Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Notes on Fire Wood, in No Particular Order

An old Vermonter responded to the question, "What's the best way to stack wood?" "So it doesn't fall down."

There's a house on the hill heading out of town where the wood is stacked in concentric circles. There's no obvious benefits in the method, but it warrants investigation.

Often a row, like a wall, is built right in the middle of a field and then long sheets of steel roofing are laid on top to keep rain and snow from getting to the wood.

I have seen a criss-cross method, where the logs are sort of woven together. This increases the stability of the pile. In some cases the end of the pile is criss-crossed and the rest is piled in the same direction.

If there is something for the end of the pile to lean against like a wall or a tree or a rock outcropping, you can build the pile up against it. Running a pile between two trees works well.

Keeping enough logs on the porch where you can get to them while in your slippers seems like a good idea.

Fresh wood, or "green wood" comes from trees that are newly cut down. If you're buying wood, it's cheaper than dry wood, which someone has already been stored for a few years. It doesn't burn very well because it's full of water. If you have the space and the time, buying green wood and stacking it someplace for a couple of years is cheaper, but you need to keep 2-4 times the amount of wood on hand if you're going to get through until it's dry.

The better insulated your house is, the less wood you need to burn to keep it warm.

A friend built a small house using all the latest insulation technologies, 12-inch thick, foam panels in the roof, blown-in cellulose in the walls, vapor barriers throughout the walls, floor and roof, and double-paned, thermal windows. He can keep the house warm all night on about two small logs. In fact, the house was so airtight when it was first built that he almost died because their first fire slowly filled the house with carbon Monoxide. They now have a one-way fan to blow the occasional burst of air into the house.

Some other friends burned wood to heat their 200 year old home. The insulation there was so poor that the fire never really heated the whole house. It took hours to heat the couple of rooms adjacent the wood stove. They would came home to a freezing house, and once the fire was roaring, they would curl up on the sofa that had been placed right in front of the stove to keep warm. They spent most of the winter there.

This past summer they had an energy audit done, during which a huge fan was placed in the front door and an expert on these things went around the house using various technologies to detect any place where air was leaking into the house from outside, or heat traveled easily through. A few weeks later a team of people came to the house, and using everything from expandable foam, to double paned windows and thick layers of fiberglass insulation, shored up the whole house.

Montpelier sits in a valley. In the fall when the temperature drops and everyone fires up their wood stoves, the town becomes a pool of wood smoke. Driving out of town you rise up out of the thick air and back into the crisp blue sky. This goes on all winter.

Burning wood is generally considered part of the natural carbon cycle because the carbon that is being released into the atmosphere in the smoke was previously taken out of that same atmosphere by the trees while they grew.

Wind took down one half of a huge, 100+ year old Maple tree in the front yard of a house on County Rd. Afterward they had someone out there with a chain saw and log splitter mincing the massive trunk into fire wood. That should be enough hardwood to heat the house for at least the season.

Burning soft woods like pine and Fir don't release as much heat as hardwoods like Maple, Oak or best of all, Hickory. But they do give off nastier smoke, in fact soft woods leave a residue on the inside of chimneys and stove pipes which can eventually ignite. This is called a chimney fire.

Feel free to add on to this list in the comments.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On Dying, Sort Of

There's the bumper sticker philosophy that says, "Live every day like it was you last." Well, it seems to me that it overlooks the fact that if you were going to live like you were about to die, one of your main orders of business would be to notify your friends and family of the situation, and that's really going to open a can of worms. I don't think this experience would be liberating so much as it would just make for a very dramatic day. Everyone would be crooning around you, dumping attention on you and possibly granting you once-in-a-life-time wishes. This experience would no doubt inspire you to great emotional heights and depths, out of which presumably would come some kind of clarity about what's important in the world and in your final day. This is the crux of the philosophy- enlightened opportunism. If you are thinking about actually living every day like it was your last, rather than just putting the bumper sticker on you car, then this is worth considering.

