Language shapes our thoughts? Who cares?

Despite being regular humans with the same eyeballs as the rest of us, did you know that if a language has words that finely differentiate shades of blue and green, the speakers of that language are better able to distinguish colours in the blue-green range?

This is just one of the Five examples of how the languages we speak can affect the way we think, which showed up in my social media courtesy of the TED blog.

This blog seems to show language shapes us. It is interesting, but I think what it implies about behaviour rests on bad assumptions that are closely tied to TED culture, so I would like to bring them into the sunshine.

The centrepiece of the blog is a proposition from behavioural economist Keith Chen, who has analyzed reams of data and found that people who speak a language that separates the future from the present, like English, save less money. People who speak a language that is futureless, like Chinese, save more money.

Chen wrote his own post on the TED blog, where he supplies more detail, gives links to a blog called Language Log, and links to no less than four other people who discuss why they think his conclusions are off-base. He also wrote a guest post on Language Log to expand the conversation. I found all the posts to be concise, interesting, and refreshingly civil and supportive of advancing research. I would encourage you to read them if you like to geek out on this sort of thing.

 

So, the Five Examples show us how language can shape us. But as interesting as this research is, the question isn’t whether people who speak different languages think differently, or even have different skills, or even sometimes behave differently. TED doesn’t put things up just because they are interesting, TED wants to change the world.

I think the implication is if we choose our words carefully, we can change behaviour. If only we share TED’s Ideas Worth Spreading then, at last, everyone would stop being so dumb and do what I want them to do.

The question is can we say something in a way that changes people’s behaviour en masse. We can’t reverse engineer a language, to make English futureless like Chinese. This isn’t about differentiating between shades of blue and green, this is about real-world propositions—can we word something in a way that changes how populations recycle, shop, or drive?

 

The belief—the Myth—of behaviour is that what we think is what we do. If only we could find the right words we could change people’s thoughts. If only we gave people the right information they would act differently. If only we could raise their awareness and make them Wake Up.

Sadly, thinking controls almost none of our behaviour. Most of our behaviour is determined by the physical and social system we are in. How your house is constructed is far more important to your heating bill than your behaviour. How your city is designed impacts how you drive far more than your thoughts about climate chaos.

Now, the system still allows us some choice, but within those parameters our social group makes most of our decisions for us. This isn’t a bad thing. It is pretty obvious we don’t have the time or energy to analyze everything—we need to save our thinking for important things, so we outsource thinking to our social group. This ability to outsource thinking and choice has allowed humanity to accomplish all it has; without it, we wouldn’t even be hunter-gatherers.

When you ignore these facts and focus on language, thoughts, beliefs, and values, you are choosing to continue blaming the victim, not the system. And this is why I disagree with the implications of this post. Sure, language may be able to shape our thoughts. So what? Our thoughts have very little impact on our behaviour.

What has a huge impact is systems. We must build supportive systems, what I call Compassionate Systems, instead of soothing ourselves with the old myths of behaviour.

 

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Wednesday Link Waterfall

no kneadAnother link update, because, well, I have just so many great links.

But I haven’t been idle. Canada Post announced it will be ending door-to-door mail delivery, and I announced The Howl of a Fiscally Conservative Radical Leftist: First they came for the Posties, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Postie…

And Part Three of my vision for One Planet Vancouver hit the innertubes today.

And with that—did I mention I continue to experiment with 100% whole wheat sourdough bread? I am scratching my head. For years I have said the internet is great, but if you actually want to learn how to do something you need a book. As far as bread is concerned, it may be even worse. Every forum has a dozen opinions, often contradictory, and there a dozens of forums. I find myself baking blind.

And with that—more links…

Speaking of bread, I mentioned in My Best Loaf Yet that sourdough may be good for people with gluten sensitivity, and…here is a study.

That’s something Byron Fry sees in his bakery every day. He says the vast majority of his customers are people who were previously gluten-free.

Just a feel-good video, a David and Goliath kind of think, flipping the bird to gravity; Mouse Successfully Steals Enormous Cookie in a Most Epic Triumph.

Root Simple continues to deliver the awesome. I have long admired the many versions of beer can stoves or penny stoves. This one is epically simple, requiring only a pocket knife. Really, next time you are in the woods, be sure to throw your beer cans into the bush as a cache for lost hikers. Lost hikers who happen to be carrying 90% alcohol but no stove.

The Onion continues to prove it is more valuable than a Master’s in Philosophy. Kidnapped Teen Freed, Though Freedom Is Its Own Kind Of Prison, Is It Not?

David Simon, the creator of The Wire, says, ‘There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show’.

Just flat-out interesting; Between Pigs And Anchovies: Where Humans Rank On The Food Chain.

 

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Let me start this with a confession. I am a fiscally conservative radical leftist—and I think we need a new understanding of how an economy should serve society, and what sort of society we want our economy to serve.

Our economy got personal this morning. My clock radio woke me to the news that Canada Post is ending door-to-door mail service, with a loss of 8,000 jobs. This is personal because I know two people who are waiting to be posties. One is a friend, a past postie with seniority, but who moved to a different town and is now waiting and hoping to get a route. Another is our neighbour who is taking night classes and working several jobs, one of which is as an on-call postal carrier.

So, two women I am in contact with several times a week will be impacted by this change. And by impacted I don’t mean they will have to go to fine restaurants less often, I mean they may end up in serious financial trouble. They may have a hard time paying the rent. They may end up making hard choices about feeding their children.
Now, this is the reality of change, change is pain. I am not specifically arguing for door to door mail service. But I do think we need to talk about it, and because I am a radically leftist fiscal conservative, I am not going to toe any party lines.

So, here are my assumptions:

We are oil

Humanity muddled along for millennia; population was pretty stable and life was mostly subsistence. Then coal and oil began to be used on grand scales and the chart of everything went through the roof—population, mining, manufacturing, farming, fish extraction, it all went exponential. Everything requires energy and fossil fuels allowed the economy to expand beyond the limits of today’s sunshine. An expanding economy created surplus food, and surplus food was turned into more people.

Wealth

Wealth is not numbers in your bankbook. Wealth is the products of nature; the metals, woods, animals, plants and fishes. Wealth is also created when humans work natural resources. Nature makes salmon, which we fish and eat, but our leftovers begin to rot and we lose that wealth. So when we add the labour to dry and smoke salmon, we create a new kind of wealth.

What is not wealth is the finance industry. Wealth is actual real things, the products of nature that feed and shelter us, and the products we make from the products of nature. The financial industry is just a shell game, a carnival attraction that suckers the rubes with a ring toss. Sure, you can currently exchange “financial instruments” for real wealth, but until you do that they are not wealth.

Also, knowledge is not wealth. Knowledge is great, and knowledge can help us smoke our salmon better, but until the salmon is actually smoked, you don’t have any wealth. You can’t eat dollar bills, and you can’t eat ideas.1

Fossil fuels are a product of nature and are real wealth. They also allow us to transform the products of nature at a scale millions of times greater than we could with sunshine.

Please note I am not saying that is a good thing. Wealth is not necessarily a good thing. But it is real, and that is why I am a fiscal conservative. I believe our world is finite, and our wealth comes from our world, therefore our wealth is finite. We should spend it wisely.

The Barrel

Oil no longer gushes from the ground. There are virtually no giant, straight old-growth trees. Most of our fisheries have disappeared or are dwindling rapidly. We have become so proficient at harvesting the wealth of nature that we are having difficulty figuring out what to do next.

So let me be clear. We are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Fracking for gas and oil is a sign of system failure. This isn’t innovation, this is desperation—there is no other reason we would use such crazy and expensive techniques.

Engineered wood products are a sign of failure. Really? We need to make boards from grass? We wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t desperate.

Salmon farms are a sign of failure. Salmon used to jump into our boats. The First Nations say there were so many fish you could walk across rivers on the backs of salmon. Salmon cross the oceans eating and exercising to create that perfect, delicious meat—but now we spoon-feed them pablum like babies? Why would we hoover up the sardines and rockfish from South America to grind up and feed the farms if we were not desperate?

We are scraping the bottom of the barrel, and a barrel is a perfect analogy. It is perfect because it is made of wood from a tree that has been shaped by humans to hold more bounty of nature. It is a real thing. It is wealth. And when a barrel is empty, it is actually empty and there is nothing more inside it. This is in sharp contrast to those knowledge workers, the economists, who insist the market will substitute once price signals are sufficient.

Well, there is no substitute for Atlantic Cod, or for old-growth fir, or the deep soils of the plains and river deltas. Wealth is real things, and when we run low, we desperately scrape at the bottom of the barrel. And after we have scraped…the barrel is empty. You can’t eat ideas, even if you have millions and millions of them.

black and white threshold edited

I took this long digression from Canada Post because the people who deliver our mail need real wealth to eat and keep their family warm, but we are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

This morning’s news, plus a list of other layoffs I read last night and the myriad identical stories from around the world, are signs of system failure. We didn’t have layoffs when oil was cheap and plentiful, there were new fields to plough and every tree you could cut was turned into new houses in new subdivisions. But we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Our real wealth is diminishing.

Our real wealth is diminishing. I am sorry it took me so long to say that simple sentence. Our real wealth is diminishing. We are in the time of contraction. I think most of us know that in our hearts, even if we numbly repeat the mantra that growth will return.

Our real wealth is diminishing and the gap between rich and poor is widening and hardening. The poor design of this chart hides the number of people hurt by this. 90% of U.S. families have lost 11% of their income, while the richest 10% have made untold billions.

MI-BZ607_UNEQUA_G_20131110150005

This is not because 90% of people are lazy. This is because the motivational story we tell about our economy does not work in a world of diminishing wealth. Bootstrapping yourself up seldom grants access to the heights of society, but it works well when even the middle class enjoys great luxury. But the middle class is losing their luxury2 as the very rich accumulate more.

As we look around the world we see the rich nations falling in all measures. Even the sacred cow of Life Expectancy has dropped and is not rebounding. The free market, and especially globalization, have proven very good at draining the barrel, but not so good at floating all boats. And now the tide is going out and most of the boats are lying on the sand. The right-wing prescriptions have failed.

But, because our real wealth is diminishing, I don’t think we can take the liberal approach of increasing national debt to stimulate the economy. We don’t need stimulation, we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. We need to learn to live with, and share, what is left in barrel.

