Friday, August 20, 2021

Bigfoot. Little skull.

Last winter, I really got into making things with air-dry clay. This Buddha was made from cardboard, papier maché and air-dry clay. 

And when it started cracking and going to hell, concrete and lots of waterproofing. 

I believe it is now a performance piece, of sorts. Not killing the Buddha when I meet him, but letting him crack, calve, and then dissolve back into the good earth.

My initial plan was to make a mold of him, and then create concrete statues from the mold. But, life is suffering and surrendering. 

In order to explore how to create casts (not castes), I made a quick little statue. In keeping with my fixations, it was a Sasquatch head. I was going to make a mold of it and then start leaving these heads around town. But, I didn't. 

Finally got tired of looking at it in the studio, so I enshrined it. That wiring and antenna are all part of my vision of what Sasquatch might be - animatron, android, alien?

I like the idea of these little shrines and will make more. But no more air-dry clay. This thing weighs about five pounds! And I did just acquire some glow-in-the-dark paint...

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Backpacking to Trio Lakes

Every year, Sarah and I take at least one backpacking trip together. This year, I was particularly excited because I retired my old backpack of thirty years and bought a new one - and shaved off about 4 pounds! Which is good because I think I may be 4 pounds heavier than 30 years ago. 

Sarah was really stoked about taking me to Trio Lakes. She was up there last year and the trail was easy but long - about 7 miles. Perfect. We would start at the Goose Creek trailhead, make our way through Idaho up to Goose Lake and then onto Trio Lakes, just inside the Montana border. She had camped at Goose Lake last year and then took a day hike up to Trio. She saw very large trout there and was looking forward to having me fish. I get a Montana fishing license every year, so I was ready. 

The hike started out pretty easy, until we started getting into more and more downed trees across the trail. It was pretty obvious that there had been no trail maintenance since last year. Most of the blocking trees we had to either bushwhack around, crawl under or over. 

I had the trail on my “airplane-moded” phone and was tracking our position using my Gaia GPS account. Sarah had the trusty paper map. I was also tracking our progress with my watch. 6 miles to Goose Lake and then another mile and a half to Trio Lakes. 

We went through the usual beautiful forests, but what really floored me were the wild flowers that sometimes were over our head and  expansive meadows that were miles long with not another living soul in sight. Amazing. Unfortunately, the wildflowers, huckleberries and thimbleberries had also grown over much of the trail and had, for lack of better words, “consumed” our path. 

At 6.5 miles, according to my watch, we were nowhere near Goose Lake. This was disappointing. We were hot and tired. And I should have known not to trust my watch. The week before we had picked huckleberries at Mt. Spokane and my watch’s GPS said I had gone 10 miles, when I had really done about 6. So at 8 miles we reached Goose Lake and at 10 miles we are at one of the Trio Lakes, which is the only one of the "trio" with a really nice campsite. My Gaia GPS told me that we had gone 7.5. OK! 

The first order of business was to get naked and go swimming. The water was cold but not as cold as most alpine lakes I have hiked into. It felt SO GOOD! 

We set up our camp and made dinner, and we realized that I had forgot the wine. Oh oh. I had also forgot (misplaced) the hand sanitizer and the cribbage board and cards. Boy oh boy, my hyper-vigilance and constant state of worry has really been disarmed since retirement (and counseling and wonderful medication). That’s the way it goes. 

Last year, we purchased backpacking camp chairs and they are wonderful. Totally worth the extra pound or so. We had a great evening. Tea and cookies took the place of the wine and were a fine substitute. In the middle of the night, a storm brought rain and high winds. Sarah sprung into action before I had a chance and had the tent fly up and over us immediately. The wind was extreme and really buffeted our tent. My sleeping mat was comfy. I had my usual light sleeping bag with a down comforter and a great little pillow. Same with Sarah. The rain pelted. The wind was ceaseless. My hearing aids were happily  charging next to me. So cozy!!! And back to sleep.

In the morning, Sarah was concerned because we saw very few fish jumping and she was apologetic. This was the main reason she wanted to go to this lake. No worries! For the first time ever, I brought along some watercolors and a pen. At least I remembered these! 

