Saturday, May 31, 2008

Armchair Activist

The Armchair Activist is back!

You might be like me and are getting a few redundant alerts about animals. I don't actually mind, since they are similar but not the same. And if I follow up on the alert it only takes me seconds to relay an email on the subject to the department of interior or the EPA. Now whether or not they read the email is another story. This stuff isn't spam, but you know the saying: one man's spam is another man's ... oh you know what I mean.

The redundant action alert recently was the case regarding Polar Bear protection. The Bush administration finally listed the cute little polar bear as threatened. The sweet little polar bear is pictured (photo from an uncredited someone else) at right and often available as a plush doll at your local zoo. Now it's officially threatened. Duh. Of course this was a long time in coming and implies that the US government may actually acknowledge the threat of global warming on the habitat of the polar bear. Since the polar bears were finally listed, the Armchair Activist has been getting extra alerts to reject drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Now perhaps you want widen your portfolio of activism. You may want to spice up your couch-potato lobbying to cover human rights. You can become a website saint by following some simple instructions from Amnesty International. Amnesty takes stands on various human rights issues and will email you the latest alerts which you can follow up on. Just go to and fill out their form. They will remember your info, so next time you visit you will only need to enter your email address. Their latest alert is about Myanmar aka Burma (Why did you say Burma? I panicked.). So go ahead. You can save humanity from your laptop.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Armchair Activist

This is an alert from the Organic Consumers Association:

According to the Chicago Tribune, the White House is attempting to force famine stricken countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, to adopt Genetically Engineered crops tied to a $770 million aid package.
It is just one of the alerts that concern those of you who care what you ingest. The OCA sends me a bulletin called Organic Bytes every few weeks. It's full of useful information, most of it disturbing how the powers that be are taking aim at what you eat and what you are (since you are what you eat). Sign up for Organic Bytes by going to the OCA and entering your email. Or catch up on some of the latest actions you can take. As always, you just enter your info once, and from then on you just click away and send an email to the likes of the FDA or the Department of Agribusiness. You know the drill. Just sit back and be an Armchair Activist.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Armchair Activist

The Armchair Activist strikes again!

Defenders of Wildlife have their own action alerts.

They send out an email every week or so, and you simply click on the "Alert", fill out the form with your information, and voice your opinion on, for example, the poaching of black bears. It seems that there is a black market in the gallbladders of bears for traditional Asian medicine. Support the Bear Protection Act: H.R. 5534 would make this black market illegal on the federal level.

Poachers target hibernating bears in their dens and even track radio-collared bears that are part of scientific studies. And law enforcement agents report grisly findings: bear carcasses left in the woods with only the gallbladder and other parts removed.

Check out and click on Take Action. Fill out the form and become an Armchair Activist. Indicate you want their e-news, and they will alert you to new issues.

Armchair Activist

I find it easy now to do what once was inconvenient. I can become an activist. I can write letters to governors, congressmen, presidents, kings, you name it. I can even have them written for me by scribes I have never met. I ask them to support legislation, to save the whales or the wolves, to free those who have been unjustly arrested.

It's easy to do, and here's the secret: use the internet.

OK, you probably knew this already.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) runs a program called Save Biogems which mobilizes internet denizens to act to protect natural resources and ecosystems. In their own words:

In response to this escalating threat, NRDC launched the BioGems Initiative in 2001 to help ensure that the most exceptional and imperiled wild places in the Western Hemisphere -- our BioGems -- remain wild for the sake of a sustainable planet. Each year, the BioGems Initiative mobilizes hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens to take action via the Internet in defense of these irreplaceable natural treasures and the wildlife that depends on them for survival. Bringing the full power of citizen activism to bear on government officials and corporations, our online activists -- known as BioGems Defenders -- are making extraordinary strides.

So if you want to protect Patagonia (or even just learn about Patagonia) which is on the south tip of the Americas, you can send an email to President Michelle Bachelet of Chile and ask for her support. To do so, go to click on 'Pick A Biogem', go to Patagonia, and pick 'Click Here to Save This Biogem'. Fill out the form, and your letter is off to President Bachelet. Biogems will save your settings for you, so you'll only have to enter your email address from then on. Every week or so, you may get notified about another important part of nature which needs some help. Occasionally you may get an email back from the person who receives your plea. Unfortunately, it will probably be even more of a form letter than what you sent and not directly address your topic. Rarely, you will get a paper reply in the mail from your government representative.

Armchair Tip: Go one-by-one and select each the Biogems on their site and take action. Skim the text. No need to study up, no need to read the whole letter.

That's the easy life as the Armchair Activist.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Power reduction

Saturday we came home to an electrical problem. I first noticed that my computer was running off of battery. Then I noticed that every other thing in the house did not work. Then I noticed that every other room did not work. It was as if - actually it was the case - that every other circuit breaker in the house was not working.

Fortunately for you I'll make this story shorter than it really was.

I called the power company which came in 10 minutes. One reason they came is because their automated phone system only allows you to indicate that you have no power. They have no choice for a general power problem or half power. They do have choices for downed power lines and the like.

I know too much about the power to our house, because soon after we purchased the place almost a year ago, the power company spent two days here trying to find their box near the curb. It's called a hanhole which is an awkward name when you first encounter it. The electric company eventually found the box under a one ton rock and 30 inches of top soil. It is supposed to be right at ground level, so they put a new box on top of the old one. I have since found out that there are things that all the utility companies should do, but sometimes don't quite do. The soil and rock were probably deposited after the sewer lines were dug 10 years ago, but nobody can be sure.

