Short Takes: News From All Over

How to Grow a Chair: An Interview with Richard Reames
By Joshua Foer, Cabinet
As a child, Richard Reames visited the ‘Tree Circus,’ a roadside attraction near Santa Cruz, where intentionally mangled and misshapen trees inspired his life’s art. Today, using ancient grafting techniques, Reames artfully bends and prunes the growth of his own trees into chairs, spirals, peace signs, and structures. In an interview with Cabinet, Reames tells Joshua Foer that he is trying to grow a ‘living home’ in which carefully planted trees fuse together, engulfing plumbing and wrapping around windows and doors along the way.  For further reading, check out Chris Dodge’s review of Reames’ book, Arborsculpture in Utne‘s March/April issue. –Elizabeth Oliver

Boutique Biofuels
By April Streeter, Sustainable Industries Journal
The movement to embrace ethanol as the cure-all for our fossil-fuel woes has taken a few hits lately as environmental experts point out the pitfalls of its sustainability credentials. April Streeter has some good news for biofuel proponents, though. She reports that some entrepreneurs are looking beyond corn to a wide variety of source materials. Mark Cardoso of Ecogenics has experimented with turning old beer and rejected snack cakes into fuel, and now he’s on to algae. Craig Venter, a major player in cracking the human genome (read an Utne account), wants to create ‘new organisms that can make fast and efficient biofuel.’  — Suzanne Lindgren

What To Do With All That Debt?
By Mark Trumbull, The Christian Science Monitor
Americans have been spending gobs of borrowed money and declaring themselves bankrupt more frequently, creating what Mark Trumbull calls a widespread ‘culture of debt.’ The times seem ripe, then, for the Chicago Debt Exchange, which launches this month with an open auction for $500 million worth of bad debts. Trumbull reflects on the economic ramifications of our spiraling debt and the cultural acceptance of it: Some economists call the debt a sign of a strong economy, others say recovering from our borrowing frenzy will likely cause a perceptible recession. — Suzanne Lindgren

US Life Expectancy: The Eight Americas
By Peter Aldhous, New Scientist
In the United States, death isn’t the ‘great equalizer’ it’s cracked up to be. Harvard researchers found that death rates vary according to race, socioeconomic status, and geographic location. The study, which looked at 3,000 counties, divided Americans into eight groups. The majority fell into a category labeled ‘Middle Americans,’ who are mostly white and fairly wealthy. Near the bottom of the list are black men from urban areas or the rural south, whose life expectancy is on par with citizens of developing nations. With early deaths attributed mostly to injuries and cardiovascular disease, researchers are arguing whether a public health campaign to improve life expectancy among this group would be enough, or if an economic overhaul is necessary. — Rachel Anderson

Can Los Angeles Become the United States’ First Regional City?
By Justus Stewart, Worldchanging
It’s hard to think that a sprawling mass like Los Angeles could ever be considered sustainable, but its decentralized urban form makes it ideal to become the next big thing in environmental planning: ‘the nascent regional city.’ Justus Stewart writes that Los Angeles and areas like the corridor between Boston and Washington, DC, would fare well as regional cities. Sustainability success, proponents say, will lie in planning entire regions rather than concentrating on monolithic urban hubs. The idea is for planners to stoke urban growth in multiple centers, letting wilderness thrive in between. Setting up systems — economic, energy, transportation — that are integrated through the region would foster a sustainability that’s lost as urban areas outgrow their original expectations.  — Rachel Anderson

By Anna Lappé and Matthew Willse, The Nation
If you like all those clever Monopoly boards in the theme of Canada or Star Trek, then you’ll love Monsantopoly. Or, maybe not. The graphic is a tongue-in-cheek depiction of Monsanto’s own dominance in agribusiness. The ‘properties’ are crops like tomatoes and onions with accompanying cards explaining Monsanto’s current stake in these goods. Draw from the Community Chest, and you might get a Get Out of Jail Free card, good for settling court cases about bribing Indonesian officials to bypass environmental screening. But watch out for that Agent Orange space, or you might end up with a multi-million dollar class action suit for using this toxic chemical. — Rachel Anderson

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