Saturday, September 29, 2007

“The reliance on fossil fuels has left our atmosphere contaminated by various pollutants, and the earth threatened by global warming. Irresponsible agriculture practices have poisoned groundwater with pesticides and other chemicals while depleting the topsoil. Industrial processes produce thousands of tons of toxic wastes, while nuclear power plants leave behind radioactive waste that will pose potential health hazards for thousands of years.” Our culture, our technology, our environment, our superiority and our curse.
In the documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”, we are walked through the state of our world and how it is our moral obligation to change some key ways in which we use our technology to save our world. A little daunting, as we will have to modify the way we live, but completely attainable. The thing is, this is not a new revelation. We have been facing environmental issues for a long time.
One example is about 2900 years ago the Polynesians inhabitant of Easter Island. The settlers found the island to have fertile land, a dense and diverse forest and lush grasses. Life was good; they had many children with a population peaking around 6000. Needless to say, “the island could not support this amount of people and it could not regenerate resources fast enough”. The ecosystem was altered so radically, many species died, including most of the settlers, and the land became unsustainable. Another example is the deforestation in the sixteenth century by England. “Vast quantities of wood had been consumed by the demands of an expanding population and the growth of shipbuilding, construction and iron manufacture”. The forests were depleted. So instead of acting responsibly and with conservation in mind, England replaced their renewable resource with a non-renewable resource- coal.
I found “An Inconvenient Truth” to be very powerful; reaching the masses unlike most documentaries that just preach to the choir. And I can see the effect it is having on bringing the environment to the forefront of issues- Al Gore’s senate hearings on global warming, Tim Pawlenty’s extensive bill on renewable energy and the EU acting internally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. But why is this taking so long?
Another aspect of the movie I found interesting was the focused attention on Al Gore and his history with global warming and politics. This portion of the movie made me feel as if there were an ulterior motive – a presidential platform maybe? Thus bringing Gore’s agenda to the forefront, ahead of the environment. I would like to see us humans make a moral decision on global warming without any of the usual suspects (money, politics, agendas) tainting the issue at hand.


“The pace of change at GM has never been faster, and it won’t slow down any time soon. As we launch this annual update of our guidelines for employee conduct, Winning With Integrity, now is a good time for all of us to reflect on things that do not change at GM: our core values”. “Integrity is not optional at GM. We live it every day. It guides our decisions, our work, and our commitment to correct mistakes when we spot them. It guides us whether the company is riding high or battling through tough stretches. Integrity transcends borders and language; it’s all about promoting a culture that demands and supports proper business conduct. Doing the right thing day-in and day-out is essential to our reputation and our success”. 1 -Rick Wagoner, CEO GM

I think Michael Moore would disagree with Rick on this! With the trend to layoff, shutdown and outsource, GM is blatantly disregarding the last two, maybe three generations, who built the foundation of the company. But is it a company’s responsibility to be loyal to its employees, shareholders or profit margins? Or can you integrate all three with integrity? The Body Shop did with a philosophy of profits with principles. Whole Foods believes all levels of employees are an equal part of the company. This holistic approach makes for a stronger community within the company, from the producers or manufacturers, to the environmental impact. Which in turn will lead to sustainable development- that we meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

When workers who have no control over capital investment, product development, design, marketing and advertising decisions shouldn’t suffer because of the failures of these factors. The assembly line took away the well-rounded worker and replaced them with a disposable number. “The destruction of worker skills through mechanization and rigid centralized controls is self defeating, for an ignorant and hostile workforce means production losses as well as high cost for maintenance and direct supervision.”2 But there are some advantages for the disposable number; higher turnover rates are able to introduce new talent, cost savings through resetting salaries and a different demographic mix or a better distribution of age groups.

Corporate Social Responsibility activities seem to be most effective in achieving social or environmental goals when there is a direct link to profits. But that is why companies are started- to make money. Though, It is nice to see some companies, like The Body Shop, who are very successful and have achieved it with integrity and responsibility. Michael Moore captured GM’s intentions for the future of the company and it’s employees beautifully in “Roger & Me” when he is interviewing the rabbit woman. She is holding a cute little bunny, caressing it softly and talking to it sweetly and Moore asks what is to become of this rabbit, She replies, “Oh, this one is my dinner.”

