Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 9:18 AM
Media technologist and consultant Deanna Zandt’s new book is called Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking. In an essay adapted from it for In These Times, Zandt reminds us that “for all the horn-tootin’ over the disruptive and democratizing potential of the Internet, we’re still seeing the Big Important Conversations dominated by the same old, same old.” Behold:
Despite the fact that women, for example, make up more than half of the active users on most social networking sites, we still usually see men served up as the expert voices on social networks, on blogs and in mainstream media. Or, even though African Americans are more likely to use Twitter than white people, white people are given the role of experts, speaking at conferences, on top 10 lists and more.
The Internet is deceptively equal. We don’t know, or we’re not willing to recognize, that we have transposed to the Internet the same social structures we’ve been living with for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. We’re painting our understanding of the offline world—with all our prejudices, biases and hierarchies—onto the canvas of the Internet.
Source: In These Times
Image by kodomut, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, July 26, 2010 5:39 PM
Rule number one: “When you enter a used bookstore, do not ask if it is a library. A common preliminary to that question comes from the man who stands in the entrance, looks around, nods his head sagely and astutely observes, ‘Books, eh?’ ”
So begins David Mason, a bookseller of 40 years who plies his trade at his eponymous shop in Toronto. In the latest issue of Descant, his essay “The Protocols of Used Bookstores: A Guide to Dealing with Certain Perils That Could be Encountered in a Used Bookstore,” is both witty and genuine, by which I mean: The 44-point piece made me laugh, even as his great love of books—and great respect for others who also love them—offered a gratifying glimpse into the world of bookselling. To point:
19. When the proprietor of a used bookstore asks if he can help, he is not beginning his campaign to sell you something you don’t want or need, like a new suit or the latest fad. He actually is interested in directing you to the appropriate book. If you answer, “Just browsing,” he will assume you are afraid of him. You should answer, “Only if I don’t find something on my own.” Remember, the bookseller wants you to buy a book, indeed he depends on it. But unlike many businesses he only wants to sell you a book that you want. The bookseller knows that he may never own another copy of that book and he wants it to go where it will be appreciated.
Note/Poetic Justice: “The Protocols of Used Bookstores” is not available to read online, so if you wish to fully inoculate yourself against the certain perils, you’ll either have to pick up a hard copy of Descant or order what appears to be the stand-alone essay from David Mason Books (check under “Special Announcements”).
Wednesday, July 07, 2010 5:04 PM
The next time some cranky person mocks your reusable grocery bags or belittles your low-flow showerhead—as we even have been known to do—here’s an intriguing little retort, courtesy of Conservation magazine. Turns out small, “personal” environmental actions actually could make a difference.
A group of researchers at Michigan State University crunched the numbers. If Americans took 17 simple steps—environmental changes that involve no major shift in “household well-being”—they could cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent.
“If that doesn’t seem like much, consider that this is equivalent to the total emissions of France,” Conservation’s Robert McClure reports. “It’s also equivalent to the combined emissions of the petroleum-refining, iron-and-steel, and aluminum industries.”
And, even more realistically, in reaching that 7 percent figure, the researchers didn’t assume that everyone could be persuaded to adopt all 17 environmental measures. So, for example, they calculated for an 80 percent low-flow-showerhead adoption, but dropped that number to 15 percent for carpooling.
Additionally, “there’s no evidence that people who take these steps excuse themselves from larger burdens,” McClurewrites. “There hasn’t been much empirical data on that question, but existing evidence suggests just the opposite—that as a person begins to feel good about one set of small actions to help the planet, he or she is likely to start considering larger and bolder steps.”
Here’s a link to the report that the Conservation story is about. The researchers broke down actions into categories:
- weatherizing with attic insulation, by sealing drafts, and installing high-efficiency windows, and replacing inefficient HVAC equipment
- adopting more efficient appliances, equipment, and motor vehicles
- changing air filters in HVAC systems, vehicle maintenance
- reducing laundry temps, resetting temps on water heaters
- eliminating standby electricity, thermostat setbacks, line drying, more efficient driving, carpooling, and trip chaining
Image by Crystl, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 18, 2010 12:38 PM
Giddy biking and public policy enthusiasts crowded into Minneapolis’ Uptown Theater last night, grabbing pints of Surly brew (in a corn-based compostable cup, no less), and settling in for a panel discussion on “Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around,” part of a popular “Policy and a Pint” series sponsored by local public radio station 89.3 The Current.
