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Archive for January, 2009

I am usually fairly casual about my finances. Barely a glance at my Mastercard statement. I pay, no questions asked. Until today, when I noticed a monthly charge of $50.32, from New York Times Sales. That struck me as a lot of money, all of a sudden. The representative at the end of the line confirmed that I had been paying that amount for twenty months in a row. One thousand dollars, I could have saved.

Before, – that is when the economy was not such a scary word – I would not have bothered. Fleeting pangs of guilt from my budding green conscience, and thoughts of all the trees downed because of my indulgence, did not make a difference. I continued to read, and then quickly dispose of the daily paver that made its way to my door every morning. Promising myself that one day, I would switch to an online subscription. 

This morning, I resisted the advances of the New York Times representative to cut me a deal. Half price for sixteen weeks. Or maybe just the Sunday paper. Or would I prefer the weekday edition? No, I told him, I had made up my mind. With the economy, I could no longer afford the superfluous expense of $50.32, or any other amount. Plus, it’s bad for the trees anyway.

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Today, four stories displayed next to each other, in the National section of the New York Times:

Boise Region Grapples With Smog, a Growing Threat

After years of growth and suburban development, the region that includes Boise and its suburbs, known as the Treasure Valley, is on the brink of violating federal clean air standards, and experts say the only real solution is one that might seem awfully un-Idahoan: persuading people to drive less.

List of Tainted Peanut Butter Items points to Complexity of Food Production

Tracking how the paste travels through the food supply can be challenging, because several companies can be involved in making the final food. For example, one manufacturer might coat the paste in chocolate and make a peanut butter cup, which is then sold to another company that mixes it into ice cream that may or may not also contain peanut butter. A grocery chain might buy that ice cream and sell it under a private label.

Environment Issues Slide In Poll of Public Concern

In the poll, released Thursday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, global warming came in last among 20 voter concerns; it trailed issues like addressing moral decline and decreasing the influence of lobbyists. Only 30 percent of the voters deemed global warming to be “a top priority,” compared with 35 percent in 2008. “Protecting the environment,” which had surged in the rankings from 2006 to 2008, dropped even more precipitously in the poll: only 41 percent of voters called it a top priority, compared with 56 percent last year.

Environment Blamed in Western Tree Deaths

Rising temperatures and the resulting drought are causing trees in the West to die at more than twice the pace they did a few decades ago, a new study has found. The combination of temperature and drought has also reduced the ability of the forests to absorb carbon dioxide, which traps heat and thus contributes to global warming, the authors of the study said, and has made forests sparser and more susceptible to fires and pests. 

A bit much to take, all at once . . . if you are at all concerned with what sustains us. Of course the one bright spot in this otherwise dire picture, is our new Commander-in-Chief, President Obama. I can feel his sense of urgency, and that gives me hope. 

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Tomorrow midnight, is the deadline for all Twitter fans to vote for the Shorty Awards. Turns out, the Green Moms group is one place short of winning the award in the Green category. Will you please help make this phenomenal group of  green girls the winner? 

Disclosure: I am a member of Green Moms – and no, I don’t suffer from being overly modest! :)

Here is some sample text to help get the word out re the contest. 

1. Go to twitter
2. Prepare this tweet ” @shortyawards I vote for @greenmoms in the Shorty Awards Finals for #green because…
3. add in your reason for voting for us. Without a reason your vote doesn’t count. Here are some ideas: the green movement needs more strong women! ..Moms can do anything! ….they tweet great info on going green
4  Send and you’re done!

If you are good to Green Moms, I promise I will return the favor some day . . .

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Thanks to Meryn Stol, for pointing me to what could be a world changing enterprise for food sourcing. As reported in World Changing, The Food Map, a project from two graduate students from University of Wisconsin, Madison, aims to shed some light on the U.S. food network. Currently in a very raw form, Food Map is using the example of two brands of mac and cheese to demonstrate how it would work on a larger scale. 

food_map

It is time the shroud of secrecy surrounding what’s gone on with our food, be lifted. I personally support the idea of a travel log for every single food item that makes it into our grocery stores. Food Map would go a long way towards alleviating my concern regarding this most troubling statistic from the FDA, that only 1% of food imports undergo food safety inspection . . . Short of greater transparency, I have to resort to blanket decisions such as bypassing non US food altogether. And even so, I still leave myself open to risks with processed foods. Currently ingredient sourcing for processed food is not required. 

Please support The Food Map project, starting with a visit to the site. 

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Our soon to be Commander in Chief made today a day of national service, even pitching in to show us the way:

Obama volunteering at Sasha Bruce House

Obama volunteering at Sasha Bruce House

I just wonder how long this renewed enthusiasm for doing good will last, and would like to revisit a post I wrote a few weeks ago, about “The Future of Doing Good”.

