Saturday, October 31, 2009

One good plug deserves another

A brief word about one of my oldest friends.

Tim Moerman is an Urban Planner by profession and Renaissance man by nature. Not only that, but he cooks a pretty good oatmeal. He’s kind of a rockabilly sustainability superhero and my go-to guy when I have a question about pretty much anything complex. He’s also virtually the only person I know that you can rant at about some fucktarded aspect of the state of the world who won’t then just bitch at you for “being depressing”, but instead will engage you in a meaningful conversation. Anyway, he has an enviable way with words and has staked out his own little patch of interspace, so, for anyone who has accidentally found themselves on this page, I hereby redirect you to a blog worth following: Tim J. Moerman

Friday, October 30, 2009

Keeping up with the Joneses – the lawn edition

I call 8’ tall spiny weeds growing out of gravel, a Triffid.

Accordingly, shouldn’t I be able to forgo the rake, hoe, shovel and “paper waste bag” and step up to flame throwers? Really, I am menaced, lost in my yard, amid aggressively spiked plants that I never invited. And they are bigger than me. And I am a damn big fellow.

Actually I accept that in my semi suburban life, you have to gather up the biomass that falls or it will kill the chosen ground cover(cursed grass) and lead to soil runoff in the drainage system. I just wish, after participating in all this toil, that some of this vast urban acreage could be devoted to something productive.

I hate that the standard paper bag I am supposed to fill is boldly labeled “yard waste”. Words are power. Words define our perception of reality. Orwell wasn’t talking out his hat, we are our language. It isn’t waste. It is potent fertilizer. It is potential biofuel(if you swing that way—I don’t, I am waiting for the bon voyage car party!). It is a valuable commodity. If the produce in my grocery store was from close by, that “waste” would directly translate into the food I was buying. When I haul those sacks out to the road, I am just like the ant hauling a lump of sugar back to the colony. Waste, wtf?

If we want to at least slowly change our paradigm, change how we view value, wealth, sustainability, food, commerce, one of the steps we need to take is a basic rethinking of stuff. Plastic, glass and paper are all pretty nifty to recycle, but it is energy intensive to do so, and we do it to make more throwaway products. the goal is to consume less, not gorge and recycle the refuse to extend the party. All this urban excess biomass, though, is actually almost ready to be energy. Stack it up, let it break down a little and then dump it on your field. Badabing, you’ve transformed your “garbage” into tomorrow’s food. On my street, in the crook between street and curb, where moisture accumulates, leaves turn to sumptuous soil in the same season. To reword that, leaves can turn into the best tasting food you’ve ever set your lips around.

Just the same, don’t get me started about lawns. Is this a social project to keep husbands out of trouble on the weekends? I could grow moss, which doesn’t need cutting or gathering, or I could grow something useful: pretty bushes, raspberries, a corn crop. But grass? Even for those dreaming of summer leisure, compare stepping into grass with stepping into cool spongy moss. What is with this whole grass thing?

And I can’t let it go, can’t forget about it, or hide from it. My neighbours pristinely manicured lawns glare at me, the bylaw people lurk, waiting to sucker punch me in the kidneys. I’ve never had such a fish-tank feeling until living in a suburb type development and worrying about the lawn. Would a pumpkin patch really bother them? Instead, it is, “are those your leaves clogging the gutter?” No, No, I have the pulled muscles and blisters to show I raked all I could. And I get the sly approach, where a neighbour offers to loan me an implement for lawn care. Frig, I'm glad to know I am cared for.

Suppose(hypothetically, doncha know) I create an agricultural garden one year. I know this is useful because I end up with more produce than I know what to do with. I am up to my armpits in zucchini, I am drowning in tomatoes. I kill the entire vampire entertainment industry with my garlic. I have weird Technicolor squash coming up that I don’t even know how to approach. The next year, in a neo-conservative funk, I say screw it, I don't want to find neighbours to give food to, who eye me warily. If only I had learned about preserving food!. One year fallow, and I have a forest of triffids in my now, happy, healthy soil and I have to hack them down and bag them up for whatever the city does with them. Crap, I wonder, if one 24 square foot plot makes 200lbs of biomass when I ignore it and it weeds up(multiply that by 36 for my stupidly industrious yard) how much energy are we talking about in a city(food or fuel)?

The Joy of Spam

People complain about spam. There seems to be certain prevalent strains: Viagra-type drug ads, instant college degrees, penis enlargement. These make sense to me: wide cast fishing nets, hoping for someone who is anxious and stupid and perhaps is a college drop-out with a small floppy penis.

But spam filters keep evolving, and the spam evolves alongside. My spam box, these days, usually has broken English attempts to emulate personal messages. I almost wish I wasn’t indoctrinated against opening spam. I used to sometimes, when the subject line was bizarre enough.

For a while, I guess to avoid patterns that filters detect, spammers seemed to send emails with very random and nonsensical text. I loved them. They were so easily formatted into surreal poetry that jogged your head out of it’s linear thought patterns. I don’t know the purpose of these spams, maybe they had viruses, maybe my computer got the viruses, maybe it defeated them—I don’t really understand most of what my computer does autonomously.

