Monday, July 31, 2006

Eat Local Challenge

This morning's Ithaca Journal includes an article on Local Foods Week, sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension. Consumers are urged to spend at least $5 this week on local food. That sounds easy. Register, take the pledge and be eligible to win gift certificates from retailers and restaurants that feature items harvested from the area.

My hippie self-sufficiency urges, which were pushed to a back burner when my kids were teenagers, have been reawakening. I'm raising some chickens, re-establishing beehives, planning part of the garden more for food than flowers. But the "Eat Local Challenge" is more than the self-sufficiency movement of the 60's and 70's. It's community based. It's not only "What can I grow for myself?" But also "How can I strengthen my community?"

I used to put homegrown meals on the table more often than not. We got to be somewhat like early settlers, going to market once a month for flour, coffee and salt. It's a life changing experience: learning how to produce life's essentials. First you learn to define "essential."

But my local food skills are rusty and I'll have to start planning ahead for the Eat Local Challenge next year. Tompkins County is fortunate to have a wonderful Farmers' Market and lots of local food producers. Wegman's has a local produce display right inside the main entrance and other local products throughout the store. Not to mention Greenstar Co-op.

Check out Foodroutes and their interactive map. Type in your zip code and get a map and list of local food resources. Or Local Harvest for an interactive map of Community Supported Agriculture and other farm subscriptions.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

2006 Elections

The New York Times offers this excellent interactive map of 2006 Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates. The map graphics can be displayed as a standard map or distorted to reflect population. Click on a state for more information.

Information on Senate races includes the amount of money raised by each candidate. For example: in Maine, Senator Snowe, $2,107,747 and challenger Jean Bright, $23,507. In New York, Senator Clinton, $27,501,536 and challenger Spencer, $1,777,748. Incidentally, the population map shows that Senator Snowe represents about 1,300,000 and Senator Clinton 19,300,000 (if I'm counting the little squares accurately.)

In the map of House races, you can click on each electoral district for, not only information about the candidates, but also demographics. My own beloved 24th congressional district in New York is listed as a "race to watch." Unfortunately no additional information is available except that incumbent Boehlert is not running. Demographics describe this district as 92% white with a median income of $36,082 compared to national median income of $44,473. Compare this to my daughter's district 15 represented by Charlie Rangel: 16% white with median income of $27,934. Or to Long Island's district 3 with 86% white population and $70,561 median income. Hmmm...

Friday, July 21, 2006


Slate reporter, Jack Shafer, responds to the Pew Charitable Trust survey of bloggers.
The most immediately startling for me was the repetition of the phrases "about half " or "nearly half" to describe various blogger attributes. About half of all American bloggers are men, says Pew. About half are under the age of 30. About half use a pseudonym. About half say creative self-expression or documenting personal experiences is a major reason for blogging. About half think their audience is folks they already know. Half say changing people's minds is not a major reason behind their blog, and about half had never
published before starting their blog.

This means, of course, that about half are over 30, about half are women, about half use their own names and about half say changing people's minds is a major reason for their blog. That would be my half.

Still, neither Five Wells nor my other blog, Dryden Democrats, come close to the image of "blogger" discussed in the news. We're going to need a new word soon. The A-list bloggers have readership in the thousands per day. Most are professional journalists. Most provide a vehicle for lively discussion among readers. While many write to promote their own viewpoints, hyperlinks give the reader a chance to judge the validity of the opinions touted. Many pre-blog websites were designed to provide a page of "Hey, here's something interesting I found on the web." Blogs were the natural outcome. While purely personal, or literary, or photographic blogs are also nice, weblogs remain an important shortcut to finding information on the web.

Continuing education, adult education, is highly self-directed. One reason I like National Public Radio is that I can't skip over stories with headlines that don't particularly interest me as I do with print media (including blogs.) Radio is like the required reading list of a college class. Blogs that provide "must read" links are the next best thing. The Scienceblogs site collects the best science bloggers into one easy menu. If there were similar sites for art, history, philosophy, sociology we'd be well on our way to a really powerful education system without walls.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I needn't have whined so much about winter deer damage to the blueberries. When I was pruning in March it looked like we'd get hardly any berries at all this year. But the pruning paid off and the blueberry branches are drooping with the weight of the berries. I can't see quite how that works when the buds are formed on last year's growth. I'll have to observe more carefully.

Meantime, even with the bumper crop, I've selfishly added a bird net to the top of the bushes. Sadly, a bluejay apparently got his foot caught in it and died before I noticed. I should have some kind of motion detector alarm. Or I should pay closer attention. Or I should just ditch the net and share.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Innovative Energy Solutions

During last week's rainy weather, some time I spent catching up with back issues of print magazines led me to this article in Discover Magazine. Amory Lovins, physicist, eonomist, inventor, auto designer, author and consultant, talks about energy issues. This surprising fact jumped out at me:
A modern car, after 120 years of devoted engineering effort since Gottlieb Daimler built the first gasoline-powered vehicle, uses less than 1 percent of its fuel to move the driver.

Lovins explains that only one-eighth of the energy reaches the wheels, the rest being lost in the engine, drivetrain and accessories. Of the one-eighth reaching the wheels, half is lost to friction. So, 6% of the fuel's energy is actually accelerating the car. But 95% of the mass being accelerated is the car - not the driver. The point is that if we made the car lighter, we'd use less energy getting around.

Lovins continues with some interesting information, new to me, about potential use of carbon-fiber composites and thermoplastics in auto design. This leads, Lovins believes, to lighter cars which will be safer and longer-lasting. Not incidentally, Lovins suggests that jobs will be created "partly by having a vibrantly competitive car industry rather than a failing one and partly due to the logical evolution of the auto industry toward computerization [and] the aftermarket for improved and customized software."