Headlining panelist David Byrne, avid cycling advocate and former Talking Heads frontman, was no doubt causing some of the buzz—I mean, he’s David Byrne, for heaven’s sake; if you haven’t seen Stop Making Sense, stop reading this blog and go. Go now. Do it. But to be fair, Twin Cities cyclists have also had a lot of other things to get excited about lately: Bicycling named Minneapolis the #1 U.S. city for biking, and that was even before last week, when the initial phase of Nice Ride Minnesota, a spectacular public bike sharing program, got off the ground.
Nice Ride co-sponsored the panel, which also included Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, author Jay Walljasper, and Steve Clark, manager of Transit for Livable Communities’ Walking and Bicycling Program. (The men rode cheerful green bike-share cruisers down the aisles of the theater.) So, you might ask yourself, what is the future of cities, bicycles, and getting around?
David Byrne delivered a photo-based powerpoint, beginning with slides of suburbs shot from above and termite high-rises (take note: the insects have a better grip on passive heating than we humans), and transitioned into the alienating, futuristic cities imagined by folks like Hugh Ferriss, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Buckminster Fuller. He also showed also a vintage image featuring a super-mega-highway from General Motors—which at the time, Byrne stressed, was the biggest company on “the whole damn planet.” Its vision carried weight.
The evidence of that weight is all over. Byrne began showing photographs from his travels: shots of downtown highway underpasses, barren stretches of road, vacant parking lots, and dead strip malls. “The city is a parking lot,” he said, “and when it’s not a parking lot, it’s a parking structure. This is dead. This is dead life.”
Not everywhere, however. The mood shifted as Byrne began flipping through photographs shot both stateside and abroad, rattling off some of the more promising places he’s been and things he’s seen. New bike parking facilities and protected bike lanes—one in New York that he says has changed his rides for the better. A sensor that clips onto spokes that could be used by employers to track and give credit to employees who commute on two wheels. European town squares, where cars are not prohibited but are so obviously inefficient choices, they’re hardly ever seen. And a preteen band playing—not well—on a street corner. He stopped, he said, and listened for a minute, wondering in effect: Is this avant guard? Is their dad hiding just around the corner? But the point is he stopped, a moment he never would have had if he had been traveling by car.
Mayor R.T. Rybak followed Byrne’s presentation, raising whoops from the audience by declaring that the city would work to keep the laurel that Bicycling gave it. “Portland is just a street in the city of Minneapolis,” he quipped, and then launched into a rapid-fire speech about how Nice Ride came to fruition—and what the city has planned next, including 35 new miles of bike trail.
Up next, writer Jay Walljasper (a former Utne Reader editor, as it were) posited his vision for the future of cycling: “Incredibly sexy and utterly normal.” To understand the sexy part, he proposed, think back to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—that scene where Butch (Paul Newman) gives Etta (Katharine Ross) a ride on his handlebars. (Walljasper imagined thousands of Americans, sitting on their couches, wondering: Now where was that bike again? The garage?)But in all seriousness, he said, biking is sexy: “It’s elegant, fun, and will make [you] feel a lot better.” The utterly normal part became evident in a gauntlet thrown down to the people who are already biking nuts—to break down the clubbishness and exclusiveness, and make sure that everyone can access the “environmental, social, and spiritual” reasons to ride.
In closing, Steve Clark from Transit for Livable Communities, a nonprofit working to reform Minnesota’s transportation system, took the stage. “I do believe our world is changing,” he said, “And it’s hanging so fast that we can’t [appreciate] what’s happening.” His prediction: 2010 will be recorded in history as the year our love affair with the automobile came to an end.
Clark was a rousing, earnest speaker, pointing out what he sees as the cracks in the foundation of car culture: both oil-related Gulf crises (BP’s spill and Iraq), rising rates of asthma, obesity and health issues, and air pollution, to name a few. Federal financial support his organization has received is in a sense groundbreaking, he says, representing government recognition that biking and walking are real parts of a solution to national transportation needs.