For The Love Of Technology

Which would influence our lives more; a painting full of rich lush colors, blended together with thought and skill, brush strokes and layers of deep paint perfectly harmonized together to simulate a whole image, an image we may hope to gaze at longingly for hours, if we get the chance to visit it? Or the same image with all its beauty and richness captured in two dimensions, printed tens of thousands of times by an optical photo-conducting drum, which is used to transfer this fine black toner to the page. The drum then has to be charged to cause static electricity to repel the toner. Now with the drum charged, a laser shoots in and strafes the drum at about 300 pulses a minute. And poof, we all can buy a print of the painting, hang it in our home and look at it whenever we want. Craftsmanship versus technology and knowledge versus accessibility; which will sustain us as a whole as well as bring passion to the individual?
In Brave New World and 1984 the main characters, John and Winston, both longed for the beauty and individuality of life. In their worlds they saw a system that was flawed and an order without consciousness- for order does not allow for autonomy. If the system is to run properly all the fundamentals of that system must work in correlation with each other. In Brave New World the people were made of that system and into an element of the system, and the way to keep the machine working was soma. Through conditioned happiness and dulled senses the organization of the system was maintained. 1984’s organization worked because the energy and skills of the population were united by the use of fear. But the system in 1984 was still in infancy, the elements were unevenly developed, the goals were vague and the technology crude leaving the viewer uncomfortable and disgusted. Brave New World presents their technology as human progress in a pretty little test tube package (that probably smells nice), leaving the viewer believing a benevolent oppression is better then a violent oppression.
Our natural state, that is who we are intrinsically and how we interact with our environment, is unbalanced with technology. If a system can have an uneven process- one technology not keeping up with another- cannot humans be one of those variables? Humans are creating without understanding the consequences. We need technology because we want technology, but who takes responsibility for what it is doing to our natural state?
Without the Winston’s and John’s of the world the goal would be taken at face value and there would be no checks and balances to curb the effects of technology. We would all have very lovely, high quality printed artwork in our homes without having the tediousness of braving the elements to experience the “real thing”.

The Road Less Traveled is Not the American Way.

This is a paper I wrote about Naomi Shihab Nyes "Newcomer to a Troubled Land " essay.

As a child I dreamed of running away. I was going to go to Europe to visit old cities, winding country roads and view an enormous amount of artwork. I also wanted to go to Alaska to climb mountains and to bask in the glow of a sunset from every beach. I just wanted to go, go, go. And as soon as I got my college money, I was out the door- I went to Canada and played in every city. I went to London, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Lisbon, and Athens... Every place I went I would then mentally check it off my list, another trophy city done. I went to Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Todos Santos check, check, check. I traveled all over the United States- Austin, check. Chicago, check. Salt Lake City, check. I went to Fairbanks and on the way saw Denali, check. But I was so determined to see everything that I forget to look, to really stop and look at all these wonderful sights. I did Italy in two weeks, how can you absorb Rome, Venice and Florence in two weeks? I ran blindly. My trophy list is all I have from those years with just a few memories here and there. I was the perfect model of what America is producing now- a one-dimensional girl with no attention span. I only cared about racking up points to claim the prize at the end.
Naomi Shihab Nye’s essay “Newcomers to a Troubled Land” implies that words and destinations are subjective. Without the rich history and exploration along the way the meaning and depth may be lost. So to skip along in this multicultural world we live in is detrimental to our connection to people, the land and history.

