Zhen Trigram

Veteran's Day Thoughts

I don't usually self-identify as a veteran.  My service was short, voluntary, and at no time was I in any serious danger.  It simply doesn't compare to the sacrifice that is faced by service members today, or even many of my fellow soldiers at the time.  Which makes me reluctant to include myself in their ranks, as it seems to suggest that my experience or sacrifice was similar, which it was not.  And my evolving attitudes about the efficacy of military action to achieve long lasting change, make me similarly reluctant to embrace all of my past decisions.

I enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a medic in 1990 - it seems longer ago now - at a time when the well orchestrated plans I had for my life had all fallen through at more or less the same time.  The most heart-breaking of these was my Peace Corps assignment to Nepal being revoked at the last minute due to tangled red-tape between the governments in Kathmandu and the Washington Peace Corps offices.  I had quit my job, put my things in storage, and was up visiting my mom. About a week before I was supposed to get on the plane for Nepal, I got the news.  The offered to post me to Nepal the next year, or they could send me to the Solomon Islands in six months.  I was the third volunteer that I knew this had happened to, and I told them never mind.

So for reasons that seemed reasonable at the time (mostly a desire to get moving in some direction, any direction, just get moving) I enlisted in the Army - the Texas Army National Guard technically, but the lines have been greatly blurred since the first Gulf War, and especially since 9/11.  I finished basic training and medic training, was assigned to a guard unit here in Texas, trained with them for a couple of years, and then got out.  As I said, short, voluntary and reasonably pain-free.

Still it was a valuable experience - especially basic training.

I met people I never would have met otherwise.  As a general enlisted grunt, my platoon was made up a variety of young men from around the country (later in medic training it would include women as well, but basic training is gender-segregated).  Some of them came from neighborhoods and situations that were completely foreign to my privileged middle-class upbringing.  The stories of police hostility and jokes about government issued cheese were eye-opening.  For almost everyone there, the military was not a first choice - but a way out - from situations that ranged from small town boredom to simple survival.  One of my platoon mates was from DC, and had two older brothers.  Both had joined a gang, and one was dead because of it.  If he stayed in DC he didn't see any real choice besides joining the same gang, and, as he figured it, probably being dead by 25.  I gained a lot through those friendships.

The military itself was interesting to experience.  It may be as merit-based and race-neutral of an organization as is possible in the United States today.  The officer corps is still disproportionately white, but the number of minorities at every level, and the requirements of uniformity demanded by the organizational mission, make for a reasonably color-blind institution.  It's also staggeringly homophobic and the role of evangelical christianity is often unnerving.

I also really understood, for the first time, the allure of fascism, and of other absolutist ideologies and movements.  Especially in boot camp, there simply are no worries.  Everything is taken care of for you, and all that is asked is complete, immediate obedience.  Perversely, basic training was one of the most relaxing times of my life. I was fed, clothed and sheltered.  I had a group to belong to and we shared common goals.  The sense of surrender was absolutely liberating.  The physical exhaustion and the drill sergeant theatrics were just part of the day.  Neither good nor bad, they just were.    By the end of couple months it was getting seriously old, but for someone truly in fear, or hungry, or isolated and alone, I could see how the trading of freedom for security could be a welcome bargain. 

I should also mention that part of our training explicitly stressed that we were both morally and legally required to question, and if necessary disobey, illegal orders.  But the 45 minute post-Nuremberg required training block did not offer much counter-balance to the overall authoritarian environment.

On the whole, my time in the military was a valuable life experience for me.  A mixed experience, to be sure, but most are.

Thanks for listening.
Bangalorey Man

That's a big pumpkin

From the Boston Globe.

And now it has a taste for blood....

For five months, he has slaked its thirst with a garden hose, shaded it from the sun with a cotton sheet, kept off the rain with a plastic tarp. He regularly fed it an exotic recipe of ground bone, blood, fish, molasses, and cow and chicken manure. Now more than 16 feet around and weighing an estimated 1,878 pounds, it is packing on 11 pounds a day.

Bangalorey Man

Uniting Around Food to Save an Ailing Town

One of the most inspiring bits of news I've heard in a while...

