Archive for September, 2009

Where’s your trash going?

If you read just one item this evening it should be this article:

“Smuggling Europe’s Waste to Poorer Countries.” The New York Times.

European governments increasingly mandate that companies recycle their waste or dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way. But green disposal of thousands of tons of waste is expensive, so several corporations have found a cheaper way to get rid of their trash: send it to the global south.

In some European countries this is illegal, and inspectors chase down those who ship their waste to countries like China and Brazil. But in the U.S., where disposal laws are much more lax, sending our broken refrigerators, cracked ipods and beat up televisions to Brazilian backyards is quite alright.

The article points out some of the major obstacles to creating a greener, more sustainable world system.

Read the article. Let me know what you think.


A life, online.

I’m working for a think tank at the moment, and today I attended a two-hour info session on the use of twitter to promote progressive ideas.

As I fidgeted in my seat and watched the panelists attempt the ridiculous task of tweeting while talking about tweeting, I thought a lot about how our lives have moved online. As a writer and a photographer, the computer is my best friend and my worst enemy; it feeds my creativity while it eats it, and the more the internet allows me to feel connected to people around the world, the more it makes me feel isolated and alone. The more time I spend in front of the screen, the more I feel that the computer controls me, and not the other way around.

Anyone else relate?


News roundup

Some reading material …

High Five Nation, The New York Times, David Brooks

An excerpt: “When you look from today back to 1945, you are looking into a different cultural epoch, across a sort of narcissism line. Humility, the sense that nobody is that different from anybody else, was a large part of the culture then.”

Young Adults Likely to Pay Big Share of Reform’s Cost, The Washington Post, Shailagh Murray

An excerpt: “A 2008 study by the Urban Institute found that more than 10 million young adults ages 19 to 26 lack health insurance coverage. For many of those people, health-care reform would offer the promise of relatively inexpensive individual policies, which do not exist in many states today. The trade-off is that young people would no longer be permitted to bet on their good health: All the reform legislation before Congress would require individuals to buy at least minimal coverage.”


Individuality — a defining characteristic?

Today the debate reopens on health care reform.

This is what intrigues me:

Many U.S. citizens have characterized change to the current system as requiring a shift in fundamental American ideals. Specifically, many see change as a threat to that red-white-and-blue strain of American individuality.

This debate segways into a great question —  Is individualism the defining characteristic of U.S. culture, and does changing our health coverage system threaten it?

Bill Robinson, a doctor in Bozeman, Mont., whose quote is featured on the back page of today’s New York Times, explains why health care reform is so contentious in the U.S.

American culture simply has never been based on caring about what happened to your neighbor. It’s been based on individual freedom and the spirit of, if I work hard I’ll get what I need and I don’t have to worry about [the] fellow that maybe can’t work hard. It’s a pretty cynical view of America.

But I honestly think that drives an awful lot of this debate — the notion that I’ve done my job, I’ve worked hard, I’ve gotten what I’m supposed to get. I have what I need and if the other people don’t, then that’s sort of their problem. And unfortunately the big picture — that our nation can’t thrive with such a disparity between the rich and the poor, the access people and the disenfranchised — that hasn’t seemed to really strike a chord with Americans.

So your average person actually has fairly good access. They’re happy with their physician and they’re really frightened that something’s going to happen to that, on behalf of people that maybe they don’t think it’s their job to take care of.

Does his definition of American culture line up with yours? His point is supported by other quotes featured in the same Op-Ed.

Adam, from Grand Junction, Colo.

Our founding fathers went to war to throw out tyranny, to overthrow a tyrannical government without proper representation. We are about at that point now. We’re here to say we want our country back. Health care … is socialism. And socialism is not an American value. … No, I do not have health insurance. I’ve never had insurance. [If I need medical care] I should pay for it. I’ve been to the doctor one time since I was 12 years old. I paid the full bill. … If I truly needed, had a medical need, I have a catastrophic plan that I bought. But it just covers something that’s truly catastrophic. Has a huge deductible. And if that came about I would pay that. You know, you don’t look for a handout.

Anonymous nurse, Western United States

When you come to the West, you have a different mentality. There’s an independence and an individuality here that you don’t get anyplace else, because when you’re in the city, you’re kind of like part of the hive … Here, people are really, really proud, and they cherish their independence. And they cherish the fact that we are all individuals. And that’s what we’re afraid of, is that we’re going to lose our individuality and we’re just going to be part of the hive. If you’re just part of the hive, then what are you going to do? You’re going to cull out the weak links. You’re going to cull out the lady that’s on crutches and got diabetes, because she may be a good grandmother and she may be a good person, she lives by herself, and her house is paid for, but you know, her medicines cost a lot.

So are changes to the system menaces to individuality? And in the pecking order of U.S. ideals, does individuality trump concerns for your neighbor? Why? Is health care reform a sign of encroaching socialism*? Are we all going to become part of the hive?

Food (ahem, medicine) for thought. Read the full article here: Obama’s Audience Speaks First.


*Why is this a dirty word in the U.S.? A topic for another post.

How’s the crisis affecting you? Pt. V

Photojournalist Traci White sent in her comments on the way the crisis has changed her life and the town where she lives. Traci speaks Dutch, spent a summer photographing gay and lesbian lifestyles in the Netherlands, and works for the Danville Register and Bee in Danville, Va. She’s 24.

How has your life been affected by the economic crisis?

