Posts Tagged ‘alternative’

Kill the K-cup


Single-use products like these need to be taken out back behind the shed, and shot.
Leave it to the Global North to be in such a hurry that it demands a complicated electronic machine to make single servings of coffee, that will likely either break (non-user-repairable) or be replaced (planned obsolescence) in two years, and creates non-recyclable waste with every use.
I signed it. Will you?

This culture of maximum convenience is also the culture of maximum harm.

For the record, the only responsible solution (if you have to drink coffee in the first place) is to head down to your local antique store, pick up a vintage moka pot:
buy organic fair-trade beans, and compost the grounds (roses love them). You may be slightly inconvenienced, but when this is the alternative, suck it up.

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A quick note on folk music and outdated memes

Alynda Lee Segarra … noticed that her own people — music makers and music lovers — would regularly sing along with choruses about killing women, comfortably accepting gender-based violence as part of the ballad tradition. No more, she said. “The Body Electric” was her intervention.” (Ann Powers, writing on NPR’s music blog).

Might I say that it’s ABOUT DAMN TIME someone in the national folk-music scene took this head-on?

Look, I like ‘traditional folk’ music as much as the next guy, but when the memes encoded in a ‘traditional’ song (no matter how beloved) are completely status quo, I will never be able to give a shit about it: I’m not so blindly loyal to a given style of music that I’m going to listen/learn/perform a song just because it’s old.

Face it: the devaluation of feminine life–the meme at the heart of this woman-killin’-murder-ballad genre–has been a ‘traditional’ part of Our Culture for the last several thousand years…and as readers of this site will know: I got no time for that shit. “Get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand”, and all that.

(Pretty much the only murder ballad I’ll listen to is Okkervil River’s “Westfall”, and the main reason is because it doesn’t just describe and then stop after the murder (as so many ‘traditional’ songs do) but goes on and at least has *something* to say.)

Thoughts on Aronofsky’s ‘NOAH’

Well, I finally got around to seeing NOAH (given the limited staying power and increased turnover rate of mainstream releases these days, my movie-going pattern is pretty much either Opening Day With Bells On, or Dollar Theater Several Months Later.)
Before I get into my discussion of the film’s troubling big-picture issues, I feel I should give at least a couple of quick thoughts about it as a film, cultural implications aside.

It’s not that bad.
*I thought the pacing was off (I didn’t check my clock, but I think about the first hour of the film is pre-Flood, and the second hour is all post-Flood, on the boat), and since most of the Drama is crammed into that second hour, it feels a little unbalanced. Personally, I would’ve liked to have spent a little more time watching the Ark being built, instead of the ten-year (?) fast-forward, while it gets 90% completed off-screen.

*The setting is really ambiguous, but I understand that it was intentional—we’re not meant to be sure if we’re seeing Earth in the far, far, far distant past, or pseudohistorical, deconstructed Biblical times, or a distant ‘post-apocalyptic’ future (a la the Sloosha’s Crossing… section of Cloud Atlas), or even a totally different planet (in which case, the use of biblical names works in a kind of folk-archetype way)—witness the radically-different continents and the celestial objects visible in the skies, even during daytime. In the end, of course, a case could be made for each of these possibilities, which makes for a more interesting, multilayered film in general, but in the interest of avoiding ambiguity I still would’ve liked the film to have picked one and stuck with it.

*Everybody (the literalist Christians, especially) seems to have been surprised and up in arms about the director’s inclusion of ‘Watchers’….they should get over it.
It’s funny, because these ‘rock monsters’ were totally edited out of the film’s promotional material, just to surprise the audience out of nowhere! I actually really liked these characters (they’re like kickass helpful stone Ents!)—plus, using Nick Nolte to voice a pile of gravel incarnate was doubly brilliant—and it’s nice to see references to apocryphal ‘giants’ and Nephilim and such interpretable-as-extraterrestrials spookiness getting used. The character design and animation on these guys was great; I could watch them all day.