I have a Tenkara fishing rod (a gift from my brother Joe) and some flies that Joe had tied. The beauty of this rod is that there is no reel. It is super light and telescopes out of a very small package and into a very long rod. I caught a really nice cutthroat which I released immediately (more like it released itself). That was good enough for me. 

Then onto some painting. I haven’t done water colors in such a long time. I don’t think I have ever brought any art supplies with me backpacking. But, I will from now on!

A quick little painting - 

And a sketch of an idea for my next big old oil painting. 

A day of total relaxation, although Sarah did a short hike to one of the other trio of lakes. I fished, read, painted and snoozed. 

We ate great meals (thank you Sarah)! The next morning, when we hiked out, we counted 28 trees, or piles of trees, that we had to crawl over, under or around. My legs were bloodied by the end of the trip. 

We were both exhausted, but we made it to Saltese’s Montana Bar and Grill (now mostly a casino) and had an excellent meal and then onto home. 

We’ve been back in Spokane for a couple of days now, but often my mind is not here. Standing in those boggy meadows, watching an owl swoop up, staring at wolf scat and expecting to see a grizzly sunning herself in the steamy grass, I felt at home and I miss that feeling. If the coneflowers, thimbleberries, huckleberries, honeysuckles, asters, and trees have anything to say about it, this trail is unlikely to exist next year.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Garden Tour 2021

 No one asked for this video. 

It's a garden. Vegetables grow in it. Earthworms move underneath it. Water trickles through it. In other words, the excitement is almost unbearable. 


Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Economic Cost of Hate... And a few more thoughts.

Now that I’m retired, my brain is craving some interaction with people who want to teach me something! Last week, I attended a webinar, via Zoom, on the economic cost of hate. This talk was focused on the cost of hate aimed primarily toward the LGBTQ community.

This event was provided by Ken Stern of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate. The presentation was made by Lee Badgett, an economist who recently authored the book The  Economic Case for LGBT Equality: Why Fair & Equal Treatment Benefits Us All. 

Here is a summary of the points made by  Dr. Badgett:

Her work is focused on the economic quantification of bigotry. It is all about numbers and data and is meant to appeal to those looking at the “bottom line.” 

The cost of hate begins to accumulate as early as elementary school. One person who was bullied as a child said that it was like going to war every day. And like a war, bullying can be costly. Studies have shown that bullying reduces GPAs, increases absenteeism and drop-out rates.  An LGBT student is more likely to be bullied. Not surprisingly, bullying is bad for the entire school and this is reflected in test scores and rankings. 

This cost continues into adulthood. Gay men, with the same education and work history as their straight counterparts, make, on the average, 11% less. In studies where applicants’ resumes reflected an affiliation with the LGBT community, the applicant was much less likely to move onto the next phase of a job interview. Studies show that for every nine interviews made, a straight man will get the job. It takes a gay man fourteen interviews to do the same. 

Stigma makes you sick. Minority stress is a real thing and it just doesn't affect LGBT people, but all people whose demographics are underrepresented in a field. Women in predominately male professions, black people in a predominately white profession, etc. 

Discriminatory policies prevent businesses from hiring or keeping good employees. Studies back up the fact that businesses with anti-discriminatory policies increase their stock prices, their productivity and their profits. 

She talked about the so-called bathroom bill which North Carolina put in place preventing transgender people from using gender-appropriate restrooms. This move cost the state four-billion dollars in lost revenue. Businesses that were going to relocate there, didn't relocate. Conventions and events that were going to take place there, went some place else. 

Countries with progressively better treatment of the LGBT community, had a progressively better GDP. In emerging economies, one additional LGBT right afforded brought in an additional $320 increase to the per-capita GDP. In already-established economies, this one additional right brought in a $1,065 increase to GDP. On the flip side, the stigma of becoming incrementally anti-LGBT costs a national economy. The conservative estimate of this cost was a loss of one-percent of GDP. 

Making positive LGBT policy changes in an organization or a state or nation complements that entity’s promotion of human rights and opens doors. 

The author concluded that three things should come out of these studies:

  1. There needs to be more resources for LGBT organizations.
  2. Policies and laws need to change.
  3. There needs to be more and better data. 

Dr. Badgett took about 20 minutes to outline her book and the rest of the hour was devoted to questions. 

