Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Flash Memory: Om nom nom

So, I'm over at Slate, reading one of the page-whoring "You're Doing It Wrong" articles (a guilty pleasure of mine). This one's about pork tenderloin, and in one of the responses to a comment about "How can you eat cut-up animal carcasses?" is the response, "I tried to eat one that wasn't cut up, and it wasn't easy." And that sprung a memory out of the depths:

I was 15, and had talked my mother into lied shamelessly to my parents to get them to let me go to Greece with a friend. From Rome, where we were living in the early '70s, this was approximately like going to Nashville from NYC in terms of distance and difficulty. But I didn't want to just go to Greece, oh no. I wanted to go to Mykonos, where my sister had taken my brother and me the year before. But this time I wanted to go by myself, no 12-year-old brother in tow, and hang out doing what I wanted to do. Which I had no idea what that was, but it wasn't being on the most crowded beach, watching my sister and her boyfriend argue, go get high/drunk, come back and argue some more, lather, rinse, repeat. So I bitched and moaned and made a complete ass out of myself a good argument about why I should be allowed.... Eventually they gave in, and off I went.

The whole story would basically frighten the crap out of any reasonable person, let alone a parent, and for the most part I kept my worst stupidities from my parents (like sleeping under a bench in the port of Piraeus so that I wouldn't miss the boat in the morning, with no-one keeping watch), but eventually I arrived in Mykonos, quickly made friends with a dozen Berkeley grads on break, and settled into one of the best times of my life. (I did make SOME attempt to keep my folks informed of where I was and that I was OK; I wasn't a complete jerk, just 15 and incredibly self-centered.)

Anyway, after about a week on the main beaches, we decided to move to a more remote area, mostly to get away from the incredible tourist crowds that plague the islands. And so we found a beach around the side of the island, and hung out together, singing at night to the same 15-20 songs, which were all we knew on the guitar, cooking and swimming and just, you'll have to excuse the expression but it really does capture it for me, grooving.

Eventually, we got hungry for something more substantial than the vegetables we were buying from the local farmers, and headed into town for dinner and retsina. None of us had much money, so we looked around until we found a taverna with reasonable prices, and the 12 of us settled down with a couple of bottles of resin wine and some appetizers, and considered the menu. To our side, a spit turned, the lamb on it roasting gently and the smell of the dripping fat and the herbs just captivated us (we had been vegetarians by necessity, not commitment.) As we started to order, it became clear that we were all going to order lamb, and finally the proprietor asked us it we just wanted the whole thing? He'd make us a deal. Oh, yes, please kind sir, you don't have to offer twice...

He covered the table with butcher's paper, and he and a helper lifted the lamb from the fire, and slid the entire carcass off the spit, onto the table. A sound of orgasmic moaning came from 12 throats, and 24 hands began to slice small pieces off the edges of the meat, a process that rapidly became 24 hands tearing chunks of cooked flesh from a rapidly decreasing carcass. I have no idea what we looked like (starving wolves?), but we didn't care. The owner kept our glasses full of wine and water, and handed out paper towels and we ate, and ate, and ate.

Eventually the frenzy died down, and after some final picking at what was by now the skeleton of a lamb, we paid up and staggered off into the night.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Out of the Mouths of Putatively-Grown Adults

No, not about Glenn Beck or Rush. Sorry :-)

Anyway, along about July 1980, I was on my back to India for a second, hopefully longer visit. (Yes, I know I haven't told you about the first visit. Patience, young padawans.) I met my dad in Rome, where he was living at the time, and he took me around to meet some of his friends, one of whom had a rather fetching young daughter, S. We hit it off and spent the next few days touring Rome (where I had grown up in the late 60's, but it had changed in many ways, so guiding was important) and meeting her friends and extended family, culminating in a big family Sunday lunch out in the country. If you ever saw "My Big, Fat Greek Wedding", you know what sort of gathering I'm talking about: 40+ people, a table from here to there packed with food and drink and the whole thing happening at top volume and high speed.

