Archive for the ‘Social Issues’ Category.

Why Seattle is Awesome

Sparkling sapphire water + emerald hills + clear fall sunlight + Mt. Rainier + seaplanes + sailboats + family + friends + the smell of fresh and salt water on the breeze + other real mountains + fast wifi everywhere + my sweetie Conal with me = Awesome.

The view from lunch:

Autism Service Dog for James

My friend Kate in Seattle has a young nephew, James, who is coping with autism. Today, I received an email Kate forwarded from her sister-in-law requesting financial help in obtaining an autism service dog for James.

The family is seeking 1350 people to donate ten bucks in order to raise the funds needed by June 6th.

Details from James’ mom Raven are as follows:

Hey All:

James and his dream dogWe need your help. For about the third year in a row, James has had a very difficult April and May which ultimately resulted in increasing his anti-anxiety medication. He is finally doing better, but he has lost a lot of his skills. Apparently, May is a very difficult time for many Autistic children in this area as the seasons change and things get a bit more frenetic at school.

After talking to James’ Neurologist, teachers and therapists, Mark and I have decided to apply for an Autism Service Dog for James. The Neurologist, Dr. Stobbe, has seven other Autistic clients with service dogs and says that James is a perfect candidate. These dogs help relieve anxiety, keep kids from running away, help keep the children focused at school, and provide a constant in the child’s life as the dog goes everywhere with the child. Dr. Stobbe is even hopeful that we can wean James off his medication once he is used to working with the service dog.

Even though there is usually a one to two-year waiting list for programs, we have found a highly-recommended program that has room in its February graduating class for James IF we can raise the necessary money ($13,500) by June 6th, 2008 (TWO WEEKS FROM NOW). (This covers less than half of the cost that the organization puts into the dog and includes two weeks of training - one week at the facility and one week at our home!) Here is the link to their website:

Our hope is to get 1,350 people to each donate $10.

We’re asking YOU to do TWO things for James:
1) If you are able, please donate $10.
2) Please forward this email to anyone whom you think might be willing and able to also donate $10.

Checks should be made out to ASDA (for Autism Service Dogs of America, a 501(C)(3) organization). GIFTS ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE TO THOSE WHO ITEMIZE.

If you are OFF-ISLAND (or prefer the mail), here is the address.
James McCrackyn
PO Box 1451
Vashon, WA 98070

If you are ON-ISLAND, you can drop off your donation at any of the following locations:

R. Peter Lake, CPA, Bank of America, Beachcomber, Bob’s Bakery, Cafe Luna, Fair Isle Animal Clinic, Green Ginger, John L Scott Realty, Little House, Minglement, Monkey Tree, Pandora’s Box, Thriftway, True Value, Vashon Book Shop, Vashon Print and Design, Vashon Tea Shop, Windermere Realty, Zoomies

I have also attached a flyer.

Thanks so much!


I did not know there even was such a thing as an autism service dog and I think it’s totally awesome! I hope you’ll be inspired to contribute, too.

Pangea Day

David Pogue, tech writer for the New York Times, posted an article about Pangea Day, the TED wish project of Jehane Noujaim, a documentary filmmaker. Her wish was to create a one-day, global film project promoting understanding between cultures. The attention from TED really did the trick, and her project looks like a wonderful success. I love this idea! Now I just have to figure out a where I can watch the films.

Economic Gobbledygook ~ To Grok or Not to Grok

Thank goodness, and David Leonhardt of The New York Times, for this article on the credit crisis.

When the distress in the credit industry began to percolate last summer, I started reading a great deal more financial news than is normally my habit. I’m interested in the issue of consumer credit, having long had some vague unease about the level of consumer indebtedness that the average American carries. Opportunities to go deeply into debt abound, as anyone with an address for credit card offers to flood into can attest. The escalating problems in the credit industry got my attention in an “Oh no! I knew this house-of-borrowed-cards was going to implode sooner or later!” kind of way.

I figured that if I read enough and studied the matter I would be able to follow events and understand them, if only in a broader sense, to help me contribute to prudent decisions regarding our own household spending. Should we purchase a truck with borrowed money or cash, or not at all? Should we continue our usual spending patterns or cut back? At first, I followed along confidently in my reading of the unfolding events. But then I noticed aspects of the deepening crisis I was reading about starting to sound like some kind of made-up language.

Continue reading ‘Economic Gobbledygook ~ To Grok or Not to Grok’ »

Wal-Mart Finally Tellin’ It Like It Is. A Bit.

The New York Times (login may be required) posted an article today about Wal-Mart’s new product review blog, which they call Check Out. I had previously only been aware of Wally World’s crap-orate BS sites, aimed at polishing the company’s increasingly tarnished rep, and which were finally shut down. Kudos to Wal-Mart for giving up on pulling the wool over our eyes.

Dear friends and family, who are likely the only ones reading this blog o’ mine, you may be aware that I’m not a huge fan of Wal-Mart. Even so, I’m smiling to read the Times’ assessment that Wal-Mart has really and truly unleashed its buyers to speak freely. And not only about laptops and video games, although tech reviews are a foundational part of the blog. These are apparently real people, speaking up in their own voices in real time, and without much editing of their content by the higher-ups.

