Monday, March 02, 2015

Updates

I completely missed posting on Saturday. We were at an all day Rugby tournament, then we did some metal work, then farm work, we had a goat with a broken leg that we had to put down, then...
Not from this weekend, but you get the idea.

The day got away from me.

Living where we do, it's rather difficult to keep connected via internet. Our main method of connection requires a radio tower. Which works fine, as long as the wind isn't blowing. The winds get up to 80 MPH, so that's an issue.

So, we do a lot that isn't on the internet. We have been melting metal again (Pewter mostly, but a bit of copper and aluminum). We've been upgrading the farm equipment (need new locations for birds, clean cages for rabbits).  Moving goats to different pastures. Going to rugby tournaments (we have one in Bend this year. Can't wait to go to that one!).

So, real life engagement is a much higher proportion of my day. That's unique for me. I used to live on the internet, engaging in every discussion about magic, gnosticism, and occult topics.

Now, I live. The internet helps me live, keeps me in touch with friends. But it's no longer a central part of that life. Or so I like to think. I wonder, sometimes, if I'm deluding myself.

I mean, when I have a question, it's the first place I turn. How do I grow lettuce hydroponically? How do I build a hoop house? What's it mean when my dog is doing a weird wheezing sound (reverse sneezing, allergies). Where's the rugby game? When's the rugby game? What temperature do I need to melt aluminum (1221°F, 660°C)?

I try to use it as an information source, not a social source. It seems to be working. Here's hoping.







Friday, February 27, 2015

Raising Rabbits

Cute little soon-to-be bastards
Raising rabbits for meat is a whole different kettle of fish from raising chickens. Rabbits start out as pink little wiggly fingerlings, and slowly grow into the cutest fluff balls imaginable. While young, they eat and eat and eat, until they are about 5-10 pounds. They never really lose their cuteness, always being fuzzy and generally passive if not affectionate.

There is a brief window, between 120 and 150 days, where they are absolute bastards. This is called puberty. They start to go from being 'safety in numbers, why can't we all get along' to 'You inna my space and I'm gonna kill you!'.

Then, after 150 days, they become all about survival again, and are fine to deal with. Still solitary, a little annoyed at being bothered, but much less annoying.

Coincidentally, if you're raising meat rabbits, you slaughter them between 120 and 150 days.

Rabbit meat is lean, delicious, and generally not eaten in the U.S. Production of rabbit meat has declined in the US by 53% from 1985-2001 (the most recent numbers I could find). Personally, I think it has to do with the cute factor.  There was a study done on the consumption of rabbit meat and it showed that consumers were generally white, male, and with incomes less than $50,000. Most people would be willing to try rabbit meat, if it were in patty or sausage form. Seems like folks need a little distance between the Easter bunny and the plate.

This source of protein really makes you think about where your food comes from. This beautiful little animal, soft, fluffy, friendly, easily controlled is destined to be killed and eaten. This is the one animal on our farm I have personally killed. We generally take our animals to be processed, as we don't have the facilities to deal with the larger livestock and plucking and cooling chickens is a royal pain. Rabbits, though, are easy to process. I won't walk you through it, but if you're interested and have a strong stomach, you can see the whole process here. Be warned: This video takes you through the whole process, from live rabbit to succulent rabbit chops.

It says something about our culture that I have to post the above warning. One hundred years ago (and still in certain areas of the country), it would have been no big thing to have killed a rabbit, and you may have done it yourself. Even when I grew up, I knew how to gut and butcher wild animals that I'd shot with a .22 rifle. We have become so removed from our food that we forget the lowly McDonald's hamburger was once a steer (at least partially).

For me, the killing process is a spiritual event, bordering on a rite. I thank the animal for its presence, and the gift it is about to give, and I pray for its spirit to pass on into another life, hopefully a happier one than the current. Then I take that life. After I process it, I do my best to use all of what has been given me. After all, an animal died to provide for me food, fur, and even bones.

I've not been very good about utilizing the animals that die. We usually just bury those, but there have been some that we can use if we're creative. There are other animals on the farm that love rabbit meat, but I don't necessarily love processing enough to feed it to them.  However, we're learning more about the pet food process, and I'm sure our dogs and cats will eventually be on at least a partially a rabbit diet.

What does this have to to with Gnosticism? Through farming, I've become very aware that my survival is dependent on the suffering of other creatures. The world is built upon a simple transaction: You die so that I may live. This may be startling, but it is true. This world, built buy an insane craftsman blinded by his own ignorance and arrogance, is reflected in my day to day life.

As a gnostic, I realize I cannot change the world I live in significantly. Whether I move to complete vegetarianism or even simply starve to death, the system remains the same. Some creatures must die so that others may live.