So that is my first thing. We should share. Making money is only possible thanks to the investments we have all made in shared roads, shared energy systems, shared legal and monetary systems, et c., et c., and therefore the profits should be shared back. I believe in minimum wages, maximum wages and Guaranteed Annual Incomes. All humans are born equal, and I think we should die having lived with equal amounts of health care, dental care, food, shelter and dignified work.

So, how do we share our diminishing wealth? I am flabbergasted that my city mows my boulevard, vacuums up fallen leaves and carries my garbage out of my backyard for me. The city is nearly bankrupt, and yet I am not expected to compost my own leaves. Similarly, I don’t really mind the idea of walking down to the mailbox. I grew up on a rural route, and can easily cope with an urban mailbox.

Which means we could fire a bunch of city workers, 8,000 posties, and probably millions more who work in jobs created in an expanding economy.

The thing is, I don’t want these thousands of people to try to join the bullshit knowledge economy, or try to compete in globalized industry. I don’t want them to be hungry or fearful. I don’t want them to be ashamed.

I want them to create wealth.

So, I am speaking out for the posties today. I am speaking out for the foundry workers and the furniture builders and the resource towns dying all over this country. I am not saying we should save their industries or support their towns or fossilize any other social structure. But I am saying I think an economy should organize the sharing of our diminishing wealth.

We are in a new era now, and our economy should serve us, not make the situation worse.

 

 

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Wednesday Link Waterfall

marmaladeOur move is mostly done, though the 80-20 rule suggests we still have 80% of the work to go. But, most of the boxes are empty and have been resold on Craigslist, we keep donating things to the Women In Need Thrift Shop, and we can see ever larger patches of floor.

Sadly, a casualty of the move was our Blood Orange crop. The tree is a small standard, about four feet high, and at some point it blew over and dropped its load of four small and unripe oranges. I gathered them up and brought them inside, where the skin slowly turned more orange. Both B and I accidentally started peeling one thinking it was a Mandarin orange, so that tells you how small they were.

But Blood Oranges are Blood Oranges, and there is probably nothing better to do with a tiny, bitter and sour orange than make marmalade. I followed the super easy recipe for Blood Orange Marmalade from Food in Jars, and didn’t bother sealing the jar—it just went straight into the fridge. Yesterday I also baked a loaf of bread—I continue to push My Best Loaf, this time by prefermenting a poolish. I was inspired by this link and conversation on Root Simple showing Craig Ponsford’s whole wheat ciabatta that develops enviable holey-ness.3 The poolish definitely gives the bread more sourdough flavour and lots of rising power. Ponsford also uses lots of flour as the dough goes into the oven, which keeps the crust from burning during the long, hot bake and looks very sexy. I am still experimenting with hydration, so I am not ready to update my bread recipe yet.

So this morning I had a slice of fresh whole wheat sourdough bread with homemade butter and Blood Orange marmalade made with oranges we grew ourselves. As breakfasts go, I enjoyed it a great deal.

 

New on deck this week; Being a treatise on Significant Innovations in Egg Pickling, in which I drop two major bombs on the debate about how to hard-boil eggs. Answer: Don’t.

As always links abound:

Ecovative builds a proof-of-concept (tiny) house with mycelium grown inside the wall; structure and insulation in one.

Siberian percussionsists play Baikal ice.

The threat of Buddhist extremism is spreading.

Beyond organic—raising Instinctual Pigs.

Remember How We Forgot? Shank Koyczan spoken word with violin accompaniment.

Want to hook your solar panels to the grid? Read this first.

And James Howard Kunstler speaks truth to…well, probably to the choir.

My basic wish is that we would quit all our wishing in America and get on with the job of transforming our economic arrangements to a scale and mode that are consistent with the resource and capital realities of these times .

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Pickled eggsWell over a decade ago, I owned a restaurant, and in the restaurant I sold pickled eggs. I also had a fully waxed handlebar moustache—so there are at least two reasons why I find hipsters to be Johnny-come-lately poseurs.

Anyhow, I sold pickled eggs but I never ate one—they seemed disgusting to me.4 I am a giant fan of dill pickles, to the extent of getting a jar of Polskie Ogorki in the toe of my Christmas stocking every year,5 but I didn’t like the idea of pickled eggs. But a couple of years ago, on a road-trip deli break, I cautiously nibbled a pickled egg and found they are in fact a perfect marriage of hard-boiled convenience and dill pickle. Add to this chicken’s winter moult that slows egg production and it seemed pickling would be a good way to extend egg season.6

So last year I busted out the National Centre for Home Food Preservation’s recipe for pickled eggs and made cidered eggs, dilled eggs and also a recipe for Amish Beet Eggs. All were enjoyable; the cidered eggs were earthy and spicy, the beet eggs a lovely pink colour, but I preferred the simple dilled eggs.7

Now pickling eggs by following the NCHFP recipe is not exactly innovative, but stay with me.

Rather than boiling the eggs, I steam them. Not only does this save energy because you are heating a smaller amount of water and you can cook a whole steamer pot full, steaming seems to make the eggs peel more easily. Last year I steamed 36 eggs at once, and found they were slightly underdone, so this year I did a dozen at a time, steamed for fifteen minutes. You could do larger batches, but you will need to test the cooking time. As a starting point, I would add a couple of minutes steaming time for each dozen eggs I added to the basket, so 36 eggs should steam for around 20 minutes.

When the eggs are done, pull the steamer pot off, and, as you walk them to your bowl of cool or ice water, give the steamer a good shake.8 This cracks the shells and lets the cold water in through the cracks. This year my eggs almost peeled themselves, despite being farm-fresh.

Place your peeled eggs in a jar, giving a quart of space per dozen eggs, and add a peeled garlic clove per dozen eggs.9 Pour boiling brine over the eggs as per your selected NCHFP recipe, let the jar cool slightly and refrigerate. Let the eggs pickle for at least two weeks, but a month is better. And then enjoy.

 

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Wednesday Link Waterfall.

IMG_0001We have had a couple of months of turmoil, and the fun isn’t over yet. Our landlord is moving into our house, so we have been evicted from our little urban farmette. Needless to say, it isn’t totally easy to find a house in a great, bikable neighbourhood, with a good school, storage for all our provender, sunny garden space and room for bees and rabbits. After two months of truly gut-twisting stress, we think we have a spot—now we just need to pack and move. And I must dismantle our greenhouse for the third time…

Depression Paralysis, which I am sure has a real name, is what I called my lack of desire to do anything at all because of the stress of not knowing where we were going. But, I did write a couple of posts. And my cocktails were accompanied with much good reading.

My Best Loaf Yet tells the tale of my 100% whole wheat, 100% wild sourdough bread, made with grain from British Columbia. Be sure to follow the links if you have a gluten sensitivity, you may find it very interesting. I updated the post today with new pictures and a digression into Dutch thatched roofs and commentary on my friend James’ new book, The Once and Future World. Three words—Buy A Case. He is on book tour, so you can get them signed. A favourite interview quote: “Nature may not be what it was,” he writes, “but it isn’t simply gone. It’s waiting.”

I Don’t Want Salvation riffs on hunting for deer, the Civil Religion of Progress being explored by John Michael Greer, and befriending death à la Stephen Jenkinson.

 

There are so many interesting links in the world, and most of them I send individually to people I think will be interested in them. Relating to I Don’t Want Salvation, a few links about slaughter:

These aerial shots of factory farming look like bloody zombie wounds

I went on a bit of a Wendell Berry kick this week. Here is A Conversation with Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson. Scroll down to the sidebar of his poem, For the Hog Killing.

Shooting Slaughter: A Q&A with Photographer Sheri Giblin

 

And a few generally interesting things:

Stephen Colbert introduces the Big Unbelievably Large LED Super Hyper Information Technology

Gail Tverberg, who is widely known for her writing on The Oil Drum as Gail the Actuary, gives her thoughts on Two Views of our Current Economic and Energy Crisis. I thought this was very worth reading.

The letters editor of the L.A. Times signals an important phase-shift in On letters from climate-change deniers. “Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change” is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

And lastly, I was reminded of a book James sicced me on years ago, and which I greatly enjoyed. Richard Preston’s The Wild Trees  is a thrilling story of biologists and giant tree hunters who develop crazy new rope techniques that allow them to fly around in the forest canopy. Spoiler alert: Craziness.

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My best loaf yet.

P1060028The slices of bread on my sandwich were not loaf-shaped, they were round—perfectly round—and it was bursting with alfalfa sprouts. Eaten by a young boy with long, wavy hair and often-repaired glasses, this circular sandwich was part of a pretty alien picture in my small-town elementary school.

Mom was baking whole wheat bread10 in large apple juice tins at that time, which made cylindrical loaves. I think my mother still worries about the many forms of trauma I suffered, but I feel reasonably well adjusted. It didn’t kill me, therefore…

I used a bread machine for a while. I made no-knead bread for a while. I never really got serious about regular bread, because all the kneading seemed like too much work.

But, recently Carmen has been feeling bloated after eating bread. Bread activist Andrew Whitely fingers modern additives11 that allow very fast rising times for the recent increase in gluten intolerance and celiac disease.12

Bread made with all these enzymes and additives can go from a bag of flour to the back of a delivery truck in less than four hours, whereas bread that is traditionally leavened with sourdough can take a day or more. In that time, bacteria can make wheat proteins more digestible for many people.

This article about Whitely blew my mind, so I decided to try making sourdough bread. I have now made a loaf I consider good enough to post here. Like no-knead bread, this loaf requires a cast-iron dutch oven or combo cooker for baking. Or, as I use, a pyrex bowl with a glass lid.

We had eaten some very, very delicious bread, baked by Andrew Plotsky who made the very beautiful Anatomy of Thrift videos. Andrew said the book Tartine Bread was the oracle of wisdom, so I requested it from library. Since it was a bit of a wait I got busy on my sourdough starter.

Sourdough starter is another one of those things that has the ring of the impossible. It feels like only people who are much tougher and smarter—sharpshooters who know esoteric knots—could possibly make sourdough. My parents have a sourdough13 and it requires feeding with all-purpose flour, sugar and milk—which seems terribly fussy and not conducive to the Small and Delicious Life. But, it turns out wheat is covered with bacteria, and sourdough grows itself. The process is easy, though, like most of my projects, it takes a little time at the right time.14 I followed these instructions.15

So, I have a nice starter, which I stabilized and now keep in the fridge. I feed it only whole wheat flour and water, and everything seems fine; if it dies, I will just make another one.

