Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Happy Halloween, everybody!

I hope everyone has a ghoulish day! ::insert corny evil laugh here::

If, however, you're stuck this evening with absolutely *nothing* to do, know that you can always come by my house. We'll order pizza or something, or go out to dinner in costume, and watch the live "Ghost Hunters" investigation of the Stanley Hotel (the hotel which inspired Stephen King's "The Shining") or something equally as creepy.

Even though I have nothing to do (yet), I'm already in costume... I guess I'm a peasant washer woman or something? I don't know... All I know is that my Renaissance Faire costume bodice is too big (which is a good thing, and yet bad at the same time), so I've gone without it and I'm wearing the 18th century reenacting skirt Susan made for me out of that beautiful French blue herringbone linen because it matches my good-enough-for-a-Ren-Faire, fully-boned, Early Tudor corset (which I made with the Elizabethan corset pattern generator) better than my royal blue Renaissance Faire skirt.

... wish my camera phone would take better pictures...

I almost went to school in the above pictured costume, but I was almost feeling weird just walking around my house in this, since, well... from the waist up I'm in nothing but underpinnings... It took Maria reassuring me that it was fine and other people would not make the connection to get me comfortable with that, and that didn't happen until after 4 in the afternoon.

So I wore my poodle-skirt and a pink cardigan with pearls to school instead. I looked super cute! ;D At least, several people said so, including several of my friends in Latin class. But it was difficult to sit in the desk because I'm so not used wearing short skirts... and by "short" I mean knee-length or less, and the poodle skirt comes just to my knees...

Note for Susan (in case I forget to mention it later): I think we're going to need to take the 18th century skirt up an inch or two because I was almost tripping on it if I wasn't paying close attention to how I was walking, and on even slightly uneven ground, I was having to hold it up to keep from tripping and stepping on it.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


(The bitties and Lara can't see this!!!)

I've finished the first of the presents I'm knitting for the holidays this year. I should wait til after the holidays to post these pics, but I can't help myself. I'm too excited about them.

I've finished Heather's Topi hat (although I still need to add the buttons)and Rachel's Odessa hat...

Pretty good for one week's work. The Odessa hat works up fast. I only started it on Thursday afternoon and I finished it about half an hour ago. Topi takes a little longer, but still no more than a two weekend project. Woot! I'm glad they work up fast, yet look so cute. I don't think I'll have a problem working up the other two Topis and the other two Odessas before December, even with all the school work... Now, if I can only figure out what to get/make everyone else for the holidays...

I may have already said, but if I didn't... I'm doing the Topi hats in Peaches n' Cream (which has the same gauge as the yarn that the pattern calls for) and the Odessa hats in Rowan Classics Cashsoft DK. Heather's hat will be done in Cashsoft Baby because the DK doesn't come in yellow, which the color she requested...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Miss Austin is right...

To paraphrase Miss Jane Austin (or at least the movie "Emma"): The most incomprehensible thing to some men are women who reject them.

A guy came to my door today. I wouldn't have probably opened the door except that he saw Maria inside sitting on the couch and she thought he looked like my next-door neighbor... which he did because I thought he was Bob (my next-door neighbor) until I opened the door. It was a guy trying to sell us magazines for a charity project his Mass Communications class is doing, said his name is Michael. Well, like all guys who sell magazines door-to-door ('cause these guys have done this to me before... the first time, I actually bought stuff, the second time, I probably would have bought stuff again, except my brother, Josh, heard the guy from inside the house and came outside and scared him away - my brother is often very useful this way... he hates people who sell things door-to-door and I think he was hung-over at the time too), he started flirting with me, but then (I can see in retrospect) he started getting a bit too forward, and I was... well, I was eating it up. Guys don't flirt with me often and when they do, I enjoy it, but it doesn't usually go any further. Kept saying I have beautiful eyes and such... So he asks if he can speak to me for a moment outside and Maria waited at the door, like the good friend she is...

Well, he flirted and flirted, laying it on *really* thick - a fact that Maria can testify to - I told him that he was making me a bit nervous (because he really was being quite aggressive in his flirtations, something I only realized in retrospect) and I told him I don't get attention from guys very often when he asked why I was nervous... So he asked me what I was doing tonight. I said I was busy cause I was... He asked about after that... Said I had class tomorrow. So he asked me about tomorrow and instantly after I had said, "nothing," (which is the truth) I wished I hadn't. He asked me to go out to dinner with him. He was really charming in that way that is hard to say no to. Well, I reluctantly said yes and he said he'd pick me up (!) at 6:30 tomorrow night... We're talking *this* after a *5 minute* conversation and I've never seen this guy before *ever.* Don't know a thing about him really other than he's a damn good salesman and should work in retail for a commission.

Well, he left right after that and I went inside, shell-shocked, and I was like, "What just happened?" Maria said (laughing her ass off), "I think he just asked you on a date and you said yes." Oh, not good... So after thinking about it for all of another 5 minutes, I decided, you know, I *really* don't want to go out with him, he made me *really* uncomfortable...

So Maria and I went outside, hoping to catch him between houses... It took a long time, so we walked up and down the street a few times to keep ourselves entertained and so I could think of how I was going to phrase this rejection. I wasn't opposed to maybe exchanging e-mail addresses and getting to know each other a bit that way before actually considering going to dinner.

So we caught him eventually and he said, "So are you following me?" in a somewhat aggressive tone, though I acted like he hadn't. (He asks me this on *my* street, when he doesn't live here.) And I said, "No, we're just walking down the street, but I *do* want to talk to you." He said okay and I said that I didn't think it was a good idea to go to dinner the next night, that I just wasn't comfortable with that. He said, "Because I make you nervous." And I said, "Yeah because you make me nervous, and I really don't think now is the right time for me to be getting involved with anyone, but-" (I was going to say that maybe we could exchange e-mails or something, but he cut me off.) He cut in with something to the effect of, "I try to offer you a great thing, you don't want it, fine, but if you don't get out there and take chances, you're not going to get anywhere, but fine, if you want hide, whatever." (all this he says after a *5* minute conversation!) And I tried to explain, to continue what I was going to say but he wouldn't let me get a *word* out. Just kept cutting me off, turned away, blowing me off... Whatever... And to make it even better, he said something under his breath (which may or may have not been "Bitch!") when he was about 15 feet away going up my neighbor's front walk.

Whatever, indeed. I think I dodged a bullet there. Maria was standing right next to me and thought it was messed up and that I shouldn't give him a second thought or feel bad about turning him down in the slightest. Laura hopes that he's not stalking me (and so do I!) and welcomed me to the club of girls we know who have been asked out by creepy guys. And Zinzi says even she wouldn't have gone out with him (then again, she gets her pick of doctors at the moment, so why would she?) because she knows better than to date pushy Italian guys from New York City (which is what he is). What think you?

So now I'm just worried because he left pissed and people are psycho these days and he knows where I live and what my car looks like. I've *demanded* that my dad keep the garage shut and not open like he likes to, and that the front gate (which looks like something that belongs on a castle's side of a moat) bolted all the time until we get window coverings up on the front window next to the door. I don't like the thought of people being able to tell that I'm home without me necessarily wanting them to... If the gate had been locked today or if we'd had the window covered, the door never would have gotten answered. And if I hear from him again with anything but an abject apology for his behavior, I *am* going to report him to the Dean on his college at school.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I hate to say, "I told ya so, but..."

She's gonna bite back, y'all... I hope we've got a big stick when the time comes...

Humans living far beyond planet's means: WWF
By Ben Blanchard
Tue Oct 24, 6:29 AM ET

BEIJING (Reuters) - Humans are stripping nature at an unprecedented rate and will need two planets' worth of natural resources every year by 2050 on current trends, the WWF conservation group said on Tuesday.

Populations of many species, from fish to mammals, had fallen by about a third from 1970 to 2003 largely because of human threats such as pollution, clearing of forests and overfishing, the group also said in a two-yearly report.

"For more than 20 years we have exceeded the earth's ability to support a consumptive lifestyle that is unsustainable and we cannot afford to continue down this path," WWF Director-General James Leape said, launching the WWF's 2006 Living Planet Report.

"If everyone around the world lived as those in America, we would need five planets to support us," Leape, an American, said in Beijing.

People in the United Arab Emirates were placing most stress per capita on the planet ahead of those in the United States, Finland and Canada, the report said.

Australia was also living well beyond its means.

