Wednesday, September 29, 2010 2:15 PM
Utne Reader Editor in Chief David Schimke recently returned from the first ever Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs Resort in Pennsylvania. Our sister publication Mother Earth News hosted the event, and itwas a resounding success. Folks interested in sustainable lifestyles were treated to a weekend filled with speakers, demonstrations, vendors, and more. Schimke reported on presentations by Green Festival Founder Kevin Danaher and Richard Schrader of the National Resources Defense Council. If you couldn’t make it out to this year’s event, check out these stories, plus plenty of photos, videos, and reports from those who attended the fair over at the Mother Earth News Fair blog.
Source: Mother Earth News
Friday, September 10, 2010 8:57 AM
Bidoun has a great interview with band members of Hypernova in their latest issue. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? The four rockers from Iran talked about the music scene in Tehran, what it was like to discover other bands in their country, and coming to the United States. Here’s a great snippet where Raam explains his theory about popular musical artists in Iran:
Raam: I remember my first cassette was a Queen tape. A lot of Pink Floyd, obviously. I was a huge fan, and I still am.
Negar Azimi: Why is Pink Floyd so big in Iran?
Raam: Pink Floyd is so big. And Dire Straits, they’re huge in Iran.
Negar Azimi: Dire Staits?
Raam: I have this stupid theory that someone came to Iran in, like 1985, with a box full of cassette tapes. And that tape collection was all we had until satellite TV came. I think it’s as simple as that. Then the internet came along, and suddenly we were up to date with the rest of the world.
Source: Bidoun (article not available online)
Friday, August 06, 2010 1:23 PM
Andrew Holecek has a nice piece on the practice of mindfulness in the autumn issue of Light of Consciousness. He claims that although it’s a natural state for us, it’s been lost due to “eons of mindlessness” and we need to reconnect with it through repetition (and a fair bit of patience) before we can fully transform our lives. He also makes this great comparison to boiling water:
Put a pot of water on the stove, turn on the heat, and wait. Depending on the intensity of the heat and the temperature and volume of the water, it will boil slowly or quickly, but either way there is a period where nothing seems to be happening. All this energy is going into the water with no obvious result. The phase transformation from water into steam takes time.
Similarly, when we engage in spiritual practice, we have placed ourselves on the stove and turned on the heat. If our practice is half-hearted, then it takes time for that low temperature to transform us. If we practice wholeheartedly, the higher temperature brings us more rapidly to a boil. But either way there is a period where nothing seems to be happening. All this energy is going into our practice but nothing is cooking.
As long-term practitioners reflect over years of practice, they discover they are starting to get warm. The changes come slowly because the water that is being heated is so cold, and the heat of our practice is usually tepid. But sooner or later we come to a boil.
Source: Light of Consciousness (partial article available online)
Image by Sterlic, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 27, 2010 5:19 PM
Rick Bass has a lovely little piece on touring the Louvre in the current issue of Ecotone. He describes the sheer exhaustion and awe of seeing everything—or anything—in the great museum. Here’s a snippet from his observations:
Crawling through time like that, emptying from one chamber into the next, seeing hundreds and then thousands of paintings at once, was a little like moving through the chambers of the human brain and watching its artistic process, the rhythms toward and yearnings for beauty. All the celebrations and lamentations unfolded: as if, again, it was not the hands of artists doing the work as much as some overriding impulse—some spirit or instinct that was traveling for a while through their fevered minds. In such a vast collection, you can begin, as never before, to hear the larger reverberations of collected voices, collected glories, all powered by something more substantial than any one artist’s puny heart.
Image by Marc Lagneau, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 3:58 PM
Photographer Joshua Langlais spends his days asking random people: “Would you be interested in being today’s stranger?” His project, I ♥ Strangers, documents his daily encounters with people he’s never met. He snaps a photo and gives details on the stranger’s name, age, location, and how the interaction went. Initially the project was just slated for a year, but Langlais enjoyed it so much, he’s kept it up ever since September 2008. He remembers his first rejection, his first willing participant, and has made countless friends along the way. Amy Sly at Slice interviewed the Langlais about the process and the revelations he’s had since starting it. Here are some excerpts:
What are people’s most common response to your asking to photograph them?
If they want to be part of it they usually ask how long it will take. Or where I want to take the picture. Or what I am going to do with the photos. It is rare that a person I photograph engages in a real conversation with me. It is usually later, after they have seen the website, looked at their photos, and read the accompanying story, that they realize I am not the disgusting Internet marauder that they assumed I was.
Finding and photographing a new person each and every day must be challenging and there must be days you’d rather stay at home; when those days strike, what keeps you going?
Those days have become more difficult since I did not stop at the one year anniversary. Doing this for one year was my goal. I met that goal, but I couldn’t stop. I am afraid to stop….I have the “golden ticket” that allows me to go up to anyone on the street any time I feel inspired and ask them to talk to me. I can’t help but think that the day I stop will be the day I was supposed to meet a patron, or a cool Brooklyn magazine art director or the guy that cries as he shares his story with me.
What do you hope people take away from seeing this series of portraits?
This is the million dollar question. I think that people and our relationships with each other are the only thing that matters….I’d like to think that if everyone in the world slowed down and didn’t work themselves to the bone (for riches or survival) and spent some of that time building relationships, then we would start seeing the elimination of many problems. I’d like people to see these portraits and take with them the desire to learn more about the strangers around them.
Source: Slice(interview not available online)
Monday, May 24, 2010 12:01 PM
Baltimore’s Urbanite first hipped us to a unique set of hand-crafted crime-scene dioramas known as the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, which are used to teach police detectives and investigators about solving murders with forensic science. Now the mini-murder scenes are the star of filmmaker Susan Marks’ forthcoming documentary Of Dolls and Murder. The project gets a hand from cult filmmaker John Waters, who is a fan of the miniatures and narrates Marks’ film. Marks told Baltimore City Paper, “We never even considered anyone else.” Here’s a little more history on the Nutshells and the trailer for the film:
Frances Glessner Lee, a crotchety Chicago heiress and self-trained forensics expert, painstakingly crafted the Nutshells in the 1930s and ’40s. A pioneer in the then-emerging field of legal medicine, Lee created the Nutshells as training tools for police detectives and other death-scene investigators, who would hone their observational skills as they attempted to determine the dolls’ likely cause of death: homicide, suicide, accident, or natural causes. Lee was nothing if not thorough; she based the dioramas on crime scenes she visited or read about and sat in on autopsies to make sure she got the details right. Each death scene is a composite of real cases, often tweaked to make the cause of death more puzzling, the clues more enigmatic. “[As] teaching tools, these [are] wonderful dolls that were made so well that they’re still being used” in the biannual seminars of the Harvard Associates in Police Science, Marks points out.
For Marks and her filmmaking team (co-producer/editor/composer John Kurtis Dehn and cinematographer Matt Ehling), the Nutshells are not only valuable because they’re frankly creepy, but also because of what they have to offer about the pursuit of justice both in the ’30s and today. Crime television juggernauts such as CSI and its spin-offs have made fiber analysis and DNA-typing part of common parlance, but the Nutshells encourage a return to investigational fundamentals: hyper-acute observation in which nothing can be taken at face value.
Sources: Urbanite,Baltimore City Paper
Thursday, May 20, 2010 3:13 PM
Developments has some troubling news about women farmers in poor areas. A startling amount (upwards of 80 percent) of the food in poor countries is produced by women, but they often don't have ample resources to work with and some even starve. As farmer Rosemary Mubita told the magazine: “Poor women farmers don’t get any support. They need help with seeds, fertilizer, credit. They are the ones who are growing the crops and cooking the food to feed their families, yet often are forced to go to bed hungry.” Mubita is helping promote a report about the state of women’s hunger and food production, which was recently released by Concern Worldwide—an organization trying to raise awareness and rally support for this important, but oft-neglected workforce.
Image by IRRI Images, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010 5:35 PM
Canadian puppet master Ronnie Burkett is helping to revive the lost art form of puppeteering through his emotionally charged one-man shows. Alex Hutchinson profiles the skilled string-master in a recent issue of The Walrus, unraveling how a handful of mentors shaped Burkett’s career and how he’s now found his own protégé to mentor.
Hutchinson writes, “In the pantheon of Canadian pride, the fact that one of the world’s greatest puppeteers hails from a small city in southern Alberta is somewhat akin to our propensity for winning Olympic medals in trampoline: our satisfaction is tempered by doubts about whether anyone else participates past the age of eight. But Burkett’s lack of peers demonstrates that he has essentially invented, or at least reinvented, the genre of serious puppetry.”
Although Burkett’s work really begs to be seen live, The Gazette has a great clip of Burkett performing a scene from his recent show: Billy Twinkle, Requiem for a Golden Boy.
Source: The Walrus,The Gazette
Image by Trudie Lee, courtesy of John Lambert & Assoc. Inc.
Friday, May 14, 2010 3:54 PM
In These Times has a great interview in which lifelong social activist Joanna Macy shares her four-step process for creating a sustainable future. Macy teaches workshops on “The Work that Reconnects” to show people how acknowledging gratitude and grief can lead to a new way of seeing the world and moving forward. She feels we’re at the crossroads of a third revolution (akin to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions), and there’s a great opportunity to unite and push our industrial society into a “life-sustaining” one. I like her observations about recognizing our collective “grief for the world.”
People aren’t thrilled to have you tell them how terrible things are. At first I thought there was this big public apathy, but I learned that it was not that people were indifferent and it’s not that they didn’t care and it’s not that they didn’t know—they did know and they did care but it seemed too painful and too enormous to do anything about.
The repression of painful information is particularly widespread in the United States. We don’t want to look at the inequalities that our lifestyle has generated. We don’t want to look at the ways that we’re endangering the future of life on earth. This is a phenomenon that some people call “psychic numbing” and others call denial.
For life to continue, we must invent a whole new way of supporting human life on earth. That change is coming. It’s not visible to many people because it is not being reported by mainstream media—written press or electronic. But it’s happening and that’s what I see as the third revolution.
Source: In These Times
Tuesday, May 11, 2010 3:57 PM
When the Brooklyn Public Library temporarily suspended service on Sundays last summer, residents improvised and set up shop on the sidewalk instead, reports Marianne Do in Next American City. Volunteers set up the library dubbed “Branch,” and gathered hundreds of books to lend out from their card table and crate stacks. Patrons filled out “memory cards” for the books they checked out, scrawling a message about the neighborhood on a card kept inside the book. Do reports that since closing last December, the library has been housed at the Brooklyn Hospital Center.
Source: Next American City
Tuesday, May 04, 2010 3:39 PM
In a piece for Psychology Today, blogger and perceptual psychologist Lawrence Rosenblum went on a mountain bike ride with Utne visionary Daniel Kish, who is blind. Kish and a friend, Brian, who is also blind, demonstrated their ability to maneuver around obstacles by using echolocation, a method of navigating that involves making clicking noises with the tongue and then listening to how the sound is reflected off surfaces to determine the shape, size, and location of objects.
Rosenblum has trained sighted students in the echolocation method, and still he was impressed with his riding companions. “I hear clicks approaching from behind and Brian zooms past me,” writes Rosenblum. “I realize that when it comes to our riding, our most important difference is that he’s in much better shape.”
Source: Psychology Today
Monday, May 03, 2010 4:35 PM
A new brewery in North Carolina is attempting to turn southern-style dishes into sudsy pints. Oxford American reports that Fullsteam Brewery is experimenting with all sorts of unique regional flavors including scuppernong grapes, kudzu, pawpaws, figs, and sweet potatoes as part of their “plow-to-pint” philosophy that celebrates locally grown southern goodness.
“We’re fermentation opportunists,” the brewery’s president told the magazine. “All we’re trying to do is to ferment what we farm and forage as brewers have been doing for thousands of years and to create a new approach to a Southern beer style.”
Source: Oxford American
Image by Rachel Zack, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 2:06 PM
For years, Roberto Vargas avoided white people altogether—he’d had too many collisions with racism and prejudice. In the new issue of Yes!, he urges the opposite path. “My invitation to you, as a reader who desires to increase fairness and respect among all people,” Vargas writes, “is to be a facilitator of courageous conversations about race and culture.” Check out his simple tips for starting your own dialogue.
Congratulations to Yes!, which was nominated for a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award for health/wellness coverage.
Friday, April 23, 2010 2:40 PM
Utne visionary Alexis Pauline Gumbs offers tips for making the most out of your neighbors’ talents and your own in the latest issue of make/shift. Gumbs wrote about a massive skills-swapping session held at the Allied Media Conference last year where women came together and taught each other about herban foraging, social networking, quilting, and more.
