Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tiny Garden Experiment -- The Final Report

Way back in March I began a tiny garden experiment after watching a documentary called Food Inc. I was literally horrified to see the state of industrial food production here in the United States and took the advice of the producers when they suggested we should all begin to break away from monster that apathy, corporate greed, and consumer convenience created. Hey, I know it's tiny but the title of this post should explain everything.

 As the picture clearly shows it consisted of a small prefabricated raised bed, and garden soil bought at the local mega-hardware. Not shown is the thick plastic tarp separating the clean garden soil from the possibly contaminated soil in my yard. The reason I did that is because if the previous occupants of the house I live are anything like the other soulless pod people of the neighborhood, my backyard is probably awash in artificial lawn fertilizers and pesticides. Again the whole point is to try and eat a little healthier and if my garden plants soaked up all the crap in the soil because the former occupant loved his living green carpet I might as well just continue buying the stuff from the local grocery store.

Initially I planted lettuce seeds directly into the soil, some broccoli plants and one cherry tomato plant bought from the hardware store. The lettuce was a huge success, to the point I began growing fur and developing longer ears. The broccoli plants went straight to seed and had to be pulled. The biggest, and strangest failure, was the cherry tomato plant that while never actually dying refused to grow. A few months later, I bought another tomato plant, this time the Roma variety, and while it grew it has been a partial failure since I have only been able to harvest about three tomatoes from it. I'm not exactly sure what happened or what I did that might have screwed up something as simple as tomato plants when the lettuce and other items did so well.

Another huge success are my pepper plants, they are even now still producing. They have been used in things like homemade salads, omelets, and fajitas. These too were store bought plants and yes, it is safe to say they have more than paid for themselves. A few months after the garden was started my wife planted some basil and parsley which did great for a while, until one of our dogs decided to dig them up.

A surprising success is my one okra plant that I bought on a whim.We never exactly had enough to fry up a "mess of okra" as my grandmother would say but we did add it to the omelets and fajitas for a rather curious taste.

The biggest and utter failure of this experiment was the seed starter kit. My wife and I bought the kit off Amazon and while the instructions seemed idiot-proof, out of the fifty small sections where a seed was supposed to be planted none of them germinated. I don't blame the kit or the soil, I probably screwed up with the amount of water I used or the location I kept the seed bed. I have this half-assed idea of trying hydroponics during the fall and winter months since I already had a grow light--from one of my wife's projects a few years back--along with plans on my computer.

What is certain is that we are going to buy another raised bed for the coming spring. We're going to move the location of the garden over next the shed since it will provide a great deal more light during the day except for the late afternoon. All things considered, I'd have call the garden an overall success even though the tomatoes and the seed starter kit were total crash and burn failures. While I didn't make a dent in the fight against agribusiness monsters I had fun.              

Monday, September 22, 2014

Send in the Zombies

 Too late, they're already here.

A few days ago one of my buddies, a guy named Marty, asked me if I was eager to see the new season of “The Walking Dead” zombie apocalypse series. For the first couple of seasons of The Walking Dead both Marty and I would examine every episode in detail as the characters struggled to survive both the zombies and the surviving humans who were often far more dangerous. After the conclusion of the third season though, I realized that I had lost nearly all interest in the show. Marty and I did continue to talk during and after the third season but, quite frankly, I was just trying to be sociable.

Part of the problem was the show itself, while the whole point was to explore how the characters would react and adapt to the end of the world, to me the episodes seemed to just be rewrites of the same nightmarish situation. Generally speaking, every episode would have the main characters fleeing a zombie horde while dealing with treachery from within their group or an external threat from another. Yeah, there lots of room to maneuver in such a fictional environment but, speaking strictly for myself, I need something that suggests the characters will do more than just narrowly survive each episode. If I invest time and emotion in fictional characters I need to see some chance that they will eventually reach an endgame in their struggles, whether that be tragic or happy.

The other reason I stopped watching “The Walking Dead” had to do with the general situation of the world. While I can deal with the idea that zombies symbolize mindless American consumers who will literally trample each other in an insane rush to save a few bucks on mass produced crap I have difficult time when the level of anarchy in the real world begins to rival that of the show.

