Monday, January 24, 2011

Animal Auschwitz

Cay is doing a school report on the euthanasia of unwanted pets, which is prompting us to do more detailed research on the topic than we did last year when we adopted Nyx.

My favorite post-adoption photo.
This was taken before we started shaving her
(the dog, I mean).
Nyx came from the Galveston County Animal Shelter.  Few sources want to reveal euthanasia statistics because they are controversial and upsetting to the general public (you won't receive information on those statistics if you ask at the shelter - I tried).  This evening, I found a site run by a rescue group that claims the shelter currently euthanizes 85% of the 10,000 or so pets it takes in every year.

Eighty-five percent, many of which are fully-socialized and fully-adoptable animals.  I find that to be a gut-punching number and I'm not even a pet enthusiast.  I don't know what I expected, but I guess part of me was unconsciously assuming that "most" of the euthanized were feral, sick, or otherwise unadoptable, and that the kill ratio was significantly lower. 

Each year, one unwanted animal is killed for every 33 human residents of Galveston County.  This pretty much solidifies my opinion that obtaining pets from breeders is unconscionable in the majority of cases (unless someone genuinely requires breed characteristics for the animal to perform a specific job - police K9, handicapped service, cattle herder, etc.). 

That's just my take on it, and I'm sure it'll make me as popular among the conformist set as many of my other opinions.  But I wonder if many of them even realize as they're picking out a designer pup that another perfectly suitable dog is being killed as a result of their choice.  A lot of them probably don't know that a viable option exists.  I wasn't totally sure myself, until we went through this process. 

There's good rapport potential in shelter dogs, eh?
I thought that this was an absolutely superb photo, particularly because the facial expressions exactly mirror each other just as the balance of body language does.  However, the human depicted here was conscious of her social reputation and didn't necessarily want her identity revealed in this goofy offering.  The dog, of course, will never care about her social reputation. 
Cayley wants to start volunteering at an animal shelter when she's old enough to be accepted into such a role, so we'll see what kind of a positive contribution we'll be able to make to this sobering situation, when the time comes. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Produce meets politics

So this is what our gardens look like now:

It's the dead of winter, of course,
and the lawn is totally dormant,
but the wintergarden veggies are doing just fine.

These are the SATELLITE heads of the Gypsy broccoli. 
I harvested the large principal head about a month ago.

I've almost lost hope about this plant and it's twin, which were sold to me as conventional broccolis but which look SUSPICIOUSLY LIKE CABBAGES at this point.  This one's leaves are splitting under its own burgeoning girth, and no hint of a florette under there.  A splitting plant suggests that it needs to be harvested, so I better come up with a cabbage recipe really fast.

Garlic bulbs are generally doing better than the onions.
This tank is actually reserved for tomatoes, but it's not time to plant tomatoes yet, so it has been hosting some of my lettuce.  I've had many a good salad out of this stuff
Whole Foods has been pushing for political pressure regarding Monsanto's GMO alfalfa deregulation petition.  I actually did take a few minutes to voice my proverbial wishes to our Congressman Ron Paul, and I've reproduced that below.  This guy is notorious for opposing government regulation in every conceivable form, but in some cases, preserving existing freedoms is not as straightforward as laissez-faire. 


Mr. Paul, your intolerance of excessive regulation is legendary and, in significant measure, I agree with your perspectives. However in some cases, regulation is necessary to protect Americans' freedom of choice. The management of genetically-engineered agricultural crops is an excellent example.

In many ways, I'm "old school" and I prefer to purchase foods that have not been genetically modified. I don't care whether genetically-modified foods are perfectly safe for human consumption or not - that's not the issue. The issue is that I want to exercise my right to choose organic foods marketed by specific producers whom I've chosen to patronize. I also want to maintain my personal choice to grow some of those foods, including unmodified "heritage" varieties, myself as a hobby in my backyard without outside interference - just as my family has been able to do for generations.

A hands-off free market approach to agriculture would spell the end of my individual right to choose in this respect. Crops propagate by pollination which is subject to only limited human control. If genetically-modified crops are not regulated and restricted to specific areas, the modified pollen will contaminate our entire agricultural system, effectively erasing the existing crop varieties that are not modified. 

According to news reports, the USDA is set to rule on Monsanto's alfalfa deregulation petition within the next few days. This is one example of where regulation is necessary to protect an existing choice that has always been available to the American public. I do hope that you will take whatever action you can to protect Americans' right to choose non-modified foods.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Invoke the iron bridge

Here's one for anyone who believes that dogs should NOT wear clothing:
A thousand words:
The face of abject misery.
(pic by Cayley)
Not only SHOULD a shaved dog wear clothing, it should wear a lot more than this little cape when temperatures approach the freezing point.  I shoulda gotten her a snowsuit.  It wasn't even below freezing and the both of us were outside working on Cayley's science project... the bundled-up humans did quite well, but we had to take the dog inside before she ended up comatose from hypothermia.

