Monday, March 28, 2011

This post is going to be short and sweet, given my relative lack of sleep today, and my working at the day job today despite the fact that this is supposed to be my day off. Of course, short and sweet naturally precludes more cannibalism.

Instead, I'll share why I didn't get enough sleep: I was working on my novel. And by "this post is going to be short and sweet," I mean I'm not going to write much that hasn't already been written. I am, however, going to share an excerpt from my book, as I finished the first major revision of chapter one last night.

Max After Earth is a tale of unchecked human expansion and greed, where man's inventions try to save him, in spite of himself. More information about the book's progression, and more opportunities to read excerpts, can be had at the book's Facebook page.

Without further ado, I give you this excerpt from chapter one:

It is the 37th of August, 2032, a day that scientists have warned: Apophis will, undeniably, hit the Earth. As the reports go, the force of one hundred nuclear bombs will be unleashed when the massive asteroid strikes. How many will the impact itself kill? If those same reports are to be trusted, then perhaps only thirty million. Assuming there are thirty million people left to kill. Far more likely, an object of that mass entering the atmosphere will ignite the methane cloud, burning up the Earth’s oxygen, and suffocating everyone; those at the highest elevations systematically succumbing moments before those below them, as though the hand of Death itself were literally coming down the mountainside. Barring such a grandiose and instantaneous of extinctions, there are always tsunamis, toxic gasses, and, depending on where it hits, nuclear meltdown, crumbling global infrastructure, or further upset to the world’s already unstable food economy. It isn’t a question of whether everyone will die—that much is known—it is only a question of how. Read more...


Friday, March 25, 2011

Previously I drew attention to the fact that our good intentions, our desire to improve the quality of life for everyone, can end up having the opposite effect. If we decrease mortality rates, for instance, then we'll stretch our limited resources even further, and this will likely end in more war over those very resources.

I also promised more of my crazy solutions to this problem. On the docket for today? Cannibalism.

Now, most people who are not practicing cannibals (which I presume is all of us) commit the fallacy of conflating cannibalism with murder. This is not inherently the case. Sure, there are sociopaths out there, but there have also been cultures which have eaten their deceased relatives in order to symbolize that, because of a spiritual belief that, or purely because of the nutritional reality that, in some way, if we eat someone they will live on through us. People can die of natural causes before we eat them.

So, the kind of cannibalism I'm arguing for is the "why don't we eat them instead of wasting all of that perfectly good flesh?"

Now, before you drop a "what the fuck" or two, hear me out. Matt hasn't completely gone off the deep end--only nearly.

People donate organs, don't they? Good. So I hope we agree that the general premise--that is, donating parts of our body--is not an entirely strange or screwed up concept.

So let's look at the why behind my suggesting cannibalism as part of a total system of sustainability.

We feed 70% of our corn crop to livestock. There are similar percentages for soy and other grains. All livestock suck at turning vegetable matter into meat. Cows are the worst offenders, and also one of the most popular. For every 30 calories we put into a cow, we get 1 calorie out as beef.

Now, imagine we reclaimed the 70% land that goes to growing crops for livestock. Reclaim the land that's going to raise that livestock. Reclaim the land that goes to graveyards. Our living spaces will literally double as farms if we are the meat we eat.

Additionally, we'd be cutting back on the oil, pesticides, and fertilizer used to raise crops, the antibiotics and fuel used to raise and transport livestock, and reducing water usage all around.

I know what you're thinking. At least, I know what I hope you're thinking. "Eating people is gross." I get it. That's the feeling I have toward factory farmed meat these days. But we generally have that reaction to most new foods that we try. Have I mentioned my reaction to eating insects? Butchering any animal takes a strong stomach, and I think that part of it is what grosses people out the most; pre-packaged ground human probably wouldn't make you think twice if you didn't know it wasn't some other animal, though.

Of course, I'm sure there will be spiritual arguments against what I'm suggesting. We can't defile these bodies, right? We already donate organs, and many people are horribly maimed before they die; if anything, I think it would be an honorable use of our bodies after we no longer need them. And the soul? If there is something called the soul, I don't think it cares much about the state of the body in death. We all rot eventually.

