Signs of the End Times
What kind of sign would scare people away from a biohazard-in the year 12006, when people and machines are likely to be communicating in (or with) a different tongue? That's the conundrum facing the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), a New Mexico salt mine earmarked to house nuclear weapons waste that must be safeguarded for 10,000 years. According to New Scientist (Sept. 9, 2006), it's been determined that facial expressions are both universally understood and capable of withstanding time. One of the ideas 'reverse archaeologists' at WIPP came up with: a face modeled on Edvard Munch's The Scream.
With Americans ditching more than 100 million computers, monitors, and TVs each year, e-waste is now the fastest-growing garbage pile in the industrialized world. The United States has been slow to tackle the issue, though, leaving it to China-where 90 percent of those old high-tech gadgets end up-and the European Union to create tighter restrictions on the toxic substances used in electronics. According to OnEarth (Fall 2006), these evolving standards include state-sponsored product testing; more prominent labeling; and full disclosure regarding elements, like lead and mercury, that are used, as well as their potential dangers.
Every day, the city of Victoria, British Columbia, dumps more than 34 million gallons of raw sewage into the ecologically fragile Strait of Juan de Fuca. Environmental groups have unsuccessfully tried lobbying, campaigning, and suing, but politicians have delayed any meaningful action.
Enter Mr. Floatie. A brainchild of the group People Opposed to Outfall Pollution, this walking, talking, seven-foot turd was designed to publicly embarrass even the most jaded elected official. And he may just have succeeded: Last summer, the BC Ministry of the Environment ordered the city to clean up its act and stop dumping raw sewage by June 2007.
By Mitchell Anderson, reprinted from Seed (Nov. 2006); www.seedmagazine.com.
A Fair Share of Fair Trade
Caf? Femenino protects female coffee farmers' profits and interests
By Thea Lim, from Shameless
Caffeine addicts have embraced the fair trade coffee market as a way to minimize consumer guilt while maximizing coffee intake. But while fair trade certification boards ensure that the money you spend on your fair trade latte gets to the farmers' cooperatives that produced the beans, they can't follow the money home to see how it's distributed among families. In communities where men control the economy, this can mean that revenue from socially conscious coffee doesn't reach women and children.
A group of women in the northern Peruvian Andes have come up with a surprisingly simple but bold solution. Since 2004 they've been selling their harvests through a women-only collective called Caf? Femenino. More than 750 women from 50 communities are involved in the project. They control the cash and management of the fields and have been using their profits in ways different from how men might spend them. Many women have used earnings to send their kids to school and improve the condition of their homes. This has created profound change in an environment where, according to the collective's export manager, Isabel Uriarte Latorre, featured in the short documentary Caf? Femenino, Worth Celebrating (Praxis Productions, 2006), 'women are not supposed to give their opinions with the family. They are like furniture.'
Latorre says that the goal of Caf? Femenino isn't just to sell coffee. Women living in isolated rural areas are hit hard by global poverty. They have little access to education and face a 70 percent chance of being sexually assaulted. Caf? Femenino has created an empowering network for these women and reached out to others by supporting women's initiatives elsewhere in the world. That's made the collective not just a source of high-quality coffee, but also a source of inspiration.
Parenting at Protests
Baby Bloc, a Vancouver-based group, not only encourages parents to take their kids along when they're protesting the Man-they also want to make it easier for them. Broken Pencil (Issue 32) lauds the idea of raising socially aware children but asks a critical question: Is it right for parents to potentially endanger their children? After all, it only takes a moment for a peace march to turn into a tear-gas-infused melee. Baby Bloc cofounder Bruce Triggs tells Utne Reader that that's exactly the point, which is why he's hoping to create safe areas at protest sites where the wee ones can munch on snacks and watch a puppet show while mom and dad get their chant on. It's not about turning babies into 'protest props,' Triggs says, but about allowing politically active parents to stay active.
Culturally Embedded Abuse
In Cameroon, some mothers heat wooden pestles or coconut shells over a fire, then use them to pound and iron the budding breasts of their pubescent daughters. BBC News (June 23, 2006) reports that a quarter of girls in the country undergo the practice of 'breast ironing,' which mothers believe protects their daughters from unwanted sexual advances-which in turn could lead to early marriage and prevent them from completing school. Not only is the pain excruciating, physicians say the practice damages the girls' still-developing bodies. Experts suggest that parents simply talk plainly with their daughters about sex. The Association of Aunties, a group of teenage girls, has created a television campaign to oppose the practice.
noun: The co-opting of street art for corporate advertising.
