the same purpose. That old bastard Edward Bernays himself couldn’t have come up with a better motto for our age. Try as you might, you’ll never Unthink your way out of what writer Joe Bageant calls, the American Hologram. We’re all trapped in this lie together, so you might as well turn on another episode of American Idol  Anus before working on your homework for that college degree you’re getting in “Perception Management.”
Unthink. It’s like a Zen koan in one word—“what is the sound of one mind unthinking?” Repeated viewings of the KFC commercial have caused in me such cognitive dissonance that I’m beginning to think Unthinking might even be a subversive, or at the very least, mildly useful activity.
So, I tried it.

At work the other day, I was stuck in a meeting, seated across from a woman who had no notion of the proper amount of body spray to apply to her, unfortunately Amazon sized, body. She positively reeked of petroleum-based fragrance. Molecules of scented propylene glycol were swarming into my olfactory nerves, causing all systems to shut down. I was just about to fall asleep to escape the situation when I had the brainstorm, “How can I Unthink my way out of this situation?”
Right then and there, I unthought us all into a, post-apocalyptic future and indulged myself in the morbid fantasy that her fetid corpse would probably smell worse than the deluge of body spray. When that began to seem a bit unfair, I thought of her misery as she was forced to confront the reality of her own woman-stink as the just-in-time distribution system broke down and she could no longer get her hands on Secret Vanilla Sparkle Body Spray.
Needless to say, UnThinking, has become a daily diversion of mine. I have unthought the phrase “think outside of the box” uttered by a work colleague into “Help! I’m trapped inside this box!” I unthought a small bowl of yogurt into a huge tub of ice cream. In fact, I’m unthinking even as I sit in this office chair staring out my window at the puffy clouds. I’m unthinking my way out, the memory of chairs and desks erased from my body as I run free under the blue bowl of the sky.
When I was in high school, I ran for student government on an anti-ignorance platform. I would stamp out ignorance within the students and teachers of my school and usher in a new age of enlightenment. How I would exactly accomplish this, I never specified, but I had great campaign slogans, such as “The dinosaurs died out because they were ignorant. Don’t let this happen to you.” If only I had known then, that 20 some odd years later, the perfect campaign slogan would be invented—Unthink! As our Amerikan Empire slouches onward to Gomorrah, Unthinking has become the new norm. I only wish I’d thought of it much sooner…

It’s Spring, glorious Spring here in sunny Ithaca and that means only one thing around my place: Gardening until you feel like you’re going to vomit. Big time projects are under way, as well as the minutiae of ordinary food production. I just started my first mushroom logs and I think this will be the year I finally get some chickens. With all this busyness, precious little time is left for reading, one of my other favorite activities. This is probably the main thing I like about winter and the one reason I look forward to the death of most of the garden come December. 

Even though I was an English/French major in college, I feel a duty to maintain a pragmatic approach in my choice of reading material. This means I’m usually reading about preparation, survival, gardening, or homeschooling. Fiction is a dubious luxury, one only reserved for those dark December nights, curled up next to the wood stove drinking some Lemon Balm tea. What kind of fiction does any self-respecting Doomer curl up with? Why End of the World novels, EOTW lit. for short. The great thing about most EOTW Lit. is that such novels can impart practical life lessons while spinning a good tale. So when you turn the last page, you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time. 

Here are the EOTW novels I read last Winter, along with a brief review and the practical Doomer lesson I derived from having read the book(s): 

Dies the Fire, S. M. Stirling.  What would the world look like if only the geekiest, dorkiest elements of society survived?  Find out in Stirling’s  trilogy which starts out with a fast crash scenario and turns into a swords and sorcery fantasy epic later on.  In contemporary Portland, Oregon, a mysterious event called “the Change” renders all electronics, internal combustion engines, and gunpowder inoperative.  The survivors comprise Wiccan folk singers, members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and J.R.R. Tolkien freaks.  As the crash stabilizes, each group forms a quasi-medeival society in the New Dark Age, replete with lots of action-packed battle scenes involving swords made from old car parts.  Be forewarned:  Dies the Fire is but the beginning of a very long trilogy that will suck you in for many a sleepless night.  There is a second trilogy comprising the adventures of the next generation of survivors following “the Change.”  I read the first book, but lost interest enough to finish the whole thing. 