I believe that this “economic cost” perspective is an important vector for our community to push in promoting equity and justice for all. But, one thing kind of nagged at me, so I asked the question: “Short of boycotts, In your experience, have you found that anti-LGBT politicians (not business leaders) in the United States are swayed by the data you presented?

Her short answer was “probably not.”

Here is the webinar if you are interested.


Or a link can be found here

Of course, the webinar made me think about some issues. If you want to know what I am thinking, please keep reading.

I suppose that if the only way to get a business to do the right thing is to show them the bottom line, that’s better than them not doing the right thing, in spite of the bottom line. 

I applaud the work being done to promote anti-hate as a “logical” position for financial success. Fortunately, today we live in an era where that can happen. In other words, in the past, a slave-based business enterprise might be be hard-pressed to acknowledge the economic logic of anti-hate.

The question I asked Dr. Badgett underlies my main concern. Politicians whose base is composed of ideologues will not be swayed by a logic which endangers their livelihood. In fact, if conservative politicians decide to follow the logical route, thereby creating a platform position which contradicts the programmed worldview of their constituents, they will be “primaried” out. 

This is not a new phenomenon, nor is it endemic to the extreme right. Any longterm plan of promotion of “liberty and justice for all” cannot ignore it. I think this closed mindset deserves to be studied and addressed, in order to understand and eventually overcome it. 

The Rand corporation conducted a study decades ago which highlights this problem. The conservative think tank found that it was five times more economical to spend money upstream when it comes to the prevention of crime. In other words, for every dollar a government spent on childhood education, free breakfasts and lunches in school (or any government spending which studies have shown prevents a child from slipping into a life of crime) the state would not spend five dollars to incarcerate these children later on in life. 

You would think that this would have spurred an increase in Head Start and other programs. Again, this study was made by the conservative-leaning Rand Corporation. They did not address altruism, just the economic bottom line. This study had almost zero impact on politicians, let alone their constituents. 

One might project this phenomenon into the larger world, as well. We used to spend a lot of money in other countries to win the hearts and minds of those citizens. It was an effective foreign policy too, and brought results. Many people in our nation decried this as a “waste of money.” So much so, that today the United States is at the bottom of the list of nations which render foreign aid (as a percentage of GDP). Now, we find that the United State’s defense budget is more than all of our potential enemies’ budgets combined. I believe the budget number is closer to the rest of the entire world’s defense budget combined. Yet, you don't hear much of an outcry about this spending from those who, otherwise, like to think of themselves as “conservative.” But, you did hear from them complaining about our more effective, more economical foreign aid - a lot. Why is this?

In my opinion, it is pretty obvious that we are more than willing to spend money ineffectively, and without any regard to the outcome, as long as that money is spent satisfying a visceral desire to hurt others and not help them. 

I don’t think we used to be this way. Today, I don't think the majority of our nation operates this way, either. Those who embrace a costly hate-based economics are in the minority. But due to voter suppression, gerrymandering and an undemocratic system which gives this minority of people in our nation sway over the majority, it really doesn't matter. This minority seems outspoken in their desire to spend more money to exacerbate a problem than less money to solve it, especially when this spending promotes cruelty. Witness the economic cost of locking hundreds of children up as a deterrent to immigrants seeking to cross our border. You can almost hear their chants “Lock them up!” Granted “Effective immigration policy, now!” is not very catchy.

Now that we have lost track of the parents of our child prisoners, we have a dilemma  - hundreds of children that we must now do something with. Whatever the solution, it will be costly. And knowing that a hateful minority calls the shots, rest assured, it will also be cruel. What the Trump administration did to these children (and what they might yet do to them) is an expense we bare, not only in dollars, but also costs our national character and our standing in the world. We have shown the world who we are, and all Americans will forever bear the brunt. For the promoters of this cruelty and to the average Americans who support them, this seems well worth it. They will continue to feel this way right up until the time when the economic and societal chickens come home to roost. When this happens, they will conveniently forget they were ever supportive of this international crime. 

Most who supported incarcerating these children will forget they did so. More than likely, these are the same ignorant, arrogant bunch who rah-rah’ed us into the Iraq War and then when things went sour, said they were never for the war in the first place. As a point of clarification, when I say “ignorant” and “arrogant” I say this not as a pejorative. I mean it in the sense that, in my life, I have never witnessed so many average citizens who proclaim they know more about global warming than climate scientists, know more than epidemiologists about pandemics, know more than constitutional scholars about the constitution, know more about human gender biology than biologists, etc. In other words, “ignorant” and “arrogant.”