“We have diverse, deep, and surprising skills that we have developed out of necessity, creativity, and passion,” Gumbs writes. “This truth is underpublicized on purpose. What use would capitalism be if we stopped thinking that we had to outsource…and dug with deep faith into the undervalued richness of our diverse communities?”
Why not round up a group of people in your own community and see what you can learn? We think Gumbs’ skill (the meta skill) of how to skills-share, is a great primer. Here are her suggestions:
- Decide who the audience or community is.
- Ask folks within your chosen community about the skills they have.
- Secure an accessible space that feels safe (a community center? a bookstore? someone’s backyard?).
- Invite everyone.
- Make sure there is food; we recommend a potluck.
- Think of creative ways to share the skill with other members of your local and affinity community (a blog? a zine? a section in a magazine?).
- Ask for feedback.
- Repeat with another skill!
Source: make/shift(article not available online)
make/shift is a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award nominee in the category of spiritual coverage.
Monday, April 19, 2010 2:54 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Sunday, April 25, at the MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference in Washington, D.C., and post them online the following Monday. We’re crazy about these publications, and we’d love it for all of our readers to get to know them better, too. So, every weekday until the conference, we’ll be posting mini-introductions to our complete list of 2010 nominees.
The following eight magazines are our 2010 nominees in the category of political coverage.
The American Prospect reports on the day’s most essential issues, from immigration to workers’ rights, privacy to prison reform. By combining thorough reportage with deep analysis, it provides progressives with the intellectual and inspirational tools to engage in transformative politics and policy. www.prospect.org
Since 1976, the folks behind the investigative nonprofit Mother Jones have relentlessly and reliably delivered “smart, fearless journalism,” transcending the day’s political spin to unearth stories on everything from global climate change to torturous foreign policy decisions on both sides of the aisle. www.motherjones.com
Ms. has been at the forefront of feminist politics since 1972. In 2009 the editors shone light on a host of pressing issues, including the Obama administration’s abortion policies and the need for domestic workers’ rights. Featuring journalism that provokes action, this quarterly loves a righteous fight. www.msmagazine.com
The Nation has been a vital progressive voice for nearly 150 years, weighing in weekly on politics, arts, and culture via vivid features, incisive reviews, and convention-busting commentary. By bucking the trend against the slick and the glossy, The Nation helps to keep politics real. www.thenation.com
The influential, debate-fueling biweekly The New Republic chooses tough critical thinking over easy dogma, encouraging its writers (and readers) to be critical not just of their right-wing foes but also their fellow liberals. In a political landscape full of bluster, TNR’s cool rigor holds sway. www.tnr.com
The Progressive turned 100 last year, but this bastion of the liberal press is full of fresh energy and up-to-the-minute currency. Publishing analysis and reporting from leading thinkers, it never loses sight of the people behind the issues it covers. www.progressive.org
With hard-hitting reports on immigration, life on the border, education, prisons, and social justice issues, The Texas Observer has carved out a niche worth celebrating. Its unmatched reportage and analysis kneecaps those who traffic in malfeasance, corruption, and injustice. www.texasobserver.org
Washington Monthly forged ahead of the mainstream on many issues this year, from textbook revisionism in Texas to the subprime student loan racket, making it a must-read beyond the Beltway. Its reporting is unimpeachable, its analysis sound, and its reputation for sagacity well earned. www.washingtonmonthly.com
Want more? Meet our international, health and wellness, spirituality, and science and technology nominees.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 4:20 PM
Urbanite’s editor-in-chief, David Dudley, interviewed Charles Limb, an otolaryngologist at Johns Hopkins who has a research fellowship to study the brain through functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Limb’s research focuses on studying the connection between music and creativity, and he used jazz musicians to discover what happens in the brain when creativity occurs. He found that when the musicians in the scanner were asked to stop playing memorized music and improvise, “The [activity in the] medial prefrontal area went up—that’s this autobiographical, self-referential, self-expressive area. And the lateral prefrontal regions went down—those are self-inhibitory, self-censoring, self-monitoring regions of the brain….The way we interpreted it—and this is with a lot of caveats—is that this might be one of the neural signatures of spontaneous creativity.”
Limb plans to continue experimenting with other musicians, by having two play back and forth and getting rappers to recite set verses and then freestyle rap, and he feels the experiment could also be applied to visual artists. Most importantly, Limb’s findings suggest that educators and neuroscientists might be able to share the information to improve education methods:
If we step back and take it as an axiom that creativity matters, all of a sudden this research goes from a neat study of jazz to something more fundamental. The explicit, tangible target, I think, has to do with education. There is something at the Johns Hopkins University called the Neuro-Education Initiative [a collaboration between JHU’s School of Education and Brain Science Institute]. Essentially what we are trying to realize, educators and scientists together, is that we share a common goal, and that’s the brain. Educators are trying to mold the brain; neuroscientists are trying to study the brain. So maybe we can pool our resources and our skills to ask: How can we understand how the brain learns best and revise our methods of education so that they are more effective? Maybe we can come up with a training paradigm that has the added insight of knowing how the brain is responding to it. You can see that there is a lot of overlapping. There is a lot of good theory behind mixing those two fields of neuroscience and education. That’s what we are trying to do. It’s in its infancy now. But in fifty years or a hundred years, this might just be how it’s done.
Congratulations to Urbanite, which is nominated for a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award for social/cultural coverage.
Check out our archives for more on creativity and the science of music.
Monday, April 05, 2010 12:28 PM
Daniel Hudon has a charming piece in the current Cream City Review, in which he offers his suggestions on how to make a universe—a serious universe. “We’re not talking about building some quaint little microcosm,” Hudon writes. “We’re talking about building a top-of-the-line big-ass universe—with exploding stars, black holes, and things that go bump in the night.”
What’s the rush? Only the possibility that our universe could be reduced to little more than a bunch of black holes in billions of years. And, “while it’s possible that black holes could be portals into other hitherto unknown universes,” Hudon says, “Stephen Hawking isn’t betting on it, and you shouldn’t either.”
So herewith, he offers a few things to keep under consideration if you’re so inspired:
Before you go on to projects like, building galaxies, say, or managing a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, factor some advertising into your budget so that people can actually see the wonders of your universe. If you just broadcast the existence of your newly invented universe to all and sundry, people will likely see you as a crackpot, so we don’t recommend that. Instead, try the poetic approach, e e cummings-style. Whisper to your companion, “Listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.” Worry about where exactly “next door” is when the time comes.
Make sure, too, that your universe has its own laws of physics. Keep them hidden so that any future scientists who evolve in your universe can have the joy of discovering them. Everybody loves a good mystery.
You should also decide if you actually want anyone to know about your universe. There’s a lot to be said for having your own secret universe. Those people you see on the bus smiling while listening to their headphones? They’re probably smiling about their own secret universes too.
Source: Cream City Review (article not available online)
Tuesday, March 30, 2010 5:06 PM
The French writer Flaubert dreamt up the satirical “Dictionary of Received Ideas,” a reference guide to positions and thoughts that “right-thinking people” ought to hold for various subjects. The Point, a new journal in our library, saw it fitting to amend the work. “Social situations have arisen of which Flaubert could not have dreamed,” writes Justin Evans, “while others have fallen away, and now as then the good citizen needs an aide for those tricky moments in life when saying or thinking the wrong thing could lead to social disaster.”
Evans keeps a few of Flaubert’s entries, but most are new. Note: The ~ symbol is used to refer back to the original term, and words in italics are defined elsewhere.
Here’s a sampling:
Beard: a common symbol of individuality.
Conversation: “~ is a lost art, I’m afraid.” Blame electronic media.
Darwin: i) always right. ii) always wrong.
Hamlet: over-identify with him.
Heat: “it’s not so much the ~ as the humidity.”
Lawyers: mock ~, but want your children to become them.
Martyr: don’t be one: it’s irritating.
Pirates: back in style!
White people: mock what ~ like, particularly their ideals.
Source: The Point (article not available online)
Friday, March 26, 2010 4:33 PM
Occasionally a magazine rolls in that’s just a treat from front to back. The recent issue of Tin House is themed “Games People Play,” and the editors have cultivated a fresh, fun collection of writing on games, from Blake Eskin’s foray into “The Seriously Fun World of German Board Games” to Michelle Wildgen’s dissection of the seemingly complicated card game Sheepshead.
My personal favorite is Henry Alford’s “Fun Is What,” a hilarious look at the tradition of parlor games. Alford heralds the old form of revelry, introducing a few games and their instructions and imagining how an evening might pan out for two fictitious couples as they play such classics as Hot Cockles, Ha!, and The Game of Trussed Fowls.
Source: Tin House
Congratulations to Tin House, which is nominated for a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award for best writing.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010 3:38 PM
“Letting go of our parents, or anyone we love, is the hardest thing we do. Paying a professional to handle the dead doesn’t make goodbyes any easier,” writes Hank Lentfer in a recent issue of Orion, in which he ruminates on death and dying, what we do with our bodies afterward, and what purpose our rituals serve.
Lentfer is no stranger to the conversation; he’s been having it with scores of friends and family members—all with varying requests for their remains. His parents want to rest beneath an old birch tree, a friend wants her ashes “tossed someplace where they will quickly enter something alive—a salmon stream, meadow, or old forest,” and another person wants to be dipped in chocolate, rolled in sprinkles, and launched to sea. The directives continue, and Lentfer comes to a profound conclusion:
All these endless options seem like a desperate antidote to the optionless end. We want to believe that, in death, we can get to heaven or back to our spouse; that we can fulfill the dream of that perfect union with nature. Still, no matter how much mythology, religion, or ritual we toss off the cliff, the void remains. Perhaps all the primping, chanting, incense burning, bone crunching, and poison pumping are mere distractions; something to keep the living from having to site quietly on the dark edge of uncertainty.
Source: Orion (article not available online)
Congratulations to Orion, a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for environmental coverage and general excellence.
Image by Muffet, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, March 22, 2010 2:42 PM
Not everyone would champion the arrival of a Walmart Supercenter in their town, but Joe R. Lansdale boldly argues in The Texas Observer that the mega-retailer isn’t all that bad. He tells the story of how his Texas town of Nacogdoches was revitalized when the regular Walmart was transformed into a Walmart Supercenter. Lansdale’s not advocating for child labor, unethical work practices, unfair wages, or outsourcing—he’s just in favor of convenience and practicality when it comes to small-town life. Here’s his take:
Let me tell you, the late downtowns in East Texas burgs were usually small stores run by locals. They generally priced things three times more than they were worth. Maybe they had to, but I don’t care. I don’t want to pay $30 for a hammer and a fistful of nails. If I wanted a banana, I had to go to another store. If I wanted to pick up a pair of shoes, another store.
If you worked, by the time you got off work, many of the stores were closed. Saturday, they might be open, but Sunday they were closed again. So for the working individual, the mother or father who had a kid wake up in the night with aching gums from teething, and you wanted something to make it all better, you had to wait until the next day.
With Walmart in town, lots of people can be put to work, far more than downtown ever employed. Someone has to run a 24-hour store, check people out, sack groceries, push carts, place stock, work at the McDonald’s sequestered in the back. The workers have all skin colors, not something I saw a lot of downtown, except for immigrants unloading trucks.
If you’re poor and barely making it, or even if your income is middle-of-the-road, it’s good to get what you need at slashed prices, anytime of the day, seven days a week, in a big, ugly, over-lit store that closes only on Christmas and half a day on Christmas Eve….now in our downtown are specialty stores that provide things we can’t get at Walmart, like maybe a stuffed deer head for that special place over the mantle.
Source: The Texas Observer
Image by jason.mundy, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 19, 2010 1:07 PM
When you open up your refrigerator, do you ever pause and ask yourself if the image you see reflects your eating habits and goals? Would you feel any differently if it was on display for complete strangers to see and scrutinize it?
Photographer Mark Menjivar explores the interiors of refrigerators across the country for his thought-provoking project “You Are What You Eat,” which offers a very personal look at people’s eating habits. Menjivar explains his unique subject choice: “A refrigerator is both a private and a shared space. One person likened the question, ‘May I photograph the interior of your fridge?’ to asking someone to pose nude for the camera. Each fridge is photographed ‘as is.’ Nothing added, nothing taken away.”
His images are identified only by a few key details such as occupation, location, household size and one fact that gives some insight into the image. The result begs the viewer analyze each item and its relationship to the owner’s lifestyle. And in turn, it provokes some degree of introspection as well, which is exactly what Menjivar hopes the project will do—make people think. The series has been showcased at universities as part of conversations about food issues.
This slideshow offers only a few images from the project; you can find more images of other refrigerators, in Menjivar’s portfolio.