And as a gnostic, it is not my goal nor my responsibility to fix the system nor to immanentize the eschaton. My goal and my responsibility is to minimize the issues in the system while looking for a way out, to return to the perfect celestial world of which this material world is a poor reflection. To this end, I try to raise the animals as ethically and humanely as possible, and find the best, fastest, and most humane way of dispatching them. Our goal is to see the animals have only one bad day. It's a lot better than most of their compatriots get, and in return we simply ask for everything.

It's not a good deal for the animal. It's not a good deal for us. It's the best I've found so far.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Raising Chickens

Raising chickens may seem like an odd occupation for a Gnostic. There is nothing more hylic than the little feathered automatons that make up a major portion of our food supply. Per Captia consumption in 2012 shows Americans eat about 250 eggs and 60 chickens per year. So, these little birds are a major reason Americans, at least, have physical bodies at all.

The average american chicken is raised in a factory farm. That means they're kept in facilities like the one in the picture: Long rows of chickens, 5 to 10 hens in each chage, packed as closely together as possible. The facility pictured here is an egg production facility. Hens produce eggs for 1 to 2 years, after which they are processed for dog food or chicken broth, or simply suffocated with carbon dioxide and discarded in landfills. Male chickens are of little utility to these facilities, so as chicks they are sorted, and the male chickens are disposed of in cruel manners. You can find more information about the process here.

Meat chickens are raised in a similar manner. The link above has information about these processes, but the main take away for me is the 'breed' used for meat production reaches slaughter weight in 6 to 8 weeks. Called the Cornish Cross, the birds put on weight at an astounding rate. However, they cannot breed, and in fact, if you keep them longer than 8 weeks, they put on so much weight they break their own bones. They have no ability to stop eating or growing.

This, to my mind, is an example of the problem of evil in gnosticism. We are trapped in an artificial system, most people in ignorance, some people know and are trapped in the system and can't get out, or won't take the necessary steps to get out. We know of one farmer who made a deal with a big chicken producer. The farmer signed a contract, and the producer brought in factory farm production methods, and now the farmer can't stand to go out to their barns anymore, but they can't escape the contract they signed, to mass produce 'organic, free range' chickens.

But to our mind, we need the system because there are no other options. How are we going to survive if we don't keep chicken going. If chicken goes to $8 or $12 dollars a pound, eggs to $5 or $6 a dozen, who's going to be making it, or buying it, how will people eat?

Our cost to raise chickens naturally is high. Chicken feed (especially organic) is not cheap, and we don't currently raise our own food. Natural and heritage breeds take longer to reach slaughter weight (15-20 weeks), so they eat more. Heritage breeds lay less frequently than the factory optimized birds, leading to less eggs. So raising chickens is not a money making prospect for our family.

However, chickens do have personalities. Differing breeds act differently. They are individuals. Limited, true. They're not as engaging or as smart as a turkey, or a dog, or even a cat. And to be honest, I don't want them to be too likeable, as in the end, they are destined for the table. But being engaged in the process of determining where my food comes from is fascinating, and rewarding, and heartbreaking. Animals die, from disease, from cold, from predation, from unknown causes. You keep a distance from the material form of the individual.  The picture below shows two of our chickens, known as the Indigo Girls. They're always in the yard, scratching for bugs, for roots, following their chicks around.

Yet, you are tied into this web of life, this grand dance, that you can't help be involved in. The joy and cuteness of the chicks, the protectiveness of the hens, the preening agression of the roosters, the greed of all the animals when treats are given, the sharing of the parents, the whole panorama of existence is played out in microcosm in the chicken yard. To watch them is to gain insight into our own automatic responses, our own fights for food, for regard, for security.

And all of that is denied in factory farms. If you can, please get to know your local farmers, either in person, or at the farmer's market. It costs more, but the food you receive nourishes more than the body.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My love of Haiku

Haiku by a Robot:
Seven Hundred Ten
Seven Hundred Eleven
Seven Hundred Twelve - Nathan Beifuss (aspiring Robot)

I love poetry, but I especially love the Haiku.

It's a very simple poetical form, very modern, and ideally suited to our modern sensabilities. The link above explains the format (5-7-5 syllables per line, three lines) and the history, as well as the major formal parts (cutting, seasonality) and how best to work it in English.

It's a bite sized, twitter friendly, internet made format. Short, pithy, yet able to be quite deep and quite expressive. I tend to turn them humorous, but sometimes the humor becomes deep.

It's also fun for kids. It involves counting, as the above haiku demonstrates. It also forces you to make word choices that can have interesting effects on sentence structure, especially in English.

To finish off my Haiku post, I thought I'd post some that I've written recently:

Went to bed early
Three A.M. and I'm awake
Coyotes singing

I guess I only have one. I'll have to write some more.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The speed of change

I am not sure if it's like this for other people, but for me, things change very quickly.

