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It’s Done!

I cancelled the extended cable. No more bottom-feeding entertainment. Sadly, also no Good Eats, Iron Chef or Mythbusters — no more Daily Show. These things I’ll miss, but the brain rot, I won’t. And thanks to A, I’ll still be getting tapes of the new GE episodes every couple months.

Yay, one less distraction in the house!

UPDATE: I also just nuked my Audible subscription. I’m backlogged on audiobooks, anyway. I started the subscription because the Library was taking FOREVER to get the last three Dark Tower books on audio. In hindsight, I wish I had that $40 back. Bleh. Still, I did get some lovely books, ones that the library couldn’t get on tape — Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris, Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman. I’ll treasure those audiobooks for a long, long time.

UPDATE AGAIN: Just launched the first Freecycle salvo. Off go an old hatrack, a popcorn popper, my old cappuccino maker (french press from now on!) and a 17″ monitor that I haven’t used since I got my new flatscreen. I found Paul’s grandma’s waffle iron while I was cleaning out the cupboard — I don’t think I’m ready to give that up yet — Alton just did a show on waffles and I may give them a try. (Oh, shut up. You guys all know I’m totally Alton’s lurve slave.)

Yikes.

Dr. James Lovelock thinks we’ve pushed Mother Earth too far to save her.

Go me!

As usual, I celebrated MLK day by getting my tax act together. I’m anal enough in my own business dealings to not just hand my accountant a shoebox full of receipts. Every year, I go through and enter, by hand, all my receipts and expenditures, all my income and outgo, into a nice priddy XL sheet so that I can find everything from year to year.

Last year, what with the house purchase and the wedding and the move and the heyyyy, it took me a week to get it all entered and shored up.

This year? About six hours. Go me!

Slackathon

This weekend we had a small get-together with a group of friends, called the Bleak Midwinter Slackathon. At first it was just going to be Virus and Mike and Dagny, but since we missed Emily and Dirk on their way through Kzoo last time, we decided to invite them along, too. Some fellow Kalamazooans (Kalamazerds? Kalamazudlians?) also dropped by, and we had a really nice time doing a whole lotta nothin’.

Well, that’s not true. We made a double batch of cheese, and Mike baked bread, and we went to Bell’s, and ate a whole lot of good food. But it was fun, relaxing stuff. Yay.

Here’s the group:

Here’s Dirk and Emily:

Brodie plays King of the Clothes Pile:

Basia plays Queen of the Blanket Pile:

Mike plays King of the Virus Pile:

The Couch plays King of the Mike Pile:

And a grand time was had by all.

YAY!

Muchas Smooches

Miz Coopah, she lurves her some Brodie.

Brodie, he not so sure.

Hairs cut

A week or so ago, I got my hairs cut. Here are the photos:

Before:

After:

The Braid:

The Braid attacking Paul:

City Hippies

These guys are fun. They’re what I imagine M & D might accomplish someday, only with the volume turned up to eleven.

They have a cob oven, they brew their own BioDiesel, make their own soap, keep rabbits, chickens and ducks, and live in suburban Pasadena. Everything you see them growing is being raised in a 1/10 acre plot: their total lot space is just 66 x 132 feet. The last two years, they’ve produced over three tons of food each year.

From what I can see, the four adults who work on this urban farm are making their living off the farm — mostly by selling organic produce. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had other jobs outside the house — but they’ve been at it for five years now.

Go, city hippies!

New Diet

My brother-in-law Brian has the best idea for a diet, ever. It’s called “The Three-Year-Old Diet”.

You just act like a toddler: eat when you’re hungry, refuse to eat when you’re not hungry, sleep whe n you’re tired, and run everywhere.

Dang, these kids’ve got it figured out.

Article Roundup

Here’s some interesting reading; several articles I’ve culled over the last week or so from various sources. Paul and I had a really intense conversation last night about what’s coming in the next few years, and these are the main articles I’ve cited while we were talking.

If you guys think I’m a total downer, check out this guy.

If you want some actual hope, check out what those wacky Danes are up to.

If you want something in between, here’s an article from Harper’s, A collection of arguments for and against hydrogen (I recommend both “Twenty Myths about Hydrogen” and “The Hydrogen Hallucination” for both ends of the spectrum), a Treehugger roundup of green power articles, and a hilarious Onion article about gas prices.

In a brief summation of what I told Paul last night, I see things along a sliding scale. Kunstler’s at one end of the spectrum, next to the shrill, survivalist types who are buying gold and building bunkers, along with all those guys who say that the government and big business are not talking about peak oil because they want to keep the public complacent and distracted so they can amass as much wealth as possible while bringing around the end of the fossil fuel age as quickly as possible, rather than drawing it out over a number of slowly-declining decades.

