A Close Shave Part IV

There are a few advantages to living in ugly old Los Angeles. Homegrown Revolution contributor Hairy Picfair, in an email commenting on our post about switching to an old-fashioned safety razor, reminded us that we can find replacement blades at Ross Cutlery, the shop where O.J. Simpson picked up a folding knife while shooting a commercial next door, just a month before the murder of his ex-wife. Ross Cutlery is located in the Bradbury Building where Rutger Hauer had his showdown with Harrison Ford in the thrilling conclusion of Blade Runner. Celebrity gossip aside, cutlery shops are a promising place to find alternative shaving supplies.

Mark, another HGR reader, writes to ask about alternatives to shaving creams. We’ve been testing out Colonel Conk Products’ Almond Shave Soap with a cheap shaving brush. So far we’re happy with this product and while we’re disappointed that neither the container nor Colonel Conk’s website lists the ingredients, we’ve sent a letter to the company to see if they will let us know what is in the soap. We’ll report back when we find out.

Lastly, fellow bloggist and Starcrash scholar Doug Harvey writes to suggest a visit to a traditional barber for a professional straight-edge blade experience. We used to do this until a friend of ours started cutting our hair in exchange for lunches at pupusa joints. Perhaps we can get our volunteer hairstylist to take up the blade if we switch to three martini lunches at swankier digs.

To our international readers we apologize for the O.J. and pupusa references in this LA-centric post and we send our condolences to those about to undergo that thing called winter . . .


See Homegrown Revolution this Saturday!

Homegrown Revolution has never been to Burning Man, but we’re big fans of the movie The Wicker Man and we figure it’s probably similar, which is why we’re happy to announce that we’ll be doing a brief appearance at the Los Angeles Burning Man Decompression this Saturday October 13th in support of our book The Urban Homesteader, due out next May from Process Media. The Burning Man Decom will take place on Sante Fe between the 4th and 6th Street Bridges in the Artist District deep in the beating heart of downtown Los Angeles (map). We’ll be delivering a harangue sometime around 4 or 5 pm. Come out and see us and stay for the sacrifice!

A Close Shave Part III

Kurt Cobain once said, “The only way I would wear a tye-died T-shirt would be if it were soaked in the blood of Jerry Garcia.” Being born around the same year as Cobain, our generational bias prevents us from donning tie-dye, friendship bracelets, or sandals. It also prevents us from cultivating a flowing beard, leaving us desperately hooked on shaving products.

As the alleged developer of the “loss-leader” business strategy King Gillette figured out that if you sold folks a cheap razor handle customers would have to come back for disposable razors for which you could charge an exorbitant price. Like desperate crack addicts we’ve been patronizing Gillette for years, plopping down ever more ridiculous sums for the latest “Mach-whatever” plastic multi-blade gimmick.

We finally decided to opt out of the Gillette trap and order up a retro safety razor from Lehmans. Here’s a comparison of costs:

Gillette Mach 3: four blades for $10.59 or $2.64 a blade
Package of double-edged, stainless steel blades: ten blades for 4.95 or 49 cents a blade.

So far so good, but there’s a catch. The fine folks at Gillette are a monopoly, as rapacious as the rail barons of the 19th century and completely dominate the shaving products industry. In a practice known as “slotting” large companies pay fees, sometimes as high as $25,000 per item, to reserve space on supermarket shelves and essentially eliminate the competition. The supermarket I checked did not have any blades other than Gillette–not even even Schick, and certainly not old-fashioned safety razors. So it appears that we may have to mail order replacement blades, and with shipping fees this will make the traditional safety razor gambit less appealing.

But we’re stubborn and just can’t give Gillette, now owned by Proctor and Gamble, any more of our money. The real way out of this dilemma is to take up the even more traditional straight razor but we’ve been warned about the learning curve on that strategy, not to mention the need to keep the blade sharp. Opinions dear readers? Any straight-edged razor types out there?

We Grow Houses

The last time a television news crew showed up near our domicile we were living in San Diego for a brief stint in grad school and those dozens of microwave relay trucks that showed up were beaming vital information about the former apartment of Gianni Versace assassin and spree killer Andrew Cunanan. So when we spotted a NBC news truck near the Homegrown Revolution compound we assumed our Los Angeles neighborhood had produced a new celebrity killer.

