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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


cropVia bb, a Wired article about America's most boring association fighting the planet. I guessed the Better Business Bureau, but I was wrong; they meant homeowner associations & their requirements for lawns

Grass is the single biggest crop in the US, and the amounts of fertilizer and especially water wasted on it is appalling. But lawns are also the custom, and so people wanting to grow something less wasteful, more useful (i.e., tomatoes), more ecologically robust (natives) often run afoul of city ordinances, or worse, the truly implacable homeowners’ associations.

Fighting these covenants is famously difficult (& extraordinarily expensive); moreover, the boards of these orgs, at least the ones you hear about, are often packed with petty tyrants bent on enforcing rules. Ugh. But most new housing, evidently, is subject to them.

But this version of the story, instead of veering into the usual put-upon progressives who want to create a butterfly refuge (or raise chickens), took a much more positive tone, by explaining first, why homeowners’ associations are so ubiquitous, then defending the reasoning behind them—their primary import is to maintain property values, and that, they indeed do—before finally suggesting how to successfully petition for getting rid of the grass (contact your neighbors with a proposal & advantages for the new approach; that is, give people some time to get used to the new idea).

The article is an example of so-called constructive (or positive) journalism (which I swear I heard about in an Ezra Klein podcast or the like, but here's a version encountered in the wild, so to speak...)

Besides being less depressing, I think this approach also promotes tolerance: by not dwelling (heh) solely on the negative & not depicting the homeowners’ associations as the unmitigated bad guys but instead by offering a potential compromise, even even an unsympathetic reader is likely to have a better attitude towards all parties.

So, good on Wired for taking this approach. It's a trend I find encouraging.

Making these fancy year pages is a relatively new trend for me, and here's the last completed.


cropTo, ah, celebrate the upcoming weather, I'm posting a picture taken during our last big weather event.

Among other things, we had a lot of darkness, because with no electricity, the streetlights were off & many houses lit only with candles. Lovely. (If a fire hazard and a PITA.) Most people are not into dark skies, but this one town has really leaned into it—at least for a couple of weeks a year.

Scotland's been on my radar for a few years, and now I have a place I specially wanna visit & possibly photograph the sky...the Milky Way;)

At the other end of the scale, here's another group of beautiful mycological photos —what a beautiful world, of these living entities closer to animals, though we think of them as plants.

And ice makes some ordinary leaves in my yard especially beautiful.


cropWell, I had a nice 5 part aaaaaaarrrrrrrt series planned for this week, but we were without power last Thursday to Sunday, which meant no access to the desktop, not to mention rather spotty internet access without wifi.

Honestly, it was staycation camping, except with hot water and flush toilets. (And a lot of noise from generators, siiiiiiigh.) I realize that for folks with medical conditions (such as a friend who absolutely relies on a battery operated device to keep her heart going, besides needing relative warmth just to function) the outtage would have been a real trial at best and actively life-threatening at worst. Our next door neighbor had a rear window smashed out of their car, the ones across the street had one go through a house window—there's so many downed branches the city has scheduled a special pickup for them.

It's not a way of life I'd want to live all the time. But for 4 days I had dark streets, freedom from concerns like taxes or email—I could putz around tidying the studio, or doing other slow projects. Figuring out food was probably the most difficult task facing us as we tried to eat up (or rehome) slowly thawing frozen goods. Yay, coleman campstoves. The two-burner car-camping model works really well.

Soooooooooo, I enjoyed (surprisingly much [parts of]) it, while still very much welcoming the return of heat and light. Welcoming how much I appreciate having heat, light, freezers, computers, while still being able, for a few days at least, to cope without. But it did mean I have—once again—yet another excuse for no new pictures of work.

So instead, a celebration of my state's weather from a gentler storm earlier this month. Enjoy.


cropHumans are not the only creatures that suffer in captivity. I was sure I'd posted a link to this article about the accidental beginning of the US's chicken industry (though clearly I didn't remember it very well, because I assumed the mistake originated in China, which after all is famous for its fowl dishes, not to mention shipping a lot of stuff to the US...)

Except, it was only written earlier this month. Oops!

I am sure, however, that some of the info, even the info graphics to accompany (e.g. the increasing size of modern chickens) have been kicking around for awhile, and I don't think anyone with access to the internet and a modicum of interest in knowing where US factory meat comes from can fail to be aware of the horrific conditions most chickens are currently grown in—their beaks cut off to keep them from pecking each other, their legs so weak they sit in their own filth (or worse, have it rained down upon them from layers above.)

