Friday, November 25, 2011 1:53 PM
It’s too soon to think about New Year’s resolutions. We still have the remains of Thanksgiving in the fridge, and there are the holidays to maneuver before we reach a bleary-eyed New Year’s Day. But the organizers at 100,000 Aspirations are asking us to pause and offer our best intentions for the world right now.
The beautifully ambitious group is collecting 100,000 aspirations that will be placed in a stupa—a monument to peace—being built in northern Vermont. Sponsored by the Sakyong Foundation, in collaboration with the meditation center Karme Choling, the stupa is “for people of all cultures, religions, and backgrounds to enjoy,” says the Shambhala Times.
Early submissions reveal a variety of good hopes: “I aspire to make sure no child feels unworthy,” writes one contributor; “I aspire to be as happy and carefree as a dog,” says another. And Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, writes:
I aspire to live in a world where there are more school gardens than McDonald’s franchises, where it’s easier to feed our kids fruit than Froot Loops, and where we experience our profound connection to each other and the land through sharing work and sharing food.
You can add your aspiration on the 100,000 Aspirations website (it’s quick), tweet it, or submit a video aspiration to the project. Watch Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron offer hers here:
Sources: 100,000 Aspirations, Shambhala Times
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 10:14 AM
Happiness. Well being. Living fully. The good life. If you’re an Utne reader you might call it mindful living. But what does it all really mean? And how do we find it?
The summer issue of ARCADE tries to tackle those questions from a design perspective. Guest editor Ray Gastil introduces a section called “The Good Life Reconsidered” with a short essay pondering what role design can and will play on the road to a sustainable future and a good life. “Design is a way of thinking,” Gastil writes, “and it has an extraordinarily powerful ability to shape the way we live, and in particular, the way we choose to live.”
Sustainability advocates know that they have to present a future that is desired and chosen, not mandated and enforced. If we are open to it, design can harness the power of aspiration and choice, leading to diverse new ways of thinking, whether from the corporate suite or down the street. We can design a smart, green life, but it needs to have rewards.
Following that introduction we get opinions on the matter from a range of voices, like a reminder from Jessica Geenen, program manager for the Energy Efficient Communities program at Puget Sound Energy, that the “word ‘community’ comes from the Latin roots cum, meaning ‘with,’ and munus, meaning ‘responsibility.’”
There’s also a call for “biophilic neighborhoods” from Tim Beatley, a professor of sustainable communities:
I would like to propose…that we significantly update the neighborhood concept to better take into account our growing appreciation for the value and need to reconnect with nature and natural systems, building on the insights of “biophilia,” a concept popularized by E. O. Wilson. In Biophila, Wilson defines the term as “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms,” something essential for healthy, happy, productive humans and an essential quality of urban life.” Nature, we increasingly understand, is not something optional, but absolutely essential to modern daily life, and not something to be relegated to the occasional visit to some mostly remote place we think of as “nature”—something “over there.”
Those and many more take on the issue of how where and how we live can lead to “the good life,” whatever that may be. What’s your definition of that tricky phrase? And how does your neighborhood, community, and work life lead you toward achieving that definition?
Image by blhphotography, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 19, 2010 2:10 PM
Death doesn’t have to be terrifying or even a disappointment. Many Christian, Confucian, and Classical philosophers have written and spoken about what it means to live and die with dignity, grace, or even good cheer. In an interview with Shambala Sun, the writer Simon Critchley relays this strangely charming tale:
There’s a wonderful story of a Zen Buddhist monk from the twelfth century who preached to his disciples and then sat in the Zen position and died. When his followers complained that he died too quickly, he revived and harangued them for a bit longer. Then he died five days later.
Source: Shambhala Sun (Article not yet available online)
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 7:41 AM
Interested in improving your attention skills after reading stories like “A Nation Distracted” and “The Focused Life” in our March-April 2010 issue? Evidence suggests that meditation is a good place to start—and, as luck would have it, the alternative press is chock full of assistance. Here’s a smattering of stories and resources to get you started:
In 2008, Utne Reader reprinted Brad Warner’s “Learn to Sit Still,” a humble and humorous explanation of the state of non-thinking from the Buddhist review Tricycle. Warner, a Zen Buddhist monk, is the author of Hardcore Zen and Sit Down and Shut Up.
“Got seat?” Jonathan Kaplan asks. Writing for Psychology Today, the clinical psychologist and founder of Urban Mindfulness describes how to get contemplative during your (not-car-driving) commute. “Meditating on the subway is probably not ideal,” he writes, “but it sure beats playing Brick Breaker on your Blackberry, messing with your iPhone . . . or skipping a meditation session altogether.”
Shambhala Sun has an excellent collection of meditation and mindfulness resources available online, culled from the venerable bimonthly’s archives. Yoga Journal offers an equally fine assortment of meditation stories and articles.
Although Penny Wrenn isn’t writing exclusively about meditation, in her piece for Natural Solutions the writer nonetheless makes some prudent observations about the efficacy of jumping headlong into a lifestyle change.
From the POZ archives, here’s a short and compelling piece about the health benefits of meditation for people living with HIV. Plus, a primer on types of meditation from “mindfulness meditation” to “centering prayer meditation” and get-started resources.
Sources: Tricycle, Psychology Today, Shambhala Sun, Yoga Journal, Natural Solutions, POZ
Image by D Sharon Pruitt, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, February 19, 2010 5:08 PM
Care farms are places where some of society’s most vulnerable people join farmers in working the land, reaping a connection to social support, meaningful work, and the natural world, Lorna Howarth writes in Resurgence. The farms, which already play a significant role in the Dutch health- and social-care system, are gaining popularity in the United Kingdom as options for people with mental health issues, substance abuse problems, and difficulty in traditional schools.
While some farms are day-work oriented, others offer extended residential stays. One UK couple, for example, runs a care farm that offers a nine-month program for former drug offenders. Fourteen men, age 20 to 50, live on the farm and learn the forestry and livestock business. “But what they really love is being part of family life,” the couple told The Times. The UK farms, numbering around 100, have been so successful there’s talk of establishing a national farm care plan and accreditation system.
It’s a scheme in which all benefit, too: Farmers, many of whom convert from traditional operations, receive a daily stipend for each “farm helper” which helps cover staffing costs. The money comes from social or legal services or pupil referrals. Howarth also points out that the traditional farm life can be an isolated one, characterized by “intense lone working.”
“Feedback from farmers who have moved into care farming has been fantastic,” she writes. “The enjoyment and enhanced meaning brought to their lives through delivering care on their own farms taps into the huge passion they have for sharing their skills and cultivating both the growth of plants and animals, and that of fellow human beings.”
Sources: Resurgence, The Times
Thursday, February 18, 2010 3:37 PM
Window gazing—when you catch yourself doing it—can feel like a guilty distraction, a momentary lapse of attention that ought to be corrected by re-focusing on the task at hand. But what if we treated looking out the window as a purposeful exercise? Whenever Carly Stasko needs a break, she writes for Spacing, she does just that. Instead of turning to any number of the screens modern life offers as distraction, she sits and gazes out at a neighborhood intersection, observing the “pedestrian culture” she’s come to appreciate as an art form.
“Yes, this is voyeurism,” Stasko confesses, “but less creepy and with a dose of humanity. Instead of peeking into other people’s windows I’m gazing out of my own.” She reports that she rarely spends more than a few minutes—contrast that to the time-suck of TV or the Internet—and that the experience leaves her with a sense of interconnection and appreciation, rooted in her neighborhood.
Source: Spacing (article not available online)
Image by Olga Dietrich, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, February 11, 2010 12:31 PM
A recent survey conducted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Center found that two-thirds of terminally ill cancer patients never hear the word death from doctors, Judy Bachrach reports for Obit. “And not just cancer patients,” she adds. “I have talked to Alzheimer’s specialists, internists, and surgeons—and their general consensus is: You’re better off not knowing.”
Bachrach, who also writes a daily advice column about terminal illness, paints a complex picture of medical professionals’ reluctance to deliver bad news: partly rooted in an institutional culture that frames a patient’s death as a “failure,” but also grounded in compassion and humility. No one can perfectly foresee the future, after all.
