I Almost Bought the Story of Stuff at Powell’s Last Night

Story of Stuff Book CoverWhat a treat to see Annie Leonard at Powell’s last night talking about the new The Story of Stuff book. Powell’s ran out of copies for sale, so I left empty-handed even though I was all set to buy it. I’ll have to trot down there later for a copy.

Leonard’s approach to engaging people on this complicated issue — a straightforward animation that explains the problem of over-consumption — now has over 8 million views online around the world and has been translated into 12 languages. This is a great example of how effective communication is key to pushing for any deep change. The video keeps it simple and relevant to our daily lives. Watch the Story of Stuff if you haven’t already.

At Powell’s, she touched on so much, but the hour just flew by. Some highlights from her talk:

She opened by explaining why we should buy the Story of Stuff book for $8 more from Powell’s than from Amazon: local jobs, and an independent businesses that our community loves (she mentioned a fleeting fantasy about getting trapped in the store for weeks by an earthquake).

www.ban.org: the Basel Action Network. The Basel Ban is an international set of agreements to eliminate the trade in toxic waste. Left to our own devices, wealthy nations would just turn less-wealthy nations into our landfills. “No” says the Basel Agreement. But there’s a lot to do to stop our international toxic dumping.

March 22, 2010 was also World Water Day and the same day that The Story of Bottled Water was released. Another great animation explaining a deep idea. In this case, the idea of a “manufactured need.” Bottled water empires, beware! Soon you may have to start picking up after yourself.

GoodGuide.com, a guide to products that have been rating along different social responsibility scales including the environment, the supply chain and labor.

But what I love is that Leonard talks about taking individual action, and she pairs it up with a commitment to systemic change. It’s not enough for us to change our own individual shopping habits, we need to press for broader changes. This is apparently what she digs into in the book. The Story of Stuff video, after all, explains more about the problem of over-consumption than the solution. But the book has it all.

So, I’ve signed up for email from them, and fully expect to wind up engaged somehow with this project. Over-consumption is choking the world, and like many other U.S. exports, is harming the world and ultimately making us less safe. We need to figure out a solution — as individuals, communities, and as a part of a global community.

Portland in Solidarity with People of Iran

I made it to the candlelight vigil in solidarity with the people of  Iran at PSU last night.  There were over 300 people there to show their support, and people observed a moment of silence for those who had been killed by “security forces” in Tehran. I got my “We are all Iranians” button and ran into only a couple people I knew — it’s always great to see unfamiliar yet friendly faces at peace events.

There were a couple folks taking pictures of the vigil with a camera (as opposed to me taking pictures with my phone). There are some photos of the vigil up on Flickr.

It’s important for people in Iran to know that the world is watching, and I have participated in Amnesty’s call to the Iranian government for restraint. (I’m sure that the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei doesn’t read his own email, but someone does.) Even if you can’t make it to a vigil, it is a way you can be in solidarity with the Iranian people.

Of course, I wasn’t actually sure why I was even supposed to email the Ayatollah Khomenei. I will confess to not always understanding all that I have heard on NPR about the Iranian election so far, or what I have read on Twitter. I found this Time Magazine who’s who in the struggle within Iran helpful. Of course, Time doesn’t mention the protesters, but it does help to distinguish the political leaders and political bodies from each other. I also found this commentary by Hamid Dabashi helpful (thanks for posting it to your blog, Gabi).

And, look! A vigil the same night at University of Washington — I found these beautiful photos from the Seattle vigil on Flickr. As President Obama has said, the world is watching.

A Sad Day for this Trekkie

I finally went and saw the new Star Trek movie, and enjoyed it…  and that’s the problem. Great visuals, cool gadgets, beautiful faces, a driving plot that kept my eyes riveted to the screen… but Gene Roddenberry’s gift for holding out a hopeful vision of the future? Gone, baby. And two of the most important topics taken up in the Star Trek canon,  racism and genocide, get short-shrift in this cupcake of a movie (**beware for spoilers**)

The original series broke ground on the topic of race, which I was blissfully unaware of as I sat next to my big brother watching the series in the 1970s. Gene Roddenberry’s “western in space” balanced the familiar and the unfamiliar in just the right mix for this little girl.

The familiar:  ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys,’ guns, a ship run like a naval vessel (except with photon torpedos!), the red-shirt crewman to let us know danger was lurking (by dying in the first two minutes after you see them).

The unfamiliar: a multiracial bridge crew that included a Russian (we were fervent anti-communists in my family, so this was a big deal) and a guy with pointy ears from some other race. A different race, not as in, from Asia or Africa, but a completely different race! This Spock guy could knock you unconscious by pinching you, he had a mind like a computer… and he could read your mind if he touched you!