The average Australian used 6.6 "global" hectares to support their developed lifestyle, ranking behind the United States and Canada, but ahead of the United Kingdom, Russia, China and Japan.

"If the rest of the world led the kind of lifestyles we do here in Australia, we would require three-and-a-half planets to provide the resources we use and to absorb the waste," said Greg Bourne, WWF-Australia chief executive officer.

Everyone would have to change lifestyles -- cutting use of fossil fuels and improving management of everything from farming to fisheries.

"As countries work to improve the well-being of their people, they risk bypassing the goal of sustainability," said Leape, speaking in an energy-efficient building at Beijing's prestigous Tsinghua University.

"It is inevitable that this disconnect will eventually limit the abilities of poor countries to develop and rich countries to maintain their prosperity," he added.

The report said humans' "ecological footprint" -- the demand people place on the natural world -- was 25 percent greater than the planet's annual ability to provide everything from food to energy and recycle all human waste in 2003.

In the previous report, the 2001 overshoot was 21 percent.

"On current projections humanity, will be using two planets' worth of natural resources by 2050 -- if those resources have not run out by then," the latest report said.

"People are turning resources into waste faster than nature can turn waste back into resources."


"Humanity's footprint has more than tripled between 1961 and 2003," it said. Consumption has outpaced a surge in the world's population, to 6.5 billion from 3 billion in 1960. U.N. projections show a surge to 9 billion people around 2050.

It said that the footprint from use of fossil fuels, whose heat-trapping emissions are widely blamed for pushing up world temperatures, was the fastest-growing cause of strain.

Leape said China, home to a fifth of the world's population and whose economy is booming, was making the right move in pledging to reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent over the next five years.

"Much will depend on the decisions made by China, India and other rapidly developing countries," he added.

The WWF report also said that an index tracking 1,300 vetebrate species -- birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals -- showed that populations had fallen for most by about 30 percent because of factors including a loss of habitats to farms.

Among species most under pressure included the swordfish and the South African Cape vulture. Those bucking the trend included rising populations of the Javan rhinoceros and the northern hairy-nosed wombat in Australia.

(Additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Helsinki)

More information about the candidates

Here's a nice place to get some more information about the candidates for those who are interested...

US Army Destroys Part of Ancient Babylon

Lord save international archaeological wonders from untrained professional people who think they're "helping" to save them by damaging them with their ignorance...

The following was passed on by my friend, Laura:

US marines offer Babylon apology
By Jonathan Charles
BBC World affairs correspondent

A senior US marine officer says he is willing to apologise for the damage caused by his troops to the ancient Iraqi site of Babylon.

US forces built a helicopter pad on the ancient ruins and filled their sandbags with archaeological material in the months following the 2003 invasion.

Colonel Coleman was chief of staff at Babylon when it was occupied by the First Marine Expeditionary Force.

Babylon's Hanging Gardens were among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

~Roof collapsed~

Col Coleman told the BBC that if the Iraqis wanted an apology for the destruction caused by his men he was willing to give one.

The 2,000 troops who were deployed there did immense damage as they set up camp amidst the ruins of old temples.

A helicopter pad was constructed at the site. The vibration from landings led the roof of one building to collapse.

The soldiers also filled their sandbags with archaeological artefacts, just because they were lying around and easy to pick up.

The head of the Iraqi State Board for Heritage and Antiquities, Donny George, is angry and says the mess will take decades to sort out.

Col Coleman argues that whatever his troops did, the alternative would have been far worse.

If they hadn't moved in, Babylon would have been left at the mercy of looters, he says.

Rachael's 2006 Florida General Election Voters' Guide

(For those of you outside Hillsborough County, I recommend going to any search engine and typing in your county and "ballot" to get information about your sample ballot. For those of you in other parts of Hillsborough County, I recommend going here for your sample ballot. If you have questions you don't want to look up yourself about candidates, free to ask me and I'll see what I can find out for you.)

For what that's worth...

US Senator: Bill Nelson
- Not only does Bill Nelson represent my concerns and issues well in Washington (or as well as anyone does), his letters to me aren't patronizing like other elected officials letters are (::cough:: Bilirakis ::cough::). I think he actually is a good man and as honest as a politician can be and that he does his job, which is to represent his constituents in the Senate.

US Representative, Dist. 9 - Phyllis Busansky
She's not Bilirakis or his son (who might as well be the same people, since Gus is running for the seat his father will be vacating), for starters. She's a new face, which is something I think we need in the the US House, and my parents kinda know her. She used to attend our synagogue here in Tampa.

Governor - Jim Davis
He used to be my Congressman before the redistricting right around 2000. He was always very responsive to my letters, and despite commercials to the contrary, he seemed very conscientious about voting and doing his job. He gave my 8th grade class a tour of the Capitol Building as well and was very nice to us, not at all condescending, and his children attended the same elementary/middle school I did. As for his bid for governor, he's been very firm and consistent in his stance on the issues, which are very close to being in line with my stance on the issues.

Attorney General - Walter "Skip" Campbell
Not my first choice. My first choice didn't win the primary. But Campbell is far from the worst 2nd choice. He's been endorsed by Equality Florida and he also scored high on the Organic Consumers Fund Survey.

Chief Financial Officer - Alex Sink
A woman, to let you know. Also endorsed by Equality Florida. She was my choice for the primary, and though I can't remember why right now, all of my decisions about the primary were very conscientiously made. Type her name in and the office she's running for into any search engine to get her campaign site.

Commissioner of Agriculture - Pending responses from candidates... probably, Eric Copeland.

State Senator, Dist. 12 - ... Victor Crist?
- There are issues with the election for this office. There are no good candidates, only the lesser of two evils. Amazingly, there is no Democratic candidate. I have determined Victor Crist, Republican incumbent, to be the lesser of the two evils because he's an evil we know and not one that we don't. His opponent, C. Burt Linthicum, is running on the "Constitution Party" platform, a third party candidate. Let me tell you, the Constitution Party sounds innocuous... good, nice, even friendly... but it's not. It is like "Concerned Women for America" and "The Culture and Family Institute" (the guy who heads both of those organizations, Robert Knight, said that AIDS is a homosexual conspiracy and that AIDS isn't easily transmitted through heterosexual sex because (and I quote!) "the vagina can take a lot of punishment." Go to the Daily Show's website and look for the interview with David Rakoff (part 2) in "most recent videos" to hear it for yourself. I wish I were kidding.) Anyway, the Constitution Party is so extreme that the Republicans aren't even conservative enough for them. They are Right of the Right. Not good. I have received an e-mail from Linthicum himself on the issues I will now describe. He is for enforcing our borders, kicking out illegal aliens, and protecting against invasion of privacy and invasive or redundant government policy. However, he does not find it at all ironic that he opposes same-sex marriage or the right of women to choose to have an abortion while purporting himself as someone who will protect against invasive government policy. I told him he was a hypocrite for this and he disagrees because he's doing this out of duty to G-d. Well, I serve my duty to G-d through my duty to my own well-being and the well-being of my fellow citizens. He also called homosexuals "deviants" and didn't have nice things to say about women who accidentally get knocked up either. So because it is unlikely that the rest of the legislature would listen to his views and pass legislation on illegal aliens, enforcing border security measures, or protecting against invasive government, and (since it's Republican controlled) would be much more likely to have Bills on same-sex marriage/civil unions or abortion come to the floor, I must say I can't support him. One might say that I should respect him for standing by his opinions and not being swayed in order to get votes, but I say he's wrong in his opinions and so should be swayed by sound argument if he were a logical person. After all, look at what the President does when he stands by his opinions against all logic and good sense... So Victor Crist, while also against same-sex marriage and abortion, is a much more moderate kind of evil... We know what to expect from him, whereas, if Linthicum were elected, lord only knows what he'd try to do, and I for one don't want to be responsible for it. At the very least, Crist knows better than to say that gays are "deviants" in public even if he believes it in private. I will probably abstain from voting for this particular office.

State Representative, Dist. 60 - Karen Perez
- She answered "yes" to all of the questions on the Organic Consumers Fund Candidate Survey... and I figure a run-of-the-mill Democrat is still better than a moderate Republican as far as coming closest to my mostly liberal values...

Voter Confirmation for Justices of the Supreme Court of Florida
Justice R. Fred Lewis - Yes
Justice Peggy A. Quince - Yes
Justice Barbara Joan Pariente - Yes
- All Justices up for approval seem to have clean slates as far as scandal in their background and to the best of my knowledge, after due diligence, have always done their jobs as far as checks & balances and upholding our State Constitution go.

