Thursday, April 27, 2017

Go west, old man

El Borak doesn't actually ride a horse
Well, I took Tom Bridgeland's admonition to seek a bigger platform seriously, and as a result I will now be posting semi-regularly at Men of the West under my given name, El Borak.  My first piece will be up tomorrow before noon.

Some of my early stuff will not be original to y'all, as I intend to update a number of older pieces from here and Myopia for more generic and broader distribution.  Garden stories and the like will still appear here, as will shorter pieces.  Well-thought out longer pieces will appear there, though I may link to them from here.

There won't be a link back here from there, as this is not an attempt to garner more readers in this place. They just look like a bunch of good guys doing a good thing and I'm going to help them out.

UPDATE: And there it is.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Bring on the bees and the potassium

Flowers in picture are larger than they appear.
In late 2015 I received a dozen scraggly, shriveled up 'buttons' via ebay. I had ordered some Russian comfrey roots, and apparently the person who sells them thought it good for business to send as little root as possible, along with a note extolling the strength of said buttons. Well, apparently that works, as I now have two beds of comfrey growing. They are also abuzz with visitors from my neighbor's hives. And the seller got positive feedback.

But other than giving CNN another Russian conspiracy to expose, why would someone want Russian comfrey growing about the yard or garden?  There are actually a couple of uses for this plant besides getting the bees in the habit of visiting your place in early spring.

The first is, as I've mentioned here before, as a mulch.  Comfrey has a very deep taproot, through which it pulls up lots of vitamins and potassium, storing all that minerally goodness in its broad leaves. Broad leaves make great mulch, keeping the weeds at bay and the ground moisture in place. The one downside of comfrey leaf mulch is that the leaves break down so quickly that you have to constantly re-apply them unless you mix them with other leaves and stuff. Then again, re-applying often means you're getting more good stuff in your soil.

That quick breakdown helps the second use: comfrey tea. Not for you to drink, mind you, but for your tomatoes and other nightshades. When comfrey leaves break down, they liquefy* and release all their potassium goodness in a form that gives tomatoes a boost.  I don't like using commercial fertilizer, so any time I can create lots of natural if stinky fertilizer I try to do so.

Comfrey also grows like crazy, creating lots of seedless** bulk for your compost pile. But if you don't chop it down for compost it grows into a very tall and decorative flowering herb that's often featured in flower gardens. It's nice to look at, if you like that sort of thing.

One final attribute that I have not personally verified is that it has lots of medicinal uses -- one of its alternative names is 'knitbone'. Comfrey has long been used as a bandage for external injuries and a poultice for internal ones.  While I'm not expecting to have to knit any bone together myself in the near future, it's always good to have the stuff on hand to do so, I guess.

* and putrefy.  You wouldn't want to drink comfrey tea anyway. 
** Comfrey actually has seed, but the Russian variety is sterile and spreads via root only.

Monday, April 17, 2017

It's gonna be so damp

Could you direct me to teh internets?
when NATO memes 4Chan:
...if the most powerful political-military alliance has the real battlefield on lockdown, some worry it’s floundering in the battlefield of the internet, where ideas go to clash, Kremlin trolls go to spread half-truths, and ISIS goes to recruit foreign fighters.

The answer, some experts argue, lies in memes — those strange jokes and references that come out of the internet’s woodworks from seemingly nowhere, and seem to end up everywhere at once. A small contingent of academics and experts want NATO to get in on the action to confront pro-Russian, anti-NATO trolls, or to push back against internet jihadists in the cyber space.

“It’s time to embrace memetic warfare,” wrote Jeff Giesea, a widely-known social media and tech guru, in an article in 2015. “Trolling, it might be said, is the social media equivalent of guerrilla warfare, and memes are its currency of propaganda.”
Imagine how well NATO would run an actual guerrilla war from Brussels and you can imagine how well they could run a memetic one. It is the nature of meme warfare to be decentralized to the point of anarchy. It's leaderless and directionless and organic. There is a reason it's referred to, only half-jokingly, as "weaponized autism." This is simply not something that a military alliance of 17 countries, 6 ethno-states, and a dozen unaccredited chiropractic institutions can organize.  Because it's not organized.