All images courtesy of Mark Menjivar.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010 3:53 PM
Professors on film were once the bumbling experts or snobs, but now a certain malaise has set in and we see more of the gloomy, hapless types. In a recent article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey J. Williams traces the evolution of professors, as portrayed in films:
It seems as if professors have become depressed and downtrodden. For example, two well-regarded 2008 films, The Visitor and Smart People, center on aging, later-career professors who are disengaged from their work and exhibit obvious signs of depression. The Visitor depicts an economics professor, played by Richard Jenkins, who is going through the motions, teaching syllabi from years before and avoiding research.
The celebrity professor might seem to counter the image of the downtrodden professor, but he is merely the flip side of the coin. He represents the “winner take all” model that governs businesses and, progressively more so, professions. Like the CEO who receives 300 times what the person on the shop floor is paid, these professors reap the spoils….The celebrity professor exemplifies the steep new tiers of academic life, in a pyramid rather than a horizontal community of scholars.
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)
Thursday, March 11, 2010 5:54 PM
In the latest issue of Gastronomica, Robert Dickinson unearths the history behind the oldest continually produced soda in the country. Moxie has been around since 1884, and its flavor has had an infamously polarizing effect on drinkers—some comparing its taste to sarsaparilla and battery acid or licking a telephone pole. After reading scads of testimonials on the internet, Dickinson simply had to try it for himself—but getting a sample would involve more than a trip to the supermarket.
The specialty brew isn’t available in the southeast where he lives, and he didn’t want to shell out a lot of cash to order through an online soda merchant, so he tried an old-school tactic: bartering. Dickinson penned a charming letter to both the Catawissa Bottling Company and the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, asking for six-pack in trade for some regional treats from Tennessee—a box of Goo Goo Clusters, a bag of pork rinds, and a photo of Elvis.
Surprisingly, both companies were more-than-happy to oblige. Catawissa sent diet and regular versions and a sampling of other specialty soft drinks—the representative enjoyed the letter so much she passed it around the office and noted that the barter system was often used since the company’s inception in 1926. Coca-Cola sent an entire fridge pack, and was very enthusiastic about receiveing the Goo Goo Clusters.
Dickinson gathered friends for an official taste test. A few found it tolerable, though most were not fans. His reaction?
At first sip, Moxie is reminiscent of a weak root beer. Not bad, but not memorable either. Then the bitterness takes hold. Like medicine. Like the tar on a telephone pole. Like the sludge at the bottom of the barrel that you’re supposed to just throw away. But Moxie is a complex beast and once the initial shock wears away, the bitterness mellows, and one is left with a bittersweet taste that isn’t so bad and may even quality as, dare I say it…pleasant.
We published a piece back in 2007 about a specialty soda shop in Los Angeles that sold Moxie Original Elixir, among other varieties. The author, Jeff Penalty, had his own Moxie review: “Each sip starts with a cola, morphs into a root beer, and leaves the aftertaste of some sort of evil black licorice potion from Satan’s private reserve.”
Top left image by KidMoxie and bottom right image by Joe Schlabotnik, both licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 05, 2010 5:06 PM
Arson dogs have been around for decades, but in a recent article in The Bark, they get some long overdue recognition.
In the U.S. and Canada there are some 200 arson dogs. They are spread thin among 41 states, Washington D.C., and three provinces in Canada. Lisa Wogan notes that they can smell in parts-per-quintillion, which helps them find fire-starting fluid scents even when they are obscured. Their sniffing powers are so sharp, she writes, “If you were to make a Molotov cocktail, you’d have to wash your hands at least 17 times before a dog would be unable to detect traces of petroleum on your skin.”
And they’ve helped convict people of murder. Wogan tells the story of a house fire that killed three small children and was originally thought to be accidental, but after an arson dog detected 12 places where it thought the fire was started, investigators looked closer and the children’s parents were convicted. As one source tells Wogan, “There is nothing in the pipeline that can equal the scent-ability of the dog that we can take to fire scenes and use.”
Another surprising tidbit: Many arson dogs are actually guide dog rejects. Wogan writes that one dog “had to find a new career when he slipped a hamburger right off the table in front of a blind person.”
Source: The Bark (article not available online)
Friday, February 26, 2010 5:37 PM
If you’re the type that digs dictionary talk, then listen up. Ammon Shea reports in Humanities that researchers are currently at work on a comprehensive collection of Anglo-Saxon text, the Dictionary of Old English (DOE). Shea is a dictionary expert of sorts, having read the Oxford English Dictionary in its entirety (in only one year), and he dissects the evolution of the project with all the unabashed awe you might expect.
Although, as Shea explains, “a typical user of the DOE is usually a scholar of Middle or Old English, someone who is terribly interested in whether there have been any new nuances found in the subcategories of beon (to be) in the last eighty years, or if there is an additional text in which a form of this word has been found,” it is still important to the rest of us. After all, it is the precursor to our present day English. He adds:
We are all expert speakers of our own language, and whether we recognize it or not, the words and meanings laid out so carefully in the Dictionary of Old English are far more innately familiar to us than are the fossilized tibia or femur of some long extinct life-form. These words are the bone structure of the language that we speak and breathe today.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010 4:40 PM
Waiting lists have often been used as a sort of litmus test for judging the popularity of various service programs. As Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene point out in Governing, this is an unreliable measure.
As state, country and local revenues shrink and the need for services grows, the words “waiting list” are showing up in news reports everywhere. But what do the numbers on a waiting list mean? It turns out that they can mean all kinds of different things, and the assumption that waiting lists in any two government entities are comparable is a dangerous one. In fact, the figures are often deeply flawed and could be used quite easily to mislead the public, policy makers and advocacy groups. In an ideal world, waiting lists wouldn’t be used to measure the gap between the number of people served and the number who want to be served. . . .But it’s not an ideal world, and there are a number of ways to manipulate the lists.
Barrett and Greene asked several experts about the ways that waiting lists can be misrepresented. Publicity makes a difference, and the people most in need may not even be on a list. In the end, unless you have all the details about who is waiting on a list, it’s hard to judge just what that information truly means.
Thursday, February 18, 2010 11:13 AM
Liza Monroy reports in Bust that since last October, Puebla, Mexico has been putting women behind the wheels of pink taxicabs in an effort to make the experience safer and harassment-free for women passengers. The program also helps combat stereotypes about women drivers and it provides job opportunities for women. It’s been so popular, that the Pink Taxi company plans to add a couple hundred more cars this year. Monroy also addresses any concerns that this is simply a quick fix that doesn’t solve the larger problem at hand. She writes:
Some women’s-rights activists have pointed out that painting a cab pink and putting a woman behind the wheel does not address the larger issue of sexual harassment, emphasizing that the city should do a better job weeding out harassers. Yet, in a country where machismo is still so commonplace, the service at least raises awareness and provides an alternative. And one undeniable benefit is the increase in employment opportunities for women in a traditionally male-dominated field. “I was eager to use Pink Taxi, not only because it’s safer,” says [Melissa] Ayala, “but also as a way to support other women who are trying to improve their economic situation.”
Image by didbygraham, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, February 12, 2010 4:31 PM
Loitering usually has a negative connotation as an act that authority figures frown upon. But at Harvard University students can sign up to loiter—in fact, there’s an entire class dedicated to it that we can all learn from.
In Art Lies, Carlin Wing explores the value in learning to loiter through professor Stephen Prina’s course in which students are given a number of tasks requiring them to break out of their usual patterns and explore new things—and then share their observations with classmates. “The assignments all involve a certain sort of destructuring of what an assignment can and should be,” Wing writes. “Meanwhile the acts of collecting evidence to present and produce conversation in class help assign serious value to wandering walks and the errant perusal of music and magazines.” Activities vary from listening to a new album you would pass over normally to visiting a new place and collecting evidence on the way there. Anything you wouldn’t gravitate toward on your own. Wing makes some big-picture observations about what results:
What is compelling about this class is less what happens in it and more how it stays with you once it is over. It follows at your heels when you head off to other climes. It bubbles up on street corners in Nashville or freeways in Los Angeles. Instead of defining itself as a space where art is produced, it defines every moment of your daily activity as one of potential research or production. That is the genius in it. It can potentially come off as a fucking around sort of class lacking definition and discipline. But while you are casually browsing the magazine rack and deciding to pick up a copy of antique cars for your assignment to read a periodical that you would not otherwise pay attention to, you are actually changing the way you are going to approach magazine racks and credit card receipts and layovers in the Chicago airport for the rest of your life.
Source: Art Lies (article not yet available online)
Image by borkur.net, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010 5:15 PM
Through her camera lens, Nadya Kwandibens sees Native people in urban settings as an opportunity to both empower and showcase indigenous lifestyles and cultures. In This Magazine, Lisa Charleyboy profiled the First Nations photographer, who transformed her own feelings of isolation and an "impluse to heal through art" by connecting with other indigenous people in the city and photographing them. Charleyboy says Kwandibens “asks her subjects, ‘Who are you as a Native person within the city?’ The resulting photos are witty, meticulous, poignant.”
Kwandibens has also formed a vibrant online community called Concrete Indians, where First Nations artists across the United States and Canada can connect with each other and post photographs. According to Kwandibens, the name originates “from a nickname the older folks back in the '60s used to call young Native people moving/living/working in the cities.”
She tells This, “By sharing and being so giving with the Concrete Indians series, people really started to connect and find something they can relate to in the images. They are able to see these beautiful brown faces all over North America. We are all so connected.” You can view photos of Kwandibens’ work through her gallery, Red Works Studio.
Source: This Magazine
Image by Brooke Anderson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, February 05, 2010 4:46 PM
Bats are not a popular creature, but in Mexico deeply rooted fears and myths about bats put the creatures in serious danger. Américas reports that the Bat Conservation Program (PCMM), a non-governmental organization in Mexico is trying to change all of that.
Much of the credit belongs to PCMM’s Education Coordinator, Laura Navarro, whose children’s books—including Marcelo the Bat—are used to show children that contrary to cultural lore, bats are not hanging in a cave somewhere dreaming of their next opportunity to taste human blood.
The program starts in the classroom and branches out to adults in the community. Information is delivered through lessons, games, and tours. PCMM’s founder Rodrigo Medellín is “Mexico’s foremost bat scientist” and he estimates some 200,000 people have been involved in the organizations programs. Here’s a great example of how things are changing:
When the legend of the chupacabras—a story about a creature that killed goats and sheep by sucking their blood—spread from Puerto Rico to Mexico, many caves were burned as people tried to protect themselves from the mythical beasts. At the same time, PCMM had launched its pilot program at one of the most important bat caves in Mexico, Cueva de la Boca, located near Monterrey in Northern Mexico. The legendary Cueva de la Boca used to be the home of one of the largest populations of Mexican free-tailed bats in the world, but due to habitat loss and human disturbance, the once great population of twenty million dropped to nearly one million.
During the chupacabras scare, some of the villagers who lived near Cueva de la Boca decided that the chupacabras was living in Mexico inside of the cave. Their fear spread throughout the community and a group set out to destroy the cave. “Picture a mob in a Frankenstein movie,” Medellín explains. At the entrance to the cave, however, the angry adults were stopped by the children in the community who had completed PCMM’s educational program. The children told the adults that Marcelo the bat lived in that cave and he was with his family and that bats help protect people. These passionate children, who had develop and emotional attachment to bats, were able to convince the adults not to kill the bat colony within.
Source: Américas (article not available online)
Friday, February 05, 2010 3:47 PM
Exploring the relationship between meat and popular music is something you’d only find in Meatpaper. That’s why we love it so much. In the latest issue Tony Michels tackles that juicy history and insists that “meat has always fed music.” He writes:
Indeed, the history of American popular music, in its entirety, may be traced through beef, poultry, and pork. The history of rock ‘n’ roll bears out my claim. Scholars have yet to ascertain the precise number of songs about meat recorded in the 1950s and early 1960s, but a safe estimate would run into the hundreds and perhaps thousands. Any complete repertoire needed at least one song about hot dogs, pulkes, fatback, or ribs. A crowing achievement of the early rock ‘n’ roll era was the Starliters’ hit “Hot Pastrami with Mashed Potatoes,” arguably the most eloquent paean to smoked meats ever performed. Pigmeat Markham and Sleepy LaBeef, who were among the earliest singers to adopt meat-themed monikers, further consolidated the alliance between meat and music. Alas, meat, like all things, is cyclical. With the rise of the counterculture in the late 1960s, animal flesh temporarily lost its appeal. Mind-bending sounds were in; sausages and tube steaks were out.
Michels goes on to discuss the punk revival of meat rock in the ’70s and the magazine also features a menu unearthed from a New York restaurant. It’s a “deli menu” organized into Poultry Albums, Poultry Songs, Meat Songs, Bands/Musicians, Meat Albums, and Little Bites. We can’t bring you that, but you can listen to Joey Dee and the Starliters. Do you have a favorite meat-themed song?