It turned out instead to be a photo op for the County of Los Angeles Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures who had deployed the truck pictured above to spray pesticide due to an invasion of the oriental Fruit Fly Bactrocera dorsalis. Two traps in the area picked up some specimens of this interloper which can quickly turn a fruit harvest into a maggot infested disaster. The eradication technique used, the “male annihilation technique” or MAT, sounds like something out of radical feminist and Andy Warhol assassin Valerie Solanas’ S.C.U.M. Manifesto. MAT is conducted by spraying hundreds of trees and utility poles in the affected area with a gel-like substance consisting of a male attractant (methyl eugenol) combined with a pesticide called Naled (trade name Dibrom). Male fruit flys seek out the attractant and die leaving a feminist paradise and killing out the species within two generations. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture the attractant is species-specific and won’t attract beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies. Public information officer Ken Pellman, on the scene to deal with NBC, assured me that I wouldn’t have any trouble unless I “licked the utility poles” and went on to say that the Naled application would prevent larger applications of pesticides should oriental fruit flys establish large populations down the road. Perhaps.

While toxicity concerns are probably more of a problem in broader applications, (Naled is used for mosquito control and sprayed in much greater quantities for that purpose), a breakdown product called dichlorvos can enter the environment and has been linked with cancer in humans. Naled is also highly toxic to bees and butterflies. We’d also note that any pesticide tends to lose effectiveness over time due to natural selection creating creating pesticide resistance. If any of those male fruit flys survive they may end up breeding offspring who can lick those utility poles and come back for more.

Another question to ask is the validity of the oriental fruit fly detection methods. During the last big fly invasion of the Mediterranean fruit fly, which our spokesman described as a “public relations nightmare” due to the aerial spraying campaign, a number of entomologists questioned whether traps were picking up new infestations or just sporadic discoveries of a permanent population. If it’s a permanent population the spraying is merely a kind of pesticide theater meant to make it seem like something is being done. Meanwhile we invite future agricultural catastrophes through our world economy which allows us the luxury of out of season, mediocre fruit year round all the while inviting in exotic pests.

Whether or not Naled poses a toxicity problem for our neighborhood (it certainly poses a health risk for the workers as that inflatable hand demonstrates), we at Homegrown Revolution have a more basic solution–let’s start growing our own fruit here in Los Angeles County again. We could start by replacing useless street plantings with a city-wide orchard for instance. Ultimately global trade is the culprit in this outbreak and we’ll note that several oriental fruit flys were found in traps located near the harbor where all that cheap crap from China comes in for the Wal-marts of our debased country. We noted the lack of local agriculture to Pellman and he remarked that Los Angeles County used to be the wealthiest agricultural county in the United States back in the 1950s. Now he said, “we grow houses”.

The Chicken and the Egg

Back before we relegated the television to a junk pile in the garage we used to channel surf the obscure reaches of cable television creating our own mood-leveling visual mix of Korean melodramas, infomercials and the ongoing freak show that is Los Angeles public access television (click for some Francine Dancer!). Now instead of television we just pull up a chair in the late afternoon and watch the four chickens that populate our backyard in their ongoing search for seeds, bugs and the need to sort out the pecking order. After many hours of poultry behavior viewing it’s no surprise to us that some anthropologists believe that the chicken was first domesticated to provide entertainment (through cock fighting) rather than eggs or meat.

But more important than the entertainment value backyard chickens provide is the far superior taste and nutritional value of eggs from poultry allowed access to pasture. Mother Earth News has an ongoing study comparing supermarket eggs with the eggs of pasture raised poultry and the results are astonishing. But first some definitions. Pasture raised poultry are allowed access to bugs and vegetation. The USDA’s definition of free range is just “Allowed access to the outside”. This can mean a door leading out of a massive shed to a patch of lifeless concrete or barren dirt. “Cage free” hens more than likely spend their entire lives inside and never see the light of day or breath natural air. Most eggs, however, come from chickens that live in cages, and don’t get to move around at all. The shameless flacks at the American Egg Board (AEB) like to mislead the public into believing that “free range” is the same as pasture raised and that there is no nutritional difference between free range, pasture raised and caged chicken eggs.