Here, however, is the twist: The survey also found that people who do have “candid end-of-life discussions with their doctor are no more likely to feel depressed than those who’ve been deprived of such discussions. They are also less likely to demand invasive, useless, and costly end-of-life care,” Bachrach writes. In the words of the oncologist who prepared the survey report, there are “cascading benefits” to frank talks for both terminally ill people and their caregivers.
“After being handed the gift of truth, the dying can tell those they trust what kind of end-of-life treatment they want—or don’t want. And relatives and spouses don’t have to feel ignorant (or, worse, guilty) about making medical choices for the terminally ill as the end approaches.”
Image from Seattle Municipal Archives, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 28, 2010 1:05 PM
Social work for the affluent: It sounds like an oxymoron. Down in Chicago, however, licensed clinical social worker Jinnie English is carving out a valuable new specialty for her profession—and opening the door to talking about the challenges of life after poverty.
English, profiled in University of Chicago magazine, didn’t set out to practice what she refers to as nontraditional social work. Rather, the Chicago alumnus “stumbled across” a niche clientele in the early days of her practice. Her outwardly-successful clients, most of them people of color, “had a lot of psychodynamic issues, masked under a really nice suit, a great haircut, nice home in the suburbs,” she tells the magazine. “They were left with the internal struggle of being poor.”
English herself grew up at times on welfare and “I still feel that shame,” she tells University of Chicago. For those who come from a less-privileged background, success can be a severe culture shock. Many of her clients also grew up in dysfunctional families, and don’t know how to respond to having power, she explains.
Among her colleagues, English often runs into the attitude that helping privileged people “doesn’t count,” but she’s determined to push the conversation forward—pointing out that many of her clients are the “successful products” of traditional social work. Her resolve calls to mind two other conversation changers: Dean Spade and Tyrone Boucher, 2009 Utne visionaries and co-creators of Enough, a dynamic website where people write about and discuss wealth, class, and the personal politics of resisting capitalism.
Source: University of Chicago
Image by *sean, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 5:23 PM
Here’s a brain-boggling challenge from Psychology Today blogger Satoshi Kanazawa:
List all of your friends. Then ask each of your friends how many friends they have. No matter who you are, whether you are a man or a woman, where you live, how many (or few) friends you have, and who your friends are, you will very likely discover that your friends on average have more friends than you do.
It seems impossible—given that friendships are reciprocal—but it’s true. The apparent friendship paradox is explained in what the evolutionary psychologist calls one of his “all-time” favorite papers: “Why Your Friends Have More Friends Than You Do,” by sociologist Scott L. Feld, published in the American Journal of Sociology in 1991.
In his blog post, Kanazawa reproduces some charts, which show that in a hypothetical group of eight friends, each individual has an average of two-and-a-half friends. Those friends, however, each have an average of three friends. What causes the disparity? Kanazawa explains:
If you think about it for a moment, you’ll figure out the source of this seeming paradox (although this simple insight did not occur to anyone before Feld published his paper in 1991). You are more likely to be friends with someone who has more friends than with someone who has fewer friends.
There are 12 people who have a friend who has 12 friends, but there is only one person who has a friend who has only one friend. And, of course, there is no one who has a friend who doesn’t have any friend. Yet there is actually only one person who has 12 friends. So “12” gets counted only once when you compute the average number of friends that people have, but it gets counted 12 times when you compute the average number of friends that their friends have.
Source: Psychology Today
Image by Jolante, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sunday, December 20, 2009 9:51 PM
Thrift is in—perhaps with lasting ramifications, according to Urbanite. We’re witnessing nothing short of a “tectonic shift” in consumer culture, Rob Hiaasen writes for the Baltimore magazine. Hiaasen hooks up with anthropologist Robbie Blinkoff, who “frames the issue as a before-and-after question: Why shop then? ‘I shop, therefore I am.’ Why shop now? ‘I shop because I live in a consumer society and I need stuff, but it doesn’t define me.’ ”
The transformation, which began last year, took “grief-like stages,” Hiaasen writes, “as ‘Homo Economicus’—a creature ‘consumed by consumerism’—was miraculously transformed into the more enlightened ‘Grounded Consumer,’ who lives within his or her means and understands the concepts of debt and savings.
“In the third stage of this transformation, the shopper moves from ‘Me’ to ‘We’ consumerism, Blinkoff says, which emphasizes family and community relationships rather than just satisfies personal material whims. In the fourth stage, consumers begin to “un-stuff” their lives by selling off or giving away excess possessions.”
Friday, December 11, 2009 5:43 PM
McDonalds will begin selling their sausage McMuffin for a buck come January, reports Daily Finance, along with other golden-arch staples such as the hashbrown, small coffee, sausage burrito, and sausage biscuit. The preponderance of meat, specifically sausage, “sparks my interest because I have watched as concern about cheap meat has become more and more mainstream,” Sarah Gilbert writes for the AOL-group beta site.
While analysts are chalking the dollar menu up to slumping sales (and, depressingly, unemployment reducing breakfast-time commuters), Gilbert sees another possibility. In the coming decade, U.S. citizens will have to confront industrial meat production with “an unusual-for-us sobriety,” she contends. Which makes dollar menus at McDonalds and other fast-food chains look an awful lot like a sausage-puck shaped “Hail Mary strategy, a last hurrah before the era of cheap meat comes to an end.”
That or the menu, and others like it, will let Americans fall in love with cheap meat all over again, she concedes. But the stage (or perhaps the table), is set to favor the former: More now than ever, “what dishes one consumes or refuses, what food products one buys or boycotts, constitute an expression of style, statement of politics, reflection of values, index of environmentalism, pledge of allegiance, and measure of health,” Siobhan Phillips writes in The Hudson Review. Even priced at a buck, the sausage McMuffin is becoming an increasingly difficult sell.
Yet trying to articulate what a more sustainable, healthy American food culture will look like is a tricky thing in a country “where pizza bagels, pesto hummus, and picante ramen are as authentic as any other version . . . a place where an indistinct assembly-line beef patty is the only common taste,” Phillips writes. She offers, however, a refreshingly prescription-free suggestion for how we might forge ahead:
No one needs another study on the benefits of the family dinner table or another lament for its supposed—and probably fallacious—demise. But many people, as they manage many different sorts of households and meal plans, would like to feel that feeding is more than functional. . . .
Better to advocate subsidized cooking classes, perhaps—along with an expansion of programs that bring local produce to all and an increase in minimum wages so that strapped workers will have a bit more time and money to spend on their meals. These important specifics however, could and should join a more conceptual shift, a materialist attention as applicable in our talking and thinking about food as in our preparing and partaking of it.
Such a focus is egalitarian, possible in the bite of a lettuce leaf as well as the bouquet of a syrah; it is simple, emphasizing the fragrance of coffee as much as the flavors of caviar; and it is general, accommodating those with no further time to spend as well as those who wish to invest more effort. . . . It is also, importantly, always instructive, leading ordinary eaters to expansive convictions.
Reviving and fostering material attention to food, Phillips argues, could lead people to become dissatisfied with the “sweet-and-salt uniformity of mass-produced items” or the “contradictions of ‘natural flavor.’ ” It could lead the way to “an awareness of the tragedy of hunger and a rejection of the truism that being thin is the goal of eating well.” Even to political action. And, it would seem likely, to the end of cheap meat.
Sources: Daily Finance, The Hudson Review
Image by avlxyz, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 04, 2009 5:38 PM
Have you ever been a good sport? Do you ever look on the bright side? Speaking to In These Times about her new book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, Barbara Ehrenreich offers some reasons to think twice about the origins and virtue of optimism. Optimism became a prevailing cultural phenomenon as job security began to change (and in many cases vanish) in the 1980s, she explains. “If you want to have a compliant populace, what could be better than to say that everyone has to think positively and accept that anything that goes wrong in their lives is their own fault because they haven’t had a positive enough attitude?”
Source: In These Times
Monday, November 16, 2009 2:57 PM
Responding to a post by conservative Catholic Rod Dreher at Beliefnet, who asks why gay Catholics don't leave the church, Atlantic writer and blogger Andrew Sullivan engages Dreher in that rarest of acts: a nuanced discussion of the Catholic experience:
I wore an ACT-UP t-shirt to communion once, but that was the limit of my daring. I am not a gay Catholic at Mass. I am a Catholic. The issue of eros is trivial in the face of consecration, prayer and meditation.
