Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fall Planting Plans

This summer was our best container gardening season ever!

Of course, it's only our second season, and the first in which we tried to use as much space as we could. Kudos to the Centennial Apartments team that ok'd our experiment in the common area; we could not have done it without them! I hope the results paid off for them as it did for us.

Now Change the World Wednesday reminds us that it's time to start planning for our Winter crops. Everything we can plant for ourselves, or share with our neighbors, is just a little more food grown organically, locally and with pride!

For us, in our peculiar container garden, it's time to let the tomatoes gradually end their cycle and bury a few for starts next year. The spuds I think we can leave in the group a couple more months; Belltown has very mild winters and we might be able to have New Potatoes for Christmas!

Up in our rooftop Seattle Urban Agriculture experiment (which is not a private garden; all the food goes to the Cherry Street Food Bank) we're still growing a second round of greens, chiefly lettuces. We just put in a couple rows of chard and kale which should grow well into the winter.

Otherwise, I think it's time to look for rutabagas, turnips and garlic. Roots should continue to grow, albeit slowly, throughout the winter. Last winter, we started in November; they fell over in our unusual December blizzard, but once the snow melted they'd popped up again and grew to great size. They were incredibly little work for a very nice return!

What I may be learning from this is that farming cycles in the middle of a city may be different from those in rural areas. While we may never be as productive as rural farms, our microclimate is more closely modified to fit human needs and therefore our food plants may grow over a longer period of time. This may offset somewhat the restrictions in light from tall buildings.
(Let's try not to think about all the mineral enhancement to the soil from city particulates ;-)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Uscrambling the HATEtriot Jumble

Each new reichwing talking point is like Jumble the Scrambled Word Game (tm).

There's a pile of nonsense that you get to sort out into words which give you clues to delightfully silly little joke. It's a harmless amusement on the funny pages, but in our politics it tries to be more serious.

"No Enforcement Mechanism!" is a Jumble currently being spread about by those who claim to be patriots but hate the majority of Americans (remember, Obama got more votes than the other guy, making the Birthers and the Deathers officially anti-American!). It seems that someone offered an amendment to HR3200, specifying the computer system that would be used to verify citizenship.

Now let's keep in mind that this system is unusable in an emergency; no EMT is going to check your citizenship before saving your life. It is designed for situations in which there is a little more leisure, such as Medicare. However, perhaps the reichwing is fearful of a horde of Mexicans leaving a country where quality health care is so inexpensive that thousands of Americans retire there every year specifically for health care!.

Or it may be that the reichwing really does want us all to carry some sort of Federal ID card, to prove citizenship before the bleeding is staunched. People who blurt out "You Lie!" in a joint session of Congress has clearly "got issues".

More to the point, it is simply inadvisable to specify in legislation a particular computer system, unless one is very confident that the system will never be replaced by a better system, will never go down for an extended period (requiring backup procedures), and that its vendor's payments to you will never be made public. A better design, from a technical standpoint, is to make a general law and have the executive enforce it. That is, after all, why our agencies tend to be run by the Executive Branch and not by our Congress.

Thus the "no enforcement remedy" argument is simply silly. Section 142 of HR3200 specifies duties and so forth of a commissioner whose job will include seeing to it that people served by the bill's provisions are eligible. No illegal aliens are eligible. There is always the risk that the Commissioner may be as incompetent as FEMA's Brownie but, then again, computer software may be known to have flaws in them from time to time.

One may prefer that a particular system be built into law, but to construe that the lack of such a specification in a law means there will be no enforcement is simply another HATEtriot Jumble.

Or, as the punchline of the week goes: "You Lie!"

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

What's a Czar?

This very morning I had a "noisy conversation"[*] with a guy at the gym who was agitated because Obama was running our county with "32 Czars!"

I asked him, "What's a czar?"

Now he's a nice guy & a hard worker, so I don't want to embarrass him. But he had no idea. He was agitated about the "32 Czars" but he did not know what they were.[**]

I think lots of people are upset these day, and I think they have a right to be angry about something. Our Middle Class is collapsing, real wages have been shrinking for years, health care costs doubled last decade and are on track to double again, most of our manufacturing base has been offshored, and so on. Our nation's prosperity is being disassembled and auctioned off, while our privacy is shrinking and so on and so on and so on.

The problem is, the aristocracy has organized a band of HATEtriots to point out the enemies: blacks, hispanics, liberals, jews ... anybody EXCEPT the people who own the companies that collapsed our middle class.[***]

In general, if you are worked up and angry about something that you cannot define, the first thing to do is sit down, have a cup of coffee or whatever relaxes you, and think it over. Change the channel, get a different point of view.

You may be angry for a lot of reasons: maybe your angry because jobs are going overseas, or maybe because you're getting older and life is not as wonderful as you thought it would be when you were a kid; or maybe (...and this is a very common issue...) maybe your body chemistry is just acting up, and your brain is trying to find a target.