Voter Confirmation for Court of Appeal Judges
Darryl C. Casanueva - Yes
Charles A Davis, Jr. - Yes
Edward C. LaRose - Yes
E. J. Salcines - Yes
Thomas E. Stringer, Sr. - Yes
- All the judges seem to have clean slates as far as scandals go and they have done their jobs to safeguard the civil rights of people prosecuted under Florida state law.

Circuit Court Judge, Group 32
- Bernard "Bernie" Silver - He was my second choice for the Primary. The only reason that he was not the first is that he will have to retire within the next four years due to state law. Other than that, he seems like a perfect man to be a Circuit Court Judge.

Circuit Court Judge, Group 43
- Kimberly Fernandez - My Primary Election choice.

Circuit Court Judge, Group 44
- Samantha L. Ward - My Primary Election choice.

Circuit Court Judge, Group 45
- Gary S. Dulgin - Not my first choice, but he doesn't seem bad.

County Commissioner
District 5 - Joe Redner
- Endorsed by Equality Florida, and my personal favorite. He owns a whole bunch of strip clubs and a porn film company, but I adore him anyway. He's like Tampa's own Hugh Hefner, except he won't date any of the girls who work for him because he's gay. I've met him personally on several occasions at meet-and-greets and listened to several speeches he's given over the last eight years since he's been trying to get into local government, including one at USF in my Crime & Justice in America class, and I think he will do a really good job bringing some balance and reason to our County Commission (Yes, our county government is so unbalanced toward the Right that a King of Vice is needed to tip the scales back to reality!)
District 7 - Mark Sharpe
- Yeah, he's a Republican... Yeah, he's a conservative and I don't like the way he voted on the Anti-Gay ordinances that the Commission passed two years ago and have refused to even consider repealing. But he's more reasonable on other issues than his opponent, who is otherwise just as foolish and hard-line conservative. Also, the only reason his opponent is running for the District 7 seat is that he's served his limit in his current Commission seat... That's so close to cheating that I think it's close enough to not want him to stay on the Commission.

You can read more about the County Commission Nominees here.

School Board Member, District 6 - April Griffin
- Despite her annoying campaign signs with little crayons for the "i"s, I see no reason that she shouldn't be re-elected to the School Board.

Soil and Water Conservation Board, District 1 - Tammy Harman
- If you take my advise on no one else, I hope you take my advise on Ms. Harman. She is a Planner for an Engineering firm and has been politically active behind the scenes for many years. She also is really into sustainable agriculture and being environmentally responsible, good things for her to be into if she's going to be on the Soil and Water Conservation Board. I believe she will bring a new, fresh perspective to the board, reflecting the changing concerns of citizens such as myself. Read more about her here. The guy running against her is a son of Big Agriculture... not into sustainable agriculture - he's into the status quo and policies that keep the corporate farms doing what they've been doing... which is not really the best thing for the environment or the people of the state of Florida.

Ballot Initiative Amendments
No. 1. Yes.
- Will create an overseeing and consolidating Task Force to streamline the State budget.
No. 3. No.
- This initiative is backed by Big Business and special interests groups who are trying to keep their strangle hold on the legislature in Tallahassee tight. Not good.
No. 4. No.
- I'm not comfortable with this initiative becoming a part of the Constitution of the State. It could eventually start costing tax payers money and its level of effectiveness is uncertain.
No. 6. Yes.
- This amendment would increase the Homestead Exemption from $25,000 to $50,000 and it would only apply to citizens who own a home (which they live in), are over the age of 65 and make less than $20,000 per year. The increase in the property tax exemption would be optional for each county and the counties can all independently decide how much to increase the exemption, up to $50,000.
No. 7. No.
- Tthis would apply only to Veterans of a foreign war, who resided in the State of Florida at the time of their enlistment, and are now perminently disabled due to combat injury, and are over the age of 65. I think that if the Veterans *really* need the exemption on their property taxes, they will get it under Initiative No. 6.
No. 8. Yes.
- This will add further protections for home-owners to the existing laws limiting seizures of private property by eminent domain. It will prevent local and state governments from seizing property and reselling it to private developers for a profit (or at all!), which can only be good for home-owners.

Hillsborough County - Straw Ballot - No. They're just trying to stick it to Joe Redner... again...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Most annoying!

I'm sitting here trying to look up quick information on trebuchets and the improvements that Muslims made to their design when the technology reached them from China... I need to know when they reached Arabia, when the improvements were made and when Europeans were first exposed to trebuchet technology... Because I *know* I've read before that trebuchets were not used as defensive weapons on top of city walls until Saladin took back Jerusalem from the European Crusaders. And I also *know* I've read that Europeans were not exposed to trebuchets until they saw the Muslims using them in the Crusades and that it took French engineers about 40 years to figure out how they worked and how to replicate the technology in a reliable way.

All I can find on the 'net are wiki articles and information on their use and role in the video game Age of Empires, all of which seem to be inaccurate since it says that the technology reached Europe in the 6th century and the technology was developed in China in the 6th century. This is most annoying as I'm trying to finish my paper and my brain is slowly ceasing to function. I'm too tired to keep looking, so I suppose I'll have to leave that out of my paper. Backwater invaders, the Almoravids, are portrayed as using trebuchet in their siege of Valencia in 1099 in the movie "El Cid." I'm supposed to point out all the historical inaccuracies I caught in watching the film. And I'm fairly certain that that is one of them... but since I can't find a *thing* to back me up, I'll leave it out.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Paranoid?... Maybe...

I don't know. I could just be paranoid. I could just be an alarmist... I don't know, but I do know that I'd do more than kick myself for not being at least somewhat prepared...

I was watching CNN tonight (and maybe I should just stop doing that and stick with Jon and Steven) and they were reporting on the impending 300,000,000 benchmark in American population growth and future predictions of reaching 600,000,000 by the end of this century. Mmm-hmm... This gets me thinking...

Dense population and rapid population boom coupled with an increase in average global temperature (even of just a few degrees) have traditionally lead to two things within 200 years or less. 1.) A drop in temperature back to "normal" or "sub-normal" levels, resulting in a rapid decrease in production of food resources worldwide (i.e. a famine) due to changes in the agricultural practices during the warm period. 2.) The rapid spread of contagion which results in high fatality rates among humans and the animals they use for food, most especially in areas that are more densely populated (i.e. cities). If either of these events coincide with political instability and economic depression, populations are usually screwed, to use the vernacular.

To me, this seems to be an inevitability. If it doesn't occur before the end of the 21st century, I would be surprised. It could just be "millennial paranoia" on my part... but history does repeat itself. The fact that we're "modern" doesn't mean it couldn't continue to do so. It would be especially dangerous for us with the increase of "globalism". Rapid travel leads to faster spread of disease. Human population is at an all time high. More dangerous weapons are in the hands of people who could have a far reach should the factors which hold them in check were suddenly absent. The media, with its instantaneous news reporting, would spread the kind of panic which would lead to anarchy and riots faster than local authorities could even hope to control it. And local communities rely on national or international producers for their food (and in some cases, even their water). Yeah... any half-way intelligent person could see that we'd totally be more than screwed. Most of us would very quickly find ourselves *very* dead.

It is interesting to note that presently, Iceland is only 1 degree colder than it was during the Medieval warming period which preceded the Black Death sweeping across Asia and Europe.

At the time, the Black Death had an average 90% fatality rate of those who contracted the disease. Ironically, the Black Death is most commonly associated with Bubonic Plague, actually the least fatal (*only* 30 - 75% fatality rate of those who contract the disease) of the three types of Plague infection. There is also Pneumonic Plague, which is concentrated in the lungs (90 - 95% fatal), and Septicemic Plague, the most rare, which is a blood infection (99% fatal). (Present day: According to the CDC, the Plague's average fatality rate in the United States is less than 15% - including cases that go untreated. For those who know they have been exposed (only about 5 - 15 cases occur every year, most often in parts of the country where the prairie dogs are infected), immediate treatment with antibiotics for seven days is usually effective before symptoms even appear. Incubation period is 2 to 6 days.)

So is there any good news? Yes... Those who survive a pandemic are left with less competition for natural and man-made resources (due to the rapid decrease in population) and this has in the past caused a resurgence of life, like the first flowers of Spring after a hard Winter, raising the standard of living and the overall health of the remaining population.