According to evidence from tests conducted by Mother Earth News Pasture raised chickens have 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene. The AEB along with their cronies in the USDA continue to spread the lie that there’s nothing wrong with confining poultry to crammed, inhumane and unsanitary conditions and that eggs produced by factory farm hens are no different than pasture raised hens. As Mother Earth puts it,

“It’s amazing what a group can do with a $20 million annual budget. That’s what factory-farm egg producers pay to fund the American Egg Board each year to convince the public to keep buying their eggs, which we now believe are substandard.”

Now we haven’t counted our chickens before they’ve hatched. Pasture raising chickens, even in a small backyard entails more risk (mainly from predators such as hawks and loose dogs) than confining them to a cage. It’s definitely easier and more economical for commercial producers to confine chickens.

But consider the consequences of the economic and quality race to the bottom of factory farming’s economy of scale–an abundance of cheap, tasteless and nutritionally deficient eggs that like the endless flood of shipping containers full of plastic crap from China poisons both our bodies and souls.

Here’s a list of questions to ask the folks who provide your eggs.

And more Francine Dancer for those without chickens.

Happy World Car Free Day

In honor of World Car Free Day celebrated every September 22nd Homegrown Revolution presents an open letter:

Dear middle-aged office lady who tried to run me down while I was walking my dog in a cross walk across a quiet residential street,

I know you’re in a hurry to get to your job to pay for the $40,000 behemoth you use to transport yourself. Let me extend a welcome to my neighborhood which you use as an alternative to the freeway. It’s not the first time me, my wife, friends and neighbors have been threatened by folks like yourself piloting 6,800 pound death machines. It’s snarky but I have to point out our weight differential. Me and the doberman weigh a combined 240 pounds. It looks like you alone weigh that much due to your sedentary lifestyle. Add that 240 pounds to your multi-ton choice of transportation and I hope you understand why we’re angry when you seem to forget that me and the dog are living beings as you accelerate towards us.

Perhaps you just dropped off your kids at school. Too bad they’ll be suffering from type two diabetes because of inactivity, probably because when you’re not cruising around solo you’re ferrying those kids everywhere in your car. But I suppose it’s not safe for them to walk or ride their bikes to school because of all the SUV drivers like you playing chicken with pedestrians to see who can beat each other across the intersection.

I could keep ranting, mentioning the things we all know, the childhood asthma rates of our polluted city, the melting polar ice caps and dying polar bears, the 39,000 traffic fatalities on American roads, and all those folks dying in Iraq to supply the oil that feeds your addiction.

So perhaps morning rush hour was not the appropriate time for my Tienanmen Square moment of blocking your forward progress by standing in front of your custom grill to scold you for nearly killing me and my dog. How amusing that you circled your finger around your ear and pointed to me indicating wordlessly that you thought I was crazy. We’ll let history be the judge of who’s insane (I’m not putting my money on the oil addicted). In the meantime let’s focus on that tricked-out grill you paid extra for to enhance the meanness of what the designers in Detroit have already managed to make plenty sinister. Do me a favor, step back and ask yourself why you and the car manufacturers have altered the anthropomorphic features of front grills to express homicidal rage.

Oh angry middle-aged driver, would you have behaved better if instead of a cranky middle-aged eco-blogger dressed like the Unabomber and walking a doberman you had encountered a little girl on a pink bicycle with a golden retriever puppy? Perhaps this is why friends and neighbors of mine have all had the same idea of constructing a dummy child and puppy that we could fling out in the street suddenly to slow you all down. Or, is your head so brainwashed by automobile advertising that our animatronic ruse would only be a minor speed bump on the way to the office.

But let’s not end on the negative. Middle-aged office lady (I’m going to call you sister from now on) it’s time to set yourself free! Remember the words of the Situationist muse Guy Debord, “Revolutionary urbanists will not limit their concern to the circulation of things and of human beings trapped in a world of things. They will try to break these topological chains, paving the way with their experiments for a human journey through authentic life.” Break those chains liberated sister and get out of that Yukon. Slow down and live the authentic life! Remember what Debord also said, “Traffic Circulation is the organization of universal isolation. In this regard it constitutes the major problem of modern cities. It is the opposite of encounter, it absorbs the energies that could otherwise be devoted to encounters or to any sort of participation.”

Someday sister you will liberate yourself from that metal glass and plastic cage you’ve locked yourself in.