On the other end of the scale are the Pollyanna types who say we won’t need to cut our energy intake at all and that hydrogen or nuclear’s gonna step in and save everyone and the world will be bright and clean forever (*jazz hands*).

I’m about 65% of the way towards Kunstler’s end. Maybe a little more.

I think we’re heading for some serious trouble over the next couple decades, as we make our way from complete and total dependence on fossil fuels to a more hybridized grid of various sources — some renewable and some not. I think there are going to be some very painful years during this transition, made all the more difficult by the fact that no one seems willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make the transition go more smoothly. I don’t think the world, or our economy, is gonna collapse in the next calendar year, and for the record, my idea of hell is an isolated, gun-bristling subsistence farm somewhere outside of Iron Mountain. I’ve done the hardcore farming in the middle of nowhere, and I’d rather have my friends near and be within walking distance of the Farmer’s market, thanks.

However.

I also believe that our days of boundless luxury and cheap utility are nearly at an end, and that if Paul and I are going to have a life of reasonable comfort, we’d better start incorporating some forms of “inconvenience” into our lives ahead of time: in other words, we need to get used to doing without every single convenience exactly when we want it. I’m encouraging Paul to walk to work on a few days, in case we wind up with only one car, and I walk or bike everywhere I can. The fireplace is a backup heating source, if the cost of natural gas quadruples, and I’m getting myself back into the habit of building a fire every morning, something I did through a significant part of my childhood. I’m going crazy with the garden this year, even planting an auxilliary garden with my mother-in-law, and probably putting in some fruit and nut trees at their farm. There’s a storage freezer in our future, and I’m going to really try to fill it full of food this summer.

I’m not doing this because the end is nigh. I’m doing this because it’s second nature. And peak oil or not, fresh peppers are an insane $3 per pound right now. If I’d grown more and frozen them, we could be eating them for free right now. I think that between inflation and the insane cost of fuel, pretty soon food’s going to get a heck of a lot more expensive, and growing our own will make real sense, not to mention the taste and nutrition benefits.

When I was growing up, the term “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” wasn’t some highfalutin’ concept we had to be taught. It wasn’t even a hippy-dippy term. It was just what you did. It was common sense. Now that I’ve got my own home, and I’m spending a lot of time in it, I’m gravitating back to the ways I was raised with: frugality, self-sufficiency, and growing our own food. The fact that there’s a storm a-brewin’ just gives me all that much more incentive.

So yeah. I’m gettin’ ready for the future by bein’ old-fashioned. Want some cheese dip?

Dip Dip Dip

I made more cheese last night, in an opening cheesemaking salvo for the upcoming Slackathon: ricotta and some sort of devolved mozzerella dip. The mozerella was doing fantastically well up until the last step, whereupon it refused to come together. I think the “CountryFresh” milk I got at the local grocery had been heated too high, destroying the stuff needed to make it stretchy. I’m hoping to score some good, unadulterated milk from Ann Arbor next Monday, to have on hand for proper cheesing.

GrisGris

Man, is it grey out. I literally don’t think I’ve seen the sun in two weeks. Wish I were kidding. Wish to heaven the skies would dump some snow on us so at least it’d be pretty, and I could go skiing. In the meantime, it’s 35F, raining, and about as dreary as you can get. bleh.

On the other hand, I bought stuff with which to make cheese again. I wanted to make it last night, but biology worked against me and I wound up watching Alton on the couch, and not-calling Tish like I said I would, until it was too late. I extra-suck.

So I let the dreary and the tired hijack me, and went to bed at 10:30, something like 3 hours earlier than usual. I needed it, obviously — slept in till eight. Mayhap cheese tonight. I must needs decide on the cheese. Kefir would be nice, but I dunno if I can eat all of it. I’d make neufchatel, but I can’t remember what it tastes like. The 30-minute mozzerella’s a little tasteless; maybe I’ll make it herby this time.

Ah, the wonders of actually having a wee bit of free time.

Fireplace

A couple days after Christmas, we finally got our fireplace insert. It’s way smaller than I pictured, but ours had been a coal-burning fireplace in its previous incarnation, so we didn’t really have a ton of space to begin with.

