Jun 262012

A couple of years ago I blogged about a book called “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis. One of the main characters of the book was a physician turned investor named Michael Burry who made millions of dollars betting that the housing market and the derivatives that fueled it would collapse.

It is very difficult in these days of main street media propaganda and conventional wisdom to find truth tellers. But they are out there if one looks hard enough. Michael Burry told the truth in a New York Times editorial of April 2010.

He concluded the editorial with pointed criticism of the government and, particularly the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank:

Instead, our leaders in Washington either willfully or ignorantly aided and abetted the bubble. And even when the full extent of the financial crisis became painfully clear early in 2007, the Federal Reserve chairman, the Treasury secretary, the president and senior members of Congress repeatedly underestimated the severity of the problem, ultimately leaving themselves with only one policy tool — the epic and unfair taxpayer-financed bailouts. Now, in exchange for that extra year or two of consumer bliss we all enjoyed, our children and our children’s children will suffer terrible financial consequences.

It did not have to be this way. And at this point there is no reason to reflexively dismiss the analysis of those who foresaw the crisis. Mr. Greenspan should use his substantial intellect and unsurpassed knowledge of government to ascertain and explain exactly how he and other officials missed the boat. If the mistakes were properly outlined, that might both inform Congress’s efforts to improve financial regulation and help keep future Fed chairmen from making the same errors again.

One might expect Dr. Burry would be invited to testify before Congress or asked to consult on matters where his track record was clearly superior to the that of the bureaucrats. Not to be. Instead he was audited by the IRS and visited by the FBI and spent a million bucks to defend himself.

Recently, he spoke at the commencement of the UCLA economics department with a talk that, hopefully, would inspire these new graduates to independent thought rather than dreams of wealth as masters of the universe. It’s a talk worth listening to even though the academics seated behind Dr. Burry seem bored to distraction.

Sadly, nothing has changed on Wall Street or in government.

Jun 192012

Here’s what’s coming up with the Grange Country Living Series:

June 28, Molly Harmoney will provide an introduction to winemaking and tell us what we need to do to get started making our own vino. At the Grange. 7pm

July 9, The Whatcom Master Gardener’s Grow Your Own Vegetables team will return to continue their instruction on how to properly save seed. At the Grange. 6:30pm

July 14, Mike Moye will school amateur chain sawers on proper and safe use of the chain saw and basic maintenance. At Mike’s place at the end of Constitution. 10am

July 17 Kimchi Workshop with Robert Keller (at the Grange at 4pm) who writes the following:
My first tour in the military was in South Korea and while there I developed
a love for the food and especially the fermented vegetables known as kimchi.
While you can purchase kimchi, it is fairly easy to make and since others
have been eating more of the kimchi I make then I get to… I figured it is
time to entice a few more islanders to make it too. You can make kimchi from
a fairly large variety of veggies, but we are going to focus on kimchi using
Daikon radishes to make Kkakdugi. Kkakdugi is a type of kimchi made from diced Daikon radish. It’s a very
common kind of kimchi and often used in Korean everyday meals along with
baechu kimchi (napa cabbage kimchi).

Learners need only bring one cleaned and labeled quart jar with tight
fitting lid, otherwise all ingredients will be provided. A few volunteers
will be required to help chop stuff up, mix it and jar it while we discuss
sourcing ingredients, variations on the recipes and the purported health
benefits of eating kimchi. Note that the sterilization requirements of
traditional canning are not required our jars.
Cost $5
Must bring one quart jar
Limit to 25 persons
Time 60~90 minutes
Credit to http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/kkakdugi which is my favorite
kimchi web site.
See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimchi

August 8, Rag Rugs with Karen Kupka (at the Grange at 7pm) who provides these details about the workshop:

Students will learn to make a circular rag rug.
You will need to bring the following:
A needle and thread
A tool for knotting the rug: you can use a large bobby pin, a locker hook (available at http://www.joann.com/locker-needle-hook/prd34691/) or a customized toothbrush (cut off the brush, and drill a hole in the opposite end)
Old clothes or sheets (a plastic grocery bag full should be plenty)
Class Fee: none
Class size limit: 8

We’ll provide  a handout with pictures, too, and some links to good rugmaking videos.

Jun 112012

It’s hard to get gardeners to come to a class on a sunny Saturday afternoon after a rainy week. The Whatcom County Master Gardener’s “Grow Your Own Groceries” team consisting of Laurita Whitford, Alice Wales and Mary Carlson came to Lummi and gave an informative presentation this past Saturday. Unfortunately, only four people showed up to hear it.