Nye’s essay reflects an innocent journey through moments of her life as she explores this diverse world and the words we use (or don’t use) to connect ourselves to our people and land. She starts with her son renaming himself after arbitrary items, but today he is Madison (his actual name). He is writing his name, then his mothers name underneath, and he discovers all the letters of Naomi can be found in Madison. Her name lives in his name. The meaning of her first name Naomi is “pleasant”, with her last name Shihab meaning shooting star. Nye claims that her names, as a child, were hard to live up to so she tries on more common names like Susie and Debbie.
She writes about watching the assembly of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. What would happen if the last piece were set in place and it came crashing down? Or it didn’t fit? All that groundwork for nothing. The phrase “Gateway to the West” sounds so inviting; it doesn’t lead us to the bloody massacre that happened to “win” the west.
Nye touches on the missionaries not leaving her father alone, “like coming into someone else’s neighborhood and telling them how to do things”(397). Nye also writes about her trip to Hawaii over Christmas. She went to church and the daughter of last king of Hawaii sat behind her. A woman of elegance in all black, a queen-like presence in a sea of “Christmas patterned Aloha shirts” (398). A princess participating gracefully in the customs of the people who took her world away.
The name “Nye” comes from a group of Sweden’s who fled their country and resettled in Denmark in the thirteenth century. When Nye first met her husband she was intrigued with the name and really enjoyed taking ownership of it when they married. They had a Nye party- inviting all the Nye’s in town over. Also a family trip is planned to visit the original Nye homestead on Cap Cod. She is overjoyed to see how others are occupying the name and at the same time how she is adding to the history of it.
The Nye family decided to take a road trip to Oregon. Along the way a town named Nye is spied on the map and the family is elated. They must go visit! Nye dreamed about the café they would have lunch at and the neighborly people that would show them around. She panics when they drive up and there is nothing, absolutely nothing.
Nye finally writes about a nanny who had her husband confused with another Nye and how the memory and history may mean more then the reconnection.

Throughout Nye’s essay she explores names, her son’s name and her name hidden in it. She will be there with him forever, but she fears where “there” is. Our world is so meshed; will he find his identity? Will he remember his heritage? When children are raised in a multicultural environment we tend to believe they would be open to others and their differences. But a lot of people in America do not tolerate differences. We need to explore others lives, walk in their history and understand that this end point where we have met is just an intersection in a long, traveled road. Without sharing the journey with others (and embracing it ourselves) we disconnect from each other and become one-dimensional.
One of my favorite parts of the essay is Nye writing about the “Gateway to the West”.
“ I stood with my St. Louis schoolmates as the last gleaming silver segment of the Gateway Arch was swung into place by a giant crane. We held our breaths, imagining a crash as the parts clanged together, or a terrible disaster if the piece were to slip loose. Worst yet, what if the section didn’t fit?” (396-397) White American’s acquired the west through brutality. What would have happened if the west didn’t fit with the east? We built this land from the legs up and if the finishing pieces did not connect what would happen to the stability of the country as a whole? As a multicultural society we need to have the foundation set in place to hold the rest of us together. We are not a melting pot swooshing all the cultures together and watering them down, but instead a country made of different people working as a whole. All Americans need to strive to retain the integrity of their culture and at the same time, share it with others. Creating a road for future generations that embraces them individually and as part of the entire land.
Nye wrote of the Oregon settlers,” how many got all the way there, paused a while, and turned back. What was it they didn’t find?” (400). We are so busy going forward, planning the future, and finding the quickest route, we forget to use our senses. To stop, look and listen to the streams or to feel the land between our toes. We need to explore our history and people and get to know our surroundings. There is so much here to discover, why should we hastily keep moving? We ought to bring our rushing life to a standstill and learn to understand people and their relation to this land. I am no longer interested in the prize at the end, but instead traveling within my day, savoring the moment. Nye quotes Pablo Neruda who says “Why wasn’t Christopher Columbus able to discover Spain?” (397). If we are not able to know the land we live on how can we know any other?
The Oregon trip opens Nye’s eyes to how we have traded the intimacies of travel for good gas mileage, a trusted atlas and hotels. She reads about the pioneers on the Oregon Trail and all the hardships they had, but still they experienced the land and allied with fellow travelers. Nye yearns for this kind of connection. When she discovers the town of Nye along the way, she is elated. Again Nye is going to connect with people on an arbitrary notion but then discover their history. When Nye finds the town empty, she panics. She spent her childhood toying with more suitable names within this culture; she scoffed at the misconstrued name of the Arch in St. Louis, and finally she married into the name Nye, full of roots buried deep in the American soil, for what? Although she uses the name to catapult herself into the history, it in itself, at times, is empty.
One evening Nye got a call from a nanny who used to watch a boy who shared her husbands name, “Honey! I took care of babies all my life and no baby ever got into my heart like that little Nye did”(403). It was the wrong Nye. If the words and destinations are arbitrary, then the connection must happen in the journey. A shared moment. People should slow down and enjoy our experiences together. In the end it will open us up to each other, our history and land.

