How Slow Can You Go?

This Wall Street Journal article uses an example I’ve brought up before to say that guilt is the route to greener behavior. No, it isn’t.

Washington, D.C., imposed a five-cent tax on every disposable bag, paper or plastic, handed out at any retail outlet in the city that sells food, candy or liquor, effective Jan 1. But more important than the extra cost was something more subtle: No one got bags automatically anymore. Instead, shoppers had to ask for them—right in front of their fellow customers.

The result? Retail outlets that typically use 68 million disposable bags per quarter handed out 11 million bags in the first quarter of this year and fewer than 13 million bags in the second quarter, according to the district’s Office of Tax and Revenue. That may help explain why volunteers for the city’s annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup day in mid-April pulled 66% fewer plastic bags from the Anacostia River than they did last year.

District Councilman Tommy Wells doesn’t believe it is the nominal cost that’s keeping shoppers from using bags, but rather the expectation—made clear in a very public way in every transaction—that they could make do without. “It’s more important,” he concludes, “to get in their heads than in their pocketbooks.”

This is a decent example that draws the wrong conclusions. Yes, there are measurable returns from using pricing to effect behavior – and we definitely should use them. But the green aspect of this is about as lame as you can possibly expect. Using guilt isn’t the best way to get anyone to do anything and so should be given no quarter here. Peer pressure is perhaps a different story. But invoking guilt makes this just another marketing campaign destined to lose steam after a while – or worse, avail people of a work around. Because we will find ways to feel good about who we are and what we do, even if denial is one of them. And this is a far more powerful force than any guilt that can be summoned to make you use less, walk more, take a train, turn someone instead of something on at night.

Here is our greatest possibility. We’re interested in sexy and are powerless before it. So when slow is sexy (deja, already!), and the two get connect (Hook up!*) in people’s minds, we’ve got a renewable hold on being green. We just don’t yet think about it that way.

But, take your time, fer chrissakes. With everything.

* Good grief – the  bus and billboard campaigns literally write themselves – a young man, a nipple: “Turn it off – and Turn her On!”

Ridicule never sleeps

This is off-topic, but maybe not.

So there’s event called Comic-Con; and there’s this thing called Westboro Baptist Church.

And when they met in the streets, it was Nerds 1, Self-Righteous Fanatics <0. (I don’t how you can have less than zero, except to say that they started from nothing and in the scrum were thereby reduced).

An example of the brutal havoc, via Cole.



Harvey Milk goes to NY, again. This time, somebody notices. Dig it.

There’s a lot of meta-sublimity going on right now in indie rock. Sometimes it really is sublime. Sometimes it’s a dry joke passed off as catharsis. Now Harvey Milk is on tour for a record it made in 1993 but was only released in January on Hydra Head as “S/T.” It can pass for new: it’s rugged, nobody’s heard it before and it’s not too far from what they do now. I heard it a few months ago and liked it all right. I heard the band at Le Poisson Rougeon Monday, with the monstrous drummer, and I finally got it.

Good for you, dude.

Lest We Forget

People continue to make things. Even in this head-y time of worry and recession, big-projects jam up the pipeline, small projects simmer on eternal hold while the pipeline gets dug up and re-routed… whatever. Some people aren’t waiting around. And I don’t write that to be hopeful.

It just is. Ignore it if you want to, in favor of the tired tried, if not true. The dependable is always and only just that. But the power to ignore it and move forward with your ____ is the fecund gear, the lean for the green that happens not just every spring but every day. And many nights.

And it’s one thing to do this when and if you’re being rewarded for it. And another thing again if you aren’t. What’s the motivation, then? You hold out that they’ll catch up to you, but that doesn’t last very long. Best forget about them, even as you put together that something special, something better than us because it’ better than we’ll ever be. So, who is it for? The things that last are for us all, which means they were probably meant for none. They just had to come into existence, then they just were. They fought the crushing momentum not to exist, not come into being at all, against the very inclination to even consider… what? Making something new? No. Just making something. Ignoring the fright of silence and empty reception. Sometimes, that’s the best laboratory in the world. We just forget that sometimes.