Whatever they were, I don’t open any spam anymore. I’ve just gotten warier as I age. Luckily, I still get to enjoy subject lines. Today, this was a subject line in a spam: “there was a voice which sang about thy spring”. Now is that lovely or what? So much nicer to wake up to then the headlines. I searched it and it turns out to be from a 19th century poet, Wilfred Scawen Blunt. The poem was part of a mournful book called “The Love Sonnets of Proteus”, from 1880. I actually found the text of the entire book at Go figure.

I have no idea why spammers would strategise the use of really obscure poetry, or how they come across it. maybe there are bot programs programmed with the spirit of William Burroughs, scouring the internet for cut-ups. Who knows? It is a beautifully absurd mystery of the internet. It symbolizes an intellectual anarchy that tickles me, a disordering of the senses, as Rimbaud might have put it. Is anyone using his words to subversively market cock pumps? If so, wouldn’t he be tickled? I'll never know why some stranger quoted Wilfred Blunt to me, and that’s what makes it marvelous.

Here is the poem the line was poached from:

O WORLD, in very truth thou art too young;
When wilt thou learn to wear the garb of age?
World, with thy covering of yellow flowers,
Hast thou forgot what generations sprung
Out of thy loins and loved thee and are gone?
Hast thou no place in all their heritage
Where thou dost only weep, that I may come
Nor fear the mockery of thy yellow flowers?
O world, in very truth thou art too young.
The heroic wealth of passionate empires
Built thee fair cities for thy naked plains:
How hast thou set thy summer growth among
The broken stones which were their palaces!
Hast thou forgot the darkness where he lies
Who made thee beautiful, or have thy bees
Found out his grave to build their honeycombs?

O world, in very truth thou art too young:
They gave thee love who measured out thy skies,
And, when they found for thee another star,
Who made a festival and straightway hung
The jewel on thy neck. O merry world,
Hast thou forgot the glory of those eyes
Which first look'd love in thine? Thou hast not furl'd
One banner of thy bridal car for them.
O world, in very truth thou art too young.
There was a voice which sang about thy spring,
Till winter froze the sweetness of his lips,
And lo, the worms had hardly left his tongue
Before thy nightingales were come again.
O world, what courage hast thou thus to sing?
Say, has thy merriment no secret pain,
No sudden weariness that thou art young?

Chasing The Dragon

I'm not sure what sparked it, but I recently had a vivid memory of first being introduced to the internet, and it is a good a place as any to inaugurate this space. For me, up until the internet, computers were basically a word processor and I had used them (and typewriters) since childhood. My first computers were various Tandy Radioshack models. I wrote assignments and stories on them, wrote simple programs in Basic, and played text-based adventure games which were loaded from cassettes.

In 1995, my university offered students free access to the internet, though they hadn’t sprung for any kind of GUI. To tell you the truth, though I have a rich image of the desk I sat at, the music I listened to, the art on my walls, even my very ugly ashtray, I cannot for the life of me remember what that screen looked like, or how I “navigated”.

What I do remember is suddenly having easy access to fascinating essays and radical thought. What sticks out the most, is Arthur Kroker’s Ctheory (which incidentally, is still a going concern on ye old interwebs - . My mind was flooded with semiotics, deconstructionism, futurism, political dissent and inscrutable French thinkers. When I remember it, I think of the way people talk about first taking acid. My mind felt blown, the world felt opened wide, and I felt like anything was possible.

To keep with the drug analogy, they say the first high is the best, after that you’re just chasing the dragon. Fast forward to 2009, and most of the time I spend on the internet is idle amusement, though maybe that is changing, or rather, maybe I am changing that.

My other memory from those early giddy moments of the internet was my sudden shocking realisation that it was an interactive experience. I had found a message board on paganism and posted a question—again, this was truly novel to me.

Very shortly afterward my screen notified me that I had a response and my technopeasant mind just kind of gaped. There was a brief, innocent response to my question, that apparently originated about 8 blocks from where I sat.

My reaction is difficult, even for me to understand now that email, IM, social networks, and comment forums are ubiquitous in day to day life(let’s face it, many of us are more knowledgable and skilled in this illusory environment than we would be in our back yards). I was horrified, I felt exposed and vulnerable and I felt like my home had been invaded. I just hadn’t realized that by participating in the internet I was no longer in my private interior life.

It is difficult to overstate the panicky reaction I had. My pulse was pounding and my mind felt clouded with fear and I did the only thing I could think of—I turned off my computer and unplugged it. I was the caveman wailing the batshit out of something that had startled me.

It is awe inspiring and somewhat grotesque that a technology so new and so alien, in just a few short years has become so enmeshed in all activities and so essentialized in day to day living. I’ve only just recently begun to think about the activities it reshapes and those it has displaced altogether.

But, I am no longer a technopeasant; I probably spend more time at a computer than anything else other than sleeping, and some days that is debatable. And now I am blogging.

Blog. It’s a strange word, vulgar sounding. It fits with navigating, as it is short for web log. Ships navigate and their captains keep logs. Does my bandwidth constitute a pitched sea?