Monthly Archives: January 2008

Days 332-338: MLwC and The Story of Stuff

When I started this year long project to examine and change my transportation habits, I had a sneaking suspicion that no matter what I did–ride a bike, take a bus, walk, drive my car–one fundamental thing had to change: driving less means using less. Driving is about Consuming, pure and simple, and what I’ve learned is that as I’ve driven less, I’ve consumed less in all kinds of ways. And using less is good. It’s  anathema to our culture, but it’s good…and I keep coming back to it, again and again.

The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonardson

Writer, researcher and activist Annie Leonard has been spending the last 10 years thinking about and researching our material-based culture. She’s been talking about it too, but has not been able to gain traction…until she put together a truly brilliant 20 minute film that’s easy on the eyes and brain, but still packs a punch. She also changed the name of her focus from material usage to Stuff.

Watch The Story of Stuff–watch it now! it’s so right on, and encouraging too–we can change the way our obsolescent-dependent culture drives us crazy!

Take some time to watch her film, The Story of Stuff. What it’s about: like the title suggests, it’s the story of stuff. And she manages to take a systems approach to our whole way of life, our entire culture to explain just how stuff works…and how we participate in the creation, consumption, and disposal of stuff. It’s an untenable cycle of life, pure and simple.

And the only way out is: use less, consume less, need less. Do less, buy less, create less. Whatever happened to Less is More? We’ve completely lost touch with the concept–and now we are mindlessly buying, using, consuming, trashing more stuff than ever in the history of the world.

I suspect that once my year of transportation evaluation is over I may be turning my personal attention to this issue. And it is incredibly thorny–everything in me wants what it wants and wants it now. I’m as culpable as the next person, sometimes more, in terms of consuming–but I know, I KNOW, this cannot continue and the only thing I can do is change my own habits. I know I can systematically look at how I buy and consume and begin to deconstruct it, bit by bit–and begin to Stop Doing What I’m Doing.

And I also suspect that I will be zeroing in on one area of massive consumption that nearly epitomizes all that’s wrong with corporate supply-and-demand: processed food.

Now that I’ve said that, do watch this film and consider the role of Corporations in her explanation. And again, I point to John Edwards as the only candidate in the field who has strongly addressed dual issues regarding Corporations, the environment, and the cycle of greed that drives the growth of corporations.

Not endorsing, I’m just sayin’….

On my transportation front: I’ve been so busy lately, I haven’t been able to post on a regular basis. On the other hand, I’m starting to think about weekly transportation caps–I haven’t gotten my route to Poulsbo figured out yet, ie, bus use. I’ve got too much to juggle right now and things haven’t calmed down. So I’m still successfully keeping my car usage down, but have also targeted a 75 mile a week cap. I’m well under that this week with 51 miles, so that’s all good. Is 75 miles a week too much? Does that seem reasonable? Any thoughts out there?

Daily Stats: (Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun)
Car: 51 miles
Bike: 7.0
Ped: 5
Bus: 2 miles

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Days 323-331: MLwC, the easy Shake ‘n Pour Pancake mix & John Edwards

General Mills Shake n Pour

In the annals of things I would not have thought needed improvement: pancake mix containers. There’s someone somewhere who’s job it is to figure out how to improve on things that work fine in order to sell more products, and I think that might not be a very good use of someone’s time–I don’t care how much they earn.

Take Bisquick’s Shake ‘n Pour bottle of pancake mix. Is it really so very very difficult to make pancakes from the mix in a box? Do we have to make a plastic bottle to hold a chemically processed liquid so all you have to do (we’re very very busy!) is shake it and pour it out? I happened to see this product on TV the other day and really was taken aback.

Plastic bottle: will not decompose in that very busy Mom’s lifetime, nor the span of her kid’s, or even their kids.

Pancake mix: processing and shelf life virtually guarantee there is zero health benefit to the “food”–it’s just filling bellies, and likely has so much sugar and salt that the kids would be better off with a slice of toast and peanut butter. Much better off.

I know, I know–why should I care? But I’ll tell you why: I just spent a few days with my nephew who is 34 and fights with diet/nutrition issues. He’s grown up in a mass-consume culture, more accustomed to the taste of processed sugar than real food, and now when he’d like to change things, it’s extremely difficult. And as he gets older, his health problems will increase, his dependence on medications will increase, his positive participation in our culture will decrease–and that breaks my heart.

This is our culture, people. This is our country, our culture. I literally don’t think having a plastic bottle of pancake mix is making us any better–it’s just growing profits for General Mills.