Transit for Livable Communities, for example, through its Bike/Walk Twin Cities program, was able to financially support Minnesota Nice Ride, the largest bike-share program in the United States. Clark packaged his take on why bicycles are the future into a tidy and timely acronym:
Nimble. Bikes are a quick and nimble way to get around.
Inviting. Anyone can ride one, and you can do it in regular clothes.
Convivial. On a bike, you interact with people. In a car, you don’t.
Efficient. Biking is so efficient, it even beats out walking.
And you know? That really does cover it. Biking is just nice. In every way. Oh, and by the way—here’s a trailer for Stop Making Sense:
Image (top) by tsuacctnt, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 14, 2010 5:13 PM
“The term has become so widely used that it is in danger of meaning nothing. It has been applied to all manner of activities in an effort to give those activities the gloss of moral imperative, the cachet of environmental enlightenment,” Eric Zencey writes in Orion. But the writer doesn’t stop there, no, not nearly: Behold his fantastic essay “Theses on Sustainability,” an 18-point primer and philosophical romp through the meaning(s) of the word.
Friday, June 04, 2010 3:18 PM
It's Friday, so I thought I'd take a momentary break from depressing BP blog posts and FDA-directed fury, and write about something positive. And this, well, this is a lesson that never goes out of style:
As Go Yoga Jane reports, The Dalai Lama was recently in New York to teach at Radio City Music Hall, where he handled the brightly-lit stage by wearing a small visor to shield his eyes. A mentor of Jane’s was there, and Jane relays the visor’s significance:
Instead of asking the stage managers to change the lighting to his liking, [the Dalai Lama] turns it into a lesson. Work with things as they are.
We have moments every day to employ this lesson. It is so habitual to want to change, fix, complain about and control our environment. We spend quite a bit of energy doing so. Truthfully, most of what we spend time changing or fixing isn’t permanent anyway. There might be a little relief but then organically things return to their natural state.
Here is a little experiment which might be fun: Take one week out of your life and try to just deal with things as they are without the need to change them. It’s going to be hard … yes. Obviously if it affects your safety that doesn’t count. Common sense. I mean just the dumb little things that drive you crazy. The things you habitually complain about that really don’t matter.
Source: Go Yoga Jane
Image by Perfecto Insecto, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 4:47 PM
One of the things I like most about ecologist Sandra Steingraber’s writing is her ability to express big, substantive ideas with clarity, simplicity, and resolve. I exit her essays both calmed and inspired. I was reminded of this unusual quality as I devoured her “Organic Manifesto,” which was republished in the most recent issue of In Good Tilth. (Organic Valley first published the essay, and you can read the complete manifesto as a PDF on her website.) And if you like what you read, take note: Steingraber’s book Living Downstream is now in its second edition, and has been recently made into a film.
Source: In Good Tilth
Photo by Dede Hatch.
Monday, May 24, 2010 5:07 PM
Economist and author Juliet Schor, a professor of sociology at Boston College, is out to “plant a stake in the heart of the Business-as-Usual economy and its bankrupt politics.” Dig into a taste of Schor’s compelling thinking, adapted from her recently published book Plenitude, in this week’s issue of The Nation.
Source: The Nation
Thursday, May 20, 2010 3:52 PM
Evgeny Morozov, writing for Boston Review (and responding to the new book Delete), on whether or not digital storage enhances memory:
Suppose we transfer photos from an iPhone to a hard drive: who is remembering? And is this an act of remembrance at all?
If the transfer succeeds, we may have a faint memory of saving the photos in some generically named folder on our hard drives, but to find those exact files we’ll also need to know how to look for them (e.g., by name, date, approximate contents).
Yes, these days we produce, consume, and save more data—a study by researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that in 2008 the average American consumed 34 gigabytes of information per day, an increase of about 350 percent since 1980—but it does not follow that we remember more.
Perfect digital memory is useless without perfect digital cataloging. . . . A 2008 study conducted by researchers at the University of Sheffield in Britain found that 39 percent of surveyed participants failed to retrieve digital photos of important events that took place only a year before; they couldn’t find them on their hard drives and had no idea how to search for them, as they had not organized and annotated them properly.
Source: Boston Review
, licensed under
Friday, May 14, 2010 12:58 PM
I don’t forage often for wild food—yet. But I’m eagerly reading Samuel Thayer’s new guide, Nature’s Garden, which is fantastic, and I was delighted to find a great in-depth essay called “The Value of Wild Plants” in the latest issue of The Art of Eating.
