Saturday, October 4, 2008

Laughing at the Enemy

Wow, things got very serious in the last post, didn't they? It appears that talking about corporations makes me lose my sense of humor. To rectify this, I decided to find some funny videos on corporate power so we could have a good laugh and de-stress a little. What I found, however, was that talking about big money makes comedians lose their sense of humor too. Even George Carlin gets a bit morose when discussing this topic, although he's certainly funnier than me.

George Carlin - You Have Owners


Since there isn't a massive surplus of funny videos on money, greed and power, I found this one instead -- a good reminder of the consequences of taking life too seriously.

The To-Do List


Even though the world appears to be rocketing to hell in a very speedy handbasket, being angry at the basket doesn't motivate it to change. If the human race is determined to be silly and destroy everything in sight, it's a good idea to savor what's left of it while we can. This post is a way of reminding myself to set down my to-do list and protest signs for a little while each day and take time to pet the cats, sing, feel the fresh air on my skin and laugh at the absurdity of it all. It's these things that inspire us to fight in the first place.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Power in the Wrong Hands

Money, power and corporate greed are subjects that can get liberals and conservatives snarling at each other like dogs fighting over a greasy bone . Conservatives claim liberals want to take others' hard-earned money, cripple businesses and bankrupt the world. Liberals respond that conservatives are tyrants who will stop at nothing to dominate a society of starving serfs. While some people may fit these stereotypes, I believe the majority want a world where we are free to succeed or fail on our own merits without the option of harming others to get there.

If this is the goal, then we aren't even in the ballpark. In fact, we're not even in the car on the way to the ballpark. We're still in the bathroom deciding what to wear.

While we're fussing over whether to wear the red sun dress or the blue capris, there are corporations who are amassing enough power to make the entire world in their own image. In fact, that's exactly what they've been doing for decades. They provide us with trinkets and entertainment and we give them the world. No one asked what they would do with it once they had it.

In our present system, enough money can absolve corporations of any real responsibility for their actions. It can give them access to media that shapes public opinion. Their money can create and defeat laws and tear down beneficial practices. At the same time it can also build up practices that benefit no one but those with their hands in the corporate coffers. With enough money, a corporation can hide important information from the public and spread ridiculous lies.

We are quickly becoming a world ruled by corporate entities instead of well-chosen human beings. If these entities were programmed to benefit society, the system might still be ok. But corporations were designed only to increase profits year after year. They are without a moral conscience. Although humans work for them, they are not human -- a corporation has no emotions. If the corporation is slowly poisoning its customers, it may not register concern until the dying user base cuts into its profits. Are these the "people" we want in charge of our lives?Some argue that the free market will solve these problems. How can it, when corporations control the media? Even when the free market does remove a bad apple, the shunned and broken apple simply hires a publicist to recreate it's image. Or the shamed parent company sells the bad apple to a subsidiary of itself and claims it doesn't know what apple we are talking about.

Fox News Kills Monsanto Milk Story


While the underlying idea of corporations is sound -- people working together to provide goods and services and being amply rewarded for leadership or innovation-- the corporate structure as currently designed is like the King Louis XVI court of our times. We are going to have to take it to the guillotine. When we do, we'd better have in mind a better system to replace it.

I don't claim to know yet how to stage this revolution or what will work in place of the failed system. In future posts I'll put out some suggestions to get a dialog going. We'll look at specific examples of corporations gone bad and ways to deal with them. We can do some brainstorming and start to take steps. Perhaps we'll conclude that the only solution is to let global warming knock out humanity and pray the cockroaches evolve more gracefully than we did. What I really think, though, is that human beings are capable finding amazing and innovative solutions. Let's start looking for them.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Progress Report: Pools are Scary

So much for letting the pieces fly, eh? I started this blog with the gusto of a battle-ready revolutionary and then regressed to a small child afraid to get into a pool.

It's kind of funny.

So, now what? On with learning to swim, I guess.

Progress made in the last couple weeks:

I'm slowly reducing the plastic I use without agonizing over every plastic nurdle in the universe. I'm learning to pay attention. It's taken a little while to stop grabbing plastic cups/plates/bags automatically. I still can't cook, so I'm eating store-bought bread and recycling the bags.

While checking out Flobots on Last.fm, I serendipitously fell into a community of people with the goal of community-based change. Check it out here (and make me a friend if you join): Fightwithtools.org. A bonus of this group is that it's centered around local music, which is one of my great loves. Might as well have a good time while making a better world.