From the New York Times
October 8, 2008

"Facing a Main Street dotted with vacant stores, residents of this hardscrabble community of 3,000 are reaching into its past to secure its future, betting on farming to make Hardwick the town that was saved by food.

With the fervor of Internet pioneers, young artisans and agricultural entrepreneurs are expanding aggressively, reaching out to investors and working together to create a collective strength never before seen in this seedbed of Yankee individualism.

Rob Lewis, the town manager, said these enterprises have added 75 to 100 jobs to the area in the past few years."

Feeding people, creating jobs, building community, reducing energy use - hell, they are even taking on the credit crisis.

"More important, [the farmers] share capital. They’ve lent each other about $300,000 in short-term loans...."

"Fifty investors who put in $1,000 each [into a new restaurant] will have the money repaid through discounted meals at the restaurant over four years."

Okay, here's the whole article...

From the New York Times
October 8, 2008


THIS town’s granite companies shut down years ago and even the rowdy bars and porno theater that once inspired the nickname “Little Chicago” have gone.

Facing a Main Street dotted with vacant stores, residents of this hardscrabble community of 3,000 are reaching into its past to secure its future, betting on farming to make Hardwick the town that was saved by food.

With the fervor of Internet pioneers, young artisans and agricultural entrepreneurs are expanding aggressively, reaching out to investors and working together to create a collective strength never before seen in this seedbed of Yankee individualism.

Rob Lewis, the town manager, said these enterprises have added 75 to 100 jobs to the area in the past few years.

Rian Fried, an owner of Clean Yield Asset Management in nearby Greensboro, which has invested with local agricultural entrepreneurs, said he’s never seen such cooperative effort.

“Across the country a lot of people are doing it individually but it’s rare when you see the kind of collective they are pursuing,” said Mr. Fried, whose firm considers social and environmental issues when investing. “The bottom line is they are providing jobs and making it possible for others to have their own business.”

In January, Andrew Meyer’s company, Vermont Soy, was selling tofu from locally grown beans to five customers; today he has 350. Jasper Hill Farm has built a $3.2-million aging cave to finish not only its own cheeses but also those from other cheesemakers.

Pete Johnson, owner of Pete’s Greens, is working with 30 local farmers to market their goods in an evolving community supported agriculture program.

“We have something unique here: a strong sense of community, connections to the working landscape and a great work ethic,” said Mr. Meyer, who was instrumental in moving many of these efforts forward.

He helped start the Center for an Agricultural Economy, a nonprofit operation that is planning an industrial park for agricultural businesses.

Next year the Vermont Food Venture Center, where producers can rent kitchen space and get business advice for adding value to raw ingredients, is moving to Hardwick from Fairfax, 40 miles west, because, Mr. Meyer said, “it sees the benefit of being part of the healthy food system.” He expects it to assist 15 to 20 entrepreneurs next year.

“All of us have realized that by working together we will be more successful as businesses,” said Tom Stearns, owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds. “At the same time we will advance our mission to help rebuild the food system, conserve farmland and make it economically viable to farm in a sustainable way.”

Cooperation takes many forms. Vermont Soy stores and cleans its beans at High Mowing, which also lends tractors to High Fields, a local compositing company. Byproducts of High Mowing’s operation — pumpkins and squash that have been smashed to extract seeds — are now being purchased by Pete’s Greens and turned into soup. Along with 40,000 pounds of squash and pumpkin, Pete’s bought 2,000 pounds of High Mowing’s cucumbers this year and turned them into pickles

For the past two years, many of these farmers and businessmen have met informally once a month to share experiences for business planning and marketing or pass on information about, say, a graphic designer who did good work on promotional materials or government officials who’ve been particularly helpful. They promote one another’s products at trade fairs and buy equipment at auctions that they know their colleagues need.

More important, they share capital. They’ve lent each other about $300,000 in short-term loans. When investors visited Mr. Stearns over the summer, he took them on a tour of his neighbors’ farms and businesses.

To expand these enterprises further, the Center for an Agricultural Economy recently bought a 15-acre property to start a center for agricultural education. There will also be a year-round farmers’ market (from what began about 20 years ago as one farmer selling from the trunk of his car on Main Street) and a community garden, which started with one plot and now has 22, with a greenhouse and a paid gardening specialist.

