Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Am I Green?

What does it mean to be green?

For Kermit, it was as simple as looking at his own skin.

As I walked around the Chicago Green Festival on Saturday, looking at people wearing stickers saying, "I'm a Green American," I realized that I don't really think of myself as green. That is, I don't think of myself as living the environmentally-conscious life. To be sure, I'm pro environment, but I don't know if I really walk the talk. Because there's always more you can do.

What's funny is that I had this thought at the same time I was blowing my nose on my cloth handkerchief, carrying around my metal water bottle, which was wrapped up in my cloth napkin that I knew I'd be using for lunch, which was all transported to the conference in my hybrid Prius.

Hm, maybe I'm a little green.

What the question is really getting at, though, is this: Do I fit in here? Are these "green people" my people? Like so many questions in my life, the answer is complicated.

When I first started walking around the exhibit hall, I was absolutely thrilled to be there. I was convinced that this was the place for me. I sampled granola bar bits, cereal, salsa with weird tortillas, "tiny" popcorn, all-natural gum, and hundreds of kinds of chocolates. I tried hemp oil, hemp seeds, and hemp chocolate "milk", which was definitely NOT for me. I got some free coupons for this new wheat-based kitty litter, which I'd just started buying last month. I got some coupons for the kinds of granola bars I already buy at my local co-op. I heard a speaker talk about making your home more energy efficient, which was really cool because they had a hand-out which listed the average kWh of all these different things in your home. Did you know that a dehumidifier (228 kWh) uses 13 times more energy than an oven (18)?

I got some business cards made out of elephant poop. No shit! Mr. Ellie Pooh, LLC, makes paper out of elephant poo.

I really wanted to buy this shirt, but I didn't have enough cash and the guy's credit card machine wasn't working.

I got a free sample of a new kind of water bottle made entirely out of plants. No petroleum whatsoever. That was pretty cool. The label said the bottle was compostable, but when I asked the guy more about it, he said that was industrial composting, where they heat it. If I throw it in my compost bin in my back yard, it won't decompose.

I also bought some decanters made from old wine bottles, and some all-natural household cleaner to replace my 409.

There were also a lot of really cute hippie-ish women with no makeup and sensible shoes there, the kind of women I tend to be attracted to.

All these things were very cool and made me feel like I belonged.


But there were also things that made me feel like I didn't belong. Perhaps I'm just too cynical to really get into the spirit. The largest presence at the festival was Ford, which was showing off some of its hybrid and electric models. Ford also sponsored all of the "Resource Recovery Stations," which turned out to be the trash/recycling areas. For the longest time I walked around looking for a trash or recycling bin, but it never occurred to me to use something called a Resource Recovery Station. Can you hear the sound of my eyes rolling?

The keynote speaker was pretty inspiring, all about how we live in a corporatocracy where large corporations have all the power, and we need to hold them accountable, but I couldn't help but notice the contradiction between that and the presence of Ford all over this conference.

There was an exhibit for something called Ki, which is some new-agey massage-like thing where they appear to just wave their hands all around your body, maybe destroying thetons or midiclorians or juicing up your Jedi powers. As you can see, I'm a skeptic.

The weirdest exhibit I visited was something called the Humane Society University. They had tons of promotional materials with dogs and cats on them. It's an online, for-profit "university" that somehow has a connection to the Humane Society. Presumably the diploma certifies that you and indeed a good graduate, yes you are, yes you are! I had trouble understanding what exactly the purpose was, and even more trouble understanding what this had to do with a "green" festival.

Sit. Stay. Roll over.

One of the talks I went to gave out fortune cookies. Here's what mine read: "Your fortune will not escape your home when you plug leaks with air sealing and insulation." Yeah, that's cheesy.

Speaking of cheesy, the biggest way I felt different was the food. It was all vegan. I got lunch from a place called Soul Vegetarian, which tried to reproduce Southern soul food. I got the lunch plate, which included barbecue bits, mac & cheese, greens, and cornbread. The barbecue was seitan, a meat substitute, which was pretty good, but the mac & cheese was a huge disappointment. It was some sort of unholy approximation of cheese that just made it taste way worse than if they called it something different. The greens were okay, but the cornbread was way too dry.

I know that a vegan diet is way more green, but the word itself scares me. I just can't give up my dairy. And there are more humane ways to get it than from factory farms. The one saving grace about vegans is they still have chocolate. There were tons of chocolate exhibits there, and I sampled dozens of different kinds. I even bought myself a bar of organic fair trade orange dark chocolate (70% cacao). The cynic in me wonders, though, how many people would still be vegan if they had to give up chocolate?

Anyway, I'm not going to debate that whole issue here. I just mean to say, I feel out of place around militant vegans. And Ki practitioners. And people who think they're saving the Earth by using a Resource Recovery Station instead of a recycling bin. And I don't like signing petitions about things I haven't investigated first.