You might be picking up from me that, in the United States, our political decisions often do not reflect an underlying logic  but only an underlying cruelty. This cruelty, oftentimes, does not only extend to others. Sometimes, we turn this illogical cruelty inward, toward ourselves.  

A worker whose employer spends a thousand dollars a month for that worker’s health insurance, on top of the thousand dollars a month the worker themselves pay, might take a look at the world and note that the United States is the only place where this bilking takes place. They may also note that, not only do we spend twice as much as the next highest spending nation, our health outcomes are near the bottom of all nations in the world. An employee, if motivated by the bottom line, or their health, might want to vote for politicians who would work toward changing this system. All other countries have already done so. But here, the ignorant and the arrogant do not change course, no matter what the data says. That is, again, until everything crashes down around them. When this happens, they will forget they were ever driving the train. As stated before, these folks are the minority, but, thanks to what our system has become, they call the shots. 

If I wanted to promote a self-interest rationale for not automatically excluding others because of the color of their skin, their “LGBTness,” or any other bigotry, I think I have the ticket. Namely, just from a selfish perspective, why would I want to arbitrarily narrow the field of people who have the potential to be in my life? Why would I not want to meet and befriend someone who would care for me, make me laugh, help me out or otherwise hang out with me? If I was a business owner, why would I want to exclude some candidates who possessed the skill-set my business needed? Maybe the best candidate might be among the excluded. 

When Trump instituted the ban on transgender people serving in the military, some of my conservative friends thought this was a good thing. They said, “Being in the military is not a right but a privilege.”  Really, they said this. Apparently, they unwittingly now understand the concept of “privilege.” My response to them was one that I have heard every general and admiral echo in asking, “Why shouldn't we want to hire the best people for the job? Sometimes, these people are transgender.” Quite simply, the reason why my conservative friends held this irrational belief contrary to the logical belief held by leaders of our military, was that they did not care so much for the success of our military, as much as they wanted to exclude others and hurt them. This brought them some emotional pleasure. Cruelty once again “trumping” logic.

I understand that excluding a group of people from possible economic success, from taking part in society, sweeping them from the mainstream and pushing them to the margins, might make some people feel better about themselves. For some reason, hurting other people - like jailing adults instead of feeding them as children, or locking up undocumented immigrant children in cages really appeals to a certain ideological bent. Think about the people who fought against marriage equality. It had nothing to do with their religion. No one was forcing any religion to marry same-sex couples. It had nothing to do with same-sex marriage being an attack on other-sex marriage. It was simply a way to ensure gay people did not have the same rights and opportunities that they had. Same with not letting trans people use the restrooms of their gender. Like marriage, being able to go to use a public restroom is a pretty basic human right. Remove that right, and the people you don't like cannot go out to eat, go to movies, go to school, etc. Cruelty’s triumph over logic.

I think the problem is that our country is now divided into two basic groups. There is an inflammatory term for one of these groups, which I will refrain from. So, how about "Empathetic people" and "Sociopaths"? "Kind" and "Unkind"? "Logical" and "Irrational"? Whatever you want to call them, there are two distinct groups of people - those who are irrational and want to hurt others and those who are logical and empathetic. 

I am glad that business are looking at the bottom line… now, and that most businesses know that hate costs. I believe that in our public life there has to be a multifaceted approach to ensure rationality and justice eventually overrule hate and inequity. Here is what I would suggest:

