Monthly Archives: June 2014

Ketchup Packets are Immortal

            We walk in the evenings, carrying a bag or two, and pick up the trash on our way. Bottles, coffee cups, straws and all the debris left from fast food meals. Our neighborhood roads are relatively quiet wandering routes, with hilly profiles, so I find it interesting that we can normally fill at least one bag with human-made materials.

            Back when the kid was in fifth grade she loved fast food. I guess that was because we hardly ever ate it. Logically enough, her idea for a Fifth Grade Science Project turned out to be buying the same basic meal at each local fast food joint, and testing the trash and wrappers for their comparative decay rate. McDonald’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Jack-in-the-Box, In-N-Out, Hamburger Habit, Wendy’s. We labeled and photographed each collection, burger wrappings and boxes, French fry holders, cups, straws, napkins, whatever kind of ketchup container the “to go” option offered. Husband rototilled a section of garden and the kid buried each assemblage, labeled, under several inches of dirt. We helped her cover the area with chicken wire to keep birds and skunks from partaking, and for the next several weeks watered the area regularly.


            When she dug it all up, she photographed each grouping again, and made up her poster report. Her findings? Paper degraded beautifully, even when waxed. We couldn’t find a trace of paper napkins, brown paper or bleached. Thin aluminum looked like it had been shredded. Straws, however, looked merely dirty and flattened. Styrofoam had no response to the experience.

             That summer we went on a camping trip, and happened to stop at an educational display that gave the time to complete decay for various forms of trash. Yesterday, I found the slip of paper onto which I copied the projected decay dates from the display we saw then, and here’s what I can still read off the folded over yellowed sheet:

            styrofoam     500 years —?

            6-pack plastic collar 450 years

            chewing gum   20-25 years

            aluminum can   200-500 years

            plastic-coated paper   5 years

            plastic bottles   10 years

            tin can   80-100 years

            paper and paperboard 6 months

            a cotton rag 1-5 months”

            To which I add, straws– I bet they are close in durability to the 6-pack collar, and polyester fabrics likewise. Then there’s the question of what these things transmute into, for example styrofoam. Styrofoam is biologically inert– the microorganisms can’t use it. It crumbles, but doesn’t decay. Many plastics take a long time to degrade, but when fragmented into small enough units get easily picked up and incorporated into living tissues. There’s the fascinating question of how plastic we are each becoming as we ingest tiny particles of these remarkable materials from animals and fish we eat, and possibly from the air and soil and clothing we use.

            So what’s our conclusion? Our choices when we eat out, actually make a difference, even if what we choose ends up in its proper place in a landfill or recycling station, not on the side of the road. We have impact and a lot of choices.

            As for the title of this piece? Yes. We decided that ketchup packets are immortal. They seemed completely unaffected by microbes, water, soil, fungi–you name it. We opened several to see, and the bright red sauce squeezed out smelling as perky as though we’d just taken the packets from a sanitized counter. We’ve tried to avoid the restaurants that hand them out, ever since the kid did her science project.

            And of course, kid had a lovely time eating all that fast food!



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Chili baked fish


I figure it’s time to share another recipe. The white-fleshed Pacific rockfish is my fish of choice for this recipe, because we can get it locally fished and it’s a sustainable harvest fish with a fine clean taste and firm texture.  Salmon gives a different taste, but is great in this combination too. Disclaimer– the fish illustrated is neither salmon nor rockfish, but a quick sketch of a rosefish, simply because I like the way rosefish look.

Chili fish (rockfish or salmon)

bunch of fresh cilantro, washed and shaken dry

greens from a bunch of scallions

tablespoon of pasilla chiles or other dark hot chili powder

about two tablespoons or three of seasoned rice wine vinegar

Put all the above ingredients in a food processor and chop to a slurry. Pat over a pound or two of fish in oven-proof pan,  (non-metallic surface,) and bake at about 350F until barely done, just past translucent.


Leftovers make a splendid fish chowder. Saute onions until translucent, add and slow cook a handful of sliced or diced red potatoes ’til tender, then add one can coconut milk and a teaspoon turmeric. Add salt to taste and possibly a dollop of honey. Taste again, perhaps put in a dash of rice wine vinegar to bring up a slight sharpness. Last minute, add left over fish to heat through before serving.


Filed under food

After Isla Vista: Commencement 2014


(I co-wrote this commencement address, a version of which was given last weekend at a UCSB graduation ceremony.)

1188 Lagoon Path II

This was the year.

A year of change, of disorder, of assault, of murder, of the world moving without us, without our approval. A year of feeling the deep violation of our space and our peace. You have made it to today. Here you stand, after all the shocks. Here you are.