Star Trek made certain that Spock was fascinating, which brought us kids back to what is true but was obscured by racism in our everyday lives: that people different from us can be interesting to get to know.

In Spock, Star Trek gave us lessons about racism without talking about racism.  The multiracial bridge crew taught us that in the future, racism as we know it now will be a relic: there was a black woman on TV who was not a maid.  Star Trek offered us more than the familiar when it came to race.

When Roddenberry ‘rebooted’ the series in 1987, it was with the “Next Generation” (STNG to us Trekkies), and it too, found a way to balance the familiar and unfamiliar. A Klingon was now on the bridge crew, to re-invoke the theme that enemies eventually become allies. Given how race had changed, STNG now had multiple Black recurring characters.

STNG was explicit in its view that we would learn to get along, or perish. It offered mild rebukes to the original series, with more profound roles for women (up to a point), and a captain who preferred to talk before firing the photon torpedos. STNG mirrored the timing of my own life, as I left home in 1987 and left behind some of the conservative ideas I had about war, peace, and cooperation. I was an adult just in time to appreciate that I was watching a moral tale with cool special effects.

STNG needed scarier villains, and tougher topics to take on, and wound up with the genocidal Borg, who brought us fear, homicidal nano-probes and mass destruction for many seasons. Then came the episode, “I, Borg” in which the Enterprise has an opportunity to destroy the entire Borg race, and are forced to acknowledge that they would, in turn, be committing genocide. You can try watching just that episode, and maybe you’ll get it, but some of it would be lost on you if you haven’t seen all the evil that the Borg do. They’re the enemy! Then comes a moment when we get to know a single Borg, and our certainty about what is the right thing to do dissolves.

The Star Trek franchise, at moments like that, is science fiction at its best: offering just enough of the familiar for us feel like we know what we would do. Then the perspective shifts just enough to force us to question what we think and believe and eliminates the easy answers we thought we had.

But the 2009 film has rebooted by jettisoning Star Trek’s chance to take on anything tough. It takes all the hard-earned prestige of the series and spends it all on pretty effects and cool outfits (excuse me, extraordinary effects and outstanding outfits). Forget tough looks at race or genocide.  Okay, sure at first Spock and Kirk don’t get along, and by the end of the film, they do. But it’s a personality conflict, and not even a particularly deep one. If this were an episode of “Moonlighting” I would expect more tension then the whole, “you cheated on my test” conflict they begin with.

There is the same multiracial bridge crew that was radical in the 60s, but now is a cultural status quo. There is no conversation about race that is even vaguely unfamiliar.

Genocide comes up, but hardly as a moral issue. 6 billion Vulcans are killed by a Romulan villain, but there is only screentime for Spock’s immediate family. Genocide is a prop in this movie, and the Vulcan people have become the infamous “red-shirt” characters from the original series, who die to let us know that someone who really counts is at-risk (in this case, Earth).

And what should happen after this genocide? “Let’s go get that m—-f—r” guides the day.  As the viewer, we get to wallow in our righteous anger at the villains, and that’s  about it.

This movie is like a light and fluffy cupcake topped with two inches of buttercream frosting. I savored details like the new bridge design, the nuanced acting, and those cool parachutes. I am sure I will see it again, and enjoy it.

But some part of me feels like I’ve let Gene Roddenberry down, for loving this movie’s bling instead of being loyal to the heart of what he did for so long: teach me to question myself if I want to become something new and better.

As one person who has been changed by Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, I can’t help but feel like it’s a sad day when I enjoy a Star Trek movie where the future is pretty much like the present, but with better effects.

Oregon Divesting from Iran: Bad Idea

I just learned from the American-Iranian Friendship Council that the  Oregon Senate passed a resolution calling for the state to divest from businesses with ties to Iran. This is a poorly-conceived bill,  based on “enemy-of-the-month” thinking that has placed Iran in the crosshairs for the last couple years (again).

The resolution attempts to create false links between Iran and our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but will possibly wind up depriving people of food (for example, Oregon farmers sell wheat to Iran) and curtail legitimate businesses when we’re all already facing hard economic times.

Senate Bill 633 passed the Senate 27-3, but I’m proud that my Senator,  State Senator Margaret Carter, did the right thing and voted against it along with Senators Burdick and Metsger. (To see the vote results, you can run a search for SB 633 on the Oregon Legislature’s bill search page).

We have to make sure that this horrible bill doesn’t pass the Oregon House.  Rather than continuing to demonize the Iranian people, we should be looking for ways to decrease tensions in the region.  I’ve already emailed my rep, the great Representative Chip Shields, earlier today.

This could totally sneak in under the radar and will cause hardship for many ordinary people in Oregon and Iran. Take five and send a message to your Representative today before this bill is sitting on the Governor’s desk.  (Not sure who to email?  Let the Oregon Legislative website help you find your Rep)