I've been looking into what kinds of messages are most likely to increase awareness and encourage change. I'm coming to the conclusion that lecturing people about the benefits of changing is probably on the bottom of the list.

At the top of the list is nudity:

Lush Employees Go Naked


And then laughter:

Silly Canvas Bag Song

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Plastic Universe

Yesterday, after spending most of the day researching the blog post I wrote about plastic debris in the ocean, I felt I had a good grasp of the problem and a reasonable list of steps to take. Satisfied, I got into bed, put in a movie, and abruptly noticed I was feeling nauseous. "What's up with that?" I thought back to the frozen meal I'd had for dinner, it's plastic tray still part of the litter on my desk.

Plastic.


"I don't need frozen dinners. I'll eat sandwiches," I resolved.

"Bread comes wrapped in plastic," whispered an evil voice suspiciously like my own.

"I'll learn to bake bread," I countered. The nausea worsened, and not just at the thought of eating my own cooking. The bread machine I would want to get would be made of plastic. ("I'll make bread from scratch!") The turkey for the sandwich comes in a plastic zipper bag. (I'll get it at the deli without a bag!")

I got up and opened my fridge. Yogurt - plastic container. Blueberries - plastic container. Vitamins - plastic container. (Don't ask why I have vitamins in my fridge.)

I took a deep breath. I can give up yogurt, buy apples, get vitamins in glass bottles. It's fine. Go back to bed.

The evil voice became a gnarled finger pointing accusingly at the hairspray bottle on my dresser. Plastic.

"No, no," I told it. "This doesn't mean I have to give up hairspray." Does it? While the evil voice/gnarled finger shouted, "Down with the unreasonable beauty standards created by the cosmetics industry!" a vainer part of me was appalled at the idea of spending the rest of my life with hair that wouldn't stay in place.

I pulled the blankets over my head. They brushed against the plastic lenses of my glasses. In defeat, I picked up the plastic remote and turned on the movie I'd picked up from the library. "I'll figure this out tomorrow!"

The movie was "Into the Wild." After five minutes of watching it I realized what it really means to flip the board

"Am I ready to do that?" I asked myself. "Maybe not go live in the Alaskan wilderness, but set my money and my I.D. on fire? Give up everything to find what's real and true?"

"Yes! Um... ok, no. How about I pretend to do it and then come back to my regular life at the end of the day?"

I'm finding that as much as I yearn for it, as much as I must have it, change is scary and unsettling. Even small changes like resolving to have messy hair and to eat apples instead of blueberries. Maybe Christopher McCandless was on the right track by giving it all up at once, diving into ice cold water instead of dipping a toe first.

I'm not ready to dive in. I was always the girl who got into the pool one inch of skin at a time. It may be time for this to change too, but today it's enough to step into the water.

I don't have to cross the English Channel. I can just get my feet wet. I can buy some canvas bags. I can look at alternatives to plastic packaging. I can get a cookbook.

Tomorrow we'll see about learning to swim.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Problems and Solutions: Plastic in the Ocean

The video below was the catalyst that started my quest for change. Until I saw it, I was oblivious to any complicity I might have in the sad state of human affairs. The problems were someone else's fault, and it was their responsibility to fix them. So long as I recycled, volunteered occasionally and didn't pour motor oil down my toilet, I was an exemplary world citizen deserving of praise and possibly awards.

I was completely delusional.

Plastic Contaminating the Ocean

When I saw this video, I realized that the decisions we make in our daily lives can have profound consequences for the lives of others, even halfway across the planet. I realized that it is truly possible to sully our world so badly that we won't be able to live here anymore.

If you don't have time for a ten minute video, here's a shorter one with less information but more emotional impact. You can also read about the problem here.

To sum it up in three sentences: The manufacture and use of plastics has contaminated the ocean to such a degree that in some places there is 48 times more plastic debris in the water than plankton. This is killing the fish and birds who can't help but consume it, and humans who eat seafood are getting their share of plastic as well. At this point, there is no feasible solution for cleaning it.


While the outlook here is on the gloomy side, we might have some chance of making it better if we at least stop making it worse. To do this, we need to dramatically reduce our production of plastics and stop making non-recyclable plastics altogether. Because a significant percentage of ocean-polluting plastics are pre-production plastics (pellets deposited in the ocean before being made into anything) recycling alone isn't enough.