So like Kermit says, it's not easy being green.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Libertarians and Liberals

It's certainly a strange twist of fate that my new best friend is a libertarian conservative George Bush fan from Texas. Who I've never met. Funny the ways that life can surprise you.

We get along great, but sometimes our friendship brings articles like this to my attention: It's Time To Kill The 'Robin Hood' Myth. It's from a column called The Objectivist from Forbes magazine, which is an appropriate title, because I can't resist objecting to it.

I'll leave Stephen Colbert to skewer the whole Ayn Rand Objectivism thing (jump to the 2:25 mark in the video to get to the Atlas Shrugged review):

I especially like Colbert's line of Ayn Rand birthday cards: "Grandmother, You are a drain on society... I ate your cake."

The article above is an attempt to discredit the "reverse-Robin Hood" myth that providing tax breaks to the wealthy is "giving" to them, and that cutting social programs for the poor is "stealing" from them. There's an attitude that runs throughout this article that signals to me the biggest difference between liberals and libertarians. As they state in the article:
On our view, you earned your wealth and it belongs to you, and no politician has any business talking about how much of your money he can “afford” to let you keep.
Libertarians love to emphasize how the mean old government is taking their money. They act as if they live in a self-sustained bubble that has no effect or interaction with anyone around them. This is their fatal logical flaw.

We liberals, on the other hand, understand how in a civilized society, people depend on each other. All of us, working together, can achieve much more than any individual can working alone. Individuals don't build roads or court systems or firehouses or police forces or national defense or education. All that wealth that you earned was done as a result of the infrastructure provided by the state. You didn't do it alone.

When I hear people whine about how the government is taking their money, it reminds me of a teenager who has a part-time job and complains when his parents ask him to put some of it into buying a new family car. "But it's MY money! I earned it!" What the teenager doesn't acknowledge is that he was only able to make his money because his parents payed for his housing, food, medical care, utilities, clothing, etc.

I understand that people work hard and want to keep what they earn. But plenty of people work just as hard around the world and aren't able to amass any wealth at all. So it seems like a small price to pay for adults to acknowledge and support the infrastructure that made it possible for them to earn money at all.

I think balancing the public budget is important and we need to have serious discussions about how best to spend our tax dollars. But this attitude of "I earned it and it's mine" does not contribute to that discussion in a positive way.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Are Blogs Dead?

I had a discussion with my brother recently about blogs. He thinks blogs are sooo 2008 and are going the way of the 8-track tape.

He laments that the trend is now toward twittering and facebooking, where people express themselves in shorter, less substantial posts.

I don't doubt that blogs will someday go the way of the 8-track, just like rotary telephones, facebooking, twittering, and metaZombieClustering (or whatever the next big new thing will be.) Social networking is constantly changing, and the rate of change just gets faster and faster. Five years ago I didn't even know Facebook existed, and now it's hard for me to imagine life without it. Who knows what new thing will be indespensible to me three years from now.

So the debate I had with my brother was, how dead is blogging? He doesn't waste his time on it anymore because he sees it as already obsolete. I agree with him that that's where the trend is headed, but to quote a line from Monty Python from before there was texting, email, or even cordless phones: blogs are "not dead yet!"

There are lots of blogging communities that are going strong and adding new members every day. Just last week someone told me about a new blog her sister started. I recently retired an anonymous blog that was part of such a community. In eight months it got 21,700 page hits. Near the end I was getting about 150 hits a day. I retired the blog for a lot of reasons, but part of it was because my blogroll was growing too much and it was taking up too much of my time. That doesn't quite sound like a dead medium.

Of course, that's just anecdotal evidence. One person's experience doesn't prove the overall trend. But it's hard for me to believe people who read, write, and participate in blog communities are like groups of vinyl record enthusiasts-- luddites who refuse to embrace the new popular technology. I'd also like to point out that people have been making jokes about blogs being dead for many years now. (One article I found with the title, "Is blogging dead?" is from 2007.) But they're still hanging around.

I've had seven blogs in my life, and none of them have lasted more than about three years. An individual blog has a short shelf life. But blogging, as an activity, has been part of my life for about eight years. It's a good medium for me. I enjoy writing out my fluff thoughts, with goofy pictures, and flinging them out into the world.

So as long as I still enjoy it, I will continue to blog. Even if I'm not getting anywhere close to 150 hits a day on this blog.

Even if it's a dying medium, it's not dead yet.


Here's other people who have, uh, blogged about this topic:





UPDATE: So here's the punchline. After publishing this post and re-reading it, I realize it's really boring. Even I'm bored by this post, and I wrote it. Or maybe it's just not very well written or investigated. Whether or not blogs are dying, this post is not doing a good job of keeping them alive.