Case in point, one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. It's in Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, when Gene Hackman as Royal tries to persuade his ex-wife Angelica Houston as Ethel to let him move back into the house with her and the kids. Hoping to use her pity (rather than admit he's just out of money,) he tells her that he's dying. They're standing out on the sidewalk where Royal has sort of ambushed Ethel to have the big conversation. First he just asks her if he can spend some time with her and the kids and she pays him no mind, but as soon as he drops the D-bomb, she stops in her tracks and gives his request her full consideration. Then she begins to break down, sobbing and growing hysterical. Royal clearly didn't anticipate, or plan for the outburst, and looking to calm her down, tries to retracts his initial statement, telling her, "ok, now wait a second, I'm not dying." But then she becomes enraged, smacks him in the face, and begins to storm away. Again caught off guard, and realizing his first strategy was the only one that was going to succeed, he reverts to the initial claim, saying, "Ethel, baby, I am dying." Ethel gets up in his face, and asks with the fierce concern of a stern mother, "Are you or aren't you?" He sticks with his final answer, and alas it is settled that he's moving back into the house.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I Fall in Love too Easily: That is, a Ratio of 1:50

I'm working out this idea. It started because two different friends had a very similar theory about their romantic experiences that could be summed up like this: They are attracted to people who aren't attracted to them, while they are never attracted to the people who fall for them. It's an interesting problem, it's so clean and horrible! I wanted to help them disprove it and what better way to be sure of something than mathematics? It turns out there's a simple formula to explain their theory, which should spare them any major self-incrimination. They're more or less accurate in their observation, but rather than some kind of psychological inability to experience love, in fact it's simple probability. To spare any of you who aren't that interested in mathematics the full explanation, I'll just skip ahead and give you the solution: Their chances of finding love are about 1 in 2500*... which isn't so bad, because that's about 3 times a year! (Plus or minus about 3 based on the population density of your community, which actually isn't so good for people in small towns. See the Full Solution below for the detailed explanation.)

The Full Solution:
First I started by looking at the mathematics of any two people meeting one another for the first time. Let's say that a first impression of a person you're crossing paths with for the first time can be either neutral or hot. Neutral is when the person evokes no strong response, and hot is when the desire button has been pressed. Then I asked myself how common these responses are for me. I would put a hot response at about 1 in 50. I live in a very small city, but a city none the less, and I would say that on an average day where I've walked around town a bit, stopped into some stores, maybe dropped into the cafe for a coffee, I cross paths with, and take some notice of, about 20 new faces. At that rate, the 1:50 ratio suggests that I would feel a strong attraction to one of those 20 people every 2.5 days. (Since it takes 2.5 days for me to see 50 new people.) Now let's assume any of the 20 new people I cross paths with in a day also have about a 1:50 ratio of hot to neutral, so a 1 in 50 chance they are hot for me. So let's do the math. There is a 1:50 chance I'm hot for someone and they in turn have a 1:50 chance of being hot for me, that means that there is a 1:2500 chance that we simultaneously are hot for each other! (Multiply 1/50 x 1/50.) Since it would take 125 days (for me) to see 2500 people (at 20 new people per day), that's about 3 people per year with whom there should be mutual chemistry. That doesn't seem too bad, really.

So here's the important thing, (going back to my friends' theory,) during that same year when I fell in love with 3 people who also fell simultaneously in love with me, there were 145 people who were hot for me without my feeling hot for them, and I will have been hot for 145 people without reciprocation! So indeed, you need to go through about 48 heart breaks and witnessed about 48 broken hearts for every single mutually felt explosion of desire. So it makes sense that my friends feel that they are always falling for people who don't want them and vice versa. At some point in the year, the sidewalk is so strewn with broken hearts, that they finally consider just staying inside. But without going out there and shaking hands with 20 new faces per day, they will never be privy to those those 3 instances of fireworks. So really, my friends don't have any deep psychological masochism that keeps them from loving. It's just that they see so much unrequited attraction that it seems like it's always that way.

*Alternate Variables:

There appears to be a few circumstances that could mush up the numbers a bit. Going back to the original assumption, (which for the sake of logical purity I ought not tamper with, but let's have a go anyway,) the 1:50, hot:neutral ratio suggests that people are not influenced by the other person's either interest, or lack of interest. It assumes that we are like participants in a hot or not game on the internet, looking at still photos and just voting yea or nae. On the other hand, if it is even remotely true that we are influenced by the way a person responds to us or any other mitigating circumstances, then it begins to change the numbers.