  1. Restore a type of democracy to the United States. Fix the electoral college. Eliminate gerrymandering. Make one person’s vote count the same as another person’s vote. Make the senate more representative. Eliminate voter suppression. Institute campaign finance reform.
  2. Show voters what their decisions cost them economically. Send them a bill for locking children up. Send them a bill for the Iraq War. Send them a bill for incarcerating people that would not have been incarcerated if we took care of the problem early on in their lives.
  3. Show people that it is a courageous thing to change one’s mind when one is confronted with facts. In other words, show how news outlets like Fox may make you feel more comfortable, but they are not helping you become more informed. In fact, they are making you more ignorant and lazy. The data is there for the ignorant part. The laziness factor is my own hypothesis. 
  4. Know the costs to your children when you raise them to be unempathetic (sociopaths) and illogical. Know the costs to yourself when you operate the same way. 
  5. Teach children critical thinking in school. I suspect that there may be a bigger backlash for this than the current brouhaha over sex ed. Some parents may be fearful that their children will become critical thinkers. Logic may undermine their household.  
  6. Instill pride in our nation. Not blind faith, but a realization that we collectively own what we are and what we will become. Be an active fixer for what is broke. When we eventually have a democracy, our national character should be a reflection of the overall character of its people. Right now, it is not. 

I’m sure there are more, but this is a start. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Making apples into apple-ade

 A couple of years ago, I bought one of these telescoping fruit pickers.

So much of the fruit in our prune tree was inaccessible and having one of these eliminated the need to climb up and down a ladder, and kept overripe fruit from being squished into the sidewalk and street. 

This September, we had a harvest of about 100 pounds of really nice Italian prunes. Dried some and ate a bunch right away. So good! There’s also five gallons of wine and another five gallons of plum/ginger/hopped melomel fermenting downstairs.

After walking past so many apple trees this year with fruit rotting underfoot, I resolved to contact neighbors to see if I could use my fruit picker to pick some of their apples before they too were wasted. If I remember correctly, my friend John had done a similar thing with abandoned apple trees he had found around town. 

A hallmark of apple trees in Spokane is that, if you don't spray them with chemicals, they are bound to be badly damaged from apple maggots. They can really look quite gnarly, However, they still have juice in them. And where there is juice, there is always the potential for fermentation. 

For most of my life, I have been a person who is a little shy (I know some of you will find that hard to believe), and have never been an overly sociable sort. And now being an out trans person, I know I can make some people feel uncomfortable. But, damn it, I wanted apples! 

I utilized my Nextdoor app on my phone. Hitherto, I had only used it to post things like “I found a can of beans in an intersection. Did anyone lose a can of beans?” or “I am thinking of thatching my roof with thatch brought up from my lawn. Does anyone have any suggestions?” You know, “conversation starters.” For the first time, I had an actual request: 


Hi, if you have an unsprayed apple tree (aka wormy) that you would like to have picked before the fruit hits the ground, please let me know. I bought a very small cider press and want to give it a whirl. Thanks!

The response was almost instantaneous. I received invite after invite. I settled on those neighbors closest to me. Many were within walking distance. One very kind neighbor said that she was at her daughter’s place in Idaho and would bring me back some apples. She did. About one-hundred pounds of some very beautiful apples and some gorgeous plums. So very kind! 

Sometimes the apples that I picked were plentiful and beautiful. Sometimes they were beautiful but not so plentiful. Other times there were just a few almost perfect apples on the tree. Sometimes, the apples were too far gone to use. But, no matter what the tree was like, I met so many wonderful neighbors! I had great conversations with them. I stepped out of my comfort zone and really enjoyed their company. Now that I am retired, like a lot of people these days, my social interactions are pretty limited and mostly over Zoom. While picking, I kept my distance as we chatted and, thanks to my awesome new hearing aids, I could hear our conversations! I also had my buff around my neck ready to pull up over my nose and mouth just in case. 

My son Aidan and I weighed the apples, and they came in at just over two-hundred pounds. According to what I have read, it takes 80 pounds of pressed apples to make five gallons of cider. 


Now on to the pressing matters!

Last month I bought a small cider press (1.6 gallons). I searched all over town to find one and there were none to be had. I spent $65 for one online. The plan was to use it to press the Italian prunes from our trees. I did and it was a mess! I finally just ran the plums through the blender and made fermentables out of that. 

So, along with my plum picker, this little press was crying out to be used. 

Sarah and I have made cider before at a friend’s home. One of the crucial pieces of equipment is an apple shredder or chunker. When you press apples, you don't usually press the whole apple. It's the chunks (pomace) that get pressed. Again, there were no chunkers to be had in town so I looked to buy one online. They were all over $100 and it was going to take a very long time to get one. So I had to improvise. 