I bought the insert (which was expensive enough to make me still writhe with buyer’s remorse, something I hope will eventually fade) for a number of reasons. Reason the first was that since both our furnace and hot water heater vent up the chimney, there’s no way to put in a damper or flue; we basically had just a solid column of cold air coursing through the middle of the house. Reason the second was that when we did actually burn the fireplace, it made the whole room noticably colder as it drew the warm air right up the chimney.

So… now we have a 70% efficient insert. It’s pretty, and nice, and big enough to use our new piecookers in (THANKS, NANCY!) but it doesn’t throw as much heat as I’d expected. I plan to burn it whenever I’m home — we can get rid of all the branch-and-leaf trash our trees throw down, and all our junk mail, and whatever scrap wood we have — to offset the astronomical heating bills we’ve gotten lately ($300 this last month and likely to climb! Argh!)

Anybody in the Michigan area got some scrap wood hanging around? The firebox is 18″ and can burn most anything. We’ll pick up. :)

Happy New Year.

Happy new year, everyone. 2005 was a rough one for me in many ways, but was also a very rewarding one in others. Here’s best wishes for the new.

My Resolutions, in no particular order:

  • Eat less, move more.
  • Floss.
  • Continue to make my life more environmentally friendly wherever I can.
  • Stop wasting so much time on the internet. (damn.)
  • Want what I have, not have what I want.

Well, now, this is troubling.

A recent entry in Grist magazine reveals some of my worst fears: that BioDiesel may be worse than its petroleum counterpart. George Monbiot has also written a very eye-opening article about BioDiesel.

I don’t doubt that these articles are true, every word. I’m trying not to be too blinded by the fact that I spent close to ten grand last year buying a car specifically for the purpose of burning what I thought would be a better fuel stock. But part of me wonders: without some sort of saving grace, won’t the rainforests be pulled down to satisfy some other greedy urge? I’m not suggesting that this makes BioDiesel exempt from these charges, but it seems that man’s greed knows no limits or boundaries, and that if it’s not Palm Oil, it’ll be more beef cattle for McDonalds, or more board-feet of lumber for Home Depot.

What can we do here? Monbiot asserts that Britain’s already talked about banning the imports of cheap Palm Oil from Indonesia and other tropical countries, and has passed that over as being a hindrance to the world trade market. It’s true; technically each country has a right to rape its own landscape for money.

Should we stop using BioDiesel? Should we not pass laws to make retailers use a percentage of BioFuel, if it might come from razed-rainforest plantations? After all — it’s Big Oil that will be blending the fuel, and they certainly won’t buy rapeseed oil from American farmers if they can get Indonesian slave-labor palm oil for a fraction of the cost. We cannot count on the ethics of capitalism; money seeks the lowest level.

I’ll have to think more about it before I can come up with a solid answer. My current response is that we should use BioFuels as a small fraction of our total use, but not look to make it be our saving grace. To even think so is lunacy — Monbiot makes a rough calculation that to power just the cars in Britain with rapeseed oil would take a plantation roughly the size of Great Britain itself. I think BioFuels have a very important place, however — and that’s in waste reclamation.

If we’re willing to put forth the effort, we could turn quite a bit of our total waste — whether it’s turkey parts from a Butterball plant, or spent grain from the Coors Brewery — into some sort of BioFuel. I think that’s the direction that should be encouraged when talking about the development of the BioFuel industry — that and domestic production.

Some would argue that putting a governmental requirement for a certain percentage blend of biofuels amounts to a government subsidy of farmers, both small and corporate. Well, that’s true, but when it comes down to it, the things worth keeping at a societal level often have to be subsidized by the government, whether it’s the subways or the airlines or even the school systems. I’d say functioning farms, and the agrarian infrastructure associated with them constitute something worth keeping. Is giving farmers a government-sanctioned market for their products as bad an idea as bailing out Delta to keep them flying, or giving Walmart huge tax breaks?

I don’t know. I’d be very happy to hear opinions from readers.

I guess the final end to the argument is this: we simply must curtail our use of fuel. Period. There’s no other argument to be made. We cannot create enough energy to sustain our current use of energy, let alone the need that continues to rise as the rest of the world struggles to reach the Western level of opulence.

I try wherever I can to reduce my intake, and to encourage my friends and family to do the same. I raise a percentage of my own food, I don’t shop at large container stores when I can avoid it, and I generally try to get along by consuming as little as I can. I drive rarely, walk often, and bike when the weather’s good. When I must consume, I try to make thoughtful choices about what I purchase, and from whom I purchase it. Short of buying land in the UP and becoming a subsistance farmer, I don’t know that there’s much more I can do (I could get rid of my car, and I suppose I can’t have too high-horse an attitude until I do that).

