Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunrise, sunset...

Happy Halloween, All Saints Day, Samhain, whichever.

Autumn has long been a favorite time of year, for me; when I was a youngster I would say the favorite; but these days I'm less exclusive. Why would I want, when listening to the first frogs chorusing in just-spring, to wish for something different?

Here in the cold-temperate part of the world, Autumn can be seen as a fading time; the "end" of summer, the "descent" into the dark, cold, death of winter.

Oh, piffle; is my response. The naked limbs of the trees have their own distinctive beauty, invisible most of the year; and the diamond-sharp stars of deep winter nights are worth the frozen nose that goes with them.

Still. While it's lovely to watch the bright leaves fall, it's such an ephemeral thing; I have to admit to a little pang of sadness when they are all gone. I do watch the whole show carefully, each year, even in the hurry of harvest.

When I was a freshman in college, I had a great deal more time than I do now. Probably being away from home made me a bit more sentimental and nostalgic than usual, but I really regretted losing the oranges, reds, yellows.

So I made an effort to find a way to keep them; just a bit longer.

I found a way. I've kept it rather a secret ever since; but the time has come to share it.

I knew that "pressing" leaves; gathering them and putting them in between layers of paper; simply doesn't work for the colors. You can wind up with a nicely preserved leaf, that will show you the shape and all, but the color will be dramatically, or totally, faded if you follow normal procedures. And the pressing process can take a month or so, before the leaf is thoroughly dried and stable. The only method I knew of to save the colors was very messy; involving infusing the leaves with glycerin. Gooey, and not cheap either.

Somehow, I hit on the idea of - ironing - the leaves. I was already enough of a biologist that the idea immediately had some appeal; the rapid heating of the water in the leaf to the boiling point should "denature" the enzymes responsible for digesting the pigments; maybe this could work...

It does work. Extremely well, in fact. The one additional "secret" to this process is that freshly ironed leaves still need to be pressed in paper, or they will curl up. But having been thoroughly ironed, much of the cell structure has now been just a little ruptured, by steam; and the leaf will dry to stability in just a week or so. If you try to iron them hot enough, and long enough, to just dry them directly, there's a very good chance you will cause the colors to fade a great deal; too much, and you can easily scorch a dry leaf.

Use a "hot" iron; lay it on the leaf and let the heat penetrate; move the iron a bit to flatten any irregularities; turn the leaf and iron the other side (seems silly, but seems to matter); then turn and iron again; that's all. A heavily padded ironing board may not work well; I often iron on an old National Geographic, covered with a couple paper towels to absorb moisture.

This is now a rite of passage, for me; as Autumn progresses, I'll make an expedition or two with a loved one to just walk, and discover, and gather some of the brightest and most beautiful leaves. Then we'll iron them together, quickly taking the hot and still damp leaves and carefully getting them, exactly flat, into the old atlas or dictionary. Some of the colors change a little when ironed; dark reds may become even darker; light yellows may get paler still. Or not; this unknown part of the rite adds a little more whimsey to it.

Then, a week or two later, perhaps on a rainy late fall day, the next part of the rite. We meticulously wash a couple windows; the east, and the south, in our case. And using double sided tape, together we put up the leaves, perhaps making swoops and swirls, to look like a swoosh of falling leaves. Yes, they're a little fragile. You have to be careful with them. That's a good thing. If you're not sure your leaves are dry enough, try a few. If they start to curl away from the glass in an hour or two, they need to stay in your book press for a few more days.

Often after the late fall rains, the woods will be bare- and gray. It can seem just a bit dismal, if you let it. But as I drink my morning coffee, whatever morning light there is comes through these saved bits of the brightest days. And when the sun hits them- it's nature's own version of stained glass.

We'll usually leave ours up until New Years, at least; then the snow gradually asserts its own authority, and eventually makes the bits of Fall seem out of date. We take them down; burn them in the woodstove, re-wash the windows, and move on; knowing we'll do it again next year.

It slows the speeding days, just a little.


Give it a try, if you can; even here where "all the leaves" are down, you can still find fresh bright leaves in odd places. You do need freshly fallen, or picked off the tree; leaves that have been off the tree for just a day are already faded, and brittle. Often young tree seedlings in the woods keep their leaves long after the grownup trees have shed theirs. Scrounge around; with a loved one (or two), if you can.