One 2016 campaign meme* illustrated the problem perfectly.  Frame one showed Hillary Clinton tweeting, which tweet was run though three committees and approved by a handful of campaign officials before it could be posted. The result was safe, bland, and accomplished nothing, as you might expect.

Frame two showed Trump sitting in front of a computer.  "I've never seen a thin person drinking Diet Coke," he typed. Thus is encapsulated the difference between organizing a meme campaign and writing a meme.  NATO organizes campaigns.

Memes may be the currency of propaganda**, but they are not simply propaganda. They are not a cartoon version of VOA or of anti-communist leaflets dropped into remote villages.

Nor are they merely a matter of creating a catchy phrase and using the power of the press to broadcast it. The term Fake News was memed out via a plethora of mainstream press outlets last November. All of a sudden the term was everywhere, complete with big, professionally-compiled lists of Fake News outlets to avoid and experts tut-tutting about its danger to democracy.

Within eight weeks the Washington Post was begging people to stop using the term and CNN was cutting Bernie's live feed for applying it to them, even as a joke. Chris Cuomo said that Fake News had become the equivalent of the n-word for journalists. That's what happens when you try to push public opinion via manufactured memes: your whole profession winds up in therapy.

Given NATO's topheavy organizational structure, its bureaucratic inertia, and its insulation from the actual world much less the anarchic world of social media, it's not hard to imagine what NATO memetic warfare might look like. It would be like Poe's Law come to life all the time:

NATO Meme (working prototype v1.045556a)

Which is why I cannot wait for them to get started. The memes that arise in response will be glorious.

  * which I have since lost. My dank meme stash is not what it used to be.
** If that phrase means anything at all, which I doubt.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Is it supposed to be smoking like this?

The lilac at sunset
So anyway, I decided to take advantage of this week's lilac bloom by making some lilac oil. Some people call it lilac essential oil, probably out of habit or a healthy sense of marketing. But it's not an essential oil, it's an infused oil.

The difference is significant in one sense and not in one other.  As far as use goes, there's very little difference: you put the oil in your diffuser or however you use it and use it.  But as far as what the oil is, that's the difference.

An essential oil is distilled from the plant alone.  If I make mint essential oil, for example, I am taking the oil from the mint leaves. The oil is there, I'm just sucking it out.  But for an infused oil, I'm beginning with a base oil, usually a light one like grapeseed oil, and then infusing that oil with whatever smell I want by 'cooking' a bunch of flowers in it.

So with that non-important distinction clearly in mind, I may have screwed up this batch.

The recipe is simple, you just place your flowers* in the oil and cook it on the lowest heat you can for 6-8 hours, 'bruising' the flowers every 2 hours or so to release the smellies. You then let the oil (with flowers strained out) sit for a couple weeks.  I added two steps: I froze the flowers for an hour**, then put them in the dehydrator for half an hour to remove excess moisture.  But that's not the problem.

The problem is that I put it in at 6ish last night, intending to turn it off at 10 and have Rogue finish the cooking this afternoon so I could process it tonight.  Instead, at 10 I washed up the dehydrator but forgot to turn off the crock pot with my concoction in it. The lovely and gracious Rogue turned it off at 5:30 this morning and reported that it was boiling and bubbling like no one's business.

So while it cooked too long, it's also likely it cooked too hot.  When I get home tonight, I'll extract the oil by running it though the jelly strainer, then put it away for the required two weeks.  At that point we'll know if it's good or if it will make the house smell like an engine fire.

Unfortunately, at that point it may be too late to do another batch, as the flowers don't bloom forever. I may have to do another batch tonight, just in case. I know, what a shame.

UPDATE: That was a fail. I don't even need to store it two weeks to realize that I cooked the gentle flowery goodness right out of it. Time to start over.