Happy World Car Free Day,

Homegrown Revolution

How Not to Grow Potatoes


Despite doing everything wrong we had a more bountiful than expected harvest of potatoes this summer season. We grew our ‘taters in a stack of tires. Used treads, due to their ubiquity along the sides of our blighted streets, ought to be named the official city flower of Los Angeles, but we digress. The idea with ‘tater tire stacks is that you add another tire as the plant grows and in so doing encourage the plant to throw out more roots. At the end of the season you kick over the tire stack, which will end up being about three to four tires high, and feast on many pounds of ‘taters.

Just don’t do what we did and try to grow them from sprouting supermarket potatoes. Experts recommend buying special seed potatoes which are certified not to carry any of the diseases that plague this member of the nightshade family. We knew better but felt lazy about ordering seed potatoes. Our potato plants looked sad, failed to flower and eventually died. Much to our surprise when we finally got around to knocking down our ‘tater tire stacks after over a month and many complaints from visiting aesthetes, we discovered a trove of potatoes at the bottom. Amazingly after stewing in the summer heat for at least a month we still had a meager harvest. And speaking of heat, we suspect that potatoes may do better here in Southern California in the winter and we’re going to try it again soon–this time with seed potatoes.

If any of you loyal readers have any ‘tater growing experiences please share them with us. And don’t worry, we haven’t read Benton’s book and won’t resort to the same cheap white trash humor.

Moonshine

Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0074685. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society

Homegrown Revolution will neither confirm nor deny that we have any plans involving the production of moonshine. Nevertheless, we were thrilled to find a new book in the library by Matthew B. Rowley called Moonshine! that offers up an entertaining history as well as recipes and instructions for building two kinds of stills, a simple one made with a wok and a more complex model involving welding that resembles the one being seized in the photo above.

As soon as things cool down here this fall we’ll definitely begin some legal fermentation experiments, but we can’t help but feel envious of some comrades of ours in France we visited a few years ago who recounted how their families used to ferment the excess fruit in the yard and take it to a licenced farmer to distill into the French version of moonshine, eau de vie. Here in the states it’s illegal to distill anything yourself but perfectly o.k., as a recent article in the Wall Street Journal points out, for agricultural corporation, Archer-Daniels-Midland to distill pure ethyl alcohol, sell it to corporate vodka producers as “product code 020001″, ship it “Bulk, Truck, Bulk Rail, or Tank” and as Journal reporter Eric Felten concluded, “Cut it with water — preferably from a source that will lend itself to a pretty picture on the label — bottle it, and you’re in the vodka business.”

As it turns out there is an art to good homemade moonshine — a far cry from the soulless mouthwash Archer-Daniels-Midlands turns out. Here’s some excerpts from an interview of ex-moonshiner John Bowman conducted by the Coal River Folklife Project from “Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia”:

Making whisky at night (mp3)

Telling the difference between good moonshine and bad (mp3)

Good water for moonshine (mp3 with rooster!)

Signalling the presence of the federal man (mp3)

More of this interview here.

Looking for the Union Label

We’ve got a bad case of Ohrwurm, a German expression translated as “earworm” and used to describe a song stuck in your head. Our earworm came after a search for union made socks and underwear on the internets recalled a highly catchy ad jingle from the roller disco era, “Look for the Union Label” (youngsters can watch it on youtube here).

We looked for the union label and we were surprised to find it via a company called Union House which carries a functional, if unexciting line of apparel. Unless hipsters take to golf shirts in an ironic fashion judo move, these offerings will never be cool like the domestically made clothes made by the union busting folks over at American Apparel. The socks and underwear we ordered from Union House arrived promptly and are of superior quality. Homegrown Revolution hecklers will, no doubt, shout us down for not sewing our own underwear and socks, but we’ll save our time for more complicated sewing projects such as the shirt we sewed a few years ago.

We’ve all got a lot of moral geometry to perform in this globalized world–the keyboard we’re tapping this missive out on was assembled in Malaysia by workers who, it’s safe to say, probably don’t toil in the best of conditions. But, taking out the moral ruler, we’ve got to draw a line somewhere and last week that was with the clothing we chose. It’s better to mark that line somewhere than not to mark it at all.

Though we prefer this more soulful rendition, we feel the need to spread the earworm around and here’s another version of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union song (with a few inexplicable bleeps):