Anyway, on to the big picture fun.

When I first saw the teaser for NOAH months ago, my first reaction was probably some grumble about the whole production design (costumes especially)—reflecting Hollywood’s zeitgeist-y obsession with “gritty” (for the current ringleader and worst offender, see HBO’s Game of Thrones…but on second thought, no, don’t see it, because that show is toxic).
You know how it goes—even though a property is ostensibly set in a ‘historic’ or at least ‘realistic’ setting, outfits are designed with visual storytelling and not practicality in mind. Call it ‘Hollywood primitive’: garments are always incredibly threadbare and made of what-looks-like loosely-woven burlap with exposed, crudely-sewn seams in uncomfortable places (with grime rubbed into every crevice), as if to suggest that people occupying more ‘primitive’ levels of technology are incapable of both craftsmanship and regular laundering:

If this film wasn’t associated with Darren Aronofsky, I’d just chalk it up as another ‘gritty’, Russell Crowe-led anachronism-stew historical epic with copious amounts of shakycam—of which he has been in quite a few (but not Master and Commander—that’s a quality piece!).
However, because Aronofsky was directing, I know there was probably going to be a fair amount of realism sacrificed for the sake of Art. From what I’ve read, the Christian audience the film has been halfway courting—you can’t make a major film based on a major episode of the Old Testament without attracting Christian attention, after all—seems to have been expecting NOAH to have been a literalist reading of the story thrown up on the screen. I understand they were disappointed. Apparently, it would seem they expected a film about a fairy tale to have been realistic!

But the costumes and the ‘realism’ of NOAH aren’t what I came to grumble about. My main grumble is about the film’s underlying philosophy, which is nothing if not unquestioning of the status quo. This is especially troubling considering the myriad possibilities of alternative viewpoints that an innovative director like Aronofsky could have brought to a film like this. But unfortunately, what we got was the same old Younger Culture message that we see encoded and enacted all around us every day: the one about how Humanity is fundamentally (and irreparably) flawed as a result of some half-understood original ‘sin’ first manifested in the killing of a figure called Abel by a figure called Cain.

Especially indicative of this is the segment I’ve embedded below, in which the character Noah summarizes the pre-Flood chapters of Genesis, and in which Aronofsky fairly successfully (and visually beautifully) shoehorns the history of evolution into the biblical six-day creation of the world, via the deployment of copious amounts of poetic license:

This ‘evolution’ sequence seems to reinforce our culture’s misguided anthropocentric viewpoint, suggesting that every stage of creation—from the first dividing cells on up to fish, frogs, lizards, mammals and monkeys—has been leading towards the emergence of Man. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—the human species is not the end-point of evolution.

Despite depicting his ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ as radiant creatures straight out of Cocoon, Aronofsky’s version of ‘The Fall’ still remains the same old mess of incomprehensibility as our culture’s accepted interpretation, heard or seen everywhere, even when reduced to a simple repeating three-note wordless visual motif (snake hiss, apple lub-dub, rock thwack).

The montage which follows—various historically-costumed warrior silhouettes killing and being killed—only serves to underline the status quo message of the film. Crowe’s narration (reflecting our deluded, dominant cultural narrative) suggests that our major flaw (encoded as ‘Human Nature’) is such that we’re simply unable to keep from killing each other. This, frankly, is bullshit, as anyone who has ever dug even slightly more than surface-deep into human history would see that even the most sustainable societies still have warfare and the occasional murder.

Luckily, the truth, which this film doesn’t seem to recognize, is that the problem doesn’t lie with Humanity as a whole.