Writer Melissa Pasanen heads out on the hunt with Les Hook and Nova Kim, a pair of professional wild food foragers in Vermont. If you want to read the whole story, you’ll have to get your paws on a print copy—a luxurious, lovely print copy—of The Art of Eating. The piece is so packed with interesting observations, however, that I wanted to share a few of my favorites here:
Hook and Kim’s philosophy includes dining on invasive species—using them “out of existence” instead of killing or poisoning them. “One spring vegetable they have been doggedly marking is something they call red asparagus,” Pasanen writes. “Actually, it’s Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), an invasive species that threatens to choke our native plants along river and stream banks.” (In this particular case, Pasanen is not a fan of the flavor, describing it as “the bastard child of rhubarb and okra”.)
Also intriguing: “Much of what we consider wild today was brought here by European settlers and is more accurately called ‘escaped,’ ” Pasanen writes. Some of the most recognizable “wild” foods, such as watercress and daylilies, fall into this category.
And, finally, the essay provides a fascinating peek into the stewardship of professional foragers—as compared to that of moonlighters, often in it for the money. Hook and Kim take only what they need, harvest so as to not harm plants, and always leave some food behind. They charge a correspondingly premium price for their foods.
As Hook quips to Pasanen: “I tell chefs: ‘You’re not paying for the mushrooms we bring you, but for the mushrooms we leave in the woods.’ ”
Source: The Art of Eating
Thursday, April 29, 2010 3:31 PM
Back in the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of Public Art Review, I read a short piece by Arlene Goldbard, author of New Creative Community. It was about jobs—well, jobs and artists, public attitudes and social values, and what’s necessary to spur national economic recovery. She made a couple of points that I can’t shake, so I wanted to share them here.
Goldbard begins with a simple question: “What sustains us?” Her answer, in short, is storytelling and art. “Communities derive nourishment from stories that offer inspiration, empathy, and guidance, that help possibility to bloom,” she writes. “We create stories on walls and other sites of public memory, in dance and theater, moving-image media, print, music, digital communication. . . . Under even horrific conditions—in prison, in refugee camps—we make art.”
The connection to the economy is straightforward: Artists are culture-makers, and “culture is the crucible for changing perceptions and feelings, for communicating hopes and fears, and creating choices in places of desperation. How people feel about the economy, for instance, is as central to recovery as any regulatory intervention.”
Overlooking or excluding of the arts from recovery programs fails to capitalize on this power. Goldbard, in a video interview (below) on her website, additionally makes the point that a job, after all, is a job. “You give people a salary, and they pay the rent and buy groceries, and that puts money into circulation, starting the flow that can restore the economy,” she says. And that includes jobs for artists.
Sources: Public Art Review, ArleneGoldbard.com
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 4:12 PM
No offense to boring people of any age, of course. But there’s an interesting dispatch in the March-April issue of Spirituality & Health about the “most important lesson” of healthy aging, which happens to be the ultimate antidote to boring ruts: Value your time.
“You are how you use your time,” octogenarian Deborah Szekley tells the magazine. She’s authorized to say that: Szekely retired from a career in the health/wellness spa business, realized she was becoming “a little old lady,” and moved to Washington D.C. She ran for Congress, became a diplomat, and now, nearing 90, is campaigning to change grade-school curriculum to include longer, healthier lunch breaks and more exercise.
What galvanized her? Apparently, an old-fashioned calendar and a weekly moment to reflect on it. This is her strategy, as Spirituality & Health reports:
[On Sundays, look back and] ask yourself what was good about each day and how it could have been better. Use five colored pencils to underline on the calendar, in the appropriate color, whatever you did in the previous week:
Black: I wouldn’t have done this.
Blue: I would have delegated this.
Red: I did this for health.
Green: I did this to grow.
Favorite color: I did this with family/friends, for fun.
After you’ve valued your past week, look at what’s coming in the next week, which should be written in pencil. Is your schedule humane? Are there things you should erase right now? Are important colors missing?
Spirituality & Health is a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award nominee in the category of spiritual coverage.
Source: Spirituality & Health (article not available online)
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!