Source: Meatpaper (article not available online)
Tuesday, February 02, 2010 11:09 AM
You may not know what library music is, but no doubt you’ve heard it. It’s the ready-made instrumental music commissioned and owned by production music libraries, which sell it for use in television and film productions. Music supervisor and library music collector David Hollander headed to Europe to visit archives and hunt for vintage records. Hollander offers a good primer in Wax Poetics for those unfamiliar with how the genre evolved:
The basic business model at work here involved the libraries setting up recording sessions where everyone involved—composer, musician, producer, and engineer—were working “for hire,” and the library would purchase the completed music tracks as well as the publishing rights outright. By securing the masters and the publishing rights completely at the very beginning, the production music libraries were able to offer the music for film/television/radio synchronization at well below the cost of creating original music for a given project.
Hollander says adult films from the 1970s were keen on library music tracks, as were British cop shows and other television programs. He located and lavished praise on Alan Tew’s albums Drama Suite Part 1 and Part II, declaring them “the pinnacle of the British cop-funk sounds.” You know Tew’s music—it entered American pop culture as the theme song to The People’s Court in the ’80s. Here’s a clip of his track “The Big One,” with vintage stills from the show:
Source: Wax Poetics (article not available online)
Thursday, January 28, 2010 5:10 PM
If anything, all the chatter over the Apple Tablet (I refuse to speak its name) only amplifies the question that has been haunting the publishing industry for a decade or more: What does the future hold for e-books? Canada’s Quill & Quire reports on some of the trends coming out of the industry—mostly models that resemble the iTunes or the surge in the movie industry of DVDs loaded with special features. Publishers such as HarperCollins and Penguin are revamping their backlist titles with features like web links and imbedded video and audio, hoping to target consumers who already own print titles and lure them to add a digital edition to get the enhanced features.
A spokesperson for Random House of Canada says the company has “observed parallels between e-book and music downloading habits,” and thinks that in the same way music lovers purchase entire album collections when they discover a favorite new artist, e-books will encourage users to nab an author’s entire works with a single click.
Another industry insider predicts that once e-books hit their zenith we’ll see an entirely new trend: She envisions some consumers purchasing what she calls “disposable reading”—titles you might buy at the airport before boarding a long flight—in digital format, and serious works—titles you might want to reread some day or pass along to your kids—in print editions. “In some respects, the book will go back to being an objet,” she hypothesizes, “[a] beautiful, expensive edition that people want to pay for [and keep], almost the way [books were treated] in the 16th and 17th centuries.”
Which, in the end, leaves us right back where we started.
Source: Quill & Quire (article not available online)
Image by timonoko, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 22, 2010 10:57 AM
A Bloomberg School study has doctors in Karachi tagging babies with traceable bracelets to help stem future deadly outbreaks of pneumonia in Pakistan’s children. Researchers are collecting data to convince Pakistan’s government to add a new vaccine for the disease, which kills 13 percent of children under five there.
The tracking devices are a key part of the Karachi Invasive Pneumococcal Disease Surveillance Project that started in late 2008 and will wrap up mid-year. There are 40 clinics involved in the study, in which doctors monitor babies from 6-weeks-old through 18-months-old for cases of pneumonia and transmit data to researchers to track.
“Threaded among the black beads of the study-issued bracelets that adorn more than 4,500 babies in a low-income Karachi neighborhood,” reports Johns Hopkins Public Health, “is a button-size radio frequency identification tag. The device can use radio waves to transmit real-time surveillance data via cell phones to a central computer server.”
The project’s director explains the impressive technology, noting that whether researchers are in Pakistan, Vancouver, or Baltimore they “can all look up on the website and see immediately that today 10 children enrolled in the study, there are five reported illnesses, they went to X or Y physician, and what happened.”
Source: Johns Hopkins Public Health
Image by featherbacon, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 14, 2010 10:07 AM
Not all abandoned factories and lots are going to waste. Christopher Weber reports in E magazine on projects underway that are designed to transform abandoned urban industrial sites into vibrant ecological habitats. He says scientists who’ve studied the sites are discovering many have key ecological connections, such as being located beneath to major flyways of migratory birds, or housing specific species of wildlife. Weber also highlights this particular rehabilitation success story:
One of the most spectacular—and unlikely—examples of industrial habitat can be found in Denver at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Beginning in 1942, the arsenal produced nerve gas and other chemical weapons for the U.S. Army. By the time it time it closed in 1992, these 27 square miles had become one of the nation’s most poisonous landscapes.
Today, the reclamation process is almost complete. Just 11 miles from downtown Denver, the old arsenal draws scads of tourists. The stars of the show are two wobbly, cinnamon-toned bison calves born this summer. They brought the self-sustaining bison herd to 29 animals; managers expect it [to] reach 200 some day. “We’ve restored their habitat back to short-grass prairie, the way it looked in the late 1800s,” says Sherry James, visitor services manager for the refuge. “The fact that we’ve cleaned up the arsenal to the point that we can reintroduce bison—and they’re thriving—that’s amazing.”
Source: E magazine
Image by kodiax2, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 9:46 AM
There's a new concept infiltrating the climate change conversation (pdf), and it has the potential to change the conversation altogether. It’s time to give sustainability a rest and start talking about resilience, Rob Hopkins writes in Resurgence.
“The term ‘resilience’ is appearing more frequently in discussions about environmental concerns, and it has a strong claim to actually being a more successful concept than that of sustainability. Sustainability and its oxymoronic offspring sustainable development are commonly held to be a sufficient response to the scale of the climate challenge we face: to reduce the inputs at one end of the globalised economic growth model (energy, resources, and so on) while reducing the outputs at the other end (pollution, carbon emissions, etc.). However, responses to climate change that do not also address the imminent, or quite possibly already passed, peak in world oil production do not adequately address the nature of the challenge we face.”
The concept takes into account how systems can survive disturbances intact, and Hopkins says the framework is crucial to communities’ chances of thriving “beyond the current economic turmoil the world is seeing.” A supermarket is a good example of how to explain this new kind of thinking, he says:
“It may be possible to increase its sustainability and to reduce its carbon emissions by using less packaging, putting photovoltaics on the roof and installing more energy-efficient fridges. However, resilience thinking would argue that the closure of local food shops and networks that resulted from the opening of the supermarket, as well as the fact that the store itself only contains two days’ worth of food at any moment – the majority of which has been transported great distances to get there – has massively reduced the resilience of community food security, as well as increasing its oil vulnerability.”
Monday, January 04, 2010 11:38 AM
Harriet Bell penned a quaint little piece in Gastronomica called “The Secret Lives of Recipes,” in which she shares her affection for old recipe collections, and her musings about the lives of those who once owned the cards. Bell starts by sharing how she came to acquire her mother’s recipe box when she died and explains, “like my mother’s, these well-worn boxes with food-stained cards offer clues to what American women were really cooking for their families and friends, and often glimpses into more personal aspects of their lives.” Here’s a little taste of what she means:
“The red-and-white metal box is the saddest in my collection. This woman (Polish, perhaps, because of the shorthand recipes for chrusciki [cookies] and paczki [doughnuts]) divided her recipes in alphabetical order by recipe title, rather than by category. Each divider has a letter handwritten in script and Roman…much like the embroidered samplers from earlier times. That first divider has penciled subway directions (“New York City to John’s”) that read, “Take the BMT Broadway line at Times Square…” John lived on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn. I’m guessing the relationship didn’t work out: There’s an almost-full packet of blank index cards in the back and not more than ten handwritten cards. Did John dump my heroine, or was it the other way around? Was her heart so broken that she couldn’t continue with her recipe box? Hey John, you missed out on Meaty Ring, Choc Mayonnaise Cake and those Polish goodies!”
Source: Gastronomica (article not available online)
Image by prettytypewriters, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009 5:43 PM
Oh the joys of enumeration. In the recent issue of Bookforum, Albert Mobilio waxes poetic about the benefits of lists and list-making with the sort of reverence only a true list lover could put forth. He touches on Umberto Eco’s book, The Infinity of Lists, but Mobilio’s own musings are surely worth the read if you’re fond of the subject. Herewith, some favorite excerpts:
“The mind’s associative reflex is as rapid as it is circuitous, myriad things and things-to-do always unspooling in the brainpan. If you get out of bed, though, and grab a pen, you can at least slow it down by making a list. You can rank items in importance, annotate, categorize, and subcategorize—in short you can give some material shape to and make some order of what Samuel Beckett dubbed ‘the big blooming buzzing confusion.’ So somewhere between penciling ‘pick up prescription’ and ‘live a more examined life,’ a portion of calm might be found.”
“A list is an intimation of totality, a simulacrum of knowing much, of knowing the right much. We select our ten best big-band recordings, all-time basketball starting fives, mysteries to read this summer; add up the people we've slept with or people we wish we had; index our movie-memorabilia collection; count our blessings; list reasons for not getting out of bed. We jot these accounts on envelopes, store them on hard drives, murmur them under our breath as we ride home from work—it's no accident that many prayers are really nothing more than lists.”
Tuesday, December 22, 2009 5:12 PM
How would you like to take a truly sustainable field trip and witness the best in environmental art from your own home? In Public Art Review, Allison Compton highlights the work of GreenMuseum.org, a now 8-year-old site that brings sustainable art to would-be museum-goers everywhere. You can explore a lengthy roster of artists and their work, catch up on the organization’s blog, or explore the toolbox of resources to make your own art. Compton spoke to founder and executive director Sam Bower, who offers his take on the importance of sustainable art:
“When we talk about sustainability we ought to think about what the earth will notice and appreciate. What would a watershed, worms, and robins think of an artwork? What about the materials that went into something and its carbon footprint and the potential long-term impacts (positive and negative) on people and the environment? Considering the nonhuman audience for art opens up the idea that everything we do is deeply interconnected and can affect the world around us.”
Source: Public Art Review
Friday, December 18, 2009 11:41 AM
Budgets are stretched thin this holiday season, but a little home-baked goodness is just the antidote for gift giving woes. In the latest issue of Baltimore’s Urbanite, Rafael Alvarez celebrates the thoughtfulness and meaning behind gifting prepared food such as Spanish chorizo, sweet and spicy barbecue rub, Belgian-style homebrewed ale with ginger and honey, stained glass candy, and Irish pudding cake. Hungry yet? Some recipes are included if you’re inspired to serve up your own gifts. So what’s so special about giving edible fare? Alvarez shares the perfect anecdote:
During the recession of the early 1990s, Kathy O’Dell’s brother lost his job as vice president of a successful chain of national retail stores. How Jack O’Dell handled Christmas in the wake of his misfortune was a gift his kid sister remembers as “the best ever.” He filled recycled glass jars with sugar and cinnamon for that great breakfast toast concoction we all remembered from childhood,” says O’Dell, an associate dean at University of Maryland Baltimore County who makes molasses cookies each year in memory of her late mother. “The image of my big, hulking, successful brother carefully sifting sugar and cinnamon into jars and attaching personal notes about how lucky we all were to be alive and healthy and family is a treasured symbol of humility and grace.”
Image (above left) by yoshimov, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 4:47 PM
Things just keep getting worse in the golf world. All affairs aside, golf courses are also in trouble. In the December issue of Governing, John Buntin highlights the rising trend of golf courses being converted into public parks and recreation spaces. In New Jersey a 67-acre course is now used for biking, walking, and archery, and courses in Nevada and Indiana have followed suit as well. Buntin cites the economy for having such an impact on the golf industry, and adds that course closures are now higher than openings. “Not that golf is going away,” Buntin says, “But in many American communities, it is being viewed more as a luxury than as a public service.”
Image by Admond, licensed under Creative Commons .
Friday, December 11, 2009 2:49 PM
Some 158 million people in the world can’t see clearly and don’t have access to glasses, but the problem doesn’t just affect their quality of life—it impacts the global economy as well.
According to Johns Hopkins Public Health, economist Kevin Frick and his colleagues studied the effect of poor vision on productivity and the economy, and concluded the global economy loses between $121 and $269 billion each year as a result of people not having corrective eyewear. Frick boils it down further for the magazine, adding: “For every person who doesn’t have glasses around the world we’re talking about $1000 worth of productivity lost every year.”
The problem is most prevalent in the developing world, where people don’t even have access to an optometrist. Physicist and social entrepreneur Joshua Silver tells Ode “in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa there is one optometrist for every eight million people. Silver is attempting to solve the vision crisis with his invention of “adspecs” or adaptive spectacles. He explains that with simple training “people can make their own glasses. Using adaptive lenses, people can change the focus of the lens themselves. There are several ways to do this. The one I have developed involves spectacles that have chambers filled with silicon oil. If you fill the chamber with oil, the lens curves out; if you let the oil out of the chamber, the lens curves in. In this way, people can adapt the lens to their own vision needs.”
