Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Political Labels

   I just read something asking about the "constitutional right" of a federal government to impose national healthcare. I know this is a huge debate and everyone is all up in arms on one side or the other.

   That's the design. Obama ran for President on a platform promising healthcare so the opposition attacked it. Never mind all of the balls that were dropped in the pursuit of what ended up being a fairly meager healthcare deal. Whatever -- that's how the system works now: one side finds a hot topic to exploit, the other cries to the other side ("save the kitties" - "what about dog rights?!" -- how do you think the rich people got the people who support a man who ran money changers from the Temple on their side? It goes both ways -- what liberal doesn't want "The Man" out of his business?).

   Political labels only mean one thing at this point: "I don't have time to think for myself, therefore I vote the Party Line".

   Genius! Party voters have proven the need for an electoral system. I think Bill Engvall has something for you...

   Back to my original thought, where does The Constitution of The United States of America grant the government to impose healthcare? I don't think it does and I'm not even going to look over The Constitution a couple more times to try and find it because I don't think it matters. Why? Because 12 years before The Constitution was ratified, and 15 years before the first ten amendments known as The Bill of Rights were ratified, 56 leaders of the 13 colonies signed a document that said this:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

   "Healthcare" was not in the lexicon of the late 18th century, but it seems to me that some important men were willing to risk treason (i.e. hanged, drawn and quartered) for the idea that we all have "an unalienable" right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". This meant that it was intrinsic and did not require anything more than it's own self-evidence.

   Today we have all kinds of access to life against any number of medical conditions, liberty from debilitating disease, and the pursuit of Happiness beyond anything those 56 men could have imagined.

   Not only that, but governments are subject to the governed.

   But if the governed do not want everyone to have The Right of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" unless they have the ability to pay for it, then what?

I REALLY Hate Credit Cards

   I posted a couple weeks ago that the wife and I had paid off our final credit card!

   Tonight we were basking in the afterglow of a credit-card-free, productive weekend when my wife looks up from her email and says, "[banking institution]sent me an email saying our statement is ready."

   I was immediately angry. "What does the statement say?", I asked.

   "Let me look... $6.03. It says we owe $6.03."

   I said something not suitable for family radio. To backtrack, this was not even the last card we paid off. This is the same card I wrote about in "I Hate Credit Cards". We checked with the bank before sending in the last payment to make sure we were paying every last cent owed. On the day the final payment went through, my wife called (it was her card) and asked specific questions to verify the balance was indeed zero and the account was indeed closed. She was assured the balance was indeed zero and the account was indeed closed.

   Fuming, I asked her for the phone number, account number, and date of the final payment. After the usual keypad gymnastics with the phone I finally got a person on the line. After verifying my identity I explained that we paid the card off on "X" date, we called to verify and were told the balance was zero and the account was closed, and asked how we owe $6.03?

   The customer service person on the other end started by saying, "I am taking care of that now. It will take 3-5 days to process, but after that the balance will be zero. Let me explain the charge...".

   I was then told that this particular bank calculates interest daily, but only from billing date to billing date. Since two weeks had passed from the last billing date to the date of the last payment, the $6.03 was interest on the balance during that time, and just so I understand, this is how the billing cycle and interest works, but if I call the interest can be waived. I was apologized to that this was not made clear during our last phone call and reassured that the charge was dropped.

   I asked one last time, "So, it will take 3-5 days, but then the balance will be zero and the account will be closed?" After being reassured (again) this was indeed true, I said thank you and goodnight.

   To sum up, the account was paid in full, we verified that with the bank, they charged us interest anyway, and when we called them on it they dropped it with no question or argument. The sinister part is that they plainly told me, even if you pay your card in full the day your bill arrives (or when you view it online in "real time"), there will be undisclosed interest still owed on the account.

   This reeks to me of a scam. Worst case scenario, the bank gets an angry phone call and drops the charge. Probably what usually happens is people will pay one or two occurrences before the angry phone call and the bank makes $6.03 off a few thousand people. Best case scenario is the people who believe the account is closed and let months of interest and late fees build up and, with any luck, can't dig themselves back out of debt this time.

   This is the kind of thing We The People need to stand up against. A truly "free market" would never allow a company that treats it's customers and neighbors this way to get "too big to fail". I am so fed up with banks and credit cards and CEOs and executives that live like lords by taking advantage of the have-nots.

   It doesn't help that I saw this earlier today.

   It's time for a revolt.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Busy Weekend

   The past two days have been busy and productive. After my son and I arrived home early Sunday evening, the wife and I discussed chores and projects we wanted to focus on. Monday morning, we set to work.

   We had made arrangements for someone to come by Monday afternoon to take our old washing machine off our hands (hooray!), so we had several hours before we could really go anywhere. We started in on some much needed spring cleaning and were making progress until the wife made an unsettling discovery. Behind the buffet in the dining room the floor and the wall were wet and moldy. We moved the furniture out so we could clean up, all the while trying to figure out when and what might have spilled back there. After removing some molding, sweeping, mopping, and treating the area with mold and mildew killer, we set up the dehumidifier to dry the area out. It was obvious the damage was due to something more than a simple spill. We suspect that it is the result of a leak in the wall from the plumbing to the bathroom on the other side of the wall that happened a year and a half ago. I dread the thought of climbing under the house to investigate, but it's going to have to be done.