Last month the center signed an agreement with the University of Vermont for faculty and students to work with farmers and food producers on marketing, research, even transportation problems. Already, Mr. Meyer has licensed a university patent to make his Vermont Natural Coatings, an environmentally friendly wood finish, from whey, a byproduct of cheesemaking.

These entrepreneurs, mostly well educated children of baby boomers who have added business acumen to the idealism of the area’s long established hippies and homesteaders, are in the right place at the right time. The growing local-food movement, with its concerns about energy usage, food safety and support for neighbors, was already strong in Vermont, a state that the National Organic Farmers’ Association said had more certified organic acreage per capita than any other.

Mr. Meyer grew up on a dairy farm in Hardwick and worked in Washington as an agricultural aide to former Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont. “From my time in Washington,” Mr. Meyer said, “I recognize that if Vermont is going to have a future in agriculture we need to look at what works in Vermont, and that is not commodity agriculture.”

The brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler have found something that works quite well at their Jasper Hill Farm in nearby Greensboro. At first they aged their award-winning cheeses in a basement. Then they began aging for other cheesemakers. Earlier this month they opened their new caves, with space for 2 million pounds of cheese, which they buy young from other producers.

The Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese at the University of Vermont is helping producers develop safety and quality programs, with costs split by Jasper Hill and the producers. “Suddenly being a cheesemaker in Vermont becomes viable,” Mateo Kehler said.

Pete Johnson began a garden when he was a boy on his family’s land. Now his company, Pete’s Greens, grows organic crops on 50 acres in Craftsbury, about 10 miles north of here. He has four moveable greenhouses, extending the growing season to nine months, and he has installed a commercial kitchen that can make everything from frozen prepared foods and soup stocks to baked goods and sausages. In addition he has enlarged the concept of the C.S.A. by including 30 farmers and food producers rather than just a single farm.

“We have 200 C.S.A. participants so we’ve become a fairly substantial customer of some of these businesses,” he said. “The local beef supplier got an order for $700 this week; that’s pretty significant around here. We’ve encouraged the apple producer who makes apple pies to use local flour, local butter, local eggs, maple sugar as well as the apples so now we have a locavore apple pie.”

“Twelve years ago the market for local food was lukewarm,” Mr. Johnson added. “Now this state is primed for anything that is local. It’s a way to preserve our villages and rebuild them.”

Like Mr. Johnson, Mr. Stearns of High Mowing Organic Seeds in Wolcott, who is president of the Center, knew he wanted to get into agriculture when he was a boy. His company, which grew from his hobby of collecting seeds, began in 2000 with a two-page catalog that generated $36,000 in sales. Today he has a million-dollar business, selling seeds all over the United States.

Woody Tasch, chairman of Investors Circle, a nonprofit network of investors and foundations dedicated to sustainability, said: “What the Hardwick guys are doing is the first wave of what could be a major social transformation, the swinging back of the pendulum from industrialization and globalization.”

Mr. Tasch is having a meeting in nearby Grafton next month with investors, entrepreneurs, nonprofit groups, philanthropists and officials to discuss investing in Vermont agriculture.

Here in Hardwick, Claire’s restaurant, sort of a clubhouse for farmers, began with investments from its neighbors. It is a Community Supported Restaurant. Fifty investors who put in $1,000 each will have the money repaid through discounted meals at the restaurant over four years.

“Local ingredients, open to the world,” is the motto on restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows. “There’s Charlie who made the bread tonight,” Kristina Michelsen, one of four partners, said in a running commentary one night, identifying farmers and producers at various tables. “That’s Pete from Pete’s Greens. You’re eating his tomatoes.”

Rosy as it all seems, some worry that as businesses grow larger the owners will be tempted to sell out to companies that would not have Hardwick’s best interests at heart.

But the participants have reason to be optimistic: Mr. Stearns said that within one week six businesses wanted to meet with him to talk about moving to the Hardwick area.

“Things that seemed totally impossible not so long ago are now going to happen,” said Mr. Kehler. “In the next few years a new wave of businesses will come in behind us. So many things are possible with collaboration.”