Readers, what do you think?

UPDATE: This article, pasted into the BioDieselNow Forums, rebuts a few of Monbiot’s claims. Not that rainforest depletion is a laughing matter. Ever. But it may not be as radical or swift of a change as he claims.

Moneymaker…

Paul has the best money making idea, ever.

See, we phone up Paul Rubens — God knows he ain’t got any other work — and get him to put his Pee Wee Herman voice on car alarms.

Think about it. We’d make millions, and criminals would run away screaming, “MAKE IT STOP!”

Snow

The snow is mocking me.

After nearly a month of being buried under a foot of the stuff, it all melted immediately after Chirstmas and has stayed away during the entire time I’ve had to ski.

Darnit.

Steamboy

So Paul and I watched Steamboy last night. It made me really sad.

If you’ve not seen it yet, you’d best turn away — I’m going to spoiler the heck out of it. You’ve been warned.

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Steamboy’s the most recent effort by Katsuhiro Otomo, the same director who did Akira. Others have done better reviews of it than I, so I won’t bother doing a recap of what happened in the movie. I’ll only tell you what made me so disappointed.

So, Steamboy’s father and grandfather, representing the two sides of science — progress at all costs, and progress in the name of humanity, respectively — wind up sending this gigantic floating war-castle rampaging through London. The castle depowers and winds up crashing through the city as it falls from the sky. The grandfather, though in opposition to his son’s warlike urges, realizes he must work with his son to extricate the faltering castle from downtown, where it’s endangering countless thousands. So the pull some levers, and the castle sprouts mechanical legs, and they walk it through the city, destroying several city blocks in the process, back to the Thames whereupon it explodes, showering the city with superfrozen water. The movie ends with the father and grandfather mysteriously escaping, and as the credits roll, we see that the grandson, the eponymous Steamboy, goes on to become a great warrior in the name of science, and the spoiled rich entrepreneur’s daughter goes on to become a great pilot-warrior int he name of science.

This ending, despite the brilliance with which it was executed, made me terrifically sad. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen too much destruction in the last calendar year — from the tsunami, to the Pakistani earthquake, to New Orleans — but I simply could not stomach the destruction of half a city being laughed off by the protagonist. Steamboy’s father and grandfather blew up half of London, killed thousands of people, invoked the wrath of the British Navy, and left countless citizens homeless. The protagonist’s response? “Oh well, that’s science for ya. Ain’t it great? I’m gonna be a fighter pilot!”

The odd thing is that Otomo’s previous film, Akira, was decidedly in the pacifist camp; behold the horrors of nuclear war. This film was far more ambiguous — both the father and the grandfather’s arguments were very persuasive, and the audience, like Steamboy, was forced to make up their own minds about which was correct. However, all the senseless destruction with no ramifications really made me queasy. I mentioned to Paul that this is one of the few reasons I like Mark Millar’s “The Ultimates” — when a creature goes berserk in a city and kills a thousand people, there’s huge sociopolitical fallout for it. Here, just on a rough guess, probably a hundred thousand people are dead, injured or homeless, and the ten-year-old kid just shrugs? That’s not just bad scriptwriting, that’s fucking insane. I don’t even care that the movie didn’t turn out to be a pacifist epistile; I just want some sort of acknowledgement that war has consequences.

Another issue was young “Scarlett” O’Hara, who was an absolutely atrocious character. She set the progress of more enlightened animated female heroines (please see every single Miyazaki movie ever made) back by about fifty years. Scarlett was so awful that the mere suggestion that Steamboy might have romantic inklings toward her was utterly laughable — I literally kept rooting for Steamboy to push her off the roof.

The movie, in its defense, is one of the most utterly beautiful, well crafted films I’ve ever seen. The artwork is breathtaking, revolutionary, astounding– and I think that’s why the ending hurt so bad. It wasn’t just muddy, ambiguous storytelling; it seemed like Otomo veered away from the message that he was trying to deliver throughout the entire film, and not sticking the landing completely devalued everything he spent the entire movie building up.

Otomo brought another layer of depth and relevance to story by setting his movie in London; it’s easy to blow off Godzilla when he’s stomping through a city you can’t relate to — but his London was so brilliantly rendered that anyone who’s so much as seen postcards of Big Ben would be affected by its destruction. However, when the explosions and destruction are so beautiful that their sheer magnificence nullifies the pacifist message that Otomo tries to deliver, a lot of that power is lost.

