Category Archives: economy

Friday, Sept. 11, 2009

I didn’t even realize the date until I sat down to write this. Now that I think on it, it’s dreadfully appropriate.

I spent the day today dealing with setting up a refugee camp.

Not for the hurricane mess. Other folks have that task well in hand. I had been running around doing extra stuff for that but yesterday morning Avery tapped me on the shoulder and then she discretely walked me into a small room to ask me to handle a delicate situation.

At first I figured one of the guys in the kitchen — a real handsy playboy — had gotten too frisky with one of the college students one too many times. I was dreading the talk because he has fantastic knife skills and takes most of the prep off my shoulders for dinner.

No, this was way worse. 

Turns out that the U.S.A. had finally and trully enacted the Muslim Registration Act, which, oh God I’m just figuring it out now, I’m so stupid, went into effect today. Of course it did. Fucking politicians and their god damned symbolism. Anyway….

Since a lot of Muslim communities in the U.S.A. have noticed a very very high “disappeared” rate in the past year or so, the registration act had a lot of them truly and deeply terrified. And so, suddenly, a number of large groups apparently picked up stakes and made for the border — the U.S.N.E. border. They arrived at the Vermont border just after dawn yesterday with plenty of stuff and, they thought, enough money for a decent grubstake. 

They were leaving houses, property, buisinesses behind. But they were willing. And I got tapped to try and get a handful settled into Cambridge. Apparently, the fact that I know what “halal” means makes me a multicultural whizz. (Note to self — is that why there are no Muslims in the community kitchens? Can we start a halal kitchen so I don’t get stuck with this job again. ‘Cause it’s going to happen again…)

This seemed like a fairly easy job — find landlords willing to rent to the families, show them around, explain the T, basically give a freshman orientation. There were other places where the job wasn’t so easy — some of the refugees were showing up with no money, not nearly enough stuff, some were sick, some spoke little to no English. Apparently, someone has a sick fuck sense of humor and sent a whole bunch of very angry, very fundamentalist Muslims up to the northern end of New Hampshire to work on a farm up there. Hee. I’d pay to see that. But the smallish group they sent on to Cambridge (who is “they”? Do we even have an immigration office? A policy?) were all very well-educated, had good cash reserves, good job skills, good language skills. No chadors, anyway.

And then, this morning, their bank accounts got frozen. Apparently they didn’t make the transfers fast enough or something, I don’t know. Paul tried to explain it but I’m just too tired to grasp the complexities of interegnum international banking. 

Suddenly the whole thing became much more complicated. Made even more complicated by the phone call in the middle of the day saying that I should prepare for a whole lot more over the weekend. Apparently some violence happened in Kansas City, of all places, right around lunchtime, and suddenly more Muslims are streaming east. I should start looking into ways to house and feed and clothe whole bunches more. 

The thing is, I am mildly ashamed to admit that I really don’t understand what halal means. I mean, no pork, no booze, no blood, I get that. But I’m sure there’s more than that. And if they really want halal, meaning meat slaughted by a religious guy with the right paraphanalia, they are probably scrod. Can they eat scrod

I have a lot of wiki-ing to do tonight. And reading books. And logistics. 

And I have to talk Avery out of her brilliant idea to put this new group in Brookline. Sigh.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

The pineapple is a traditional New England symbol of welcome and hospitality.  You see it on quilts, on those seasonal flags everyone flys, and carved into the lintels of buildings.  But you can’t grow pineapples in New England, so what gives?  The story is that all the New England sea captains would stop in Hawaii on their long  trips to trade tchochkes in China and load up with pineapples to help ward-off scurvy among their crew.  When they got back to their home ports in Salem or Mystic or wherever, they’d get their big paycheck and then celebrate with one of the left-over pineapples.  The pineapple crown would be placed on a fencepost in front of the house to announce a successful trip and to invite the community in to share some of this amazingly sweet tropical fruit and celebrate.

I thought of this tradition when Josh and Becca invited us over today for an old-fashioned wine tasting.  Becca’s parents were visiting from the Netherlands (recently relocated from North Carolina), and had brought with them a full case of European wines.  Dark Burgundies, German Rieslings, Italian Chiantis — it was beautiful.  Becca decided that she couldn’t keep such a bounty to herself and invited over another three couples.  We hired kid-care for the day and spread the tasting out over two meals and snacks.