I write about it because I feel a need to bear witness as a gay Christian in a painful time, but mainly because I want to argue for a civil change in civil society. But it is in no ways central to my faith. It is peripheral to the Gospels, is unmentioned in the mass, and I try to focus on the liturgy and prayer and to take in as much of the sermon as is safe for my intellectual composure.
That's just an excerpt. Be sure to read all of Sullivan's post: On Remaining Catholic .
Sources: Beliefnet, The Daily Dish
Image by lhar, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 30, 2009 4:51 PM
There’s been no shortage of inappropriate Halloween costumes this year, including the pulled-from-the-shelves “illegal alien” and “Anna Rexia” outfits, of which Jezebel observes: “It’s inexplicable finding such a thing delightfully amusing in the first place—does seeing 20 of them on a shelves of a drugstore make the joke seem . . . more funny? . . . What’s bad enough as an asshole frat boy’s attempt at racist irony becomes something else entirely when it’s got money and presumably more than one yes-man behind it.”
Should you encounter a get-up in poor taste, there’s some truly thoughtful advice on broaching racist Halloween costumes from Washington CityPaper’s blog The Sexist, from the gentle—don’t make it personal—to the very straightforward: “Ask your friend if she has any reservations about wearing the costume in public. Just straight up ask her if she’s worried about any indigenous Alaskans seeing her Sexy Eskimo Costume.”
Sources: Jezebel, The Sexist
Thursday, October 29, 2009 4:50 PM
The spookiest day of the year is just around the corner—and the alt-press has been gearing up for weeks. So hold out your virtual goodie bags and let us load them up with links to everything from the best pumpkin ales and vegan Halloween candy, to expertly carved pumpkins and how to mind your spooky manners. Here’s wishing you a very alternative holiday.
—Trick-or-treating? Forgo the plastic pumpkin pail. Craft has DIY instructions for recycling a t-shirt into a trick-or-treat bag.
—VegNews has the Official Guide to Vegan Halloween Candy. Too much candy? Discover reports on two charity-minded Michigan dentists’ cash-for-candy scheme.
—Psychology Today offers advice on Halloween etiquette, including how to signal to others whether or not you’re handing out treats.
—Did you know you can recycle candy wrappers? Our sister publication Natural Home lists some less-obvious ways to green your Halloween.
—For the adults, Imbibe recommends a seasonal selection of spicy pumpkin ales, one of which gets a second thumbs-up from Paste’s editor in chief.
—Mental Floss rounds up classic Halloween TV specials, as well as some creative ways to carve pumpkins. Creative Review also has a nice (albeit small) gallery of illustrators’ art pumpkins.
—Banish boring pumpkin seeds: Natural Solutions recommends roasting pepitas with a pinch of chili-lime seasoning; Mothering shares a promising recipe for pumpkin seed pesto ravioli.
Sources: Craft, VegNews, Psychology Today, Natural Home, Discover, Imbibe, Mental Floss, Creative Review, Natural Solutions, Mothering
Image by foundphotoslj, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, October 08, 2009 1:57 PM
People who “can’t take a joke” are often pegged as spoilsports—but recent research suggests that there might be more going on. According to Science News, gelotophobia is the fear of being laughed at, characterized by difficulty distinguishing mean-spirited teasing from the friendly variety.
Gelotophobes flew under the radar until the mid 1990s, when psychologist Willibald Ruch of the University of Zurich identified the personality trait and began researching it. “That shame is a predominant emotion in gelotophobia explains, in part, why the affliction received little scrutiny from scientists for so long,” the biweekly magazine reports. “Burning shame can create more feelings of shame and is rarely acknowledged to others.”
Ruch and his colleages have now developed questionnaires and assessment tools to help identify the trait. They’ve surveyed 23,000 people in 73 countries, finding gelotophobia present in all countries, from 2 to 30 percent of each population. In the United States that figure is 11 percent.
So on the one hand, we’ve got a new name for a trait that’s been under our noses all along. On the other, perhaps this emerging understanding of the spectrum of ways people perceive laughter could help us all get along a little better. Just one question remains: Can you take a joke?
Source: Science News
Monday, August 24, 2009 7:50 AM
Here’s a refreshing change of pace: Wealthy people stepping forward and volunteering to pay higher taxes. Wealth for the Common Good is a new network of high-income people who say paying higher taxes is only fair, network coordinator Chuck Collins writes in Yes! The organization went public at the end of July with a petition to revoke Bush-era tax cuts for households making over $235,000.
In addition to changing public policy, Wealth for the Common Good also wants to change the national conversation—and bust some myths of about how people accumulate wealth in America. The story of the hardworking, self-reliant American omits the cost of public benefits (such as public education), as well as overlooks the ways that policies and social circumstances favor some people while hampering others.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 9:28 AM
Therapist Jason Rowley has an unusual clientele: the patrons of Regent Park Community Health Centre, in a rough, run-down Toronto neighborhood. Unusual only because “well-educated, relatively wealthy females are by far the most likely Canadians to be referred to mental health specialists,” reports The Walrus. “The implication is that they are thought to have the time and verbal acuity to engage in talk therapy.”
Rowley respectfully disagrees with the referential bias, which is why he’s intent on practicing cognitive-behavioral therapy in Regent Park. The brand of therapy focuses on identifying and then questioning assumptions that people hold about themselves (i.e., “I always screw up relationships”). From there, the work is figuring out how to “loosen their grip.”
It’s an approach that Rowley thinks is particularly valuable for his clients. “These neighborhoods are like crab buckets,” he tells The Walrus. “As soon as you start climbing out, there are five situations, or five social determinants, pulling you back.” Instead of prescribing medication or plumbing childhood trauma, cognitive-behavioral therapy considers clients’ circumstances and is ultimately goal oriented—focusing on making everyday life more productive.
Source: The Walrus
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 9:03 AM
My friend Pete has lymphoma, and it’s been inspirational to watch him as he works methodically and systematically to kick the cancer’s ass. Pete is doing everything his treatment team recommends— foremost chemotherapy and radiation—and then some: He’s gone beyond the realm of the typical hospital dietitian as he eats an all-organic, mostly vegetarian diet packed with suspected and known cancer-fighting compounds like antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
Writing for Diner Journal, fellow lymphoma sufferer Danny Bloomberg goes down a similar road and finds, like Pete, that he’s caught between two worlds: the old-school, cautious approach of the typical hospital dietitian and the more open-ended but sometimes slightly woo-woo ideas of the alternative dietitian.
Bloomberg visits “Dietitian A” at the hospital first and tells her about all the cancer-fighting diets he’s read about online. She’s suspicious of “wacky theories” and non-FDA-approved diet choices, and is more interested in discussing basics like the four food groups and recommended daily percentages:
She scolded me and tapped the desk gently yet firmly. Then she brought out the silicone molds. She flopped the rubbery faux-foodstuffs onto the desk: A serving of broccoli, a serving of green beans, a serving of potatoes. The molds were fleshy and their flat bottoms slapped happily against the desk, jiggling proudly to attention. The colors were wrong and faded. She demonstrated how many vegetables were recommended to eat daily by organizing different combinations of molds on the desk. … Could all that I had Googled and read have been dangerous propaganda perpetrated by evil hippies?... Clearly, Dietitian A wasn’t for me. She was meant for the guy who thinks vegetables are what’s between the burger and the bun.
Casting about for an alternative, Bloomberg visits “Dietitian B” in the Alternative Medicine building and has a wholly different experience:
Dietitian B knew what kombucha was, the Budwig diet and the possible benefits of turmeric and shiitake mushrooms. We discussed supplements and vitamins, and he was curious and enthusiastic. … He drew me goofy diagrams on ruled paper. He advised me to take only one multivitamin with 100% daily values of all the important stuff. He discouraged supplements … but encouraged the use of medicinal plants, fungi, and spices in cooking, as well as moderate juicing. … He encouraged a leaning toward veganism but expressed concern that too strict a diet would lead to slight deficiencies, which could compromise my fragile system. … The difference between the two dietitians couldn’t have been greater. While they both preached from the same doctrine—of moderation—they had completely different styles at the pulpit.
As you might guess, Bloomberg ends up leaning toward Dietitian B, forced to be “a partisan” and choose between the two schools, even though it’s clear he doesn’t regard B as all-knowing or infallible. Maybe, one day in the not-so-distant future, the two dietitians could get together and talk—and learn something from each other.