You look about and the world seems to be too heavy, too difficult to move.   You are being deceived.

Oh yes, there’s injustice, the old man sleeping on the new bench by Silvergreens surrounded by millions of dollars of renovation to prettify the spot.. Without decent shelter, because in our “first world” country, people fall through the cracks.

There is injustice, always has been, always will be, and nothing to be done, you are told… but to be resigned.

You are being deceived We are being deceived. We are not helpless, we are not hopeless, and injustice is not eternal.

You are the scientists, the writers, the artists, the composers, the people who will rally hearts and minds. In your minds you hold ideas, awaiting transformation into your work, into your effect upon the world. You need the confidence to act, to trust each other and yourselves– to rise. To roll out and transform.

I have seen your anger, and even more, your sorrow. But in your work, in your writing, your music and your art, I see hope. You enter new lives today. These lives will not be easy, not on you, on your conscience, on your minds. Keep your friends close, keep their sustaining strength, for you need each other.

Ours is a community of incredibly disparate souls, but a community because of that, not in spite of it. A community within a community, the larger community of this university.

Do you remember being told--Don’t show off. Don’t make them feel bad. Don’t think so fast, don’t think so well?

Put that down. Leave that advice behind. Our college is where those fearful cautioning voices stopped, where the bar was no longer determined by the “norm”.  Our college has been the place for you to free the self you always were, to let it go.

Yes.   Frozen.

And my other movie reference for this day? Pacific Rim.

They do go together, the monster flick and the Disney animated movie. Together they argue for our freedom and our acceptance of our powers.

The kaiju monsters in Pacific Rim are the monsters of ignorance, Possibly an analogy for climate change–an analogy for religious strife, for mental illness, for misogyny, for the range of hatreds–for all those things we would prefer to wall away, to pretend ignorance about, to blinder our eyes against because we fear we cannot change them.

Monsters rising from our deeps, seeming merely alien and merely hostile, but in reality far more. We have given them time to bulk to greatness by our willingness to be reassured by voices saying –this threat is arguable, maybe it is not real at all, voices that have left us wallowing in convenience and comfort because there might be a  doubt that trouble is coming: And we can always build a wall and keep them away, can’t we?

Pacific Rim is a missed movie, a forgotten story. Geeks and warriors—but this is for us, for you, for each of us is both these things, the contending split-minded nerds and the joined-mind warriors.

Be no more deceived.

To battle monsters, particularly those of our own making, we become more human not less. We break the old trope that we must become them, kaiju ourselves, to beat them.   Instead, dare a better understanding that overcomes petty loyalties and identities. reach for a  creative  intimacy, a frightening risky acceptance.

We are people, once incompatible at the beginning of our story, who must come together to fight the common tragedy, the shared wrong.

Willful ignorance is the door through which our monsters come — this is the door we must close.

Pacific Rim bares the essential powers of mankind, to adapt, to rebuild, to come back from disaster with lessons learned  – to save each other. We do not become the enemy, we build together, not apart, and our common humanity bridges our differences. We protect, we create, we defend…   And while the urge to fall into destructive power may be great, we do not fall, and we keep each other from falling  –we seek to understand. Because the simple response of rage is not enough, and may bring us down faster than any threat from outside.

Our misperception of the enemy cripples. We have been deceived by the conceit that we can wall them off and turn away. That we can block off the problems without facing them.   That’s a lie. The fear that kept us blind? Let it go, throw off the halter, the blinders along with all the holding back. Open your hands. Accept your power. The cold never bothered you, anyway.

You have been deceived. We are not helpless. From Pacific Rim, come these truths:

“Today we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves but in each other

“Today there is not a man or woman in here who will stand alone.

“Today we face the monsters at our door.  

“Today we cancel the apocalypse.”

Be not deceived. Injustice is not eternal.



Filed under education, science, social and anti

12 Years a Slave (2014)

You could even say this is an uncomfortable review, but that is what makes it great.

Blogging for a Good Book

It is without question that slavery in America was a brutal, vicious, and inhumane institution. However, for anyone who thinks slavery was the more relatively benign institution depicted in Gone with the Wind or some of the other mainstream meant-for-entertainment Hollywood films, 12 Years a Slave quickly and effectively puts such thoughts to rest.

The film, 12 Years a Slave, was directed by Black British director Steve McQueen, and adapted from the real-life account of Solomon Northup, a free Black man living in antebellum America who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. That the film springs from the narrative of Northup himself offers a fresh cinematic perspective on slavery that makes it a more powerful statement on the subject of slavery in America than perhaps any other film ever made. There is no sugar coating of the facts, and there are no “happy slaves” or kindly White masters or…

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