 

 

Practical stuff: Aside from getting me to think about what would happen to all the zoo animals in a fast crash scenario (escaped tigers manage to survive and breed in the altered Willamette Valley,) Stirling illuminates through vivid descriptions, the hard work and enormous amount of human power that would be required in the absence of fossil fueled energy. One lengthy description of harvesting wheat by hand was particularly well-researched and so real I could hear the scythes cutting through the stalks of grain. Each society portrayed in the novel develops a different way to confront this basic dilemma: slavery, communal effort, division of labor are but a few solutions; but there is no denying that feeding, defending, clothing, and housing a large group all by hand will be a total bitch in the absence of fossil fuels. 

Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler. In a genre traditionally dominated by white males, Octavia Butler is unique in that she is both an African American female and writes from that perspective. The Parable of the Sower is the story of a young black woman’s coming of age against the backdrop of a collapsed Southern California in which climate change wreaks havoc on the weather and users of a mysterious drug called Pyro wreak havoc on everything else. The protagonist is an Empath. Her mother abused a drug resulting in a strange birth defect that causes her to feel the emotions and physical sensations of others. She feels the beating when her brother gets punished. She experiences an orgasm when a couple near her makes love. Needless to say, it is very difficult for her to kill other people or animals. She also creates her own religion, writing a treatise called “Earthseed,” whose central tenet is the idea that “God is Change.” In a powerful way, the novel illustrates how one charismatic individual can use her beliefs to rally others to survive even the grimmest situations. 

Practical stuff: I realize this will sound kind of trite, considering that The Parable of the Sower is actually a respectable work of literature, but the main life lesson the novel got me pondering  was the threat posed by feral dogs.Wild dogs are an ever -present danger in the book, organizing into highly intelligent packs capable of taking down the hapless or not so well-armed. There’s one particularly gruesome scene in which a feral dog runs by with a child’s arm in its mouth.  Around here, we’re chock a block with pitbulls.  Eighty percent of the dogs at the local SPCA on any given day will invariably be pitbulls.  Pitbull ownership is not limited by socioeconomic status or group identification around these parts.  If the shit goes down and it’s TEOTWAWKI, one can only hope that people will either eat their dogs first or the harsh winters will kill them off.  Not being much of a dog lover, in any event, I intend to be well armed against the threat. 

Pitbulls are terrorists in our midst!

One Second After, William Forstchen  Set in the small mountain town of Black Mountain, North Carolina, this novel portrays the immediate aftermath and first year following a full on Electromagnetic Pulse attack against the United States.  The EMP blast wipes out all electronics, unless they have been “shielded’ beforehand, something that, according to the foreword to the novel by Newt Gingrich, has only been done in very limited cases.  For the denizens of Black Mountain, this means immediate chaos.  Commuters are stranded in the town when the computers in their cars suddenly cease to function, adding to the confusion.  The citizens of Black Mountain band together, organizing a functional government and a well-armed militia.  Needless to say, things still get pretty ugly before all is said and done.  Forstchen is obviously on the moderate right of the political spectrum and sometimes his characters function as mouthpieces for his political views:  there’s a great deal of “America worship” and appeals to the Founding Fathers and all that blah blah.  The writing is a bit clunky at times too, like how I imagine a Tom Clancy novel might be, with a bit of foreshadowing at the beginning that hits you over the head like a brick.  Still the book is very well-researched and it engaged me emotionally, to the point where I was about to cry in one touching scene.  Of the three books I read, I would recommend this one above all if your time was limited. 

Practical stuff:  The novel presents a well-researched and vivid account of what life might be like following an EMP attack.  It’s scary and makes you want to pressure your political representatives to be prepared for such an event.  As such, the most compelling thing in the novel is the plausible account of exactly what die off could be like under a fast crash scenario.  People die in the immediate aftermath from heart attacks and strokes brought on by shock and physical exertion.  Nursing homes become morgues in the absence of power.  Then there is the slower death brought on by starvation and lack of sanitation.  Diseases, such as diabetes and asthma, that would have been a death sentence prior to the fossil fuel age, become  just that.  One of the things I’d never thought about is the psychological effects of drug withdrawl for all of the people taking anti-pyschotics and anti-depressants.  Once again, not pretty.  The novel definitely makes you want to brush up on your medical survival skills and get your ducks in a row regarding medical preparations.  Being of the conservative political persuasion, Forstchen omits one factor that would have done his characters a world of good:  medical marijuana.  The backwoods Hippie could have been a saviour. 