Source: Diner Journal (article not available online)
Image by Sami Keinanen, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 8:41 AM
There’s no doubt the recession has spurred interest in living more affordably—cutting back, scaling down, and doing more with less. There’s just one hitch with the prevailing frugal ethos: A fair number of penny-pinching Americans have confused thrifty with cheap, bargain hunting in discount shops that rely, for example, on low-wage labor or disposable design.
Taking a page from Ellen Rupel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, Noreen Malone expounds in the American Prospect: “Houses won’t last and clothes won’t be handed down because we no longer ask that they be built for the long run. . . . We might be cheap, but we’re no longer thrifty. In fact, even if we recover that instinct, we’ll have left ourselves with gaping holes in the reusable products ecosystem.”
In a nutshell, an Ikea couch makes an unlikely family heirloom. And the longer cheap culture prevails, so ebbs the flow of quality goods to thrift stores and reuse centers.
As a sort of antidote to the cheapening of thrift culture, I’d enthusiastically suggest picking up a copy of Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs. Recently published by Microcosm, it’s an adorable, addictive, pint-sized compendium of DIY advice, ranging from house-cleaning solutions and garden-tending skills to nontoxic bodycare products and natural remedies.
It’s not that I don’t have anywhere else to turn for this type of advice and information; on the contrary, here at the Utne Reader library we have a regular embarrassment of resources. As a matter of fact, our sister publication Natural Home just published a bang-up breakdown of the essential ingredients in a nontoxic cleaning kit. Another one of our sister magazines, Herb Companion, focuses an entire sector of its coverage on herbal remedies and using herbs for health.
There is an extra spoonful magic in Briggs’ pages, though. Make Your Place is neatly hand-lettered and illustrated throughout; the first two chapters began life as zines. When looking to disrupt the low-wage, productivity-maximizing philosophy of cheap, picking up a book that’s been crafted with such care, it seems to me, is quite an appropriate rebuttal.
Source: American Prospect, Make Your Place, Natural Home, Herb Companion
Thursday, August 06, 2009 10:48 AM
Utne Reader has partnered with Link TV to present Global Spirit, an "internal travel series" covering the spiritual, mental, and physical practices that define us as human beings. Watch excerpts from the series here, or view entire episodes at the Link TV website.
This episode, The Spiritual Quest, explores the personal, spiritual journey with Karen Armstrong, best-selling author of A History of God, and Robert Thurman, the first American ordained a Tibetan Buddhist monk.
Friday, July 31, 2009 3:53 PM
The arrest of a woman for having loud sex conjures up echoes of George Orwell’s 1984 for the astute, libertarian magazine Reason. Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill reports on the “bizarre and terrifying situation” for the publication, explaining that 48-year-old Caroline Cartwright of Wearside, England was remanded in custody in April for “excessively noisy sex.”
“How did Cartwright’s expressions of noisy joy become a police case, scheduled to be ruled on at Newcastle Crown Court, one of the biggest courts in the north of England?” O’Neill supposes one might wonder. There’s a heck of an answer:
Because, unbelievably, Cartwright had previously been served with an antisocial behavior order—a civil order used to control the minutiae of British people’s behavior—that forbade her from making “excessive noise during sex” anywhere in England.
That’s right. Going even further than Orwell’s imagined authoritarian hellhole, where at least there was a wood or two where people could indulge their sexual impulses, the local authorities in Wearside made all of England a no-go zone for Cartwright’s noisy shenanigans. If she wanted to howl with abandon, she would have to nip over the border to Scotland or maybe catch a ferry to France.
Antisocial behavior orders (ASBOs), introduced in England in 1998, are civil orders pertaining to citizens who do things that cause (or are likely to cause) harm, alarm, or distress. Hearsay evidence is allowed. In O’Neill’s take, “the ASBO system has turned much of Britain into a curtaintwitching, neighbor-watching, noisepolicing gang of spies.”
Image by altemark, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 10:34 AM
With speculation swirling about which industries will weather the recession, and which will give way to a new economic order—there’s one that has a pair of writers at Vancouver Review mighty curious: the “yoga industrial complex,” worth an estimated $225 billion.
“In many ways, Western yoga can be seen as a subset of New Age culture, which is another way of saying ‘Don’t forget your wallet,’ ” Lalo Espejo and Patrick Pennefather write. “It’s no wonder that marketers covet the monied yoga demographic . . . which is unfortunate, because in India, yogis historically shared their knowledge free of charge. In our time and place, this spirit of humility has shifted from ‘free’ to ‘franchise,’ and ‘let’s follow that litigious asshole, Birkram Choudhury.’ ”
The popularity of teacher training has transformed the practice into “a kind of yoga Ponzi scheme,” the duo observes in their relentless roast. But this is no heartless skewering. For “insta-gurus now feeling the blunt agnostic edge of a tanking economy,” Pennefather offers up some of his Patented Yoga Poses for the Newly Poor. The article isn't yet available online, so here’s a sample:
Down ’n’ out Dog™: Mainly a facial exercise, let the eyes and mouth droop, then pull everything tight. Repeat. Works the face in a way not previously possible with botoxed cheeks.
The Potato Bug™: Can be practiced in a small space, with or without a mat. Find your secret place, lie on your side, and curl up into a little ball. Most effective under a desk or table.
The Ostrich™: Similar to Downward Dog, just stick you head in the sand. To be practiced upon hearing rumors of job cuts. Helps achieve a peaceful state of denial while smoothing out neck wrinkles, and helps you look youthful when your spiritual ass is for sale.
Source: Vancouver Review
Image by j / f / photos, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, July 27, 2009 11:47 AM
There is a wonderful conversation between photographer Zack Bent and journalist Paul Schmelzer over at Eyeteeth. Bent speaks of a piece of his called Lachrymatory—a clear vial he uses to collect his tears and the tears of his wife and children. He explains:
Tears fall often in our house. Collecting them in the vial became a similar ritual to kissing a bump on the head. It became an act of love. This is a case where my art practice heightened the quality of our inter-family relationships and made physically manifest our maternal and paternal care giving … The title Lachrymatory comes from the ancient tear catching vials that were often filled by grieving widows. I collect a lot of tears as a father. The piece definitely memorializes mourning and weakness. The result of the collection is salt; an element of preservation.
Image courtesy of Zack Bent.
Monday, July 27, 2009 11:14 AM
Raw. Intimate. Painful. Universal. That's my setup for this potent and stunning portrait of a man who has just lost his wife of 63 years. It's the work of photographer Maisie Crow, who deserves a truckload of awards for this piece. It's part of an online documentary project called Soul of Athens.
"Death is so final," the widower Tom Rose says. "It’s like turning off a light switch. And your mind is going a mile a minute…hoping…but that’s where reality sets in again that she’s gone." And then: "There’s a harvest time for everything in the world. When an orange gets ripe you either eat it or it rots … and a human life is the same way. You have to learn to manage and take care of everything you have or you don’t have anything."
Don't miss this short film, and don't rush into it without something to dry your eyes.
(Thanks, A Photo Editor.)
Friday, July 24, 2009 3:23 PM
Children could be getting the wrong messages from television programming designed with the best of intentions, according to research highlighted in On Wisconsin. An associate professor of communication arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Marie-Louise Mares has been studying children’s comprehension of “prosocial” programming, shows that are intended to teach good behavior, morals, and ethics. She is especially interested in storylines intended to foster inclusiveness.
“Children’s interpretations of what a show is about are very different from what an adult thinks,” Mares tells the Wisconsin alumni association publication. In one episode of Clifford the Big Red Dog that Mares uses in her research, Clifford and other dogs meet a dog with three legs. The four-legged dogs initially react poorly, one of them even expressing fear of “catching” three legs. In the end, the dogs overcome their anxiety, and learn an important lesson about accepting peers with disabilities.
Young human viewers, however, do not. “Many of them interpreted the lesson of the episode along the lines of this child’s comment: ‘You should be careful . . . not to get sick, not to get germs,’ ” On Wisconsin reports. Since a lot of prosocial programming relies on showing bad behavior and then learning a lesson about it, Mares’ research has the potential to dramatically transform the plotlines of children’s programming. One solution she’s investigating is “scaffolding,” the practice of characters interrupting the storyline to lay out the plot’s intended message.