   We had just gotten the water damage under control when the people showed up for the washer. We got it loaded up, they were away, and we headed into town. Part of our inspiration for spring cleaning was the gift of a swanky, new sewing machine from mother-in-law. The machine came with a sewing table, which means reorganization. In the course of the reorganization discussion it came up that the wife's serger needed to be looked at because something wasn't working correctly. Our first stop in town was the sewing shop. After considerable poking and prodding it was determined that the machine was going to require a service -- and the service wasn't cheap. We agreed to put the serger on hold.

   Next stop was to the watch repair for a couple new batteries, a new watch band, and a watch band repair. While waiting for our watches the wife and I wandered through new appliances, our new, super efficient washer fresh in our minds, and dreaming of future upgrades that use less resources.

   From there we stopped by REI. While I was out of town I had lunch with a friend who began running about a year ago. He tried to persuade me to try doing a couple of 5K runs with him this summer and my interest was piqued. The biggest roadblock to running for me is proper shoes. I don't own any. I have fantastic backpacking/hiking boots, dress shoes, work boots, and farm boots, but no running shoes. I still had my 20% members discount available, but only for a couple weeks, and had found some shoes that interested me online. It was just a matter of trying them on and deciding which ones to go with, if any. Long story short, I found my shoes. The bad news is, the shoes I chose had to be back ordered (no instant gratification for me); the good news is, I got them for 20% off. I really need to start getting back into shape. It's been a rough winter in that respect.

   After we got home the wife and I attacked the collection of boxes in our son's closet that we haven't really thought about since we moved almost three years ago. We found a handful of things that we thought were lost or were otherwise glad to recover. Mostly, we found a lot of charitable donations and dust.

   Before going to bed we got online and ordered heirloom seeds for the garden.

   Today we started with errands -- gas, bank, grocery store, library, produce stand, and the thrift store. At the thrift store we dropped off several boxes of stuff that had been taking up space in our son's closet. Then we went inside and made a very tiny dent in our ongoing effort to replace the kitchen plastic with glass, metal, and wooden items. I also found a pair of running shorts for $3.

   When we got home we put the groceries away and I headed outside while the wife washed the dishes. I picked up the piles of straw and chicken manure around the yard, turned the compost pile, amended the garden beds with ripe compost, and turned the soil in the garden beds.

   We still have a lot of spring cleaning to do -- the water damage discovery in the dining room was something of a setback.

   Still, all in all, it was a productive couple of days!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Awareness

   I apologize for my absence (if anyone noticed). I away pursuing a potential new "gig" and spending some time with family and friends as I was able. The break from the virtual world was not unwelcome, but I am back for the moment...

   I was thinking about the juxtaposition of John Adams to most all of his peers in Adams' realization (or hope?) that what he was involved in during the mid-late 1770's would likely be historic. At times Adams seemed obsessed with being "important" and "relevant". John Adams was absolutely important and relevant in retrospect, but he is overshadowed by "lesser" figures in our American history like Paul Revere and Patrick Henry.

   My question is this:

   Is it better to have lived in the moment, unaware, and contribute something forever remembered in that moment?

   OR

   Is it better to have lived aware of your moment in history unsure what to do with it?


   It seems to me it may be easier to be a hero for a single act, or by being an influential extremist (Revere and Henry).

   Adams, on the other hand, defended the British Soldiers of the Boston Massacre in 1770, authored the Braintree Instructions opposing the Stamp Act of 1765, handed the writing of The Declaration of Independence to Thomas Jefferson, and ultimately became the second President of The United States. While being a perpetual realist, John Adams is arguably among the more forgettable founders of the United States.

   So I ask...

   Is it better to have lived in the moment, or to have lived aware of your moment and/or what to do with it?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Washer!

   My wife and I were going over the finances the other day. When I expressed excitement about paying off the next loan on our list she reminded me that we had agreed to buy a new washing machine when we paid off all the credit cards. I was momentarily disappointed because I was looking forward to making a dent in that debt, but she was right.

   Ten years ago when my mother handed down her old washer and dryer it was a score for a new family with an infant. Both the washer and dryer were in great shape and we could not have been able to afford anything close to this fantastic gift. Today the dryer works fine -- of course we only use it one or two times a month. The washer still works, but the upper part of the agitator has worn to a point of not really working. In addition, it's an older unit that uses an embarrassing amount of water and electricity. If it were only for the worn parts I would try to find replacement parts and fix it, but with advance in efficient washing machines it feels a better move to upgrade.

   We had made plans to look at new machines tomorrow as my wife was out of town today. This morning, though, I got online and started shopping around and found that one of our local stores was having a sale that ended today. Not just that, they had a model with the lowest price I had found so far, all the features my wife was looking for, and had the best energy rating of every unit I had looked at thus far. I contacted my wife and relayed the information and she gave me the go ahead.

   When I arrived at the store they didn't have the exact model on the floor, but a similar model and I discussed the differences with the sales clerk. I had already done a lot of research online, so it was really just a matter of making sure it had a solid build and was going to do what I expected. When the clerk informed me that there was no delivery available for a couple days I asked if it would fit in my pickup.

   "Sure", he said.

   Sold.

   I was really counting on the delivery because it included taking away the old machine, but I had laundry waiting to be done. The worst part was not having anyone handy to help with the whole process (that's not exactly true, my ten-year-old son helped out several times). It took me about an hour and a half to pull the old washer out and get the new washer from the truck to it's place in the pantry and set up.

   The new washer is a front loader with allergy and sanitizing cycles. It is unbelievably quiet and uses a very small fraction of the water that our old washer used. According to the energy tag it's annual cost is about $11, based on eight loads a week. We would have to work to average half that. It also spins out the clothes so well that they dry much faster -- a huge plus for us since we hang dry almost all of our laundry!