* how many? a whole bunch.
** because bees and ants.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Never got to the jelly

The other 'hood
I ended up reading a book last night on the recommendation of Five Boys' Mom: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  It's a memoir of sorts of a poor mountain kid who graduated from Yale Law via the USMC. Good read, quick read, and a very enlightening read.

What I found more interesting than the author's very interesting life* were the similarities between Appalachian white poverty and inner city black poverty.

There are some pretty obvious parallels: broken families, drug abuse, interpersonal violence, poor diet and hygiene, and the instinct to hide problems from strangers/outsiders. Two that I found to be the most intriguing and tragic were the scoffing at intellectual accomplishment and a belief that one's actions don't really matter.

The first is hidden within 'public' rhetoric about the value of education.  While everyone says that education is important, when black kids are calling out other blacks for "acting white" when they work hard, and when whites are calling other whites "faggot" for doing well in school, public rhetoric matters very little.

One interesting personal story related to that: Last Friday we got a talk from our university diversity officer**, who told us of a meeting she recently had with one of "her kids".  The soon-to-be grad was a black girl from one of Kansas' more prosperous counties, graduating cum laude, and with a bright future ahead of her.  Our officer asked her if she would be willing to go to lunch with the officer and a couple other black students as something of a mentoring opportunity. The girl refused, first quietly and finally quite adamantly. It took a few questions to get to the real issue.

"I don't like black people," the student finally said.  The officer was taken aback. The officer's black, the student's black, her parents are black, what's this rubbish about not liking black people?

It turns out that while her family was comfortably middle class, she grew up on the edge of a poorer area and attended inner city schools.  For years she suffered the insults and fists of her black classmates because she studied hard and spoke standard English.

While she was in middle school her family moved to a richer, whiter area where she excelled both academically and socially, but she neither forgot nor forgave those she left behind. Like JD, she managed to escape a really bad situation and make something of herself. Also like JD, those she left behind likely never will. And they will teach that learned helplessness to their children.

Which leads into the second problem: these people - poor whites and poor blacks alike - believe that what they do doesn't matter.  They lack what we might call 'agency,' that feeling that they can control (and are therefore responsible for) much of their current and future position. Instead, they revel in their mostly imaginary oppression and feel put upon when called to do something about their lot in life***. Nothing is their fault - not their life, not their drug abuse, not the wounds they are passing down like an heirloom set of china to their own children.

The poor in this culture are not honest with themselves about themselves.  They report going to church and work far more and doing drugs far less than they actually do. They look down on 'welfare queens' while trading their own food stamps for cash or smokes.  They have hidden away self-reflection because it's too painful to bear.

And if you're not honest with yourself about yourself, and if you don't believe that you can do anything about your situation, and if you insist that those people expecting you to get your shit together are "blaming the victim," then you are going to be painfully poor until you die at 55 of congestive heart failure while watching Rachel Ray in HD and eating Fritos dipped in ketchup.

The underlying problem is not that the poor have no money; they have plenty of money for smokes and sneakers and pot and iPhones and rims. It's not that they don't have dental care, but that they put Pepsi in their babies' bottles. The poverty problem in America is primarily cultural: the poor are poor in the midst of plenty because for whatever reasons, because of whatever fears, they avoid the kinds of actions that might bring them out and revel in the kinds of actions that press them down.

The tragedy is that there is almost nothing that anyone but the poor themselves can do about that.

* If you can call living to 31 a life.  The kid was born the year I graduated high school, for crying out loud.
** It wasn't a bad talk at all. Diversity in rural Kansas is not like diversity at Oberlin. Here it's about giving those who grew up 'out' a way 'in'.
*** from "casting lots," it's a euphemism that teaches that what happens to you is random and totally not based on your own decisions and actions.  And if life is just a throw of the dice, why try hard?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Redoubling the preps

Canning season has opened early at Rancho d'El Borak. Because reasons.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Well, that didn't take long

Running the world is a temptation every US president must face:
President Donald Trump said Wednesday that it is now his responsibility to resolve the humanitarian and political crisis in Syria as he opened the door to military action in the country... 
Trump took ownership of the conflict at his Wednesday press conference, proclaiming from the White House's Rose Garden, 'I now have responsibility. And I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly.' 
It's going to be tragically ironic to hear people say, "They told me that if I voted for Hillary we'd be at war with Russia within a year.  Well, I voted for Hillary and now the sirens are going off..."