I did a bunch of research and really enjoyed Exorphin Junkie and the Northwest Sourdough Bakers Forum. Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Bread Every Day is also a lovely book with lots of ideas for shaping loaves, and slightly different information about what is going on in sourdough.

Finally, Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread came from the library. It is indeed a fantastic book, full of romantic stories of bakeries in France and odes to sourdough. The many recipes for things to do with bread made me salivate. But it does not have a 100% whole wheat recipe. Exorphin Junkie suggests following the standard recipe but substituting whole wheat flour, so that is what I did—and then I spent a few weeks futzing around with how much water to add.

If you are serious about sourdough, I would suggest you read the book. But, Martha Stewart has a reasonable synopsis of the technique you can compare to my mongrelized methods. Make the sourdough as above, and start paying attention to Martha at Step 6.

As a side note, when I was a kid we had a flour mill, and to this day, I love the nutty flavour of pancakes made with freshly-ground wheat. Several years ago I found a used Mill-Rite to grind the British Columbia Hard Red Wheat16 I get from our local bulk food store.17 The Mill-Rites are true grist mills famous for their slow grind—I think my millstones turn at 45 rpm. This keeps the flour cool during grinding, which, according to the internet wisdom, means nutrients are not destroyed by the heat of grinding.

Before I get to the recipe, I want to mention one more thing I learned—Baker’s Percentages, which make scaling recipes up or down quite easy. In this recipe method, the weight of the flour is always called 100% and everything else is relative to that; your recipe will total 190% or 220% or whatever. I will give both absolute weight and baker’s percentages here.

First, feed up your starter. I like to add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour and half that amount of water to my starter the night before, then leave it out on the counter overnight. I may change that slightly, because this beautiful loaf was made with starter that I fed in the morning and waited until it had risen—around noon—before I started the steps below.

100 grams starter
450 grams room temperature water
500 grams freshly ground hard red whole wheat flour
10 grams salt (2 tsp)
50 grams water (2 oz.)

or:
20% starter
90% water
100% WW flour
2% salt
10% water

Mix 100 grams of starter into 450 grams of water, then add 500 grams of flour. Combine until the flour is wetted, then cover and leave for 45 minutes to one hour.
Feed the started by adding 1/4 cup flour and 1/8 cup water, then put it back in the fridge.

After an hour, add 10 grams salt to 50 grams water and stir until dissolved. Add to the dough and squinch everything through your fingers until it is combined. Cover and let sit for 45 minutes to one hour.

Begin gently18 developing the dough by folding it every half hour. Wet your fingers and slide your hand under the dough, then lift it up, and let it stretch back down to the bowl.19 Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat twice more. Cover and let sit.

Repeat this stretching and folding every half hour for three or four hours.

Turn the dough out onto a cutting board and flour the top. Begin forming it into a ball, kind of rolling it on the board between your cupped hands while tucking the bottom under with your little fingers. You want the top of the ball to be smooth and tight, but not so tight it rips. Flour, cover with a teatowel, and let rest for 30 minutes.

Repeat. After the ball has rested again, line a bowl with the tea towel and flour the towel heavily. Use a dough scraper to make sure the ball is not stuck to the cutting board, then, using the scraper, lift the ball and place it upside down in the bowl. Flour the dough a bit more, then fold the towel over the top and put in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, pull the bowl out of the fridge and let it warm up for a couple of hours.20 Preheat the oven and your dutch oven to 450°. When it is hot, flour the dutch oven and dump the dough into it, as gently as possible under the circumstances.

Using a razor blade, slash the top of the dough in a square. It is ideal if the blade is flat, so the cuts go in sideways, not down, but don’t burn yourself on your dutch oven.21

Put the lid back on, and bake everything for 20 minutes. Then take the lid off and bake for 25 more minutes.22

Cool on a rack and give it a bit of time before slicing.

So, this is not hard, and does not take a lot of time in total, but it does take a little time at the right time. This works for us right now, but may not always; Tartine Bread goes into some detail about how to shift the schedule of the bread to suit your timeline.

This bread—100% whole wheat leavened with sourdough—is what I call Next Level Shit. Just as with making fermented and dried Salami Milano, and Parmesan cheese, this bread feels like a major accomplishment. It is delicious and moist, not at all dense, and just as Chad Robertson promises, it keeps very well. It will sit for a week on the countertop without going mouldy. And, Carmen feels good after eating it.

UPDATE:

IMG_0001Every loaf I have made since gets better, and this loaf is the best, with delightful ears and a nice holiness. It was made with BC Red Fife wheat,23 and took almost two days from feeding the starter to baking—again, just a little time, at the right time. I fed the starter at night and kept it in the fridge, then mixed the dough about noon the next day. I developed the dough all day, then let it rise in the fridge overnight. I took it out about noon the next day and let it rise until dinner, when I baked it off to accompany a delightful chicken-rice soup.

Changing to Red Fife left me with a very wet dough, so I added a little more flour in the development folds, but fortunately I had recently watched this video on high-hydration doughs.

I also enjoyed this video on developing the gluten sheath outside dough balls.24 There is so much to learn for the Small and Delicious Life, so much knowledge we have lost—knowledge that used to be as water to fish.

Miscellaneous trivia about the Ten Percent World:

My dear friend J.B. MacKinnon is officially on his book tour for The Once and Future World.

I encourage you—I insist—to buy many copies for holiday gifts. Write the Colbert Report and ask to have him on as a guest. But mostly you should read it and love it.

I will link to some reviews to do greater justice, but I want to talk about the 10% world and wheat. James coined the phrase to describe how much of nature we have left—even in the most wild and abundant places there is only about 10% of the historic abundance. He prescribes we remember, reconnect and rewild.

As always, James sees things more from nature, and I see things more from craft; we are always trying to peer into the mysterious and wonderful world the other inhabits. And here, I am gleefully appropriating his phrase for craft.

While traveling this summer, we spent a very lovely few days outside Amsterdam in a town called Laren.25 Laren has many, many houses with thatched roofs. They are more expensive upfront, but also the most durable, and are very insulating. And insanely beautiful.

Laren, the NetherlandsBut, I learned the modern wheat varieties, which are bred to have short stalks so as to devote more energy to the grain rather than the stem, are no good for thatching—the Dutch must now import wheat straw for their thatching.

So, a beautiful ecosystem of food and shelter, recycling, manual skills of field and home has been disrupted by the drive for better yield and higher profits by agribusiness. A 10% world indeed.

 

Review of The Once and Future World in the Chicago Tribune

Review of The Once and Future World in Harper’s Online

Review of The Once and Future World in the Globe and Mail

Review of The Once and Future World in the National Post

Great quote from the National Post interview: “Nature may not be what it was,” he writes, “but it isn’t simply gone. It’s waiting.”

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I don’t want salvation.

I watched a deer die this week. It took about ninety seconds, which is a lot longer than I hope for, and the deer fought hard to live. The shock, pain and fear it was experiencing as it struggled against the death spreading from the bullet wound in its chest was not pleasant to watch, but I didn’t turn away.

That was Thursday.

On Wednesday, the Archdruid releases his regular post, and this week he clarified his thoughts on a rising ecological sensibility. I found this paragraph to be particularly resonant:

It’s one thing to proclaim salvation from nature, history, and the human condition to those who want that salvation but no longer believe that the ideology you’re offering can provide it. It’s quite another to [proclaim salvation] to people who no longer want the salvation you’re offering—people for whom nature, history, and the human condition aren’t a trap to escape, as they have been for most people in the western world for the last two millennia, but a reality to embrace in delight and wonder.

This quote draws heavily on a topic Greer has been exploring recently, the Civil Religion of Progress, in which, he argues, Progress has pretty much been swapped point-for-point for God in the Judeo-Christian framework.26

If I can paraphrase—Life is Hard. It is uncertain: you never know when your crops will fail, your company will downsize, or the river will flood. There is interpersonal pain: first as a child, then as a teenager going through high school, then trying to find your way as an adult, then coping with the realities of adult and romantic relationships, then death of friends, family and yourself. There is lots of hard work: school and training, the grind in the fields or the office, the maintenance of hearth and home, cooking and cleaning.

So step right up. Who wants salvation?!? We got a lovely god promising eternal life in heaven, reunited with your loved ones and with not a scrap of work to do. We got machines that will eliminate toil and kitchens that will clean themselves and food heated with just the press of a button. We got rocketships to take us off this damn dustball.

And especially, if you are sick or dying or aching with worry for a loved one, we have God’s Plan, or modern medicine, and funeral homes so you don’t need to touch the dead, and hearses so you don’t need to carry the weight of the casket, and backhoes to dump the dirt back in the hole.

So, the goals are the same—salvation from pain and toil—but the ideologies used to achieve those goals are different, theism or progress.

But what if you don’t want to be saved from pain and toil? What if you don’t want to escape the human condition?27

I have come to think the desire for salvation from toil is a very big problem. Instead, I am trying to learn to love the work of providing for myself and my family. I don’t mean going to an office and making money to pay someone to do everything for me, I mean growing the food for our table, grinding the grains and baking the bread, brewing the cider. It is repetitive and difficult and capricious, but it feels very real.

Regarding salvation from pain, I have been influenced by Stephen Jenkinson, another wise, bearded man. From The Star:

Formerly a director of children’s grief and palliative care at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Family and Community Medicine, Jenkinson now makes a living running workshops on care of the dying, dealing with grief, and what he calls deep living.

“Death isn’t something that happens to you. It’s something you do. You get to choose the manner in which you die: the quality of it, the nature of it.”

The National Film Board produced a film about Jenkinson, Griefwalker, which we watched at one of his talks. I don’t remember the film well, as it was sandwiched between several hours of mind-blowing oratory about death and the meaning of words. You can watch it on the NFB website.

And that brings me back to the deer. As Jenkinson says, “We don’t have to like death, who would? But we do have to befriend it.”28

I think there is meaning in killing what you eat. Our rabbit tastes all the richer stewed with the difficulty of taking their lives. It is not just the flavour of meat and vegetables, it tastes like connection to the ecosphere. It tastes like I am a little closer to knowing my position on the food chain.