I don't want to be one of those vegan scolds who says, just eat beans! For one thing, though our household has (s-l-o-w-l-y) been moving towards a meat free diet, it wasn't all that long ago that I recall reading that, and thinking,

Oh yeah? What if you detest beans? And your spouse won't eat them because they claim they get too much gas from them? I mean, that lumpy, icky texture...

It took me...about half a century to realize that I did not, in fact, hate beans, only a bad childhood association (canned baked beans, uggggggggghhhhhh); in fact, I've been eating some forms of them happily since my 20s (hummus, refried beans.)

The average person is unlikely to find ranks of glass jars full of vaguely bead-shaped objects sparking their personal joy(1), but perhaps this article, which claims that no, you don't have to soak beans overnight, and yes, you can salt them at the beginning of the cooking process, might be more of an encouragement, cuz I tried it with some pinto beans that I'm pretty sure I bought well before the pandemic started, making them...at least five years old, at a guess, and they came out great. It was easy and tasty. Amazing. (Now back to experiments with bean burgers and artisan bread, which are more complicated...)

(1)I really loathe about 98% of all packaging, because it's so ugly, including what's printed on the average can. Why can't we have beautiful Mucha-esque advertising on our goods? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy? Which I guess gets us to today's post, fancy giftwrap. Enjoy.


cropI left off yesterday with a comment about the Industrial Prison complex (and history). Continuing on with that theme, here's a couple of links about Mary Stuart, and her efforts to communicate with the outside world while imprisoned.

I had heard of the intricate ways the politically powerful cut and folded their letters, so as to reveal tampering—a sort of practical European origami, if you will—but hadn't realized monarchs such as Mary Queen of Scots used complex codes as well.

NPR has an article about a trio of amateur codebreakers who deciphered some of Mary Stuart's letters while she was in captivity.

One of the things this latter research really points up is that there's tons of stuff waiting to be discovered in the collections we already have. I can't count the number of times I've read about some researcher digging around in dusty drawers and discovering some cool new fossil, or species of crittur or the like; these letters were originally mistaken as Italian! Nobody had any idea who the author was until some curious amateurs went through the tedium of digitizing thousands of glyphs, which allowed them to use computerized code-breaking techniques. (Mary wrote in French, then the international lingua franca.)

I do wonder if somebody originally knew their provenance, which was then lost to the sands of time: no-one seems to know how these letters ended up in Bibliothèque Nationale de France, nor why they were catalogued as having to do with ‘Italian affairs’. But that's what makes history so fascinating, uncovering the past.

Which I suppose explains in some way the fascination of gift-wrapping: giving the recipient that opportunity to ‘uncover’ something. A bit of mystery, if you will.


cropMan, there seem to be a lot of interesting books featuring Black history latel—oh, right, February is Black History Month, isn't it? Well, here's a couple of links I found interesting, anyway: Vanessa Northington Gamble, doctor, university professor and medical historian, discusses how a Black Texan de-segregated his medical school. Texas actually considered building an entirely separate medical school...just for Black people. The researcher notes:

Well, when I was on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, I was the first Black woman ever on the medical school faculty. Dr. Barnett went to medical school in 1949, and here we are over 70 years later, still talking about the firsts. It shows how much more work we have to do. And part of my work is that, I might be the first, but I have not done my job if I’m the last.

On a more general level, Vox has these 5 myths about slavery; besides the obvious (it's still an ongoing issue vis-a-vis the prison-industrial complex) is—imnsho, at least—that the enslaved revolted. From the get-go. Consistently. Constantly. My lessons, at least, tended to gloss this over, minimizing both how much the enslaved resisted their captivity and also why the enslavers were so afraid of their victims whom they treated extra-cruelly as a consequence, hoping to avert the terrible vengeance (they so richly deserved).

If these two articles aren't enough, Bookriot has a list of what they're claiming are the 25 best history books of all time, which, as it has a distinctly USian slant, includes a number of other interesting looking entries that touch upon Black History. (Sorry to say I've only read The Warmth of Other Suns and Hidden Figures but assuming the others are of this calibre, this list is well-worth your time.)

Or you could check out my favourite 2022 giftwrap.