Now that I’ve gotten my English major geek/freak on, it’s time to get out and plant potatoes.  No more EOTW lit. for me until the sequel to James Howard Kunstler’s World Made by Hand comes out this Fall. 

 

Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | April 17, 2010

April 15, 2010: A Tax Revolting Day in Ithaca, New York

April 15 brought out many Ithacans doing what Ithacans do best:  Making creative signs and holding them up for all the world to see.  Protesting, in short.  Our local newspaper covered only two of the three protests that were happening on Tax Day.  I, however, covered all three.  In the interest of “citizen journalism,” I took a lunch break from my largely tax dollar funded job and went out, posing as a wayward naif in search of belonging, to get the skinny on each group of protesters.  Therefore, you might say my coverage is not only “fair and balanced,” it’s actually triploid!

First up, was a group of Libertarians, Ron Paul supporters, and War Tax Resisters gathered in front of the public library.

The guy in the jailsuit was the only costume I saw all day.

 

I warmed to this group immediately due to the largely non-partisan nature of their protest signs, and the fact that they were against the two issues I consider most relevant:  the unjust wars our nation is fighting and the bailouts.  I approached this woman at random, and asked her a few questions:

I spoke with this woman. I also liked her sign.

“So are you the Tea Baggers?” I asked.  “No,” she replied, “I stand for peace and an end to war.  I also don’t believe we should have to pay for these unjust wars.”  I liked her right away.  We talked of several issues: No Child Left Behind and its requirement that armed forces recruiters be allowed access to high schools  was a biggie for her.  She pointed out that this was a mixed group, composed mostly of Libertarians, War Tax Resisters, and Ron Paul acolytes, one of whom had even run for some sort of office I could not remember.  (I overheard someone asking that guy if he was Ron Paul.)  It should be noted that this group was well-organized and was the only group of the three to hand out any sort of “literature.”  “Have you gone over to Maurice Hinchey’s(D-NY) office?” the woman asked me. “I think you’ll find what you’re looking for there.”  I thanked her for the tip and ran over to the corner of Cayuga and Green streets.

Isn't it disrespectful to use the Flag as a sunshield?

Upon seeing a guy waving a giant American Flag, I knew I had found the Tea Party protesters. However, I sped right past them, over to the other side of the street because: a) I wanted to make sure they weren’t hostile and b) they were being interviewed by the local news channels (unlike the other two groups.)

What I found across the street, in front of the Tompkins County Library, was a group of largely Democrat types who had pro-tax and pro-health care signs.  This guy had the best sign amongst them:

I chose a woman at random (actually she seemed really nice) and asked her a few questions.  “So are you guys affiliated with any group?”  “Some of us are registered Democrats,” she replied.  “Mostly we organized a spontaneous counter-protest to the one over there (indicating TeaBaggers) because we wanted people to know that they do not represent the majority of Ithacans.”  “I feel so conflicted,” I said. “I mean, alot of taxes I support: for libraries, police and fire departments, etc.  I hate public schools, though.  I do support single payer health care.  I just don’t know where to go with this.”  “You belong with us,” she said.  Finally, I asked, “So, have there been any taunts, hostile remarks, or incidents of violence from the folks across the street?”  “No,” she replied. “But I’m ready for them if they get rowdy.”  On the flip side of her sign was written “Cut it out, you RACIST FUCKS!!!!” or something like that.

Finally, I was ready to bag the big TeaBagger game.  I sauntered over to the other side of the street to speak with one more random woman.  “Are you Michelle Bachmann?” I asked.  “No,” she laughed, “but she’s great!”  I told her I was dissapointed that none of them were dressed up like our Colonial American Founding Fathers (and Mothers.)  Her reply was admittedly clever.  “Our taxes are so high here, we couldn’t afford to rent the costumes,” she told me.  “So,” I asked, “Are those “radicals” across the street giving you any trouble?”  “No,” she said. “We’re staring them down.”  Finally, I suggested that their protest might be more effective if they adopted Operation Rescue like tactics and staked out in front of the Post Office, blocading anyone from turning over their innocent tax dollars to the evil federal government.  This brought a laugh.  On the way out, I noticed two guys who work at the public library.  “Hey, you guys work at the library!” I shouted.  “Shhhhhh,” they shushed.  “Oh, I get it,” I replied.  “Obama is from Planet X!” I shouted for good measure. 