Which brings me to John Edwards. I read the other day, though I can’t find it now, that some columnist was backing John Edwards, against all odds, because he felt that one of the core problems in our country, if not the world is the rise of unchecked corporations and of all the candidates out there, the one candidate that truly understands corporations and how to battle them effectively is John Edwards. It strikes me that that reason alone may be contributing heavily to his virtual invisibility in the run-up to the race.

But beyond his profession, Edwards’ tone and language on the campaign trail have increased business antipathy toward him. His stump speeches are peppered with attacks on “corporate greed” and warnings of “the destruction of the middle class.”
He accuses lobbyists of “corrupting the government” and says Americans lack universal health care because of “drug companies, insurance companies and their lobbyists.”
Despite not winning the two state nominating contests completed so far, with 48 to go, Edwards insists he is in the race to stay. An Edwards campaign spokesman said on Thursday that inside-the-Beltway operatives who fight to defend the powerful and the privileged should be afraid. (credit: indybay.org)

I’m not suggesting I’m backing Edwards–in fact, I don’t know yet who I’m backing. Any of the top three would be good, to be honest. But the issue with corporations is exceptionally important. We are currently suffering the burden of the polar opposite of Edwards: an administration so thoroughly in lock-step with corporations, the relationship is nearly seamless.

Apologies to Edwards for discussing General Mills’ ridiculous products in the same post as the presidential nominee, but in terms of corporate hunger for products above brains, it seemed to connect up for me.

Daily Stats (things seem to be getting way out of hand in terms of tracking progress in these final weeks of the year long MLwC project: Sat, Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat)
Car: 64 miles (P-bo, a dozen tasks and 8 days)
Bike: approx. 15 miles or so, several tasks
Ped: 5 miles
Bus: 0

Days 318-323: MLwC and how to plan for bike traffic

In a recent NYTimes article, we find a discussion of bike safety in bike-haven Portland, Oregon.  Portland is probably America’s most bike friendly city, so if bikers get killed by cars there, you gotta wonder why.

Turns out that most bike accidents happen at intersections.  My own bike-car face-off (I lost) of some years back happened at an intersection.  It seems that drivers are only really paying attention to a couple of things at an intersection, those being: 1)when will this freaking light change so I can step on it, and 2) I don’t have to stop because I’m turning.  This second issue is the one  that nails a lot of cyclists, quietly parked off to the side waiting for the green light.  Not enough bulk, not enough chrome, not enough of something that can be easily seen by car drivers.

Portland Bike boxes

By allowing cyclists to wait in front of motorized traffic, the bike boxes are intended chiefly to reduce the risk of “right hook” collisions, the kind most frequently reported in Portland, in which a driver makes a right turn without seeing a cyclist who is in his path. Drivers will not be allowed to pass through the bike box to turn right on a red light, although many right hooks now occur after the light has turned green, when traffic quickly accelerates.

Right hooks were what killed the two cyclists in October, a college student and a bike racer hit by large trucks. The drivers say they did not see them.

“In a lot of people’s minds they weren’t doing anything wrong and they were just run over,” said Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for the Portland Office of Transportation.

It will be interesting to see how this works out with Seattle’s neighbor to the South.  Seattle is in the process of creating a bicycle task force to help guide development of bike transportation–which currently needs a LOT of guidance.

Daily Stats: (Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri)

Car: 37 miles (trip to Poulsbo and back for work)
Bike: 9.5 miles (4 tasks)
Ped: 4 or 5 miles
Bus: 0

Days 314-317: MLwC and How I Became Stupid

Great title, eh? How I Became Stupid is a wee novel I came across recently by French author Martin Page. His first novel, it’s billed as a “humorous & surprising mixture of optimism and nihilism.” Oh those French! It’s a quick, entertaining and thought provoking read which brought up a lot of the same questions and issues that have come up in my year long MLwC project.

How I Became Stupid by Martin Page

Basically the protagonist, at 28 years of age, becomes tired of his life of introspection, self-awareness, and intelligence in an increasingly fast-paced consumerist society that values quick money and fast cars over all else. He tries three ways to become stupid, finally landing on a solution: take the anti-depressant HappyZac and become a stock broker. The HappyZac changes his life completely; he no longer feels compelled to think through anything. He even finds himself one day achieving benchmark status as a non-thinking person by ordering a Big Mac at a McDonald’s…and liking it. The world takes on a rosy glow.