My God, they are even quoting Robert Scoble. What is the world coming to?

I’m choosing to believe that the world is moving, if oh-so-agonizingly slowly, toward the point where corporate-washed PR attempts to disguise the true inner workings of a company no longer work, and that we’re getting a peek into the testing of a more open, people-centered business culture. I’m betting that the results of this test will be very positive, and that the “preserve and protect” cultural and business model has got one more (granted very, very tiny, but hey, they all count) chink in its well-oiled armor. After all, everything Wal-Mart does, whether for good or ill, is hugely impactful. What if all that inertia were to moving toward a model of openness, inclusiveness for all, evolution and aliveness? The mind boggles.

That doesn’t mean I’ll be shopping there anytime soon, though.

Is that a Sea Change I See?

There probably was a time in my life when I wasn’t discouraged by and resigned to my gloomy evaluation of our government as at best ineffective and wasteful, and at worst corrupt and actively damaging humanity’s chances of creating a culture of peace between all nations (gee, thanks, Dubya, don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out). I just can’t remember any such a time. I have generally felt best while maintaining an intentional distance from that world, since I haven’t had a lot of hope that it will ever be any different.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty ImagesMy guess is that I’m not alone in my discouragement. I have been watching from a half-interested distance as the 2008 presidential primaries proceed, seeming to be pretty much business-as-usual, if rather a closer horse race for the Democratic nomination than has been seen in some time. I’ve felt bemused and sad to realize that in the first woman with a real chance at the presidency I don’t recognize womanly characteristics that would make her winning a big deal to me. Okay, so she cried. Once.

Now, I don’t know enough about Senator Clinton to speak from anything but the very vaguest of impressions. I think that in itself speaks to the condition of this political moment for a lot of people, especially women who value increasing the feminine perspective in high-level government. A woman as the leader of the free world would be… wow. That would be something, wouldn’t it? Well, maybe, but if Hilary gets in there I don’t have any sense that it would be a big deal, just business-as-usual, only with skirt suits.

Barack Obama, I have been repeatedly hearing, is a voice for true change, and not just because of his race. One quote I enjoyed: “My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or blessed, believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success.” Hmm. I liked what I heard. Could it be safe for me to poke my head out of my secluded valley and pay attention?

And still my apathy endured. The first Ms. President? The first African-American president? Sure, I can see the interest (and irony) of having one of each valiantly vying for the job, but who cares? I just want somebody to stop the war, give some priority to helping poor and uninsured folks instead of the already wealthy, to balance the budget, and through skillful diplomacy and peace efforts restore our place as a concerned and effective world citizen. The next president can be green with purple polka-dots, for all I care.

So how is any of this same-ol’ same-ol’ worth my (and your) precious RAM today?

Well, today, my apathy and resignation took quite a jolt in the pants.

Continue reading ‘Is that a Sea Change I See?’ »

Choosing to Shop at Wal-Mart (or Not)

Although I’m not often vocal about my views on the matter, people who know me well know that I purposefully avoid Wal-Mart. I have yet to set foot in one of their stores, and my intention is to take my business elsewhere. Always. My resolve is tested more strenuously living here at Murray Creek, in that the Wal-Mart store in Jackson is by far the closest big box store to home. Target is a half hour further away in El Dorado Hills, along with my favorite big box store, Costco. So far, though, relative convenience of location has not tempted me to shop at Wal-Mart.

Last night, I finally got around to watching Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, a 2005 documentary film by director Robert Greenwald. The movie paints a rather grim picture of Wal-Mart’s policies through interviews and stories of people impacted by them, including business owners forced to close their stores after Wal-Mart opened nearby, and who were upset about huge tax subsidies paid to Wal-Mart, about employees kept to part time hours or forced to work overtime for no pay, whose paychecks were not enough to feed their families and pay medical insurance premiums, of the drastic measures taken by the company to thwart efforts of workers to unionize, about small towns whose business districts were decimated by Wal-Mart, and about discriminatory practices against women and minorities, to name some of the topics. If only half of what is reported in the movie is true or indicative of real systemic problems, it would still be a deeply disturbing tale.

The movie ends with stories of people working to stop Wal-Mart stores from being opened in their neighborhoods, and invites us to take action as well. Overall, the impression the movie gave me was that Wal-Mart is a monster that must be stopped. Note the movie poster pictured here, which further illustrates this perspective.

Although I have made my choice not to support Wal-Mart, I don’t think it’s quite so cut and dry as Wal-Mart=Evil.

Continue reading ‘Choosing to Shop at Wal-Mart (or Not)’ »

Solar Dreams

Today is the rainiest day I remember here at Murray Creek since April. It is more like a Seattle day than a California day. I smiled to notice that the Google weather forecast icons and temperatures for here and for Seattle are almost identical for this week. It has been raining non-stop since last night, including one period of extra heavy rainfall today that resulted in new baby creeks forming all of a sudden on the hill behind our house. Thankfully, our erosion control efforts are paying off and the chocolate-colored water is being diverted past the house with no harm done, other than a muddy driveway.

