Thursday, June 26, 2008

Envira Indians: An Uncontacted Tribe

This is compelling picture of an uncontacted Envira tribe living in Brazil bordering Peru. The picture was taken by a group called Survival to show that uncontacted tribes like this do, in fact, still exist in the rain forests of South America, and they require protection from losing their way of life altogether from deforestation. These are people living, presumably, like they had been living for thousands of years.

I think it's the fellows with their bows drawn, ready to shoot the helicopter with arrows that really makes this picture interesting. There's a strange combination of nobility and comedy. Sure, the arrows communicate the same message an AK-47 communicates: "You're not one of us. Your company isn't welcome. We'll put holes in your squishy body if it steps out of that...flying...whatever the fuck it is." But nevertheless, they're pointing arrows at the steel shelled helicopter, which is probably a healthy distance away if the camera man has any brains.

The arrows are it. Those are the big guns. When the alien invasion starts, they break out the bows and arrows, and maybe spears. This is all perfectly reasonable, and probably more than I'd do. I'd probably just crap myself if a helicopter flew close to my house and started taking pictures of me and my family...and I've seen helicopters BEFORE.

But knowing what I know about stone or wood against steel or even thick aluminum, the futility is tangible and somewhat comic. But in the context of their worlds, an arrow solves just about any threat from animate objects. Shoot the damn arrow, kill the damn bird if you hit it. It works about 100% of the time.

I suppose it's a pretty standard thing to do. Not killing birds, but throwing a successful strategy at a new problem. I figure out a way to solve a problem and I just use it and use it and use it...and it solves the damn problem every time. Then one day the problem changes and I'm not entirely aware of it, and I fire the same solution at it. But this tim, it just bounces off - patoing! Or it makes the problem even WORSE. There's not even an awareness that it won't work. Maybe every time I do that somebody out there is snickering at how primitive I am, cuz to them it's so damn clear that the solution I used didn't match the problem.

I dunno. I just thought the pictures were cool.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hey There White Bread, mein weissbrot ist sehr gut

Ever since I learned to make bread a few weeks back I've been making a loaf of bread for every day of the week. No, I haven't been making bread every day. I've been making four loaves at a time about twice a week.

Normally I make a combination of whole wheat and white, but I ran low on whole wheat, so this batch is 1/4 white bread.

Here's the thing about making bread. It's much much easier than you might think, and not that time consuming. And if you're on a budget, this kind of bread is excellent. For about 80 cents a loaf, at 1200 calories per loaf, you can make a delicious bread that fulfills about 1/4 of of the daily caloric needs for a family of four assuming you don't have any teenagers in the house. If you want to go with cheap white wheat, you can probably get the price per loaf down to about fourty cents if you're buying small bags of wheat at a low cost store like Aldi or whatever.

The thing about this bread's delicious. So rather than using it exclusively as a buffer to hold mustard against sandwich meat, you find yourself slicing off big chunks of it and eating it by itself, or with butter, or with honey, a favorite of Oscar's. We easily blow through a loaf in a day.

The recipe is found in The Joy of Cooking. The standard white bread. I generally make two batches at a time and use 50% whole wheat, and add an extra 1/2 tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar. I don't use entirely whole wheat because that makes for a very dense, kind of unpleasant bread texture in my opinion. And if you're using the whole wheat I'm using, a 100% whole wheat loaf tastes uncannily like Wheaties. Not BAD. Just.........strange.

I normally use bread pans. This shapes the bread in sandwich shaped pieces, so we can use it for sandwiches. If I'm feeling artsy and gourmet, I just chuck a wad of dough onto a cookie pan and bake it.

For the gourmet looking stuff I dust it with flour before throwing it into the oven. For the usual bread I mix egg and milk and brush it onto the loaves before putting them into the oven, to give them a shiny, anime look when they're done.

For about 40 minutes of work per week and $6.40, I end up with 8 loaves of bread, at about 10,000 calories total.

The Universe is So Ours

Have you ever seen a space alien?

In Iowa City I knew a fellow who believed he was visited by aliens often. They'd come to his bedroom from time to time, paralyze him, and mill around talking. I've been reading about alien abductees, and their stories. Pretty consistently there's some medical procedure upon abduction, then there's some weird alien interview, and then some period of time where the abductee is subjected to some random images of earth life. This experience scares the bageezus out of some, and others it leaves with a deep sense of belonging and purpose.

I find the alien abduction story compelling. It's the sort of story I want to believe. I listen to or read the accounts and willingly let go of my skepticism and disbelief. I don't analyze or ask for proof or ask questions that might puncture the veracity of the story at all because the strange, expansive feeling I get when I hear the stories feels so fragile that it could pop at any minute. There's this lush, endless Homeric wilderness out there, inhabited with big-eyed, god-like creatures that want to tinker in our lives like Zeus.

Every once in a while somebody will come along and tease us with a story or a sighting, and every time I hope it's at least a convincing hoax. But it's usually a grainy photograph take by a cell phone, or something that's obviously a puppet head staring into a window; like the people perpetrating the story didn't even try very hard.

Ah well. If nobody else is out there, that means it's all OURS, right?

The most interesting story on this front comes from Universe Today, a group of soldiers in Afghanistan have expressed a willingness to make a one way colonization trip to Mars and Google is offering 20 Million dollars to the first private organization to land a robotic probe on the Moon.

I like this uncoupling of space exploration from the fickle hands of nations. I wonder if Burt Rutan will will the Google prize like he won the Ansari X-prize for first private citizen to develop a craft that can make a sub-orbital flight into space.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My Thoughts Go Out To the Folks In Iowa City

Iowa City is under water and the interstates are closed. And ya know what? There's no national guards helping with the sand bags like they did in '93. I wonder where they are...