I agree with what Nye is requesting of us, to stop and talk to strangers. It will not solve major world problems or the inhumane treatment of people. But individually we would feel more a part of our community and this space we share. And down the road maybe this local level of understanding would grow and make it better for the next generation. Nye is passionate in her desire for us to connect on a deeper level. She wants us to open the lines of communication and cross barriers so we can develop a better perception of this multicultural world. We should have a better relationship with the people, the land and our history so we can be open to others and their differences. It is not enough to struggle to retain our own integrity in this troubled land; instead we need to talk to strangers and hear their story. To run blindly with our hands tied through a world full of light and texture is tragic. I am ready to stop running. I feel like I missed so much when I was traveling, moving and not experiencing. But I am here, standing still.

Mommy! The Anti-Feminist!

On my nightstand lies a book, Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers. I bought this book seven years ago (one from my “must read” list). Back then I would go to a café and read a book cover to cover in an afternoon. I would create the characters in my head and relate the situations to my life. I lived the book, throwing my whole being into the story, trying to understand the deeper purpose the author had for writing it. And when I finished, I would indulge in a cigarette and a last cup of coffee, contemplating the story with a feeling of ease and fulfillment. Those afternoons felt so good, and I felt so good…
Back to my book on the nightstand; Our Lady of the Flowers was taken off my bookshelf over two years ago while I was pregnant with my second child. I am not even close to finishing it yet. I see it while folding laundry. I see it while cleaning the bathroom. I see it when playing hide and seek. And when dusting it off, I see a time when my self was an important, nurtured, cared for, being. A person whose body, soul and creativity was attentively looked after and was flourishing.
Now I want to be clear, raising my children has been the most enlightening experience I have ever been through. To have a child blossom into a little person before my eyes has been absolutely amazing. And to have the satisfaction that I have instilled in that little person a set of morals that are going to enhance and guide them for the rest of their lives is empowering. But, for the last four years it has truly been all about them; for me there was not a lot of self-nurturing in child rearing. And if I did get the occasional block of time where I could try to finish my book, I was just too tired…Sorry Mr. Genet, maybe another time.

The sisterhood of women has hit a wall. How did it happen that by making the choice to stay home or to continue working after having children would pit us against each other? Mother verses mother. The family is a necessary part of life, with all its joy and exhaustedness, a hard job that can break your spirit at times. Then to have fellow sisters slinging insults at you because you choose differently is unsettling.

Here are a few I have gotten, “It must be nice to sit at home all day. Don’t you want to do more with your life? We don’t all have time like you. Doesn’t it bother you to be dependant on your husband?” And here are a few insults from stay at home Mothers to working mothers, “How can you let someone else raise your child? Don’t you miss your kids? You have so much going on, how can you give 100% to any one thing?” “In today’s society if you walk up to a woman and ask what is her career, if the answer is ‘I’m a stay at home mom, people tend to look down on her. But if she is a working Mom, they might ask, ‘how do you do it all?’” (Stay-At-Home Mothers Vs. Mothers Who Return to Work, Developmental Psychology News Letter) Guilt verses shame, uncertainty verses embarrassment, are we not all mothers? We are on the same team!
The stay-at-home mothers do give up a big part of their autonomy, their children are the focus and their own needs get put on the back burner. But, the working Mother does all that the stay at home mother does and she “works for her own psychological well-being” (Stay-At-Home Mothers Vs. Mothers Who Return to Work, Developmental Psychology News Letter) and economic stability, which will trickle down to make a happier home. Of course there is not always a choice involved. Both parents may need to work to make ends meet. Or single parents need to have a quality option for daycare while they work. Parenting is full of unique challenges for all involved, whether you stay at home or return to work. We need to work together to change the way corporate America treat Mothers in the workforce, we need to have quality daycare available to everyone and we need to respect each women’s choice.
For me, child rearing was never my first choice, but a layoff two months before my first child was born made up my mind for me. I always expected either my husband or I would be the ones caring for our children so we never considered daycare. We just happened to slip into these roles for a while, stay at home Mom and working Dad; it works and the family is flourishing as a whole. There have been many sacrifices made, but it is not forever. I am a stoic workaholic that takes her job very seriously. And I have brought that home with me.
So, if you come to my house, it will be clean; my children will excitedly show you all their favorite toys; there will be a fresh pot of coffee, and I will most likely have lipstick on. But don’t ask me what books I have read lately, because the books I read nowadays are not of the likes of Our Lady Of The Flower, but instead Where The Wild Things Are and The Giving Tree, equally important and truly “must reads”.