Stoicism Today

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We’re honored to have an essay in a new book, Stoicism Today: Selected Writings.

From Stoic ethics to emotions, from Stoic mayors and mindfulness to practical philosophy, parenting, psychotherapy and prisons, from Star Trek and Socrates to Stoic lawyers, literature and living in general, this book brings together a wide-ranging collection of reflections on living the Stoic life today. You’ll read advice on coping with adversity, reflections on happiness and the good life and powerful personal testimonies of putting Stoicism into practise. But you’ll also read about the links between Stoicism and psychotherapy, Stoicism and mindfulness meditation and the unexpected places Stoicism can pop up in modern culture. This book will be of interest to both academics and non-academics alike and is about the varied ways in which the 2,300 year old philosophy as a way of life remains relevant to the concerns and needs of the present day.

The book is available as a paperback and Kindle e-book.

The Stoicism Today website also has a free handbook and online course, well worth checking out.

Hollywood always gets gardens wrong (I’m talking to you, Maze Runner)

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See, after they covered the maze walls they had all this leftover ivy… (Maze Runner movie poster)

If you know a lot about one subject, maybe gardening, or law, or the history of Roman armaments, or police procedure, or whatever, you will probably have noticed that the film and television industry gets a lot of the details wrong. I understand. They’ve got a lot to do to get a story on the screen, and most people don’t care about the details, but sometimes, it gets to be too much.

One of the worst areas of screen offense is in the depiction of vegetable gardens. I would love to gather a bunch of stills from all the ridiculous vegetable gardens I’ve seen on screen, maybe make a Tumblr of them.  (Let me know if any come to mind!)

[Erik here: see the Meryl Streep vehicle It’s Complicated for a vegetable garden that combines cool and warm season veggies all at once.]

I’m on this rant because Erik and I saw the worst garden last night in the film Maze Runner. Now, I’m embarrassed to even admit we went to see Maze Runner–but–well, there’s no excuse. Let’s just leave it at that. Yet I’m going to ‘fess up to doing so because I have to talk about this garden

[Erik here: the plot is, basically, a Gnostic Crossfit Gym overseen by evil archons and patrolled by the same biomechanical spider thingies seen in Starship Troopers.]

A part of the plot involves a pack of feral teenage boys tending a survival garden. The garden seems to consist mostly of an extensive trellis system made out of twigs. Vertical gardening! OK!  The set designers had probably picked up on some of the recent vertical gardening hoopla and were using that to make for interesting use of visual space. But what was growing on the trellis?  Cloth ivy fronds, my friends. Cloth ivy. The sort used to festoon wedding tables, or is sometimes found creeping dustily along the molding in B&Bs.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to offer a pack of hungry teenage boys a bowl of cooked ivy, much less fake ivy.

Now, of course, the intended audience, teenage girls, are NOT looking at the ivy as the hot boy leads discuss their survival problems in the garden. They are, in fact, at this moment, laughing riotously at my boring middle aged concerns. (“Plants? You were looking at the plants?”)  Yes, I was analyzing  the background foliage while yummylicious Dylan O’Brian and Thomas “Elf Boy” Sangster were talking about…something. But yeah, I was looking at them, too.

But seriously, ivy??? This may be an all time low.

And to add insult to injury, they also have an upside down tomato planter strung between two of the trellises. It’s like those plastic ones the big box stores sell, but it is instead constructed of suspicious vine material, a la Gilligans Island. To its credit, though, it did seem to be a real tomato plant, a yellowish, straggly one (and that, at least, is a realistic detail) and it has a couple of tomatoes hanging off it–though those tomatoes may well be clipped on. These were the only edibles in the scene. Seems the boys can have a tomato garnish on their ivy bowls.

I wish I had a still for you, but for some reason the garden is not featured in the publicity stills.

Since I’m rolling on this rant, after the jump here’s a few of other things that perpetually peeve me in film. Please do contribute your own!

Continue reading…

Happy Fall Equinox!

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Our Rodger’s Red grapevine tells us when Fall is here.

Here in LA last week we suffered a miserable heatwave: four days of temperatures above 100°F ( 37.7° C) without even the relief of cool nights. In bed, I wept as the fan swept a 95°F breeze over my body, and vowed to my pillow that I would divorce Mr. I Love LA  and move to Seattle.

Then, on Sunday, I woke up feeling in my bones that something had changed. Suddenly, I was happy and energized. The nights turned cool. I heard the crows returning to the palm trees in our neighborhood, and I realized that Fall must have arrived. I checked the calendar, and saw that the equinox would be — today — Tuesday the 23rd. Glory Hallelujah!

