Thursday, November 25, 2010

My New Nephew, Kona

My sister's adorable dog. Almost a Wordless Wednesday, since that's a few words, and these were shot yesterday. First time pulling out the digital for ages- and it was a strange experience. One of the huge benefits of film is I don't have to mess with post-processing, which I really don't like. Huge turn-off for shooting is looking at/messing with all those pictures later. Plus, the giant mess of pictures. Film is so... slow, short and done.

This dog, he's a good egg.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Robert Glennon: Unquenchable

I've been going on and on about "Unquenchable" without even having finished the book. Robert Glennon's "Unquenchable" is just that good. Or, more accurately, water is just That Big of a Deal, that Americans and Californians especially, are just that good at ignoring. I imagine that most of my readers, who are probably drawn from my select (elect?) group of friends, are aware of the impending climate crisis, and are doing whatever little things that they can to mitigate their impact on environmental devastation. But we're human, and first world humans, so our lives, for the most part, are part of the problem. Awareness, and action, is definitely part of the step towards solution. And awareness of the importance of water and water usage is a big part of it.

When I was younger- maybe early to mid-teens, I remember I used to say "Water is the root of all problems." I don't know where I got that, or why I was so sure, but it sure is at the root of a lot of problems. I know that I was deeply influenced by a family trip to Israel (although I believe that my stance on water came first), where I came to the (simplistic, but partially true) conclusion that there was enough land to go around- the land in question is the irrigated land. There's a whole bunch of vacant desert sitting around unclaimed. In the meantime, people are have been killing each other for centuries over reclaimed desert. This discord has stuck with me for almost 15 years. I remember an early fascination with the decimation of the rainforest- not just because of the species driven to extinction, but because of the fascinating amount of water that the RAINforest contained. Perhaps this is all due to the fact that I grew up in a drought- a fact I proudly spit to anyone who will listen. I blame my disinterest in lingering in the shower on the drought- two minutes and out for this girl. I remember bricks in the toilet and still live by "if it's mellow, let it yellow." I bolster my Northern California Snobbery by looking down my nose at the vast amounts of water that Southern California "steals" from us for "petty" things, after building vast cities in the desert. Have you seen Chinatown? Seen those swimming pools? Sheesh. Because of course the Bay Area is innocent... I have been stricken by the children in "developing" or "third world" countries who lack access to fresh, clean water. I've drunk the same water- water with visible bugs floating in it. I've contracted salmonella (probably) from the water, and survived. I've met families who have lost children to the same water.

Robert Glennon lays it out. Water is a valuable natural resource, maybe the most valuable resource, and Americans go through it like it's infinite, and just there for the taking. We don't monitor how much we use, we waste it, we dump shit into it (literally), we dump it into other water, we pity the fools who live downstream, and we don't have any kind of plan for when we run out. And we are going to run out, soon. Glennon makes a lot of good suggestions, some of which are even taking place on local levels- San Antonio gives away low-flow toilets to home owners with older houses. Other organizations have figured out how to work deals with farmers and cities to "transfer" water rights so that water can be conserved on farms and then transferred back into streams or rivers that need it. But these are small successes. In the meantime, most places allow unlimited access to local wells, unlimited drilling of wells, and unsupervised pumping from the aquifers. The water is going to run out.

Our shit stinks. It's mixed into the same pipes that run-off goes into, and even though the pipes are cracking and need replacing, I didn't get the feeling that any one is seriously talking about building a better system that separates sewage from run-off. Meanwhile, we're wasting a shitton (my favorite word) flushing toilets in the United States. It was great that we figured out a way to stop dumping chamber pots out of windows (hundreds of years ago), and to stop dumping sewage straight into the ocean (early 1970s due to the Clean Water Act), but flushing has got to stop, too. I felt all righteous with my early-years brick in the toilet, and my current low-flow toilet, and my mellowing, but I feel pretty bad now. A normal household uses 32% of their water in flushing the toilet, and the majority in outdoor stuff (gardening, I guess). We don't do yardwork, the dogs do, so I'm guessing close to 65% is flushing. What's a girl to do? Well, says Glennon, we're supposed to compost. And if even I'm not going to compost, who is going to compost? I might compost, actually, if this were my house. But I rent, and my landlord is not going to install a composting toilet, and my neighbors are not going to stand for a composting toilet, not in this part of Oakland. Cultural norms are all about flushing. And flushing, from the plumbing industry (yes, unions are against compost), to the crappy sewage/drainage plumbing systems, to our cultural norms of poop, say that conventional toilets are here, for the time being. Which is too bad, because we're wasting a lot of water.