Consider a few scenarios:
a) You cross paths with a person in town now and then. Nothing really strikes you about him/her except a general plainness. He/she just blends in. You note a couple of things about his/her hair and clothes, but nothing striking. Then one day you are in the library, browsing the fiction section, and you notice through the stacks that the person is sitting at a table talking to a friend. You listen in a bit and catch a few words of the conversation and it's clear that they're close friends and they speak to each other with an obvious familiarity and trust. You can hear it in the way they talk. There's something about the tone of voice that shocks you, surprises you. You have a feeling of familiarity but there's also a strangeness that makes you want to hear more, and you are pierced with attraction to this person who had for months just been another face on the street. Was it possibly this particular context, the chance eavesdropping of this person at their most relaxed and open caused this sudden awakening? Was it the mood you were in, the particular conversation you over heard? Did you project yourself into the seat of the close friend and imagine a deep closeness to the person because you were witnessing them expressing closeness?

So what scenario a) shows is that a person who is initially one of the 49 neutral persons can slip into the 1 hot-slot if the setting is right. In this case, barriers of trust were be bridged vicariously, or through the eyes of someone else. This is not unlike being introduced to someone through a mutual friend. This sort of situation can change the numbers considerably.

b) You pop into a local bar with friends for a drink. The bartender is striking, like a film star, the current obsession of a hot shot Hollywood film maker. Too cute to believe. But it creates a distance for you because he/she looks as if he/she has no room for you in his/her sexy world. You order your drink and they seem professional and unobservant, almost on guard, being as he/she is, so appealing to so many people. You imagine his/her life as a long string of admirers peppered with the occasional tumult with a lead singer from a hot band from Brooklyn. One afternoon you pop into the bar to make change for the parking meter and the person is sitting at the bar, browsing the classifieds. He/she looks up at you and seems taken aback by you, at once involved in his/her own reading, now suddenly inviting you into it. You talk and they ask lots of questions. They project a strong interest in your point of view, asking you to elaborate and carefully considering what you've said. His/her sustained gaze and a couple of sideways smiles make it clear that you have made a strong impression. You talk for a few minutes more and leave, then spend the rest of the day contemplating your next move. The beginning of something?

What scenario b) shows is that if you discover that someone likes you, it could increase the likelihood that you will like them too, especially if they seem like they are hot to other people. This would dramatically alter the numbers.

c) You are appalled by the jibber-jabber coming out of the mouth of the person who just moved in next door. Last night he/she was on the porch, drinking beer and talking incessantly about his/her new favorite album, a ridiculous pop number from the 80's, then his/her step mother's hair do, then about a theory on what makes for the best ice cream flavors. The next morning, you're throwing some egg shells into the compost bin in the yard, when you notice he/she's in his/her yard. Introductions are forced on you, but you keep a cool distance, having already decided he/she is annoying. But he/she is intent on talking. At first you keep making a move to leave, but unfazed he/she keeps talking, telling a story about a ceramic pot in the shape of a puppy they dig up while tilling a garden. Eventually the punchline is reached, and unexpectedly you burst out laughing, and suddenly this person with whom you wanted nothing to do, seems the most appealing, lively, sensual person you can think of. You're hooked, kid!

So scenario c) shows that our first impression can be 100% bunk, and given a chance, any person could potentially win you over. This makes it essentially impossible to run the numbers.

Reconsidering this formula in lieu of the subsequent real-life-ish scenarios demonstrates that no one knows what the hell is going on. There is really no pattern, no order to anything at all. You will triumph, and you will fall, and you will never understand why. So best of luck to you!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Nutritional Levels in Organics

This is a good article on Slate.com about this study recently released about the nutritional value of Organic foods. Here's the response I posted on Slate.com