In his new life as a stock broker, much like the monkeys in the famed stock picking experiments, he picks winning stocks through whimsy and error, resulting in million dollar wins, gi-normous bonuses, moves to a glitzy ultra-modern apartment, gets the fancy he car he doesn’t drive, dumps his quirky, creative and loving friends, and basically adopts a stupid life. I won’t spoil the end

Here’s a quote from his Before state:

Before, he hadn’t been able to live his life because of all the questions and principles tangled in his mind. For example, when he bought clothes he would always check where they came from so that he wouldn’t be participating in the exploitation of children in Asian sweatshops owned by multinational corporations. As advertising is an assault on freedom, a coup d’etat every company that investing in morally questionable activities, pollutants, or nondemocratic countries, or who laid off people when their profits were increasing. He didn’t eat food full of chemicals, either, or anything containing preservatives, coloring, or antioxidants and–financial circumstances permitting–he bought organic.

It wasn’t so much that he was an ecologist, a pacifist, or even and internationalist–just that he did what his conscious told him was right; his behavior derived more from moral principles than from political convictions. In that, Antoine was not unlike a martyr of this consumer society, and he was perfectly well aware that his intransigent attitude begged comparison with Christian mortification. This was an embarrassment to him because he was an atheist, but he couldn’t act any other way, he couldn’t help being this sort of renegade, secular Christ….

Now, basking in the chemical sunlight of Happyzac, Antoine discovered the World….Since he’d been taking his little red pills, salvation had come in the form of an absolutely watertight dam between the wold and its long-term consequences.

On his McDonald’s experience:

Only a few days earlier Antoine wouldn’t have been able to make that simple gesture of eating a French fry without thinking about the bloodstained history of the potato, the human sacrifices that the Aztec civilization made in it name, and the appalling suffering it visited on the Irish….He took a rather awkward mouthful of his burger…he had to admit he liked it. It was clearly not very good for your health, the packaging probably wasn’t biodegradable, but it was simple, cheap, very caloric, and it had a satisfyingly reassuring taste. In fact the taste of it made him feel as if he had found a family that knew no frontier, as if he had joined millions of people biting into an identical burger at that precise moment….He had a subtle feeling of pleasure, of confidence, a new strength derived from the fact that he was as others, with others.

As a novella with an “International Cult Following,” How I Became Stupid is a quick, fun read for those of us who do not always follow the road laid out for us by the Market, nor even use a car when we’re off the beaten track.

Daily Stats (Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat)

Car: 34 miles (Bellevue and back)
Bike: 5
Ped: approx 4
Bus: 0

 

 

 

Days 308-313: MLwC and random New Year Thoughts

It’s going to be a very good year. I got a new squirrel feeder for Christmas from my nephew’s kids who are smitten with our resident squirrels, all of whom are named (of course) Sandy. The new feeder is the one they use in some state parks, and is pretty cool, looks like this:

Squirrel Feeder

Ours is rougher than this, but the same idea. So far, the stellar jays have made it their own because Sandy is accustomed to coming to the door for direct hand-outs, but they’ll find it soon enough.

A friend of mine in Sandpoint, ID, where we spent some lovely days this week snowshoeing, eating well and playing, was wondering what kind of bird feeder she could get that would keep squirrels and other varmints out, and after years of experimentation, I suggested the one we’ve currently got which is the only one that not only feeds our target audience of finches, chickadees, juncos, and others, but keeps the local ring tail doves from chowing down every last shred of food, and the jays and the flickers and others. They get the scattered seed on the ground as well as other treats, but will clean out your store of small bird feed quick as you can say Yipes. This feeder is called a Squirrel Buster and you can

It looks like this:

Squirrel buster bird feeder

So why should anyone care about this, other than because having song birds around is a pleasant thing? Especially in urban settings, habitat loss is a real threat and food sources become key–not just to resident bird populations but to migratory birds as well. Most of us don’t consider that our homes may be part of a larger migratory pattern and some species may actually come to rely on food we supply to get where they’re going. I know the Wilson’s Warblers and Varied Thrushes come through our yard at specific times every year, on their way somewhere…who knows where, but they show up like clock work. At our house, we’ve participated in a number of backyard and neighborhood bird counts that help larger organizations like Cornell Ornithology Labs and Nature Conservancy track movements of populations through urban areas.

“The greatest threat to songbird populations is habitat loss and fragmentation in their wintering and breeding grounds, and along their migratory routes. Birds must find rest areas with an adequate food and water supply to enable them to continue their journey. Conservationists are placing greater importance on these stopover points hoping to reverse the trend of songbird decline. “

So, making a sweet spot in your own backyard could have untold positive benefits for bird populations that you might not even realize! It all counts, and anyway, the heralding sound of song birds in late February is a treat not to be missed.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Daily Stats: (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon, Tue)
Car: 8.5 (three tasks)
Bike: 0
Ped: approx 10 miles
Bus: 0