   The wife and I agreed to try and sell the old washer for a small price. Hopefully we can find it a good home.

Agents of Our Own Extinction

   I have used this quote from Joel Salatin in the past:

   "What happens is all these things we're seeing – campylobacter, E coli, mad cow, listeria, salmonella, that weren't even in the lexicon 30 years ago – that is the industrial paradigm exceeding its efficiency. So these Latin squiggly words that we're learning to say – bovine spongiform encephalopathy – are nature's language screaming to us: ENOUGH!.."


   I came across this article by JP Sottile on FireDogLake that suggests maybe, just maybe, we're coming around:


   "When we look closely at the “stuff” we have been and continue “doing”—with the atom and the genome, with plastics and poisons and chemicals of all kinds—it truly isn’t “working out real well.”

And Gaia is telling us so.

She’s been trying for decades to send us a message about our atom-splitting agenda. The letter to Fukushima is just the latest delivery. Her warning comes in the form of various cancers and landscape-altering destruction, but those flashing lights have not stopped those hungry for power, whether it be geopolitical or electric, from tampering with the basic structures of existence. The quest for “more, more, more” keeps us dancing on the edge of destruction. And while science offers tantalizing breakthroughs in unleashing the destructive, mutating forces of the atom, it offers no possibility of stuffing the genie back into the bottle. Or stuffing nuclear waste into the black hole of “safe disposal.” America solved the waste problem by turning it into profitable ammunition and shooting it all over the terrain of other nations.

Science is good at figuring out what it is we can do. It falls woefully short in determining what it is we should or shouldn’t do. Should we rely on nuclear fission? Despite the deadly evidence, we ignore Gaia’s verdict on our trials and our errors with the atom.

Then again, we also refuse to stop littering her with our petrochemical playthings.

Although we’ve gotten better at recycling plastic, it has come too late for the Pacific Ocean. Now home to a floating trash heap, the evidence of our throw-away mentality has built-up into an island of disused bottles, broken down packaging and discarded widgets. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch drifts and grows and, over time, disintegrates into smaller and smaller pieces. So much so, that a huge portion of water between Hawai’i and Japan is contaminated by a filmy plastic residue. We’ve covered the font of life—the ocean—with a toxic blanket. It is not a safety blanket. It shouldn’t keep you warm at night to know that a key link in the food chain is covered in plastic.

However, Mother Earth is not without a sense of irony.

Our ignorant use of chemicals and poisons made our water increasingly unsafe to drink. She was telling us to stop by making us sick, but we didn’t listen. Instead, we began drinking water out of plastic bottles. Those bottles are made with Bisphenol-A, a hormone-altering chemical that, among other things, affects fertility. The joke’s on us, because we are compromising our ability to reproduce by using plastic bottles to deliver the “clean water” our planet used to provide us all…free of charge. Nature keeps on telling us to stop. We don’t listen.

Not content with splitting atoms or shaping plastic, we’ve moved onto splicing genes. Blithely tampering with the basic engine of life—DNA—we cannot know the long-term consequences of our mixing and matching.

Or can we?

Because it looks like Mother Earth is killing the reproductive canary in the ecological coalmine. Monsanto’s new “Roundup Ready” alfalfa seems to show a link to animal infertility, “sudden death syndrome” in soy crops and other ominously-named diseases. Driven by a need to sustain the market for their poisonous weed killer, Monsanto simply altered the genetics of the crops it is sprayed on. They also patent any of the genes they alter, thus claiming life’s roadmap as their privatized intellectually property. They’ve even re-engineered plants to be barren, so that they will not produce seeds. The “Terminator Gene” undermines the mystical engine of life—the ability of DNA to beget more DNA. They’ve altered horticulture and, perhaps, plant biology for generations to come. The immediate outcome is that poor farmers cannot collect seeds for the next season. They must feed Monsanto’s bottom line rather than their hungry neighbors. It’s much harder to project the long-term impact of short-circuiting the essential power of living things to reproduce.

Much like the multi-generational fallout from a failing nuclear plant or an above ground test, we never fully anticipate the unexpected consequences of this adventure in playing God. But, then again, we tend not to think in terms of geological time. The collective fantasy of a 5000 year-old planet, one rooted in a divine exemption from the engine of evolution, ignores the possibility that we could be the agents of our own extinction."

[READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE HERE]

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

If I Could Change Anything...

   If I had the opportunity to change one thing -- I'm talking It's A Wonderful Life style -- I would keep the concept of money from ever coming to pass.

   Money is an artificial entity. Some might say it was intended to make bartering and trading simpler, but I suspect even then there were ulterior motives. In it's ideal it might serve to make barter and trade easier, but at it's worst it is a beast of manipulation that only serves to promote manipulative people.

   I'm not saying Adam Smith was completely wrong. Adam Smith was actually spot-on in the context of what he had to work with. Adam Smith said, "No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable."

   Guess where we are, folks?

   We have been bought and sold, our futures mortgaged for the consolidation of meaningless paper, coin, and virtual numbers.

   At least barter and trade produced something meaningful and/or tangible.

   We need to expect to pay more for quality and expect more from those we provide with quality.

   I am exhausted trading my resources to entities who fail to live up to what is put out.


   What do you think?


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Organic Fertilizer Maker Charged with Fraud



Some organic farms in the western United States may have been duped into using non-organic fertilizer, and consumers who thought they were buying organic food may instead have been paying a premium for goods grown with synthetic chemicals.

An indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in California Thursday alleges that fertilizers supplied by companies owned by Kenneth Noel Nelson Jr. were made with synthetic ingredients not approved for organic farming, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner announced in a news release.