So don’t.


We’ve heard of ‘isms’.

These are some ‘ings’, (gerund-based activities) to consider after you have spatchcocked the turkey. While many double as pejorative adjectives, a majority seem to have something else in common.









































Special Ops


With these guys on patrol all over Afghanistan, and not a few of them coming back to Dover in the middle of the night, it’s good to remember that to many people, green has nothing to do with eco-anything or money and the parts it fools fools it parts from, except within the idea of protecting the liberty inherent to those conceits.

Their official motto, De Oppresso Liber, to liberate the oppressed, is truly something to contemplate. It gets complicated when you begin to unravel all of the absolutes necessary to project force with the tender skin and bones of actual men across the globe. Belief goes beyond believing, and into the land reserved for religion and reverence. And craven beings that we are, we can’t help but corrupt the selflessness of the display with all manner of politics and nationalism, righteousness and relativism that surely crushes most missions to liberate the oppressed. It’s almost impossible, but our war-making sanction, which we mistake for nature, animates so many elements of public policy that we put ourselves at the mercy of our warrior impulses. Oppressed by these very tendencies, how might we be liberated?

So while I can revel in the fact that our mighty militaristic capabilities may indeed build some bridges out of the energy morass, we shouldn’t forget those young guys, bearded against regulation but for their own protection, walking around villages and laying wait in poppy fields – scared, nervous, confident, well-armed, lost, found, known, unsure, fit, tired and certain in the face of but one of our every-present, shadowy enemies. Go ahead and try harder than them to do something impossible.

Affluence Using Less

Way less. Of everything. Isn’t that what greater efficiency in allocating increasingly scarce resources – and why we’re opposed to it – is all about? We’re scared of being poor. Any way we slice any of the barometers – peak oil, greenhouse gases, climate change… this seems to be why we (Americans) oppose any remedies – they will necessarily lower our quality of life, which to us means necessarily less stuff. Considering the literal impact of that statement, this is saying quite a lot. I always make the point that by driving less, eating less, living in cities and towns instead of ‘burbs, we’ll be changing the things we should want to change. Like Gang of Four sings – open up up the till and give me the change you said would do me good. Well, this is it.

Okay, so not everyone agrees that less stuff would be better. Some posit that we’re the best and this is the best it’s ever been. Driving, getting enraged by talk radio, slurping H-F corn syrup, ahh… passion and freedom twisted around Zion, with sprinkles. Not only that, some think, nay fear, that this is the best things’ll ever be and agitators like me are just trying to bring you all down. whatever. I am. Your mileage may vary on what qualifies as ‘down,’ and the case could be made that this qualitative dissonance is source of many ills. Unless we try to figure who and why it is that our way can’t change or we’ll suffer – god forbid! – we’re only convincing ourselves. And I think we’re already convinced.

So let’s get a beat on people who think things – especially quality-type things – are being taken away from them in the name of planetary-mindedness. Who equate less with poorer and… lower. Yeesh, we’ve got some twisted brethren.  Anyway, biking and eating fresh food from the market is for pinko commies and euro… what a minute, a lot Americans like euro-whatever – remember this? or this? There’s a thousand things those Euros like that seem cute but… well… What’s that saying, a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there? You wouldn’t? What’s wrong with you? Do you think of those people as poor or bereft? I know you could, but let’s unpack this. And while we’re at it, stay a while.

This is just to point out that the only way to know about any other places (places with different and less stuff) other than the place you live is to… go other places. The 15% of you who already have passports can go back to watching the game.

And that these things are connected.

What You See

De Stael

‘… is what you get’ is a thoroughly misunderappreciated construct, especially if considered in terms of ‘what you look at’. While you’re here, let me try to explain.