So what can we do? As far as I see it, we prepare as best we can. Personally, I want to go as rural and as self-sufficient as possible. Off the beaten track and with as little dependence on outside resources as I can possibly get. Or at least the ability to switch to self-sufficiency quickly as needed. (Iceland would be really nice for this now that I think on it. It's a pretty small island and so would be able to cut itself off from the rest of the world quickly and efficiently should an international disaster like this happen. Although, it does have the problem of not being able to grow most [or maybe even any] grains in the open...) I want to know how to produce my own food, at least in theory, to can and preserve for the winter lean season, to make cheese... Eventually, I'll probably even want to learn how to slaughter my own meat if I had to, just so I'll know how... though I think, if I could manage it at all, I'd pretty quickly stick with just chickens. Cows look too cute and so do lambs... I'm not sure if I could handle doing that myself. I also want to know how to produce my own clothing if necessary... and also because I like the idea of being able to make my own clothes. I've got the spinning down pretty well, at least for a beginner... all part of my plan of preparedness. I also want to learn how to weave on a Viking warp-weighted loom. Being able to produce items that can be traded for what I couldn't produce myself is very important in my little paranoid "what to do if dooms day happens plan."

Most especially (aside from the ability to produce most of my own food), I do not want to depend on the public energy infrastructure for my creature comforts. I want to go totally green - for more reasons than are tied to my millennial paranoia though... political and ideological reasons more tied in with my immediate distaste for oil companies, lobbyists and those who damage the environment. There's also the practical advantage of not loosing power during hurricanes! (which I happen to know from personal experience really, really sucks.) Wind or solar powered everything. No power lines for me! And I want a dream house that will last for generations to come, so that at the very least, should the worst happen, my children and grandchildren would not have to worry about finding suitable, lasting shelter... and because lasting construction also happens to be the most eco-friendly. I've considered earth-sheltered housing (which really is my favorite - Yes, I want a hobbit house... I really do want to live in Hobbiton, to be perfectly honest. I am a hobbit at heart, after all is said and done), rammed earth and also "earthships".

"Earthships" are houses constructed out of old car tires which have dirt compacted inside them, essentially making them rammed earth bricks (which must be put in place before the dirt is compacted!). With the right equipment, a crew of seven people can fill and compact about 100 tires per hour, making the construction faster than rammed earth. The number of tires needed, of course, varies with the size of the house that is being built. Building materials cost very little. In most locations, according to what I've found out, slab foundations are not necessary, so concrete cost is minimal. Dirt is free or close to it, and most of the time, old tires can also be had for free. If the homeowner does the work themselves, construction costs can also be minimal. There are drawbacks with "Earthship" construction however. Ventilation has been a problem for some builders, as well as water leaks... This may be due to the fact that a lot of people who have attempted this method of construction were amateurs and not trained professionals, or even under the guidance of trained professionals. The work requires some amount of precision in order to have sound walls, floor, windows, doors and roof without leaks. There is some work that should be done by professionals - plumbing, well and septic, as well as electrical work in most cases. And most people would probably want professional plasterers and stucco-ers to apply the inside and outside wall surfaces and put the roof on. Dry wall cannot be used with "earthship" construction at all. However, if built correctly, "earthships" require little maintenance and are usually worth many times the amount of money initially invested in their construction, unlike conventionally built homes. I'm not quite sure that I understand the physics that make the "earthships" different from solid rammed earth structures, but apparently there is enough difference that "earthships" are much more complicated to successfully construct.

Rammed earth homes are potentially the most expensive, and yet potentially the cheapest of all the construction methods I've mentioned. To build one, from what I understand, you need only a foundation, a tamper (hand or powered), a few (potentially dozen) truck-loads of dirt and maybe some concrete (in addition to the internal wall materials, electrical and plumbing). All told, building materials for an average house would probably run only a few thousand dollars, max (not counting interior stuff like fixtures, cabinetry and flooring). Then comes the hard part: the sweat equity. Rammed earth construction is very, *very* labor intensive. So much so that most people wouldn't want to do it themselves but the cost of paying someone else to do it would be prohibitive. Construction could potentially take years just to get the outer walls raised if you do it in your own free time, though I have heard tell of one man doing just that and the house has stood for over 60 years now, sound as the day he and his wife moved into it. From what I understand, rammed earth is extremely durable once it is built, and it can probably be done with the least amount of skilled labor of the three methods I've mentioned. Of course, on top of the labor involved in raising the outer walls, there's the skilled labor involved in the inner walls, roof, plumbing, electricity, (possibly) a heating and cooling system and other similar issues, as with a conventional house.

Earth-sheltered homes are built at least partially underground and have a roof which is sometimes covered by dirt and grass... Think "BagEnd" from Tolkien's books and you have my dream in a nut shell, or you can look at this picture of an Icelandic earth-sheltered house (or this one). The cost of Earth-sheltered homes falls in between "earthships" and rammed earth (assuming you hire someone else do the bulk of the work on your rammed earth house), costing about 10% more than conventional construction methods for a house of comparable size, all things told, on average. (Fun Fact: Bill Gates lives in an earth-sheltered home... well, "mansion" really.) The hardest thing about building an earth-sheltered home is planning it out because that has to be precise and is difficult to change once the home is being or has been constructed. Obtaining the interior shell material and a builder who knows what they're doing can also be very difficult depending on your location. Having an architect and engineer with experience in building earth-sheltered homes is crucial really because issues of water-seepage from the roof, internal condensation from the walls and cave-like acoustics can be project killing. Still, if done correctly, like rammed earth construction, the structure should last for generations without major maintenance.

There are other green methods of construction. Cob and Adobe are limited to certain climates. Compressed earth blocks, like rammed earth, but with factory made, transportable bricks, is likewise expensive and at the moment can only be done in areas within close proximity of the factory which makes the blocks (in Mexico). Straw bale construction is an interesting idea... but I haven't seen enough information about it to make a determination. I would think potential for rot and insect damage would be considerable, but I could be wrong.

Now, to bed with me! I have class tomorrow.

Friday, October 13, 2006

More fun facts about Iceland

- Iceland has the longest average life expectancy of any country in the world, beating out Japan, who now holds the second longest average life expectancy, according to Iceland's own statistics board. The average life expectancy for Icelanders, as of the 2001-2005 calculations, 82.8 years for women and 78.9 years for men. The infant mortality rate in Iceland is .25 percent, or 25 out of every 10,000 births, also lower than any other country in the world.

- It's the seventh most sparsely populated country in the world with 2.8 people per square kilometer (American that I am though, I have no idea what that means... in miles, please?).

- Iceland is number 3 in ranking of Gross Domestic Product per capita with $52,764. The US is number 8. Luxembourg is #1.

- Iceland has the lowest rates of death due to heart disease in Europe. And also the lowest percentage of people with high blood pressure, and the lowest percentage of people who suffer strokes. Omega-3, anyone?

- Iceland's literacy rate is 99.9% or better... along with 20 other countries... The US's literacy rate is 97%... 51st in the world, behind pretty much all of Europe and the former Soviet Union (including most of the "stan" countries), Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, South Korea, Mongolia, Uruguay, Argentina and the Maldives to name a few.

- According to the Colbert Report, 100% of Iceland's population believe the theory of evolution is correct... The same report said that of the developed countries of the world, the US ranked second to last, only above Latvia, in the percentage of the total population who believe the theory of evolution.

And my favorite:

- 10% of Icelanders believe in the existence of a "hidden world" of elves, dwarfs and spirits with magic powers. 10% also deny that the "hidden world" exists. However, the remaining 80% either have no opinion or refuse to rule out its existence. And the possibility is taken quite seriously... Roads and buildings must not be built in a way that will upset the spirits. If there are accidents on a building project, if not obviously caused by engineering problems of some kind, it will usually be blamed on angry "hidden folk." Road plans have been altered to avoid them. Building plans have been moved, altered or altogether abandoned to avoid them as well. Read more about these curious beliefs and see drawings of what the "hidden folk" look like done by people who can supposedly see them here.

If I ever had to move...

