Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Rain Garden Grows

Neighborhood permaculture workshop on Saturday. There were ten or so of us, visiting four households, with local landscaper Russ Henry. Russ emphasized baby steps, rather than grand permaculture campaigns. He gave us insights into things like planting, soil health, pruning, native plants, and so on, recognizing the permaculture principles of storied planting, and energy flows. It was nice getting a small-p permaculture tour. Tell me when to plant the damned thing, and how to prune it. I've got the big idea, but I don't know jack.

Pictures are a continuation of my cherry tree rain garden project. The berm remains unplanted, and I've planted clover in the lower part, mostly to get a cover. (Click on the close-up and you can see the seeds. Amazing what the modern snapshot cameras can do.) Barbara is starting perennials in pots, and they'll go into the ground as they get some size.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hauling Number Five For The Cherry

Number and quantity aren't the same. You can have exactly one or two or 96 apples, but you can't have exactly a bushel.

Spring has hit the Minneapple, and my first project is to build a little berm around the cherry tree so that rain will soak into the ground and we'll have to irrigate less (or never). Two things mean we have to irrigate now, the dense mat of roots in turf, and the way the rain drains down the bank to the sidewalk. I think these show in the picture. I'll remove the turf inside the berm, and replace it with deeply rooted native plants. Between the berm and the roots, I'll hang onto more of whatever water hits my ground, and keep it out of the storm sewer, too.

Minnesota is right on two lines; go east and it gets wet, go west and it gets dry. North is cold, and south is warm. You can see the temperature difference in the suburban vegetation, but you have to go to the western part of the state to find plants that are adapted to a drier climate. I'm betting on climate change making my urban homestead drier. Even if it doesn't happen that way, I'm betting on an economy that makes irrigating with city water impractical (duh!).

Monday, I hauled a (cubic) yard of number five dirt, across with two twenty-five-gallon plastic tubs in the back of our seventeen year-old sub-compact Mazda. Call me Mad Max.

There are 46, 656 cubic inches in a yard. There are 231 in a gallon. That works out to within a quarter cup of 202 gallons in a yard. I wrote off the last two gallons, and made four trips. It's interesting that I was measuring so precisely. Given my tools, I couldn't do otherwise, but the guys at the yard were pretty loose. A yard is two buckets on the little Bobcat end-loader they were using. Since I could only take a quarter yard at a time, they dug out half a bucket whenever they saw me. Twice it was too generous, twice it was stingy. The last time, I figured I wanted as much as I could get, and they let me top off my bins.

It cost forty-two bucks plus tax, and I put forty-two city miles on the car. "Back of the envelope calculation,"based on the yard boss's guess that five gallons weighed sixty pounds, I flung 48 hundred pounds of dirt (between loading and unloading) one shovel at a time, plus wheelbarrow work unloading. Didn't make me stiff, which made me feel like a hot dog.

Monday, April 12, 2010

David Barash And Economics As Ponzi

I really had this idea when I heard about Bernie Madoff. Honest.

The human economy, as currently practiced, is a Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme, for which Madoff is suffering the soul-deadening regimentation of a life-long prison sentence, works like this: The operator persuades investors that he has an attractive investment; the initial investors are enriched -- without knowing the real source of their good fortune -- with revenue from subsequent investors. Ultimately there are no new investors, and the con collapses.

Check out this article, We Are All Madoffs, by David P. Barash, on the Chronicle of Higher Education website.

Not to give any more away than I already have, but to give the analogy some specifics, "Nearly all economic models of 'development' rely upon an unsustainable assumption: that the discovery of new resources (or, alternatively, new inputs of capital, technological saviors of one sort or another, and so forth) will always come to our rescue, enabling us to postpone, indefinitely, any final audit."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How To Tame Your Dragon And The Hollywood Outline

With Barbara in Pennsylvania, visiting her mother, I spent Friday night with Sam and Marissa. After pasta salad and beer, we went to a suburban mulitplex to see the film, How to Tame Your Dragon, a CGI animation about Vikings feuding with dragons on some foggy rock in the North Sea.

The typical Hollywood script has a hero with an explicit desire and a real need. The story appears to give the hero his or her wish. The hero becomes smug or complacent, loses the object of desire, shapes up and does the right thing. Doing the right thing puts the hero in position to have the deeper need satisfied.

Dragon's identity figure is a skinny, dreamy blacksmith's apprentice named Hiccup, surrounded by beefy blusterers, the beefiest of whom is Hiccup's  father, chief dragon fighter, Stoick. Hiccup invents a gadget to kill dragons, but winds up secretly befriending the dragon he injures, and building it a prosthetic tail fin. Everything works out in the end, and the dragons turn out to have pretty kittenish personalities, but Hiccup's character is consistent throughout. He has successes and failures, and his spirits rise and fall, but his dragon learning curve is quick, and his circumstances are either changed for him, or improve because of virtue that was there from the first scene.