So far he’s distributed 30,000 adspecs, and he hopes to reach a billion people by 2020.
Sources: Johns Hopkins Public Health, Ode (article not available online)
Image by P/\UL, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 10, 2009 3:57 PM
Most people are familiar with the moai statues on Easter Island, but perhaps not as familiar with the fact that the stones are in danger of complete deterioration if steps aren’t taken soon to preserve them. That’s why the Archaeological Institute of America has stepped in with a grant for the Easter Island Statue Product (EISP) to set up a preservation process for the monuments (pdf).
Archaeology reports that both environmental deterioration and uncontrolled tourism have contributed to the state of the figures, and “images of a single statue, taken from 1914 to 2004, show almost total loss of design detail,” while some statues “have passed the point of no return.”
The EISP is mapping and documenting the nearly 900 moai and will make its database available to the public. The organization will also begin carrying out a multi-phase rehabilitation plan on the island that will include incorporating a conservation initiative for the Easter Island community, which hasn’t been involved with the World Heritage Site in the past.
Image by Phillie Casablanca, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 04, 2009 5:40 PM
Libraries are now piggybacking on the success of social networking platforms by unleashing their own shelf-inspired hub, BiblioCommons, which aims to create communities of patrons who help connect one another to new books to read by allowing users to log recommendations of books in the library system’s catalogues. So far, The Walrus reports, BiblioCommons has rolled out in several cities across Canada, with plans to launch in California and Australia as well.
The brains behind the book system, Beth Jefferson, believes we’re on the verge of “a cultural shift toward ‘object-centric’ networking, centered on common interests as the novelty of Facebook-style ‘egocentric’ social networking, based on friends of friends, wanes.” Let’s hope she’s right.
Source: The Walrus
Friday, December 04, 2009 5:36 PM
Back in October, the Oxford University Press released a 4,448-page two-volume super reference book: the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s not only the biggest thesaurus, racking up more than 920,000 entries, but it’s also the first historical thesaurus. Poets & Writers has the fascinating history behind the project, which almost went up in flames:
Begun in 1965 under the auspices of the University of Glasgow, the project has passed through several technological incarnations—moving from paper slips to microfilm to computer files—and survived the death of founders and dodgy financial backing. Christian Kay, one of the work’s four coeditors, was twenty-seven when she joined the endeavor as a research assistant. She’s now a sixty-nine-year-old professor.
Work in the early years progressed slowly, with researchers combing the twenty volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary and transcribing lists of synonyms on 6 x 4–inch cards. In 1978, things nearly went up in smoke when the building housing the sole copy of the work-in-progress caught fire. The nineteenth-century structure was burned to a shell, but the thesaurus—safely ensconced in metal cabinets—survived the blaze.“We were always very good about putting things away at night,” Kay told the Daily Mail, “and the Victorian doorsstood up well, although you can still see singe marks on some of the documents.”
Source: Poets and Writers
Friday, November 27, 2009 1:41 PM
“Rather than cars being our servants, many of us have become enslaved,” writes Chris Richards in New Internationalist. The former Australasian editor of the magazine openly chronicled her attempts to free herself from our prevailing car culture, and also shared some ideas for breaking the cycle of dependence and a vision of what life could be like if we made some serious adjustments. She writes:
“What would this parking lot look like if it no longer serviced cars? The asphalt could be torn up, the soil regenerated, then gardens planted and fresh produce grown. As cars would no longer drive there, the shopping center could be scaled back and the space converted to a range of homes for a range of incomes. Throw in a school and medical centre, and village life could emerge. Such transformations are tantalizing. A pity, then, that our asphalt nations are more likely to expand than contract.”
Richards shares similar views as Utne visionary Mark Gorton, who also is on a crusade to empower people to ditch their cars and reclaim their streets. Check out our coverage on Gorton’s work with The Open Planning Project for more information.
Source: New Internationalist
Friday, November 27, 2009 12:28 PM
Having recently acquired my own typewriter (a Smith Corona Electra 110), I really appreciated this charming piece by Matthew Solan in Poets & Writers. Solan describes his hobby of collecting old models of typewriters that the literary greats used. From photos, he’s tracked down replicas of Flannery O’Connor’s Royal Standard, William Faulkner’s Underwood Universal, and Ernest Hemingway’s Royal Arrow, to name a few. Solan’s not shy about using the machines either; in fact, he describes his typing experiences in great detail:
“The Arrow is one of my favorites, and I use it almost every day. I love its deep, muffled sound and the way the glass keys feel under my fingertips. I type addresses on envelopes, school excuses for my daughter, and other correspondence. I also reserve the Arrow for the first drafts of my short stories. The mechanics are far from perfect, though. The Shift key sticks sometimes, so it’s hard to type capital letters and symbols. The lowercase L stands in for the number one. And this model has no tabulator key, so I have to space, space, space, space, space to indent a paragraph. But the extra work makes me a more conscientious writer.… It’s like firing a gun with every stroke. You can’t retract the bullet. If you misspell, the typewriter won’t correct it for you. You have to plow on. With a typewriter you can track your progress like a worn path. This is where I’ve been. This is what I’ve learned.”
Source: Poets & Writers
Image by rahego, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 20, 2009 4:25 PM
Calling all word nerds! If you’ve never checked out Wordnik, then you’re in for a real treat. The start-up website aims to be an all-in-one dictionary resource, outfitting each word with a roundup of definitions from different online sources, related Flickr photos, recent Twitter tweets using the word, usage stats, etymologies, comments, pronunciations, and more. Plus, you can also create a profile to tag and save favorite words, put them into lists, and record your own pronunciations.
In the fall issue of Venus Zine, Jane Solomon profiles Heather Rivers, who is a computational lexicographer for Wordnik. Solomon shares this charming tidbit about the office culture:
“Because the Wordnikers started out by working remotely, they’ve grown accustomed to communicating over IM—even when they’re all together in their now-shared office space. People outside the team have found this modus operandi ‘possibly the saddest thing ever,’ especially when someone unleashes a lexicographical knee-slapper that causes everyone to erupt in laughter and then return diligently to work, all without eye contact.”
Source: Venus Zine
Image by j / f / photos, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 13, 2009 4:51 PM
Prosthetics engineer and Utne visionary Jonathan Kuniholm was interviewed on NPR this week. Fresh Air sit-in host Dave Davies spoke to Kuniholm about his work with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program. If you missed the episode live, you can still catch Kuniholm talking about open-source prostheses and his hopes for the future of the industry, or check out the previous coverage we’ve done on him, including this online exclusive, “The Hype and Hope of Prosthetics.”
Monday, October 12, 2009 3:22 PM
Nobody ever talks to the cadaver handler. Until now. Cadaver handler Chris Dolph spends his days readying corpses for Stanford’s Willed Whole Body Program, and he tells Stanford all about it. The university processes up to 70 cadavers a year to supply anatomy courses and medical training sessions, and it takes two days and a secret blend of solutions to embalm each body.
“A typical mortuary might use two to three gallons of fluids to preserve a body for a funeral,” Stanford reports, “but Dolph uses up to 25 gallons per body to ensure that each one arrives at the anatomy lab in top condition—even though a body can be held for two years or more before being dissected.” Dolph says he believes his cadavers would even remain unchanged for 300 years, if preserved that long.
Monday, October 12, 2009 2:42 PM
William Patrick Tandy, editor of the zine Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore, recounts a recent night he lay awake in bed listening to the all-too-familiar sound of gunshots ringing out in his neighborhood. A frequent reader of the police blotter, Tandy notes that single gunshots are relatively common and go unreported, but on this particular night, he ruminates on an even more unsettling experience:
“I counted 10 shots that night before drifting off to sleep, none of which were accounted for in the following week’s blotter—not for 9:53 or four or any other time. Nor were the splotches of crimson that staggered up the sidewalk from the adjacent alley the next morning, steadily eroding in size before vanishing entirely a few doors down, like the ruins of some long-forgotten culture…”
Source: Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore! (article not available online)
Friday, October 09, 2009 6:50 PM
There’s a good reason that people say you should “sleep on it” when facing a tough problem—it helps! A new study suggests dreaming is beneficial for problem solving. Psychology Today reports, “In REM sleep, cortical activation spreads from whatever one’s been pondering to marshal associated ideas, thanks to changes in levels of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and acetylcholine.” Jasper Johns, Jack Nicklaus and many others have credited their dreams for successful ideas. A co-author of the study adds: “So many times, we already have the solution somewhere in our brain. It just needs an extra 'boost' before it can be accessed.”
Source: Psychology Today
Friday, October 09, 2009 5:53 PM
One of Yes! magazine’s 13 Radical Acts of Education will appeal to folks with an inner botanist. Heather Purser reports that citizen scientists across the country are being encouraged to gather data on their local plants. In order to track changes brought on by global warming, scientists need some extra help in the field to “record the dates when local plants open their leaves, flower, bear fruit, and go dormant or die.” The observations are for Project BudBurst, which hopes the data-mining will help educate the public on the importance of collecting (and analyzing) climate change information. The site offers a start-up booklet, reporting forms, and downloadable plant identification and field guides for those interested in helping out.
Friday, October 09, 2009 4:51 PM
Now there is proof that less paper mail could actually lead to less mailboxes in your neighborhood. The recent issue of Minneapolis Observer Quarterly reprinted a curious report from the Twin Cities Daily Planet on the little-known dangers of density testing—a monitoring process the USPS performs in order to determine if a mailbox generates enough mail to warrant its existence. One poor resident learned of this process the hard way:
James Rodriguez was on his way to work, and had in his hand several Netflix movies he wanted to drop in the mailbox. The only problem was, when he reached 3rd Avenue and 1st street, where he always dropped off his mail, the mailbox wasn’t there. “Am I trippin?” Rodriguez recalled later saying to himself. “Where’s my mailbox?!”
Luck would have it that Rodriguez spotted a mail carrier on that same block. “Dude, can you take this?” Rodriguez asked the mail carrier. He apologized, saying he didn’t know what happened to his usual mailbox.
The mail carrier looked over to where the old mail box used to be, and was no longer there. “Holy S-” Rodriguez said the carrier exclaimed. “Where’s the mailbox? I’m supposed to pick up from that mailbox!”
Just remember, it’s never too late to start a letter writing revival. You can keep in touch with your friends and save yourself the extra time of looking for a new drop-off location.
Sources: Minneapolis Observer Quarterly, Twin Cities Daily Planet
Image by NJ Tech Teacher, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 09, 2009 10:37 AM
Starting at the end of the month the Washington Post is holding a contest to suss out “America’s Next Great Pundit” (that assumes we have one now…). Justin Peters over at Columbia Journalism Review came up with a clever new lineup of reality TV inspired contests the paper could (or might?) roll out next. Peters suggests plotlines for The Next Top Bad Idea, I Live in Georgetown, Get Me Out of Here!, Who Wants to Marry Fred Hiatt?, Impartial Idol, and these two gems:
: Ten reporters are set loose in the Post newsroom and tasked with sticking around for as long as possible without being laid off, reassigned, or forced to appear on an unfunny Web video segment. Watch as participants employ survival strategies such as hiding, marrying up, or impersonating Bob Woodward. The last reporter standing wins a thirteen-week contract and a full set of Kaplan LSAT prep books.
: Fifty civilians are given prestigious, unpaid Post internships and set to work producing a daily newspaper. Each week their tasks get more difficult as another round of salaried and experienced employees gets laid off or bought out. Watch the hilarity as the apprentices guilelessly quote press secretaries, insert themselves into stories, and report on events by watching them on television. There are no winners in this contest.
Source: Columbia Journalism Review
Friday, September 25, 2009 5:21 PM
Australian Professor Thomas Parnell’s Pitch Drop Experiment has been occurring since 1927—just ever-so-slowly, and unseen by anyone. Cabinet reports that the professor wanted to illustrate to his class that even though some substances seem to be solid, they may actually be fluid, so he rigged up a glass container with a heated sample of pitch, a petroleum substance, and let the magic begin. Unfortunately, none of his students have been able to observe the lesson. It took eight years for the first drop to fall through the funnel-shaped container, and subsequent drips have taken between seven and 12 years to fall. Eight drops have fallen so far, and in 2000, “the viscosity of the pitch was finally calculated to be roughly one hundred billion times that of water.”
“The closest anyone has ever come was in April 1979 when Professor John Mainstone, who now maintains the experiment, came to work on a Sunday afternoon. He noted that the pitch drop was just about to touch down, but he did not have time to say and watch. On returning the following morning, Mainstone saw, much to his chagrin, that the drop had fallen. Even modern technology has been foiled in its attempt to capture direct evidence of the pitch’s clandestine maneuvers; a video camera placed to monitor the experiment happened to fail at the very moment the eighth drop fell.”