It's always been that way. Back in college, I was dating a girl, we had a great birthday dinner. It was an amazing night: we had a fancy meal, we went to Guys and Dolls, her favorite musical, then had an amazing dessert and a walk around Madison.

Next day, she dumped me, because she realized she didn't love me or want to spend more time with me. Thirty days later I was living in New Orleans with a shaved head and no idea what I was doing. Thirty days after that, I ended up falling into my profession as a computer programmer. Six months later I was married.

All of that happened quite quickly, as far as I'm concerned.

So it is with a great deal of trepidation that I announce a new season of change is upon me. I'm not as nimble as I was back in college: Now I have a family, a business, and a household. But new changes are coming, and in the end they will be good. But living situations are changing, and the process of change is always traumatic.

A change in residence is a modest stressor. The assumption of a loan or mortgage is a moderately high stressor. Changes in working conditions, business conditions: moderate stressors.

All of which is to say, we're going to be moving soon, and hopefully buying a house. That's why this post is late, and tomorrow's might be late as well. I will endeavor to keep the habit moving, but I'm not sure exactly how esoteric things will be for now. I'm sure those topics will continue to arise.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The lessons of Atlantis

I have to admit, I've never thought of Atlantis much. However, Thursday Night I was treated to a lovely introduction to the subject at the Hermetic Fellowship.  In a speech called "Mention My Name in Atlantis", which is the title of a humourous book by John Jakes, our speaker brought us through the various mentions and memes of Atlantis, from the first days to the geographical and historical searches for the lost city.

Atlantis is first mentioned by Plato, in the works Timaeus and Critias. From Timeaus:

This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent. Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia.
And from Critias:
There were many special laws affecting the several kings inscribed about the temples, but the most important was the following: They were not to take up arms against one another, and they were all to come to the rescue if any one in any of their cities attempted to overthrow the royal house; like their ancestors, they were to deliberate in common about war and other matters, giving the supremacy to the descendants of Atlas. And the king was not to have the power of life and death over any of his kinsmen unless he had the assent of the majority of the ten.
The ideas contained in that last paragraph are interesting to me. Plato was trying to layer his philosopher-kings over a 'real' place, or at least a place that was thought of to be real. The ideals espoused here seem familiar: Limitations on kingly power, cooperation among disparate groups to support the central government. Sort of a federation, across the Atlantic from Greece...

Another interesting tidbit about Atlantis is that none of Plato's contemporaries, or even those who followed after him, mention Atlantis, unless in reference to what Plato himself wrote. Plato appears to be the sole source of stories about the mysterious sinking island.

However, it's an idea that has stuck, and been used as a meme canvas to elaborate and speculate and elucidate the ideas of various philosophers. It's been used as an argument against the era of sterile rationality and scientific inquiry that removes the art, wonder, and blank spaces on the map. It's a favorite of those with fringe theories: ufologists, racists, geological mavericks, historical researchers, fantastic writers for the pulps and television, and even rock stars. I'm sure I'll be looking into it a bit more as time goes on.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The changing landscape of communication


A friend of mine was recently banned from Facebook, because he was using a pseudonym. I've never felt the need to use a pseudonym on Facebook, as I’m both fairly mundane in my postings there, and fairly na├»ve about how the data is used. I’m sure it’s mined 7 ways from Sunday, but most of my data is of so little use as to be laughable.

However, he brought up a couple good points. I asked him if it was an opportunity for growth, and he responded: 'no just an opportunity to discover how the changing landscape of communication favours isolation... I'd rather be alone in a crowd than alone in my room.'

The online world gives us the illusion of being with others, while still being able to maintain our ‘security’ or ‘anonymity’. We can interact without having to actually interact.

In my mind, that’s becoming more and more of a bad thing.


I use Facebook as much as anyone. It’s on my phone, and usually open in my web browser. I use it most when I’m bored or tired, and need a distraction. 80% of the people reading this probably came here from Facebook. I also have 755 ‘friends’, some of whom I've known in past lives and just keep in touch with on Facebook; some of whom I've never met. I enjoy pictures of my nieces, nephews, sons and daughter as they post about their daily lives. I have a daily interaction with a few folks, but most of the people on Facebook have been ‘unfollowed’ or muted, because their day to day minutiae of their lives simply clutters my feed.

But I've been less and less enamored of it, and more and more focused on my locality. Spending TIME with my friends, my family, rather than following their exploits online. Calling my friends on the phone, rather than shooting them an instant message. It’s more time consuming, requires more attention. To me, that’s a benefit.

Shameless self promtion

Over on the side bar, I have a new link, to an amazon affiliate store. I'll be putting up links  to the books I reference in the store. If you feel the need to buy said book, I get a little advertising income from your purchase. So if it's something you were going to buy anyway, give it a shot.