Source: On Wisconsin
Image by Aaron Escobar, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 23, 2009 10:30 AM
After 10 years as a doctor, Pamela Wible was burned out, “tired of being a factory physician, pushing pills and tests I didn’t always believe in,” she writes in a candid piece for Spirituality & Health (article not available online). “My soul was more than irrelevant; it slowed down the production line and got me into trouble with administrators.”
So she quit her job and held a big community meeting, asking attendees to describe what their ideal medical clinic would look like. And then she built it! (Warning: If you spend a lot of time in your doctor’s bland, hot tub–less waiting room, prepare to get very jealous.)
Clients can enjoy yoga; massage; a wheelchair-accessible, solar-heated saltwater pool; and a soak in the hot tub before their appointments. They relax on plush overstuffed chairs in a cozy office and look forward to warm exams as they’re wrapped in fun, flannel gowns. Antioxidant-rich chocolates and smiley-face balloons surprise the unsuspecting on random patient-appreciation days.
Most of would love to see health care look more like this, obviously, but what I really appreciate about Wible’s analysis is her emphasis on the comfort and well-being of both patients and physicians. Clearly, the health care system doesn’t work for either group, and seeing what’s wrong with the relationship from a self-aware physician’s perspective is incredibly illuminating:
Given that we all pledge to “first, do no harm,” why do we make physicians the first victims? While patients are encouraged to tell all, doctors must remain detached, sterile, untainted by emotions. No “irrelevant” personal anecdotes. No off-the-cuff commentary. Physician self-disclosure is a no-no. Decades of practicing professional distance—emotional and spiritual disconnect—destroys from the inside out. Who really wants to be treated by someone whose heart has died?
Source: Spirituality & Health
Image by thomaswanhoff, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 16, 2009 3:32 PM
Activist and Utne Visionary Derrick Jensen has never been the sentimental type. I’d go so far as to call him pathologically unsentimental. In his essay "Forget Shorter Showers," published in Orion, he takes on the activist phenomenon of simple living as a political act.
Simple living as a political act, he writes, “accepts capitalism’s redefinition of us from citizens to consumers”:
By accepting this redefinition, we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting, and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.
“The endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act,” he adds, “is suicide”:
If every act within an industrial economy is destructive, and if we want to stop this destruction, and if we are unwilling (or unable) to question (much less destroy) the intellectual, moral, economic, and physical infrastructures that cause every act within an industrial economy to be destructive, then we can easily come to believe that we will cause the least destruction possible if we are dead.
So what do we do? Jensen never signs off without a call to revolutionary action:
We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned—Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States—who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.
Image by Robert Shetterly.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 11:38 AM
As Google’s self-proclaimed “Jolly Good Fellow,” Chade-Meng Tan works to reduce employee stress and bring peace to the workplace. Buddhist culture magazine Shambhala Sun features Meng's employee enrichment program Search Inside Yourself, which introduces Google employees to basic mindfulness through journaling, listening, and walking mediation.
Meng even teaches mindful emailing. It's simple: type an email and then take three breaths, looking again at the messgae and imagining the recipient’s emotional and mental response, then rewrite where necessary. Who knows, you might abandon the email altogether. One employee says he shocked a colleague when, after worrying his email would be misread, picked up the phone. A revolutionary act in today's quick-hit e-correspondence culture.
Source: Shambhala Sun (full article not available online)
Image by Yodel Anecdotal, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009 1:58 PM
Last spring, Utne Reader scrutinized the rise of obligatory office fun, a trendy corporate core value that the Weekly Standard’s Matt Labash dubbed a “condescending infantilization” of the workplace. Whether the intentions were noble or purely monetary (happy is good; happy employees are also more productive), it was clear that top-down injections of joviality into the workplace weren’t panning out. We were left to wonder: When did our jobs become jokes?
Fast forward to just over a year later. Unemployment is projected to continue rising throughout the next year and to remain elevated for 5 years, reports the Washington Post. Those of us who do have jobs feel the strain of keeping them, and/or having nowhere else to turn. What was tacky—funsultants, gleetivities—has become downright distasteful.
Somber as the mood might be, this isn’t the time to abandon the pursuit of happiness in the workplace, say the editors of Greater Good. On the contrary: It is precisely in this climate that we should be thinking about what “employers and employees alike [can] do to make their workplaces happier, more satisfying places to be.”
To that end, the online-only magazine, a publication of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, has devoted its July 2009 web exclusives to the question of happiness in the workplace. Journalist Alex Frankel shares a few lessons he researching his book about workplace culture, Punching In. Frankel’s first piece of advice, especially for hourly employees, is to “go for flow.”
“Most hourly jobs treat time as monochronic,” Frankel writes, meaning work is viewed as a linear progression of tasks, each happening without overlap. This mindset drives employees toward clock-watching, which is problematic, since “perceptions of time . . . are closely linked to the employees’ feeling of freedom: The more constrained the environment, the slower things moved, and the less happy employees were.”
Frankel experienced the alternative while working at a computer retail store: “At Apple, the polychronic view of time prevailed, so that we could do several things simultaneously, manage our own tasks, and feel pride in accomplishing things, as opposed to just waiting out the hours.”
Greater Good also taps an Australian positive psychologist, Timothy Sharp, for his two cents. Sharp’s advice is geared more toward the organizational level, practices that wise managers might take note of to nurture employee morale in unhappy times. Sharp asked 50 people to name the top “keys” to happiness in the workplace. The responses, which he characterizes as “remarkably consistent,” included providing leadership and values, communicating effectively, giving thanks, focusing on strengths, and—wouldn’t you know—having fun. Just hold the gleetivities.
Sources: Weekly Standard, Washington Post, Greater Good
Image by joshuahoffmanphoto, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 02, 2009 10:16 AM
The Buddhist magazine Tricycle (a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award nominee) has unearthed something quite precious from their archives: a 1991 interview with the Dalai Lama conducted by the late writer and monologue master Spalding Gray. The conversation is colored by the kind of blunt truths Gray was famous for. It's a great exploration of the fundamental tenets of Tibeten Buddhism, and it's also hilarious:
Spalding Gray: We’ve both been traveling these last weeks and the most difficult thing that I find on the road is adjusting to each location, each different hotel. And I don’t have the centering habits you do. I have a tendency to want to drink the alcohol, which, as you said in an earlier interview, is the other way of coping with despair and confusion. I have a feeling that you have other methods for adjusting. Just what are some of your centering rituals and your habits when you come into a new hotel?
The Dalai Lama:
I always first inquire to see “what is there.” Curiosity. What I can discover that is interesting or new. Then, I take a bath. And then I usually sit on the bed, crosslegged, and meditate. And sometimes sleep, lie down. One thing I myself noticed is the time-zone change. Although you change your clock time, your biological time still has to follow a certain pattern. But now I find that once I change the clock time, I’m tuned to the new time zone. When my watch says it’s eight o’clock in the evening, I feel sort of sleepy and need to retire and when it says four in the morning I wake up.
Spalding Gray: But you have to be looking at your clock all the time.
And then there is this gem:
The Dalai Lama: As a Buddhist monk, I usually have no solid meal after lunch, no dinner. So that is also a benefit.
When I passed your room last night, I saw six empty ice-cream sundae dishes outside your door.
Translator (after much laughter): It was members of the entourage.
Thursday, June 25, 2009 5:10 PM
Issue #5 of Philly-based sustainability magazine Grid arrived this week—chock full of summertime “how to” cheer that’s just begging to be shared. Grid is a free magazine, and you can read its entire digitized issue online. Be sure to check out:
How to make rhubarb cobbler on page 15: This tasty-looking recipe calls for delectable maple sugar instead of the loads of predictable, refined white sugar found in most rhubarb concoctions.
How to attract beneficial insects to your garden on page 12: From lacewings to ladybugs, Grid has the skinny on how to lure the good guys—insects that pollinate and keep pest populations in check—into your yard, including specific “companion plants.”
Plus: How to fix a flat bike tire (page 10), how to recycle your television (page 11), and loads of other recipes, including vegan blood orange cupcakes and sugar-snap peas with bacon.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 4:19 PM
Have the food wars really escalated to the point where we need to remind vegetarians that meat eaters are human (or vice versa, for that matter)?