"No question, the issue of labeling products "Organic" has its flaws. The now ubiquitous label has the power to add value, and potentially profits, to anything it is attached to, and so it can be exploited. Many folks who buy organic products have forgotten, or never fully understood why they choose Organic. The problem with the study cited in this article, (which has received considerable press,) is that it seizes on the uncertainties surrounding the issue of Organics, and re-frames the issue around nutrition, which is not, nor ever was the point of "Organic." The notion of "Organic" is to promote food systems, and in general systems of production, that don't create harmful materials as a byproduct and put them out into the environment, and don't put harmful products out into the market and ultimately into humans- to create systems that are sustainable rather than detrimental. If it turned out that heirloom tomatoes grown in compost had slightly higher levels of Vitamin C, that would be nice, but this is not the goal. If the results of this study were authored in good faith, it would have presented the results as the interesting side note that they are. But instead, it implicitly (and perhaps explicitly) suggests that it is blowing the cover off Organics, when it isn't."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Notes on a Play

I don't get to the theater much, but recently i set out the goal of catching a play. As it happened, a friend's boyfriend was involved in local production, so we went out to see it, a musical based on a Mark Twain story. I suppose I walked into the show a bit distracted. It wasn't that the play was boring, but other thoughts kept drifting in. It was opening night, and this was a small community theater, so not surprisingly, the play was a bit rough around the edges. A few scenes into the first act, my attention snapped back to the play when one character took a magnificent stage fall, breaking through a flimsy faux-railing and falling down the stairs in mid-song, then sprung back up without missing a note. His fall was so realistic that one woman in the back row jumped up out of her seat like she was about to run down and help him up. The rest of the crowd seemed finally to fall into synchronized appreciation, and responded with a roar of applause. Finishing up the first act it seemed that the actors were kind of settling into their parts, finding a good tone and tempo for their parts. Perhaps the first roars of the crowd help the actors figure out their role- and hence a reduced price on opening night.

So the play was moving along, gaining some momentum, when a couple of scenes into the second act a cell phone went off in the audience. It came from a couple sitting in the front row at the side of the stage. I had noticed them earlier. They looked to me a bit awkward and strangely dressed, maybe out-of-towners. It occurred to me that they might have been family of one of the actors in the play, but then I couldn't see anyone with an obvious resemblance. They were the only ones in their row, which was right at the stage level, and because the audience seating wrapped around 3 sides of the stage, a good two-thirds of us were looking right at them, either head on, or from the side. They were so close to being right on the stage that they were half-lit by glow of the stage lighting. And then it happened, the ringer, set at high volume, a dance club ring-tone with a driving un-ta-ta, un-ta-ta, beat. It could have been clearly heard by everyone in the audience. I don't know if it was in my mind or not, but there then came this low-level, collective hiss from everyone throughout the theater. I watched the woman flip the phone open and fiddle with it for a good 5 seconds or more trying to silence it. Once it was off, she looked around with a perplexed, what just happened expression, and over at the man next to her, who must have been her husband. This was when I really started paying attention. The man's reaction was one of pure, unfiltered, deep-rooted scorn. I had a vague recollection of the archetypal, loathing couple from Edward Albee's horrifying play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The man was so animated in his expressions, that all I could think was that, knowing they were being watched, he wanted to show the audience just how unhappy he was with his wife, repeatedly shaking his head, his lips pursed, brow furrowed, face full of contempt. And the woman's mortification couldn't have been more obvious. She looked like she was back in second grade sitting at her desk with a puddle of urine under her chair and her school mates looking on. She sat paralyzed, her legs clinched together, her eyes big and gaunt, still pressing the phone into her lap. The dynamic of the frightened woman and and the vengeful husband was hard to ignore even as the play went on in front of me.

I suppose that being in the theater, and thus unable to verbally condemn her, he had to resort to body language. He was turning his back to her as thoroughly as he could possibly maneuver, arms and legs crossed, periodically glancing back at her with a scowl. He went on like this for some minutes. It was the exaggeration in his show of condemnation that most struck me, but I couldn't exactly tell if he was doing it just for her, or for us, the entire audience. Was he trying to show us that by scorning her, he wasn't like her? Trying to dispel any guilt by association we might be harboring towards him? But the punishment he was doling out seemed to me out of proportion to the crime. A couple of minutes passed and, my mind was starting to drift back to the play when I glanced back again. Unable to bear his treatment, the woman apparently trying to break the ice, reached over, put her hand on his arm and stretched to put her head affectionately, beggingly on his shoulder. Instantly he jerked away, yanking his shoulder out from under. She recoiled back like she'd been nipped by a goat at the petting zoo, and settled back into her frightened pose again, stone still. I was a bit jarred, even confused. This was happening because of a cell phone noise.