So that deer had the worst two minutes of its life in front of me. Then I helped gut it, and a couple of days later we skinned it and butchered it into various cuts for freezing. But that night we ate the tenderloin, which is cut from inside the haunches, alongside the spine. Carmen pan-roasted it in cast iron, then cut it into medallions and served it with a sauce of jus and chantrelle mushrooms, which came from the same forest as the deer, abundant after the recent rain.

My eyes welled up as I took the first bite. I believe our world would be healthier if we saw ourselves as part of nature, not above it—but abstract thoughts like that are made up of many little specifics, and I felt bad for taking that deer’s life.

I felt bad. I hurt—but I don’t need saving from the human condition.

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Wednesday Link Waterfall

2013-08-20 16.12.29While we were away, all of our lettuce bolted—so I collected the seed. I have enough lettuce seed for approximately 20 years now, though the seed life of lettuce is often said to be around three years. Maybe I can give some away…

I was curious if freshly collected seed would germinate for our fall and winter greens, so I did a test with moist toilet paper. Germination was excellent, but has been more erratic once I planted the soil blocks. In the blocks I have excellent germination from the romaine, so-so from the Brune d’Hiver and bad germination with the Oak Leaf. On the bright side, kale is sprouting like crazy.

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There is a lot to think about from our trip this summer, but I started to get some things out in We could suck a lot less.

And, an old irritant got inflamed by a recent article, so I scratched the itch—Why Green is not Sustainable.

My email is packed with interesting links from summer reading; it is going to take a while to work through them. But first, the canning report. We have put up a couple of dozen pints of apricots; diced, roasted and canned 35 pounds of tomatoes; tried a new salsa recipe29 and made a couple of batches of jam. The latest is Cardomom Rum Plum (with blackberry).30 And next up on the list will be coping with all the fennel in the garden—perhaps with Pickled Fennel and Fennel Relish (the relish is from my favourite canning blog, Food in Jars). I’ll keep you posted.

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about food and animal husbandry these days, but when I was a design student/Industrial Designer, I thought a lot about work, and about how design could provide rich and interesting work. La Surconsommation tied the two together. Farming may be boring and hard labour at any scale, but when it is done at the small scale, there is a lot of variety. As my mother says, “A change is as good as a rest.” I am going to have to write about factory work soon.

Speaking of animal husbandry, here is an article on raising rabbits in Modern Farmer. I must say, I don’t like seeing rabbits in cages like this. We try to follow Joel Salatin’s guideline: “Let the plants and animals fill their natural niche with full distinctive expression. The starting point for animal husbandry is to let the animal express its uniqueness.” So, I built rabbit tractors—long runs we can trundle around to fresh clover. Unfortunately, when rabbits express their uniquness they are real diggers, so I had to put wire on the bottom of the pen.

One of the best Google Maps mashups I have seen in a while—Flattest Route. Caveats abound: it doesn’t seem to find the most, totally, overall, completely flattest route. And the graphs can be quite deceptive; one sawtooth chart seemed like a section of the Tour de France but was showing an elevation change of ten feet. Still. I think this will be very useful, and I hope they keep developing it.

In other urban blogging, Chuck at Strong Towns continues to blow minds. The A-Rod City.

Last time I was in North Carolina, Joe Minicozzi and I traveled the Piedmont region evangalizing on the financial benefits of the traditional development pattern. In city after city Joe would show how the dumpy little pizza joint in the downtown was twenty times more financially productive than the huge shopping complex on the edge of town. It was just stunning. Here was this dive — every town has one — that everyone discounts, yet it pays a higher rate of taxation than that shiny and new place out on the edge that the city moved heaven and earth to get.

And lastly, a perspective shift from Russell Brand.

After my Hitler tweet I got involved in a bit of back and forth with a few people who said stuff like “the murderer said himself he did it for Islam”. Although I wouldn’t dismiss what he’s saying entirely I think he forfeited the right to have his views received unthinkingly when he murdered a stranger in the street.

 

 

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Why Green is not Sustainable.

Garlic“An Environmentalist on the Lie of Locavorism” crossed my desk the other day. It’s a pretty eye-catching title, pitting “An Environmentalist” against local eating and urban farming, darlings of greens and urban planners everywhere – and calling them liars, to boot. That is a pretty big brag.

But it didn’t take much reading to see Will Boisvert’s environmental vision needs a very strong pair of glasses. His myopia is in the difference between Green and Sustainable – two words that could use a little definition. (I am not picking on Boisvert for any particular reason, this sort of mistake is rampant in  “environmental” writing.31 His article just happened to tick me off at a time I felt like writing about it.)

Ignoring flagrant greenwashing,32 I use green to mean stuff that is less bad – and I chose my words carefully – for the planet and the flora and fauna33 that live on it.

Sustainable, on the other hand, gets beaten around the ring – mostly by people who throw their hands in the air and say, “Sustainable. What does that even mean?” Its meaning is quite simple, really.

It means able-to-be-sustained.

It means, for all intents and purposes, that whatever you are talking about can keep on doing what it is doing, and can do so essentially forever. The sun is a sustainable energy source, because it will keep rising in the east, essentially forever. A sustainable fishery is one that would give us surplus fish every year, essentially forever. A sustainable economy would keep providing for the needs of participants, essentially forever.

So, when someone throws their hands in the air, it is probably because they just don’t like the answer – the meaning is really quite easy to understand.

Now, the problem is that many green solutions sound great, but aren’t sustainable: nuclear energy, electric cars, the hydrogen highway, substituting renewables for coal-fired power,34 vertical farming, urban density, public transit – these are green(er), but not sustainable. Green seldom means good for the planet, or good for the environment, it means less bad.

So green can be a continuum. Burning two gallons of gas is better than burning three gallons. Burning one gallon is better than burning two gallons. But something is able-to-be-sustained – or not.35 Bill Rees, of EcoFootprint fame, says that sustainability is like pregnancy – you either are or you aren’t. There is no grey area.

In his critique of locavorism Boisvert makes the same mistake that underlies the most common criticisms36 of the 100 Mile Diet, and shows a deep lack of understanding of sustainability.

NASA is always taking new pictures, but what never changes is the starkness of that little blue droplet surrounded by deep space. What never changes is the inarguable obviousness of the edges of our planet. We live on a finite world.

Because we live on a finite planet everything that makes up our planet is also finite.

So, I googled Will Boisvert, trying to see if he understands limits. I found someone who has argued passionately in favour of the nuclear industry. Boisvert often bases his support of nuclear on decarbonization, so it seems likely he believes in Climate Chaos and wishes we could prevent that. Good for him. I can speculate he is writing his columns from the communications office of a uranium mining company, but that is only speculation.37 He says he supports nuclear, because it can decarbonize our power supply.

But, while he talks about carbon, which mostly comes from fossil fuels, he never talks about peak oil. Nor, in all his writing about how nuclear is the only real option, does he address the limits to the supply of radioactive materials.38

So it seems like Boisvert does not get that we live on a finite planet, and that is why he totally misses the point of local eating.

Boisvert’s argument against locavorism is entirely one of how many gallons of diesel it takes to move a tonne of produce to market. This is the logic that says it is better to eat New Zealand lamb or Mexican tomatoes. Add in the coal39 or natural gas burnt in greenhouses to grow your tomatoes-on-the-vine in January, and the trucked-in Mexican tomato looks even – ahem – greener.

And if only we had an infinite supply of diesel, these arguments may be right – but we don’t, so they aren’t. They are all wrong. A Mexican tomato is less bad than a coal-fired greenhouse tomato, but it is still bad. Bad. Boisvert et al. have seemingly willfully misunderstood the argument, because locavorism was never about your January tomato.

Locavorism is about living within the edges of that little blue droplet. If you want a tomato in January, in August you should cut a nice, ripe tomato into thin slices, sprinkle on a little salt, and dry it in a warm but shady place. Locavorism is about the rhythms of the seasons in the place where you live. It is not about having a tomato whenever the hell you feel like, nor about eating lamb when it is not lambing season.

So yes, it may be less bad – greener – to eat a tomato from Mexico rather than a hothouse tomato grown up the street in Edmonton. But neither of these two options is able-to-be-sustained. Both of these options fail as the supply of fossil fuels fails. What does not fail is eating from your bioregion. Gorge yourself on tomatoes in harvest season or enjoy jars from your pantry, but fresh tomato year-round is not sustainable.

You can see the meaning of the word is quite easy to understand, it is just the answer we don’t like – you can’t always get what you want. The concept of sustainability is very clear, even if is hard to weed out the greens. If you want to separate the two, just try to unpack it as far out as you can. Play elaborate what-if games, imagine scenarios. Plan for the seventh generation.

And stop calling New Zealand lamb sustainable.

 

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We could suck a lot less.

P1040920This picture is of the playground in the Parc de Belleville in the 20th arrondissement of Paris.

It has been a little quiet here at a Small and Delicious life, because we spent all the carbon we had in our account on a summer trip through Scandinavia and France. The trip was life-altering, and is going to reverberate for years to come. I still feel disoriented as I try to incorporate and understand the meaning of the many things we saw and did.

But I need to break the seal, so I want to talk about what became the refrain of our trip, “We could suck a lot less.”

Yes. I am aware that frames us, Canada, and you, the United States, as sucking. The default position is we suck. That is correct. We suck.

I have been working in sustainability and urban design for quite a few years now, and so I have heard, often, about how great it is to ride your bike in Copenhagen, about how human-scale the streets of European cities are. I have heard all this, but I really was unprepared for how it felt.

P1050432I really had no idea. Amsterdam blew my mind. In fact, there are so many bikes in Amsterdam that we did not dare ride a bike. The scale of streets and buildings were wonderful in a way I could never have imagined. The whole continent seems to treat people like adults, not children. So, for example, if you climb to a ruined fortress on the top of a rocky pinnacle, you are expected to understand you should stay away from the edge of the cliff. There are no warning signs and there is certainly nothing as wasteful of public funds as a railing or fence. This photo is of a hidden stairway carved several centuries ago as an escape route from the Fort de Buoux. I’ll tell you, I hugged that left wall on the way down, but this stairway was one of the highlights of our trip for me.