If I ever had to move to a different country. If the political or social situation ever became so intolerable that I just *had* to get out of the United States, at least on a semi-permanent basis and become a citizen of a different country... I think Iceland would very easily be where I would go. Sure they have the volcanic activity of Hawaii, and the earthquakes of California, and the country nearly touches the Arctic Circle... but really, I'm quite convinced that despite all this, it's a very good place to be. Aside from the occasional bit of inclement weather, I've never read a negative thing about Iceland. And all the archaeological sites I could ever want to see are all there... Laugar, Gudrun Osviffsdottir's childhood home, most especially. (Side note that I can't resist: Laugar means "bath" or "hot spring," so named for the natural hot springs that Gudrun, her family and the surrounding farms used to wash their clothes and bathe every Saturday (Vikings were actually some of the cleanest people in Medieval Europe...). Oh, and since it comes up below, but isn't translated "holt" essentially means "farm.")

And, joy or extreme joys, the University of Iceland now has a MA program in Medieval Icelandic Studies taught in English due to popular demand. I'm
ecstatic! Now if I want to go to Europe for what will probably have to be a second MA at some point, I have two European options: Uppsala University (MA in Viking Studies) and the University of Iceland, which would be my first choice on location. Both are interdisciplinary programs... But I'll have to look into that when I have more time.

Right now, here was the main purpose of me beginning this post before I got distracted by unexpected results to my research, reproduced here for your convienence, this facinating little address given by Magnus Magnusson, who translated the Laxdaela Saga into English. If you get it, you may be able to understand why I've become so obsessed with Iceland ever since reading the Laxdaela Saga.

"A Xenophile's Guide to Iceland – the Icelandic nation's heritage and culture" Address by Mr. Magnus Magnusson KBE, BBC television personality
Fifth Consular Conference in Reykjavik, 2-5 September 2001
4 September 2001

Good morning! Thank you for these kind words. Now, for your honorary council exam you no doubt all studied this little booklet which is called "The Xenophobe's Guide to the Icelanders". Invaluable, and totally incorrect information about Iceland. It's part of the Xenophobe's series designed for good-natured fun at the foibles of the various nations which are the object of the Xenophobe's irreverent interest.

Now, this Icelandic squib contains every old joke about Iceland I have ever heard, apart from one, which will bring joy to the heart of Gordon McKee, from Newcastle upon Tyne. "What do you do when you get lost in a forest in Iceland? Answer: you stand up." Now this is a joke which the Icelanders themselves invented and which they tell at every opportune and inopportune moment, so this morning I thought I'd entitle my short address: "A xenophile's guide to Iceland."

There is an old Icelandic proverb, that I've just invented, which says "It is best to think aloud and speak in silence". And that's what I am going to do. I want to think aloud, and to speak in silence about Icelandic culture and the Icelandic cultural heritage, and I would like to deal with it under three headings: land, living and language.

Let's take the land first. You know, when you live in a country which moves alarmingly under your feet every five years or so with an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, you face, like the saga heroes of old, with a choice of two courses of action, neither of them good: Either to flee the country and all its hazards, or to stay and brave them out.For more than 1100 years the people of Iceland have chosen to stay and brave them out. The elements have seldom been friendly, conditions have often been intolerably harsh. Merely to survive has been a desperate and chancy business in itself.

Iceland, as the late Victor Borge used to say, is a little, big country, it's a very large island with a very small population, just over a quarter of a million people, which is even less than Newcastle upon Tyne. But it has never been an insignificant, or an isolated, or a primitive place. Over the centuries the Icelanders have harnessed the hostility of the elements and turned foe into friend. And from successful defiance of hazard there has come a profound sense of achievement. Iceland through its short history as a key outpost of European culture has always had to think very hard about its own "raison d'étre". And I believe myself that coping with hazard down the centuries has given the Icelanders a privileged place in the development of ideas, ideas about cultural identity, ideas about the way to cope within environment, as we were hearing just now. Ideas indeed about the nature and the purpose of humanity.

People have frequently thought aloud, about what on earth the early Icelanders saw in this place; why emigrate to Iceland, for heaven's sake? In the sagas, Norwegians frequently referred to Iceland, "that wilderness, or that desolate skerry", but that was before they emigrated and became successful pioneers here. The name didn't help, of course. One of the first explorers, a picturesquely named viking adventurer known as Ravens' Flóki, had a bad time when he arrived, and after a very severe winter he left in disgust, shaking his fist and shouting: "Bah, bloody Iceland", and the name stuck.But he was wrong, of course. The name he dumped on our fair land, was a gross misnomer. Luckily he had two companions with him who redressed the balance for us. One of them said, "It has it's advantages as well as disadvantages", and the other said, "Butter dripped from every blade of grass". Well, up to a point, anyway.

But we know that the mean temperature in Iceland in the first centuries of settlement was higher than it is today by an average of about one degree centigrade, and at this latitude a single degree makes a world of difference.

Certainly, the early settlers found here a promised land of tremendous potential, whose natural resources they exploited with vigour and resourcefulness. In those days Iceland was of course a commonwealth, an independent republic, her outlook was expansive, international, cosmopolitan. Her medieval literary culture was uniquely Icelandic, but in no way isolated nor insulated from all the best intellectual and humanistic ideas from Europe, in science, in philosophy and in general erudition.In the world of commerce, our fish products were prized all over the continent but in the later Middle Ages, after losing our independence and becoming a colony of Denmark, Iceland lapsed into a kind of numbed inertia, almost crushed by colonial oppression, and natural disasters. Late in the 18th century there's even talk of evacuating the surviving Icelanders, 40,000 impoverished people, evacuating them from Iceland and resettling them on some moorland in Denmark.

But Iceland and the Icelanders survived and survival has always been the name of the game in Iceland, and after survival comes revival. Let me just illustrate. As you all know, Saturday in Iceland means bath night. The word for Saturday is "laugardagur", hot spring's day. Now, hot springs were the most striking aspect of the new country the Norsemen discovered late in the 9th century. When the first settler, Ingólfur Arnarson, had thrown the hallowed carved pillars of his ancestral high seat overboard within sight of land as ambassadors, as consuls you might say, of peace for the land spirits who would meet them.

He eventually found them on the shores of a wide, sheltered bay riddled with steaming hot springs, and so he named it, Reykjavík, "smoky bay". A coincidence of history would later make it the capital of Iceland, and 20th century geothermal technology would also make it ironically the only smoke free captial in the world.

The early Icelanders knew all about the importance of the hot springs. In Laxdæla saga, for instance, we read of the naturally heated swimming pool at Laugar in Sælingsdalur where Kjartan Ólafsson wooed the imperious Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir at the start of their ill-starred love story. And as we'll see when we visit Reykholt tomorrow, "reyk", there's that smoky "reyk" prefix again, the great 13th century saga-historian Snorri Sturluson built himself a circular, open air heated bath there, and here, we are told, he and his cronies would sit, turning on and off the hot and cold water with their toes, gossiping about people and politics, the original think tank you'd say.

It's still there and the underground passage which led to his house has now been beautifully excavated and restored along much of its way. There was no development of this for centuries. It is not until the year 1911 that an ingenious farmer, named Erlendur Gunnarsson of Sturlureykir, near Reykholt, became the first man to try to harness all this abundant geothermal energy for heating his home, and cooking his food.

Why did it take so long for this development to happen? Well, the main obstacle, I think, had been that farmers in Iceland had always built their homesteads on high ground, above the low lying land where the hot springs were usually found. And the problem of pumping the hot water up to the farm buildings was beyond their technology at the time.

But Erlendur Gunnarsson, who'd never been to school, never received any training in engineering or physics, made the crucial observation which is so blindingly obvious now that it's been thought of, that although water does not rise of its own accord, steam does. And he began experimenting in 1908. He had no models, no previous experience to guide him, only this genetic resourcefulness. No one had ever tried to tame or harness the furious power of the searing steam which gushed out of the ground.

Eventually, after much trial and error, he managed to cast a concrete casing over the vent or a fumarole, and pump the steam, or let the steam, rise to his farm. And by 1911 he'd designed a suitable cooking range and stoves which could utilize steam which came raging through the piping into the house.

It did have some drawbacks, it leaked like mad, the house was filled with dank, warm vapour, the whole house smelled powerfully of brimstone, until his wife said "Either the steam or me!" And she won. And that's perhaps why no other farmers immediately followed his example for many years.

Now, there's no need to rehearse to this company the twentieth century technological triumphs which have electrified Iceland and heated much more than the cuckolds of our hearts. Iceland missed out completely on the industrial revolution which began in Britain in the 18th century. Iceland didn't even have a road for wheeled traffic until 1874 when the king of Denmark made a royal visit here and the Icelanders, out of consideration for his bulk, and his no doubt tender bottom, instead of sending him by pony, built a road of sorts from Hafnarfjörður to Reykjavík to enable him to ride by carriage instead of on pony.