Part 2 is scheduled for Saturday June 23 at 10am at the Grange but if we don’t get an adequate number of RSVPs for that session we will cancel it and try to reschedule as a Gardener’s Network program at a later date.

I did learn a lot about plant botany and techniques for hand pollinating, saving and storing seed plus sources for important items like pollination bags. Seed saving is an important “next step” for vegetable gardeners and given the attempts by large corporations to buy out the small seed companies, necessary that we learn how to collect and save seed for our personal and future needs.

Jun 072012

The Alluring Blossom of the Snow Pea

If vegetable gardening is a short term affair, then raising fruits and berries is a long term commitment. Perhaps nothing requires more patience than the kiwi who waits up to five years before bearing fruit and doesn’t hit peak production until year eight. The kiwi is, in its way, old fashioned, almost Victorian in the length of its courtship.

For reasons I can’t remember, we wanted kiwis, built them an arbor 7′ high even before their acquisition.

Arriving at Cloud Mountain we had to take what they had, the small, smooth skinned variety. To make the little fruits one must buy a male plant to impregnate the females. The male kiwi is apparently a lusty fellow, able to pollinate up to eight female plants. Alas, we only had room for two females so our male will have to be satisfied with what he has.

It was probably a mistake to name them. It is always a mistake, I suppose, to anthropomorphize plants. However, kiwi’s Australian roots led us to name one of the females Nicole for Nicole Kidman (Australian actress), the other Olivia for Olivia Newton John (Australian singer) and the male Colby for Colby Donaldson. Colby Donaldson isn’t an Aussie. He’s and American who appeared on Survivor Australia, subsequently on a Seinfeld episode where he argued with holocaust survivors that his experience on the CBS reality show had been as difficult as theirs and is now the host of the History Channel’s Top Shot. We realized the connection of Colby to Australia was weak at best. The other choice was Russell for Russell Crowe (Australian actor). But, I am still very upset about the film Master and Commander which made hash of my favorite series of books. So, Colby it will be.

We put the tiny plants in the ground, surrounded them with a cage to keep the deer at bay, tied a piece of cord to the arbor to guide them to the top and began to wait. Progress was painfully slow. Yet, by the end of the season Colby in a demonstration of testosterone-fueled competitiveness made it to the top where he now waits, spreading his members, for Nicole and Olivia who, coyly, are inching their way up. Poor Colby. Dude has a long wait.

In the garden there’s a lot of pollinating going on. We now have about 30,000 honey bees on the premises and they are everywhere promiscuously sticking their proboscis into any flower they can find.

Not all plants are as romantically involved as Nicole, Colby, and Olivia will be. There’s a lot of asexual reproduction happening in the garden and in the flower beds.

(Watch this boring BBC video)

Ignoring all this asexual activity, one might note that gardening can get a bit kinky from time to time. Winter squash planted in proximity will cross and you will end up with interesting hybrids that won’t breed true in the next generation. To control this the gardener must insinuate him or herself into the equation and hand pollinate. Strapping tape is involved. I hate to use the word “bondage” in a post about gardening but that’s where the strapping tape comes in as the gardener, watching carefully for ripeness (a hint here is that size matters), restrains both the male and female sexual organs of the squash plant and subsequently tears off a couple of male flowers, removes the tape… or to quote The Resilient Gardener, Carol Deppe, WARNING: GRAPHIC LANGUAGE FOLLOWS: “Pluck a couple of taped male flowers, take them over near the taped female flower you want to pollinate and RIP the tape and the end of the petals off the male flowers and STRIP off the petals so that each becomes a paintbrush topped with pollen. Then RIP the tape with the end of the petals off of a female flower and holding the male flower by its stem, … daub pollen onto all three parts of the female flowers stigma. Repeat with the second male flower. Retape the female flower. Keep an eye out for bees and work fast…” Rough stuff if you ask me. There is also something called dehiscence involved. “Dehiscense” sounds naughty to me.

We visit Colby, Nicole, and Olivia almost daily. The girls are getting close to the top where Colby waits to have his way with them. It will be a long wait for old Colby—2015, I expect. Which means a long wait for us too before we get to enjoy the fruit of their involvement.

**Some may quibble and suggest that we should have named our plants after famous people from New Zealand, cuz the kiwi doesn’t actually have its roots in Australia, but we couldn’t think of any famous people from New Zealand and Australia is pretty close.