I'm not sold on cannibalism. I mean, theoretically I am. In practice though, I have the same reticence I have about any other new thing I encounter. It makes sense for us to do this, but can we overcome our bias against it?

Photo by Paul-W


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I love William Stafford's poem "Traveling Through The Dark". As he's standing over the dead doe, he notes that "to swerve might make more dead"--in this case, quite literally. The road is narrow, and if he doesn't push the doe into the ravine, many others run the risk of getting into a fatal accident. And then he feels the fawn inside her.

None of us, or almost none of us, want to kill. That may pertain to people alone, for some, but for others it extends to all sentient beings. But sometimes we're faced with the horrible irony that killing saves more lives. Those of us who cannot over-simplify our experiences, who cannot view things in black and white which present themselves in shades of grey, struggle to fit a peaceful existence within the confines of a reality which demands our death.

A reality which demands our death? Well, we cannot live forever. And even if we had the ability, we do not have the resources. In my previous post I reviewed Dirt! The Movie, in which the filmmakers stress our dependence on an ever-depleting topsoil to produce food. Our dependence on food should be obvious. The French Revolution has its roots in food availability, and recent unrest in places Egypt and Libya are helped along by rising food prices. Add dwindling farm land, fresh water, and rising average temperatures to the equation, and it becomes clear that an increasing population increases the risk that some of those mouths will go without.

War. I don't like it. But as smart as I am, I have to recognize the unfortunate problem that would be created if we woke up one morning and stopped killing each other. If our breeding habits went unchecked, peace would ironically lead to even more war due to it's increasing global population levels in the face of diminishing resources.

Sure, it would likely not happen overnight. In fact, cooperation would likely put more food in more mouths at the offset. But that also means fewer people starving to death, which would further spur on population growth. It's a vicious cycle.

I don't like the tough position this puts me in. While I don't want to support war, and while I would like to put plenty of food in the mouths of every global citizen, I can't in good conscience support anything that reduces the mortality rate unless I also do work to reduce birth rates. Increasing contraceptive use, increasing abortion rates, limiting the number of children a person can have, and increasing education (insofar as education has been linked to lower birth rates) are all options. Some are better than others.

All of this, ultimately, aims to lower the number of children that any given person has, regardless of whether there's an actual limit. And how do you stop a person that is set on having children from having them? Should you stop them? Can you ethically do so?

Perhaps we don't need to do anything. Perhaps as resources dwindle and the prices for said resources rise, people will simply recognize that they can't afford to have children. But will they act on that realization even if they see that it's valid?

Civil unrest will grow if we allow the resources to dictate our actions. The very war we were trying to avoid will result.

I speak as someone who is enamored with the idea of having children, and of raising them to be good stewards of their environment. I know some of my fellow bloggers have had children, and I have no doubts that they will turn into incredible human beings. But I have to wrestle with whether it's responsible to bring another burden on the planet, with whether I will be able to afford the resources to care for any children I bring into the world, and with whether it's a world I want to bring children into.

There are ways to make what we have go further. As is typical for me, I hope to share some of the crazier ones with you. But if all we do is try to stretch what we have, we will only be delaying the inevitable.

That's not to say everything is all doom and gloom. I have lots of faith in our abilities to overcome the adversities that we face. I only question how much we will fill the growing pains later if we take no action today. And if world peace is our goal, are we ensuring that the goodness of our hearts is not ultimately our undoing? Puppies and rainbows are fine and all, but they won't solve our most pressing problems.

We need to act sooner rather than later. "To swerve might make more dead."

Photo by Jayel Aheram


Monday, March 21, 2011

Dirt! The MovieI previously mentioned that I'd run across the trailer for Dirt! The Movie. I'm happy to announce that Dirt! is now available for free viewing on Hulu. You can watch it by following this link. Or just click play below.

The movie had some strengths and some weaknesses. It did stress how important dirt is to our survival and how the destruction of top soil has eliminated agricultural opportunities and as a result has caused war. It did this in a pretty powerful way.

I was also touched by the bit about a program that allows prison inmates to garden, and then transitions them into similar landscaping work once they're released.

Some bits were plain hokey, though. As someone that's a little more pragmatic, and not nearly new age enough for a lot of the "hippy talk" it was lost on me. If you're the same way, it'll probably be lost on you too.