Here's a pic of Cedar Rapids, a city about half the size of Grand Rapids, just 20 miles North of Iowa City.

I was talking with my friend Steve in Iowa City a moment ago and I heard the radio in the background talking about evacuating Coralville, Iowa, just 2 miles North of Iowa City because the levee holding in the river just broke and water is rushing into the city.

The last time this happened, in 1993, they called it a 500 year flood. An event that happens every 500 years or so. 15 years later, another 500 year flood.

Probably the scariest thing about this event is the road closures. The folks there are just stuck. Tomorrow I'll be making quite a few phone calls to see how my Iowa City friends are doing. It's predicted the water river crest at 33 feet above its original level...UNLESS it rains. And it's been raining like crazy for days. Still raining right now. Just to give you some perspective, the average depth of Lake Erie is 62 feet. Fortunately, most of Iowa City is built well outside the river valley. But let's not forget that a fantastic amount of our food comes from this region, and tens of thousands of acres of farmland will be in water deeper than most inland lakes. Most likely this will drive up our food prices a bit more. A little company called Quaker Oats makes most of their cereal in Cedar Rapids.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Radishes, Chard, Dill, Wild Honey. Yes! Don't Worry So Much About The Farm Eggs Next Time Though.

Our first drop-off from the Community Supported Agriculture thing came today. Tom Vandenbosh from our CSA brought all sorts of delicious things, a bunch of radishes, some greens, fresh herbs, and some incredible honey from wild bees.

He also brought farm fresh eggs. I know you know where this is leading. I have a pretty open mind, and I think of myself as having a pretty realistic view of how raw and ragged some non-processed food actually looks. Some of the radishes have cracks, and I wouldn't have been surprised to find bugs on them that have to be washed off. But I draw the line at farm fresh eggs...I wince every time I crack one open, and peek inside to see if there's going to be a little surprise in there. We have about a dozen farm fresh eggs, all different colors, and all different sizes from huge and blueish, to about the size of a kumquat and brownish. The outsides of the eggs have stains and stuff on them. None of this stuff bothers me. I find it all very neat and charming to see all these mismatched eggs...and they were delicious. Of course I cracked one of the teeny tiny ones open today and there was some blood mixed in with the broken yolk. Nothing recognizable. Just the beginnings of veins. *shudder* I just can't handle foetal chickens. No no no no no. That's where I draw the line. I don't want to be picking beaks out of my pancakes.

Fortunatly, he won't be bringing eggs every week. These were samples in case we want to buy more. Nope. I'll be sticking with the veggies and maybe I'll go for more of that fantastic honey. I love the idea that Tom will be bringing by a supply of fresh veggies every week. The weather has been warm and wet and Tom says they expect a good harvest this year. Yay!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Big Stack o' Cellulose

I have a little over two cords of wood already, with two more on the way...I just have to transport the wood to my house. I still have to finish cutting my tree. It's reduced to a wide trunk with no branches. I made my first cut into the main trunk last Friday. It went off without incident and yielded a log quite difficult to carry. Actually...I didn't even try. I just rolled it near my wood pile. I should probably cut it in half. Another unforeseen problem with cutting my tree is the pile of twigs that I didn't really consider. I have to do something with all these twigs and small branches. Bon fire? Leaf disposal site? OH! Speaking of which, I can get a permit from the city to cut wood I find at the leaf disposal site. Electric companies and landscaping companies routinely drop off large branches and tree trunks. Big dorks like me are allowed to cut those up and take them home.

My friend Art has a couple of dead oak trees in his yard which he has given me rights to. The only trouble is...they're still standing. I've never felled a tree before, let along felling a tree in an urban setting. *gulp*

I hope to have close to 7 cords by October, and then I want to constantly stay one year ahead on my wood supply because wood needs a full year to dry.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Behold! I Have Created Bread.

This is my first leavened bread, and it's actually pretty good. For some reason I opted to mold it into a "wad" shape, rather than putting it into a mold. It seemed like the hip thing to do. This wad of bread was surprisingly easy to make, with five ingredients:
  • Flour (white and wheat)
  • Salt
  • Butter
  • Yeast
  • Water
I could have added Love as a sixth ingredient, but I wanted a control group before I started getting fancy. My next batch will include Love. At some point I'll experiment with adding Vengeance or Irony. Right now, though, it's just a wad of regular bread.

Why did I make bread? We were out of bread. With our new, uncertain financial situation we've been going UberFrugal. I didn't want to drive to the store to get bread. That would be silly, especially considering we have all the necessary ingredients to just make the stinkin' stuff. Plus, it was fun and smelled delicious as it baked. Also, I just felt like doing it.

It's really not that hard. I thought it would be some grand production. But mostly it's a lot of waiting around. That's my kind of work. Throw the ingredients into a bowl. Mush it up. Kneed the mush for a few minutes. Toss it into a bowl and let it rise in the oven for an hour while you nap or read or nap and read or watch children...wait wait wait.

Then mock the bread's attempts to rise up by beating it down with a few light punches. Split it into two sections and put them on a pan with the oven preheated to 425. Wait another half hour while the bread attempts to regain its dignity and rise again. Wait wait wait.

Then put the bread in the oven for 35 minutes...wait wait wait.

Then ya got bread. It's a full 15 to 20 minutes of work, max. And you can make a LOT of bread dough. Of course there are far more involved breads than this...I did a pretty simple one.

I don't know if I'll consistently make my own bread. But it was fun to do.