In NOAH’s opening exposition cards, we are told that following The Fall (snake hiss, apple lub-dub, rock thwack), the followers of Cain created an “industrial civilization” which spread over the earth. If you take Quinn’s anthropological view of The Fall story—in which Cain (the metaphorical first practitioner of our culture’s model of aggressive agriculture) kills pastoralist Abel in order to possess and farm his land—and look out the window, you can see that story being enacted before your very eyes.
Throughout the film, Noah repeatedly (ad nauseum, in fact) asserts that for the good of all, the whole murderous human race (‘mankind’) needs to be wiped off the face of the planet. This is, of course, untrue: saving the world requires stopping only one single culture—Ours—the one whose rise to dominance was metaphorically depicted in the biblical story of ‘The Fall’.

This was the part where Aronofsky really dropped the ball, in my opinion.
Given the film’s explicit connection of a life-destroying industrial civilization with the ‘line of Cain’, it would have been very easy, in all those scenes where Noah insists that wicked, murderous Man must not be allowed to survive, to replace ‘Man’ with ‘Cainites’, as a handy sort of shorthand for ‘Totalitarian Agriculturalist-model Civilized Takers’.
(Some reviewers seem to have picked up on a ‘green’ message in NOAH, but I must have missed it; I don’t recall a point at which Noah ever suggested the Flood was retribution for the damage the Cainite civilization had wreaked on the planet. If he did, it was done, again, by pinning the blame on ‘Man’ and not a single culture.)

While it may be hard for us, here in the conquered 21st century, to conceive that civilization is not the whole of humanity, for the protagonists in NOAH, there’s really no reason they shouldn’t be able to. After all, as Noah himself is descended from Cain and Abel’s other brother Seth, he should be well aware that the Sethite line which he embodies (vegetarian and friendly to non-human animals as they seem to be) represents a far more healthy approach to life than that of the industrialized Cainites.

In short, while Aronofsky’s Noah continues to assert that Man must be destroyed because he simply can’t stop killing himself, it would have been exceedingly more accurate (and productive) to say that the line of Cain must be stopped before it is allowed to destroy all life in its relentless, myopic pursuit of Growth and Power.

Doomsday Preppers: David Nash

Our other Tennessee prepper this episode is David Nash, who is also concerned about the likelihood of a modern New Madrid earthquake.
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentDavid explains how he and his wife Genny have “chosen careers that fulfill us but don’t necessarily leave us with much in the bank”, ergo he is DIY all the way! Which is great—less is more! I like it!
He starts off by showing Genny his homemade ‘saline converter’ to turn saltwater to bleach, which he could then add to contaminated water to make potable.
I’m not totally sold on the chemistry(NaCl+H2O -> NaOH + Cl ->bleach?), but if it checks out, that’s not a bad little system!
And because David thinks ahead, he DIY’s himself a stringtrimmer motor/wood-burning steam engine contraption to charge the battery he’ll use to run his bleach-maker. I’m not sure how all that comes together—I have little mechanical knowledge of anything more complex than a forge-bellows, but if he can indeed charge a battery by burning sticks and small wood, that’s a winner.

After that, David reveals his build project: a geodesic dome shelter to resist the shaking expected in an earthquake.
He cuts the aluminum pipe framework pieces in his shop, assembles them with his dad’s help in the woods, and then drapes it with a big heavy-duty piece of signage tarp. The dome gets draped in three kinds of wire mesh (probably could have gotten by without the chickenwire), and is coated by sprayed concrete and then given a camouflage paintjob. It looks solid, if a bit melty organic, but to make sure they give us another requisite DP tannerite explosion test, with dad inside! (the shelter appears to survive).

I had a friend in the UP who built a shack along similar lines some years back—except he used steel cattle panels and reclaimed plastic sheeting and old carpeting, all bermed with soil, to make a sort of ‘longhouse’. Apparently it was pretty much invisible once the woods grew up around it.

Oh, and for lighting inside his dome, David installs a two-liter ‘light bottle’—a really genius DIY lighting system—and some DIY gutters for water catchment.

Anyway, geodesic domes (yay, Buckminster Fuller!) are always awesome, and I love the use of the reclaimed billboard tarp. For a non-mobile DIY bugout shelter in the woods, the sprayed concrete shell is probably pretty hard to beat (I wonder if their concrete sprayer would be compatible with any of the alternative ’cretes—something with more solar mass for passive heating/cooling?)