Image by AMagill, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 25, 2009 4:27 PM
A new, yet-to-be-named, local website will be forming next year to fill in the gaps left by regional newspaper shutterings in the Bay Area. The nonprofit site nabbed a hefty donation—$5 million—from San Francisco businessman F. Warren Hellman, and its expertise and manpower will come from “KQED-FM, which has a 28–person news staff, and the 120 students of the University of California, Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism,” the New York Times reports.
Source: The New York Times
Sunday, August 09, 2009 7:45 AM
By now you’ve heard of the staycation, touted as the recession-friendly cousin of the vacation. But, as political comic Will Durst writes in Funny Times, “The problem with most folks planning a staycation is they focus on the high points of local landmarks but forget to include all the little moments that truly distinguish memorable holiday excursions.” He then offers up his own list of tips for having an authentic vacation experience at home, adding all the waiting and frustration that happens in reality. You can find all of Durst’s suggestions for “Staycation Fun” in his column archives, but here are a few favorites:
Pack luggage like you’re really headed on a trip, then pick a piece to misplace for the duration.
Duplicate inevitable airport delay by wasting four hours at a 7/11.
Sit on curb outside your house for 90 minutes because your room isn’t ready yet.
Every two hours, burn 60 dollars.
Set alarm for 6 a.m. to receive wake-up call for room next to yours. Knock on door at half-hour intervals with a cry of: “Housekeeping!”
Eat at a strange restaurant and grunt and point at the menu, unable to speak the native language, even if it’s only Floridian.
For full tropical experience, dump sand in your bed.
Source: Funny Times
Image by masochismtango, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 07, 2009 1:11 PM
Taiwan’s Pacific Department Store is the unlikely home of an unlikely homage to the world’s faiths. At the Museum of World Religions visitors wander a great hall, watch video footage of funerals in other countries, leave a handprint blessing on the heat-sensitive wall, partake in a purification ritual at the water curtain, and marvel at the wall of gratitude. This “spiritual supermarket” is the brainchild of Buddhist monk Master Hsin Tao, who came up with the idea after renouncing the world and living in isolation for more than a decade. Spirituality and Health reports, “Master Hsin Tao believes that today’s tech-savvy kids are not interested in dusty cultural artifacts. They want technologically sophisticated displays that allow them to experience all the religions of the world and feel the concept of universal love.”
Source: Spirituality & Health
(article not available online)
Tuesday, August 04, 2009 10:43 AM
A Wisconsin farmer has figured out a way to turn cow manure into water that “tastes just like the kind you get at the grocery store.” John Vrieze and his son have developed an innovative four-part filtration system that effectively converts the manure from his 1,200 cows to potable drinking water and highly enriched fertilizer. Vrieze’s son tells Wisconsin People & Ideas that although the technology is not new (it’s typically used in food processing and water treatment plants), “its use in a dairy farm is unprecedented.” The downside? The equipment requires an awful lot of fuel. With rising fuel costs the economy in shambles, Vrieze has been forced to revert to “conventional manure management” for the moment.
Source: Wisconsin People & Ideas
Image by Svadilfari, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 24, 2009 10:04 AM
For millions of Americans, the housing crisis began well before last year’s front-page collapse. Bigotry and criminalization by an unjust system of policing and incarceration, combined with economic privation, have kept even the meager privilege of a subprime mortgage or slumlord lease out of reach for many. As the crisis unfolds, the number of homeless will grow.
That stark bit of analysis is courtesy of The Nation, whose recent monthly dispatch of “Ten Things” features crucial tips and guidelines from Picture the Homeless, a grassroots social justice organization in New York that was founded by two homeless men in 1999. Should crisis hit your own backyard, the group has assembled “Ten Things You Need to Know to Live on the Streets,” which covers everything from negotiating public bathrooms to learning police patterns to adopting successful panhandling techniques. Here’s hoping you never need to use it.
Source: The Nation
Thursday, July 23, 2009 3:20 PM
With binge drinking and alcohol-related hospital visits ever on the rise in young people, perhaps it’s time to come up with a plan B. As professor John McCardell puts it, “Clearly state laws mandating a minimum drinking age of 21 haven’t eliminated drinking by young adults—they’ve simply driven it underground, where life and health are at greater risk.”
As part of The Atlantic’s annual ideas issue, McCardell offers up his solution to curb the prominence of underage imbibing. His first recommendation is to do away with the yanking of highways funds from states who would dare lower the legal age so we make some “adult” adjustments. With that change, he has a few suggestions for states:
They might license 18-year-olds—adults in the eyes of the law—to drink, provided they’ve completed high school, attended an alcohol education course (that consists of more than temperance lectures and scare tactics), and kept a clean record. They might even mandate alcohol education at a young age. And they might also adopt zero-tolerance laws for drunk drivers of all ages, and require ignition interlocks on their cars.
What do you think? Could initiatives like these actually make a difference?
Source: The Atlantic
Friday, June 26, 2009 1:51 PM
Check out the fascinating natural wonder that functions as the keeper of millions of gallons of radioactive waste. Miller-McCune's Matt Palmquist journeyed underground to a salt formation in southeast New Mexico that is home to the world’s sole functioning “deep geologic nuclear waste disposal site.” The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) has been highly effective and accident free in its decade of existence, with one researcher boasting that it’s “safer than working at Toys R Us.” Bonus: There’s a video on the WIPP site if you’re interested in a visual overview of the storage process.
Image by dsearls, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 26, 2009 9:20 AM
It seems unfair: Why can some of the greatest creative minds produce masterpieces while under the influence, while others simply end up with drivel? Apparently it’s genetic. The British magazine Prospect reports on a 2004 study that found “around 15 percent of Caucasians have a genetic variant, known as the G-variant, that makes ethanol behave more like an opioid drug, such as morphine, with a stronger than normal effect on mood and behavior.” This allows some “to remain healthy and brilliant despite consumption that would kill others.” But if you happen so be so fortunate, don’t get too carried away—as with any alcohol consumption, there is a fine line between optimum creativity and exceeding your limits.
Image by preater, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 4:18 PM
For most of us, Gary Busey brings to mind big teeth and smaller roles in movies like “Black Sheep” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” But for Amelia Fedo, the actor’s name floods her mouth with tastes of cranberry and string cheese.
According to maisonneuve, “Fedo has lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, a rare condition that causes units of speech to trigger involuntary sensations of taste.” This explains why she has such a potent reaction to Mr. Busey and other proper nouns—bringing new meaning to the old idiom about leaving a bad taste in one’s mouth. But Fedo’s experience is just one type of the neurological condition:
Neuroscientists have identified more than one hundred synaesthetic variations, and the sensory combinations appear infinite. In the most common, called grapheme-color synaesthesia, numbers and letters are transformed into brilliant colors (Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman claimed to encounter equations as “light-tan j’s, slightly violet-bluish n’s, and dark brown x’s”). With sound-color synaesthesia (or chromesthesia), certain sounds—a doorbell, a barking dog, a guitar chord—elicit powerful visual episodes. Other synaesthetes see their orgasms. Some can hear fabrics, taste shapes, and smell their pain.
Despite what must surely be an inconvenience, Fedo takes great care to use specific descriptions for what she is hearing…err, tasting. Here's a sampling of her flavored names:
Roy: unseasoned kidney beans straight from the can
Derek: raw fennel cut into flat slices, with hints of cucumber
Vivian: vinyl records, coarse nylon or denim, with a faint hint of perfume
Danielle: the rind around the edge of a bologna slice
And she’ll taste your name too, if you like.
Friday, June 19, 2009 4:55 PM
Shouldn’t residents have a say in the city planning process? Julie Ramey at Next American City talked to Mark Gorton, who has been busy developing programs such as The Open Planning Project in an effort to bring about transit reform and make urban planning a more interactive process. Gorton says, “to a large extent my motivation is trying to restore the quality of the streets to a place where they’re oriented to people.” This means reversing the typical planning process—which revolves around planning for cars foremost, not people. Gorton adds:
The design of the street is really very crude and simple. When you start talking about what you’d like in front of your house—it’s not that pros couldn’t do a good job there, it’s just very hard to justify the time to send them around to talk to people and spend hundreds of hours on it. But people who live on that street are not daunted by the idea of having 10 to 20 meetings about what’s in their backyard. In that sense you can really leverage a lot of the local strength of the community. Right now [change] requires people who are very committed grassroots activists. I would like it if you didn’t have to be quite as determined.
Source: Next American City (article not available online)
Friday, June 19, 2009 12:32 PM
In our May-June International Issue, we highlighted an article by Canadian Geographic on the challenges involved with standardizing toponymy—the science of place names. The magazine featured the Inuit people of Nunavut in northern Canada, who use “descriptive” names to identify where certain places are located. The method works for locals, but is often confusing for newcomers and humanitarian workers.
Elsewhere, reporter Andrea Gourgy faced the same problem—but with a new twist. When working in San José, Costa Rica, she felt rather directionally challenged when locals started giving her directions that were all in relation to “the old fig tree.” She writes in Verge:
Indeed most addresses in Costa Rica are given in relation to a known monument. Where’s the pharmacy? It’s 20 metres north of the jazz café. Where’s the jazz café? It’s 10 metres north of the church. Where’s the church? Why, it’s just across from the old fig tree of San Pedro, of course. But where the hell is this damn tree? I deduced that most addresses given in San Pedro—the upscale suburb of San José where I was renting a room—were dictated in relation to the old tree…this tree seemed to be the key to unlocking the entire navigational system of the area.
To find anything, Gourgy first needed to locate the fabled tree for a point of reference—but she searched endlessly. Finally a taxi driver clued her in on one very crucial secret: “The tree, of course, it’s no longer standing. Now we just give directions from where the tree used to be.”
Sources: Verge, Canadian Geographic (articles not available online)
Image by edwin.11, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, June 18, 2009 5:46 PM
You need a weekend project, don’t you? No? Hogwash! Literally. In the endless stream of bacon-related pleasantries, you can now make your very own bacon-infused soap that resembles uncooked bacon. The recent issue of Make, the techie do-it-yourself magazine, features step-by-step instructions on how to take bacon fat, red food coloring, and a few other ingredients, and turn them into glorious, grease-free suds. Enjoy!
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 3:30 PM
Here’s a lesson: Going to school (and especially graduating) does a body good. In the recent issue of Governing, Penelope Lemov reports that “the higher your degree, the healthier you are.” Statistics show that as people climb the academic ladder their reported level of health increases significantly. This assessment comes from research findings analyzed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which looked at education and health statistics in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. There are staggering health differences among those who do or don't graduate from high school and those who have dropped out or finished college—which is great news for those with college diplomas, but quite troubling for those without. Lemov writes:
The most discouraging part of the report is its implication for children. Undereducated parents tend to be poor and to rear their children in households with limited access to grocery stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables; to live in less safe housing; to have insufficient access to safe places to exercise—all of which affect a family’s health. “For the first time in our history, we are raising a generation of children that may live shorter, sicker lives than their parents,” says Dennis Rivera, a commissioner of RWJF’s Commission to Build a Healthier America.
Sources: Governing, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Image by Herkie, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 12, 2009 2:41 PM
Oh the balcony. It’s an iconic symbol that takes on nuanced incarnations that span cites, countries and cultures. From giant, barred bird-cage like enclosures to tiny stucco patios housing plants, the spaces differ both in form and function. The recent issue of Canada’s maisonneuve featured some beautiful images and a little ode to the “lost art of balcony culture,” with some lovely observations:
They’re a bridge between the private and the public, inviting domestic activity into the street and social life into the home. If the city is a stage, the balcony is just that—the balcony, a spot for observing drama and, as with the two old men in The Muppet Show, occasionally participating in it. And balconies are unique in every city. In Vancouver’s West End, where apartment buildings nestle into lush greenery, they are for quiet post-dinner conversation and solitary reading. Neighbors are glimpsed, voyeuristically, but interaction is rare. In the coastal Indian city of Chennai…mothers to warn their daughters against spending too much time on the balcony.
Here in Minnesota, as in Montreal, we’re just happy for warm enough weather to step out on ours to do anything.
Source: maisonneuve (not yet available online)
Image by david.nikonvscanon, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 12, 2009 1:30 PM
Some people never leave home without their phone or wallet. Minneapolis artist Sarina Brewer never leaves home without a cooler, a hacksaw, and rubber gloves. That’s because she’s always at the ready to find road kill and other “pet casualties” to use as art subjects for her special brand of “rogue taxidermy,” which includes winged monkeys, conjoined squirrels and rabbits, and even a chicken-carp-lamb combo, Bust magazine reports.