Nelson, of Bakersfield, CA, was charged with 28 counts of mail fraud. The largest seller of "organic" fertilizer in the West, Nelson has owned and operated various companies, including Port Organic Products Ltd., AgroMar Inc., Sail-On Ag Products Inc., Desert Organic Express Inc., Action Fertilizer, and Microbial Assisted Soil Health Inc. 

As alleged in the indictment, from at least 2004 to January 2009, liquid fertilizer Nelson labeled and marketed as made with all-natural ingredients such as fish meal, bird guano, or blood meal, instead contained aqueous ammonia, ammonium sulfate, synthetic urea, and other nonorganic, synthetic substances -- additives in conventional fertilizers that are not permitted in organic-crop production.

The indictment accuses Nelson of submitting false applications and renewal applications to obtain and maintain organic listings for his fertilizers from Organic Materials Review Institute and Washington State Department of Agriculture.

If convicted, Nelson faces a maximum sentence for each count of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and up to three years of supervised release.

According to the LA Times' P.J. Hufstutter, the indictment, the second in recent months, is part of an effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of the Inspector General to crack down on fraud and corruption in the more than $24 billion organic industry.

Imagination

   As I sit here, a constant insomniac, I am looking at a pile of my son's Legos which we allowed him to move to the living room last week. He and I had started a sorting project that I now understand was much larger than I anticipated...

   As I am pondering this pile of plastic bricks and blocks I begin to imagine. What I notice is that I am not imagining what new wonders I might create -- no, I am imagining the locations of the wanted pieces for the partially-completed projects lying about. I actually get down on hands and knees and start moving pieces around trying to find a handful of bricks to add to this project or that...

   Suddenly I realize -- this pile is America and I am the CEOs who have more power than any President, Senator, Congressman, or Judge. My personal interest is seeking out what I need. I'm not really concerned with building anything new -- what intrigues me is finding pieces for the old ideas lying around the edges of the Lego pile.

   Today I am 40 and I still have a Lego helicopter that I built around age 12 (I'm not really proud, but I have a point...). At the time I was exploring all kinds of new things and this project came right out of Airwolf, Blue Thunder, and an influential issue of Popular Mechanics. My son builds new things everyday.

   At 40 what occurs to me is, "I bet I can find a 1x12 piece to stick on that random, abandoned road-copter..."

   I'm not discounting shifting priorities or even factors of importance regarding Legos versus "real life", but I have to wonder if my own father wasn't right. George Bernard Shaw said, "Youth is wasted on the young."

   My father told me that was crap. He said, "Money is wasted on the old."

   I imagine he may have had a point.

A Good Day

   Last night my wife and I were paying the bills (okay, she does most of the actual work) and we made a startling realization. Due to a perfect storm of dates lining up well with paychecks and rent this month and next, a couple of really good weeks at work for both my wife and myself, and the fact that we have cut our expenses over the past two and a half months, we had enough money left in the bank after paying bills to not only make a significant payment on our last credit card, but pay the entire balance. It would leave us stretched pretty thin, so we agreed to sleep on it.

   This morning we both looked at each other and said, "Let's do it!"

   It will take a day for the payment to be processed, but once it is we will be credit-card-free!

   We are far from our goal of being completely debt-free, but all of our high-interest, soul-sucking credit cards are paid off. To all the credit card companies I sincerely wish you nothing but demise. You are all bone-picking vultures and deserve to reap what you sow. I vow never to borrow money on credit card terms again.

   At this point we still have some loans and a hospital bill. While it's still a tall mountain to climb, it feels great to have the two-steps-forward-one-step-back part of the journey behind us. I also still have yet to complete our tax return, but all that is left at this point is a final go-over and paying the thing.

   We were even able to keep a few dollars to take to the produce stand and the butcher to pick up some fruits, veggies, and raw milk. We cleaned the kitchen (no small task since the dishwasher broke a few days back), I made a big vegetable salad and a fruit salad while my wife made pork chop stew. After dinner we prepped some ribs for tomorrow, did some canning, and started picking out heirloom seeds and planning this year's garden.

   As I type, several pints of canned milk are cooling on the kitchen counter. I'll post an update on how that experiment turns out.

   All in all, it was a good day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

HOME-CANNED MILK

HOME-CANNED MILK

By Josie Zoch
May/June 1984

Mother Earth News

Making cheese and yogurt isn't the only method of "putting up" your surplus dairy products.

If you loathe having to fork over hard-earned cash for store-bought milk every time your dairy animals enter a dry spell, you'll be glad to know that the solution to that problem is as handy as your regular canning equipment. You see, you can store the fluid protein produced by your cow, goat, or ewe for pennies a quart . . . and then keep the sealed jars on hand for six months or more.

THE WHYS AND WHEREFORES

You might wonder why anyone would want to bother canning milk when the dairy liquid is available fresh at the grocer's any day of the week. After all, it's a well-known fact that home canning isn't the easiest of chores. Then again, perhaps it seems to you that excess milk could be put to better use as versatile yogurt and cheese.

However, if you intend to drink milk provided by your own animals when they have no fresh available, you'll just about have to can some of that spring surplus. Drying the dairy product is next to impossible . . . while either cheese or yogurt would make a lousy cup of cocoa. And although freezing is a fine way to put up homogenized milk, this procedure is less satisfactory for untreated cow's milk. When thawed, the "raw" product separates into watery liquid and flakes of milk fat. The homogenized nature of ewe's and goat's milk does make them more suited to freezing, but the amount of space you'll want to allot to frozen dairy surplus is likely to be limited.