This scene took place within a couple minutes or so, and eventually my focus started drifting back to the play. But now I was also beginning to question my own fixation on the couple. I had to wonder if I wasn't in some part responsible for what was happening. After all, it was clear that we, the audience, were the ones sitting in judgement, and this was why the man was chiding his wife. I felt a tinge of guilt, because in some way it was as if he was doing it on my behalf. So I tried not to watch, but I couldn't help but glance back now and then unthinkingly. Now, I know that eaves dropping has a red flag of immorality hanging on it. There's certainly something in my own upbringing about not nosing into the personal dramas of strangers. But there it was in front of me, essentially right on stage. How could I ignore it? And you know, if the man had just laughed it off, I would have too. I would have gone back to the show after the ringer was turned off, with little thought more. But now how could I ignore this little peephole, poking into my face, and what good would it have done if I did?

Eventually I did settle back into the play I'd come to see, which was now getting well into the second act. At this point, the mysterious, caped, scoundrel character, whom the audience already knows committed a murder, is being exposed to the rest of the characters. This led to a cartoonish chase scene where all the characters ran around the stage, hilariously snaking through the various stage props, then through the audience seating. They looped back down onto the stage for their final pass and suddenly, as impossible as it seemed, the woman's phone rang again! This time she leaped out of her seat, squashing the phone into her stomach like a bleeding wound, and ran out of the theater only a few feet in front of the whole cast, as they ran down the isle behind her and into the lobby. The crowd burst into a roar of applause, not for the woman of course, but for the actors. But I, and I presume the much of the audience, saw the scene with the cell phone happening simultaneously, and so found ourselves now looking back to see what the husband was going to do- join in the chase? No. He stayed right there in his seat, but utterly transformed. Rather than showing anger, he was suddenly the most animated, laughing, cheering member of the audience! I can think of only two things possible; he either miraculously broke through the hate barrier and tumbled into a world where his wife no longer existed, one where he loved the show and was just another happy member of the crowd- or else he decided that his next scene called for a very different performance, one that showed that he was so far above ringing cell phones in the theater that he wasn't even going to let it register, wasn't going let it get him down. Either interpretation leaves room for the other, and really, at the core, how can you explain such a thing, especially from my vantage point?

For the rest of the play the woman didn't return. The man sat in his chair and cheered along with the rest of us, though I did catch him looking back towards the lobby a couple of times. Once again my mind found its way back to the play, and once back, I made another bewildering observation concerning a different drama taking place. The actor who had taken the great fall in the first act had a developed a limp, and was moving around the stage with the aid of a cane. I searched for some way in which the fall could have been part of the story, but it didn't fit into any part of the plot. There was no reason for him to either fall, or be injured as part of the story. As the act went on it became clear to me that he wasn't singing and dancing with the vigor that was so obviously intended in his role. His motions were decidedly stiff and careful. I was shocked to reevaluate my recollection of his fall. Where before I thought he was a master of stage stunts, now I was awed at his drive to continue on while so obviously injured. After the show I learned from a friend that the woman who had leaped out of her seat during the big stage fall was the director, who obviously knew it was a real fall, and a bad one.

I didn't see the woman with the cell phone or the angry husband on the way out of the theater, which kind of left me hanging, wanting some kind of resolution, but I guess I saw enough. I suppose I could have tried to follow them for a bit, confirm that it wasn't going to get uglier or something, but wouldn't that be totally going over the line? Eavesdropping is no virtuous past time, I think, at least in part because of the half-truths you're left having to invent to fill in the gaps. But how do you ignore a scene like that?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Permaculture: A very non-definitive reflection

Yesterday merited a wow for overwhelming new ideas. Permaculture, which before hanging out at this weekend's Northeast Permaculture Convergence, I would have been hard pressed to define, it turns out, is a vast field incorporating a complex of other fields. Generally it deals with the building of structures, landscapes and systems. But the critical facet, the perm-, reflects the long-sightedness of the movement. So instead of gardening for perennials alone, you might plant nut trees that will bring higher food yields over years, with less maintenance. Then you get some pigs to graze under the trees, and eventually you've developed lower maintenance systems that have higher productivity and diversity without creating toxic side-effects. Some ideas that seem central: mimicking natural ecosystems to create diversity (so more stable systems,) self-sustaining systems (less input, more output), and productive (so that people can survive and thrive on it. Not much is really ruled out in permaculture except environmentally detrimental substances and processes and hopefully, eventually the use of fossil fuels.