After watching this episode and about the same time coming across this art exhibit, I got to thinking about the utility of combining modern materials like David’s tarp (which already exist in great numbers) with traditional indigenous building shapes and materials. I can pretty easily imagine a band of neotribal folks walking or riding (horses—no Ancient Sunlight Juice for these sustainables) across the post-Long Emergency landscape (or even the Right Now landscape, if you can imagine such a thing!), towing their travois loaded with a couple of these waterproof billboards (emblazoned with images of golden arches or sports mascots or other similar logos that must have once held great significance to the old ‘uns of the Fourth World, but are now no more than mysterious runes) and a bundle of tentpoles, all ready to set up camp at the next watering hole.
Just something to think about, it’s always fun to combine ‘new’ and ‘old’ and imagine different ways of doing thing. After all, there is no One Right Way to Live!

Doomsday Preppers: ‘Dr. Dave’

This not-terrible episode wraps up with a look at Dr. Dave Jensen of Colorado, who has supposed fears of an EMP.
© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment
‘Dr. Dave’ (as the show insists on calling him) is a big proponent of holistic medicine, which really is only logical for a survival-minded person, because as he explains, our modern (read: unsustainable, Petrol Age) approach to dealing with sickness is “based on technology and prescription drugs”.
And so, the good doctor runs a clinic founded on ‘natural and alternative healthcare’ practices…or as it was known in the pre-petrol world, healthcare. Think acupuncture, herbal remedies, ‘traditional Chinese medicine’ and—because this is Colorado!—prescription cannabis.

Of those, the only one I have a problem with is the Chinese junk, mostly because of its obsession with body parts of critically-endangered animal species, but also because I think it’s a whole lotta placebo-effect bullshit. For example, if I was feeling crummy and someone reputable gave me an exotic-sounding tea made from fire-berries that are only found in the mountains of the Sun (or albino rhinoceros pancreas, or something), then I’d think it must be really special stuff!, and I’ll probably start to feel better.
Seriously, when one or two hundred species a day are going extinct, there’s really no good reason why this junk medicine should still be perpetuated—well, except for the one billion Chinamen claiming “it’s tradition!” Yeah, so is patriarchy; doesn’t make it worthwhile.

Because there’s not really too much else to discuss in this segment, here are some thoughts on medicine in a post-collapse/disaster world.
Let’s say hypothetically—even though I don’t believe in isolated scenarios, they make for good thought-experiments—some out-of-the-blue, Hollywood-style disaster (planetwide solar flare or something) goes down offscreen, knocking the civilized world down the ladder of technological progress a few rungs. With electronics now shiny doorstops, things are looking very similar to the early 19th century (instead of consuming Apple products, people are consuming actual apples again!)
Now, assuming that 1) pre-disaster, a sufficient number of people were well-versed in pre-modern medicine (I’m thinking plants with proven medicinal qualities—pennyroyal and willow, likesay, not Chinese powdered lily stamens or whatever), and 2) people remember how to pass on information without electronic intermediaries, what’s to say a happy balance couldn’t be struck between the advances of our current model and the healthcare approach of the recent past?
You know, when something is broken, it is acceptable to pick out and save the things that work and dispose of the rest. What’s worth saving in modern medicine? Antibiotics and sterile theory. What was good about medicine a few hundred years ago? How to heal folks with what Nature provides, without reliance on petroleum or complex technology.
Think of that wistful “I wish I knew then what I know now” sentiment, but applied to medicine.
Penicillin is easy to culture. At the minimum, how difficult is it to throw your medical instruments into boiling water? Ethanol is ridiculously easy to make. Honey is antibacterial…
Meh, as usual, I’m sick of the prevailing, Progress-based belief that if the Grid goes down, folks will immediately revert to trepanning each other with stone tools (which, of course, would require a functioning means of passing on information about both lithic industries and brain surgery!).
But, I digress.