FROM BUCKET TO BOTTLE

The method I use to put up milk is the same process that my grandmother employed . . . except that she used cow's rather than goat's milk. If you want to try this procedure, begin by sterilizing all the milking equipment by rinsing it in boiling water. (And wipe the animal's udder clean with a warm, damp cloth to prevent contaminants from falling into the milk pail.) Once the perishable commodity is safely bucketed, strain it through several layers of sterile, thickly woven, soft cotton cloth (or a sieve made especially for the task) and into a clean enamel, stainless steel, or glass container. Then cover the vessel with a clean, porous towel so that the milk will "breathe" yet remain dust-free while it cools.

At this time, check your canning jars for nicks or cracks . . . wash the containers in hot, soapy water . . . and submerge the rinsed jars in clean, hot water until you're ready to fill them with milk. You'll also need to boil the canning lids and rings in a pan of water for a few moments, then let them bathe, removed from the heat, in the sterile liquid.

Now, fill the jars, leaving 1/2" of headspace at the top of each container. (Because I like to be sure that no uninvited particles have a chance to stumble into the milk, I filter the harvest a second time during this step.) After wiping the rims with a clean, damp cloth, cap the jars with the sterilized lids and rings. When that's done, gently set the flasks on the rack of your pressure canner, add the appropriate amount of water (check the instructions that came with your cooker), and place the whole shebang over the hottest part of the stove.

Next, following the manufacturer's instructions, bring the canner to 10 pounds of pressure and process the milk for 25 minutes if you're using quarts and 20 minutes for pint-size containers. It's imperative that you pay close attention at this point: If the pressure falls below 10 pounds while the milk is being processed, you'll have to start timing all over again.

Once the jars have been boiled for the allotted period, remove the canner from the heat and let it sit untouched until all pressure has left the chamber (this usually takes an hour or so). Then set the jars in a draft-free spot on a rack, a towel, or several sheets of newspaper . . . shroud the bottles with a towel . . . and leave them "tucked in" overnight. Check the seals for leakage the next morning and store the milk on a cool, dark shelf.

Four cases of quart containers should allow a milk-loving family to get through a two-month dry spell. I bottle up a fresh supply each spring, and any milk left from the preceding year gets fed to the livestock at that time. Canned milk is marvelous for fattening a hog, and during lambing or calving season I often supplement our young farm animals' meals with the bottled product, once they've gotten their initial dose of colostrum. However, canned milk should never be the critters' complete diet, because cooking destroys some of the dairy product's nutritive value.

READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT MOTHER EARTH NEWS

The wife and I will be trying this soon. Not for drinking so much as a small amount for cooking in things like gravies and such.

I'll keep you posted!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pesticides killing bees that pollinate our food

   By

Currently, the U.S. loses one in every three beehives for a variety of reasons: poor nutrition, poor quality of queens, pathogens such as mites, difficult winters and lack of pollinator habitat.

But industrial pesticides tend to be the problematic "elephant in the room." Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes corn and soybeans so heavily (and the Food and Drug Administration is not subsidized nearly enough) pesticides tend to fall into areas of very little oversight — until major bee kills happen. Honey bees pollinate 30 percent of the food we eat, and pollinators provide 75 percent of the reproduction needed for flowers.

[READ THE ARTICLE]

[MORE HERE]

[AND HERE]

Dividend Season

   If I wasn't entirely prepared for daylight savings time, my REI dividend completely made up for it! It's time to get ready for camping and backpacking season. I really need to get back outside. I need to remember that my job is just a means to an end and what that end can be. I think it's time to plan an outing...

   Speaking of which, cousin-in-law and I have plans to take our boys to the gun range tomorrow. I'll be able to test some reloading experiments, spend some time with my son outside of the routine, and blow off some steam.

   It's going to be a good day. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Danger of Civilization

"The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense"


I will be looking for The Beast God Forgot to Invent by Jim Harrison at the library this week. If the quote above is any indication, I expect to find much truth there.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

FDA Attacks Raw Milk

FDA Attacks Raw Milk




The FDA actually spent your tax dollars to create THIS — a poster they’re asking you to share with your friends and family about the dangers of raw milk.

I learned about the poster first from Cathy Raymond at the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund. In her email, she asked the same question that came to my mind, “Where’s the poster for the #1 Food Safety Risky Food – Leafy Greens? Or better yet, Ice Cream?”

You read right. The absolute riskiest food in America to eat is LEAFY GREENS! Yet no one, not even the FDA, is saying that eating leafy greens is “playing Russian Roulette with your health.” No one is pushing for the sale of leafy greens to be illegal. And no one is using your tax dollars to create anti- leafy green vegetable posters.

It’s a double standard.

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: FDA Attacks Raw Milk

Sustainable Farming Can Feed the World?

   Great article by Mark Bittman in the New York Times:

The oldest and most common dig against organic agriculture is that it cannot feed the world’s citizens; this, however, is a supposition, not a fact. And industrial agriculture isn’t working perfectly, either: the global food price index is at a record high, and our agricultural system is wreaking havoc with the health not only of humans but of the earth. There are around a billion undernourished people; we can also thank the current system for the billion who are overweight or obese.

Yet there is good news: increasing numbers of scientists, policy panels and experts (not hippies!) are suggesting that agricultural practices pretty close to organic — perhaps best called “sustainable” — can feed more poor people sooner, begin to repair the damage caused by industrial production and, in the long term, become the norm.