According to Melanie Joy, to understand the psychology of meat eaters, vegetarians must navigate through a labyrinth of ethical and moral contradictions. Yet, doing so would help bridge the often contentious divide between the two groups. Writing for Vegetarian Voice, Joy wants vegetarians to get inside the often “baffling” minds of their meat-loving peers:
After learning the myriad nutritional benefits of a plant-based diet, the health-conscious meat eater claims he doesn’t want to risk becoming protein deficient. After reading the statistics of the environmental damage wrought by animal agriculture, the hybrid-driving meat eater says she’s got her hands full working on other social issues and she doesn’t eat much “red” meat anyway...
As frustrating as these contradictions might be, Joy urges her fellow vegetarians to avoid negative assumptions about meat eaters. Many are influenced by the dominant ideology of human primacy over animals, as well as arbitrary social norms that justify eating cows, for example, rather than, say, dogs. She reminds readers:
Many meat eaters are also loving fathers, mothers, and friends; they are fearless rescue-workers, dedicated teachers, impassioned activists, tireless community leaders, kindhearted philanthropists, compassionate animal caretakers, devoted partners, and great humanitarians.
Source: Vegetarian Voice (article not available online)
Image by star5112, licensed under Creative Commons
Thursday, June 18, 2009 9:35 AM
Over the past few years, green funerals have been a hot topic in eco-conscious circles. Thanks in part to a particularly memorable (and widely discussed) funeral scene from HBO’s Six Feet Under, conversations about green burials, biodegradable caskets, and natural cemeteries often seem less morbid than they do practical.
The Walrus reports on a new technique that may, it seems, be the greenest of them all. The process, called promession, sounds like a kind of high-tech version of composting (one that avoids all the arduous turning and, uh, odor-releasing of the down-home method). It was developed by Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, who is planning to open the world’s first promatorium in Jönköping, Sweden, sometime next year. James Glave (for The Walrus) explains:
Think of the operation as a kind of corpse disassembly line. The dearly departed are first supercooled in liquid nitrogen to about minus 196°C, then shattered into very small pieces on a vibration table. “We wanted to make the body unrecognizable without using any kind of an instrument that you would see in a kitchen or garage,” [Wiigh-Mäsak] explains.
Next a vacuum is used to evaporate moisture while a metal separator, traditionally used by the food processing industry to remove stray foreign objects from meat products, shuffles aside fillings, crowns, titanium hips, and so on. (You can put that sandwich down now.) Finally, the vaguely pink crumbs are deposited in a large box made of corn or potato starch.
Surviving family members bury the box in shallow topsoil and plant a tree or shrub on top. With the exception of perhaps a few broken remnants of plastic pacemaker, in a matter of months nothing is left but memories and some lush greenery.
(Congratulations to The Walrus, which won the 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for best writing.)
Source: The Walrus
Image by McPig, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 01, 2009 5:42 PM
Lately, it seems like every publication in Utne Reader’s library that isn’t busy analyzing who’s to blame for this economic crunch is offering up tips and tricks for living on less—and with good cause. No time like the present for expending some mental energy on how we all might live more thriftily and lightly on the earth.
Which is what makes far too many of the thrifty-livin’ articles so, well, disappointing. I swear I’m going to jam a recycling bin over my head if I read one more cheerful checklist urging me to grow my own food. Um, yes. Gardens are great. More gardens = even greater. But is that the best (see: only) idea we have?
I’m not losing hope. The latest issue of BackHome—their 100th, as a matter of fact—just arrived, and brought with it “50 Ways to Live on Less,” a great article chock full of not-everybody-else’s ideas. The piece isn’t available online, so here’s a handful of suggestions that got my feathers fluffed:
#6 Think of your three favorite ways to cook beans and do those every week. Aside from the roadkill mentioned above, it’s hard to find a cheaper source of protein (and beans are more appetizing, too). Try beans in soups, salads, burgers, or in anything but ice cream.
#11 Use clear containers for food storage, so you can identify and eat food before it goes bad.
#41 Don’t be afraid to barter with anyone for goods or services. This includes doctors and lawyers.
#50 Write down your life goals, then write down your monthly expenses. Figure which expenses aren’t meeting your life goals, and cut out those expenses.
While we’re on the subject of not-boring advice, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention our sister publication Mother Earth News, a font of information when it comes to efficient, smart, do-it-yourself living. Plus, you can ask its knowledgeable editors questions, too. Really. And if anyone out there has seen unconventional stories or has unusual ideas for scaling back and living smart—I’d love to see some links.
UPDATE (5/6/2009): Oh ho! As it turns out, Craig Idlebrook, the author of BackHome’s “50 Ways to Live on Less,” wrote an even more expansive article in 2007 for Utne’s sister publication Mother Earth News. “Live on Less and Love It!” offers up 75 inspiring, unconventional ideas for a happy, thrifty life—and you can read them all online. Thanks to Mother Earth News managing editor John Rockhold for the tip.
Sources: BackHome, Mother Earth News
Wednesday, April 01, 2009 9:53 AM
Buddhist author Karen Miller lays out a roadmap for mindful parenting in Shambala Sun. Here's some of what she suggests:
Live by routine. Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. Let everyone relax into the predictable flow of a healthy and secure life.
Turn off the engines. Discipline TV and computer usage and reduce artificial distraction, escapism, and stimulation. This begins with you.
Elevate the small. And overlook the large. Want to change the world? Forget the philosophical lessons. Instruct your child in how to brush his or her teeth, and then do it, together, twice a day.
Give more attention. And less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give.
Be the last to know. Refrain from making judgments and foregone conclusions about your children. Watch their lives unfold, and be surprised. The show is marvelous, and yours is the best seat in the house.
Read the rest of Miller's piece, The Monastery of Mom and Dad. Want more? Read her essay, also in the March 2009 issue of Shambala Sun: Parents, Leave Your Home.
Source: Shambala Sun
Wednesday, February 04, 2009 3:24 PM
Everyone makes lists: to-do lists, shopping lists, work lists. A writer at Smith puts all of my lists to shame with a list she compiled of all her lists. The results are illuminating about her and list-makers in general. My favorite section is the one labled “Neurotic?”:
Things I haven’t seen through
Number of days w/out smoking
Number of days w/out calling you know who
Number of days of exercising since resolved to exercise every single day
Things that make me sneeze
Diseases I think I might have
Other places I want to live
Other professions I might want to have
Things I wish I did more of
Things I’ve missed, skipped, cancelled, escheduled...
Friday, January 30, 2009 1:06 PM
In such depressing economic times, the phrase “money can't buy happiness” is at once wishful and trite. But it's worth a shot to at least try to let go of our national money obsession and instead focus on quality of life, isn’t it? That's why Yes! magazine has devoted their entire Winter 2009 issue to “Sustainable Happiness,” the balance between happiness for humans and the planet they inhabit.
Articles include one family’s success with a “no-buy” Christmas and a list of “10 Things Science Says Will Make You Happy” with basic-but-true ideas like “Savor Everyday Moments” and “Avoid Comparisons.”
Image by Sabrina Campagna, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009 5:07 PM
In the same vein as the recent treatise on the value of pie, Baltimore City Paper food columnist Henry Hong celebrates the much-maligned one-dish wonder, tuna casserole.
His argument was spurred by the growing cache of bacon among hipsters, who “gratuitously foist upon humanity culinary aberrations such as bacon vodka, bacon sausage, and the utterly insulting bacon chocolate.” Hong in turn worries that casserole will be the next blue-collar edible to be co-opted by the elite. He raves about the dish’s simplicity and flavor, and even delves into the long illustrious history of casseroles as a culinary phenomenon (Moroccan tagines through Depression-era penny pinching).
Equally as palpable as his reverence for the dish is his insistence that it stay on the lower rungs of the culinary ladder, remaining the uncomplicated and unclassy meal it’s always been. (Although, somewhat ironically, he includes his own recipe in the column which substitutes salmon for tuna and calls for spinach and sage....)
Image courtesy of Harris Graber, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009 10:11 AM
Esperanto began as a stab at linguistic utopia. Imagining a world unfettered by communication barriers, Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof invented the grammatically simple language in late-19th century Poland. He dreamed that it eventually would be adopted worldwide as a universal second tongue. While these ambitious plans never reached fruition, the Boston Phoenix reports that a small, but tight-knit, international community of speakers keep Esperanto alive.