Sure, there is no harm in joining Obama’s volunteering initiative, USA Service. I would just like to mention another option, one that was suggested to me by my friend Sam Bower, and one that may be more sustainable in the long run. Time banking introduces mutuality and fairness in the volunteering equation:

For every hour you spend doing something for someone in your community, you earn one Time Dollar. Then you have a Time Dollar to spend on having someone do something for you. It’s that simple. Yet it also has profound effects. Time Banks change neighborhoods and whole communities. Time Banking is a social change movement in 22 countries and six continents.

Sounds like a winner to me, and one concept that could be easily folded into President Obama’s USA Service initiative.

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Certain things, I cannot accept. Like Exxon Mobil’s sponsorship of CNN’s inauguration coverage. I am sure, if Barack Obama had a say, he would not tolerate having his name associated with one of the worst contributors to climate change.

Please join me in boycotting CNN and turn to other sources of coverage instead.

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Just as I was finishing getting dressed in the YMCA locker room, this old black woman walks in with her walker, and starts talking to me, and telling me that she is 96 year old, and that she was on TV this morning. The local station did a segment on her, as part of a series on the new President’s inauguration Tuesday. Juanita is no ordinary lady. She is the oldest African-American in our county, and was born in 1913, in Oklahoma City. I find the fact that Juanita witnessed so much of our American history, and lived long enough to be a part of Tuesday’s celebration, incredibly moving. We probably spent a few minutes together, at the most, and I may never see her again. Yet, that random connection with her was filled with meaning, and I am not about to forget it any time soon.

Juanita made me think of  the many connections I have made on the Web with perfect strangers. Fleeting encounters, often times with no follow up, and yet precious. Tweets sending me support when I felt down, or answering a question just when I needed it. Comments on my blog that made me think, this person and I are made of the same cloth. Moments shared during the Presidential campaign, on Twitter 2008 Election. I have been asked how can I be following 2,000 people on Twitter? My answer is, precisely for the chance of these random connections. Time limited exchanges packed with feelings, or thoughts, and during which I was able to give and/or receive lots.

As the world becomes more and more one, and technology breaks down the barriers of communication, it is my sense that random connections on the Web will take more and more space in our lives. What we may give up in continuity, we gain in in the moment experiences.

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Following the ranks of new Twitter followers today, was Netflix7, Netflix’s new presence on my favorite network. I am not sure what Netflix is trying to accomplish. Regardless, it is helping me make a point. Companies need to better understand the meaning of ‘socia’l in social media. The beauty of well understood social media lies in its messengers: people. Substitute a recognizable human presence with an abstract brand of corporate entity, and the social in social media vanishes. The message becomes no more than interactive media, old style. 

If Netflix wants to engage me, capture instead all the existing conversations on Twitter, of which there are quite a few, judging from search I did on Twitter – 15 in just 30′ – and gather them, and share them, same way Trader Joe’s has done. And get the social media nuts in your ranks to evangelize for you, and listen to, and respond to these people already talking about Netflix. Same can be done with blogs, an other social media channels.

Simple enough?

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The news of Steve Jobs’ illness has been on my mind. All day.

Tonight, I want to meditate on these words from him, from his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford – as quoted by Leander Kahney in his excellent post today, Steve Jobs and Death:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.  Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Many years ago, as I lay in Savasana, I took in these words from Carlos Castenada, given to me by my teacher, Gabriel Halpern: Live every day with death upon your shoulders, it will remind you to love. Often times, I have thought of that first part about death. The last words about love had slipped from my memory. It is only tonight, as I googled ‘death on your shoulders’, in search for the exact words, that I got the love part back.

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I have this vision of millions of jobless folks sitting at home, waiting for their next job to materialize. 11.1 millions, according to the New York Times. That’s a lot of talents, and skills being wasted, while our soon to be next President and his economic team figure out a plan. 

Here is my idea. Imagine for a second a place on the Web, where the newly unemployed could go to connect. Not to find a job. There are enough job sites as it is, which by the way appear to be rather worthless in this new economy of scarcity. No, instead this new place would be for the jobless to list all their skills, and talents, and dreams, and passions, and ideas, and the kind of people they would like to work with. Notice I say ‘with’, not ‘for’. The site would enable local meetups between members with complementary interests. Where I am going with this is an organizing community that would take full advantage of the tremendous resources from all its members, to facilitate the creation of new businesses. 

After all, a business is nothing more than a collection of people coming together to create a product of a service. In the absence of money and banks willing to extend loans, the next best thing may just be people stepping in, and lending each other their skills and time. 

Just an idea . . . 

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