It's not all bad though, and even with a slow start there's plenty in here that's worth seeing.

If for nothing else, watch it for the story of the hummingbird. I'm not going to give it away; you'll just have to watch the movie. What I will say is that it's a very powerful parable.

And that's what I'll leave you with.

Any other documentaries I should see? I've cancelled my Netflix subscription on account of them not support Linux, so I haven't been watching a lot of documentaries. If you have any recommendations, though, I'll see if I can get it through the library.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

I won't make any promises about how I'm going to start writing regularly. I already (sort of) made that mistake in an effort to keep myself motivated to write through these gloomy winter months, and all I did was crash and burn.

Winter is always tough. Everything is dead and I'm stuck in a cramped apartment where every day I feel more and more disconnected from the things I love and the things I love to write about. Perhaps next year, being a year older and wiser, I won't try to force things that won't happen naturally. If that's at the core of how I want to interact with the world, then I should be able to respect that with my writing.

But, spring is already peeking through. I'm not a big fan of Wordsworth, but as I took a walk tonight and saw the daffodils' cheery faces, I could grasp at what he was trying to teach me. I want to make as much of the sun while I have it these few short months.

Also, I've been eating bugs.

I've written about entomphagy--the act of eating bugs--before. There were mixed results with that experiment. For starters, my ineptitude at preparing insects for consumption resulted in bugs exploding all over my kitchen. And while the taste was actually quite pleasant, there were definitely psychological hang ups. I was eating bugs, after all.

I wanted to expand my experience, though, to see what other culinary options were available and to see if I could get over my bias, as a Westerner, against eating creepy crawlies. This time I allowed someone more competent to prepare my selection of edible critters. Through the website, I placed an order for their sampler of "mixed bugs". This included bamboo worms, silkworm larva, mole crickets, big crickets, and dung beetles. Given that these bugs made a bit of a trip, and were already cooked, I ended up with more bug parts than whole bugs. For the most part I was guessing which ones I was actually eating.

They were cooked, as I mentioned, and dehydrated for preservation. They were also lightly spiced. And you know what? They weren't bad.

The bamboo worms weren't my favorite. Lucky me, they sent an extra pack of bamboo worms as a "free gift". The problem wasn't with flavor or texture, rather it was because I found them cold to the bite. It was a weird experience. Even sitting at room temperature like all of the other bugs, they emanated a coolness when I bit into them. They struck me as something I would much prefer to have warm. Perhaps freshly cooked and served hot they would be quite enjoyable.

Not all of my finds were duds, however. I loved the crickets. They were crunchy and nutty and more than I could ever have hoped they would be. The mole crickets really do resemble moles (or, perhaps, moles resemble mole crickets). We have bred crickets before when we were keeping reptiles as pets, and I would seriously consider keeping some and incorporating them into my diet. Crickets aren't difficult to keep, and it would certainly be more cost-effective than buying them, live or prepared, whenever I fancied a bite. This could be a real winner.

Unfortunately, I couldn't really make a judgment on either the beetles or the silkworm larva. Both ended up being pretty mangled by the time they got to me, and there weren't really a lot of parts that were identifiable as one or the other. With the exception of the bamboo worms, though, I didn't find anything I tasted to be disagreeable, so I imagine that as distinct entities they would be quite enjoyable.

As I struggle to align apartment living with my desire to live self-sufficiently, I think I will be drawn more and more to raising insects for food. They have a small footprint and relatively few needs, and the benefits they provide to our diets are innumerable.

To this same end, I'm starting to think about renewing my indoor herb garden and perhaps trying my hand at growing an indoor lemon tree. It would be really cool if I could sell lemons on consignment at the farmers market, and I find I'm happiest when my cooking includes fresh herbs. Salt and dried spices just aren't enough for most dishes.

I've been inspired lately and I have lots of things I'd like to share with you. Hopefully I will soon. But for now, I'm taking it day by day as I try to balance a forty hour work week with all of my other passions. No more grandiose promises from me. You'll get as much as I can afford to give, which goes hand in hand with how much time I'm willing to spend in front of a computer during my downtime. Blogging, as with all things in life, is about balance.