Roman D20

Mr. Wheaton. King Geek.

10 Unknown Facts about Wil Wheaton:

1. The more Cthulu learns about Wil Wheaton, the more insane he becomes.
2. Wil Wheaton won Gary Gygax's lucky 20 sider when the D&D (co)creator bet him he couldn't fit an entire 3rd edition Monster's Manual (vol.1) in his mouth. Wil fit the first four volumes.
3. Wil knows whether or not the Johns Linnell and Flansburgh are, in fact, giants.
4. Contrary to the Trekkie popular belief, Wil Wheaton cannot travel around time. However, when he desires it, time will travel around him.
5. Wil Wheaton started a real AADA, but had to disband it after simultaneously defeating all five other co-founders with nothing but a Radio Flyer wagon and a single flaming oil jet. To be fair to his competitors, I must point out that it was an HD flaming oil jet.
6. Accurately depicted in GURPS, Wil Wheaton as a character would cost 413 points.
7. Wil Wheaton has access to seventh level disciplines.
8. Wil Wheaton once visited the eighth dimension using his own home-made oscilation overthruster.
9. Wil Wheaton is the Kwisatz Haderach.
10. Wil Wheaton is Three Laws Safe!
11. Wil Wheaton is Security Clearance ULTRAVIOLET.
Bangalorey Man

Camping by the Sun

Just as bright and toe-tapping as they come...

Camping by the Sun
by Peter Mayer

I like it here and so do you
On the one that’s green and blue
With everything that life requires
A big hydrogen camp-fire
We could be here quite a few days
The next place is four light-years away
When you’re camping by the sun

Yippee-yay-yeh, yippee-yay-yo
Outer space is mighty cold
Unless by chance, you have found
A nice, warm star to fly around
Unless you’re camping by the sun

Like the earth roped the moon
The sun’s got us in it’s own lasso
We’re doing dishes and we’re taking showers
At sixty-five thousand miles and hour
It makes you want to play the guitar
And sing songs with Jupiter and Mars
When you’re camping by the sun

Yippee-yay-yeh, yippee-yay-yah
Outer space is very dark
Unless with luck, you have found
A nice, bright star to fly around
Unless you’re camping by the sun

Yippee-yay-yeh, yippee-yay-yo
Outer space is dark and cold
Unless by chance, you have found
A bright, warm star to fly around
Unless you’re camping by the sun

And just before you close your eyes
When the sun’s on the other side
You can wonder at the countless thousands
The other fires and who’s around them
And if the sticks for their hot dogs
Are ninety-eight million miles long
When you’re camping by the sun


95.1 - Goodbye

From a radio news site:

KTXZ Austin, owned by Encino Broadcasting, has changed formats.  The new format will feature Tejano, norteno and grupero music.

The station, normally on AM 1560, will be simulcast on new FM station 95.1 in Austin.  They look for 95.1 to make it on the air in the next few weeks.

95.1 had been the home to an amazing private station in Austin.  I'm hoping that they have merely switched frequencies, but if so, I haven't found them yet.

Bangalorey Man

Matter of Consequence.

"Oh, no!" I cried. "No, no, no! I don't believe anything. I answered you with the first thing that came into my head. Don't you see--I am very busy with matters of consequence!"

He stared at me, thunderstruck.

"Matters of consequence!"

He looked at me there, with my hammer in my hand, my fingers black with engine-grease, bending down over an object which seemed to him extremely ugly . . .
-From The Little Prince

In Austin, Pet Services is a prohibited use in properties with Central Business District (CBD) base district zoning.
So in the heart of downtown, you cannot get your dog groomed, or go to a vet, or board him overnight.
I don't know why.  There's no real justification for the prohibition.
What I do know that is I have been given the task of righting this egregious wrong.

So my noble quest begins - and I will not rest until dog grooming is legal in downtown Austin.*

Stay tune for further updates.

*This should be considered a rhetorical flourish, and not a schedule.  Amendments to the Land Development Code require internal staff review and proper notification, and at least two public hearings.  Over the course of the weeks this will take, I do, in fact, plan to rest.