Friday, August 14, 2009

The dubious pen

Re-think=Re-use=Recycle is what this little green and white pen says on it's side, along with a recycle symbol and the name of the purveyor of this paradoxical piece of pollution.

Marketing - is it really necessary? I read a book a long time ago which posited that the beginning of the modern advertising age was between 1880 and 1920. Sure, a 40 year span is a long time, but the point as I remember it is that this is when advertising progressed (declined) from simply 'advertising' the availability of a product or a store to touting its benefits and aggrandizing to sell. It was very common to lie about a product - or, more precisely, to make claims that hadn't been proven, and were not required to be proven.

What this era of advertising morphed into is a well disguised machine using psychology (mind games) to get you and me to buy products. Lots of people insist that nobody is convincing them to buy anything, but that does not explain why those same people are buying products that
  1. They never use
  2. Poison them slowly
  3. Don't work
  4. are generally unnecessary
I am not claiming that there is a big conspiracy - few advertisers believe their mission is to hurt people, but they do usually agree that their mission is to sell product. In my opinion, the two often intersect. Which will lead to another, later blog. I perpetually maintain that if this were not true, the corporations would not be spending so much money doing it. Insipient plot or not, advertising is designed to sell product which means product gets pumped into our lives according to how successfully the advertisers sell it. This is as simple as the ABC's, in my opinion.

Here is a resource for information on the ways the media has affected social values and habits over the last several decades. The organization is called the Media Education Foundation and is based in Northampton, MA. They are connected to the University of Massachusetts Communications Department which is more theoretical than practical at the graduate level. They study the impact of the media on our lives, and they do an excellent job of doing so. Visit MEF - their videos are available in many libraries around the country. I have no personal stake or interest in MEF.

Back to the pen. I find this dubious pen to be an ironic reminder of what has really gone wrong. We've allowed common sense to be supplanted by marketing. We are convinced that new products are better, that getting messages out with devices like this pen is OK. It is not. This pen will also pollute when it is disposed of, so it is really a reminder of what is wrong, rather than what is right.

Comments welcome, as always.

Bags bags bags...

I heard another 'report' on the environmental impact of bags a few days back. The result was that bags - paper and plastic - are inconsequential in the big picture, a miniscule portion of the pollution problem, and the interviewee even said something to the effect that 'Americans will have to hoard their plastic bags just to get through life...'- yeah, I know I should have some quotes or something, but really - the result of this program is of no importance.

What is of importance is that the more we treat small things like they are not part of the problem - or, more importantly, part of the solution, the larger the pool of small things there will be, and all those sayings - many hands make light work, a penny saved... etc. are all testaments to the cumulative effect of small efforts. And we know that there is arsenic in our water, but carve out a coal mine and the tailings concentrate arsenic to highly poisonous levels that we don't want in our water... cumulative effect.

So the next time you hear a news piece telling you that plastic bags aren't really a problem, remember the bus, train or car ride you last took on the beltway surrounding your nearest city, and how many bags were stuck in trees and fences... not only are they a problem, they're ugly too!

Again - my train of belief is that small things do matter, and that living isn't about polluting so that I can have my conveniences. I'd much rather go out of my way to do something more sensitively and more sensibly at a little expenditure of time than to take the easy route. I feel better about it.

Critical thinking is important - please do not simply regurgitate 'facts' from 'studies' that you hear on the radio or read in the rags. They are rarely truths, but usually something spun by some interest or another - like the packaging industry lobby.

Lastly - one simple question. What is wrong with using cloth bags?

Thursday, August 13, 2009


It would seem that we know what 'natural' means. Do we? Of course, it means normal in some cases, naked in others, un-adulterated in others - but really, what does it mean? Is aspirin natural because it comes from a part of willow tree bark? Can we claim that everything is natural because everything is essentially derived from materials found here on Earth?

When we get into these gray areas, we end up forgetting why we care. We care because we fear things that get too far from their natural state - for good reason. We have a knack for inventing things that kill us - rather, we have a knack for swallowing the snake-oil salesperson's pitch - and the snake-oil that often does more harm than good.