So far as I know, I "invented" this process. I see looking on the web that some people iron leaves- but as far as I can tell, they do it only between pieces of wax paper, counting on the wax to "fix" the leaf. I'd never heard of that before; and I can assure you, you don't need the wax. Just ironed and book pressed, the colors will stay completely fresh for 4-6 months; they will, of course, gradually fade after that.

Let me know how it works for you.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Render unto Timex...

We've been having fun here with our "land hurricane"; and the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded, either in the USA, or at least the Midwest, depending on your source. We didn't get the absolute worst of it, but it has been work to get through it; tarps ripped off, ripped up, a tree or two down on a road or two, smoke in the house from more atmospheric turbulence than our chimney can handle.

Coulda been worse. Actually, I've seen worse winds here, just not so heavy so long. We've been averaging 30 mph, with bursts up to 55 for three days; but any good summer thunderstorm can have short duration winds up over 70, and I've seen 90 mph. But only for 10 minutes or so.

In the middle of it all, we got to drive to our doctor town for me to have an "upper endoscopy"; the doctors going fishing for anything down my upper gastro-esophageal system that's out of whack and could explain some of my whining. (Can't remember any of it, which means they did a good job; and the bottom line was "nothing obvious" but they did take a couple biopsy chunks to look at closer.) The car blew around on the road a bit, but again; coulda been worse.

When I came out of the anesthesia (this is how we do it in Minnesota),

I was not, surprisingly, gasping for air. Besides being droll and musical, our Midvestern anesthesiologists are very competent. So I woke up surprised.

It was all over and I didn't even remember falling asleep. (thanks for the video to my big brother, who has more time to cruise youtube...)

The next thing on the agenda was a little woozy shopping (with Spice along as unmedicated driver) for the necessities of life.

For me, the necessities include a working watch. I know; half of youse guys out there cheerfully do without one (and even brag about that, from time to time), but as I noted today over on Sharon's post about the relativity of time, I now need to know where I am in the day; how much is left to work with, etc. And no, you can't tell time from the sun in Minnesota in late fall/early winter; more than half the days are sunless.

And my sturdy, reliable, Timex Ironman Triathalon® (can't tell you how manly it makes me feel to wear one!) watch had recently done what they all have done; the watchband broke; long before the watch itself was near the end of its life.

And, guess what? Just as always before (like 5 times, by now) - since I'd bought my Timex IT; the styling had changed, just a teensy, so that- nope, they don't actually have a replacement band available for that particular model... and the watch-girl (used to be the goose-girl, 300 years ago) doesn't really even know how to get this thing disattached...

The (mildly, given the state of the world) aggravating thing is that the watch itself is nicely designed, and has a long, reliable life. And the band always dies long before the watch.

Accident? Ha. We know better. It is, of course, a ploy to sell more watches, keep the profits rolling. I can hear the conversation in the Timex marketing meetings: "Ok, look, the damn engineering department has screwed us again; these bloody things run without a problem for 4-5 years! How the hell can we justify our bonuses if we're only selling one per customer in 5 years?? Here's how we can fix this disaster...)

It's a broad huge problem with our world, of course; the waste of resources, where there is no actual need for it, just greed for it.

But. I've come to be resigned to this kind of little irritation; it's an intractable problem, and not quite as urgent as some others (like all-time record breaking weather); and not a fight I really have the time to get into, anyway. Hélas.

So. I'm calling it The Timex Tax. Sure as death and. Inescapable. You pays your money, and you takes your chances.

But at least, now, no matter where I am on the farm, chopping water or hauling wood, I'll be sure to know how much longer I have to struggle onward, today. My Timex Tax is paid for another 2-3 years.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Just let The Market work!"

I know, I owe you guys a guinea update. :-) Working on it. Meanwhile, I just made this comment over on Richard Black's BBC environment blog, and kind of liked the way it turned out - so, I'll repeat it here. This is part and parcel of the Sociopathic Business syndrome- the insistence that The Market will solve all problems - if only those nasty regulators will allow it to-


A couple of years ago, I got a nice lesson in reality. My very ugly truck was stolen.

I'd bought the truck specifically as a farm-only vehicle; ugly but functional. Very ugly, rusty; but mechanically reliable, like a tractor. "Nobody in their right mind would steal it", was our firm belief, so it was left commonly in the field, in sight of the public road, where we were working. Everyone agreed- "nobody would ever steal that old piece of junk". We de-registered it; no license, since it never went off the farm.

Guess what? Some people- who were NOT in their right mind, but hopped on meth - stole it, and wrecked it. Actually causing us substantial loss; it was a tool we needed.