Things have been hard on the oenophiles of New England for the last few months.  Wine is not high on the list on necessities for import.  While New England does have bunch of local vineyards and even a few places making some very good fine cider,  they haven’t had any time to gear-up to replace all the missing imports from California and overseas.  Just one more thing sacrificed on the alter of priorities.  *sigh*

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I think I’ve got myself a steady paycheck.  Nothing is certain yet, last minute benefits negotiations are always a pain, but the new Regional Transit Authority has given me an offer to work for them.

Deval Patrick and the other members of the Council of Governors decided to merge a bunch of the quasi-independent transportation bureaucracies (MassPort, MBTA, Turnpike Authority, MARTA, and a bunch of smaller groups) in a plan to make sense out of transport in the US of New England.  Mostly, they’re trying to make as much of the region be economically car and truck-free as possible.

To start off, I’ll be working on what the locals here in Cambridge are calling the ‘Veggie Express”.  The old Central Massachusetts Railroad used to run straight from North Cambridge out to the Pioneer Valley towns of Amherst, Hadley, and Northampton (straight from a major farm area to a big ol’ market).  The line shut down in pieces between the 20’s and the 70’s.  Now I’ve got a bunch of land title and use assessments to go through to see how fast we can get the line running again.

The law part of it could be a real mess.  The fact that part of the right-of-way is now covered by the MassPike isn’t going to make things easy either.  However, this new combined transit group has some serious clout and the big-name pols (the ones who haven’t left for safer pastures in the ‘mainland’) are big behind getting this nascent country all knit up with working rail lines.  This is just one of the light-rail, passenger-rail, and even freight-rail proposals getting pushed forward.  I heard at least one team at MIT is working on human-powered passenger rail cars in case the systems get their electricity cut.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Only a man would describe our past weekend in the blase terms that Paul used.

There’s some quote of Orson Scott Card’s that I can’t recall right now about how women make civilization that I would love to insert right here but I can’t find it.

The North Country House is, in the roughest possible terms, done. Rain and wind only comes in if we let it, there’s running water all the time, hot water if the sun’s been out. There’s some small amount of electricity — the turbine is up and running and we can keep lights on OR a refrigerator running. Not both at the same time. But that’s it.

We slept on sleeping bags on the floor. I have plans drawn up for a bed with heavy wool curtains to pull around it to help keep it warm int the winter, but we ran out of money before the cabinetmaker got any work done. We cooked on an open fire pit in front of the cabin with the cast iron skillet I brought up. (We brought up a small camp stove but there’s no propane to be had in the North Country. A couple of folks have cornered the market and aren’t selling.) We peed and pooped in the composting outhouse we installed back when we were still living out of the Vardo.

All of that is fine and even fun in July. But winter is coming.

April and I spent most of our time setting up house — or rather, I did. April ran around and laughed at all the space. I swept out all the debris left over from the workmen, cobbled together a couple of basic shelves from the leftover wood, set up the root cellar, made lists of things we need and will never be able to get our hands on.

Paul split wood. Pretty much that’s all he did the whole time we were there. We’ve got the start of a nice woodpile, but even with the second-hand log splitter we borrowed off one of the workmen for the summer, it’s not nearly enough.

“Enough for what?” Paul kept asking me. “We don’t do a lot of winter camping. Shouldn’t that be enough?”

I don’t know.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I was in one of the office towers in the Financial District this morning to attend a deposition (a lawyer buddy of mine needed to fill out his team so that the other side didn’t have more people in the room than he did). Anyway, the building had an amazing view of the harbor, and smack in the middle of the harbor is this massive ship wallowing in the water with at least three tugboats that I could count and few Coast Guard boats as well. I kept on having my eye wander out to this monstrosity in the harbor while the two primaries argued about settlement terms (yawn).

I called up one of my old EPA contacts (the same one with the information on all the submarine dealings in New London last week) to ask about this thing. The Pilin Leon, named after a Venezuelan beauty queen, is an Ultra-Large Crude Carrier – an industry term for honking-huge oil tankers.  She’s been dispatched by Citgo on the direct orders of Hugo Chavez to help relieve any energy crisis here in Boston and New England.  Since we don’t have much of our own refining capacity, she’s apparently been filled with fuel oil, gasoline, and jet fuel in her various tanks instead of the usual crude.

Boston also doesn’t really have the facilities for off-loading all that oil, so it sounds like Pilin Leon will be sitting in the middle of the harbor with some temporary pipelines running out to her for the duration.  I suppose that is Mr. Chavez’s point in sending the ship here.  It is as blatant and public an insult to the Bushies as he can fashion.