So walking around the Convergence, from conversation to conversation and workshop to workshop the topics ranged from super-insulated houses, to zoning regulations, to the question of owning/renting/squatting land, to getting along with your neighbors, to hardy nut-tree varieties, to energy-footprint assessments, and so on. One workshop was led by Ben Falk, who owns Whole Systems Design a company that offers permaculture-informed designs for land development projects. His slideshow graphics gave a hint of what people are shooting for. One graphic showed an imagined development called Warren Commons, which would be situated in the central Vermont town. The plan included nut-producing trees, fuel trees (fire wood,) animal grazing, composting centers, wind mills, water collections areas, vegetable gardens, and numerous other pieces I can't recall. All were carefully oriented and integrated within the landscape, and scaled for the needs of the immediate community.

Everyone at the Gathering, both perticipants and speakers, seemed to have some piece of the puzzle. But it is a huge puzzle, and some moments i thought I detected the siren hum of Utopic dreaminess. In fact, because of the compexity of the projects, the cost of actually undertaking one on a large scale, and the amount of time (decades at least) for many of the systems to take root, there are very few places where you could see a successful, functioning project. There are fragmentary project scattered all over the world, but much of permaculture it seems to me is in the speculation phase. But it struck me that what may make the permaculture movement different from Utopian visions of previous generations, are two main things: first, contemporary urgencies (global warming, fossil fuel costs/dependencies, major flaws in the monoculture-based agricultural system, down-sides of globalization) and secondly, the accumulation of knowledge and technology in relevant fields (agriculture, engineering, alternative energy etc.) allowing greater capability to address the problems with cutting edge solutions.

A final thought: the convention was based in Vermont, a very rural state full of open land, low population density and abundant natural resources, and not surprisingly, most of the workshops and speakers struck me as very rural-centric. Having lived for years in Washington DC, I found myself wondering about the applications of permaculture's ideas in an urban setting, where the majority of the world's population lives. Even if permaculture can foster sustainable landscapes for a few rural homesteaders, what good is that for the billions who don't have the luxury of several acres per person to work with? I think that there are or could be many urban applications, and my guess is that that work is probably underway, and well it should be, and yeah, I'm in.

Friday, May 22, 2009


I moonlight as a server/waiter at a local restaurant. One of the perks to the job is that I get to converse with a broader swath of my fellow man than I would otherwise in my own circles.
The other night , I was taken to school by one woman of a different circle than i am used to. She came in with five others, most of them older- pushing 80. If it wasn't immediately apparent from the embroidered vests and personalized cuff links, a little eavesdropping made it clear these people were upper crust, old money aristocrats- ivy league graduating, charity board sitting, 5th Ave. shopping aristocrats- and definitely in their twilight. Their individual expressions of this status varied among them. But I think that coming of age in the post WW2 era, there were distinct roles for men and women. The men were a bit more loosey-goosey in attire and sense of humor, while the women asserted an kind of iron fisted self-certainty.
All was more or less going according to plan with their ordering of cocktails and dinner. They got their appetizers, and after a few minutes I could see that most of them were done, but one woman still had a half bowl of soup in front of her and I couldn't judge if she was finished or was just taking her time, so I asked, "Are you still working on your soup?" She made a gesture towards my wrist with her hand, not a grab, but a kind of gentle but firm kind of motion and said, "No... I am eating my soup... Don't say, 'Are you working on your soup,' I am eating my soup." I heard one of the men a the table begin to interject, 'oh come on now...' to quell her admonishment, but I immediately said, "You're right. You are right. I appreciate your point." No one made anything of it, I began clearing plates and they went on with their conversation.
My reaction was really rooted in my own sense of what it means to bring professionalism to the job of waiting tables. It has to do with sensing the mood, motives, tastes and dispositions of any given customer (short of some extreme case scenarios) and essentially countering them with whatever would best bring them pleasure and calm. Where there is Yang, I serve Yin, where there is Yin, a dash of Yang.... It strikes me as a kind of art that finds expression in this rather simplistic server/customer dynamic. But in this moment, another voice in the back of my head began to deconstruct this woman's psyche. How her sense of social superiority has over the years nurtured the audacity to be so condescending without hesitation or equivocation, and from that, the neo-intellectual-progressive-egalitarian retort I could have issued. But I had another thought too- the image of an old woman, with her arthritic fingers, engineering a lump of nutritional matter into her moist, feeding orifice, bile, saliva, mucuses churning through her aging, though still essentially functional, digestive system, to finally be expelled into a Clorox-dappled toilet bowl a few hours later- and I thought, yes, "working on your soup," brings us there, in some corner of our mind. And this is why we eat our food rather than work on it. If food was synonymous with an object of labor, rather than an object of pleasure and satisfaction, then the notion of selling food of a higher quality at a higher price is lost. This woman had obviously spent a lifetime affirming this fact through her choices of where to eat, and this was why she choose to eat the food I was serving her, and not the nasty Mexican food next door, and so I stood socially and intellectually corrected. But my response must have kept peace among the titans governing this meal, as evidenced in the fact that the party left contented, offering praise of the restaurant, and they tipped quite well on a very large bill. And the whole thing affirmed the fact that I like the job- with so very little to lose on my end.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Excerpt from Tony Horwitz's "A Voyage Long and Strange"