My Italian is pretty good, and I was able, for the most part, to keep up my end of the conversations, asking vocab questions as needed, letting the older folks correct my grammar when it wandered into slang and generally relaxing and enjoying the wine and food. Especially the wine. I knew enough not to drink the homemade brews casually (they are often closer to 20% than 12%), but I was still feeling a bit light-headed as the chaos diminished along with the food. Finally, we were all at that point where you are looking at a particularly lovely piece of dessert or fruit and thinking it might just be too much trouble to raise your arm to put it in your mouth, when one of the Nonni (Grandparents) asked me what I did in America?

Well, the last real job I had held before my initial Indian excursion that I was willing to talk about (I had no idea how to say "Aircraft fueller" or "Drywall carrier" in Italian, so they were out), was working at Harrah's Casino in Lake Tahoe, CA. So, that's what I said, in Italian, "I worked in a casino."

There was a moment of shocked silence, and then stiffled laughter and sideways glances from the men, and blushes and giggles from the women. I had no clue what I had just said, and trying to fill the silence, I added, "I quit because working all night was too hard."

More choking and sputtering. I turned to S., who was trying her damnest not to burst, and said, "What did I say?"

S took a few deep breaths, and then said, still in Italian, "A gambling hall is a cah-see-NO. The way you pronounced casino (cah-SEEN-oh) means bordello." She had to stop again, as I contemplated how I could maybe disappear under the table. And then, getting hold of herself, "And then you said the night work was too hard!" and at that, all decorum was lost, and the nonnis and the bapus and the mothers and the kids were shrieking with laughter and making jokes and it all went to hell and we had a great time.

So when my little one asks about Brazilian Blow-Jobs instead of Blow-Outs, or for a bathing suit instead of a suitcase, or for me to pass her a condom instead of a condiment, I smile and think that she is certainly my child, all the way.

Building GlennBeckistan, CH. 1A

So, one detail that the sharp-eyed readers have noticed is that each house could be completely self-contained for electricity (solar/wind), waste (septic/compost) and water (well). True, but this makes the space each house needs much greater, and severely restricts where you can put 3000+ people! A three-bedroom house (septic is calculated from the number of bedrooms, not baths) needs approximately 1/4 acre of drainage, more if the soil doesn't drain well, and even more if it freezes. Septic zoning in upstate NY (say, Lake Placid) is minimum 1/2 acre leech field per 3 bedrooms, for example. And you need an oversize septic tank for when the ground is solid, which has to be pumped regularly. Meaning roads have to accommodate septic trucks (low grade and maintained) and, of course, this septic waste has to go somewhere. Who is going to take it? The problem is magnified for common buildings like meeting halls and for restaurants and businesses.

Solar is great, if somewhat spendy to set up, IF you get enough sun. Wind, ditto. And your well needs to be deep enough not to become contaminated by the septic system. (I've worked on a well-drilling rig, and I would like the contract for GBstan if he gets that far. Cash only, paid up front, per 1000 feet.) You will also need water storage for fire fighting, usually a pond or lake. (We're going to meet this again in governance.) And the thought of all the Tea Party wives trying to convince their husbands to sort, recycle and compost makes me smile. It's like they are re-creating the hippy communes of the '70s - anyone remember the Farm in Tennessee?

Anyway, you still need roads. Can't get away from that.

More soon.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Building GlennBeckistan, chapter 1

Well, I was going to tell you all a funny story about something that happened on the way to India in the '80s, but today's news that Glenn Beck is going to build a city in the wilderness for him and all his followers happens to touch on some things I actually know quite a bit about, that being what it takes to build a city in the wilderness. You see, my friends, I did that once, from 1982-1985, on about 100,000 acres of land in central Oregon. We called it Rajneeshpuram.