Autumn in LA is really just a gentling of the summer–there’s no frost and little color change. No burning leaves or apple harvests. It will most likely be hot and sunny on Halloween day, perhaps even on Christmas day–and it may never, ever rain again. Yet everything has changed. The sun is crossing the celestial equator and will be spending more time in parts South, meaning it will not beat so hard or so long upon the top of my poor head until next summer.

I cannot say how excited I am. Suddenly, I want to cook. I want to work in the garden and wander in the mountains. It’s like being let out of jail.

How about all of you in your respective parts of the globe. Did you feel the shift? Will you be celebrating the coming of autumn — or summer, if you are south of the equator?

A Plea for Plastic Vegetables

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A supplier’s offerings of fake fruits and vegetables in Japan.

We get a lot of good spam emails at Root Simple. This one, which came in last week, is one of my favorites:

Hello,

I work for a TV show in New York and we are in need of several artificial vegetables and vegetable plants.

Please let me know if you carry any of the following:

1.  Purple Bulb Shaped Eggplants and Eggplant plants

2.  Green and yellow squash (zucchini)

3.  Cucumbers

4.  Red Hot chilly Pepper Plants

5.  Red Cherry Bomb Plants

6.  Yellow Banana Pepper Plants

7.  Green bean (string bean and lima bean) plant that is vine-like that I can weave onto a trellis or a vine that looks like the leaves of a string bean plant

8.  Tomatoes and Tomato plants (All Varieties)

9.  Green and Purple Cabbage

10.  Any vegetable plants can be considered

We will need to place an order very quickly and be able to receive an order very quickly.

Please respond by letting me know what you carry and if you can ship samples overnight.

Thanks very much.

Sincerely,
NAME WITHHELD
Greensperson

We did a blog post about fake movie plants last year so maybe that’s why we got this email. Los Angeles is home to two huge companies that provide both real and fake plants to the film industry. I just met someone who worked for one of those companies and he had some funny stories to tell.

Maybe we should jump on the fake vegetable bandwagon if this drought continues . . .

Frida Paints Luther

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Sometimes an artist’s works are reproduced so much that familiarity obscures meaning. Da Vinchi and Andy Warhol have fallen victim to this. I’ve seen Frida Kahlo’s portrait in Mexican restaurants so often I’ve come to associate her work with combo platters and Margueritas.

A slide in John Valenzuela’s Heirloom Expo lecture of Kahlo’s portrait of horticulturalist Luther Burbank reminded me of how great an artist Kahlo was. That Kahlo painted Burbank also says something about people’s priorities in the 1930s.

Kahlo liked to blur the boundaries between human consciousness, the vegetable and the animal. In her portrait of Burbank she touches on themes of life, death and transformation. You could write a book about what’s going on in this painting.

Burbank’s work lives on inour backyards and orchards in the form of the fruit varieties he developed. I’ll view his Santa Rosa plum in our front yard differently after encountering Kahlo’s virtuosic painting.

Is Diagonal the New Horizontal? The Evolution of the “Flipper” Fence

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We’re in the midst of what seems like a new real estate bubble here in Los Angeles. Houses get so many bids that buyers have to write letters to the owner to beg for the privilege of buying their dilapidated bungalow.

To take advantage of this market, house flippers have developed a new architectural vocabulary based, I think, on a kind of mash up of stuff from Home Depot and ideas from back issues of Dwell Magazine. One of the most persistent flipper memes is the horizontal fence:

Photo via The Eastsider.

Photo via The Eastsider.

I spotted a unique variation on the flipper fence a few weeks ago–the diagonal fence at the top of this post. I kind of like it but when I posted it in Facebook I got a mixed reaction. One thing I don’t like about it myself is the height. Personally, I think it’s unfriendly to the neighborhood to have a front yard fence higher than four feet (not to mention that it’s a code violation, as well). That said, I think this diagonal arrangement might look good in a backyard (though it does waste the bit of wood you have to saw off the top).

Some other Facebook comments noted the sad state of the parkway, a.k.a “hell strip.” To be fair to the owners I don’t think they are finished with the job (which, if they are actually house flippers, will involve gravel and agave).

What do you think? Should good fences be vertical, diagonal or horizontal?

Neil deGrasse Tyson, GMOs and Risk Management

I can understand why Neil deGrasse Tyson made these off the cuff remarks about genetically modified organisms. There’s a lot of tin foil hat thinking on the anti-GMO side. But his comments also reveal that Tyson does not understand the difference between conventional plant breeding (something human beings have been up to for thousands of years) and GMOs.