International politics aside, I’ll take whatever help we can get.  There are plenty of things that we don’t produce here in New England and trade with the ‘mainland’ US is pretty sparse right now.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I’ve become a seed saver.

Here’s a quick lesson in botany for those of you who slept through 6t hgrade biology or whatever. Most fruits and veggies on the market these days are F1 hybrids. They don’t breed true. That means that if you planted the seeds of the tomato you had on your sandwich today, the fruit you’d get next summer would bear little to no resemblance to the fruit you’re eating right now.

Heirloom fruits and veggies are “open pollinated”, notated in seed catalogs as OP. They are usually less lovely to look at that the supermarket stuff.  But they have been bred, tested, selected, for hundreds or sometimes thousands of years to grow and produce reliable harvests. AND, the best part (for me, right now) — if you take the seeds out of your plants and save them in a little paper envelope, come next spring, you get more just like it.

Why does this matter? Well, most of the stuff you get at regular supermarkets has been bred for looks, transportability, and ease of harvest rather than taste, reliability, and variety.  The plants often require heavy amounts of fertlizer or ‘cides (you know, pesta-, herba-, fungi-) to grow. Plus, and here’s where all of this becomes really relevant — you need to buy new seeds every year.

With the dollar suddenly worth less than a Peso (I’m only slightly exaggerating, sadly) and transportation still deeply unreliable, I’m guessing that I’m not going to be getting any seed catalogs this year. My friends all say I’m nuts, things will have settled out by winter, I shouldn’t be stinking up my house with fermenting tomato seed soup. (Don’t ask, but by god, it does stink to high heaven.)

I say that in New England, the smart money thinks at least four seasons ahead. So I’ve become a seed saving fool. I swoop into prep stations at the community kitchens and scoop up handfuls of trimmings before they hit the compost heap. I do odd things to my friends’ lunches and wind up with a table full of gooped up napkins drying in the sun. I grill vendors at the farmer’s markets about varieties, then I take notes and go home to my (small but growing) library of books and take more notes. I’m letting some of my carrots and other plants go to seed instead of digging them up and eating them now.

I’ve already got a whole garden for next year tucked into a shoe box. It’s amazing how little space it takes up.

Also, we got a breeding trio of eating rabbits yesterday. My friends are aghast that I’m going to feed April bunnies. “You’re going to eat Thumper?” they cry, horrified. I smile and refrain from telling them that I’d raise and eat Bambi, too, if I thought I could.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I’ve managed to get in touch with the whole extended family — my side and Paul’s. They are fine, living a little leanly, but okay. My brother’s got a broken arm from a scuffle at the local grocery store. Apparently, even though they all live in the verdant hills of Connecticut, there’s just not as much food to go around.

I suspect that it’s a matter of distribution rather than amounts. Even Cambridge has enough food … for right now. It’s July and the farmers are rolling the stuff in by the truckload. There’s still some fighting — MIT, again, is a flashpoint, I wouldn’t go near the salt-n-pepper bridge for love or money. Not even for lemons.

It’s the little things — like lemons — that are really disconcerting. There’s more food available in markets and whatnot than there’s been in a while. Apparently the pro tem government is helping farmers fill up their tanks and they’ve got somebody organizing caravans to save on gas. (I said it before and I’ll say it again — the Children of Liberty have one ass-kicking Quartermaster.) But there are no imports from outside of the region.

Radio Free Boston — the announcers using their real names now — says it’s not a blockade, just a matter of logistics. The ports and the trains will but up and running soon.

For now, New England is doing pretty good — our farms produce got meat, veggies, fruit, milk, potatoes. But no one is growing wheat or rice in New England. There are no citrus or olive trees in New England. There are no spices in New England. Herbs a plenty but no cinnamon, clove, nutmeg. It’s going to be hard to make apple pie this year.

I seem to be the only one thinking ahead to apple pie season, though. Everyone else is having a party. The soup kitchens have become community kitchens and I spent my day making enormous batches of black bean soup. Vats of it. With fennel and carrot slaw on the side. For the first time in my memory, there are more volunteers than we need. And it’s the most happy I’ve seen anyone in almost a year. There’s singing and dancing in the back, and there are lots of pretty college students waiting the tables. People kiss me on the cheek and tell me to lighten up when I grumble.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m a dour sourpuss. But my people originally came from Russia and there’s one thing any babushka knows, deep in her bones, even in the laughing heart of summer:

Winter is coming.