In 2009, I had the chance to visitthe Abbey of Gethsemani, a still active Cistercian monastery in Kentucky. I was fortunate to have dinner with Brother Paul, a monk who’d been at the monastery for 52 years. He’s also a poet and a photographer, and so is a pretty fascinating man.
I recently encountered this eight-minute news piece about Brother Paul and the contemplative life. It’s rare, especially in the West, to hear from somebody who’s spent so much of his life seeking solitude and a life close to God:
HENRY: Our planet is poisoned, the oceans, the air,
around, beneath and above you.
NATALIE: Um, Henry, that’s true, and I totally care.
HENRY: I’m trying to tell you, I love you.
Clunky, in a Broadway sort of way (later, there’s funny line, “you’ve got some nerve, Henry, and I’m just all nerves”), but also emblematic of the daily news we hear about the environment. We rarely hear good news about our planet. So here are a three positive news items I’ve encountered this week:
Closer to home, BC’s the House of Commons adopted an opposition motion calling for a ban on crude-oil tanker traffic off British Columbia’s north coast. It’s non-binding, but it puts pressure on the federal government to do the right thing. It’s on a rare day that I agree with Pamela Anderson.
I’m reading Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff at the moment, and was reminded of the everyday waste that is junk mail. The amount of junk mail we create is staggering. I couldn’t find any well-cited facts for Canada, but the average American household receives 848 pieces of unwanted commercial mail a year. That’s more than a billion pieces of junk mail a year.
I made a sign for my mailbox. Then it occurred to me that it would only take me ten or fifteen minutes to make a bunch of signs to enable my neighbours to opt out as well. Here’s what I ended up with (click to enlarge):
I came down the next morning and all the signs had been removed off my poster. Unfortunately, about half of them had been stuck on the outside of mail box doors, instead of inside:
Speaking as somebody who’s written a lot of instructions in my life, humans are universally lousy at following them.
Make Your Own Signs
Want to do this for your own apartment? Awesome. I updated my poster so that “inside” is bigger, and post a template for the signs and the poster itself on Doc Stoc. Just click through and you can download the PDFs. I recommend printing them out, cutting them up and attaching tape to each sign like I did. The more work you can do for people, the better.
If you do this (or already have), leave a comment and let us know.
UPDATE: Incidentally, you can also opt out of junk mail from Canadian Marketing Association members. I suspect that this represents just a small amount of the total junk mail I receive, but I’ve emailed the CMA to confirm that.
This year’s biggest online hit is an email newsletter offering you coupons. How old school is that?
That’s an interesting notion, but I’m more interested in Groupon as a touchstone for our post-consumer times. Consider recent offers I’ve received:
Admission to the Maritime Museum
‘Manly grooming services’
Fitness boot camp
Because the price of everything essential is so easily within reach for most of us, we’re ready to spend our money on crap that we absolutely do not need.
77% of Groupon users are women, and I also think there’s a connection to the kind of it-girl celebrity worship that’s so present in our culture these days. People admire Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and the like in part because they’re rich, and can indulge whatever urge they desire. Women have become the more powerful consumers in our society, and their desire for luxury goods is piqued by movies like Sex in the City and product-oriented magazines like Lou Lou. Buying Groupon deals provides a way for middle-class people to scratch an upper-class itch.
But, then, so what? If people have money to spend, I’m happier if they’re buying services (which seem to comprise a big chunk of the Groupon offers) instead of more stuff. Services, I’d imagine, are a far more sustainable purchase.
What do you think of Groupon? Is it a great service or does it encourage irresponsible consumerism?
This is the first in at least a couple of posts about Groupon. Next week I’m going to interview a hardcore Groupon user.
Speaking of making sustainable choices, Vancouverites may want to check out Ethical Deal, a ‘green Groupon’.
Last year, we raised a little money on this site, and picked> a farmer in Nicaragua (among others) to loan it to. He apparently now co-owns a rice thresher, and all is well.
From that money and some other loans I’ve since had repaid, there’s $285 in my Kiva account. Let’s pick a new entrepreneur to whom we’ll loan some money.
Kiva satisfies the demands of individuals so quickly that it’s impractical for me to list individual possible recipients. Instead, I thought I’d look at some countries with lots of potential entrepreneurs, and ask you to vote on which nation you’d like to support. Then I’ll pick one or more recipients, and Bob’s your uncle. Please vote below:
I’ll check back in a couple of days and see which nation we ended up with. Hopefully there will be available loans in that country then (as there are for each of these seven nations now).