"Unquenchable" is a pretty good read, and very provocative. Water waste is everywhere- from companies like Google (and any internet company) who provide our internet time, to obvious sources like alfalfa farms. There are new resistors to change like environmental supporters of the Salton Sea, and old, traditional ones, like the farming lobby in Southern California. Glennon surprised me right in the introduction- some of the hotels in Vegas are doing a great job of water conservation, considering their obscene attempts to seem like they're wasting water in their indoor Venetian canals and giant fountains. Meanwhile, it's business as usual in the ever-green lawns all over the country. Alternative fuels, like ethanol, are some of the most water intensive/wasteful new technologies out there. We (as individuals AND as a country) need to read Glennon's book, and adjust our water consumption, to start treating water as gold, not sand.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sofafree Saturday

My creation

1. work sofa free, 2. bleak sofafree, 3. supa sofafree #100, 4. two of my favorite subjects, 5. 3 in 1, 6. gordosfree, 7. el hombre y el sofa, 8. green green sofafree of old, 9. inaugural TGISFW, 10. no parking, 11. dumping in style, 12. guess where that sofa is free, 13. cushion free, 14. pink leather sofafree, 15. sad, sad sofafree, 16. mystery locale sofafree


themacinator believes that we all have a theme song. Mine, according to my coworkers, is "Follow the yellow brick road." I prefer to sing a little "doo dee doo" song and call it a day. Sort of like a little bit out of it, a little bit cheerful, but just putting one foot in front of the other. Not super ambitious, but optimistic and somewhat grounded. Mac sings a similar doodee doo, but with a dumber, thicker, oh, there's a road? quality.

Lately, themacinator's sound was a little more like when the hurricane picks Dorothy up then when she's cheerfully following any yellow brick road. I don't like it like that. Sometimes it feels like one thing after another- I know everyone knows that story. Through it all, there was Mac, comforting me from his therapist chair, or at least the bed under my desk, or from his/my brown blanket on the bed.

My grandmother had the ugliest poster on the door of her art-room: a cartoon man with his head sawed open and a bunch of lemons in there. I don't remember how the lemonade came out of him, a spigot nose, maybe, but the old cliche "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade," was the moral of the poster. Lately, my friend and I have been using the code word "lemonade" to each other to remind ourselves that there *is* a nice sweet/sour juice if you look for it, or work for it.

Even though Mac has been part of my Kansas hurricane, (how many metaphors can themacinator use in one short blog post?!) he's also been the lemonade. I've been hesitating to post this, but he is doing a lot better. I'm cautiously optimistic. I weaned him of the prednisone and he's been fully off of it for almost a week. His personality is back to normal, which is a huge relief. The stressed out, amped up Mac is gone, replacing him with therapist Mac, chill Mac, dodeedo Mac. His pain level seems decreased and I've walked him a few times where I stop him before he tells me he's done because I don't want to push it.

This is lemonade- I never thought watching Mac walk 6 blocks would be a relief. For awhile, coming home to Mac was stressful and scary, which would make me guilty and worry about quality of life. It's back to a wonderful thing to see my dorky, beautiful veteran dog now when I open the door. He sleeps under the covers again, just in time for some cooler Oakland weather. He's even a little chunky from all the peanut butter he's getting with his treats, and I'm letting him keep his extra pound- normally I'm compulsive about his weight (never mine!).

I'll leave you with a recent-ish picture of Mac, having a blast on the beach, right before he hurt his back. I'm still not 100% sure I can let him do this again, but I know that happiness is back for him. Lemonade.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Lawns Suck

In another prelude to the review for Robert Glennon's "Unquenchable," themacinator would like to point dear readers to a past post from way back in April of 2009. This post included an even older link to a July, 2008 Elizabeth Kolbert article about the sociological and environmental issues of grass. As in the green, green lawns that most Americans proudly and obsessively maintain in front of their houses. It's a must read, really, just like that Penn & Teller video was a must watch, and the Bizarre Survey I just posted is a must take. (Really. I know it's weird. themacinator is weird. All will be revealed, eventually.)

The lawn is a cultural status symbol, a cultural mandate, which makes it almost impossible to get rid of. (And it's not just in Celebration that this is true. Writes Kolbert
A lawn may be pleasing to look at, or provide the children with a place to play, or offer the dog room to relieve himself, but it has no productive value. The only work it does is cultural... A lawn came to signal its owner’s commitment to a communitarian project: the upkeep of the greensward that linked one yard to the next.

“A fine carpet of green grass stamps the inhabitants as good neighbors, as desirable citizens,” Abraham Levitt wrote...“Some feel that a person who keeps the lawn perfectly clipped is a person who can be trusted.”

Over time, the fact that anyone could keep up a lawn was successfully, though not altogether logically, translated into the notion that everyone ought to.
Meanwhile, the lawn has no positive environmental value. It actually has substantial negative value. The grasses that Americans use to beautify their lawns (because they have to, to keep up with Joneses!) are almost exclusively non-native, can't reproduce on their own, and require extensive watering. The United States is on the edge of a water crisis, Glennon explains, and our obsession with neatly trimmed is both a part and a symptom of this crisis. Not only do lawns require vast amounts of water, they also require extensive chemicals to maintain, chemicals that poison water, and the animals and plants that need that water. In our culture of grass, we use AND abuse our scare water resources.