Now- I'm not considered a dumb person- but how did I forget that the world is teeming with people "not in their right mind"?

Humans are outstanding at simultaneously believing two different things- which they know are mutually exclusive; "incompossible", as they used to say. First world farmers, for example know that if they don't produce as much food as possible, "the world will starve"; and simultaneously know that overproduction of food is responsible for their low prices and constant dance with bankruptcy. So they support burning the food they grow, and get very huffy about it if you suggest that burning food is, um, questionable.

SR wrote:
"I think what a lot of people tend to forget is that if it weren't for market mechanisms and the *generally* efficient allocation of scarce resources thereof, we would still be floundering in something resembling a Dicken's novel."

The concept that "markets efficiently allocate resources" is another one of these beguiling fantasies. I'm delighted to see the "generally" added- perhaps a bit of reality is slipping in.

The illusion stems from an underlying and rarely stated part of the belief; which is that markets will, and do- operate "honestly".

All of history- and blatantly all of very recent history- agrees that markets NEVER operate honestly. Never. It just doesn't happen. Never has. The Code of Hammurabi contains death penalties for people who cheat in business.

Sure, there are plenty of plain honest business people who run beautifully honest operations (I'm one, in fact). And in case you hadn't noticed, they're the ones who wind up in the newspapers- for going bankrupt, after years of hard honest work. While the dishonest ones- wind up in the papers for mind-blowing bonuses; wrist-slap legal fines for their illegal operations; and the fact they resent being called dishonest.

It has always been that way. Yes, indeed, markets allocate resources fairly; and if my Aunt had wheels, she'd be a Ferrari.

Or we could always say, anyone in their right mind, will obviously conduct business honestly and fairly.

That'll work.


What they teach, in the Business School Of Sociopathy- is that if you simply keep repeating the mantra of "The Market Will Solve All Problems" - a huge number of voters will believe it, forever. Which will then ensure that Regulations are kept to a minimum; and "business opportunities" are not abridged.

Which means- opportunities for theft, fraud, and piracy- will alway be available; thank goodness.


That post on the BBC generated some following discussion; maybe worth looking at...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Denialoons...

Super quickie. Just wanted to let the world know I am unleashing a new neologism (sick).

Just hit me as I was composing scathing reposts to the paid deniers over on Richard Black's BBC environment blog.

Unfortunately, the blog is infested with obvious paid deniers/disruptors (obvious if you're trained in spotting them), and it's sad because there are people there trying to discuss and learn. If not blocked, they will eventually succeed in castrating the blog, just as happened to Andy Revkin's "Dot Earth" on the NYT.

Anyway. I'd recently described an organization I know as "an addled loon egg", and may have been heard to comment how glad I am to know that loons are not endangered, in some venues...

And the words just came together. Denial. Loon.

Oh, the fit is perfect, and "denialoon" sounds to me like what is known in the marketing biz as a "sticky" word. It's memorable; and can get around.

So; a little boxing, from me. Denialoons is what they are; and will always be. Much stickier than "flat-earther".

Pass it around! :-)

ps - well, pooh. A quick google, done after writing the above, shows that one other person has put this together, before me. But, they made no effort to launch it. I wanna launch it; good epithets can have legs, or wings, in this case...

Friday, October 8, 2010

More to be pitied, than scorned.

For you infants, that's an old put down for a young lady who got herself knocked up without benefit of matrimony.

But it's also a shoe that fits many MBAs and businessmen. They're in a sociopathic culture; and indeed many have been sucked in and indoctrinated in it, without being, at their cores, actual sociopaths.

There are real, genetic, natural sociopaths on Wall Street, to be sure. But if you'll check the definitions there, sociopaths love to manipulate people; it gives them big warm fuzzies down in their iceberg hearts. They love to be admired. Worshiped.

Emulated. So indeed, one good born sociopath thriving as a successful hedge fund CEO (for example) will spawn dozens more; the weak, easily led, who follow in the shining footsteps, and, of course, often will strive to "out Herod Herod", as they seek their idol's praise.

Nasty little positive feedback loops, all over, in this mess.

But. Before the entire business community descends on me in fury, explaining they are not sociopaths, at all, but "good people"; who kiss their children good night, and give money to the United Way once a year -

Sure. Not all businessmen and women are sociopaths - by nature.

But. Take a good look at what you do, every day. And. How many times a week do you find yourself justifying some hurtful, harmful activity with "Look, this is business."