RSS and Facebook users, there’s a poll in this entry which you probably aren’t seeing.
UPDATE: Mongolia is the winner. I’ll close this poll and chose one or more Mongolian entrepreneurs.
UPDATE #2: I chose Togoo Budhuu, a cobbler in Ulaanbaatar. She was $275 away from having her loan fully funded, so I used our money there, and donated $5 to Kiva for good measure. Here’s a description of Ms. Budhuu’s work:
Togoo Budhuu lives with her husband and nineteen year-old daughter in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. Her daughter, Sarnai, attends a university. Togoo manages a traditional Mongolian shoe-making business. She began her business by producing traditional boots in 1999, and has built a stable business operation. Her products are very popular among her customers due to their good quality and unique style, and she has gained many permanent customers, especially from neighboring countrysides. She makes her boots in her mother-in-law’s home. She has made and stored a large quantity of children’s boots.
TogooÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s earnings have enabled her to raise her standard of living as well as expand her business. Moreover, she has used her earnings to purchase a new house with a fence. She is a very hardworking woman who says “Now, I will make more traditional adult boots and store them for future sale.” She is requesting a 2,000,000 MNT loan to buy raw materials and grow her working capital.
I’ve been doing a lot of on-site work at a client’s office this year. I’ve been holed-up in a kind of satellite office, which has a small, one-person bathroom.
This organization is pretty progressive, so the bathroom has automated lighting that comes on when the motion sensor detects I’ve entered. They’ve also got the two-button toilets and fancy hand dryers. It’s all very green.
Too green, actually. Because if you remain still–as you might while, you know, using the bathroom–for more than a minute or so, the motion sensor thinks you’ve left, and plunges the tiny room into darkness. And–insert jokes about male aim here–one really needs to see at that particular moment.
So, I’ve taken to kind of waving one hand lazily over my head, like I’m in a rodeo, riding a bull. I’m also reminded of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, which includes the line “to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free”.
A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a friend. After we finished, he ordered a latte. When it arrived, he examined it and pronounced it too foamy. He was going to call the waiter over to have it replaced, but changed his mind. “If a foamy latte is my most serious problem,” he said, “then things must be all right.”
“Foamy latte problem” has since become my shorthand for “the trivial problems which Westerners find absorbing in their own lives” or “banal issues we obsess over because our lives are, from a global and historical perspective, astonishingly easy and luxurious”.
I suppose it’s rather mean-spirited, but it’d be designed to remind Westerns (again, including myself) that if they’re healthy, have a job and somewhere to live, they’re better off than 99% of all humans who have ever lived. What do you think?
Last week, composer Jason Robert Brown had an extended online conversation with a teenager who was illegally downloading (‘trading’, in the parlance of this particular online subculture) some of his published sheet music. On sites like Piano Files, much like the BitTorrent communities, users request and share songs they’re looking for.
The, uh, inter-generational dialogue is worth reading, as is this overview of sheet music piracy written by Georgia Stitt. Though, for those familiar with the current debate on intellectual property, copyright and digital rights, there’s not much new.
It seems like the songwriter and composition world is one that’s been woefully susceptible to piracy for years. After all, sheet music is comprised of short, small documents–they present none of the issues that music and movie files once did. Heck, it’s even easy to photocopy.
In fact, some of the earliest files I ever downloaded from the nascent Internet were guitar tablature, chord sequences and playing instructions for pop and rock songs. They typically looked like this.
I didn’t care, but I don’t think they were technically illegal (I suppose those documents that republished the lyrics in full violated copyright). These had been independently created by fans, not copied from some legitimate source. Many (even most) songs weren’t available in guitar tablature, so these were crowd-sourced solution to the problem.
I still subscribe to this theory of art and copyright: a creator’s greatest fear isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity. As Brown points out, you can at least buy his sheet music for a reasonable price at SheetMusicDirect.us. Is that the iTunes Store of sheet music? I have no idea. Though, probably not, because a search for ‘Georgia Stitt’ generated no results. An exhaustive, easy-to-use online store is going to be a composer’s best shot at getting as much revenue as possible from sheet music sales.
Like so many creators, composers will need to rethink their revenue model in a world where it’s easy to make and share copies of their creations.
Coincidentally, today I received a media release for a local production of Brown’s “The Last Five Years” at the Pacific Theatre.