Emerging Ideas Roundup

By Staff

Bass pleasures
A retired mailman turned guerrilla artist has jazzed up a Toronto square with the “Kensington Bass” — a lamppost repurposed with four strings, a muffler clamp, and two holes to amplify parkgoers’ musical musings. Spacing (Winter 2006) reports that the 46-year-old artist known as RGB wanted to tap into the potential of musical instruments to make public art interactive. With everyone from kids to late-night bar patrons riffing tunes, RGB hopes to extend the prototype at Kensington Market’s Bellevue Square Park to other spots in the city.

Fear Fatter
Parental anxiety won’t just drive Mom and Dad nuts; it can also make the kids chubby. Science News (Jan. 14, 2006) reports on a recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine that indicates parents concerned about neighborhood safety tend to keep their kids indoors, where they get more food and less exercise. The parents of 768 randomly selected first-graders in 10 places across the United States were asked to rate their neighborhoods’ safety based on factors like crime, police presence, and drug dealing. In a trend that held across a variety of demographic groups, 17 percent of children in neighborhoods deemed dangerous by parents were overweight, compared with 4 percent of kids in “safe” neighborhoods.

Praying for a Green Mosque
London’s skyline may soon feature a visionary new shape, if a proposal by the controversial Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamaat moves forward. The U.K.’s Sunday Times (Nov. 27, 2005) reports on an effort to build a giant mosque, the London Markaz (Arabic for “center”), beside a yet-to-be-built Olympic complex, with room for 40,000 worshippers in time for the 2012 games. Featuring wind turbines rather than the classic minarets and a translucent latticed roof instead of the traditional domes, the structure will evoke a tented city. According to the technonovelty website Fresh Technology (Dec. 24, 2005), the sustainable temple will have solar roof panels, a water-recycling system for ritual washing, and a tidal power plant in the adjacent Channelsea River.

Going Solar in the Gulf
For more than three years, American troops have been frustrated in their efforts to deliver on one of the U.S. government’s promises to the Iraqi people: to repair the country’s rickety electrical grid and bring power (of at least one kind) to the people. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Jan./Feb. 2006), students at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, have proposed a novel solution: Go solar. Cheap photovoltaic panels installed on rooftops throughout the country could provide a more reliable, secure source of power than the current centralized system, which is an easy target for insurgent attacks.

Pay-Per-Mile Car Insurance
Pay-per-mile, or pay-as-you-drive (PAYD), car insurance policies are catching on in the U.K., Japan, and a few U.S. states, according to WorldChanging.com (Jan. 5, 2006). Not only does PAYD make sense for the environment and consumers, it helps reduce gender and socioeconomic disparities. According to the National Organization for Women’s Cents Per Mile Now website (www.centspermilenow.org), women drive 40 percent fewer miles a day than men, but their lower rates don’t fully reflect that difference. Also, PAYD should boost insurance companies’ bottom lines, since less driving means fewer accidents. Privacy is a concern, however. Users will need to install a proprietary odometer or GPS tracking chip with an embedded phone that periodically calls in mileage or tracks their route.

Crimp My Ride
Officials in Newport, Wales, devised a novel way to get people out of their cars and onto public transport: They offered free rail and bus passes, good for a year, to any drivers willing to have their cars crushed and sold for scrap. According to a BBC report cited in Transportation Alternatives (Fall 2005), the city cooked up the scheme as part of its contribution to European Mobility Week, a continent-wide celebration of sustainable transportation that takes place every September.

Mario Andretti: Environmentalist
“Planet Earth is being flooded with cars from manufacturers all over the world, year, after year, after year. . . . So, what you’re doing is putting millions more cars on the road every year that weren’t there the year before. Somewhere along the line you just have to be proactive and think of the environment, to some degree. It would be irresponsible not to.”
Mario Andretti, interviewed in Green Car Journal (Winter 2005)

Protesters v. Soldiers
Months the St. Patrick’s Day Four will collectively spend in prison for throwing their blood on the walls of a military recruitment center in upstate New York days before the invasion of Iraq. On January 27, Teresa Grady became the last of the group to receive her sentence — four months in a federal prison — for damaging government property and entering a military station for an unlawful purpose.