On Tuesday, Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the Right to Food, presented a report entitled “Agro-ecology and the Right to Food.” (Agro-ecology, he said in a telephone interview last Friday, has “lots” in common with both “sustainable” and “organic.”) Chief among de Schutter’s recommendations is this: “Agriculture should be fundamentally redirected towards modes of production that are more environmentally sustainable and socially just.”

Agro-ecology, he said, immediately helps “small farmers who must be able to farm in ways that are less expensive and more productive. But it benefits all of us, because it decelerates global warming and ecological destruction.” Further, by decentralizing production, floods in Southeast Asia, for example, might not mean huge shortfalls in the world’s rice crop; smaller scale farming makes the system less susceptible to climate shocks. (Calling it a system is a convention; it’s actually quite anarchic, what with all these starving and overweight people canceling each other out.)

Industrial (or “conventional”) agriculture requires a great deal of resources, including disproportionate amounts of water and the fossil fuel that’s needed to make chemical fertilizer, mechanize working the land and its crops, running irrigation sources, heat buildings and crop dryers and, of course, transportation. This means it needs more in the way of resources than the earth can replenish. (Fun/depressing fact: It takes the earth 18 months to replenish the amount of resources we use each year. Looked at another way, we’d need 1.5 earths to be sustainable at our current rate of consumption.)

Agro-ecology and related methods are going to require resources too, but they’re more in the form of labor, both intellectual — much research remains to be done — and physical: the world will need more farmers, and quite possibly less mechanization. Many adherents rule out nothing, including in their recommendations even GMOs and chemical fertilizers where justifiable. Meanwhile, those working towards improving conventional agriculture are borrowing more from organic methods. (Many of these hybrid systems were discussed convincingly in Andrew Revkin’s DotEarth blog last week.)

Currently, however, it’s difficult to see progress in a country where, for example, nearly 90 percent of the corn crop is used for either ethanol (40 percent) or animal feed (50 percent). And most of the diehard adherents of industrial agriculture — sadly, this usually includes Congress, which largely ignores these issues — act as if we’ll somehow “fix” global warming and the resulting climate change. (The small percentage of climate-change deniers are still arguing with Copernicus.) Their assumption is that by increasing supply, we’ll eventually figure out how to feed everyone on earth, even though we don’t do that now, our population is going to be nine billion by 2050, and more supply of the wrong things — oil, corn, beef — only worsens things. Many seem to naively believe that we won’t run out of the resources we need to keep this system going.

There is more than a bit of silver-bullet thinking here. Yet anyone who opens his or her eyes sees a natural world so threatened by industrial agriculture that it’s tempting to drop off the grid and raise a few chickens.

   READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE HERE

Book Report: Food Rules

   I just found out this week that Michael Pollan put out a book in 2009, Food Rules. The other day at the library I borrowed a copy. It's a pretty easy read -- 140 pages covering 64 rules or guidelines for eating healthy as described in Pollan's earlier book, In Defense of Food.

   In fact, I came away from the book feeling that it was a great refresher for In Defense of Food. On the other hand, for anyone who hasn't read In Defense of Food, Food Rules is a great primer. Pollan even breaks the book up into three categories from the previous book, "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much." Pollan says up front that the book is intended to be a simple guide not weighed down by the science and debate covered in earlier books. Still, his introduction includes a lot of compelling information and every now and then a rule explanation will dip a little into the science behind it.

   As I said, it's an easy read. I understand Pollan is working on an expanded version of the book. I will most likely acquire a personal copy as it would be nice to be able to pick it up from time to time to pick apart bad habits that may creep back in. Actually, the book lends itself to a "Tip-a-Day" calendar type format.

   If he can come up with 365 Food Rules, I'd buy it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

News on GMOs

   This just in...

   Lawmakers urge FDA to go slow on genetically modified salmon

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) says that Congress cannot allow "these alien fish to infect our stocks." 

   ...and...

   Shoppers wary of genetically modified foods find they're everywhere

The Agriculture Department has approved three more genetically engineered crops in the past month, and the Food and Drug Administration could approve fast-growing genetically modified salmon for human consumption this year.

---

   If you think the USDA and the FDA care about you more than money, you are not paying attention. You and I were sold out years ago. I love this quote:

"Genetically modified crops were introduced to the market in 1996. That year, engineered corn accounted for less than 5 percent of the total crop. Last year, the USDA estimated that 70 percent of the nation's corn acreage was planted with corn engineered to resist herbicides and 63 percent had been planted with insect-resistant seeds. Rates for soybeans and cotton are even higher."

   We're feeding the world!

   ...oh, wait, no. We have poisoned people and helped make them fatter and sicker, gotten rich on their backs, created new breeds of resistant agricultural pests, and done relatively little toward feeding hungry people (unless they have money).

   Hooray us!

   Wait a damned minute, you say? I should not place blame?

   Perhaps I am being unfair. So I leave you with this:

U.S. targeted EU on GM foods

   Senior U.S. officials in Paris advised the George Bush administration to launch a military-style trade war against the European Union for resisting genetically modified foods, according to newly released WikiLeaks cables.

The then U.S. ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton, asked the government to penalize the EU and particularly countries that banned the use of genetically modified (GM) crops.

The move came in response to a 2007 French ban on a GM corn variety made by U.S.-based company Monsanto.

Other newly released cables show U.S. diplomats around the world pushed GM crops as part of U.S. global food policy.

For example, the U.S. applied pressure to the Pope's advisers to champion such crops to counter the opposition by many Catholic bishops in developing countries who were vehemently opposed to it.