The ensemble, Viking village, does go through the Hollywood outline, though. At first, they just want to get rid of the marauding dragons. Things improve from the audience's perspective, because Hiccup rides his tamed dragon, has a romance, and demonstrates stellar dragon handling skills in Viking boot camp. The monkey wrench comes when Stoick drags his dragon-raiding party back in smoldering tatters, finds out Hiccup is his class' star dragon handler, expects to see -- and is disappointed -- him slay a dragon in a right of passage. Stoick disowns Hiccup, and sails off again to kill the dragons in their nest. Hiccup saves the day, and Stoick apologizes (does the right thing). Instead of ridding themselves of the dragons, the Vikings get a deeper payoff in befriending and riding them. The second-person possessive in the title is significant. We do watch Hiccup tame a dragon, but more importantly, we see the Vikings tame their -- metaphorical -- dragon.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tough Girl Detective Tackles Holocaust Reparations

Chicago author, Sara Paretsky's fictional Chicago detective V. I. Warshawski digs into the issue of reparations for Jewish Holocaust survivors, and the descendants of American slaves, in 2001's Total Recall. The Warshawski formula features major villainy on the part of the rich and powerful, reflected by the indifference of the police and other institutions, rudeness on the parts of minor characters, and perversity and skepticism among friends and others who should know better. In Total Recall, an unstable man, who may have recovered memories of the Holocaust under hypnosis, appears, opening old wounds for Warshawski's friend and mentor, Lottie Herschel, whose family did perish. The personal turmoil distracts Warshawski from the case she should concentrate on, that of a black widow refused -- on the funeral day -- payment of her husband's burial insurance. Coincidence gradually weaves the two stories together, with the reader puzzling over several mysteries.

In the novel, the American insurer, merged with a Swiss company, lobbies against a bill in the state legislature to force audits of Illinois insurers which had been active in pre-War Europe. Warshawski says this would turn the Swiss company's expected gold mine into a bankruptcy court.

Americans could expect similar results if our society were to indemnify the descendants of slaves -- or first Americans -- for the wealth that their ancestors built but couldn't bequeath. Haiti could bankrupt the French, if France were to make it whole for the ninety million Francs the Haitians paid for their freedom. I'm thinking of asking the English Crown to pay for its occupation of Eire. You can make your own list.

The interesting mystery is, "Where did the money go?"

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Scarcity, Abundance, And Sketchbook Pages

Violence comes from a sense of scarcity that's real, not an illusion. People do starve. One of the notions that The world's goods are unevenly distributed. Some of us have appropriated more than our share, some of us hate, but ultimately, we murder and steal because that seems better than starving. One notion that comes in a range of brands is "abundance." "There is no scarcity." "Scarcity betrays an unwillingness to exercise our imaginations." "We can reach abundance."

Talking with a friend the other day about human prospects, we were both pessimistic. I said it was up to sixtyish Americans. We're the ones with the information and the leisure to create abundance; besides, we have some unfinished business from forty years ago.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sketches From The Morning After Drawing Group

Another sketchbook page, and some drawings from my Tuesday drawing co-op. The five scratchy figure/portrait drawings are each from two-minute poses in a figure-dedicated sketchbook. I used an ultra-fine Sharpie, as I did in my free association. The other life drawings are charcoal pencil on Strathmore charcoal paper. Both papers are 9x12, with minimal cropping in PhotoShop.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Sketchbook And Pablo's

More sketchbook. I've been reading Picasso and Portratiture: Representation and Transformation, published by the Museum of Modern Art. Cool book with lots of reproductions of pictures by the best draftsman of the last century. Ken, if you can read this where you are, Picasso wasn't cheating. I'd give my teeth (but not my soul) to be able to draw the way he could. His paintings ranged from fevered Lautrecean naturalism, through the flickering transmutations of Cubism, to smooth and cool Neoclassicism, then nightmarish distortion. Picasso was into Tarot, and his drawings were populated by stock characters, illustrating their creator's inner life with little improvised plays.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sketchbook Pages

I've always been torn. Part of me is optimistic, believing ours is the time in human history during which we take active control of evolution, and integrate with the rest of the world. The other half is paralyzingly pessimistic. It's natural to think that the time when humans quit fooling around and consciously find our niche(s) in the ecosystem would be perilous. Buckminster Fuller's Utopia or Oblivion comes to mind. The material wealth that has made our global and empirical understanding of our situation nominally belongs to individuals and groups of individuals who can't afford to integrate.

Reading Constant Battles truly freaked me out. I can't write my way out of the puzzle it presented, and I don't want to pollute anybody else's thinking with my dire fascination. So I'm shifting gears.

I've changed sketchbook size, so I can get whole pages onto the scanner. The way I work sketchbooks is to use permanent markers, with no under-drawing. I make a mark on the page, and it suggests something. I draw that suggested something, then ask myself why that particular something. I add entourage to illustrate the subject's raison d'what. Sometimes the drawings are good. Sometimes less so. I'd like to think that I'm channeling something in my drawings, something meaningful that I can't reach otherwise. Sometimes, the drawings seem merely inane. I keep moving.