The sad thing is that it wouldn’t have taken very much to redeem the entire film. The final five minutes and the credit reel, if subtly altered, could have made this a magnificent story. Paul and I discussed this over breakfast this morning: What would Miyazaki have done with this story? Honestly, the entire film, right up until the end, had the distinct whiff of Our Hero Hayao. Here’s how we decided the ending to a Miyazaki-directed version of Steamboy would have played out:

Steamboy and Scarlett look out over the devastation of London. Their expressions veer from the exhaltation of survival to the realization of the destruction their relaitives have caused. Faces set in grim determination, they re-enter the city as credits roll. Through a series of highly-detailed, sepia-toned paintings, we see Steamboy repurposing his father’s siege engines to rebuild the city: The high powered “Steamtrooper” armor is used to heft fallen walls, the Leonardo-inspired flying backpacks are used to lift girders back into place, the aquasuits remove the wreckage from the Thames and rebuild London Bridge from below.

As years pass we see young Scarlett, inheritress of the O’Hara munitions empire, using her family’s dirigibles to airlift food to the poor, or wounded behind enemy lines. She is still a gladhanding young harridan, but she’s seen the horrors of war at age eight, and has no desire to spend the rest of her life selling people things used to destroy one another.

The final scene is an older Ray Steam and Scarlett working together in some sort of famous reconstruction scene, such as the rebuilding effort after the Spanish Civil war (Guernica placed strategically in the background), or the destruction of a French city during World War I.

Fade to black.

There, that’s far more satisfying, isn’t it? And not sappy at all. Redemptive. Way better than the two kids going on to be warmongers.

Anyway. I’m done ranting now. I gots more art to do. Final analysis: Incredibly brilliant, beautiful film. Shitty ending.

Drawing

I’ve got a surprising amount of art done in the last couple days. Know why? I left the house. Three separate evenings, I went out to the Rocket Star and hung out. I probably got three times as much done than if I’d stayed in my studio. I’ve been trying to stay on an internet fast through the holidays — considering I usually spend between 8 and 12 hours a day on line (work and then Fiery Studios work), only logging about a half-hour a day is pretty good. What’s best is getting the heck away from the blasted thing, and remembering that the internets will still be there tomorrow in all their electronic glory.

Holiday Season

So the Holiday season is finally over, as of tonight. Sorry I’ve been out of touch recently, but I’ve had a positively heavenly week off from work, and I’ve been doing my darndest to stay the heck off the internets. If you’ve not received a response to your email, please forgive me; I’ve been doing a stress-detox cocktail that involves a lot of drawing, reading, and hanging out with my husband. We’ve been enjoying wine in front of the fireplace rather than watching TV in the evenings, and it’s been just what we’ve both needed.

The holidays themselves went very smoothly. We have a rule against visiting multiple places on one day, so we spent Christmas Eve Eve with Paul’s brother and sister, then did our own gift exchange, spent Christmas Eve with Paul’s family, Christmas Day with my family in Chelsea, and spent another post-Christmas with Paul’s nieces and nephews in Milford. Rather than go into long boring details of the days, I’ll just say: Every one was happy and wonderful in its own way. Paul has a really, really nice family, and I enjoy all his sibs and parents very much. My family was in great good spirits, and we had a surprisingly deep and strident theological discussion after dinner — complete with strongly opposing positions — and everyone came away both calm and enlightented. It was really great.

Paul’s parents gave me a very thoughtful gift indeed — after hearing me talk at length about my gram’s old Finnish Steam Juicer, the found one at Target and got it for me. Now I’ll have a way to make the wonderful concord grape juice my mom used to make. It’s a really useful tool, and I can’t wait to get started using it this summer. Sour cherry juice is high on my list — no pitting, and a fantastic tonic for arthritis! Hooray!

My mom gave us a ton of beautiful matching pottery with the most lovely glaze ever. We have a big bowl and platter and two gigantic soup mugs. We lurve them! Tom and Jim were very thoughtful and got us a power drill with all the trimmings, so now we can do the two dozen projects we’ve had sitting around waiting for a bloody drill.

At the end of all the holiday running round, though, I’m left pretty drained. Even though I haven’t been to work since last Friday, I’ve only had about three actual days off to relax. I’ve had emails from a half-dozen friends asking to hang out, but I’ve been a horrible evil greedy person and haven’t been returning phone calls or running the errands I should. I’ve been drawing, reading, and smooching Paul.

And that’s the bestest present of all.

Here’s something sweet to daydream about:

If Democrats win the House in ’06, and it takes that long to unseat both Cheney AND Bush . . .

Ladies and Gentlemen, President Nancy Pelosi.

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