A recent case, Punk Planet (March/April 2006) reports, was Sony's street art ad campaign for the PlayStation Portable, which splashed neighborhood walls with cartoon-style paintings of doe-eyed youths playing with the gadgets. Some graffiti artists, set on protesting corporate creep and gentrification, attacked the big business by renaming the company 'Fony' or covering the images in red paint. Ironically, Sony wouldn't stand for vandalism of its vandalism and speedily sent out clean-up crews to erase the defacements.
I Wanna Talk Like You
It has long been anticipated that America's regional dialects would simply die off, a side effect of the ubiquity of the mass media. Smithsonian (Oct. 2006) reports that despite our increasingly cookie-cutter society, however, our language idiosyncrasies are here to stay. In fact, the Atlas of North American English, which plots speech patterns in the continental United States and Canada, found that dialects are more pronounced than ever. It seems that we don't really model our speech on radio and television-we just want to sound like our friends.
Consider for a moment that every footstep generates six to eight watts of energy-energy that simply scatters into the ether.
Researchers are trying to find a way to capture that ambient force and turn it into a workable power source. Originally, it was a military idea aimed at lightening soldiers' gear, reports OnEarth (Fall 2006). To eliminate the need to carry a rechargeable battery for communication devices, researchers created a type of generator that can be embedded in soldiers' boots and translate kinetic energy into electrical current.
Now, reports Fast Company (Sept. 2006), the British firm Facility Architects is working to develop vibration-harvesting sensors that could be set into train stations, bridges, factories, and other buildings that rumble with energy from pedestrians, cars, or machinery. The sensors, which could save $200 billion a year in the United States alone, will capture the buzz and convert it into electricity that could be stored in a battery. The company plans to start testing prototypes in early 2007.
A variety of scientists are exploring similar ideas, from cell phone-charging shoes to wearable computers. 'The idea of harvesting otherwise wasted energy isn't new,' reports the Guardian (Sept. 28, 2006), 'but it's beginning to gain traction.'
Polysilicon, a key ingredient in the solar cells that convert photons into electricity, is made from sand, one of the world's most common materials. Due to a lack of capacity to refine sand into polysilicon, however, there's not enough of the material to meet the growing demand for solar power, reports Plenty (Oct./Nov. 2006). While some environmentalists might see a ray of hope in this lack of supply-more people actually want alternative energy-it will be a while before the solar industry sees sunny days again. Though polysilicon producers are bolstering their infrastructure, the impact won't be felt until at least 2008.
The Real Cost of Crime
It's no great surprise that the neighborhoods that produce the largest number of prisoners are also the poorest-and the most in need of social services. Yet people rarely connect the data points. To hammer home the correlation, researchers are using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to map the amount of money the penal system is spending on individual prisoners, based on their home addresses. The results, reports Clamor (Spring 2006), are stunning: In some cases, there are so many prisoners from a given area that the cost per city block is more than a million dollars. With the maps already available in 10 states, the visual impact may push state and local governments to spend less on prisons and more on education, housing, health care, and jobs.
Reach Out and Rip Someone Off
More than half of mothers in state prisons have never been visited by their children, in part because prisoners are often incarcerated far from home-which is why low-cost telephone service is crucial for inmates who want to sustain relationships with their families. But in New York state, according to Dollars & Sense (May/June 2006), those who accept charges on calls made from prisons pay six times the national average. And the state directly benefits from the overage, collecting 57.5 percent of the booty-a whopping $175 million since 1996. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has sued New York's Department of Correctional Services, arguing that the kickback is an illegal unlegislated tax and an unconstitutional impediment to freedom of speech and association. CCR has also joined with other groups to form the New York Campaign for Telephone Justice, which is mobilizing family members, raising public awareness, and lobbying to get fairer phone service for the state's prisoners.
The Rainbow Beat
In 1998 only two hate crimes were reported in Washington, D.C. In 2006 it was closer to a hundred-an increase that D.C. Metropolitan Police Sergeant Brett Parson sees as the good news. It's not that the streets have become more dangerous, he stresses, but that victims-especially GLBT victims-are more apt to call the cops. Parson is the commanding officer of the 16-member Gay and Lesbian Liaison Units, which was launched in 2000 to build trust with the GLBT community. What makes the unit unique, he says, is that it's not just a touchy-feely attempt at diversity training and outreach. The squad investigates crimes involving gays and lesbians-with an 85 percent closure rate in homicide cases involving the gay community. 'We're getting people to report victimization who otherwise would not,' Parson says. The success is garnering attention: From Atlanta to Australia, the D.C. unit is serving as a model for similar programs.