But no, I won't stop shaving her.  Not when she's inside the house 22 hours per day.  Better to control the stink with shaving and bathing and find better clothes for those rare Houston days when hell freezes over like it has this week.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ten-mile transition

A reader identified that mysterious (to me) tree in my last post as being a Betula nigra, more commonly known as river birch
Following this bit of edification, I was still perplexed, because I just don't remember ever seeing them around here before.   And I would have noticed: I really miss seeing birch trees of any species - birch are ubiquitous in Canada. 

So I looked 'em up, and what I found is that Montgomery County pretty much represents the absolute southern extent of their natural range. 
Excerpted from:
So I'm not necessarily brain-dead on this one: yes, it IS possible that I have spent WEEKS in Lake Houston Wilderness Park never noticing a single one of these, and yet I drive just ten miles further north to a spot along the SAME CREEK, and the land is fulla them.

One wonders what controls this: what makes the tree grow on THIS spot along Peach Creek but not THAT one nearby?  I am used to seeing microclimatic variations here near the coast, but there are no perceptible differences to me in this particular case.  Is it one degree cooler on average ten miles further north?  One inch less annual rainfall?  The trees may be the only living things that can parse the answer to why they grow where they do, and they ain't talkin'.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Potentially Peachy

A great many stars would have to align perfectly for this transaction to go through, but I have my eye on a piece of property in Montgomery County - 48 acres of mixed uplands and wetlands with 0.42 mile of frontage along Peach Creek, about 45 minutes north of Houston.

We took a drive out there with our realtor today, and these are some things we experienced.

Much of the upland acreage is wild pineywoods, a dense and unruly forest characteristic of this area.  I estimate it was last logged perhaps 40 years ago.

Proceeding down into the floodway, there are various oxbow-like features and fluvial avulsions.  I wish I could identify the species of duck that we saw here.
Incidentally, Nyx did very well off-leash during this, her first real trip into the woods, first of her life.  A hound would have been SO outa there, but she the shepherd generally stuck close by.
January is fairly colorless here so this doesn't look very picturesque, but this is Peach Creek, which Nyx investigated gingerly.
Trees reflecting in the opalescent waters of Peach Creek.
A massive, massive elm (I think) down by the creek in the thick of the bottomland hardwoods.
Speaking of trees, I'm fairly familiar with this area, and I'd never seen one like this before.  It resembled a species of birch, and it grew in abundance on the property.  Here, the sun has backlit the bark making it appear
more orange than usual.
In one spot, I found the weathered remains of a cow, including these spalling vertebrae.
Incidentally, Peach Creek is the same creek that runs along the western side of one of my favorite places (and the site of Lawrence's marriage proposal), Lake Houston Park, formerly Lake Houston State Park and now apparently renamed Lake Houston Wilderness Park.   We stopped there for some quick freeze dry en route back to Houston. 

He was born with a nylon spoon in his mouth... and that is one unhappy dog, tethered because the place was crammed with other excitable canines on this extraordinary day (65 degrees F, speckless sky, with hard freeze expected within 24 hours).

It's easy to see why natural selection
might favor brindle coloration...

Poor suffering dog needs sympathy because of
that leash situation....
Anyway, it sure would be neat if we could get some land.  We are well off financially, both of us, and Lawrence's family owns a beach house in addition to their suburban homesteads, but that beach house (as nice as it is) is on a postage-stamp-sized piece of land, and I'd really like to see us all have some SPACE in which to run around, explore, make our own rules, and celebrate freedom.  This is especially important for kids, all of whom grow up with no genuine spatial freedoms at all.  Not sure if this will prove to be the appropriate piece of land in which to invest, but it was neat to visit it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Car Chronicles: Caronomics

When I bought our new Sienna, I got a few predictable comments about it being obscenely large and therefore a gas-guzzler, and what an interesting time for someone with my education and insight to be making that kind of long-term investment, so I thought I'd speak to that.

To begin, I have two major consumer dislikes as follows:

(1) I hate large houses because of the wastes of energy, resources, and money that they represent.  As I explained in Home Is Born, the only reason why our house exceeds 2,000 square feet in HVAC'd area is that I needed space for my business.  Our personal living space is only 57% the size of the average new house being built in comparable Houston suburbs.   

(2) I hate small cars because of the wastes of opportunity that they represent.  The only thing they can do is carry your fat, stationary ass from Point A to Point B, but that's the least of what they should be doing for you if you have a healthy active lifestyle.  You can't load bicycles into small cars, you can't sleep in them, you can't load thirteen-foot crepe myrtles into them or other large landscaping supplies.  You can't hurricane-evacuate in them very well at all, and you sure as hell can't put 4x8 sheets of plywood into them and shut all the doors.  Small cars can't be parked in random forested locations and turned into temporary play-forts for young children, but a van is a complete house-on-wheels.  And small cars can't haul trailers or even carry inflatable boats; they have neither the power nor the size.  And of course, you can scratch carpooling off your list entirely if you have a small car. 

In other words, it's not what you have - it's what you do with it.  Just because you have something doesn't mean that you have to use it excessively.  For those who are fixated upon energy consumption, my advice is to go smaller where your uses are chronic and perpetual (houses) and go larger where your needs are more acute but strongly discontinuous (cars).