Other cables show U.S. diplomats working directly for GM companies such as Monsanto joined forces with Spain to persuade the EU not to strengthen biotechnology laws.

   READ IT HERE

Rethinking Resolutions

   Less than two months after I posted my resolutions for the year, I am beginning to wonder if I aimed too low. As I said, we are primarily focused on getting out of debt. I have talked a little about our experience on this journey here and there. Let me first bring you up to speed.

   We are starting with our credit card debt, focusing on the highest interest rate cards first. While we have made very good progress on this front, there have been setbacks. First was Washington State informing me that, as an independent contractor, I have been delinquent in filing for a business license and paying taxes on such a business (mentioned in This Time Of Year). I reconciled this as quickly as I was able and found that the taxes owed did not amount to anything we couldn't handle. Sometimes it works out in our favor that we don't make a lot of money. Still, it was a setback.

   Our second setback has been Federal taxes. I have been going back and making sure we are including everything and in doing so have been able to bring what to owe to a reasonable amount, but it looks like we will still owe money. That's another setback.

   The third, and most irritating setback came in the form of a credit card debt of which we were unaware. In a nut, a couple years back my wife was in the process of getting her business licenses transferred to Washington State (I swear, this state has a serious racket with it's licensing!), we were in a pinch and agreed to put about $200 in fees on a credit card. By our own mistake, we used a card (Card A) that we had already paid off, intending to use a different card (Card B) from the same institution. Unfortunately, neither my wife nor I can recall receiving a statement on Card A. We naturally assumed our payments on Card B were going toward the debt. That is, until we recently received a collection notice on Card A, which had now run up to almost $700 on interest and fees. It took a couple weeks and many phone calls to both the bank and the collection agent explaining our position and flat out refusing to pay $700 on a $200 debt for which we were never billed before we were able to finally settle the account for about $350. A very frustrating setback and one more reason to hate credit cards.

   All that said, we are making better progress on paying down our debt than I expected. I am making it my goal to be completely out of debt before the end of the year. I really think we can do it if we stay focused.

   I have done almost nothing with the writing project I mentioned in my resolutions. I have been waiting for information from someone on which to base my decision on which project to pursue, but I haven't pushed the issue because I've been depressed and otherwise occupied. I intend to remedy that.

   I also did not want to get specific because some things are kind of up in the air right now. I realize now that I don't need to understand how it might happen, I just need to put it out there. That said, I intend to have a productive garden this year and to put some wild game into my freezer this year. I intend to have a location for the family farm by this time next year. I will learn more about eating healthy and sustainably as we make greater strides this year toward being self-sufficient and sustainable.

   My family will be happy and healthy.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Roof study reveals health dangers of harvested rainwater International News News | Click Green

Roof study reveals health dangers of harvested rainwater International News News | Click Green

The study, led by civil, architectural and environmental engineering Assistant Professor Mary Jo Kirisits, showed that, of the five roofing materials tested, metal (specifically Galvalume), concrete tile and cool roofs produce the highest harvested rainwater quality for indoor domestic use.

The study also showed that rainwater from asphalt fibreglass shingle roofs and increasingly popular “green” roofs contain high levels of dissolved organic carbon (DOC).

Although other potential pollutants can be significantly lower on green roofs (turbidity and aluminum), the high DOCs are significant where these roofs would be used for potable rainwater collection.

Water with DOC is not necessarily dangerous on its own, but Kirisits said when it’s mixed with chlorine – a common product used to disinfect water – the two substances react to form byproducts that potentially cause cancer and other negative human health effects.

Roof study reveals health dangers of harvested rainwater International News News | Click Green

Low, low prices: Target beats Wal-Mart

Low, low prices: Target beats Wal-Mart

Craig Johnson, president of retail consulting firm Customer Growth Partners, compared 35 brand-name items sold at Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) and Target (TGT, Fortune 500) stores in New York, Indiana and North Carolina. They consisted of 22 common grocery goods such as milk, cereal and rice; 10 general merchandise products such as clothing and home furnishings; and three health and beauty items.

Target's shopping cart rang in at $269.13 (pre-tax), a hair lower than the $271.07 charged at Wal-Mart.

"For the first time in four years, our price comparisons between the two has shown that Target has a slight edge over Wal-Mart," said Johnson. A smaller study by Kantar Retail found similar results...

Said Johnson, "When you add the Redcard's 5% discount, the price gap widens to 5.7%."

Low, low prices: Target beats Wal-Mart

More Pictures!

   While putting up today's pictures I came across some pictures I had uploaded earlier and never got around to posting. Just got sidetracked...

   Let's see... up first, our clothes dryer:


   ...we have an electric clothes dryer, but we only use it for towels and sometimes sheets and blankets. During the summer we can hang clothes to dry outside on the line, but most of the year we use this method. The downside is that we can't really do more than two loads a day, but that means we tend to pace ourselves, do just one load every day or two days, and we don't use a ton of water on any one day. The upside, though, is that our clothes don't wear out as fast and our electric bill is considerably lower. 

   It's not a bad system, in all. We run a dehumidifier regularly anyway. The dehumidifier uses a lot less electricity than the clothes dryer and we are able to use the water it collects for things like dishes or the next load of laundry. We also heat with the wood stove. In order to move the heat around the house we have one fan behind the wood stove and a box fan on the hall floor (as seen in the first picture above). The fan behind the stove moves warm air around the living room while the box fan pushes cold air from the back rooms into the living room. The warm air from the living room is displaced to the back rooms. We run the dehumidifier at night while we're asleep because it does make some noise.

