Saturday, October 13, 2012

book response: Savage Continent by Lowe (2012)

The subtitle of Savage Continent: Europe in the aftermath of World War 2 was what caught my attention on the book shelf at the public library. I've done plenty of reading on the 2nd world war, but I realized I don't know any details on the post-war recovery. After this book, I learned the killing kept going.

It's ironic that the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize this week. "Congratulations for not having any genocides in the last 10 years. Keep up the good work."

All I learned in high school was the United States lent money to rebuild Europe through the Marshall Plan and the Soviet Union brought down an iron curtain around eastern Europe. But that's the view from high altitude. In the more granular view, ethnic cleansing continued, not as much against Jews, though this still happened, but Germans were expelled from countries they had lived in, outside Germany for centuries. Ukranians and Poles, Italians and Yugoslavians. If that weren't enough, even within ethnically homogenous countries, they managed to find other reasons to kill or imprison each other, partisans vs. Nazi collaborators, or partisans vs. communists, or in the case of Greece, virtually civil war, in which the partisans, who were communists and successful against the Nazis in the mountainous areas, were considered dangerous in the eyes of the British, who supported the right wing government in suppressing the very countrymen who harassed the Nazis and even delivered some cities from the Nazis.

The shifting political winds immediately after the war made prosecution of Nazi collaborators barely feasible in light of the millions of Red Army boots on the ground in the middle of Europe. Even though justice hardly came through official channels, it often happened spontaneously and locally by lynch mobs or less violently from angry families.

Everything wrong that was done after the war officially ended has to be viewed in light of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, though. Terrible things were done by the communists and the allies. Wrongs were not always made right. Wrongs were added to wrongs. Pleas for help were ignored. On this side of that war, from this separation of time, it is easy to get angry at the injustices. But Lowe is able to bring his readers into the milieu of the time, when the dehumanization wrought on the world by the Axis, made any attempt at making things right again, no matter how crudely, understandable.

Normally, I like to highlight these books and share a few quotes, but every paragraph in this book is worth sharing and remembering. This book is a keeper.
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Saturday, October 06, 2012

pre-fab strawbale timber frame

I do have a weakness for strawbale construction. They are like big lego blocks which one can stack into a house you can live in. Even I can build with legos. Because they are bigger, they can make a wall quicker than earthbags, with insulation properties, unlike earth alone. There is some good work being done on the Pine Ridge Reservation with strawbale round homes, look at these beautiful homes. One difficulty is the need to keep them from getting wet though. One solution is having large work parties, who can bang it out over a few days. Another solution is to pre-fabricate straw bale walls under a roof, then deliver them to the home site and slap them together in a couple days, which ModCell in the UK has developed. They build a timberframe, cram the bales in tight, then spray on a lime plaster on both sides. This wall frame is then stuck together, like a SIPs panel, but unlike a SIP, it's all natural and massive, like 2000 lbs a panel. NatureBuilt in Ontario, Canada has a similar product and more recent project photos. Also, their FAQ is in non-metric units for us clueless Americans. This site has details on a prototype home in Canada.

One of the important concepts of green construction is to use local materials. If I don't have access to the right earth mixture in my neck of the woods, why not use the wood in the woods and hay from the farms around here instead?

Below is a short video of one of these Canadian homes under construction with the pre-fab strawbale walls.
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