She essentially creates fanciful, often irreverent sculptures by splicing together the bodies of various taxidermic animals, or, in other instances, transforming the creature into a freak-show mutant by adding an extra head, leg, or other body part....
Unlike traditional taxidermists, who preserve only animal hides, Brewer tries to avoid wasting the innards. As a consequence, she makes a fair amount of carcass art, which she creates by chemically treating muscle tissue before fashioning them into a whimsical pose—like a sculpture of dancing squirrel guts.
Brewer herself is fascinating, having grown up in a family so fond of their deceased pets that they relocated the remains whenever they moved. That same sense of memorializing has been a key influence in her work. The article isn’t online, but you can at least check out some of Brewer’s mutant creations in Bust's mini-mag if you scroll to pages 52-55.
Image courtesy of Sarina Brewer.
Thursday, June 11, 2009 3:55 PM
You’ll never look at bacon the same way again. The folks at Meatpaper have hipped us to the completely disgusting nature of a botfly infection. Apparently in Central and South America the parasites’ eggs are transferred during mosquito bites—causing maggots to grow underneath the unlucky recipient’s skin. There are many ways to treat the infestation, but this one is the most unappetizing:
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that if they covered the “larval aperture” (which is to say, the oozing pore atop the wriggling lump containing Dermatobia hominis) with bacon fat, the larva would rise to the surface within three hours, at which point it could be removed with a pair of tweezers. ... If you’re not squeamish—if you were, would you have read this far?—you can even cook the bacon afterward. If you’re hungry that is.
It doesn’t look like these folks used the bacon trick, but here’s a little live-action botfly removal for those of you who can stomach it—don’t say I didn’t warn you.
One last thought: In a death match between the botfly and the queedle-queedling butcher bird, who do you think would win? I put my money on the bird, but not before he is implanted…
Image by stonebird, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009 6:14 PM
The Rolling Stones sort of predicted the downfall of print in their 1967 song "Yesterday’s Papers" by singing “who wants yesterday’s papers / nobody in the world.” Now that no one seems to want today’s papers either, it’s a little more alarming. Writing for Paste magazine (which has also struggled to stay in print), Mark Kemp notes that “there really was a golden age of journalism. It peaked with Woodward and Bernstein and began its steady decline with emergence of CNN. Today, the newspaper is crumbling faster than week-old bread.
And what do you do with crumbling week-old bread? Quit writing about it and make a playlist! Kemp compiled his personal top 10 list of songs about newspapers and journalism, all fully listenable on the site. So, chin up, throw on some headphones, and check out his favorites.
Friday, June 05, 2009 6:11 PM
The world of competitive eating is one of impressive (and wholly bizarre) records, practice food, eating challenges, and pre-contest candy-only binging. In a recent issue of Tin House, Thomas Burke spent some time trailing Eater X, who is a stock trader by day, but ranked fourth in the world of competitive eaters. To earn that nobility, he’s claimed six food titles for eating 71 tamales in 12 minutes, 26 large cannoli in six minutes, four pounds of tiramisu in six minutes, 11.81 pounds of long-form burritos in 10 minutes, 10.5 pounds of ramen noodles in eight minutes, and 141 pieces of nigiri sushi in six minutes. Do you feel queasy yet? Here at Utne we’re collectively doing our best to polish off a five-pound bag of 760 Tootsie Roll midgees… but not anytime soon.
Source: Tin House
Friday, June 05, 2009 6:04 PM
Crystal-studded sauna ceilings, glass-tiled Roman bath-inspired pools, and ping pong tables resting on glass floors. Doesn’t sound like the usual workout facility, does it? Air Canada’s magazine enRoute, dug up and showcased some of the most sleek and artful fitness centers on the map. Working out looks (and sounds) so much more appealing when you’re scaling a wall of white picture frames and baroque furniture instead some dull brown surface.
Friday, June 05, 2009 3:03 PM
Most people don’t want to turn to check cashers and payday lenders to do their banking, but for some people in West Baltimore, there are no legitimate bank branches within walking distance.
The Urbanite cited a 2008 Brookings Institution report on the “non-bank basic financial services industry,” which found that one neighborhood convenience store providing check cashing services for a fee is “at the epicenter of a west-side financial services desert—approximately four square miles with no convenient access to basic services such as checking and savings accounts.” No wonder we have yet to stunt the growth (out of necessity) of fringe banking practices—for many, it’s the only convenient and feasible option for paying their bills on time.
Thankfully, a new coalition has formed to help residents. The Baltimore Cash Campaign aims to help low-and moderate-income families become financially literate. The group organizes free tax preparation services at trusted community locations and helps educate and provide resources to residents on checking accounts, certificates of deposit, and savings options, with the goal of turning those initial sessions into long-term practices—an important first step toward a larger financial conversion that’s desperately needed, especially when you consider some general findings from the Brookings Institution report: Households collectively pay more than $8 billion in annual fees to these non-bank establishments, and a full-time employee can lose upwards of $40,000 of earnings by using these fringe banking services instead of traditional banks. Yow!
The Urbanite was nominated for an Utne Independent Press Award this year for its social/cultural coverage.
Thursday, June 04, 2009 3:31 PM
Think fancy lettering has no place in modern advertising? Think again. Hand-lettering extraordinaire Alison Carmichael, has made a name for herself by producing elegantly-scribed messages for the likes of Virgin Atlantic, Stella Artois, and plenty of other high-profile clients. Her pieces are provocative and often bawdy (see the promo with the renaissance-looking dame encouraging folks to “sit down and enjoy a Bishops Finger” or her dainty treatment of the word cunt), but they’re undoubtedly unique and a pleasure to look at. Carmichael tells the Creative Review, “I spent eight years really working on being able to pull off any style imaginable.” And it shows. Check out her “exquisite handjobs” for yourself.
Source: Creative Review
The Creative Review was nominated for an Utne Independent Press Award this year for its arts coverage.
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Friday, May 29, 2009 7:33 PM
As part of Geez’s Experiments With Truth issue, writer Natalie Boustead decided to tap the laundromat patrons of Toronto and see if she could cull some deep thoughts from them as they sorted their whites and darks. She set out “question of the week” boxes at a handful of local venues and proffered different questions for four weeks, with “small hopes that I would find amongst the bitter rubble of Torontonians, small gems of wisdom, beauty, and truth.” Like Boustead, you won’t be disappointed with the results. Here are the questions and my favorite answers:
Week 1: Does heaven exist? Why/why not?
Week 2: What would you like for Christmas that has no monetary value?
Peace on earth. And my real teeth.
For my ex-boyfriends to apologize for being bad boyfriends. Unless they’re psychotic now.
Week 3: What else is certain besides death and taxes?
Week 4: What makes you happy?
People who are not miserable on the subway after work.
Geez won an Utne Independent Press Award this year for its excellent spiritual coverage.
Image by slimninja, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 29, 2009 6:40 PM
Who knew Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet could help robots navigate mine fields? Matt Palmquist reports in Miller-McCune that the classic whodunit board game inspired engineers at Duke University to create an algorithm that combines the treasure hunt nature of the detective game with aspects of minesweeping, and it has been overwhelmingly successful at beating experienced Clue players even. The findings suggest robots might be able to use it to locate mines more quickly and efficiently because the success of the algorithm rests on “its strategy of selecting movements and optimizing its ability to incorporate new information, while minimizing the distance traveled by the pawn,” according to a lab director at Duke. Frankly I can’t quip a better conclusion than Palmquist’s summary, “In other words: It was the robot, in the library, with the minesweeper.”
Miller-McCune won an Utne Independent Press Award this year for its superb science/tech coverage.
Image by katherine lynn, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 29, 2009 5:28 PM
Solving the nation’s transportation woes will take some big ideas, but it doesn’t hurt to think “small” in this case. GOOD magazine picked the brain of Audrey Dussutour, whose countless hours of ant-studying (and even sabotaging) taught her that the tiny travelers are über-skilled when it comes to avoiding traffic jams.
Dussutour chose ants to study because aside from humans and termites, they’re the only other species that aren’t just unidirectional, meaning: All other animals just flow in one direction, without inbound and outbound traffic. Ants are at an advantage because of their size, cooperative nature, and lack of rules. They move intuitively, but yet all follow a similar intrinsic code—giving the right of way to load-bearing ants and those with no space to move—which allows them to move faster collectively, even if it takes a little more time for each individual. They also are flexible and change routes when crowding starts, showing self-organized cultures can function efficiently (and often faster) then those with bosses making laws to instill order.
So what can urban planners learn from this? Dussutour says: Just remove the rules and it would work. I’m kidding, but if you look at videos from the south of Asia, Thailand, or India, sometimes traffic doesn’t seem to have any rules, but it works very well and has a very nice flow. It is like bikes and trucks, and pedestrians. It looks scary from our point of view, because we are not used to that. But if it looks like it works, why interfere?
Friday, May 29, 2009 4:33 PM
Chefs with tattoos are commonplace, but Meatpaper reports on a new trend in the field of food-related tats: Pigs. The pig/pork/sausage/ham/bacon tattoo is on full display (for subscribers) in the journal’s most recent issue, which is entirely dedicated to the pink beast. There you can find the limbs of culinary trade inked in antique bacon presses, flying pigs, German sausages, and no shortage of pig butchery diagrams—the illustrations marking different cuts of the meat. One chef even has “PORK!” tattooed on the inside of her lower lip—and yes, it looks as painful as it sounds. Why the swine lovefest? One devotee summed up his love for the versatile muse: “It’s the food of the gods. It brings us ribs, bacon, ham, sausage, pork chops. What else bring you all those things? Nothing else does that.”
Meatpaper was nominated for a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award in the categories of social/cultural coverage and general excellence.
Image by aurora.leonard, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 15, 2009 6:59 PM
Word nerds are probably familiar with Barbara Wallraff’s regular columns for The Atlantic. In her ongoing space dedicated to “Word Fugitives,” readers write in asking for a word to describe a certain experience, situation, or person. Wallraff then collects all the suggestions and presents the best.
One of my favorites originated back in November. A reader sought help to find a word for “people with absolutely no horse sense when using public transport or in crowds. You know, the ones who get off the top of the escalator and stop dead, people who swerve into your path, people who walk four abreast.”
Oh, we know. We’ve all been plagued by these pedestrian offenders. Well now you can take your pick of non-expletive things to call them: impedestrians, obliviots, bipediments, ignoraimlesses, in-the-wayfarers, and speed bumpkins all were proffered. My personal favorite though: detourists. It won’t help in getting them off the streets (or lessening our annoyance), but at least now we know who they are.
Source: The Atlantic
Friday, May 15, 2009 3:16 PM
Fans of John O’Connor’s brilliant travel account “The Boil,” which appeared in Utne’s Jan.-Feb. issue, should check out this other lovely—and somewhat cringe-inducing—tale he penned for The Believer.
In “Avian,” O’Connor discovers the handiwork of the loggerhead shrike, a.k.a. the Butcher Bird, which spends its days skillfully filleting prey on thorn bushes and then disemboweling their carcasses. The measures are gruesome, but necessary, because it lacks the talon-power of other predatory birds. It’s also facing declining numbers in North America.
O’Connor was particularly transformed by the chilling death of a tiny green lizard. After staring down the author, the bird made quick business of crucifying its tiny meal. O’Connor writes of the slain creature, “Its intestines, naked to the world, shone like cooked spaghetti…. I began to feel a grudging respect for the Butcher Bird. To see an animal overcome its genetic shortcomings in such dramatic fashion, supported by a brain the size of a lentil, well, it gives a man hope.”
The Believer was nominated for a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for its arts coverage.
Source: The Believer
Image by Henry McLin, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 15, 2009 1:32 PM
Most dollhouses scenes don’t feature miniature corpses hanging from ropes or life-like blood spatters evoking a crime-scene feel in each room. Most probably aren’t used by police officers, either.
The latest issue of Baltimore’s Urbanite features a handful of hidden secrets lurking in the Charm City, which includes a 60-some-year-old collection known as the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. Michael Yockel writes, “In naming her creations [Frances Glessner] Lee invokes a police dictum: ‘Convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.’”
All told there are 18 tiny, gruesome dioramas, which are used in seminars to school police in forensics and solving murder cases. Too bad Jimmy McNulty and crew didn’t have these.
The Urbanite is nominated for a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for its social/cultural coverage.
Thursday, April 23, 2009 3:09 PM
When tough times force families to live on a shoestring budget, what happens when the choice becomes whether or not to feed the family or the family pet? Russia Today reports that one organization in Germany is stepping in on behalf of furry companions, and running a sort of soup kitchen for pets.