The railway age touched Iceland not at all. Iceland leapt straight from the pony path to the aeroplane. Iceland's real industrial age started early in the 20th century with the acquisition of the first steam trawler in 1905, and this released a latent entrepreneurialism which had had no opportunity to express itself during the hard centuries. When technology, both high and low, eventually reached Iceland it was not only welcomed, it was embraced like a long lost cousin. Icelanders have always been attracted to sheer novelty. The telephone, which had been received with cautious interest in Britain and America, became Iceland's instant new line of communication, superseeding all else.

I sometimes feel like condition by centuries of isolation; Icelanders never applied to letters except twice a year, in spring and in autumn when the boat for Denmark was leaving. The faxmachine rendered the postal service almost obsolete, but now, e-mail has come, and e-mail has given writing letters a new lease of life in Iceland; "Hi, darling, how are you"! Who knows, we may be developing a new treasury of saga manuscripts through e-mail!

I mustn't bore you with statistics, although Icelanders always love to use statistics to prove anything and everything about themselves, it is very easy when you have got a very small sample, but in Iceland today of this population of only 283,360 people there are 210,000 mobile telephones, and 70% of the population has access to the Internet. And since I mentioned that first road, built only in 1874, you might like to know that today, in this vast island, with its miniscule population there are no fewer than 210,324 automobiles.

So that's one aspect of living in Iceland today. I have left to the last my musings on Icelandic culture. It's been traditionally, of course, expressed through its literature. It was the word which uttered the uniqueness of the Icelandic experience in the dramatic, eventful volcanic landscape we see all around us, which inspired the sagas, and which has now inspired a generation of brilliant visual artists with its endless vista of magnificent locations, each more urgently breathtaking than the last.

In Iceland the challenge of existence is still the very stuff of life, it's a challenge to achievement which is finding a new and an expressive voice in all the subtle idioms of art. The language is cosmopolitan but the accent is distinctively and creatively Icelandic. Iceland today is a crucible of artistic activity with the arts in public and in private flourish as if seldom done anywhere else. It's the arts which are our common language and it's through the arts that we speak most intimately to one another. Today the arts are flourishing here almost beyond belief, in music, drama, poetry, painting. In Iceland today we have all the national institutions you'd expect; the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, the Icelandic Ballet Group, the Icelandic Opera, the National Theatre, the Reykjavik Theatre Company, and many other, smaller, theatre companies performing both Icelandic and imported plays.

But there is much more to it than that. There are art galleries at every corner! And exhibition openings every Saturday evening until you are sick of the taste of warm champagne! (Especially if you are a minister, I suspect!) Reykjavik has its own biennial arts festival, we have nearly a 100 music schools, we have 400 choirs, 400 orchestras or bands, and on the pop scene, Iceland has become a Mecca in its own right. Not, I am relieved to say, Mecca enough to win the Eurovision song contest, although we came damned close, that gave me a fright! Anyway, our Björk has conquered the pop world single handed.

Post-war Iceland has seen this eruption of energy released by independence. Where few fish live in an extremely large pool they grow very big and very strong, and in Iceland talent and ambition are vigorously encouraged.

And the language itself, even the most fervent xenophile does not find Icelandic easy. It has, to be honest, a quite inordinate amount of grammar. It's very precise and very irregular at the same time. It's very traditional and it is very newfangled at the same time. The vocabulary is wonderfully rich and vivid, rooted in old concepts. For instance, I love the word "mannfýla" which denotes a rascal but actually means a "manstink". Lovely!

Because the language of the sagas was designed to express pastural and homely concepts, modern Iceland is constantly looking for new words with which to express new concepts in ways which nonetheless obey the built-in imperatives of the language. There is a sort of academic committee whose task is to invent new words to discourage foreign borrowings. But it is popular usage which decides with all language. The committee earnestly produced a new word for a car - "bifreið" - literally a "mechanical ride", but the popular victor was the word "bíll" – coming from "automobile". So much easier. The word for telephone – "sími" – was cunningly adapted from an old poetic word for "thread".

The old word for "sybil" or a "prophetess" who foresees the future is "völva". Put the two together, and you have got – "tölva" (computer). It's utterly genius! Pure linguistic genius. Can anything be more telling, a machine which reckons the past, the present and gives you the future as well.

Now before I sit down I am going to delve once more into this little booklet, "The Xenophobe's Guide to the Icelanders". I want to quote from a poem about the Icelandic language, which is cited in it. It was written by a "Vestur-Íslendingur". He's a third generation Icelander from Manitoba who comes to Iceland every summer to enjoy himself at Hofsós in Skagafjörður where an old shop has been converted into a center for genealogical research and also a museum, "Vesturfarasafnið". And that tells the stories of the Icelanders who emigrated to the New World in the late 19th century.

And this is a part of the poem:

In an air-conditioned room
you cannot understand the grammar of this language,
the whirring machine drowns out the soft vowels,
but you can hear these vowels in the montain wind and in heavy seas,
breaking over the hull of a small boat.
Old ladies can wind their long hair in this language,
and can hum and knit and make pancakes.
But you cannot have a cocktail party in this language,
and say witty things standing up with a drink in your hand.
You must sit down to speak in this language.
It is so heavy, you cannot be polite or chatter in it.
For once you have begun a sentence
the whole course of your life is laid out before you,
every foolish mistake is clear, every failure, every grief
moving around the inflections from case to case
and gender to gender, the vowels changing and darkening,
the consonents softening on the tongue till the other sound
of a gull's wings fluttering as he flies out in the wake of a small boat
drifting out to open water.

Isn't it lovely?

Well chairman, with a language like that, the language of the sagas, the language of Halldór Laxness, the language of e-mail, the language of this big, little country of Iceland, you can make the world sit up and we have done. That's our story and you are sticking to it, or else!

Ladies and gentlemen, fellow xenophiles, there you have it. Land, living and language, Iceland's culture in a very small nutshell.

Thank you very much.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

More things change, the more they stay the same...

Here is a link to a BBC News article about a 2005 archaeological discovery in England. Apart from being facinated by the idea of naalbinding Roman-style socks (note that I do not know how to naalbind, but I'm very keen to learn eventually because it is a Viking Age craft), I am amused by the letter that was found at Vindolanda... Apparently, no matter whether it's 106 CE or 2006 CE, soldiers still write to their mother's asking for socks...

Someone on the list this was posted to thinks that the pattern on the razor handle looks like its immitating heringbone weave fabric... I suppose that's possible... But at the same time, weren't there naalbind-ed socks being produced in Egypt? I can't seem to find the info online right now... but I could have sworn I read that somewhere before. Assuming that I remember correctly, and with Romans being Romans, I don't know why we should assume that all socks made in Italy had to have been cut cloth, just because no extant socks have been found. If some other culture within their empire had the technology to produce naalbind-ed socks, I'm sure they would have made it their own like they did with everything else...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Remember those deadlines?

Still have them, but they aren't seeming as insurmountable today... Even the midterm tomorrow isn't so scary... (That could change when I see the exam tomorrow at 10 am, but right now, it's all good.) Been feeling this way since I got home from school today... So I was just reading my horoscopes for the rest of the week, after having checked something for Lara because she's not feeling so good at the moment about everything she has on her plate... In my experience, my horoscopes tend to be fairly accurate most of the time...

Here's my horoscope for Thursday, the 12th: "Yes, things have been a blur lately -- but since your emotions are finally starting to slow down, your physical self should, too. Relaxation and comfort are more important than speed. Ease off the gas pedal and take the meandering road to your destination. Shortcuts will only frustrate you. Besides, following the scenic route is always more fun. There is no rush, no matter what deadlines you may be facing. You have much more time than you think."

Creepy, isn't it?

Monday, October 09, 2006

John C. Campbell Folk School

OMG! I want to take classes there! This Spring in March (The week *after* my spring break! Argh!), they're doing a blacksmith class, which is open to beginners, about Viking iron forging techniques! Ahh! I want to take that class! Oh, and they same week, they have another class where we'd get to make Viking bone needles and learn how to do naalbinding! Not only would it be super cool to take those classes, but I could actually apply it in academia because it's experimental archaeology in the area that I want to study in grad school! They had better offer those again at a time when I can take it!