Which brings me to the point of this blog - duped. I opened the cupboard earlier at work, and saw "0g trans fat" on a container of "Coffee Mate" - that powdered stuff that tastes artificial, is artificial, and replaces that horrible substance called 'milk' in our office - where we do have a refrigerator that stays mostly empty...

USans have a long history of eating up the pitches of big corporations that want to sell us something. The most notorious, of course, is the cigarette industry. I needn't mention it again - too obvious. But then there are all the health trends. Trans Fat being one of the recent biggies. The 'discovery' is made that says, yes such and such an element will help or hinder us in our foods, and the news media kicks into gear, the health industry, the food industry all jump on the bandwagon and promote removing or adding whatever the element is from/to our diets. Hook, line and sinker. We fall for it over and over again and over the decades we have gotten so used to trends as a part of life that in some cases, we have permanently disfigured human beings from badly considered products, trends, additives etc. Thalidomide is a great example - a wonder drug, pain killer that tended to badly deform children if taken by pregnant mothers. Another discovery run amok was nitrogen fertilizers - which were applied more and more liberally to farm fields increasing yields and profits for years, until we discovered that our drinking water was poison and babies began dying from a rare condition caused by excess nitrogen in the water. These are the ones that demonstrate that we make big mistakes, but then we keep making them. The meat and dairy industry influenced the diets of USans for over 50 years with ads convincing us that a good meat and dairy rich diet was good for us. Heart disease took off, people accepted such atrocities as MacDonald's and Burger King as food choices and our national health began to decline despite advances in medicine. Don't get me wrong - it wasn't entirely about MacD and BK - it was about the overall acceptance of terribly unbalanced diets as meals.

We have been duped over and over again, and though many treat the movements that promotes local food, back-to-the-land, healthy balanced diets and eliminating artificial (everything) from our foods as elitist granola crunching causes, in most cases when we look closely at cultures that have not been influenced significantly by the snake-oil-sales people, we find that the people eat normal, natural food - food that looks like what it is, that is not squeezed from tubes or processed to death, added to and subtracted from - and that they are healthy people.

I really don't intend to preach here, but I do intend to point out that the importance of being critical consumers is growing all the time. We must change our ways so that we become more wary of the ways that our big systems fail - meaning, the way that a huge corporation can sell us something that isn't good for us - the way the whole system of promotion and news gets on board, and even the way detractors can make the issue bigger rather than quelling it - are all problems we face. We are vulnerable and gullible and advertisers know it.

We've been duped hundreds of times into accepting diets and methods and products that were supposed to be good for us, or at least, not supposed to harm us, and yet consistently we find that endemic products are actually harmful (soda).

Be critical and let grocers know that you don't want the products with pheno-this and poly-that in them - despite the compelling arguments that they are safe. Until 20 years or more after a product is introduced, we won't know what is safe - it's that simple.

Keeping it simple...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Another older posting... about my beautiful trees

This posting was from about 10 months ago when I had finished reading the book Censoring Science by Mark Bowen about Jim Hansen's public outing of the Bush administration's heavy hand in controlling environmental policy. Though this infamous administration is now happily behind us, there were 8 years of damage to repair - so I feel that this blog of mine is relevant still, and is a good example of the power a rogue administration can still wield.

Trees, glorious trees
I have learned a lot this week. At a few moments, I just wanted to bury my head in the sand and to chalk the craziness up to some airborne fungus that had wafted across the globe from an exotic forest in South America, but alas, it isn't so.

So I trudge along, ankle deep in the climate crisis, the political morass/soapy drama, and the great financial spring unwinding after years of the greedy sneaking to the face of the clock in the middle of the night and adding a few more turns to the spring to keep it going, hiding the fact that the spring had nearly rusted through, duct taping it together on weekends, and all the while acting like nobody would ever know.