Ask yourself: should you really be angry at the people who want all Americans who have health care, or the people who want 30% of the American health care dollar to go into "overhead"?

[*] argument

[**] A Czar is basically a project manager with cross-departmental responsibilities. This is very common and very useful in private industry and anytime you have something to do that doesn't fall neatly into existing organizational lines.

[***] You think I'm kidding? Ask yourself how much Rupert Murdoch lost on "Fox News" for years. It's a propaganda channel, not designed as a money-making venture at all.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Leading with the Secret Squash

I'm working my way through General Anthony Zinni's book "Leading the Charge: Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom".

It's pretty good, but actually putting his thoughts into practice is going to be a challenge. He's obviously correct that the leadership qualities and styles of 50 years ago are no longer sufficient in today's world; naturally he makes a stronger case for that proposition than I can but let us just note for the record that the people being lead today have far better access to information than anyone ever before. That makes the unit potentially far smarter but only if it is lead well.

Zinni seems to have some pretty good ideas on how we can ... if we choose ... develop our leadership ability. This can be very useful and I'm eager to try it. But am I willing to pay the price?

The first thing to do (of about 11, looking at the chapter headings) is to acquire solid self-knowledge. Hey, I figure, who doesn't have THAT! Maybe I should skip the chapter ... but I slog on through. I don't like to read how-to manuals but once I've made the commitment, I try to be meticulous. Hey: self-knowledge! I can be meticulous, but it's not my first impulse; I prefer to wing it if I can. Uh-oh, does that really sound like a leadership quality?

Zinni tells of an exercise he puts into each of his leadership courses: to write down a self-description. Invariably, he says, the students write up some bullshit (...he doesn't use that word...) expecting it to be read to the class, so it's nice and shiney and not very accurate. Then he tells his students to hold on to that description, and write one solely for themselves: brutally honest. Invariably, the 2nd description is very different and why not? if we choose to fool ourselves, the whole effort is wasted so we may tend to be more honest.

I suspect that Zinni's trying to get at another point: if you present yourself as person X but really are person Y, you're going to fail as a leader because your followers will figure out you're a phoney. But I have a deeper concern.

I spend a day or two thinking what I would write. The 1st description is easy: it's on all my resumes: I hope people like it! But the second, true description: what it is? Heck, I don't really know myself what I'd write!

This is very interesting. The one tool we have that we completely control, that no-one can take away from us, is ourselves; and if we cannot figure out what that is, how can we succeed at all?

It's like I've been trying to use a tool, and I don't know if it's a hammer or a saw!

It's going to take a long time to figure out this tool called the self. But that's o.k.; it's better to get started than not even to try. And perhaps I can get this task done faster for having about five decades of life to ponder, than I might have back in high school when I was a bit short on the life experience that tests you.

After two days of pondering, I have two elements of self description:
  • I have a sort of ADD that involves what Thom Hartmann calls the Hunter's Mind in a Farmer's World. I would not fit in as a scribe in a medieval monastery, reproducing scrolls word-by-word ... even though that is the basic mentality of our school system. I prefer to look at a lot of things at once and zero in on things only as needed; I can hyperfocus on something extremely minute to the exclusion of everything else (including food burning on the stove) but have no interest in routine what-so-ever. Just look at my weeding style; I really don't care about a little bit of grass here or there; I'm more interested in seeing if I slide a squash into an empty space under a pine tree (see photo). I positively enjoy grabbing odd little opportunities that would not even occur to the "Farmer Mentality"; indeed there is more joy in a squash raised in secret than in the one grown normally in a pot. I suspect that this attitude grossly affects my style in working on projects whether as a leader or not; it certainly drove some of my managers mad, although in my programming life, I can't recall missing a deadline but once (I'll have to write about that one time some other time...).
  • The other characteristic of myself that I can identify so far is that I have a deep, nearly religious belief in fairness; that is to say, although I have no evidence what-so-ever in its existence or utility, and often have doubts, I still feel deeply and unreasonably that fairness is very very important. What can I say? You can't carve some things out of your soul even if you wanted to.
The secret squash, by the way, was a classic "Hunter" move. There was a bit of dirt unused in the pot; I had some extra seed. The staff that went around weeding tended to pull up any guerilla gardening I'd done elsewhere; they literally wiped out a crop of small sunflowers I had growing in a large pot that they'd left as naked dirt and rock on the north patio, apparantly reasoning that the authorized naked dirt was better than the unauthorized flowers. What a bunch of sillies!

However, the pine tree protected the Secret squash. Pine needles don't look like much, but they concealed the growing squash and perhaps with their sharpness discouraged the weeders from looking too closely. Eventually the squash leaves got big enough to be an identifiable plant that the weeders would leave alone. It looks like, in return, it will grace us with a few small squash; we'll be sure to save some seeds for next year.

Everyone wins, so long as the "Farmer" weeders stay out of the way.