Yes it is. Blind pure self-interest, all others be damned.

So, if, dear businessman, you're feeling wounded that the entire world (it's not just me, you know) is starting to actually speak up and say we all loathe you- keep in mind that like the pregnant 15 year-old, many of us out here can see your problem, and we do feel compassion.

It's a sad place to be, no doubt.

What we need, obviously, is a good Twelve Step Program; to become a "Recovering Business-Sociopath."

And don't I wish I were joking.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Harvard Business School Has No Clothes.

I have a little epiphany for you. One that hit me as I was driving across multiple states recently, observing our world.

It's summed up in a blindingly oblivious "Op-Ed" piece, in today's New York Times. From the author's blurb:

"William D. Cohan, a former investigative reporter in Raleigh, N.C., writes on alternate Fridays about Wall Street and Main Street. He worked on Wall Street as a senior mergers and acquisitions banker for 15 years. He also worked for two years at GE Capital. He is the author of 'House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street' "

In his piece entitled "The Elizabeth Warren Fallacy", Mr Cohan asks (and he's serious) "Why create an expensive bureaucracy to “protect” consumers from their own stupid decisions?"

The mind boggles. Mine does, anyway, and mine is not all that easily boggled. And this is from an author who writes elsewhere about wretched behavior on Wall Street.

Literally going back to the Code of Hammurabi, the very existence of all law is justified by the fact that, yes, innocent persons need to be protected from predatory humans.

But here, a scion of the Business World, slickly suggests that sheep exist to be sheared, and that this is how the world works. This is what they teach MBAs, these days. Any means to a profit - not specifically forbidden by law or (silly) regulations- is entirely fair. Reap all you can, before the regulators catch on.

Which behavior has put our culture where it is- virtually all the "real" capital in the "real" economy has been skimmed off, via slick marketing of easy credit - e.g.;

Borrow $10,000 on your credit card today! Just use this EasyCheck {Same as cash!} - And for this Special Limited Time Offer, this loan will be at only 1.99% until paid off!"

(Until you sneeze, then it goes into the default rate of 30%...)

With the real capital sucked out of the Real Economy into the bizarre fantasy world of The Financial Sector (which owes itself trillions of dollars more than actually exist anywhere) - we're broke. And breaking further. All of us.

In my opinion, the best, most solid economic statistic available is the rate at which CEOs and top corporate executives buy and sell their own stock in their own companies. Through a grotesque oversight, this is public information. At the moment, those who know the most about their own futures are selling their own stocks at a rate of 1,400 to 1.

No, that's not good.

The epiphany?

Gradually, over the years, our societally accepted definition of "business" has changed.

It used to be; and we still teach our children, that "business" happens when: you have a need; I fill it; you pay me for my work; and we both benefit.

Now what we teach our MBAs is, if there is no need; create one; and if you can trick your opponent out of an extra penny, good for you. Mutual benefit, in fact, is literally no longer in the definition.

What you have there- is precisely - the definition of sociopathy.

We teach Sociopathy as "Business". We really, really, really do.


There are multiple sites on the web that deal with definitions of sociopath, and lists of character traits. They don't all agree, but take a look; and compare the traits to those flaunted by "business" professionals.
(If you're a movie fan, take a look at Gordon Gekko this way.)

For the last many decades, the business world has very effectively insinuated huge respect for themselves into every aspect of our culture. All good things flow from business; without it, we will all perish. There you have a truth beyond examination. To question it, even, is punishable. The metaphors quickly reach to religious dogma; heresy; and excommunication.


Maybe you already knew this. I've always known there were slimy characters here and there; but it was a new idea, hitting me with force, that we actually accept, and teach, a group of behaviors and attitudes we also recognize as incredibly destructive and dangerous. Genuinely pathological. Sick.

Try saying "Harvard School Of Sociopathy" a few times; see how it fits.

Today; it's to the point where a respected writer can suggest, in a respected forum, that stupid people deserve to be tricked, and "we" should waste no money to save them. (Never mind that the public will then, provably, pay for their prisons, hospitals and funerals, and sociopathic children.)

What happened to the idea that business should not involve traps and tricks, in the first place?


Manifestly, The American Way Of Business now thrives - survives- on tricks and traps. The entire model is sociopathic. And is run by trained sociopaths.

Spread the word. So far, sociopath is still a label most would like to avoid. It's a very bad thing to call someone. A very hard word. Maybe it needs to be spray-painted all over Wall Street.