(When you Google it, you'll get all sorts of interesting things, especially if you use the Oregonian for a source. You should know that my experience of being there and in the middle of the whole thing didn't match what they report in many, many significant ways, and they got most of the details wrong, too. Such is life.)

Anyway, without going into the rights and wrongs of what we did there, let me just say having built a city, I know that it is not an easy nor a simple task. It took hundreds to thousands of dedicated people years to build the infrastructure and systems, and it will be no different for GB, if and when he does something other than create a Ponzi scheme. Let's take a look at what's ahead for ol' Glenn and for the Citadel, too, while we're at it.

First, building a city boils down to 2 main areas: infrastructure (the easy part) and governance (the hard part). Let's take a look at the easy one first, since that only takes shit-loads of money. The physical plant is basically six things: Electricity, sewage and garbage disposal, roads, fire department and water. For 3500-5000 people, you can manage well with a volunteer FD if someone buys the trucks and gear, but the rest is actually quite extensive. Let's take them in order:

Electrical: You need a good size substation for this place, and the power company will not bring one in for free. Nor will it run the lines to power the substation without a contract specifying just what you are going to need (plans, distribution network etc.) So you need someone to negotiate who has the power to make contracts and lawyers to make sure you aren't signing something you shouldn't (whoops, we're into governance already. Well, we'll get back to it.) A medium-sized substation in the 80's cost around $300,000 in direct costs (the actual transformers, etc, a subsidized amount based on the power we were contracting to buy from them), but the contract we signed was for $5.5 million over 10 years, for them to bring the juice in 2.5 miles from the nearest accessible hook-in point. Then another $150,000 to set up the substation and more when we were ready to have them hook it up to our own poles. We had to run good-size power lines to every significant location, so that was about 200 poles; a crew was still working on that when we shut down, 4 years later. And we had a minimum monthly bill, etc.

Sewer: we built our own sewage treatment lagoons, up to spec for the times; they are much pickier now and so more expensive. You need to plan ahead for this, as you don't want to either have to dig up the sewage lines nor expand the treatment plant until you absolutely have to. Every house will eventually need to be connected, so you need a master plan (governance again!) You'll need a landfill  and trucks to collect garbage, and your neighbors aren't going to accept your unsorted trash unless you want to pay them to sort it (free market, yes?) You need trash cans and compactors and lift stations for the sewage (there's always a low point in the system, and it can't be your lagoons or they will fill with rain water. So you need to pump the sludge UP to the treatment plant. Who wants to volunteer to clean the lift station every three months or so? And let all the women know that flushing tampons is a no-no. Ooops, a rule. Or, free market, make all tampons registered, so you will now who flushed it. I'd rather register my guns, thank you. I had to clean that thing a couple of times.) Anyway, this stuff costs real money, and your neighbors aren't taking your sewage either.

Next, roads: where they go (governance), and what they are made of (money). Try not to need blasting, as it is expensive to get good people and more expensive to fix the damage from the ignorant (not speaking from experience or anything,  nuh-uh not me.) Anyway, you need lots of roads and you need to keep them repaired. Graders, bulldozers, excavators, concrete for curbs and sidewalks (do you have sidewalks? Governance!), pavers, oil truck, diesel fuel trucks, more repair people, etc.

Last, but certainly not least, water:  A source of clean water, a treatment plant, and miles of big pipes, just to get to the street where you live. Do you need a water tower?

So by this time, I think I've made my point: it takes a lot of time and money to actually just build the infrastructure. And that, if you haven't noticed, is only to have it exists, not to bring it to your house, but just to have the basics in place so that you could hook up if you wanted to. How you get the services to your house/bungalow/apartment building is another thing entirely, as is the question of what you can build.

But the bigger questions are: Who pays for all this infrastructure, who owns it and how do they get repaid for their outlay? Who decides when the services are at capacity? Who decides how much sewerage you need for a 2 bedroom? We'll get to that next.