For me, the best argument against GMOs come from a risk-management perspective. Statistician, author and former Wall Street trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb, along with four co-authors, published an article, “The Precautionary Principle: Fragility and Black Swans from Policy Actions” that describes, from a risk management perspective, why GMOs are not a good idea,

Monoculture in combination with genetic engineering dramatically increases the risks being taken. Instead of a long history of evolutionary selection, these modifications rely not just on naive engineering strategies that do not appropriately consider risk in complex environments, but also explicitly reductionist approaches that ignore unintended consequences and employ very limited empirical testing . . . There is no comparison between tinkering with the selective breeding of genetic components of organisms that have previously undergone extensive histories of selection and the top-down engineering of taking a gene from a fish and putting it into a tomato. Saying that such a product is natural misses the process of natural selection by which things become “natural.” While there are claims that all organisms include transgenic materials, those genetic transfers that are currently present were subject to selection over long times and survived. The success rate is tiny. Unlike GMOs, in nature there is no immediate replication of mutated organisms to become a large fraction of the organisms of a species. Indeed, any one genetic variation is unlikely to become part of the long term genetic pool of the population. Instead, just like any other genetic variation or mutation, transgenic transfers are subject to competition and selection over many generations before becoming a significant part of the population. A new genetic transfer engineered today is not the same as one that has survived this process of selection.

With GMOs there is the chance, albeit small, of total systemic failure of the system. The “bottom up” nature of conventional breeding–a much longer time frame and localized effects–prevents this kind of systemic failure.

Hopefully Tyson will read this article himself. It’s evident from his non-apologetic backpedaling on Facebook, that he still doesn’t understand the risks of GMOs.

Taleb’s article is worth reading. In addition to his argument on GMOs, the papers serves as a convenient summary of his “black swan” theory.

Movie recommendation: DamNation

This weekend, Erik and I went to a screening and discussion of DamNation, hosted at the Natural History Museum. DamNation is beautiful environmental documentary about the history and impact of dams on our watersheds, and the growing movement to decommission “deadbeat dams.”

I don’t know if it was the PMS, but I was teary-eyed through much of it, moved by the beauty of the waters, the struggles of the salmon, and the passion of the people who love the fish and their rivers. Days later, I keep thinking particularly of one man who for the last twelve years (if I recall correctly) has lived in a camper six months out of the year to guard a special resting place for trout on their migration. He has Parkinson’s disease, and knows he will not be able to carry on his mission as long as he had hoped, but has faith he’ll find someone to take his place when the time comes.

I also learned a lot about dams–starting with the simple fact of how many of them we have. Holy cow! Like “No Child Left Behind”, it seems we had a “No River Left Undammed” policy for quite a few years. I also never understood how fish hatcheries work, but I now see them as a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to manage nature.

At any rate, Erik and I both give it the thumbs up. According to the producer who spoke at the screening, DamNation is available for sale as a DVD and Blue Ray. It’s also in the iTunes store, and the cable On Demand services, and will be on Netflix within a couple of weeks. It has been doing the festival circuit in the U.S., and will be doing more tours abroad. Finally, they also have a program to help community groups host a screening.

Toilet paper in the woods: a rant and some advice

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What’s wrong with this picture?

Ladies.

Sisters.

I have a rant for you.

It’s an appeal to women, because this is pretty much a woman-centered problem. It’s about leaving toilet paper behind after peeing outdoors, and menfolk don’t leave toilet paper behind after they pee. (Yes, there is #2, but that is less often seen in recreation areas. Backpackers know how to Leave No Trace and daytrippers mostly hold it.)

This means 95% of nasty clumps of toilet paper I find festooning our precious wild spaces were left there by women. So I’m talking to you, Ladies Who Litter.

It is s a form of litter, you know. Just as bad as throwing your Starbuck’s cup on the ground and walking away. People might say it’s “biodegradable” and yes, it will break down…eventually.

Eventually can be a long time, especially in dry places. Like, a year. Or more. Not a week or so, if you’re thinking that. If there’s no rain, the paper just sits and sits, flapping in the breeze, basically immortal. Paper lasts a long time! Think about it. There’s probably toilet paper dating back to WWII floating around Joshua Tree.

If it gets wet and dries up again, toilet paper turns into this sort of crusty papier mache, clinging to the land like a contagious skin disease. Eventually, with enough water and time and maybe some helpful trampling by animals, it will darken and break down enough to be unnoticeable from a distance. But it is still there.