   We hang shirts and pants on the door frames in the hall way and hang the rest on racks in the living room directly downwind of the hall. The whole set-up creates an airflow through the house that dries a couple loads of wash overnight. 

   What else did I find?...



   ...some pictures from one of this winter's snowfalls...



   ...and some pictures from the last harvest of the past fall.

Pictures!

   Happy Fat Tuesday!

   Today the weather was nice so we headed out to get some chores done around the house. Things like raking up after the chickens, finally picking up the chicken infirmary we had set up for Little, turning the compost pile, seeding the lawn where the chickens have gotten a bit over-zealous, and just doing some general clean-up.

   We let the chickens run loose while we worked and I turned my son loose with the camera. Here's some of what he came up with...









   Finally, a couple of shots of the yard, all picked up and the chickens put away...


Humping The American Dream: Afterglow

   The middle class has been gradually dissolving as poverty rises in America. While the "new economy" depends on job innovation, blue collar jobs that were the backbone of the American economy for decades are disappearing. If our new jobs rely on coming up with ways to do more with less (technical innovation and efficiency) while the "everyman" jobs (manufacturing and production) move offshore, don't more Americans fall into poverty? It used to be respectable for an American worker to work a factory job, support their family, maybe even work their way up the ladder a rung or two before taking a modest retirement. A college education could get one in a little higher up that ladder and earn a person a solid career with security, a better lifestyle, and a nicer retirement. Today the bottom seems to have fallen out and turned into a canyon between the rich and the poor.

   There is a given that the economy must grow. This is a poor plan in my own personal opinion because, even in the most optimistic or prosperous of times it never seems to find an equitable balance of wealth, control, and power and it has always been unsustainable in the long term. Regardless, we have set up a system that requires the economy to continually grow.

   Since WWII we have refined this concept of industrialization so that (almost) every American can have a home and a good job to support a family. Post WWII America saw the rise of the middle-class, abundance, and affluence. Franklin Roosevelt understood Jefferson's ideal that the world belongs to the living and was willing to change the terms of government based on current realities and not the realities of 1788. Still, his second bill of rights was never adopted. After WWII, FDR's second bill of rights seemed unnecessary, but we set out on a course of unintended consequences.

   It seems to me that after the prosperity of the 1950's we lost something that had been part of the American zeitgeist until then. Perhaps it was a result of Roosevelt's willingness to try anything to drag us out of The Great Depression? Maybe we got really comfortable with the middle-class lifestyle of the '50's, maybe we were just really relieved to be done with the Second World War in only 31 years? Maybe the Second World War just moved us into a new era where the Second Amendment was no longer a viable insurance policy for the average family? Certainly television was already starting to turn us into consumer-zombies. Whatever it was, the second half of the 20th Century saw a change in the United States and new breed of American. Gradually we became entitled, complacent, and resentful of anyone who pointed it out.

   In the sixties, we wrote off those who had an idea that things should be different. In the seventies, we had a President who told us, "I do not promise you that this struggle for freedom will be easy. I do not promise a quick way out of our Nation's problems, when the truth is that the only way out is an all-out effort. What I do promise you is that I will lead our fight, and I will enforce fairness in our struggle, and I will ensure honesty. And above all, I will act." We promptly voted him out of office. We elected new people who opened the gates to hump all that was left of the American Dream in the eighties. The nineties had it's ebbs and flows with both sides focused on the economy. It almost seems serendipitous that terrorists from the Middle East attacked the U.S. in 2001, setting the course for Military-Industrial growth, potential control of the hundred-year-old lifeblood of industry, and the final, senile thrusts of The American Gang-Dream.

   At the beginning of the second decade of the 21st Century, we have surrendered our rights to government, our government and wealth to the heads of Corporation, and our children to almost certain poverty. American Imperialism has run it's course. Health (#37 according to the World Health Organization), education (18th among the 36 industrialized nations), infant mortality (the CIA cites 51 countries with lower infant mortality rates) -- the United States has fallen behind on all counts. Even if the U.S. is still the wealthiest country, it is only a very small handful of Americans who hold that wealth in 2011.

   We have only two real options at this point:

   1. Rise up against the Corporatist State of America

   2. Prepare for The Transition

   Brace yourself, citizen.

Monday, March 7, 2011

America's Coup d'état

   There is a great article on Daily Kos from March 5th. While I know the author has a reputation for being an extremist, I'll take truth where I can find it, even if I have to hunt and peck.

   Here's a snip:

Contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so that you'll give up your pension, cut your wages, and settle for the life your great-grandparents had, America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It's just that it's not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.

Today just 400 Americans have the same wealth as half of all Americans combined.

Let me say that again. 400 obscenely rich people, most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer "bailout" of 2008, now have as much loot, stock and property as the assets of 155 million Americans combined. If you can't bring yourself to call that a financial coup d'état, then you are simply not being honest about what you know in your heart to be true.

   Read The Entire Article Here

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Crazy Weather

   After a long stint of cold, rain, and snow, today the sun came out. The mercury not only got up to 40, it hit 46!

   Blue skies and sun, followed by rain and 17-26 mph winds, followed by sun and rain, followed by overcast and more wind. At present it's partly cloudy with a mild wind, but the sky is still brighter than it's been in over a month.

   The wind has been bad enough that we are fortunate to be one of the homes that still have power. Of course, today is garbage and recycling pick-up, so there is trash mixed in with downed tree limbs scattered everywhere.

   Last week we had another uncharacteristic amount of snow and freezing conditions that affected areas all over the Puget Sound.

   all in all I have to admit, it is nice to see the sun again.