P1040941And that brings me back to the Parc de Belleville. This park was recommended by a dear friend, and it delivered. We called it the Danger Park – it was designed to be dangerous – note all the bare concrete and splintery wood. It was designed to hurt kids; the point is, kids need real danger in order to learn the edges of their capabilities. It reminds me of a Japanese park I read about years ago. This park was designed by an architect to fool the eyes – for example, it has slopes that drop away, but look like they are rising. You can rent helmets at the park, and every year there are a couple of broken legs.

These are things we could never do in North America, and for that we suck.

In Amsterdam we had a drink at a cute little restaurant facing a canal. We were sitting in front of the restaurant, in the sidewalk seating area. Due to the lovely weather, they had opened more seating across the street, right beside the canal. There was no fence beside the canal, so drunken patrons could have leaned back in their chairs and fallen right in. The servers had to walk across the street to bring food and clear tables. Again, every part of this would be illegal in most of North America, and doubly illegal in the terribly-backwards-about-alcohol province of British Columbia.

We could suck a lot less.

So, here is what I want from my Nanny State. I want effective healthcare, not sickness-care. I want dental care. I want food inspections that actually keep me safe, not protect the factory owners. I want drug and chemical companies to prove the safety of their products before they are released. I want taxation to greatly reduce the gap between rich and poor, taxation that acknowledges that money is made within systems everybody pays for, and so everybody should benefit from the earnings. I want real environmental protection to slash carbon, protect salmon and preserve wild areas.

P1040930And then I want my Nanny State to stay the hell out of my way. I want to be able to walk down the street with a beer. I want to walk on the edge of a cliff, or risk falling in a canal. I want to play where I might get hurt.

I was going to end it there, but one more story came to mind. When we were in Paris, they set up a Midway in the Tuileries Gardens in front of the Louvre. It was actually a little disorienting for us as we were riding home on our wonderful Velib cycle-share bikes – ”Are we lost? I don’t remember that giant Ferris Wheel being there.”

And in additon to being very fast in Ferris Wheel erection, they also had a beer garden. Now, in the slightly larger town near my childhood small town, people would chug their booze before going to the Midway to pick fights. But in Paris they had a beer garden – with a live jazz trio.

So, I spoke a little harshly about the Nanny State. Clearly the state treats us like children because we act like children. And we act like children because we are treated like children…

Maybe here in Canada we could start with some dangerous playgrounds and some unfenced patios, maybe a little legal jaywalking – kind of work our way up to the Midway beer garden. I hate being treated like a child.

 

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Wednesday Link Waterfall

queen beeI was going to put a photo of my crazy-vigorous tomato seedlings here – but then, while inspecting the hive, I saw the queen strolling around. She is huge! By length, a little over twice as long as a worker. By weight, I bet she is four times heavier. I actually saw her laying eggs, which was a first for me.

I also found a dozen or so queen cups, which is what the bees use to raise new queens. They do this when they are overcrorwded and want to swarm, or when the queen is weak and they want a new one. So, this could be a little worrisome. But, before she can fly, they slim her down – she is so huge I am guessing they don’t want her to fly right now. And, she is laying like a rivet gun, so I can’t see why they would want to supersede her.

Sigh. If only I could understand what they were saying. Click on the picture to biggify. She is about one-third of the way up, and near the centreline of the photo, facing to about eleven o’clock. You can see how many bees are circled around her, sort of facing her.

Two tomato seedling have been planted out in the greenhouse. This the first time I have used the 4″ soil blocks and the tomatoes are thriving. One of them had such vigorous roots the soil block looked like it had a thick white beard.

We also bought two Paw Paw plants and a Blood Orange from Fruit Trees and More; the orange came with several little fruits on it, which is super exciting. Our little greenhouse is growing a nice crop of exotic fruit trees.

I had a little flurry of writing this week; a combination of bad days on my bicycle and a provincial election.

Driving gives only responsibilities—no rights.

Three Cheers for the Idaho Stop!! (or, The Insanity of Over-regulating Parakeets.)

On Democracy, Meaning, & Feeling Insane. (or, When in doubt, plant beans.) Because you feel a little less crazy if you are not the only one.

But enough about me…what have I loved this week? What have I loved…?

Since I wrote not one, but two posts about cycling this week, here is a very interesting article about bike helmets. I have my eyes open for MIPS-equipped helmets.

Trending on my Facebook is a conversation fomented by You Absolutely Should Not Get Backyard Chickens. Also schemes for cooking the many free roosters available on Craigslist.

The always-wonderful Root Simple posted about Buffalo, New York’s Urban Homestead Program. Get this amazing brick house for $1 ($1.01 Canadian at current exchange rates). If I am understanding this correctly, there are 139 pages of homesteadable properties in Buffalo. When I emailed this around I said, “I want to die. And then come back to life so I can die again.”

I have spent many happy hours lost in both Low Tech Magazine and No Tech Magazine. Here are some links:

Robin Wood uses a foot-powered pole lathe to turn nested bowls from green wood. This actually seems like a good career move.

Inexpensive but accurate machine tools were made from concrete to produce artillery shells for WWI. Here is how to make a lathe at home for $150.

And, in case of emergency, Toilet in a Bucket.

 

 

 

 

 

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In British Columbia—where we live the Small and Delicious Life—it has been just twelve hours since the election was called for the expand-business-as-usual B.C. Liberal Party. For a little excitement, the leader of the party lost her riding, and so a byelection is likely in the near future.

After the election was called by media and the leader of the opposition had conceded defeat, the Premier gave her victory speech. And, just five days after atmospheric carbon passed 400 ppm,40 she cheered the expansion of Liquified Natural Gas, and promised great economic growth.

The pro-labour41 opposition, the New Democratic Party, also promised growth. The second paragraph of their election platform reads:

We will focus on the fundamentals that promote private sector growth, entrepreneurial innovation, and a thriving small business sector…

So, in the interest of clarity, here are some of my assumptions:

Look at a picture of Earth from space. You can see it has edges; it is finite, therefore nothing can grow forever. Try to think of anything that has grown forever,42 there is nothing. Every tree has or will fall down. Every human stops growing and dies. Tortoises that live centuries eventually die. Philosophies and religions wither. Empires collapse. Without fail, everything stops growing.

So, to hinge every promise of betterment on an impossibility seems like a bit of a waste of time. Maybe we could start talking about what betterment without growth could look like.

And regarding climate change, I am convinced there is a scientific consensus. The strange weather events we are seeing with increasing frequency match the predictions of climate scientists. The warming and melting we are seeing exceed the predictions of climate scientists. Almost universally, climate scientists have erred on the side of caution and things are getting worse faster than predicted. This is going to be very unpleasant.43

So, the Liberals are going to lead us to an impossibility, and spice with disaster. The NDP would like to increase the social justice of the impossibility of growth, and, since growth has never been decoupled from fossil energy,44 also spice it with disaster.

In effect, the NDP is fighting for better working conditions for the belowdecks crew of the Titanic. And I don’t think that is terribly meaningful.

black and white threshold edited

I want to talk about Democracy a little, before I return to Meaning. Or maybe I am not talking about Democracy—I don’t know, I never studied Political Science. But I do know that people are right bent out of shape about low voter turnout and how other people fight and die for the rights we have and how great Democracy is.

Democracy may be great, but our political system is not. The fight is largely between two different flavours of ice cream—crème caramel need not apply. Having chosen your ice cream there is not much for you to do for the next four years. You can write letters, but not many people do. You can protest in the streets, but not many people do.45 Or, you can rely on the opposition to hold them to account.

I have a particular spot in my spleen for “holding them to account”. If you hold someone to account, you would expect them to experience the consequences of their actions. So, largely, this means the opposition will try to smear dirt on the government to the degree they lose the next election—after four years. That is not exactly Draconian punishment. And, of course, since voters must bundle their hopes and dreams on dozens of issues up into one vote, there is just as good a chance the government will be re-elected and no accounts will be held. This is a reasonable take on last night’s election—voters in B.C. sure do not want pipelines of dirty Alberta crude besmirching our pristine coast—but we sure do love jobs and a growing economy!

So, there is no real way for my hopes and dreams to be included in our political system. Does that mean I would like referendums on everything?46 No. If you have taken the 45 minutes for the video and essay I linked in the side notes, you will understand why. And if you haven’t taken the 45 minutes, I don’t blame you, but you are demonstrating the realities of life that make widespread referendums a bad idea.

So, our system does not include people in a way that feels meaningful in their lives. A lack of meaning is profoundly demotivating, as has been articulated by Dan Pink and Dan Ariely. So, it is not that The Kids Don’t Care, it is just that our political system is not really worth caring about.

Because some people demand a positive vision, here it is. The next step I would like to see towards a Meaningful Politics is Proportional Representation augmented with regular Citizen’s Assemblies.47

My mother has long advocated for Government by Lottery, and I am pretty much with her; I have no confidence in the Political Equestrian Class. I would much rather be ruled by my randomly selected neighbour, because I think they would take the task very seriously, and so Citizen’s Assemblies  seem like a great process. We cannot all learn everything there is to know about every important issue, so delegating groups of people like us to make various decisions seems a lot better than Technocracy.

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So, the bright side…the bright side is an NDP victory could have gotten all Obama, where everybody breathes a sigh of relief, and before you know it, six years have passed and Guantanamo is still operating. The Liberals are clear—we should burn, sell and pipe any and all fossil fuels as long as we get a fat cheque. We know what we are in for.

And so I think the Liberals may actually be good for my mental health. One of the benefits of the Small and Delicious Life is reduced cognitive dissonance. I found that living in a world that did not make sense was very difficult, I felt crazy a lot of the time. The conclusions I draw do not match up with what society seems to think, and that seems like a pretty functional description of insanity. Now that I spend more time gardening, I spend more time in a world that makes sense.

But, Obama’s Siren song pulls at me too. It would be so nice to just be normal. It would have been great to just sit back and let the NDP create some Green Jobs in the Growing Green Economy.

Sadly, fossil-fueled-growth is exactly what we should expect. Loss is twice as painful as gain, and so, in uncertain times, in a world beaten by storms, with failing banks, bankrupt cities and countries, and record bonuses for bankers, you can easily understand why voters would want jobs, why the story of growth is so much more comforting than the fear of the unknown. The whole world is turning to strict governments who will make us take our medicine. I expect to see more of this, not less.