I stumbled across this tidbit of history in the above mentioned book. Horwitz is describing the Spanish Conquistador, Coronado's first incursion into the present day US. This passage describes his search for the semi-imagined seven cities of Cibola (and of course, gold! gold! gold!) which it turns out was a Pueblo settlement in present day New Mexico (which had only a measly bit of turquoise.)

"Coronado didn't record his first impressions of Cibola. Instead, he describes a curious ritual the Spanish performed outside the pueblo's walls. Coronado sent several soldiers, a friar, and an Indian interpreter ahead to deliver the edict called the Requerimiento, or Summons. Drafted three decades earlier by a Spanish jurist, the document was part of the Crown's tortured attempt to define "just war" against Indians: a sort of sixteenth-century Geneva Convention. Conquistadors carried copies of the Requerimiento all over the Americas and were commanded to read it to Indians before commencing battle.
The proclamation opened with an abridged history of the world: God's creation of heaven and earth; Adam and Eve; St. Peter and the papacy. It also explained that the pontiff in Rome had authorized Spain's claim to the New World, a grant recorded in various document. 'These you may view if you wish,' the Requerimiento assured its Indian audience. Then came the summons. Natives who peacefully accepted the Spanish Crown as "king and lord" would be welcomed "with complete affection and charity," and extended many privileges. Indians should pause to consider this generous offer, taking as much time as "is reasonable."
However, if they delayed, or refused to submit, the consequences would be immediate and awful. "I assure you that, with the help of God, I will attack you mightily. I will make war against you everywhere and in every way... I will take your wives and children, and I will make them slaves... I will take your property. I will do all the harm and damage to you that I can." And further: :I declare that the deaths ind injuries that occur as a result of this would be your fault an not his Majesty's nor ours."
The document concluded with the chilling legalism of Spanish conquest; a notary required to be present at the scene, signed an affidavit attesting that the edict had been pronounced. In modern terms, the Spanish thereby affirmed that natives had been read their Miranda rights. In practice the Requeriminto was more akin to last rites-- a death sentence delivered in language Indians couldn't possibly comprehend, in the name of forces they couldn't possibly imagine. Who was "God, Our Lord"? The "Pope"? The "exalted and powerful monarch" of a place called Castile and Leon?
As if the Requerimiento wasn't a bald enough sanction for slaughter, it was often read without an interpreter present, or was delivered from a distance of several miles, or uttered at night while Indians slept, unaware of an impending attack. The Dominican friar Bartolome de Las Casas declared that he didn't know "whether to laugh or cry" at the absurdity of the document." (Henry Holt & Co., NY; 2008: p.144.)


#1 General guiding principles for Leap Frog

Principles are to be generally self-organizing
Generally coherent grammar
Fictions, non-fictions and poetries
Links to distant locales