On the morning of the cider making, Aidan and Natalie came over and we went through all the apples, got rid of some of the more rotten ones and the ones that had been chewed up by squirrels. We then washed all the apples with a very mild very watered-down solution of detergent. Then the apples were rinsed off and we moved them into the garage. 

It was raining so hard that day! My newly-placed rain barrels (another project) filled up fast. So, with the rain, we had to move the whole operation indoors. We moved the cars out of the garage. Gave the mess a good sweep and set up our operation. 

We put up a screen and had The Cult of Chucky playing in the background for a good Halloween vibe.

We couldn't really follow what was going on, but we enjoyed the voice work of Brad Dourif as Chucky (his daughter is in the movie too. Like Aidan says, she has her dad’s eyebrows).

We then decided to put Dune on instead. I haven't seen that movie in a couple of years. And then I remembered that Brad Dourif is in this movie, as well. He played Piter De Vries, the mentat for the Harkonnens. 


Ike and Aidan, when they were little, wanted to be Harkonnens for Halloween. We talked them out of it. 

Anyway, I digress….

Apples were quartered. Really bad pieces were thrown into the compostable bin.

Quartered apples were placed into a bucket until the bucket was about a third full. This was the improvised apple chunker. A sanitized sledge hammer was used to churn these apples in the bucket. The apples were further demolished by using a drill attachment used for mixing drywall mud. It had been sanitized as well. This made an OK slurry of apple juice, finely chunked apples and some remaining quartered apples.  

The slurry was dumped into the press. The press has a mesh bag in it. There is a hole in the bottom of the mesh bag to allow the jack bolt to protrude through it. I had made a frame that the press was screwed into. This frame was clamped to the work table.

The juice ran into the bucket until it was almost full. I am guessing that each 1.6 gallon basket of apples rendered 3 cups of juice. Maybe. 

The juiced chunks were saved to make compost. 

Out of the 200 pounds of apples pressed, we gathered about seven gallons of juice. This was a lot less than I expected. We should have pressed just under 15 gallons (if my math is correct). I believe the poor job of chunking contributed a lot to the shortage. 

Five gallons of the juice is now fermenting as a straight-up cider. No sugar added. Just some yeast. The cider took off - fermenting really quickly. 

The two gallons of juice that were left was mixed with some cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, sugar and dehydrated cranberries that have been in our cupboard for the last 10 years. 

This wacky mix, which I guess one would call a cyser (usually a mix of honey and apple cider) did not take off. The specific gravity of it was really very high. It should be bubbling away! I put a heating mat under it. I even stuck it in the sauna for a bit. I pitched more yeast into it. I was puzzled. Then, at 3 a.m. this morning, almost a week later, it dawned on me - THE CRANBERRIES! I bet those suckers were loaded with preservatives. Hence why the big bag of them looked the same last week as they did ten years ago. No wonder there was no fermentation. Dang…

This morning, with Sarah’s help, I strained out the cranberries (and also removed the nutmeg and cinnamon). I don't know if this will be enough to get the mix going again. We will see!

Next year, my plan is to start earlier. I will try to get more apples. I have had many people since tell me about their trees they would also like to have picked. I am going to get a larger press. At least five gallons. They are not much more expensive than the 1.6 gallon version. But, I will have to remember to order one before autumn, because there seems to be a rush on them in September. Also, I really do need to get an apple chunker. I don't like having one tool that can only be used for one purpose. Maybe there are more things to do with an apple chunker. But, the lack of one was really the shortcoming in the whole operation. It is an absolute necessity. 

The best part of this operation was getting to meet so many nice people and reconnect with so many neighbors. I kind of helped them by removing from their trees the wormy little suckers that they were going to have to pick up later. They really helped me by letting me have their apples. Over the last few months, between my recent retirement and the Covid restrictions, I have had really limited contact with others. It felt so good to talk (socially distant) with people who I had never met before. That was something I did all the time when I worked for the fire department. I miss that a lot.  

The time with my family was so good too. The four of us - Sarah, Natalie, Aidan and I worked together in a common project. This will be a great memory!

And hopefully, we can ring in a better year for everyone, with a glass of cider or two!

Brad Douriff also played Grima Wormtongue in the last two installments of The Lord of the Rings TrilogyThe Two Towers and The Return of the King.