And so, I will write my letters, don’t you worry. I will march. I will sign petitions—perhaps even more of them than before. But these things will really just be empty gestures—I am not interested in the working conditions on the Titanic, or even a discussion about building iceberg detectors. I want to ask where we are sailing to and why we are setting sail at all.

And, when in doubt plant beans, for every bean you grow is a bean the world didn’t have before. This year, my tomato seedlings are the most beautiful I have ever grown, with thick strong stems and broad leaves. The peas are looking for something to do chin-ups on and the bees have stuffed two boxes full of eggs and larvae. Almost two years have passed since we moved here, and we are gardening community as well. I think that has meaning. I vote Beans.

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yellow curb
I just want you to close your eyes, and imagine a parakeet, sitting on its branch and eating seeds—wearing a tiny little collar with the cutest little tag hanging from it…

The Atlantic Cities is producing a lot of thinking points on new ways to think about urbanization. I seldom agree with them—I find their picture to be not nearly big enough—but they are definitely heading in the right direction. I was happy to see the article Why We Should Never Fine Cyclists, as it revolves around a topic I have wanted to write about for a long time—so I commented on the post and wanted to flesh out the comment here.

But first, let’s give Three Cheers48 for the Idaho Stop!! This law allows cyclists, when it is safe to do so, to yield at stop signs instead of stopping.49

Driver’s rants about how cyclists should obey the laws so clearly come from a frustrated place where people don’t feel heard, feel they have no control over their lives, and truly hate being stuck in traffic. That is clear, because they obviously don’t want blanket laws applied to them—and in three minutes, we could figure out a pile of laws which, if applied “fairly”, would make their lives worse.50

Road laws are solely designed to reduce the carnage caused by 2,000 lb. bullets hurtling around at high speeds. And that is all the laws should be applied to.

We have laws for pig farmers. Should tomato farmers have to build giant manure management systems?

We have laws for dog licensing. Should parakeets have to wear a little collar with a tiny tag?51

We have laws for new drivers. Should experienced drivers be forbidden from carrying passengers or driving on the highway?

My favourite bit of hilarity though: Imagine if we applied road laws to everyone who was commuting. Should pedestrians walking down the sidewalk shoulder check twice, extend their arm to signal the direction they intend to walk, then sharply turn?

It is ridiculous to imagine that pedestrians should stop at every corner and look both ways before proceeding. It is ridiculous because pedestrians move slow enough to look both ways while still walking forward. Cars move too fast to do this safely, and the consequences of driving without caution are too grim.

Laws are designed to address specific issues. Laws are designed to be unfair, in order to balance an existing unfairness. There are so many laws regulating cars because cars kill and maim a truly horrific number of people every year.52

As a driver, by virtue of guiding your missile through the streets, you agree to assume the duty of care of everyone else. You are bigger, harder and faster, and so you are responsible to everyone else, and especially those that are smaller, softer and slower—the pedestrians, cyclists, kids on skateboards and people in electric scooters.

So, calls for cyclists to obey car laws are as misguided as suggesting cars should obey bike laws, or that parakeets should obey dog laws.

 

 

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yellow curb

Victoria, B.C. is a lovely town to bike in; it is fairly flat, gets quite a bit less rain than nearby Vancouver, and is a fairly compact little city. You can access most services you need on most days, even if you are not an Olympic cyclist—no thanks to the City engineers or the automobile drivers.

The infrastructure is abysmal—what few bike lanes there are have a habit of just ending; ejecting you onto the busiest streets, or forcing you to cross lanes of cars that want to turn. And there are none of those little signal buttons placed within reach of cyclists, as Vancouver has done such a good job with.53

It is really the drivers, though, that make me yearn for Vancouver. Let me repeat that. Rush Rush Vancouver with its Busy Busy Traffic has a culture of drivers that feels safer for me as a cyclist.

Starting with the worst, today a ‘Stale, Pale, Male’54 swore at me from the intersection and then again as he passed me. He was doing that thing of oozing through his stop sign in a way that makes me feel unsure if he has seen me, or if he is going to stop. Since he has 2000 pounds of steel, and I have 20, I feel quite outgunned in these situations.

So I held up my hand, and said in a loud, but moderate tone of voice, “Stop.” He started spewing curses and yelling he was just trying to see.55 As he passed me, he rolled down his passenger window56 to favour me with more curses.

Now, since I was on a bike, and he was in a car, I was only ten seconds behind him at the next red light. So I pulled up beside him, waited through his bluster—part of which was “I am a cyclist too, so I know.” I responded that I was sure he could understand, then, that having a car rolling towards me is terrifying, which shut him up—and I beat him off the light.

A while later, riding on one of the major streets, two cars were parked in the bike lane while the drivers had a chat in the sunshine. I was forced out into high-speed traffic. Bike Lane. Bike. Lane. Bike Lane. I am trying to find a way of saying this that makes sense why cars are parked in it.

And then, I had what I call a smear—a very common maneuver in Victoria. They didn’t actually hit me—just passed me, then pulled in so close in front of me I practically had to bunny hop onto the sidewalk.57 These smears are inevitably because they are trying to pass me in the half-block before the stop sign. You know what? We are both going to be there in ten seconds. Just show a little patience and grace and maybe I will get home to my family tonight. I can never figure out how, in sleepy little Victoria, the drivers can be in a bigger rush than in Vancouver.

So, I was fuming, and reflecting on the rights and responsibilities of drivers. Drivers can go sit in their own car in their own driveway to their heart’s content. But they have no rights on the road, only responsibilities. They must obey speed limits and parking regulations and stop signals. They have to stay between the lines and not talk on their mobile phone. There is a very confining set of regulations they must stay within, and that is because they are driving a crazy dangerous murder machine—the single most deadly device in North America.

Drivers, by virtue of piloting a great weight at high speed, have a duty of care for everyone else. You must take care of the health and well-being of every other person on the road, and especially the soft-shelled ones—the pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders and people in electric scooters. That is your responsibilty. That is the covenant of getting behind the wheel.

If you don’t like it, walk.

 

 

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Wednesday Link Waterfall

tomato seedlingsClick the picture for a closer look at tomato seedlings growing in 4″ soil blocks. In the last couple of weeks they have grown taller, but I am most happy with how robust their stems are. The tomatos are accompanied by a riper lemon and bunch more seedlings in soil blocks.

A cascade of goodness, starting with my own posts, published since the last link roundup.

How to Make Butter.

A lovely short film about honeybees, with lots of slow-motion. Look at the guard bees making themselves look big; see them come in for a landing on a flower. I happened to write a bit about swarms and native pollinators, and within days my friend Lyndsay called me, breathless. She was watching a swarm that very minute and didn’t know what to do. All’s well that ends well. I googled up a beekeeper in her neck of the woods and he came to collect them.

And a piece of the sustainability jigsaw—Joseph Tainter on Complexity.

 

And now, what I have read, am reading, or wish I was reading….

I am actually reading an advance copy of The Once and Future World, the new book from J.B. MacKinnon, of 100 Mile Diet fame (that is Plenty to you U.S. locovores).58

It is absolutely mesmerizing—beautiful and upsetting. Paradigms are being tossed like plates at a Greek wedding. Order an advance copy online or from your favourite local bookmonger.

Salmon Confidential is a sickening film about fish farms.

Salmon Confidential is a new film on the government cover up of what is killing BC’s wild salmon. When biologist Alexandra Morton discovers BC’s wild salmon are testing positive for dangerous European salmon viruses associated with salmon farming worldwide, a chain of events is set off by government to suppress the findings. Tracking viruses, Morton moves from courtrooms, into British Columbia’s most remote rivers, Vancouver grocery stores and sushi restaurants. The film documents Morton’s journey as she attempts to overcome government and industry roadblocks thrown in her path and works to bring critical information to the public in time to save BC’s wild salmon.

The film provides surprising insight into the inner workings of government agencies, as well as rare footage of the bureaucrats tasked with managing our fish and the safety of our food supply.

Shocking for a different reason, read this Guardian article about people who do the abacus in their heads. Be sure to watch the video of two young girls adding numbers—while playing a word game—then weep for our basic education. This takes me back to a little martial arts supply shop in Japan which calculated my bill on a combination calculator-abacus. They would do the addition on the calculator, and then check the calculator’s sums with the abacus. Fantastic.

A free guide on de-paving.59

I have long been a passionate fan of Low Tech Magazine, where Kris De Decker presents very informative articles about all sorts of interesting things, from Chinese wheelbarrows to tidal mills. But, I did not realize there was a No Tech Magazine, which is the amuse-bouche version—short and delicious. There are so many awesome things there, they are just going to have to wait until next time.

Finally, an actual infographic from Copenhagenize.

copenhagenize

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How to make butter.

ButterWe occasionally get a gallon of fresh cow’s milk from a charming Jersey named Sultana; it is a deliciously heart-breaking reminder of hedonism lost.

The milk is not homogenized so the cream floats on top and the consistency of the cream changes from the bottom of the cream cap to the top—I have to break the cap, it is so thick. It is spoonable like sour cream, or even thicker than sour cream. Beneath that is cream as viscous as honey, then the cream you might recognize as whipping cream, then table cream, then cream that is hard to skim because a little milk finds it way into my spoon.

Now, if you are of the finer classes, with access to European groceries, this may be old hat to you. If, however, you were raised on North American Grocery Store Dairy, or like me, by hippies60 with goats, udder-fresh cow’s milk is quite a revelation.

For a small family, a gallon of milk can be quite a bit to keep up with, so despite the yogourt and cheese61 and the richest of cream in my coffee,62 we always have enough to make butter.

One big caveat here. Butter is spectacularly easy to make, if you own a kitchen mixer.63

Most of my cheese and butter is made with dairy that has been frozen. So, from the gallon we skim off two or three cups of cream.64 We portion the milk into quart jars for the week, and freeze whatever is left from the week before, minus whatever was used on cereal or ice cream or baking or whatnot. The cream is scooped into old yogourt tubs for freezing.

My first butter was cultured butter—so the cream had started to become sour cream.65 Cultured butter has a bit of tang to it, which, being a fan of yogourt I like. C— prefers sweet cream butter, which I will get to shortly.