With that, it was time for me to get back to work.  I drove by the Tea Baggers and yelled “Corn Pone Fascists” at them.  This brought quizzical looks.  All in all, it was an exciting and peaceful Tax Day here in Ithaca, New York.

Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | April 10, 2010

In Praise of the Wild Leek

I don’t know what the weather has been like where you are, but in Ithaca, it’s been totally freakish. After a week with highs in the 80’s, we just experienced a freeze warning last night. The high temperatures triggered a massive wave of flowering, particularly among cherry trees.  I was out last evening wrapping my Nanking Cherries in row cover to prevent a total loss.  They were in full flower.  Luckily, the peaches had only a few open flowers and the apples have not yet bloomed.  Even more fortunate, we did not get the frost because the cloud cover stayed in place.  It’s a rare day that I actually wish for clouds in this seemingly perpetually grey land.

 Another group of plants that have bloomed early this year are the Spring Ephemerals, two to three weeks early by my reckoning.  It started last week with the Hepatica and continued to the point that, as of yesterday, the Trillium and Blue Cohosh were about to flower.  Mayapples are even coming up in some places.  We can’t have “April Apples” now can we? 

One plant that has been particularly welcome to these eyes and stomach is the Wild Leek, Allium tricoccum.  Ramps, as they were dubbed by early English settlers in Virginia due to their similarity to the Wild Garlic, or “ramson,” as they were called in the Elizabethan dialect, were something I first met in the southern Appalachians.  Down south, they were something of a rarity.  It was to my great delight that I found them growing in profusion here in the forests of the Finger Lakes, carpeting the forest floor in green usually around mid-April.

Harvest ramps from a stand that looks like this:)

 

If you harvest ramps, cut them from the lower stem, since the bulb will keep growing and eventually set seed, sometime in late summer.  Also, don’t take more than 10% of a stand so as not to impact the wild population.  They are obviously profuse and able to hold their own quite well, but ramps are threatened in some places, such as Quebec, due to over-harvesting.

From forest to kitchen sink...

For the Iroquois and for early white settlers, ramps were the first spring green.  They’re high in vitamin C and must have been a welcome addition to the diet after a winter of dried fruit and salted meat.  It’s as a sautéed green that I find them to be best.  They’re wonderful as a side dish, whole ramps sautéed in olive oil, or cut up and sautéed until wilted as I did for this noodle salad of wild ramps with roasted cauliflower and sun-dried tomato.  I read of someone using them in Kim chi which sounds very exciting.  I’d also imagine you could dry them for use as a seasoning or ingredient in soup base.

sautéed ramps, roasted cauliflower, and balsamic vinegar! Yum!

 

In England, ramsons are popular as a Forest Garden plant.  I have transplanted many clumps of A. tricoccum to my own property.  These were collected from a friend’s land where there were enough to gather a few clumps from diverse spots without impacting the overall distribution of the plant.  I’m imagining I’m helping the plant to spread its genes farther a field, but do be careful and respectful of the overall population in an area when either collecting or transplanting them.  After the plants set see, I rake back the leaf litter from around them and scatter the seeds in late summer, hoping that the effort will pay off in an entire carpet of them before too long.  Ramps like to grow under Maples, Beech, and Birch.  I’ve also seen them growing around Oaks.  Here’s a good page about ramp cultivation.

 Ramps have gained enough popularity lately, thanks to shows like Iron Chef that they’ve been picked up by the “foodie” crowd.  Now farmers in upstate New York can fulfill every Upstater’s dream of selling “weeds” to city folk at astronomical prices.  Actually, you can do that right here in Ithaca, selling ramps to people who moved here from New York City at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market.  Once you’ve befriended them, take them out to the woods and teach them how to gather this wonderful delicacy on their own.  To paraphrase the old Chinese saying:  “Sell a man a ramp, and you feed him for a day while turning him into a sucker.  Teach a man to find a ramp, and you feed his soul for life.”

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