My parents once converted their backyard to native plants. It was beautiful and much more environmentally sound. My back and front yards are, well, yards of waste, due to laziness and having no need for any kind of garden at all. I rake my leaves (and my neighbor's dog shit) when the mood strikes me. And I glare at vast expanses of lawn all over the city. But the thought of replacing lawns, or letting our yards "go to seed" sounds heretical, even in the East Bay. Read the article. Google "anti-lawn" for more information, and "freedom lawn" for some alternatives to icky grass.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dear Reader, a Survey

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bottled Water, Really?

I just started reading a book about water. The author Robert Glennon (review coming soon, don't fret,) recommends a video from Penn and Teller's show Bullshit (I didn't know anything about this show). The video is long, and the best part is at about minute 8, during a water taste-test in a fancy restaurant. It's pretty hilarious. Know what you're drinking.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Mary Roach: Stiff

Mary Roach's "Stiff" was recommended to me by a vet that I work with and frequently trade books with, especially books like my recent spate of books about what we eat and the random chicken book I read awhile ago. I see why she recommended it- the subject was fascinating. But Mary Roach's writing truly annoyed me, almost from page one. She writes as I imagine she talks, or maybe as she imagines we'd like to read a book about a slightly taboo subject, with "humorous" asides. It's kind of like reading this blog- if you don't like how I talk, which is almost exactly how I talk- you won't be able to stand it. On the other hand, I write blogs that, at their longest, are approximately 5 paragraphs. Roach's book was almost 300 pages of torture. Which sucks, because her discussion of what happens to dead bodies was actually fascinating, and totally new to me. But reading it was like pulling teeth from a cadaver. Or something.

Mostly, "Stiff" is a long line of anecdotes strung together about the various things that happen to dead bodies (mostly in the United States). They are used in research about the safety of various things like cars and land mine shoes, parts are used to help the living, they are buried, they are used as teaching tools, occasionally they are eaten or used as folk medicine, etc. Roach documents some gross historical experiments with cadavers and some historical problems with identifying when the dead were really dead. She seems to brag about how un-squeamish she is, and the walls she runs into trying to get into places like crematoriums, anatomy labs, that really shouldn't be big problems because hey, she's not going to vomit on anything! I can't recommend this book, and I can't say much about it- it's not thought provoking, it's more of a bathroom reader. It's not even good for the creep-out factor at a party. The best I can say is that "Stiff" is a great argument for organ donation, and for letting your loved ones decide what to do with your corpse after your death, since you really can't take it with you.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Elections, Hypocrisy, Misogyny, and Racism

Or, themacinator calls herself out on hypocrisy and gets annoyed at essentialism.

I told my coworker that I would forget this conversation that happened on election day, but I didn't, and can't. I like this coworker very much- I would probably call him a friend- he is kind and quietly, wryly funny, and a very hard worker, which I value immensely. We started at the same time and have watched each others backs since then. We were riding to a departmental training, and I asked him if he had voted. (Note: this is probably not an appropriate workplace conversation. I remember having to note this to myself previously, but somehow had forgotten this note. Typical.) He had not voted, and said he only votes in the big election. I made some joking comment to the effect of the only thing that mattered was going in there, voting for Jerry Brown (or anyone but Meg Whitman) and leaving. He responded, not joking, that that would be fine, because he doesn't vote for women in any of the top offices- Governor or President. Women, he believes, just don't get along with each other, which causes too much politics. Men, he said, always get along.

I could have asked for more information, and possibly had a good conversation with my friend, as we do have the ability to have these conversations, but I found myself resorting to the same kind of essentialism that he was resorting to, and I cut myself off. "Stop," said themacinator, "before I say something that I shouldn't." My coworker is Chinese, and along with his family, got citizenship at 18. He went to part of high school here, but still, according to him, very strongly identifies as Chinese. When we have had political discussions in the past, I have found my eyes widening and thinking words like "control of the media," "brainwash," etc. I have widely skirted issues like Tibet and Taiwan, and then sat back and realized that there's no reason "my" opinion is any better than "his," and felt like a Western snob.

So when my coworker said this, rather than engaging in a discussion, I had to stop myself from retorting something completely inappropriate and unfair about where he came from, and how women are expected to behave there. About what culture says women do and don't do when it comes to being in charge. I was pissed that this was the first thing that came to my mind, and equally frustrated that I wasn't able to have a dialogue with him. I think *he could have handled a dialogue, potentially without throwing out anymore hurtful and redactive stereotypes, but I was starting with one that I felt was unspeakable, and didn't want to sink any further from there. In fact, I didn't want to start there. My coworker had realized that this was a potentially poor place to start and said "no offense," but that's about it- he still put it out there. It's his belief, of course, and personal beliefs are what they are, and can be offensive. I suppose it's where we go from there. I don't know where to go from here, but want to acknowledge that my response to an essentialist position about women was to internally respond with an essentialist racist position.

I want to excuse myself that at least I can acknowledge this position, and its bias, but I don't feel like it's enough. I know the history of mis-information between China and the US, and want to know more. I want to acknowledge the racism inherent in attributing one Chinese-American man's beliefs to a whole (huge) group of people. And I want to get rid of my tendency to make sweeping generalizations as a first resort.