So. Allow your cream to come to room temperature, then begin whipping in the mixer. As it thickens I increase the speed until I can crank it up without splashing everywhere. At this point I go do other things, and come running when the foamy sounds of whipping cream turn to distinct splashing. The fat has solidified to butter on the whisk, and the buttermilk is splashing everywhere (use a splash guard and cover all the openings with plastic wrap).

Like I said, spectacularly easy. If you were going to bake a cake, you could probably stop here. But there is still buttermilk trapped in the butter, which will cause the butter to go rancid. So, I drain off the buttermilk66 and pour in icy water. Beat on a low speed—I often use the dough hook for this, but other people don’t so see what suits you. Drain off and refresh the icy water (I use water with little bits of ice still floating in it, hence the dough hook) and continue gently mixing until the water runs clear.

Now you need to get the last of the water out of the butter. This was traditionally done with two wooden paddles called Scotch Hands, but I use a wooden spatula and mash the butter inside a straight-sided bowl. You will mash little pockets of water that will run down the golden butter like tears. Part way through this process is the time to add salt, at a rate of 1/4 tsp. per each 2-4 cups of cream—in other words, to taste.

I roll the butter up into a log in waxed paper, then refrigerate or freeze it. It is fantastic—decadent and abundant.

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Notes on making butter:

  • I tend to start with about six cups of cream for each batch.
  • Here is an explanation from America’s Test Kitchen if you want to culture cream for butter— preferring that for some reason to my method of just letting everything sit around for a while…
  • Making sweet cream butter is exactly the same process, but with fresh cream. Here is an Instructables on that.
  • I recently had Whey Butter, which is made from the whey left over from cheesemaking. It is, in fact, kind of cheesy in flavour, and a little tart like cultured butter. Whey Butter does incline one to use a lot of it, smeared on anything that is near to hand. But—when I make cheese I tend to use the whey for ricotta, and I am not sure how much butter you get out of a couple of gallons of whey. This may be something that requires a more industrial scale of whey production—if anybody knows, please comment.

 

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Dance of the Honey Bee—lovely slow-mo

When I collected my first swarm last year, I arrived at a well-manicured suburban home to find a cluster of bees the size of a Christmas Ham clumped on a branch about ten feet in the air. It is hard to describe what I felt as I walked over to stand under that swarm—peace, calm—it felt great to be with bees again.67

Anyhow, this short video has lots of great slow motion footage of honeybees. Enjoy.

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Are you back? Okay. Now I would like to talk about swarms and native pollinators.

bee-swarm

This is what a ‘typical’ honeybee swarm might look like.68 I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that bees are not wasps. Wasps have the ability to sting you multiple times, and just may do that. But when a honeybee stings you, their guts are ripped out and left attached to the stinger stuck in your hand.

Now, if you think being eviscerated as a consequence of your actions might give you pause to think, it is the same for honeybees. You can still get stung, but out of ten thousand bees, only one or two guard bees are going to get shirty with you.69

Back to swarms—swarms are how honeybees spread. The bees raise new queens, then the old queen takes off with about half the colony. Before they leave, they stuff themselves with honey, then fly somewhere close while the scouts try to find a better spot. Generally they will hang out on branch for a couple of hours,70 then fly to their final home: a hollow tree, under a deck, inside a hot-tub cabinet, or whatever. They convert their belly full of honey into some fresh wax, and get the queen laying eggs so they will have new worker bees within a month.

So bees don’t like to sting, and swarming bees are stuffed full of honey. They just want a place to call their own, and are not looking to pick a fight.71 If you see a swarm, call your local beekeeping association and ask about swarm removal.

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And now native pollinators…there are hundreds of species of bugs that pollinate—probably thousands (would anybody like to raise me to millions?). There are hundreds of species of bees that pollinate, let alone the wasps and flies. Now, as is often the way with we well-meaning humans, the invasive honeybees we so love can out-compete local, native pollinators, perhaps even to the point of extirpating them.72

Mason bees come out early in the year, and bumblebees can fly in high winds and rain—both can tolerate much colder temperatures. Local, native pollinators are very important to a healthy ecosystem and a healthy food system. So, the threat to food security of declining honeybees may be thought about especially as a threat to monoculture industrial farming. Honeybees are needed by the trainload to pollinate the thousands and thousands of acres of almonds in California. I don’t want thousands of acres of anything in one spot, so I am not in favour of monocultured industrial food. I want a high variety of locally grown foods,73 and for that local pollinators can be much better.

If you keep bees, you have a responsibility to support local pollinators, perhaps through pollinator-friendly landscaping. If you love food, the same. Here is a lovely USDA pamphlet on native pollinators. Here are plans for a bumblebee nest. And here, of course, for a mason bee board.74 When you are making your Mason bee home, drill holes of lots of sizes, for all the smaller and bigger bees in the world. Enjoy the peace and calm, if you can hear it over all the buzzing.

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Postscript: I really enjoy keeping bees. They are wonderful—beautiful and mysterious and educational. They are impossible to anthropomorphize, and force me to consider the world through the values of an insect. I also have dreams of being honey self-sufficient, 75 or making a little money selling comb honey. So, I think keeping bees is great. But, most of the beekeeping world is of a chemical mindset, forgetting that bees have been fine for millions of years without our help. This was difficult for me to wrap my brain around, and continues to be challenging when I visit my local beekeeper’s group. I wish I had found some of the natural, organic, small cell beekeeping websites76 before I took a course, as I would have asked a lot more questions before signing up.

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puzzle piecePiece of the Puzzle:
Joseph Tainter on Complexity

I developed my understanding of sustainability essentially by hyperlinking books. I would read a book, then go through the citations and find another interesting book. This led me through design and ecology and economics and psychology and business and so many other things. At some point a pattern started emerging, and new bits and pieces began to fit into the pattern—each Piece of the Puzzle is something that has really stuck in my mind.
Not in chronological, or any other, order—just as the whim strikes me.

 

Joseph Tainter came to me relatively recently, maybe just in the last four or five years, but I find his work on complexity to be shockingly important.

He is an academic, so he does not lack for detail, but here is my favourite part in a nutshell:

We tend to solve problems by adding a layer of complexity to the situation. That new layer creates its own problems, which we solve with another layer of complexity. Each layer suffers from diminishing returns, and—here is the kicker—adding complexity eventually generates negative returns.

So, adding complexity eventually sucks value out of life, your project, our planet—everything. Here is a chart of what that looks like—Level of Complexity on the bottom axis, and Benefits of Complexity up the side axis:

Tainter1

Tainter’s big book is the Collapse of Complex Societies, which I found to be a very enjoyable read with lots of great examples.77 Here is a 15 minute interview and a 90 minute YouTube. Ugo Bardi looked at the thermodynamics.

“A collapse is a rapid simplification of society. It is a rapid loss of complexity.” So Tainter asked, “One of the questions of history is why is this seemingly inexorable trend in human society towards innovation and complexity occasionally punctuated by collapse?”

Having worked as an industrial designer, I have had a front row seat to the manufacturing supply chain—a very visceral view of how complex and brittle the systems we have built our world out of truly are. When you look around the world, you can see the negative returns all around us:

  • build a highway to fix congestion—which doesn’t fix the congestion, but does drain the pothole budget, so all the other roads get worse.
  • require playgrounds to have soft surfaces to reduce injuries—which increases the costs and reduces the number of playgrounds.
  • agriculture is a big one—chemical agriculture is used to boost production, but eventually destroys the soil so nothing can grow there.

Tainter also takes on the most sacred of cows, Innovation. He points out that innovation is also subject to diminishing returns—the first flush toilet was seriously awesome, but figuring out how to put custom finishes on toilets is much less remarkable.78

In fact, if we are to maintain the illusion that indefinite growth is possible, we need ever-faster innovation cycles. Product design cycles used to be a couple of years, then one year, then six months. Now in some industries the design cycle may be just a few weeks.79 But we must go faster if we are to stay in the same place—soon we will be conceiving of, designing, prototyping, manufacturing and releasing products, all in the blink of an eye.

Except, of course, that is clearly impossible. So Tainter, with his modest puzzle piece, manages to skewer bureaucracy, complexity, collapse, innovation and growth. Phew! Heavy hitter!

So what next? “Now that we can do anything, we must do less.”80 When we are solving problems, we must try to find simpler solutions, rather than complex ones. How can we strip away bureaucracy, technology and data? How can we build a system simple enough to be understood and operated by its users?

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Wednesday Link Waterfall.

IMG_0579There is a lot to do around here: flats and flats of seedlings, a sewing project, pruning, and so much more. Even though lemon, lime and olive have handily survived our mild winter, I am teasing the Norns by putting my tomato seedling out in the unheated greenhouse with temperatures dropping to 5°C overnight.

I am putting them inside a tunnel to keep an extra couple of degrees inside, but, as is often the case, the internet is a contradiction. Some people say my tomatoes will surely wither and die. Others say what doesn’t kill them will make them stronger, and I will have seedlings that look like Charles Atlas. I am going to cross my fingers and keep them outside, because I need space for more seedlings.

But, its contradictory nature notwithstanding, today the internet provided. So much that my computer was making like 199881—I had to close some tabs. And so, a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens, an inundation of links.

 

That Daily Shower Can Be a Killer. The inimitable Jared Diamond,82 talking about real risk.

The other morning, I escaped unscathed from a dangerous situation. No, an armed robber didn’t break into my house, nor did I find myself face to face with a mountain lion during my bird walk. What I survived was my daily shower.

John Thackera consults, teaches, writes the Doors of Perception, and is just very, very smart. This piece compliments the new gov.uk website. Core message—and governments take special note of this simple idea—your website is not to impress your bosses, it is not for you at all. Big, Hairy, and Agile.

With grace and class, Niigaan Sinclair responds to  a stupid editorial in the Morris Mirror.

I ask you to be more than the words we have inherited.
And, I ask you to talk. Share food. Discuss how we can be more.
You have said that you are not ready. That’s OK. Change is hard. I am ready.
I will wait for you.

If you are on the bookface, this is a nice list of forageable foods. Of course, since I know what almost none of these are, pictures would be even nicer.

And just about the best slideshow I have ever seen—Modern Farmer brings us 21 Pictures Of Hands Gently Cupping Dirt.

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For some reason, in the last 24 hours I have been served many articles on a topic that rhymes with ‘prolapse’. Enjoy!