Ideally, we also need to find bio-plastics that can replace the petroleum-based plastics we use now. This is the perfect time to start making this change, with the massive public outcry about our dependence on oil. We use more than 1.6 billion gallons of oil a year just to make plastic bags.


On the bright side and so you don't feel like banging your head against a wall repeatedly, here are some innovative solutions people are developing to deal with the problem of plastics. We don't have a solution for the plastic in the ocean yet, but reading about the creativity of humans in trying to solve these problems makes me feel like we might eventually have one. Plastics can be biodegradable, can be made back into oil, and can be made out of non-toxic materials (you can actually buy these now).

Here are steps I'm going to take to help:

1. Stop thinking that "disposable" means "goes away." There isn't anywhere for it go. What I throw away today I may find on my dinner plate tomorrow.

2. Reduce my use of plastics as much as possible. Buy glass bottles instead of plastic, use canvas grocery bags, avoid plastic packaging.

3. Recycle any plastics I can't avoid using. Whole Foods stores have bins now for recycling plastic bags.

4. Clean up plastic litter when I see it in the street. A large percentage of plastic in the ocean comes from urban runoff.

5. Buy used instead of new. This keeps the plastic item out of the landfill and out of the ocean. It also keeps another one from having to be manufactured.

6. Pressure the companies I buy from to switch to bio-plastics or other more environmentally friendly packaging. Write to them and let them know I'm not buying their products until the packaging changes.

7. Write to my congressman and ask that action be taken. Encourage bills that reduce the manufacture of plastic, encourage plastic recycling, support research into alternatives and support the adoption of those alternatives.


8. Donate to organizations that are working to solve the problem. Algalita Marine Research Foundation, Ocean Alliance, Center for Ocean Solutions.

9. Spread the word. The more people who know about the problem, the more pressure there will be on industry to change.

Taking some or all of these steps with me? Let me know in the comments. I'll keep you updated on my progress as well.

Have ideas of more that can be done? Disagree with me about an aspect of the problem or the usefulness of any of the steps? Share your thoughts!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Small Steps

Heady stuff, that first entry.

“Just what are you trying to do here, change the world?”

Why not? I’ll admit, my resume doesn’t show much previous experience with changing worlds. I’ll also admit that sometimes changing my phone battery is more than I can deal with. Nonetheless, I got bit hard by the “DO SOMETHING!!!” bug and it’s looking like I’m not going to be able to shake it.

My first step was to start this blog. There is power in announcing intentions publicly, even if the public is completely disinterested and not even looking.

Flipping over the collective game board is obviously not something I can do by myself. I can flip the bird (or the board) to the powers that be, throw down my pieces, and exit the game, but without community I will only succeed in removing one player from the opposing team. This in itself may be a spectacle worth watching, but my real hope is for this blog to create a dialogue where we can learn from each other and encourage each other to take the steps necessary to create change.

Change is rarely a tornado that sweeps through and destroys the old ways of doing things in a terrible instant. More often it is one person taking a small step and sharing it with another who takes a small step and shares it with someone else. It is as much or more about changing ourselves and changing the way we live our own lives as it is about changing “them.”

This blog will explore some of the issues facing us as a society and look for steps we can take towards changing them. It will also explore smaller personal and ethical issues that may not seem earth shattering at first glance, but can we expect our leaders to buck the status quo if we never question it in our own lives?

With the Internet connecting us, we can collaborate and learn from each other in ways that weren’t possible a decade ago. We have all the tools and resources we need to make a difference.

Heady stuff, indeed.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Letting the Pieces Fly

Everyone has heard the saying, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

I am part of the problem.

I realized today that if I want to be part of the solution, I have to take action. I have to change. I have to do it now. There will be no solution if people like me just look at the mess humanity is making and shake our heads. If I can see the insanity and yet continue to participate in it, how sane am I? Don’t answer that.

It seems to me that humanity is playing a game with rules that will never allow anyone to win. We created the game and we wrote the rules, but even as our game is destroying us we won’t stop playing. If we want a better world (or more likely, any world at all) some of us are going to have to start breaking the rules. Some of us are going to have to refuse to play.

I am burning my rulebook. I am flipping over the board and letting the pieces fly. I am not playing the old game anymore.

Want to join me?