This week, the clock unwound and climate climbed to my forefront because I simply got so tired of hearing about the controversy - "is global warming a hoax?". I discovered that I can find all kinds of reputable science telling us that the Earth's climate is near or at a tipping point, and yet people everywhere seem to think there is some doubt as to whether the science is correct. Conversely I find three papers and three arguments that are supposed to trump the thousands of scientists, papers, articles and books confirming that global warming is here, now. From my layperson's viewpoint, I figure that if we can get ourselves into a mess, we can get ourselves out of it too. But few are truly working on the problem, and that has been frustrating.

I also found that this week had a few other surprises... the economy is quickly whittling away retirement savings. I thought and thought about this, declared a few frustrations and then realized that I had fallen into the money trap. I don't want it to bother me... I wasn't going to see that money for another 25 years anyway - what am I worried about? I have lived in a cabin in the woods cooking on a wood stove before - and I survived. I have a great life, enjoy a passionate existence on this planet, even while working 9-5, and I get to rub oil into my fellow traveler's tired shoulders every once in a while and she sighs and falls into peaceful sleep. What is better than that?

In the end, this is what life is about. It's not about what we accumulate before we die and it is not about what we pass on to our kids, it is not about our legacy - most of us aren't Nobel Laureates or George Washingtons and our legacy will be the matter we leave behind. We will fold into the soil like the remnants of a wonderful harvest and we will return to help our children and our future generations survive.

So, what we have to do is stop the madness, to slow the rush to sublime insulation through stacks of cash, and to re-engage the planet we live on. We should lean in, wrap our arms around them and listen to the trees, stop cutting them down to serve our greedy purposes and force ourselves to be a neutral presence on the Earth. We must simply stop upsetting the balance and be a part of the planet, rather than an invading parasitic army. We should engage our friends, our pursuits, our art, our lovers and families and children in this beautiful pursuit whose goal is entirely for the benefit of humanity. It can be done.

Recent posting regarding new Food Agency

I posted this April 9th on another site, but thought it would be a great thing to put here. As much as I lean left, I am loath to paint great brush-strokes of evil on honest and good natured attempts to fix problems - and the left (my peeps) really showed their metal this time by lying outright about the bill's content.

Here goes!
Recently I saw a flurry of blog postings, videos and news items about a bill that is being pushed by CT congresswoman Delaur. The blogs and postings were sometimes a little fiery, accusatory, negative and conspiratorial. They concerned the creation of a new agency to manage food safety thus taking it out from under the wing of the FDA - which is one way to stir the pot and get some things changed. The bill may or may not be a good thing - it all depends on what happens after the agency is formed, who gets the top positions, who the experts are on the panels and who makes the decisions.

I don't think anyone can argue that we need agencies (either state or federal) that can regulate the production, packaging and distribution of food - considering the recent melamine contaminations in baby formula... sigh.

What really upset me is that the people whose side I am usually on - were lying like drunken pirates (no offense to the honest pirates of the world). This is bad - it gives the people trying to make 'the right' thing happen a bad bad name.

So - I went and read that bill today (HR875 S425- all 117 pages - and can't find anything in it that suggests even remotely the control of small farms, locally produced foods, backyard gardens or organics. I'm a MAJOR fan of organic farms and foods and was immediately concerned when I saw these postings... but I can't find the word organic in the bill. The you-tube videos talked about this bill that would ban organic farming, when all I read were statements about inspections and public education and prosecution of facilities that don't handle food properly.

As a matter of fact, the bill takes most of what the FDA currently does in regards to food safety and puts it in its own organization with language that it will re-assess methods moving forward in order to improve the effectiveness of the agency. That's pretty much it. No mention at all of GM foods, no mention of organics. The most threatening language I saw was several remarks about "latest scientific methods" which, frankly could mean organic farming (since many researchers are looking at the benefits and methods behind organic farming) or it could be a nod to agribusiness and GM foods.