It is pitchfork time. 300 people have as much wealth as the poorest 3 billion people. Global Wealth Inequality—the extreme truth about how wealth is divided globally. Inspired by the amazing Wealth Inequality in America video. If you haven’t sharpened your pitchfork by the time you finish the videos, here is a rebuttal from Forbes to inspire you with the justifications of the wealthy.

What If A Collapse Happened And Nobody Noticed?

No reason to fear the collapse-look around, you’re already living through it83 even as you read these words, and you’re presumably still here. Take a deep breath. Relax. Have a beer. Listen to some music. No Zombies Required.

Austerity In America: 22 Signs That It Is Already Here And That It Is Going To Be Very Painful. This article illustrates the punchline of the previous article—we are already living through it.

Road to Reality: Towns Rip Up the Pavement
This article was originally titled Roads to Ruin, but I took the liberty of rewriting the head to make it better.

Pre-traumatic stress disorder is shorthand for the fact that we are fully aware of the future trauma, the moral injury that we individually and collectively suffer, the effects on the Earth of that injury, and our inability to act in time. Essentially pre-traumatic stress disorder, the environmentalist’s malady, is a result of our inability to prevent harm. From Common Dreams.

The New York Times provides as good a description of why I grow beans as any I have heard:

These policies have brought America to an end-stage metastasis. The way out would be so radical it can’t happen. It would necessitate a sweeping divorce of the state and the market economy. It would require a renunciation of crony capitalism and its first cousin: Keynesian economics in all its forms. The state would need to get out of the business of imperial hubris, economic uplift and social insurance and shift its focus to managing and financing an effective, affordable, means-tested safety net.

 

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Peat or Coir? The correct answer is…?

seedling blockAs I say in my blogroll, TreeHugger is where I go to get enraged. In what should be an innocuous Top Nine Products for Healthy Soil post, I managed to flip my lid twice.84

Peat is bad and Coir is good, we are told. Coir is the hairy outer fibres left over from coconut milking—which means it comes from places where coconuts come from. Seriously? Are we really having a conversation about whether we should mine North American peat or ship in coir from afar?

So the correct answer is neither.

Or maybe it is not that tidy. Eliot Coleman, in the encyclopedic New Organic Gardener, speaks against coir and for peat. From page 118:

I do not share the anti-peat-moss sentiment I occasionally hear expressed. The anti-peat movement began in Europe where, because of population density, limited peat deposits, and centuries-long use of the resource, they are at a point where finding a substitute for peat makes sense…Of the peat lands in North America, only 0.02 % (2/100 of 1 per cent) are being used for peat harvesting.85 On this continent peat is forming some five to ten times faster than the rate at which we are using it…To my mind that is the definition of a renewable resource.

Thinking bio-regionally, Coleman says, “The crumbly insides of well-rotted maple and birch tree trunks on the forest floor gave reliable results in potting mixtures. For warmer climates kenaf has shown promise…In some trials a kenaf substrate proved more successful than peat moss.”

So, for now, I bought a big bale of peat for my potting mixes. At the rate I am going, it looks like it will last five years or so. I won’t use peat to amend my actual garden—there are so many leaves, clippings and chips to be had.

Sustainability means ‘able to be sustained’. Sticking my seeds86 into coconut fibre that has been shipped a quarter of the way around the planet is clearly not sustainable, though it may be ‘greener’ than mining European peat. Coleman wraps it up, “But if we do need a substitute, some of the present contenders, like coir fiber imported from faraway South Pacific islands, make very little sense.”

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puzzle piecePiece of the Puzzle:
Britain loses the potter’s wheel.

I developed my understanding of sustainability essentially by hyperlinking books. I would read a book, then go through the citations and find another interesting book. This led me through design and ecology and economics and psychology and business and so many other things. At some point a pattern started emerging, and new bits and pieces began to fit into the pattern—each Piece of the Puzzle is something that has really stuck in my mind.
Not in chronological, or any other, order—just as the whim strikes me.

 

“It may be initially hard to believe but post-Roman Britain in fact sank to a level of economic complexity well below that of the pre-Roman Iron Age.”87

Writing about this in the Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer said:

Good pottery was so cheap and widely available that even rural farm families could afford elegant tableware, sturdy cooking pots, and watertight roof tiles.

Rome’s fall changed all this. When archeologists uncovered the grave of a sixth-century Saxon king at Sutton Hoo in eastern Britain, for example, the pottery found among the grave goods told an astonishing tale of technical collapse. Had it been made in fourth century Britain, the Sutton Hoo pottery would have been unusually crude for a peasant farmhouse; two centuries later, it sat on the table of a king. What’s more, much of it had to be imported, because so simple a tool as a potter’s wheel dropped entirely out of use in post-Roman Britain, as part of a cascading collapse that took Britain down to levels of economic and social complexity not seen there since the subsistence crises of the middle Bronze Age more than a thousand years before.

These shards of British pottery are an X-ray of Infinite Progress—the government, or scientists, or corporations or whatever will not always ‘figure it out’. Once you accept this notion, you can see decline all around us, despite the latest offerings of apps, home renovation shows and refractions of celebrity.

There is a habit of not-thinking that says if something is wonderful we will surely figure out how to keep it going—to which I like to point out the potter’s wheel has one moving part. This is not complex technology and the benefits of using it are very great—and yet despite the simplicity and reward, Britain lost the wheel for 300 years88.

This not-thinking is obvious in discussions of the internet. Because at least 0.01% of internet traffic is ‘causing’ revolutions in countries without democracy, it therefore follows the internet must last forever. I like to say the Internet is Just a Fad, as I commented in another column by The Archdruid, The End of the Information Age. The internet is the sharp peak of a very large pyramid of mining, refining, manufacturing, research, marketing, and—in case we forget—stoking the hell-fires of coal-powered electrical generation.

Britannic calculatorPerhaps hand crank adding machines will be found in the burial mounds of future kings.

 

 

 

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Canning Sauerkraut

P1020859Making sauerkraut is something for the fall, when the cabbages are fresh and cheap. But, having made my ‘kraut last October and skimmed its scum all winter,89 I am now portioning it into jars and canning what I won’t be able to eat fresh. Emphasis on me, since the little family are not enthusiasts, and will eat it only à la Mary Poppins—”A spoonful of bacon helps the medicine go down, medicine go down….”.

I want to note canning is not the recommendation of Wild Fermentation’s Sandor Katz, who proselytizes that we should eat fermented foods at all stages, from the freshest to the dankest. I think he is probably right, but I haven’t got past Reuben sandwiches and perogies with fried onion and ‘kraut. But I have my dreams…

Anyhow. Writing about making sauerkraut is for another day. Today I can. And will.

I am saving a few jars fresh, which will be gifted, traded, or stored in our fridge for eating. Other than that, simply heat the kraut to between 85°C and 95°C (180°F and 210°F)—do not boil. Fill jars with hot ‘kraut, leaving ½” headspace, then process in a boiling water bath. Pints get 15 minutes and quarts get 20.

Notes:

  1. 15 pounds of cabbage made 13 pints.90
  2. There was a litre of brine left over91 after filling the jars. Next time I will reserve a couple of cups of brine before heating, for drinking as a healthful tonic.
  3. 13 pints was four fresh in the fridge, eight in the big canner and one in the asparagus pot. I hate wasting energy heating water, so I bought an asparagus pot at the thrift shop. It came with a wire basket and will hold a quart jar. Perfect for pickling cukes from the occasional vine or rounding out a batch like this one.
  4. As if I needed more reasons to love my Squeezo Strainer, the wooden plunger was the perfect tool to pack ‘kraut in the jars.
  5. All of this could have happened months ago. A big point of sauerkraut is to preserve food without energy, so we should eat it throughout its life and can the leftovers. But as I said, I have dreams…someday I will be in harmony with the natural rhythms of fermented cabbage.

 

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Crushing the Solar Garbage Compactor

I am not a violent man—but I can be quite ‘passionate’, and today I am feeling passion about solar garbage compacters. It may seem an unlikely lens, but garbage compactors are—ahem—very juicy.

The passion precipitating post, on TreeHugger, was mostly about the compactor doors breaking, which causes mounds of trash to build up on the street:

…the trash cans have solar-powered sensors and compactors that keep the trash compressed, only calling out to be emptied via wireless communication when truly full, which results in fewer trips from city employees to empty the bins and thus big fuel savings. They apparently saved the city $900,000 in the first year and reduce the number of times the trash cans need to be emptied from three times a day to three times a week. Impressive!

Impressive? You will notice there is no ‘green’ tab on this website; I am not impressed by green. I want to talk about the bigger picture. So…

We have a problem; garbage is overwhelming municipal budgets. Garbage compactors address that problem in a very typical way, which is to assume business will continue as usual, and to ‘fix’ the problem with brute force—massive amounts of money and technology: solar panels, sensors, computer boards, motors, crushers—moving parts of all kinds!

And then, typically, we will all be shocked—shocked!—when all of the technology turns out to be less simple and more expensive92 than a barrel with a bag in it.

So, reducing diesel truck trips may be ‘greener’, but there are many reasons it isn’t sustainable. We all agree oil isn’t going to last forever.93 And so diesel garbage trucks aren’t going to last forever, right?94 Which means this whole approach is both temporary and unsustainable, a brute-force, end-of-pipe patch. Yet we will be left with a bunch of once-expensive, now salvage, infrastructure sitting around our city.

Let’s address the actual problem in our pattern of living.

Let’s make less garbage. It is not like it is rocket science. Garbage cans on city streets are mostly full of food wrappers, coffee cups and newspapers. McDonalds,95 the chain we love to hate, proved a fully composting restaurant could be successful, and newspaper means there should be a blue bin, not a trash compactor. So, let’s stop it with the expensive, cumbersome and ugly band-aid solutions. Just address the real problem—too much garbage—by actually just reducing the amount of garbage.

Three groups of people need to be much, much more courageous for this to happen: engineers must build a city for people, not diesel trucks; bureaucrats must develop systems and regulations that are outside their comfort zone; and politicians must actually regulate garbage-based business models.

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Why is changing behaviour so hard? In this slidecast I share a way of answering that question, and how Compassionate Systems can increase the effectiveness of our work.

This was recorded at the Invasive Species forum in Richmond, BC, in January 2013. Apologies for the occasionally tinny sound—and, of course, it is only a slidecast. Think of it as a podcast with a screensaver.

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