Also interested in Mushroom Dyeing, being taught in about 2 weeks. And there are some fused glass classes that I'd like to take... Just reminds me that someday I want my own glass kiln so I can get back to fused glass... It was my favorite part of my Stained Glass classes in high school. Oh and knitting classes and spinning! Not to mention tinsmithing, photography (!!!!), quilting, embroidery, soaping, weaving... I could go on and on... And I think I could live there and never run out of something that I'd really love to do!

Go to http://www.folkschool.org/ to check out what else they have...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Deadlines are approaching...

Deadlines for papers, tests, etc... Not looking forward to them, do not want to dwell... Still procrastinating. Bad me! But still, there are deadlines...

Speaking of which, I have to get started on my holiday knitting very soon. I'm thinking of hats for my sisters. My little sister, Rachel (same name, yeah, spelled slightly differently...) is like obsessed with the tv show "Smallville" (and I kinda am too to be honest) and she just donated most of her hair to Locks of Love and had the rest cut in such a way that it looks kinda like Chloe, a character on the show, has her hair cut. Chloe's the kind of person who looks super-cute in adorable cold weather hats. So I thought, why not? They're short projects and shouldn't take too long to do... So I'm hoping to get at least two done to give to Rachel and Heather, my youngest sister, and maybe also another two for Lara and David. I'm thinking Topi from Knitty because it can be done in Peaches n' Cream, which I have on hand and can get started on right way... Or if I can get my hands on some Rowan Cashsoft DK (very yum!) and some beads, I'll do Odessa from MagKnits for the girls and a Topi for David... Or I'll do all of it if I get really lucky! I love spoiling my siblings during the holidays! They're all such sweethearts, so it's easy to do. I just need the circumference of their heads so I can size Topi properly... I hope they respond to my e-mail about favorite colors soon so I can start getting the projects on needles...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Events at USF Today...

Well, today is Wednesday, which means that there's a Bull Market (our mascot is a Bull) out on the palm tree lined walk that passes between the Education Building and Cooper Hall (aka Arts & Sciences). It usually has vendors selling trinkets, sunglasses... jewelry... book... religion... There are usually just the religious organization that are on campus there. And they are always civil to one another. The Jewish Student Union aka Hillel can sit right next to the Muslim student group and it's all good. No different today, except that the number of Christian groups that are *not* student run and are *not* on campus has been growing. Today, in addition to the Catholic Student Union and the Christian Challenge (a fundamentalist group) which are usually there, there was also the Mormon student group, a Baptist Student group, two or three other non-student run off campus Christian groups, and a group of old men who have been prostlitizing on campus for at least the last three Wednesdays. (I found it very amusing that this last group was stuck next to the other group of old men who come onto campus every Wednesday and set up a tent and hang up signs - the militant Atheists who have inflammatory signs like "Insidious Christian Fundamentalists!" and "God is Dead!" and "The Bible is Fake!" and "Don't make yourself a slave to religion!" Very amusing they... )

But in addition to all of that there was a new, supposedly student run group at the Bull Market today calling themselves "The Voices for the Unborn." They set up a cardboard mock-graveyard of white crosses in the grass, passed out flyers (I told them they could keep the one they tried to give me), and they held up signs and Bibles... ::rolls eyes:: There were maybe about 10 people in their group: 2 holding up signs, 2 holding up Bibles and about 6 scattered around passing out flyers. The two signs said "We Speak for the Unborn!" and "I regret my abortion!" Uh-huh...

Well, within the hour of them setting up their little Anti-Choice protest, an opposing impromptu Pro-Choice protest was set up about... oh, six feet away or so... Amazingly, both sides did not speak to the other. They just held up their signs. About 6 young women held up a sign that said "You Don't Speak for Us!" and one young woman held up a sign that said, "And I'm just glad I didn't have to use a coat hanger!" How's that grab ya? There were a lot of other people sitting behind them and milling around near their protest, out-numbering the Anti-Choice people by at least 3 to one at any given time. I couldn't get a picture of them because their were just too many and I couldn't get a good angle or a clear shot (only very blurry ones).

But I did get a picture of the Anti-Choice protest. You can see the boys who had their Bibles in the foreground on the right. The girls holding up signs are further to the left, and the field of cardboard crosses (which they better have cleaned up when they were finished! Littering is bad!) can be seen through the middle.

Just to the other side of me, behind me as I took the above picture was, the Pro-Choice protest. Just behind them was another interesting thing going on... a car being smashed... It was not a prank. It's a charity drive. A group of students raising money for a local charity that makes dreams come true for terminally ill children (not Make A Wish) was selling tickets for 1 dollar per hit to hit a car with a sledge hammer or baseball bat. People were having a grand old time, let me tell you!

In the background of the first three photos, you can see the red sign that read "They don't speak for us!" of the counter-protesters.

Meanwhile, Laura, Maria and I were eating lunch on the lawn, pic-nic style, just like pretty much everyday since classes began this semester. We decided we liked it a lot, so we keep doing it everyday. I always bring the blanket. Laura took this with her camera phone, which is way better than mine (Maria is hiding behind Laura... silly Maria!):

Make Your Own PVC Swift!

This nice woman on one of the Spinning lists I'm on just posted a link to her website with instructions on how to make a yarn skein winder out of PVC. Here's the link just in case anyone reading my blog might be interested.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Danny Henshaw on the Derry Brownfield Radio Show

Danny Henshaw, whose home and property was raided by US and Virginia state agents on September 12, 2006, leaving him with 10 days of grief and 79+ slaughtered animals, was interviewed on Derry Brownfield's radio show on September 29th. Hear about his harrowing ordeal and where he and his wife will go from here in his own words, and tell all your friends!

Oh, and I've contacted Cynthia Henshaw and I am completely convinced that this whole story is indeed true. A friend of theirs, Douglas Eugene Davis, who owns a hunt club in Cumberland County, I believe it is, was also raided the same day. They have since learned that they were targeted, but they don't know why, and it was a sting operation which followed no known or published Department of Agriculture protocols. They and this other gentleman have retained lawyers and are currently collecting evidence to take to the courts. Lord, help them in their efforts. Scans of the documents they were given at the time of the raid are available for public viewing at http://www.NoNAIS.org.

Cafepress Store Update

I've been so upset today I haven't known what to do with myself. This tragedy (not just for the people involved, but for the entire country really, because who is to know who will be next to have their farm raided and livestock slaughtered?) in Virginia has had me in knots all day. I take things like this hard... harder than personal tragedies sometimes. I can't help it. I had a hard time eating today because I've been nauseated since I read Cynthia Henshaw's letter. And I couldn't even think of going to synagogue. Yom Kippur sermons have a tendency to make me cry when I'm not emotionally distressed, I didn't need to find out what would happen if I went in my current state. I hope I'll be able to attend the Yizkor and Final Shofar service tomorrow afternoon/evening. Fasting probably won't happen (for the first time since I turned 12) because I'm afraid I'll make myself well and truly sick if I do (risking such a thing is prohibited by religious law). This hit me hard, people, very hard. I feel like someone has died... I think it was just my faith that our government and its agencies would never *really* do something like this to US citizens, even if there was a policy in place allowing them to do so. I'm young and naive and apparently not nearly as jaded to such things as I usually think I am.

Well, I posted my thoughts on NoNAIS.org around 6 o'clock, once my brain started working and getting past the shock and horror of it. We need to spring into action and we need someone to take the helm, so to speak, to get us organized, mobilized, and able to properly fight NAIS. NoNAIS is great and all, but there's a lot of information and a lot of outrage and very little organized direction... ::sighs:: More on that another time perhaps...

After posting my thoughts though, I felt better, but was still unsettled. I tried to watch some movies, but it didn't seem to work. Although, the ridiculous levity of "Emma" seems to be bringing me slowly out of my funk so that I might be able to sleep before 3am tonight.

I've also been working on my Cafepress store, something I don't think I should be as embarrassed by as I was last week when I removed the link from this blog. It is up again in the column to the right - "Whimsicality." I've added more merch. Some of it is with my photography and some of it is Political/News oriented. But I've amused myself doing it and I've already made $5 in profit from sales of my "Lou Dobbs is my HERO!" bumpersticker. Woot! So check it out if you want to... http://www.cafepress.com/RaeSofSunshine

Sunday, October 01, 2006

US Government Violating Civil Rights

I just got this e-mail a few minutes ago... I'm freaking out. The woman who sent it to the list I'm on has called Danny and his wife and verified that this is in fact true. Please read this and then send a message to CNN asking them to report on it and get these people some help.