These loyal fans translate books, write songs, and hold annual conferences. They’ve also benefited from a host of web resources, using services like Skype and Facebook to stay connected and practice conversation. It helps that the language has only 16 basic grammar rules; the simple structure makes it easy for budding Esperantists to learn quickly.
Check out the article to learn more about the language and read comments by some enthusiastic speakers. Wikipedia’s also got an extensive page on Esperanto, with plenty of historical info and good links for further exploration.
Sunday, December 28, 2008 11:21 AM
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has launched “One Million Acts of Green,” a campaign to mobilize everyone from TV studio execs to kids to commit basic green acts every day. Once you sign up, the site keeps track of your steps, and for every one you take, the website calculates its impact on the environment in kilograms of greenhouse gases saved.
The focus of the project is “not about overhauling your life; it’s about one act from each individual amassing to a million. It can be as simple as switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, starting a recycling program, or walking to work. You can do one act—or you can do all one million! It’s up to you… Together we can make an impact. Together we can make our lives, our communities, and our environment greener.”
Acts range from small changes in habit to home renovations, and the tangible impact on the environment gives the sense of working as a community. To date, participants have reported more than 634,000 green acts, saving an estimated 33 million kilograms of greenhouse gases.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 10:10 AM
Wedding cake, birthday cake, “let them eat cake.” Cake is classy, elegant, and above all, traditional. But what about its oft-ignored dessert cousin, the pie? Salon.com writer Vincent Rossmeier argues that pie is in fact superior to cake; it is “the perfect dessert.”
“Pie is moist where cake is too often arid; it’s complex where cake is too often banal,” he writes.“Pie offers me lasting contentment, whereas all cake can tender is a cloying sugar rush. In a subtle, supple flake of pie crust there is more of heaven than in all the world’s slabs of cake combined.”
It’s a tough call to make. Who wouldn’t enjoy an airy slice of coconut cream cake? Who could say no to a perfectly spicy carrot cake with sweet cream-cheese frosting? Then again, Rossmeier has history on his side. Pie stretches back to medieval and even Egyptian times, when it was considered food as well as decoration (releasing live birds out of baked goods was popular, apparently). The English brought pie over to the colonies, where it became the go-to dessert, served with nearly every meal.
It’s no secret that dessert carries a hefty cultural caché—when’s the last time a parent sent their naughty child to bed without the salad course? In pie, Rossmeier sees the means to suffuse that most revered of courses with deep social identity. "In America, pie is as regionalized as dialects, serving as a landmark of place and history,” he writes.
(Rossmeier is preparing for his wedding, and reveals that instead of cake, he and his beloved will be serving wedding pie. His soon-to-be wife is totally fine with that.)
Image by thebittenword.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 19, 2008 4:02 PM
Last September Forbes released a list of America's most stressful cities. Chicago came out on top, right above places like San Francisco and New York, due to issues like unemployment, population density, and low air quality. Many people, both in and outside of those communities, think it’s impossible to achieve mental tranquility within the city.
But contrary to a certain strain of popular belief, you don’t have to run off to the woods or to India to find a little peace. Common Ground magazine used Forbes’ list as a springboard to consult yoga and meditation experts, neighborhood bartenders, and doctors on how to deal with stresses like overcrowding, multitasking, and economic hardship. The result is practical, effective advice on beating "urban angst," good ideas that people often forget when they're caught up in the pressures of everyday city life.
Image courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 5:17 PM
Ah, holiday gift crunch time. No matter how much planning you do, there’s always something of a scramble towards the finish line. Take a deep breath, Utne Reader is here to help with its 2008 Alternative Press Gift Guide. The best part of gifting one of these alternative publications? Not only will you sustain the intellect of the recipient, you’ll support the independent press. Plus: No wrapping and certainly no waiting in line at the post office!
For the sister who likes hipster culture minus the pretense: Venus Zine is chock-full great coverage on women in music, culture, fashion, and art. They also have a killer DIY section featuring recipes, how-to’s, and practical advice.
For the brother who’s totally over Rolling Stone: Formerly a Grateful Dead fan ‘zine, Relix has been putting out music news, reviews, and interviews since the 70s. Their tastes run the gamut from jam bands to Ryan Adams, always with an eye on new and exciting acts. Each issue also includes a CD sampler of featured songs.
For the aunt who always wants to hear stories about your life: Billed as a quarterly of true stories and original art, Fray is a new magazine full of compelling personal narratives organized around a theme. The newest issue contains stories of geekdom and obsession, including a pocket protector collection and one girl’s primordial love for naked mole rats. Deliciously humorous and entertaining as well as educational, Fray sates the hunger for a good story.
For the friend whose “artsy-ness” never fails to make you feel inferior: The Believer’s beautiful pages and eclectic mix of material covered is almost intimidating in its apparent high-brow ambiance. Your artsy friend is bound to extrapolate meaning from the artwork and essays that you could only dream to understand.
For the dog-lover (but not Dog Fancy-er): The Bark is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year as the “modern dog culture magazine.” What is dog culture, you ask? Everything from health nutrition information to pet fashion to new books featuring canine protagonists.
For the independent, sassy Jewish mom: When up against bigger Jewish-centered magazines like Moment and Hadassah, quarterly magazine Lilith stands out for its unapologetic (yet non-hostile) feminist stance and its commitment to ideas and stories that matter but have perhaps not made it to the mainstream.
For the Spanish-speaking wannabe: The monthly magazine Think Spanish is written in Spanish for English speakers, with vocab words bolded in the text and defined on the side of the page. The format allows people to read seamlessly if they understand the articles and learn new words if they don’t. The articles aren’t exactly hard-hitting, but they’re interesting enough to keep readers engaged.
For the tech-geek in your office: The electrical engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum has been churning out some great issues lately. The magazine features plenty of articles on new tech-developments that could interest laypeople, and enough hard-core nerdiness to impress even the most jaded of computer dorks.
For anyone interested in psychological health: Psychotherapy Networker describes itself as a resource for therapists, but the cheeky bimonthly never fails to transcend its intended audience with broad-based appeal. From the science of happiness and mindful approaches to depression, to our cultural relationship with insomnia and new ways to approach sex, the articles are intellectually rigorous and provide fascinating into the human mind.
For optimists (or, curmudgeons who seriously need a lift): There isn't a better magazine than Greater Good, published by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Greater Good reports on innovative research into altruism and compassion. Far from wonky, its savvy editors fuse findings with real-world relevance, showing how "the science of a meaningful life" impacts everything from education to public policy.
For more great publications, check out the nominees for the 19th annual Utne Independent Press Awards, and Utne Reader's 2007 Gift-Giving Guide. From environmental to spiritual coverage, from best design to best writing, there's bound to be a perfect-fit publication for everyone on your holiday gifting list.
Image by Cláudia*~Assad, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 12, 2008 11:36 AM
The Adbusters-promoted National Buy Nothing Day (a.k.a. Black Friday) has gained steam over the past few years, but what about an entire buy-nothing Christmas? The anti-consumerism magazine wants to help. In the latest issue, writer Gary Gach ruminates on "What Would the Buddha Buy?"—the first in a series of articles to help identify and avoid the “moment during which real pleasure becomes abstract desire—the want to want.”
Easier said than done, of course, which is why Gach also advocates mindful purchases and donations in place of buying for buying’s sake. Instead of obsessing over finding perfect gifts for your loved ones, make spending time with them a priority. Instead of purchasing a new gadget or sweater, donate what you already have but don’t use; the strategy has the double benefit of helping those in need and clearing up space. “It’s harder to be grasping greedily when your arms are extended in giving,” Gach writes.
Image by mermay19, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 21, 2008 11:14 AM
Instead of gorging yourself on industrialized, Butterball turkey, canned cranberries, and just-add-broth stuffing this Thanksgiving, take a cue from the folks at Slow Food USA, who have given serious thought (and research) to the dishes that will populate their Thanksgiving spreads.
To aid in menu planning, the Slow Food USA blog is referring readers to their US Ark of Taste list, which catalogs hundreds of rare, regional American foods. These foods make for an inspired family feast, the blog contends, because it's only "fitting to prepare foods that support people in our communities and reflect our local traditions," on a holiday that's all about celebrating thankfulness through food.