Lovins offers more ideas about hydrogen and electricity. On wind energy, he says:
"If I could do just one thing to solve our energy problems, I would allow energy to compete fairly at honest prices...If everything competed solely on merit, wind energy in the United States would be a lot better off. It gets subsidized less than its competitors, and its subsidies are temporary, while its competitors' are permanent."

Why aren't policy-makers thinking this way?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Astonishing superficiality

Eleven syllables in a two word title is certainly not How to Write a Hit Article." But I share Jack Shafer's amazement at the NYT "Shamu" essay and the response to it. I'm not providing a link to the article. As a NYT "most emailed article," if it hasn't gone behind a pay wall, you can find it easily if you're so inclined. With all due respect to my daughter and my sister, both of whom emailed the link to me, don't bother looking for the article. It's a trite story of how the author applied behavior modification techniques to improve her husband's bad habits. As Shafer points out:
"The Shamu story establishes once and for all that men are the new women. You can now use the New York Times to write the most dehumanizing and insulting shit about them and everybody will laugh in recognition."

Shafer's first lesson trumps the rest:
Editors in search of page views should emulate the Times (and Slate) and pimp their headlines to attract attention. As long as the headline is half-honest, it's OK.

The Times article is headlined "What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage." Who (besides me) wouldn't want to read about that? Sadly, the article is not about Shamu or a happy marriage, making it even duller than the headline suggests.

I'm always amused by the Google search terms that lead people to this blog. I still get a surprising number of hits (anything more than one would be surprising) from searches for Skunk Cabbage. It's not just Shafer's "Lesson No. 5: Animals, animals, animals. Let me repeat: Animals, animals, animals..." My visitors are searching, not just for skunks but the total skunk cabbage concept. Runners-up in google search terms leading here are: Woodpeckers and Apricots - not among my most profound articles - and China's One Child Policy.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Fun Links

A blog without links is like, well, a day without sunshine.

Last week Maggy, whose mind may not be fully occupied by her day job, sent me this:

phrontistery FRON-tis-te-ri, n. a thinking-place.

There, Steve Chrisomalis, who writes as "Forthright," has compiled a "15,500-word dictionary of obscure and rare words," a veritable playground for those of us who've ever enjoyed the dictionary game. For example, on the same page with prhontistery: phreatic, phrenesis, phthartic, and phugoid. In addition, Chrisomalis has created thirty-two individual glosseries like: dance styles, forms of worship, units of measurement, and (probably Maggy's favorite) phobias.

Chrisomalis also presents a list of 2 and 3-Letter Scrabble Words including: AA, KA, PYA and LEU. If my opponent used those, I'd definitely challenge. And apparently I'd lose.

In Junior High english, I had to memorize a list of prepositions (about, above, along, among, around, behind, below, beneath...) and in high school I took three years of Latin, but I recognize fewer than half of these Latin adverbs and prepositions.

There's the sottisier (so-teez-YEA, n a collection of ridiculous remarks or stupidities), a collection of emails Chrisomalis has received - and presumably, not answered. And the truly hilarious Unusual Search Results which have led unsuspecting idiots to Phronistery.

Finally, check out the Language Links and The Ingenious Internet. I'm not sure I can face spell-checking this post.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cats and Chickens

The cats have each found their own unique way to ignore the chickens.
This is Tang, trying to stroll nonchalantly by them.

And Magda, in utter denial. "What chickens? I don't see any chickens."

I just really hope I have the camera when a chicken wakes Tang up from a nap. It's bound to happen someday.

Meantime, I've really got to remember to close the screen door. Yesterday Bill I were working in the garden and wondering why we hadn't seen the chickens in a while. The usually hang around pretty close. When we came back for cocktails, I found the chickens in the kitchen.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Michael's Birthday

Today is Michael's birthday. He died in 1999 when he was twenty - by far the most painful thing that has happened in my life. Someone asked this morning if I avoid reminders of him. I don't. I really can't. I think of him, roughly as if he was living on the west coast. It's just maddening that I can't call him or expect him home for the holiday. So, I offer this excerpt from Kipling's essay, Rural Funerals , again.
The sorrow for the dead is the only sorrow from which we refuse to be divorced. Every other wound we seek to heal- every other affliction to forget; but this wound we consider it a duty to keep open- this affliction we cherish and brood over in solitude.

Where is the mother who would willingly forget the infant that perished like a blossom from her arms, though every recollection is a pang?

Where is the child that would willingly forget the most tender of parents, though to remember be but to lament?

Who, even in the hour of agony, would forget the friend over whom he mourns?

….No, the love which survives the tomb is one of the noblest attributes of the soul. If it has its woes, it has likewise its delights; and when the overwhelming burst of grief … is softened away into pensive meditation on all that it was in the days of its loveliness- who would root out such a sorrow from the heart? Though it may sometimes throw a passing cloud over the bright hour of gayety, or spread a deeper sadness over the hour of gloom, yet who would exchange it even for the song of pleasure, or the burst of revelry?

Oh, the grave! – the grave!- It buries every error- covers every defect, extinguishes every resentment! From its peaceful bosom spring none but fond regrets and tender recollections.

… the grave of those we loved- what a place for meditation! There it is that we call up in long review the whole history of virtue and gentleness, and the thousand endearments lavished upon us almost unheeded in the daily intercourse of intimacy-

Ay, go to the grave of buried love, and meditate!

Then weave thy chaplet of flowers, and strew the beauties of nature about the grave; console thy broken spirit, if thou canst, with these tender, yet futile tributes of regret; but take warning by the bitterness of this thy contrite affliction over the dead, and henceforth be more faithful and affectionate in the discharge of thy duties to the living.