I’m snuggled up near the wood stove with the lappy. Being able to heat the house using wood we salvage from the property is pretty awesome, and gets me thinking about other ways to go “off the grid.” Conal and I are interested in solar power, and had heard from a friend that there were technological advances afoot. Turns out, they are afoot practically in our back yard.

When we not-very-seriously considered installing a solar system at our house last summer, the price was much higher than we had hoped it would be. Our considerings were quickly downgraded to never mind. But perhaps the cost of solar is about to get a lot less prohibitive.

I’ve just been reading about Nanosolar, a company based in Silicon Valley that today made its first commercial shipments of thin-film solar cells, according to a press release. I’m excited and inspired by this company’s story, and by what the future may hold for them and us. The new solar cells are no thicker than a layer of paint, and could be built into lots of surfaces. Home roofing materials, sure, but how about the roofs of trucks and cars? Neat!

I came across this wonderful quote a few days ago, and I just love it. It seems apt here:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller

The folks at Nanosolar aren’t spending time grumbling about our addiction to fossil fuels or the high cost of alternative energy. They mapped out a daring path to make the old model obsolete, and seem to be well on their way to doing just that.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying listening to the rain and imagining what the world might look like if - I guess I should say when - affordable thin-film solar cells are readily available and in wide use.

No Meat No Mo’

“If you gave me a million, zillion dollars and said give me a plant that doesn’t have E. coli, I couldn’t do it,” said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “It’s not about the will. It’s about the ability.”

The quote above from this New York Times article (user account may be required), illustrates just one of the reasons for my shift away from a meat-centric diet. Mr. Osterholm is referring to the difficulty of preventing disease from entering the beef production system due to the bacteria-ridden, utterly icky process of high volume, factory farm butchery. Even if I didn’t get the shivers over the cruelty of factory farming, the yuck factor regarding the mud and poop that can’t help but be part of the process would scare me off steak anyway.

I’ve eliminated all beef and chicken, and nearly all dairy, from my diet. I have eaten an eensy bit of shrimp, halibut, and salmon in the last month or two, although I’m sticking almost entirely to fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains, and legumes. This evening for dinner, for example, I made a lovely green salad with nuts and dried fruits, steamed baby peas, and sweet potatoes with vegan buttery spread (Earth Balance — so awesomely deelish, non-GMO, and organic). I don’t miss cow one bit.

Veggie BrainI’ve read that the amount of plant energy and water required to raise a cow is many times that required to sustain me directly. I like knowing that by choosing a vegetarian diet I’m consuming substantially less resources. Once raised, the cow of course then has to be butchered and shipped to me, consuming still more resources, including fossil fuels. And ultimately, the end product may be contaminated with poop! Ay carumba.

I adore animals and have enjoyed my friendships with a wide variety of pets including horses, rabbits, dogs, cats, turkeys, chickens, sheep, doves, pigeons, and goldfish. Although I’ve never owned a cow or a pig, I got to hang around those species as well through friends and as part of 4-H activities and fairs and such. I enjoyed them all. As a kid, a friend and I once scared the pants off our parents by running away from home because we were mad about my friend’s cow being butchered. My family dabbled in raising chickens, turkeys, and rabbits for meat. I ate the meat, and remember feeling unsettled and weird about it, aside from the unpleasantness of the butchering process itself.

When I think of the animal that a piece of meat came from, I really have no desire to eat it. It’s important to me to make conscious decisions in my life, and I think I’ve just been choosing to remain unconscious about eating meat. I don’t envision myself as militant about it, just more in touch with my own compassion for other creatures and my concern for making choices that result in a decreased environmental impact.

And back to the poop thing, I’m struck by how industrial farming encourages disease. Consider this excerpt from the Vegetarianism article on Wikipedia:

In 2003, an article in the Journal of Dairy Science found that between 30 and 80 percent of cattle carry E. coli O157:H7.[47] In that same journal article, a quick fix was pointed out: Cows that are switched from a grain diet to a forage diet saw, within 5 days, a 1,000 fold decrease in the abundance of strain O157. But until changes like this are made, the source of many E. coli outbreaks will continue to be high-yield (industrial) meat and dairy farms.[48]

More likely, rather than change the way cattle are fed or raised on industrial farms there will instead be pressure to find technological solutions like food irradiation, plans for HACCP, or simply cooking burgers longer. Suggestions like this have led some experts, like Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley, Michael Pollan, to suggest that “All of these solutions treat E. coli O157:H7 as an unavoidable fact of life rather than what it is: a fact of industrial agriculture.”[49]

So, the meat industry apparently recognizes that, as part of the industrial model of production, poop happens–especially when frightened animals face horrific death and in some cases torture. Allowing animals to forage isn’t profitable, so hey, how about irradiating meat? Just get over it and cook my meat longer? Yikes.

How about instead I just say, “No meat no mo’!”