This segment following Dr. Dave really felt more like the pre-Season Three iterations of DP, because there isn’t really a Big Dramatic Build-Project with him. He already has a greenhouse (thumbs-up!), a ’69 Airstream trailer (extra points for retro style!), and a pre-’78 truck and motorbike (no computers=EMP-proof, in theory).
We do see him add a solar panel to the top of his Airstream, to power his growlights and hydroponics setup.

And just for fun—because he’s all about pre-modern medicine—he takes the nuclear family foraging for leeches! Not to nitpick, Mr. Narrator, but is it foraging if the leeches aren’t going to be eaten? Whatever; semantics aside, you can’t go wrong with Mother Nature’s all-natural bloodsuckers. They’re certainly better than going all medieval and just sticking somebody with a sharp piece of iron to bleed them.
And old-time style points if you keep them in one of these jars:

The experts tell Dave he’s done a good job and his trailer project is commendable. Dave accepts graciously and says he’s happy with their assessment, because “it boils down to being sustainable”. Damn right, doc. Are you taking notes, would-be capital-p Preppers?

Doomsday Preppers: Dan Rojas

The other half of ‘Total Destruction!’ takes a look at Dan Rojas, of Tampa, Florida, which the show claims is the ‘lightning capital’ of the US&A. Yikes. So…just another reason to stay out of the Sunshine State?
© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment
Since he lives in the lightning capital, Dan’s prepping fear is for a Mega-Lightning Storm, one that could knock out the grid for an inconveniently long time. Hey, I’ll say this—that’s much more reasonable than an EMP doing the same thing, and given the intensification we’re seeing in changing climatic patterns, probably more likely.
A bit later in the segment, Dan says he believes such a megastorm could “create a modern-day Dark Age.” Unfortunately for us, that term is firmly rooted in our culture’s Myth of Progress, and it’s pretty fallacious. Recognize that the term ‘Dark Age’ only arose during the Renaissance, essentially cooked up by the PR spin-doctors of the day to convince the people into believing they were living through an extraordinary time of cultural rebirth and innovation, totally worlds away from those dirty, backwards ‘Dark Ages’. I think Michael Crichton said it best:

“If a benighted medieval world has proven a durable misconception, it may be because it confirms a cherished contemporary belief—that our species always moves forward to ever better and more enlightened ways of life. This belief is utter fantasy, but it dies hard. It is especially difficult for modern people to conceive that our modern, scientific age might not be an improvement over the prescientific period.”

Anyway, to prepare for an eventual grid-down scenario, Dan is making some solid choices to give his family a major step up on most folks. Although it’s given barely more than a mention, it looks like their entire backyard has been converted to a massive aquaponics system. Additionally, Dan and Denise have incorporated exercise routines into their day-to-day work—which is something that seems to be sorely lacking in most Preppers’ plans.

Because it’s not enough to spend more time showing the audience helpful innovations, instead the producers inject a bit of DRAMA and have the family do a lightning storm ‘bug-in’ drill—this amounts to running around, locking animals in cages, and—quite literally—trying to herd a cat. Whatever, it’s all for ratings.

Thankfully, we get down to the meat of the segment fairly quickly, and get to watch Dan put together a totally awesome The-Sun-Provides-For-Everything ‘survival station’. They start out with a visit to the local pawn shop to track down a pre-flatscreen television, containing a precious giant fresnel lens. Back at home, Dan (genius backyard scientist that he is) bolts together a frame to hold the lens, adds sun-tracking capability (solar-powered, of course), and right off the bat, starts a fire in second.