I put 6,000 personal miles on my Sienna last year.  Not bad, especially considering that I have a child who must be driven to a Magnet school for which no bus service is offered by the ISD.  The damned Magnet school alone accounted for 3,200 of those miles, so that's an astonishingly small amount of non-school-related personal travel overall: 2,800 miles. 

I also put another 6,000 business miles on my car, which was kind of unavoidable because I was under contract to others and required to do it (in other words, it wasn't discretionary). 

I did not exceed the American average of 12,000 miles per year.  Except UNLIKE most Americans, I squeezed the running of a commercial business into my mileage equation (most Americans who must do some driving for work would use company cars, so their actual driving mileage would be much higher than their personal averages if both were combined).

So where's the consumer immorality if I'm actually using the obscenely-large asset in a way that minimizes expenditures of energy and money? 

Even with my relatively low numbers, I continue to look for new ways to reduce my consumption in that regard.  Yes, I do know that gasoline prices will likely rise significantly during my ownership of the thing.  If they do, I'll find new ways to reduce my driving.  But I want that car to be available in all its glorious capacity when we absolutely must have that size in order to continue our normal activities.  The next camping trip, the next hurricane evacuation, the next extended-family outing (why take two cars when mine seats eight people?!?!), the next Girl Scout carpool to some event.

Incidentally, the damned thing is not even that obscene, as far as consumption goes.  In my first 1,000 miles of driving, I averaged a steady 23 mpg combined highway and city driving (it's rated for 19/24/20 but I religiously use its "Eco" monitor to control the way I feed gasoline into the engine).  A 2011 Ford Explorer is smaller and nowhere near as versatile, but probably could not equal that kind of mpg (they're rated for 17/25).

On a related note, my cousin sent me this eight-minute discourse, which I found to be fairly concise:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Car Chronicles: Ghost in the Machine

Through the miracle of modern technology, it's no longer necessary to go through the typical dealer song and dance:

"My brand new car is making a strange random noise.  It's turning on one of its secondary motors of its own accord (and it's a Sienna, not an Accord, duh) for no apparent reason."

"We'll have th'service department check 'er out."


...umpteen inconvenient hours later...

"Uh, Ma'am, theer's nuthin' wrong w'your car."

"But it's making a NOISE unlike any other car I've ever had."

"Uh, Ma'am, I dunno what t'advise you." (Meanwhile looking at you with an expression on the face that reads, "Aw, Jesus, why do I have to deal with women...")

Instead of that scenario, intrepid Lawrence crawled all the way under the thing, aiming the iPhone upward as he scanned the undercarriage trying to isolate the source (you can hear the motor-sound amplify as he homes in on it, but then it spontaneously switched itself off before he located the exact source):

It kicks in at random times, scaring the crap out of us.  At the point when this video was taken, the car's engine had been switched off for seven hours.  It's NOT the coolant fan, obviously.  I have no idea why a car would want to bring part of itself to life after being idle for seven hours.  Is it communicating with the mother ship?

Anyway, life having modern-day conveniences such as iPhone, I was able to forward this video to the dealer to initiate their investigation before I even bring the thing in, thereby minimizing the degree to which I get the run-around.  We'll see what they say about it. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I've seen people leave it distributed throughout their back yards, seemingly oblivious to the filth that surrounds them.  It's the absolute WORST form of PIGGERY I can imagine, and it AIN'T happenin' HERE.
Graphic from the (Dog)spired blog.
It's Cayley's job to pick it up in a timely manner, but guess what - it doesn't always happen in a timely manner.

So in those untimely cases, *I* doo it, but I won't doo it without compensation, hence the Poopalooza system we developed, which we log (pun intended) via an aptly-titled refrigerator calendar, and which works as follows:

(1) Every time I have to pick up a day's worth of dog poop, she loses five bucks off her allowance (currently set at twenty bucks a week).

(2) Every time I accidentally STEP in some of it, there's a ten dollar gross-out surcharge on top of the associated disposal charge.

Get it??  Poop-a-looz-a, because she loses her cash??  Duh, I'm a poet!!

This penalty system can prove to be fairly costly to her, with my haul sometimes exceeding $25 per day (like today, which is what inspires me to write). 

Poopalooza begs the following question: what should I eventually doo with my accumulated financial windfall??

From a Google ad that po(o)pped up as I was writing this entry, believe it or not. 
Well, OF COURSE you can believe it. 
It's GOOGLE, afterall.
I have the perfect, PERFECT answer to that: custom shoes from Foot Solutions of Houston.  My achy, severely-arched, undersized princess feet have longed for them for fifteen years now, but I could not in good conscience spend upwards of five hundred bucks (!) on a pair of individually-crafted shoes, regardless of how much savings I have accumulated.

But this is different.  It's only a propos
(or perhaps a poopos??)
that I take the shoes that have had to be sprayed off with the garden hose so many times, and replace them with an

As for Cayley, if she consistently fails to field the feces to the point where she completely runs out of allowance, then the shit will REALLY hit the fan, because I won't stop with Poopalooza.  TV, computer and iPad will follow on the forfeiture front.