Arts & Entertainment » Culture

Fiz 1.04.06

Little red houses

This fireworks factory sat up the road from my high school about a mile. A series of red wood shingled buildings scattered across the property. Upper classmen reveled in describing how the buildings housed small crews who assembled the various products. The layout was in case something went wrong --- then only the crew was blown up, not everyone else. I always wondered why the buildings looked so well-maintained since they seemed intended for self-destruction.

Apocryphally, some cook somewhere 2000 years ago mixed saltpeter, sulphur, and charcoal and exploded something for dinner. Experiments over the succeeding centuries revealed that color could be incorporated into the explosions: copper salts make blue; sodium salts make yellow; barium salts make green; etc. Moreover, titanium adds excellent sparks and zinc produces smoke clouds.

The center of world fireworks fabrication remains the Hunan province in China. Firecrackers emerged in the region 1000 years ago as a method for scaring away evil spirits. European traders and crusaders brought the technology home, where pyrotechnics became a centerpiece of public celebrations.

Shortly before my high school matriculation, President Nixon normalized trade with China; American makers visited for the first time in the modern era. Still, that factory loomed just up the road, a potentially tantalizing spectacle in the mind of a teenager. We received news only sporadically, so we were doubtless unaware that the fireworks industry was migrating out of our little hamlet even then.

Early in 2005, the United States Department of Justice Office of Consumer Litigation sent letters to fireworks hobbyists throughout the country, notifying the recipients that they were under scrutiny for having their names on invoices at various fireworks outlets.

I remember riding in a friend's car one spring Saturday as we passed the fireworks manufacturer. One little red building near the road was a shambles.

--- Craig Brownlie

Furry friends and faux fashions

They're soft. They're cuddly. And they belong in your sweater. Part of the grand Lion King-esque circle of life is this animal-wearing craze. From hairy sheep to wool to hairy sheep again. Too bad chest hair isn't so useful. But forget wool. It's fibrous and rough. Better to go with rabbit, angora rabbit that is. Female angora rabbit to be specific. (The XY chromosome pairing apparently renders this furry friend furless). And not a shred of guilt. No killing, no bloodshed, just a bald bunny awaiting her next wax treatment.

Banana Republic's hit upon the fad. Every sweater at this joint features something angora. I (unwittingly) bought one. My veggie ways prompted some research, some soul-satiating, conscious-curing information on how angora rabbits love getting their hair shorn; after all, it does get hot in the summer. But no, alas, tells me that this cuddly creature wiles her life away inside a cage with ulcerated feet. She may live longer than those meat rabbits, but is it worth a life of misery and pain? I cringe, vowing to return my sweater pronto. I will not be one of them. Hell no.

But I'm hooked. I search on. Another site,, lists all hostile materials in alphabetical order: alpaca, angora, down, leather, mohair, silk... (Did you know that 500 silkworms die for 1 kilogram of raw silk)? I'll wear cotton then. Cotton seeds won't mind, right? Perhaps not, I'm told, but our children's children are sure to suffer the effects of cotton producers' pollutants until the end of eternity. Even synthetic fails the cut. Too much oil. Luckily this site links me to other sites with veg-appropriate products, such as organic cotton panties and a swanky sterling silver purse (perhaps I should buy two and use it as a bra?).

Being vegetarian just got very expensive, though. I'm a journalist. I'm poor. I weigh my options: cruelty, poverty, or nudity. Maybe I'll just shave the cats.

--- Sujata Gupta