My husband and I own 152 acres and he has run a private wild boar hunting club for 16 years. This was very first of its kind in Virginia. Please know that he is not a “fly-by-night” hunter. He was 1 in 10 in the nation at one time for professional archery, he was a producer, as well as hunted for a TV show out West called “Wild and True”. He ran a very decent club, with hunters from the Pentagon and Quantico as frequent guests. They came here to have fun and de-stress. Our place was peaceful and a retreat for many. He did this as a hobby because he loved the sport and the company. We made little, if any, money off of the place once we made the land payment and paid for the feed and fence upkeep. My husband has served as police officer and a state trooper. He worked narcotics and sexual abuse cases. He is what you would call “a good man”.

On September 12, 2006, at 5:00 in the morning, we were roused out of bed to a knock on our door. It was the Game Warden. He was here to arrest Danny on a Class 2 Misdemeanor for “operating a mammalian shooting enclosure without a permit”. Now that whole issue is a story in its own and one best explained by my husband. Long story short, he did everything he was supposed to do 16 years ago and was “grand fathered in”. When he started the preserve there was no other and he went to authorities to make sure of what was required. That was the last he heard until September 12th.

On May 20, 2006 an agent had “harvested” a pig. The same hunter/agent had come back on September 9, 2006 and killed another pig.

As my husband was taken off the property in the wardens car, they could hear over the scanner, “Okay, we can go in now, he’s off the property.” At that point 9 vehicles/SUV’s/4-wheelers came up our driveway, lights glaring. Game wardens were posted and we were told we could not go near the preserve. It was under armed guard; the game wardens being requisitioned by the State Vet to guard them. (From us?)

They had a Quarantine Order and the “special agents” began to immediately kill our pigs.

We were not allowed to have any information. No one would answer our questions. The only thing we were told was that the order called for 10 pigs to be killed and tested, if they turned out okay, they would kill another 10, if they turned out okay they would then kill up to 30. All during this time we were given no news.

We were told that the State Vet was at a “command post” nearby and was due at 7:00 am to pick up samples and it would take a few hours before they knew anything. We waited. Although the killing continued, no one told us ANYTHING. When we tried to ask, the Game Wardens could only say that they were there just as security and knew nothing about it until 4:00 that morning. The USDA agents would not talk to me.

The shooting went on into the night, all night. The guards were on duty 24 hours a day, 3 shifts, even if the agents were not. During this time we saw one of the jeep-type vehicles with a cartoon drawing of a pig with the words “HOG DOWN!” written on the dirty back window. There was also a young blonde female that jumped off the back of the 4-wheeler and “high-fived” another agent after a kill. It was only the beginning.

On Thursday, September 14, my friend and I were in my home. She had come up to be with me. I heard 12 gunshots coming from an entirely different part of our property. As I looked at her, I knew that they had killed our two pets… I had raised these two pigs from 3 days old. I bottle fed them during the winter and kept them inside in a crate. They were sweet and gentle. The local 4-H clubs came to visit them and pet them. They were a local “point of interest” for church groups and family. We loved these guys… They were exactly 5 years 7 months old on the day they were shot. Cupid was over 500 pounds; Valentine was almost as big. (Yes, they were born on Valentine’s Day.) These pigs were in their own pen, on another piece of property altogether, not attached in any way to the preserve that they had quarantined. They were not tested; just killed while I listened. I was given no warning, no head’s up. I just heard the shots. I looked out the window and a few agents were driving up the driveway on 4-wheelers. Other agents were at the site. Our pets were chained and pulled over the grass into our gravel driveway. They left the drag marks and blood behind. I reached my limit and broke down.

This type of activity went on for 11 days. On our property, at our home. 24 hour armed guards to keep us off the preserve. Day and night vehicles came and went. USDA trucks, jeeps, 4-wheelers, State cars, game wardens and requisitioned stock trailers and trucks. The trailers hauled off the killed animals, taking them somewhere to be incinerated. We think it was to either Lynchburg or Roanoke. I did get one agent to tell me that the tests were “probable”.

Now, it is important to know a little about pseudo rabies, which is what the original quarantine paper stated. This disease affects the reproduction of the stock. The sow’s litters will be aborted, still born or mummified. It is transferable form stock to stock by contact or for a short distance, airborne. Our stock is totally fenced in, quite well, I might add. Our stock comes into contact with no other stock. They lived on approximately 70-75 acres of dense wood. I state, unequivocally, OUR PIGS HAD NO SYMPTOMS OF THIS DISEASE. Symptoms include sluggishness, malnourished and coughing. Our stock was healthy, robust and extremely fertile. (What hunter would want a malnourished, sluggish pig?)

On the 11th day, September 22, one USDA agent, one representative from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and one game warden (for safety, remember?), came to our front door. They told us that they wanted to leave, but they could not catch all the pigs and that they were at their wit’s ends. They had shot them, starved them for days, put out corn for them (after the starving), used trapping devices and pens, numbers of “special agents trained for this kind of thing” (quote), and they FINALLY ask my husband (the expert) to help them. They wanted to know if they left corn, would he feed them and once caught, would he kill them FOR THE VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE. Amazing. They also left a key to the lock they had placed on the preserve. We never locked it…we closed it with a chain, but it was never locked. They estimated that they had killed 79 pigs.

Now, the irony of it is this:

1) These pigs were so diseased that they were a threat to the state of Virginia. They were so diseased that not only did it take special agents to kill them, the State Vet personnel had to put on white suits and gloves and masks. They left Danny (the criminal) in charge of finishing their job.

2) That these pigs had pseudo rabies, which inhibits their reproduction. The majority of the pigs that they left were babies, piglets. As in, not aborted, stillborn nor mummified! If they had this disease, why so many healthy, agile, quick, smart (at least smarter that the special agents) pigs still running around? Our stock was superior in size, agility, speed and they LOVED their living conditions. These pigs knew the game. They knew that they were well fed, taken care of. Once in a while one was sacrificed for the others. But they were happy (if pigs can be happy.)

We listened to the pigs getting caught in snares, being shot over and over. We watched them be driven down the driveway, dead. We could not do anything or Danny’s bond would be revoked.

That was Friday, this is Sunday evening. We still are having a hard time believing this happened, in our country, on our property, by our officials.

Danny has since taken pictures of the pens, the trash left on our land from their lunches/dinners, boards and used gloves outside the preserve, covered with blood, used toilet paper at various and asundry places accompanied by the reason for such.

This is our home. This place was peaceful. Serene.

Danny and I feel as though our pure land has been raped. We have been degraded. He was arrested and taken in on a Class 2 misdemeanor, like a criminal. I was left here with an army of uniformed officials and no answers. I didn’t know whether to call for help to raise money to get him out or to call an attorney. I was told by one of the game wardens that one of the agents told him I needed to round up my dogs (pets) because the undercover agent saw a dog with my husband on the day of his hunt. They would need to kill him also. I was petrified. I was also told to gather my tax documents. My husband did not return for 3 hours.

I am not exaggerating the facts. I don’t need to. The reality is far worse than my imagination. As of today, we have heard nothing on the test results. We have no way of refuting anything these departments have to say…the evidence has been incinerated.

At this point we cannot believe anything they would have to say. THEY killed our pigs, THEY tested the animals, THEY took them away, THEY have the results, THEY left us to clean up the mess. They never considered our rights. They never respected our feelings. It is a tragedy. Our place is “sad” (I can’t think of a more glamorous description). We are heartbroken, but not broken. This situation has literally brought us to our knees with sorrow, but it is from this very position we will regain our strength. We are country folk, trying to get along. But this does not mean we are either stupid or weak.

We appeal to you as a human being. What would you do if it were your home?

Willis River Hunting
Danny HenshawRoute 2, Box 68G
Gladstone, VA 24553
(434) 933-8455 Phone


Go to http://www.cnn.com/feedback and then to "News Tips" to tell CNN about this story.

Or print this letter out and send it to:

1 Chase Manhattan Plaza
New York City, New York 10005

The public needs to know that this kind of thing is happening to citizens of this country. They need to be aware of how dangerous NAIS is. Go to NoNAIS.org (linked at the right) for more information on this destructive, unconstitutional USDA plan to destroy American livestock owners.