Tiertafel, which translates loosely into something like “animal table,” has opened more than a dozen centers in Germany that feed thousands of animals on a regular basis so families don’t have to make that tough choice and either give away or abandon their pets. The organization just requires that people show proof of receiving welfare or low wages, and asks that customers don’t take on any new pets if they’re already receiving assistance through the program.
A board member explains: “We are helping not only the animals, but also the people that own the animals. Many of these people don’t have social relationships outside their pets. They may be old or on their own and their pets are their only companionship.”
Source: Russia Today
Image by numstead, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009 3:52 PM
One of the funniest things I’ve read in our library lately is “I’m no decider” from The Week, in which writer T.M. Shine recounts his two-week (and perhaps longer now) social experiment with letting complete strangers make all of his decisions.
For those of us who feel paralyzed by the incessant barrage of decisions to make every day, Shine is a true revolutionary. Instead of stressfully deliberating over choices involving which healthcare plan to choose, what book to read, which class to take, or what time of day to shave, Shine let everyone else do the work—adopting a new “lifestyle” characterized by what he dubbed “random acts of indecision” or RAI for short.
Shine found that nearly everyone was willing to do his decidering, and he could avoid accepting any responsibility for his actions. One morning, he was particularly happy to relinquish his Dunkin’ Donuts choices to a “thick-armed” stranger in line.
“I couldn’t wait to get home and have someone in my family make a face about the two apple crumbs—Why’d you pick the-e-e-se?—so I could reply quite proudly, “I didn’t.”
“The old adage ‘You have no one to blame but yourself’ doesn’t apply to me anymore,” he concludes, “when things go wrong, I will have no one to blame but each and every one of you.”
Source: The Week
Image by The Citizen of Hachioji, licensed Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 19, 2009 11:02 AM
Nina Katchadourian’s piece of visual intrigue, Genealogy of the Supermarket, makes for a very different “shopping” experience. The artist has created a sort of food-label lineage from the familiar faces that look out from products on grocery store shelves.
In Katchadourian’s version of the family tree, the Sun-Maid raisin girl is a sister to the Saint Pauli Girl… who happens to be married to another beer icon, Samuel Adams… and they’re the parents of two rugged Brawny Paper Towel men… one of which is the partner of Mr. Clean… and together, they’re the adoptive fathers to none other than the Gerber baby. Bet you never knew, right?
Cory Bernat offers up some interesting analysis of the project in the fall 2008 issue of Gastronomica. He feels the advertising ancestry is “hardly burdened by the hard facts of science, the history of food manufacturing, or the politics of nutritional policy.” Rather, the icons are presented in such humorous and thought-provoking pairings that they beg the reader to pose larger questions about the reasons behind each icon’s particular placement. Bernat wonders:
Is the Native Indian icon found on Land O’Lakes butter the Corn Maiden’s mother because Native peoples are more connected to the earth? Or because they were treated for a long time as less than human, making the half-vegetable reference more pointed?
Is the marriage of the smiling Quaker of Quaker Oats fame to Aunt Jemima a reference to the business-trivia fact that his parent company purchased hers? Is it, perhaps, a commentary on marriage as ownership? Or on slave-holding whites? Or, as one historian friend has suggested, perhaps the interracial union is a reference to the Quakers as early abolitionists?
Ultimately, you’ll have to draw your own conclusions about the intricate reasons and motives behind the connections. You can check out close-ups of the iconic food labels on Katchadourian’s website. I also recommend poking around her other projects, which include more family trees, maps, interactive public art, these delicately mended spiderwebs, and amusing collections of sorted books.
Image courtesy of Nina Katchadourian, Sara Meltzer gallery, and Catharine Clark gallery.
Thursday, March 12, 2009 5:06 PM
With literary competitions cropping up everywhere, and contests being fueled largely by popularity and PR, Prospect's resident arts and books editor Tom Chatfield takes the trove of literary prizes to task and wonders why we don't just ditch them all—except maybe the Booker. It may be flawed, but not a total failure.
Chatfield concedes that prizes “occupy an increasingly crucial, and volatile, position amid those imperfect processes by which writing is turned into literature,” but he feels that readers are “ill-served by much of the current marketplace of overlapping awards and those ‘prize-winning’ books manufactured to claim them.”
How do we fix the system? Re-evaluate, says Chatfield. It’s time to tone down the media hype, bolster the quality of juries, and “thin” out some of the competitions that aren’t serving writers (or readers) well. Chatfield suggests money could be better spent on award programs that foster authors aiming to get their first books into print.
The final and crucial component? Quality winners. “Without these,” he writes, “and without a public’s faith in these, it descends into a mere opinion poll; and we already have plenty of those.”
Image by hapticflapjack, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 05, 2009 9:00 AM
As part of their Death Issue, Ross Martin wrote a morbidly funny piece for Guilt & Pleasure called “How I Would Like to Die.” With a surgery impending, Martin coincidently found a gravestone with his name on it… and comically started preparing himself, his friends, and family for the worst. My favorite moment is when he shows up at a Hanukkah party and announces a color-coding system for distributing his possessions:
Unconscionably enjoying the panic on their faces, I made my way from cousin to cousin, assigning each a different color. “If God forbid I die,” I told them, “come to my apartment in Brooklyn and take all the items with your color sticker.” None of them warmed to the invitation. “Don’t worry,” I assured them, “I want you to have this stuff!”
Source: Guilt & Pleasure
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 1:04 PM
Queer youth are taking often-controversial subjects to the stage for discussion in an effort to get out information to those students who need it most. In their fall 2008 issue (article not available online), Bitch magazine gave a nod to About Face Youth Theatre (AFYT), a Chicago theater program for LGBT or questioning youth and their allies. Through performances like Fast Forward, a show about sex education based on the cast members’ own experiences, the program hopes to reach out to those youth who are largely ignored in government funded abstinence-only education. Bitch reports, “the government’s refusal to recognize the variety of sexualities among youth translates to a refusal to recognize those teens themselves.”
For more on ground-breaking queer activism, check out Utne Reader visionary Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore.
Image by Seattle Municipal Archives, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, December 15, 2008 11:23 AM
From Joondalup, Australia, to Zagreb, Croatia, to Curitiba, Brazil, to Edmonton, Canada, local governments have banded together to keep their cities ecologically sound as part of Local Action for Biodiversity (LAB), a project sponsored by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).
The Ecologist (article not available online) reports that 21 cities from around the world have signed on to promote biodiversity in their respective regions. Each city was tasked with assessing its needs and mapping out five long-term initiatives to work toward, whether it be protecting birds, putting a stop to invasive plants, constructing green transportation, or providing educational programming.
LAB aims to establish an international collective committed to promoting sustainable, urban environments. Starting in March of 2009 the program will be open for all cities to join, with the hope that its pioneer cities can offer up support and guidance to newcomers.
Image by WorldIslandInfo.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 31, 2008 6:17 PM
Former president Bill Clinton drew some 4,000 people to the Minneapolis convention center last night to stump for Barack Obama and longtime friend Al Franken, who is battling Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in a must-watch U.S. Senate race in Minnesota. Franken has called on both Clintons for support as he vies for the hotly contested seat. A roundup of recent polls shows a four to six point lead in either candidate’s favor according to Talking Points Memo.
Also in the rally lineup were local mayors, Representative Keith Ellison, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and former vice president Walter Mondale. The speakers made repeated cries for door knocking, and reminders to fight complacency in the home stretch, and nearly everyone mentioned grassroots hero and former Senator Paul Wellstone, who occupied Coleman’s seat before he was killed in a plane crash in 2002.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak drew lots of applause when he briefly diverted from the Franken love fest and encouraged everyone to do what they can to oust Representative Michele Bachmann, who has occasionally thrust Minnesota politics into the spotlight during her term with her fondness for President Bush and more recently, her Hardball appearance—which even led to a call for her to be censured.
Clinton did not disappoint when took command of the hall and praised Franken for running a more serious campaign than his opponent—despite being a comedian. He also stressed that an Obama win wouldn’t be enough without Democratic support in the Senate, but he emoted and sang Obama’s praises as the candidate who can execute and turn “good intentions into real changes.” Then he called for America to do better in this election by taking a quick dig at his successor by saying: “So we gotta pick us a good decider.”
Image by Elizabeth Ryan
Friday, October 17, 2008 9:46 AM
For film buffs dying to see a new documentary but short on change, the Canadian magazine Broken Pencil offers a fun little three-point plan for stealthily infiltrating film festivals in its Summer How-To Issue.
Fiona Clarke suggests that smaller film fests are more opportune for creating mock passes, but “don’t put yourself too high on the totem pole, someone might actually ask you a question.” She says the trick is to create an identity that is “simultaneously vague and with a hint of hyperbole to guarantee confused acceptance.”
If you can’t gain access with your “official pass,” why not try a disguise? Clarke suggests transforming into a tradesperson:
If you can pass as an electrician or plumber, use this. Get a small toolbox or equipment bag, look haggard and confused at the long line of people waiting at the theatre and walk up to the front. Dismissively inform the FOH manager of a “building issue” that the theatre management has called you in about and you were told you should be let through.
Plan B: You can be a courier that has “an urgent delivery of ‘paper-tape.’”
Clarke warns that building infiltration is highly tricky, but “most festivals in big cities rely on old, large movie houses for their screenings. These old theatres contain all manner of surprise entrances and hidden areas.” For additional tips, crack open a copy of All Access Areas, a book by the creator of Infiltration, a zine about “going places that you’re not supposed to go.”
But getting caught will come with a price (and it might be more than a festival ticket), so Clarke advises that it’s probably best to pony up for a ticket or else volunteer. We agree. While events like Sundance can spare a few lost dollars, your local film fest probably can’t.
Monday, October 13, 2008 9:34 AM
Snapping photos amid a backdrop of coal mines and burning garbage dumps might be an unlikely vacation getaway, but for some environmental groups it's a new kind of eco-tourism. In a recent issue of Plenty magazine, Ben Whitford compiled a mini-guide to toxic eco-tours. Whitford spotlights five “brochures” for places offering a glimpse at the realities of pollution and gives a brief rundown of each—including who’s responsible, what to see, and Kodak moments. Those who are crunched for funds can skip the authentic rotten-egg smells and the chance to “sing hymns just 200 feet from an exploding mountain,” and stay home. Whitford also includes Superfund365, a virtual repository of a year's worth of toxic sites from across the country.
Image by steve r watson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008 10:33 AM
Throughout the Obama campaign, Michelle has been skewered for her remarks on the stump, but her speech at Monday night's DNC kickoff got decent, even good, reviews across the political spectrum. Here’s a roundup of quick takes on the potential First Lady’s delivery:
Here's Jim Geraghty for the National Review:
In one sense, Michelle's speech did what it needed to tonight, and that is... little or no harm. It was a serving of mashed potatoes from her, but considering her comments that have generated headlines so far in this campaign, generic happy talk about working hard and dreaming bigger and aiming higher will be a pleasant surprise.
The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan raved:
There was plenty I didn't like about this night, as you can tell if you scroll down. But it succeeded in the most important task. Michelle did it. She more than did it. She struck fear in the GOP tonight. Their lies about the Obamas will fail. As they should.
tapped former Republican speechwriter, Michael Gerson, and former Democratic speechwriter Michael Waldman for their takes, and both were impressed. Says Gerson:
Michelle Obama [was] impressive—confident, fluent, and appealingly personal. The sharp political edge she has sometimes shown on the stump was nowhere in evidence. Instead, she told a compelling working class story and rooted her own considerable accomplishments in the American dream. She clearly brings a liberal sensitivity to a variety of issues, but, in this speech, it was the soft liberalism of service and community, not the hard liberalism of anger and radicalism.
James Forsyth of the Spectator was only slightly disappointed:
Michelle Obama played it safe tonight. Gone was the sassy campaigner I remember seeing in Iowa and South Carolina. The aim of the speech was to introduce Michelle Obama to the public and to dispel the idea of her as an angry, divisive figure. On that score, it worked.
And Dahlia Lithwick of Slate had this sharp analysis:
Here is a woman with a degree from Harvard Law School, who could have talked about law and policy and poverty, and yet she talked about her kids, her husband, and her family. And she didn't do that merely to show us that smart women are soft and cuddly on the inside. She did what everyone else in this campaign is terrified to do: She risked looking sappy and credulous and optimistic when almost everyone has abandoned "hope" and "change" for coughing up hairballs of outrage. Every Democrat in America seems to be of the view that optimism is so totally last February; that now's the time to hunker down and panic real hard. Good for Michelle for reminding us that to "strive for the world as it should be" is still cool, and for being so passionate about that fact that she looked to be near tears.
Watch Michelle Obama's speech:
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Democratic National Convention, click here.
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