As for my own reaction to this bill - my gut feeling is that this is a good idea because the new agency actually might have a chance at promoting healthier foods and better, local handling of foods. No better way to get positive change than to stir the pot! The clear winner is locally grown, short transportation times, proper handling (organic or not) proper processing conditions. Rather than throw a brick wall up in front of progress we should climb on board and help to steer it! That is how we can increase the abundance of organic food and better practices in farming.

I get a little bit sensitive about lying to fight for a cause... it is ineffective and the people with the power to change laws just shake their heads and think we're all a bunch of jobless beggars, tree-huggers and hippies and that doesn't do much to further the cause. The truth is much more compelling and we don't have to lie to make our case.

Peace and health to all,

A few words

A few words about my words.

In my writing, you will see a few things that are non-traditional in established language customs.
A - I use his/her, him/her, s/he etc... in stead (and sometimes I separate formerly contracted adverbs too) of 'their' which is plural and doesn't work for me when mentioning a single person.
B - I hyphenate (or not) to join words any way I damn well please. Get used to it (please).
C - I use human to refer to what is incorrectly, but arguably standardized 'man'. I just feel that human doesn't have any gender qualifications and so it works better for me.
D - I use 'USans' in stead of 'Americans', because I think it is right rude and arrogant to call people from the United States 'Americans' as if Canada, Mexico and all of South American did not exist. To me, whether you are Achagua, Ika, Mayan, Coconuco, Sioux, Inuit or Irish Catholic (in Boston), you are an American. The Irish Catholic and the Sioux though, are both USans to me.
E - elipsisitus - I have it bad sometimes, and since it is not a terminal disease (pun possibly intended), it does describe exactly what my mind is doing when I use an elipsis... continuing on in my head or in the space that follows, but not on the page.
F - pleonasms - I don't employ them at all. If you see me using ATM Machine or PMS Symdrom, you can berate me if you please. I thank (I think) a Romanian friend for this sensitivity.
G - oddities - I use many of them, odd contractions, odd endings, made up words like splendiferous and ginormous and interreaction, uncommon but perfect words like irreligious and intrepid and incipient. These less common words are slowly fading from the pantheon of the English language, and I am working to keep them alive. Please forgive me if I invent a word that says something well - you will know. I don't usually invent words like Google, that don't say anything by themselves, though I wish I had.

The point is that as soon as you or I put anyone or anything in a neat and tidy box, it'll subvert that splendid exercise and some paradox will trump the tidy attempt to pin this bouncing world of experience down. It ain't gonna happen - let the world change and flex and be what it is. It'll be a far better, more peaceful, more dynamic place to be. If you got the impression that I am a language snob, you're wrong - my choices with language are my own... the only way I am a snob is when people are lazy with language. It kind of defeats the purpose as the message conveyed is not all that clear.



Today, at the top of the escalator leaving Metro Center in DC, I found the perfectly horrific intersection between nature and the imposed mechanical world of humans.

A single red rose petal was floating delicately on the edge of the teeth of the disappearing escalator steps. If you haven't noticed, there are grooves in the steps that you ride up on and there are teeth that are supposed to make the transition from exposed step to the receding underground step smooth so nobody (and nobody's scarf) gets eaten by the escalator demons. The rose petal was sitting on top of the teeth with the steps crawling steadily by millimeters away and threatening. It was uncomfortable, a feeling I have had a few times recently in my complicated little life. The petal was perhaps a moment or week from being caught or kicked and stuffed into the grinding mechanism meant to keep our big feet out, and the little feet of such delicate objects treated with disdain. It is a matter of scale, like building sized bulldozers moving mountains with the little ant of a person in the cockpit.

Of course, the petal was likely from a rose picked and processed at some factory farm, sprayed, handled and packaged for our consumption. I try not to be too skeptical or cynical, but the fact (such as it is) is that we manage too much.

Good luck petal at the crux of the intersection of nature and human unkind.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Small things...

So the saying goes, 'It's the small things that count'. As I think about this a little and my mind wanders off to the trees and the nymphs and sprites floating among the green leaves, then to the little people, the one's who steal my keys when I am in a hurry... and then, well... ... ...