Here are a few of the foods in the Ark catalog that should blend seamlessly into your Thanksgiving meal:
The site highlights eight heirloom turkey varieties, including the Royal Palm, Bourbon Red, Midget White, and American Bronze. (NPR's Monkey See blog makes a good argument for embracing these turkeys and leaving Butterball behind for good.)
It offers a list of American apples long enough to fill a whole bakery with pies.
And, it also suggests the Ivis White Cream Sweet Potato, produced in the northern U.S., and two white potato varieties, the Ozette and the Green Mountain.
Each of the ingredients on the Ark list is accompanied by a thorough description of its heritage and cultural significance, which provides the added bonus of great fodder for dinner table conversation.
Image by CarbonNYC, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008 8:57 AM
Is it strange for boys to play with dolls? Even for parents who generally shun gender stereotypes, the idea of a boy playing with his dolly seems slightly off. But why?
In a humorous essay for Mothering (subscription required), Joel Troxell struggles with his wife’s insistence on buying a doll for their one-year-old son Nathan. Though the doll is gender-neutral in shape and dress, Troxell feels the need to compensate for this “affront to his masculinity” by telling Nathan that the doll is actually an operative for the US military, and his neutral facial expression means he’s impervious to fear or pain.
Nathan quickly grows tired of the doll, much to his dad’s secret delight. A few months later, however, Nathan’s mom is back at it, looking for bigger and better dolls. Troxell’s “daydreams of Nathan going first round in the NFL draft [are] replaced by disturbing images of him walking across the stage at graduation, sucking his thumb and carrying his doll.”
The author finds that doll play is still associated with outdated gender roles in his mind. He thinks of playing with dolls as childcare practice for girls (a.k.a. future moms and wives), and toy weapons as encouraging boys to develop the hunting skills they’d need to provide for their families.
Eventually, Troxell learns the benefits of boys with dolls: They teach compassion, sensitivity, and responsibility, as well as a practical knowledge of things like holding and feeding a baby. So in reality, Troxell’s wife points out, giving a boy a doll is giving him practice as a good father and a good person who is ready to care for others.
To the kid, his dolly may later be a source of future embarrassment, much like those ubiquitous naked-in-the-tub pictures. But if the values imbued through playing with a “girl’s toy” hold up, he’ll likely have grown to be well-adjusted enough not to care.
Mothering’s archives include another great essay (free) on a mom’s quest for a doll for her son.
Image courtesy of Savannah Grandfather, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 2:10 PM
Meditation and psychology are intertwining as experts in the fields realize the benefits of a symbiotic relationship. Joelle Hann reports for Whole Life Times that many psychologists have begun to incorporate yoga and mindfulness into their therapies, and some yoga instructors are studying up on psychology to create “yoga psychotherapy” for their clients.
“Integrating yoga-based methods into psychotherapeutic work presents inherent challenges,” Hann writes. Part of the problem lies in a strict taboo against physical contact in traditional psychotherapy, a standard born out of concern about abuse from therapists. There are, however, many yoga-based therapies that don’t involve any touching. For example, some psychologists have found that controlled breathing and meditative exercises can go a long way toward psychological healing.
Many of these mindfulness-based therapies have hard science to back them up. “Mindfulness reduces stress, boosts immune functioning, reduces chronic pain, lowers blood pressure, and helps patients cope with cancer,” Jay Dixit writes for Psychology Today. The article offers six tips on how people can incorporate mindfulness into daily lives.
The mindfulness exercises have also been used to help children in war-torn countries. In the September-October issue of Utne Reader, Aaron Huey wrote about a yoga class in the Allahoddin Orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan. Huey writes that yoga helps the children “move away from painful thoughts to ones that give them strength. In a place so full of suffering, the comfort this simple routine provides is immeasurable.”
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Tuesday, November 04, 2008 4:18 PM
Bringing food to grieving friends and family is a way of sustaining people close to us, both literally and figuratively. Preparing meals for the bereaved is a tradition in many cultures (during the Jewish mourning period called shiva, it’s forbidden to prepare your own food), but there is more to bringing food than simply dropping off a casserole.
Writing for the Jew and the Carrot, a website dedicated to Jews, food, and sustainability, Tamar Fox has compiled a list of tips for considerate food-bearing sympathizers.
In addition to etiquette guidelines (calling ahead, respecting dietary needs, etc.), Fox writes that food-related memories, such as a favorite meal or a funny story, can open up a healing dialogue. Fox writes that it “can be awkward to try to express sympathy without resorting to clichés. But food can be a great vehicle to beginning a conversation about the deceased.”
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Monday, November 03, 2008 11:50 AM
The new website Intent.com is like the Huffington Post of the metaphysical realm, offering an online repository of mindful living writing. Started by Mallika Chopra, an entrepreneur and Deepak Chopra’s daughter, the site’s brand represents an amorphous mélange of business motivation, self-help, and Eastern spirituality. The site breaks down into the squishy categories of Health, Relationships, Success, Balance, Causes, Planet, and Spirit.
As the cornerstone of Intent.com, bloggers state their intent (“To laugh out loud every day!”, “Not to over indulge in candy or booze tonight!”, “To recognize and share the presence of life’s magic”) and users can register to add their own intents or to affirm others.
The site isn’t simply an unmitigated orgy of loving-kindness, however. Yesterday, Deepak Chopar posted an overtly political video blog about John McCain entitled, “War Hero or War Criminal, Who Decides?” In fact, there’s a generous dose of political content, most of it pro-Obama and against California’s Prop-8. There are also the sorts of diverting anecdotal pieces that wouldn’t be out of place at Slate, Salon, or, well, HuffPo.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 1:34 PM
Years after their original releases, books like Eat, Pray, Love and The Power of Now remain fixtures on nonfiction bestseller lists due to their personal, uplifting messages on the exploration of life and spirituality. But for every captivating memoir of religious journey and self-realization, there’s at least one that tries to pass off a common experience as something unique. Writing for The Smart Set, Bookslut founder and editor Jessa Crispin’s smart, funny essay picks apart the recent influx of mediocre spiritual memoirs, calling out all those authors who assume that “a story being true is a greater virtue than being well written, or insightful, or interesting.”
Crispin uses two opposing examples of the spiritual autobiographies: Danya Ruttenberg’s Surprised by God and Robert N. Levine’s What God Can Do for You Now. Ruttenberg’s book tracks her spiritual journey from renouncing Judaism at age 13 to revisiting faith and tradition after her mother’s death. Her personal story is somewhat intriguing, says Crispin, but in her return to religion she leaves all of her previous questions about religious origin and belief unanswered. Instead the book focuses on her complete acceptance of doctrine and her disdain for those who don’t follow religion as closely as she does. Her ideas come off as frustratingly “half-formed and unsupported,” reinforcing Crispin’s point that “just because you lived through something, that doesn’t mean you have anything interesting to say about it.” Harsh, but true.
Ruttenberg’s second-rate execution contrasts with Levine’s intelligent discourse on God and the Bible. Levine tells readers of his belief that actions like charity, compassion, and protecting God’s creation can all contribute to spiritual healing as much as (or more than) traditional rituals. His message is one of tolerance and personal spirituality: A person can establish a relationship with God even without following all the rules and restrictions of mainstream religion. Though she doesn’t agree with many of his beliefs, Crispin respects Levine’s non-judgmental tone much more than Ruttenberg’s shallow dismissal of the spiritually deficient.
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Friday, July 25, 2008 1:43 PM
Buddhism prompts its adherents to face important but uncomfortable questions about dying. “Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?” is one of Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron’s favorite inquiries. In the September issue of Shambhala Sun (article not available online), Chodron suggests that instead of focusing on death, it's more important to create “gaps” in our lives, pauses from constant worries and plans. We can’t always physically escape to a beach at sunset or a retreat center to get away from our worries, so calming our minds is essential. Taking three conscious breaths when you find yourself distracted is the foundation of Chodron’s pause practice, while “listening intently” and “put[ting] your full attention on the immediacy of your experience,” are other ways to break away, even if it means you’re listening to the sound of the copier in the next room and feeling an office chair against your back. “Find ways to create the gap frequently, often, continuously,” writes Chodron. “In that way, you allow yourself the space to connect with the sky and the ocean and the birds and the land the blessing of the sacred world.”
Image by Hans-Peter, licensed under Creative Commons.
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