Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Squat

“People can change anything they want to, and that means everything in the world." -- Joe Strummer

Today's New York Times has an article about Britain's problem with squatters (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose). I'm resisting the urge to put scare quotes around the world problem, because I do have to sympathize with someone who goes away on vacation and comes back to find that someone has taken over his house, and the owner can't get it back for several months.

That said, when people need places to live, and houses have been abandoned, a certain solution seems pretty obvious.

And I must say, I love this story:

Eighteen months ago, [Keithy Robin, an artist and builder who volunteers at the Advisory Service for Squatters,] and a group of environmental campaigners took over a derelict one-acre site in Sipson, a village near Heathrow Airport, that had been zoned for agricultural use but was being used illegally as an auto-wrecking site.

The group hauled out 30 tons of car parts and contaminated soil and began growing vegetables that it shared with the community. The group restored crumbling greenhouses, generated electricity via newly installed solar panels, set up art classes and campaigned against the proposed third runway at Heathrow, which would have destroyed Sipson. Mr. Robin put up a tent and moved in.

The site’s owners, who have been repeatedly fined for various land-use violations, are suing to get the property back, but members of the surrounding community prefer the squatters. The police say crime in the area has declined by 50 percent since the group moved in.

“The environment there is now clean, and the neighbors, including a day nursery for youngsters, are most grateful,” Linda McCutcheon, chairwoman of the local residents’ group, wrote recently in a letter supporting the squatters’ case.

DIY justice -- poetic and otherwise.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

No animals were hurt in the making of these cupcakes

I am not a vegan. I like cheese.

I am not a baker. I am lazy.

Yet somehow, I spent the late afternoon shopping for vegan butter, picking out cute cupcake liners at Michaels, and most importantly, making cupcakes.

I picked up a copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World over the weekend at Barnes & Noble, because I heard good things about the book. (Borders may be 50-70% off, but are pretty limited to books about vampires and autobiographies of politicians I find annoying...and possibly autobiographies of annoying vampires; it's a big store).

I started basic with Golden Vanilla Cupcakes (page 33). I wanted to put Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting (page 142) on them, but I couldn't find non-hydrogenated shortening at the two stores I went to.

So I did some internet-ing and found (and pinned!) Vanilla Buttercream Cake Frosting. I was a little worried it would be more like icing, rather than frosting, but it came out like "fricing": thin but not too thin.
"A surefire way to get people to look at your blog is by posting pictures of cupcakes. No one wants to hear about your terrible day at the office or what you think of China's space program. They want to see pictures of cupcakes. Trust us. -Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero 

I'm not sure if that applies to pictures taken in bad lighting with a low-battery so-so camera, but here it goes.

I ran out of dinosaur sprinkles half way through.


The recipe was easy to follow and didn't take long. Most importantly, the cupcakes turned out delicious.

PS: 50TH POST! I'll celebrate with a cupcakes...maybe two.

Dinner with Carnivores

I've never heard a negative comment about my being a vegetarian, but David Sirota has, and has written an interesting article about it in Salon. It's a good primer on the health, ecological and ethical reasons for vegetarianism (Preview: It's about concern for other people as much as concern for animals.)

It raises a question I've never thought much about. The main reason I don't hear negative comments about being a vegetarian is that I almost never mention it to anyone. Why talk about what you eat?

But if you know that avoiding, or at least cutting back on, meat is good for the planet, and good for people who don't get enough to eat, shouldn't you talk about it?

And can you do that without making people defensive?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Moving

Is it possible to have a functioning economy without exploitation?

I don't mean that as a rhetorical question, I really can't think of a positive example, either now or in history.

Obviously in this country we've encouraged immigrants to come here, as a source of cheap labor, then exploit and abuse them once they're here. Calling them "illegal" makes it easy to exploit them, because people who are afraid of being deported won't complain about mistreatment. The last thing they want is to call attention to themselves.

But is it any different elsewhere?

China's economy is growing rapidly. It's one of the few places in the world right now with a strong economy. But it's still a "planned" economy, part of which means you need the government's permission to move from one part of the country to another. But just as many people (until recently) moved from poor countries to the United States, because this was where the jobs were, the Chinese poor are moving to wherever there are jobs in China, whether or not they have permission, which is difficult and expensive to get.

Factory owners like the system because "illegal" migrants are afraid to complain. Local governments like it, too, because it means they don't have to pay health care costs, or educate migrant children. Everyone likes it, except the people who are exploited, and they have no power.

I can think of lots of examples of countries that work like this. I would love to find an example of one that didn't, one that worked well for all its people.

Canada, maybe?

I'd have to do more research, but getting an answer starts with asking yourself a question.