I guess this isn't that short a story, but I'll try to speed up.

The power company said that we were missing one hot leg between the hanhole and the meter and that it was our responsibility to fix. Nowadays they bury wires in PVC pipes, but when the house was built, they just buried the wires. A typical house has two 120 volt lines running into it, but we only had one functioning. Somewhere there was a problem. I was looking forward to having a big repair bill and a big excavation job done, not to mention having my driveway cut by a saw.

On Tuesday the job started. The main characters were the electrician and the excavator. They were also the director and stage manager, respectively. In order, we also had performances from the gas company (to map the gas lines), DigSafe to map the cable and phone (but it turns out not the electric, which would be our responsibility to map, but we were about to replace it anyway), an electrical parts truck, and the electric company (which had to turn off the power before any actual work could commence). Our front yard now has colorful flags and dots of spray paint showing were different things are. I plan to jot them down for future reference. I don't know where the water or sewer lines are, but I imagine they are down deep.

The DigSafe guy was quite thorough. He has nifty tools which beep when they sense he is near something live underground. I can imagine him retired on a beach in Miami finding all the lost wedding rings and none of the rusty nails.

Once the yard was mapped and the power was turned off, they started to dig near the house and fortunately for us they found the break about a foot away from the meter. In the picture the break looks a bit like a knee. Basically the wire turned to a bump of white powder. A kindly electric company worker who dropped by to do the electrician a favor spliced the line (even though he shouldn't have), and we were saved the added expense and time of running new conduit and wires and slicing open the driveway.

I haven't received the bill yet.

Wood thrush returns

Last year after we moved in we bathed our selves in the watery sounds of the wood thrush. When we first heard it, we didn't even know what it was. Sasha described it to our friend who knew what she meant immediately.

A few months later the bird was gone and so was it's song. Our neighbor's partly-feral cat killed it. I saw the cat carry it away. We were quite sad about it and though there had been many wonderful bird calls and bird sightings since, none quite equalled the Wood Thrush which apparently can make two tones at once. Even the descriptions of its call at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are poetic.

One of the most common woodland birds of the East, the Wood Thrush is best known for its hauntingly beautiful song.

Song a series of yodeled phrases with a pause in between each phrase, and complex, flute-like notes. "ee-oh-lay." Calls a rapid "pit-pit-pit." Nocturnal flight call an emphatic buzzy "heeh," on one tone or only slightly descending.

Well just this Monday we woke up not to the alarm which was disabled by an in-home power-outage, but to the sounds of a new wood thrush. Perhaps it had just arrived from its winter lodging elsewhere.

Who don't vote

In 2004, there were 215 million voting age adults in the United States.

197 million of them were citizens.

142 million were registered to vote in the presidential election.

125 million voted.

That means 17 million did not vote who were registered, and a total of 72 million did not (or could not) vote.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, November 1996, 2000, and 2004.

Friday, May 02, 2008

We have a new food coop

Lucky you! I will keep this post short. We now have our own food coop.

If any of you know anything about us, you know that we miss our old food coop in Brooklyn. The Park Slope Food Coop is the food coop of food coops. It is fodder for hours of discussion and mountains of blogging. I'm even afraid to link to any of the discussion on the internet, but take my word for it - all the good is true and the bad is mostly either false or grossly exaggerated.

When we first decided to move up here, I searched for local food coops. There are actually a few, but most are small but none were nearby.

Well, this week on Wednesday April 30, our new food coop opened just a quarter mile from our home. It is called the River Valley Market. I had been working on the outreach committee along with several long dedicated old timers. Many people did a great deal of work to make this happen and I'm glad we can reap the benefits.

The River Valley Market has 2,700 members, has a new "green" building, and took about 9 years to realize. Our new coop is a more modern traditional coop. I will try to post a comparison to the Park Slope Food Coop which is an older more idiosyncratic establishment.

Night Bear

We've had 3 Bear sightings this year. This is the only picture so far, since the camera is not always at hand. It's actually at dusk.

We had one bear hanging out in the yard interested in our neighbor who was up on a ladder. Another sighting, this time in the morning of a family of 3 bears, but no bowls of cold, tepid, and hot chowda or whatever large, medium, and baby bears carry around with them.

Because of this our bird feeders are down until the fall when the bears once again are less active.

April Asparagus

We recently ate some yummy April asparagus (pictured). I'm not sure, but last year I think we only clued into the big asparagus scene that goes on around here in May. So far in April I found some in Hatfield, in Deerfield, and in Hadley which is asparagus central for the country.

Last year, I described the asparagus history of the region and gave you a few recipes.

Here's another recipe. It's just too simple!

Simple Grilled Asparagus
  1. Warm up the BBQ. Low to medium hot, since it's only asparagus you are cooking.
  2. Wash and clean two bunches or 2 lbs of "grass" as we call those spikes of green around here. (Two bunches, because this stuff is so good that you will eat it all and then wish you had left-overs the next day.)
  3. Snap off bottom-most segment of each asparagus. It's fun and makes a nice noise. Discard.
  4. Put them on a plate, drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
  5. Cook spears on the BBQ perpendicular to the the grating, so they do not fall through.
  6. They will be done in just a few minutes. You want them when they are not firm, a little singed here and there, and as done as you are used to. Feel free to roll them as they cook or rearrange them so they are cooked evenly.
  7. Remove to a serving platter and sprinkle with a little salt. (Now is the time to get out that expensive French sea-salt like fleur de sel you always forget to use.)