Months in jail Army chief warrant officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. will spend after a military jury convicted him of negligent homicide in the death of detainee Abed Hamed Mowhoush. During interrogation Welshofer forced the former Iraqi general head-first into a sleeping bag, tied him tightly with electrical cord, and sat on his chest. On January 23, a court-martial board ordered Welshofer to spend 60 days restricted to his home, church, and office.

(Source: Democracy Now!, Jan. 26, 2006)

Quit Screwing Around
“In terms of energy usage alone, [which is] a convenient measure of environmental impact, the average Ethiopian uses one-310th of what we use. So when an American couple stops at two kids, it’s like an Ethiopian couple stopping at 620.”
Les Knight, founder, Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, SFGate.com (Nov. 16, 2005)

Rebirth of a Movement
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a catalyst for protests against the Vietnam War, is stirring from a decades-long slumber. A revamped SDS, which last convened in 1969, is going to hold a national conference this summer. “We want to create not just a movement of protest, but a movement of resistance,” says Connecticut high school senior Pat Korte, who started the drive to unite active chapters scattered across the country. The 21st-century SDS now has more than 40 chapters and is recruiting former SDSers in hopes of fostering a movement that spans generations as well as the nation. For more information, visit www.studentsforademocraticsociety.org.

Limited Choice
In March, South Dakota adopted a near-total ban on abortion as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and a call to arms to like-minded states. Regardless of how the law fares in the courts, less inflammatory barriers like mandatory waiting periods and parental consent laws are already making the procedure more difficult to obtain. These incremental gains by the antiabortion movement have not, however, reduced the number of abortions in the United States. Rather, as Cristina Page argues in How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America (Basic Books, 2006), the delay tactics have caused more women to abort later in their pregnancies.

87 percent of U.S. counties do not have a registered abortion provider for the approximately 1 in 4 pregnant women who choose to terminate their pregnancies. 61 percent of these women are already mothers, and nearly 1 in 5 are married. Meanwhile, the federal government spends more than $100 million a year on abstinence-only education, funding materials like the organization Choosing the Best’s student manual, which tells students, “For condoms to be used properly, over 10 specific steps must be followed every time. This tends to minimize the romance and spontaneity of the sex act.”

Sources: Public Affairs (Jan. 2006), How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America (Basic Books, 2006), NoNewMoney.org

Word Watch: Upcycling
NOUN: The practice of recycling waste materials for use in higher-value products, such as turning beer bottles into building materials, or old lumber into furniture; different from normal recycling (remanufacturing wastes back into the same products over and over) or downcycling (putting toxins into landfills). William McDonough and Michael Braungart coined the term in their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (North Point Press). Recent citing: The Observer (Jan. 29, 2006) of London mentions upcycling as a promising avenue for reducing packaging waste.

Life After Death
The end of a whale’s life is just the beginning for hundreds of species that can spring up around (and in) the mammal’s decaying body. Called “whale falls,” these vibrant marine communities are sustainable for up to 100 years. Of particular interest, reports E Magazine (Sept./Oct. 2005), are whale fall “specialists,” some 30 known species that have evolved to thrive in this sulfide-rich deep-sea environment (and the countless others scientists believe are yet to be discovered).

Floating Neutrinos
In 1998 the Floating Neutrinos, an oddball family of artists and musicians, made the first known crossing of the Atlantic in a raft made of scrap scavenged from the streets of New York City. Son of Town Hall (pictured above) remains in France today. In the past two decades the Neutrinos have built 10 of these vessels, including a floating performance space and an oceangoing catamaran. Their ultimate goal is to build a floating orphanage to give Third World street children a home and an education. To learn more or to volunteer for a crew, visit www.floatingneutrinos.com.

Norway’s Ark
Next year, the Norwegian government plans to begin building a massive seed bank housing specimens of all the world’s known crops. According to a BBC report cited in Adbusters (March/April 2006), the “doomsday vault” will be built deep in a sandstone mountain on the island of Spitsbergen, high above the Arctic Circle. The surrounding permafrost will take care of refrigeration, and meter-thick concrete walls, airlocks, and blast-proof doors will protect the facility from natural disasters and other global catastrophes.

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