All I can say is, redouble your preps.

UPDATE: About last night...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

You're gonna be a hat, buddy!

I owe my daughters an apology
So anyway, it appears that while DiggingDog™ is working her shift with the Nocturnal Canine Signal Corps*, someone has been sneaking into her pen and making off with her food.

At first I thought it was just the girls leaving the lid off of the can when they fed her.  After all, it was dark in the morning when I left for work, so I'd not see the can but I'd notice on the weekends that the dog's food was waterlogged. Obviously, the girls did not replace the lid some time during the week and it got rained on.

They assured me that they did and always do and maybe the wind is knocking the lid off. Unlikely, thinks I, but I got a bungee to secure the lid on anyway.  Press the lid down hard. OK, Wind, do your worst.

Well, the other day I arose to find the lid upside down, and today I found that it had merely been pushed to the side.  Obviously, we have a critter getting into the food even with the lid battened down.

There are some easy solutions and one cruel one.  One solution is to move the can to a location where the racoon** can't get it, like the barn.  A second is to get a container with a better lid, or better secure this one. I could close the pen door at night, locking the dog out -- after all, she's elsewhere all night anyway.

Like I said, those are the easy ones.  Or I could live trap the bugger. Except I'd be more likely to catch one of my own barn cats, I suspect.

But I there is one solution guaranteed to catch only the critter doing this and to be rid of him once and for all.

1) Get another trash can, fill it with new dog food, put it in the barn.
2) Fill this can 3/4 full with water.
3) Throw enough dog food in the water to disguise it.
4) Secure the lid.

Mr. Racoon knocks the lid off and climbs in to get some dinner, only to find himself in about 2' of water and no way to climb out. After all, it works for possums***

On the other hand, if he's big enough standing on his back legs to reach the can lid, he could just climb out.  If he's not quite so tall, I'm most likely to have a wet angry raccoon on my hands in the morning. That's not an optimal solution either.

And I'm certainly not going to sit outside at night in hopes of shooting him.

Maybe I'll just move the can inside the barn after all.

* She stands on the deck and barks south, then a dog to the south barks, then a dog to the east barks.  She barks east, then a dog to the east barks, then a dog to the south barks...  Lather, rinse, repeat all night.
** I'm assuming we're dealing with a racoon rather than feral cats or armadillos or really long weasels.
*** Only it's best to use chicken feathers rather than dog food on the water. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

You can still distill in America*

Not available in Arkansas
So anyway, I finally got around to buying that essential oil distiller I was thinking about last summer to exploit my abundance of mint leaves.  The nice thing was that by waiting a year, I came across a hand-made one at a quite reasonable price.  Add some wine-style tubing and a seperatory funnel and we'll be distilling mint essential oil as soon as the plants take off. They're already coming back in just as thick as last year. And in more places, too.

To recoup my costs, I figure I just need to produce $150 worth of essential oils that the lovely and gracious Rogue would otherwise buy over the course of a couple years.  The only problem is that she doesn't buy mint essential oil. Nor oregano, nor sage, two other distillable herbs that I have an abundance.

But she does buy lemon balm and lavender and a couple other herbs that I have grown in small quantities over the years**.

So what a great excuse, I'm thinking, to add a couple more beds...

* Except Arkansas, I understand, where the mere possession of a still is still counted a heinous crime.
** If you think about how much dried rosemary you use over the course of a year's cooking, it's obvious that even a single pack of 200 seeds is tremendous overkill. One plant is generally sufficient to handle one's culinary needs.