What if your biggest decision this year was about choosing a piece of artwork for your home? No, really. What if your, let’s say, sixth largest investment for the year, this year, was to be made in a painting? No really, people do this, and not just millionaires – well, especially not them. What sort of re-ordering of priorities would it take to make this a viable scenario? Even better, imagine the necessary priorities already reflect yours; what would go into the decision? Being able to afford just whatever it was in first place, of course; but what about the work itself. Deciding on something that you like today but would also be able to live with far into the future adds certain premiums to the work, maybe includes some things you didn’t know you cared about – or maybe just not that much. But… the importance of the work to your state of mind and general well-being would be well-understood; the decision itself invests you with a non-trivial amount of higher order consideraion for what you see and do, think and feel. And, one might suppose, this is how it should be.

Because so many things are or require this kind of consideration; the work you are considering bringing into your home for the long term would be necessarily bled of concepts and ideas, which would grow stale over time. Instead the work would need to be a living part of what you do, say and feel, reliably fading into the background that forms your surroundings as easily as it elevates itself for further consideration, at times. At whose choosing? Well, yours, when you decide to bring the work into your home.

So now that you’re there – here – consider this: making choices on a scale that the atmosphere might someday notice.

image: “Nice”, 1954, by Nicolas de Stael. One of the works the Obamas borrowed from the Hirshhorn Museum and other places, for their private residence in the White House.

Jim Carroll, 1949-2009

About 1989 or thereabouts, I was in college and kinda-sorta trying to help out some friends with their band in a ‘using my car and our apartment for whatever’ kind of way when they got the chance to open for Jim Carroll when he came to town to give a reading. Friggin’ Jim Carroll. We already loved him. I had read/recited A Day at the Races to my sophomore English class that same year, and was reading Forced Entries in tandem/sprinkled with Bukowski, biographies of Dylan Thomas and Kerouac in a way that made a sort of Beat stew out of almost everything that I was coming into contact with at that time, mostly in a good way.

So, of course we were completely psyched when they got the gig to open for him – a weird honor none of us were in any way accustomed to. Even though my friends had been playing shows for years by then, this seemed different, like they were on their way, stepping up into a league with people that we admired – not that our town wasn’t full similar types. But Carroll was older and cooler in a made-it-through-the-drugs way that I, at least, thought of on a different level than, say, talking to the Butthole Surfers’ guitar player at the T- stand. That kind of thing happened, it was Athens in the direct glare of late-prime REM, after all. But Jim Carroll. Man. Cool. Plus, ____ was just getting started and this seemed, in its way, hopeful about things we were just beginning to hope for.

So the date rolls around and we’re in the club that night early; they do a sound check. The sound man who wasn’t working had gone to airport to fetch Carroll and after a while, they roll in. JC seems cool from a distance and no one is crowding him – not the place or the time, though I’m sure we all wanted to. But one of the friends in the opening band that night happened to be near the back of the club where Carroll was hanging out. He introduced himself as a part of the warm-up act, but before he could leave it at that, JC let him have it.

He took what was extended of the youthful, if not tender, enthusiasm which had been cautiously if at all displayed, bent it into a balloon poodle and handed it back. He excoriated my friend about how completely %^*$ed the music business was then and for all time, how he had never encountered a more depraved, sick, twisted and retarded monstrosity even in his swampiest heroin fevers. He just went off. He said he had a band waiting for him in a recording studio in New York, all paid for a ready to go, and he would never, ever, enter that hellhole of business again. No matter what.

It was a great reading – he even whipped out A Day at the Races, amazingly. But none of the three or four of us who had been within earshot could compare it to his earlier, extemporaneous rant. It had been such a crazy burst of negativity that it could but only have been genuine. Priceless in a way that those kinds of things usually only turn out to be only kinda free. We mostly all stopped repeating it after a while, and it did nothing to deter any of those present from pursuing the desperately impossible monster of which we had been properly warned, and by a qualified elder. Nothing at all. D & E have even had successful music careers, and though the heart of the beast has changed in ways, it’s not because it has gotten softer. Those things JC warned us about probably only grew stronger in the ferocity of their truth. Actually he probably knew they would. Maybe that’s what he was saying.

And now he’s one of those friends. Rest in Peace, Jim Carroll. You tried to warn us.