Honestly, I don't know which is more terrifying and dangerous. Hordes of undead zombies looking to eat the flesh of the living or religious fanatics who believe their path to eternal paradise requires the death of anyone who believes something different. Officially, I'm agnostic and find religious matters incredibly tiresome since most of the people running around claiming a direct link to the Almighty have a horrible track record when it comes showing compassion and love to their fellow humans. In other words, if all faiths preach peace and understanding why aren't religious extremists the most peaceful? Yes, I am generally talking about the insanity of the ISIS movement. But I would be hypocritical if I did not mention American Christians screaming at buses loaded with children from Central American fleeing poverty and murderous gangs. The propaganda coming from American religious conservatives about how these children are invaders intent on talking over the United States defies even the most basic tenets of commonsense and reason.

Another aspect of modern life that seems like a bit of The Walking Dead spilling over into real life is seeing adults walking around American cities and towns with assault rifles. It would actually be a little funny if those people weren't deadly serious in their belief that they only feel safe in the United States carrying a weapons specifically designed for a high rate of fire and to more shred human tissue than kill.

The final thing that killed all my interest in zombies and most other end of the world scenarios is the Ebola plague ravaging west Africa even now. The last thing I want to do is seem like Chicken Little running around screaming about the sky falling but that is one nasty virus. I've read some decent news reports that scientists have determined the Ebola virus is evolving almost in real time. These reports suggest that this rapid evolution could mean the virus becomes less lethal, which would be a good thing, or easier to pass around like catching the common cold from someone's sneezing in a crowded room.

So I will happily be skipping The Walking Dead this season. Through religious inspired stupidity and civilians harboring a deluded dependence on military weapons fearful of an evil boogeyman lurking in the shadows, many seem to be wishing for some apocalypse. I have better things to do, plus we real-life humans don't seem to be much better than television zombies hungering for the flesh of the living.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In Praise of the Eco-Pirate

"I think the problem is that we don't really understand what we are. In essence we're just a conceited, naked ape. But in our minds we're some sort of "divine legend", and we see ourselves as some sort of god. That we can walk around the earth deciding who will live and who will die and what will be destroyed and what will be saved. But the fact is we're just a bunch of primates out of control."
Paul Watson

For reasons that are difficult to define at best, I have lacked just about all motivation to write anything whether it be my usual crappy and derivative fiction or some barely coherent political rant. This all consuming lethargy extends even to getting stuff done around the house or yard. Okay, that is nothing unusual for me, I find neither activity existentially redeeming. Nonetheless, I seem to be pushing the envelope on suburban slackerism with the domestic chores I am purposely and contemptuously ignoring .

There are a few plausible reasons for my condition. The first being the time of the year. The entire month of August and most of September in South Carolina are ungodly in their combination of excessive humidity and high temperatures. You spend anytime outdoors and you can feel those twin leeches sucking the life out of you. At least from the latter half of September cooler weather will begin to be the general rule. The second reason is that work is kicking my ass, I come home and pretty much collapse on the couch after eating breakfast. Not a pretty existence, but some have it far worse. The third possible reason is that when I watch the news, in an effort to be an informed citizen, it is a smorgasbord of potential and building global disasters.

Unfortunately unlike the first two there is no easy way come to grips with depressing nature of global affairs. I could ignore the news, but that would be push me closer to the, and I know this is a cruel opinion, the mindless masses who wander around these days and do stupid things like vote Republican. As a bit of backhanded olive branch to these people caught up in a semi-Orwellian bliss I will say that the major news outlets make it hard to stay informed. The world is on extremely shaky ground these days and they spend considerable time on stories best left to the likes of Entertainment Tonight, the National Enquirer or even worse, National Review magazine.

With my ubiquitous cultural and political insult out of the way I will say that during my morning downtime after I get off work and before I go to bed I have been indulging in an old habit of watching documentaries on Netflix. This is how I got a chance to see “Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson.”

I first heard of Paul Watson when the Animal Planet cable network aired the show “Whale Wars.” Captain Watson and the group he founded, Sea Shepard Conversation Society, have played hell with whaling ships, both illegal and those flying national flags for decades. When I first ran across the Whale Wars series I was instantly sympathetic to their cause even though Captain Watson didn't seem to have all the screws in his head properly tightened. In fact, and pardon another abused reference, but he often seemed like some alternate reality version of the insane Captain Ahab, just this time out to save the whales instead in killing them.

Before anyone explodes let me come out and say that after seeing Eco-Pirate I realize I had grossly misjudged Captain Watson. Eco-Pirate is both a biography of Captain Watson and a detailed explanation of the reasons why conservation groups like Greenpeace are woefully inadequate in facing the monstrous destruction of the oceans and the animals, including humans, that depend on it.