I might notice this problem more than some people, because I’m often off-trail. And everywhere I go, there’s the toilet paper. I squat down to look at a deer track, and realize there’s some under my heel. I settle down in a nice place to admire the view, and then end up focusing on a white blob of paper caught on a bush, ten yards down the hill. I go to the stream to cool my feet and almost step on someone’s nasty leavings (i.e. the picture above).

It drives me bonkers. I clean it up when I can, just like I pick up the empty water bottles and beer cans and pint bottles of booze and cigarette butts and those damn plastic flossing devices and everything else people see fit to leave behind whenever they visit nature.

I suppose we all have our different priorities and beliefs, but to me, the wilderness is sacred, all of it. Not just pristine wilderness, but parks and roadsides and beaches. I’d no more throw toilet paper or other garbage around in nature than I would do so in a church.

And that sense of the sacred is above and beyond my basic obligations toward other humans, who I can safely assume do not want to see my piss soaked toilet paper and other miscellaneous garbage.

But enough ranting.

All this is not to say you should avoid peeing in nature.

Far from it. It’s very, very important to stay well hydrated while outdoors. You should drink lots and pee lots. I’ve heard that the most common call for mountain rescue is for women who collapse on the trail because of dehydration, because they weren’t drinking because they didn’t want to pee outdoors. Don’t let this be you.

I want all women to be comfortable peeing outdoors, for safety and fun and convenience. I just wish that there was some more education about how to properly pee in the woods. It’s not hard to take care of your own needs and take care of the land at the same time.

To whit:

4 tidy ways to pee in the woods

  1. Carry a zip lock baggie in your pocket. Put your used toilet paper in the bag and carry it until you get to the next garbage can. It won’t smell, it’s not that gross. It’s that easy.
  2.  Bury the toilet paper in a hole. This is not ideal. I’d far rather see it packed out, because it will likely get dug up or exposed. But it’s better than nothing. If you forget your baggie, this is the least you can do.
  3. Skip the toilet paper. You don’t really need it, you know. We didn’t evolve with toilet paper rolls attached to our behinds. You can develop your outdoor peeing technique so you can pee clean, mostly drip free. I don’t use TP when I pee in the woods–all I leave behind is a gift to the forest of water and nitrogen, and yes, I’m pretty darn smug about that. Soon I’ll do a separate post on outdoor peeing technique, but in the meanwhile, consider wearing a panty liner when you’re out in nature, then just sort of “dripping dry” for a moment before you pull up your pants. The pad will catch any stray drops.
  4. Carry one of the several urine director devices on the market for women, like this one which is well rated at REI. These not only allow you to pee standing up, with minimal disrobing, but you don’t use TP with them either.

When it is so very easy to keep our wild spaces clean and beautiful, why not do it? Teach your daughters–and your mothers. Offer baggies and panty liners to your friends. Pass it on.

(By the way, I’m trying to think up a good term for toilet paper litter –some of my ideas include “trail warts” or “forest tinsel” or “bush bunting”  Does anyone know one that’s in use? There must be a term in general use among the outdoorsfolk, but I’ve never heard one.)

Artificial Turf: Is It Ever a Good Idea?

Monsanto Astroturf ad

Another winning product from the folks at Monsanto.

In the midst of a drought, our local Department of Water and Power is offering a $3 a square foot rebate for residents and businesses who remove their lawn in favor of less water hungry plantings. Those dollars add up if you’ve got even a modest sized backyard.

But the devil is always in the details. While the LADWP has some very good information on lawn alternatives as well as training classes on water wise landscaping, why did they have to include “non-vegetative groundcover” a.k.a. artificial turf in the rebate program? And why did they landscape one of their own facilities with the stuff?

In this interest of keeping an open mind, I tried to think of circumstances in which artificial turf might be a good option. Maybe if it were used ironically? But I don’t really think its use can be justified. Why?

  • It’s a petrochemical product.
  • It will eventually break down and end up in a landfill or the  ocean.
  • There’s no wildlife benefit.

Practically speaking, it also gets really hot on a summer day and you’ve got to hose it down with water just to step on it. And if you have pets, it’s not easy to clean up after them on artificial turf.

And while we don’t have kids, I don’t buy the argument that kids need grass. I think kids would enjoy a garden that’s lush and a bit of a maze with places to play hide and seek. Same goes for dogs, really. They’re hard on grass, and do better with mulch. Kids and dogs and grownups as well enjoy the wildlife and rich scents brought in by diverse plant life.

As far as athletics are concerned, while there’s considerable debate on the subject, some studies have shown that sports injury rates are higher on artificial turf.

In short, I don’t think there’s an application for this stuff. And we certainly don’t need our government to incentivize it.

And just FYI, Monsanto developed AstroTurf.