From here, they pretty much just go nuts, using the abundant, free energy from our nearest star to make potable water (boiling pond water), cook chicken (using a parabolic mirror and cast-iron skillet, instead of the fresnel’s direct beam death-ray), and even melt zinc metal to cast a shiny, intimidating hunting knife. Basically, there’s nothing you can’t do with solar.
Just don’t call it ‘cool’. *rimshot*

I’ve poked around through Dan’s youtube channel, and he’s doing some pretty wild stuff; definitely worth checking out. It’s nice to see folks putting this how-to/diy kind of info out there, so that everyday people will see what’s possible in off-grid tech. I’m just waiting for the day when Dan’s niche isn’t considered ‘alternative tech’, but just ‘tech’.

Doomsday Preppers: Kevin Barber

Like I said, ‘We Are the Marauders’ thankfully only referred to the previous numbskull. The other half of the episode consists of an update from a previous family profiled at the end of Season Two. And even better, this is a family that’s doing great things!
That’s right, Kevin Barber is back!

and, might I say, rocking a sweet suntan!

Last time we saw them, the Barbers had just packed up their suburban Kansas lives into a shipping container and moved to Costa Rica, where they set up a chicken coop and proceeded to eat a dozen kinds of fruit right off the trees.

They’re still required to have a single-issue preparedness motivator, so Kevin’s is still US&A Economic Collapse, but unlike pretty much every other person who talks into the camera on this show, Kevin doesn’t sound scared, paranoid, or like he’s spoiling for a fight, post-collapse. Instead, there’s just calm, levelheaded, healthy confidence. I wonder why that is? Could it be—just maybe—that Kevin seems to have peace of mind because his family’s survival plan takes a form that actually addresses his feared disaster? He’s not focused on hoarding guns, bullets, and purchased foodbuckets, or buttoning up in a concrete bunker—the Type I strategy held up by most would-be preppers as the one-size-fits-all ‘solution’ to every collapse contingency; such thinking is painfully inside-the-Box and as such only serves to play into the hand of the capitalist/consumerist system that bred the collapse in the first place. I have to believe the aura of fear that most preppers fairly radiate can only result from the realization that deep down, they know these ‘solutions’ are only temporary stop-gap measures: kicking the can, if you will, another six months or so further down the road (hmm, much like the US&A’s current infuriating pattern of debt-ceiling limit raising).
On the other hand we have Kevin Barber – who, instead of stumbling forward blind and unthinking, has hit the brakes on his suburban American daydream life long enough to take a good look at it, see what needs fixing, and make concrete changes to his way of life.

Down on their tropical homestead, we see Kevin and his wife setting up rain barrels for water storage, showing off their chicken coop, and compost system. In an extension of their last appearance, they’re now butchering their own chicken by themselves, AND they say some nice words for it before they dispatch it! Awesome.

However, the majority of the segment follows the family as they set up an aquaponics system, which unfortunately is chopped into five-minute snippets and spliced with said previous ‘marauder’ asshat. Blerg, I swear, the decision this season to intercut between segments has resulted in a whittling down of actual material by about half…which means the other half is spent recapping what we’ve just seen five minutes before. Ultimately I’m afraid it’s a chicken-or-egg quandary—is this kind of programming a cause of shorter attention spans, or simply appealing to them?

While they’re working on getting set up, a caption suggests that aquaponics may date back to the Aztec use of floating gardens (the chinampa system), which is a pretty cool idea; I’d never thought of it like that before, but it’s totally valid!
When the time comes for Kevin to dig the pits to put his various fish ponds and algae tanks in, he doesn’t foolishly attempt to do it single-handedly (as you might expect of a deluded, gung-ho, lone-wolf prepper)—he gets the neighbors involved! AND he speaks Spanish while working with them! Imagine that! Building community by coming to together to build a system that can contribute to a local, resilient economy! In other words, Kevin has taken a gigantic step towards true survival, a notion that terrifies Amerikans—he has ‘gone native’. How’s that for progress?!

In the end, this family is too cool. Major thumbs-up. Their ducks look to be all in a row, and they have the groundwork laid for a great life off the grid…now if people in this country would only realize that they could do the same thing, without moving to Costa Rica.