I've returned to Earth, which, I suppose is where I belong, and where this blog is going.

Small things. I spent four days in what I call [another] little eden of mine. I have a long history of referring to my 'little edens', but I don't want anyone to misconstrue - these are not the biblical version, though I'd be a denier if I claimed there was no connection - by using the word, I make the connection. Let's categorize my little edens and place them neatly in the locus amoenus category - which is where edens are often housed in literature - the paradises in the mind. This eden of mine though is a paradise, a garden of the birth of human-kind - though, not at all the original location of sin... bah! I like to extract the passion and the love and the beauty and if Adam & Eve participated in a little hanky panky, if Adam partook of the forbidden fruit, Eve the seed - all the power to them. We're still here after either millions or thousands of years, depending on what you believe, so the small gesture of taking a bite out of that sexy apple really hasn't been a catastrophe in the end. We should get over it and let it be the small thing that it was.

This eden was in South Dakota, which was beautiful, like my companion while there. I went ostensibly to help construct a chicken patio with a fascinating, beautiful new friend. We had a ton of fun lolling around acting like we would get to the patio soon and pouring yet another glass of wine, then I finally decided it was time to do the patio, and we did. It was well started, well designed and it was beautifully simple - all loose and functional. And I loved that. As much as I loath poor quality, I also adore the make-do project and person who can live rather than obsess. I like things that do what they are designed to do, and nothing more. The patio had no chrome or gold plating, no fancy door, no tricky latches, no expensive products to preserve it - just barn boards, rusty chicken wire and our own sweat and grit and a million staples and other bits of our selves both literal and figurative.

Some might say we 'wasted our time' if it isn't going to last a farmer's eon, but in my opinion, we got it done and had fun doing it. The small things, the company, the breaks we took, the interaction and figuring the best way to do something, the meeting of our minds - on some levels small, but on others a hugely beautiful discovery.

There are now 5 happy chickens in a small literary town in South Dakota who will begin laying eggs this fall. They will provide good food to my fellow constructionist, will fulfill the small lives of these chickens, will be something good for this Earth and the few people on it who partake of the pleasures of these fresh eggs.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Green and greener, and what it all means...

Green. How many have written oodles of words and paragraphs and books to discuss the idea of 'green' - being green, green building, greener environment, 'it's not easy being green', green products, green revolution, ad nauseam. Don't get me wrong - I'd bet I am greener than 80 percent of my eventual readers, and though this is not a contest, though I am not going to be writing exclusively with a reverence and seriousness like a sermon in church, the points I intend to make will hopefully bridge a few gaps in this world of competitive greenness and other things.

It's a color - but it's so much more, and I intend to write about what more being 'green' is.

This blog isn't going to be about strictly 'greenness' - it'll also be about people, about observations and experiences and indeed will cover my own exploits in this world to whatever extent I think they'll be of interest to the reader.

What this blog won't be about is preaching, television, movies (with rare exceptions), and sports.

I welcome comments, as most people do. And I especially welcome dialog - as few people do, and I do hope this blog can inspire some actual discussion.

The mission, as it were, of this blog is to simply relay some of my ideas, thoughts, discoveries and observations on living now to others who might be interested. If I can lure a few of you to this blog, I can assure you it won't be with candy or sex - well, not with candy anyway. It will be interesting, I promise, because I am a rather non-trad type whatever the f*&k that means. I can't promise that I'll be filling pages every day, but I will try to get some material out there each week. I will also be pasting in some writing from other places - because, hey- some of it is good and it's a shame that it wallows elsewhere if it's relevant here. Nobody pays me for this stuff, but I'd appreciate it if you see something that is a golden idea, that you consider giving me credit.

Hope to hear from you (currently shadowy figures who might be lurking and looking for something a little off the wall, but not so far as to be self indulgent silliness... yeah, I did just say silliness.) So enough silliness for now.

More to come...