What really struck me hard was the story Captain Watson related during a failed attempt to prevent a Soviet whaling ship from harpooning a sperm whale back in the 1970's. Paraphrasing, Watson related how he was able to bring his small rubber boat right next the dying mammal. With the water turned red with blood, Watson looked into the cetacean's eye and somehow knew the creature understood that his group was trying to save it. Watson then went to relate how he realized that the Soviets were killing these remarkable and beautiful creatures for their oil that would be used as lubrication in nuclear missiles, which of course, would allow human to sterilize the planet. He said then that it was at the moment he knew humans were insane. Before anyone accuses me of overt favoritism, Eco-Pirate does let you know that Captain Watson is human with all the failings associated with that condition.

Despite his all to normal warts, Watson is just the shock to the dominate global system --capitalism-- of unrestrained exploitation of the oceans this planet needs. Over the years I have seen how “Free Market Capitalism” can excuse all manner of crimes and destruction. For just a couple of quick examples, I clearly remember a blowhard on one of the American business news channel lamenting how polluting water could be justified as long as there were jobs and money involved. Everyone should also remember how back in 2007-2008 insane banking practices nearly sent the country and the world into another great depression. Now did these irresponsible bankers and investment types ever go to jail? The only time I can recall a capitalist ever going to prison was Bernie Madoff who made the mistake cheating far too many of his own kind. On a side note, throw in ever present excuse of nationalism and religious beliefs and you pretty much have set the human race on a course to extinction.

Getting back on topic, can Captain Paul Watson be an egotistical blowhard with hints of a latent messianic complex? Yeah, but being completely honest, in the face of lying politicians and business types who I find far more similar to Nazi or religious cult types I would say we need at least a thousand more people just like Paul Watson who clearly care more about the planet than power or making a buck. In fact ten-thousand would be a far more ideal number. If you have the chance try and watch, Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson. 

 "We're now in the midst of a 3rd World War, but this time the enemy is ourselves, and the objective is to save the planet FROM ourselves. There's no hope for masses of humanity to do anything — they never have, they never will. All social change comes from the passion and intervention of individuals or small groups of individuals. Slavery wasn't ended by any government or any institution. Women got the right to vote not because of any government. The civil rights movement, the same thing. India with Mahatma Gandhi, South Africa with Nelson Mandela. Again, it's always individuals. You need those individuals with the passion and the energy to get involved. In fact, I don't know of any government or any institutions that are doing anything to solve any of these problems. All over the world, all I am seeing is individuals and non-government organizations that are passionately involved in protecting ecosystems and species, and that's where I see some optimism. That's where I see results are happening."
Paul Watson

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Canine Territorial Incursions

Being that I normally work nights, I don't get to sleep with my wife during the workweek. It is only on Friday and Saturday nights that I am able to sleep like a normal person beside my wife. This has not hurt our relationship, we're both adults and realize we have to do it to keep the family financially afloat in these strange and difficult times. That being said, my absence has caused some strain with the two canine members of the family.

See my spouse, Dragonwife, lets the two dogs sleep with her during the week. Once again this isn't a problem except on the weekend when I rightfully reclaim my spot in our king's sized bed. Ideally, this shouldn't be an issue since the two dogs are rather small. However, anyone who lets their dogs sleep with them knows that just isn't the case.

With my sleeping habits screwed sixteen ways to Sunday because of my job I tend to call it quits early on Friday nights. When I write early I generally mean around nine o'clock, which would send shivers of indignation down the spine of my younger self. I have always been a bit of a night owl with the strange alternating tendency of getting up early in the morning. I guess I have to take this as evidence that my advancing age has exceeded my bodily rhythms. My wife and the dogs stay up a little later, so I am asleep when they finally come to bed. The newest dog, Dixie, immediately goes under the covers and takes a position at the foot between my wife and I. The other dog, Sparky, scoots close to me for a few hours before moving over to sleep next my wife.

Given the size of the bed there is room enough for everyone to be comfortable. The problem comes when I have to go to the bathroom or get some water during the night. As soon as I get up, the dogs decided to redraw the territorial map leaving me without any space. I then have the options of either retreating to the sofa or forcefully carving out some space. Needless to say, the easiest option is just to give up and go to the couch. After dealing with this situation for years, I finally decided to take a picture of this strange situation after discovering the cartoon above. I find a great deal of comfort knowing that apparently I am not the only one dealing with such a scenario. Below is a picture taken last Sunday morning, please note I had to get special clearance from Dragonwife because she had long forbid me from publishing any photographs of her on the internet.