A year out of college, I have already had to reapply for my job as a staff photographer when my newspaper’s media corporation decided to “reorganize”  my paper. Each employee who was lucky enough to make it through the layoffs has taken two weeks of furloughs throughout the year, has had mileage compensation decreased, has had approved work-related travel distance shrunken, and no overtime permitted at all. We have also decreased the number of printed editions by leaving newstands empty and had our deadlines cut back by an hour because our paper is now designed and printed in another city.

I am so grateful to have a job that I try not to dwell on how difficult it has become to be a good journalist in such a barren media landscape, but it’s difficult to ignore when you’re confronted with these constraints at every turn.

What have you rethought, or what have you done differently because of it?

I have rethought my future career in print journalism, much as that breaks my heart. Even though I still have a job, seeing how tentative that security is has definitely motivated me to seek out freelance and become an associate with a wedding photography business to make up for the lost income this year. I’ve never been a big spender, but the other young professionals in town and I are more likely to stay in for a game night than a night out for bar hopping.

How do you think American culture will change because of the economic crisis? Have you seen changes already?

Danville, the town where I’m working, has basically been kicked while it was down by this economic crisis. More than 20% of the people in the town worked either in the textile mills or the tobacco warehouses, and in the past 15 years those industries have completely disappeared. As such, the unemployment rate has remained in the teens for most of the past decade, but it has surged close to 20 percent in the past year. An enormous colony of strip mall stores was approved for the city a year ago, and half of its stores remain unfilled, and their promise to bring jobs has proven empty as well. However, new businesses are slowly refilling the deserted warehouse and mill district by the river, and signs of economic progress can be found if you look hard enough.

I welcome your insight …


On blog hiatus

[in NYC]

Check back in a few days.


Let’s look outside of the bubble now. Pt. II

Alana Ramo, who majored in International Studies, lived in Argentina and shares my affinity for a good mate (what’s that?), had some excellent comments related to the previous post.

First of all I think the term “economic crisis” is a global term.

In my personal life there is definitely an “economic crisis” happening, but I believe that has more to do with my fondness for boutique cupcakes and expensive shoes than the economic recession in the US. From what I have seen during my travels, I believe the rest of the world is more caught up in our economic crisis than we are.

True, my parents who own a restaurant in Hendersonville, N.C. have had to tighten their belts on expensive purchases due to a large fall in the number of customers this year, and we have had to act with a bit more caution with our money overall. But I believe this crisis is much more significant for those residing in the global south.

Every day in Argentina I watched the headlining news, the papers, the conversations in coffee shops and they all centered on what the US dollar was doing that day. In fact, I believe the term “crisis” is meant for those living in the sphere of US influence rather than those actually living in the US.

A fall in international trade has led to this GLOBAL recession. So although I’m pulling my hair out trying to find a job in a limited hiring atmosphere at least my money isn’t steadily turning to dust or my country spiraling into another economic collapse. I think our generation should acknowledge that we are all of extreme privilege and that having to cut back on eating out is only a nuisance, not a crisis.

Thanks Alana.


Let’s look outside of the bubble now

So far I’ve used this blog to talk about the way the U.S. is changing: What are we thinking, doing and creating differently in a post-Bush world? How has the economic crisis affected us?

For a moment I’d like to take a giant sidestep out of this bubble and ask, How has the economic crisis affected the rest of the world? We’re not the only ones changing, and it’s important to recognize that changes here translate into changes abroad, that decisions made by our government — and decisions made by us — affect workers and families abroad. (Again, watch this video for more inspiration — we’re all connected!).

I turned to my El Salvador correspondent, Alia Malik, for some insight.  Alia made a reputation for herself at The Baltimore Sun, where she wrote stellar stories about neighborhood tree disputes. She now lives in what she calls “the pineapple capital of El Salvador.” She’s 23 and in the Peace Corps. (Read her blog)

Have salvadoreños changed their views of the U.S. in the past year? I’m particularly interested to know if you’ve noted a difference since Obama’s election or since the crisis hit.

Salvadorans in general have a positive view of the states, considering literally a third of their citizens are there now.  Actually a positive view might be an understatement; a lot of them tend to think of it as El Dorado and are surprised to hear there are poor, unhappy gringos too.  A lot of the Salvadorans I talked to were very happy that Obama was elected, just because of his race, even though they don’t know much about his opinions.

The economic crisis in the States has affected El Salvador hugely. People’s remittances from their family in the States have plummeted, and a lot of Salvadorans who risked their lives to immigrate illegally have voluntarily returned because they can’t find work in the States after all.  So they move back home and start farming again and it’s kind of sad.  If there has been any change in the general impression of America here, I would say it’s that Salvadorans have realized that the U.S. is not El Dorado or the answer to all their prayers.

How has your life been affected by the economic crisis? What have you rethought?

My life has been completely changed by the economic crisis. I am re-thinking my goal to be a journalist, which previously never faltered in the face of great odds, because almost none my friends who graduated from j-school with me have managed to keep a job in journalism, even though they were stars in school.  I always joke that I’m better off economically in a Third World country right now, but it’s true.  I am toying with the idea of going to grad school for multimedia journalism when I finish up in the Peace Corps, but no even sure how I’ll afford that.  So in other words, I’m kind of panicking.  The upside is that I am here until November 2010, so maybe things will have turned around at least a little by then.  I know too little about the economy to make any kind of intelligent prediction, but that at least is my hope.

I’d like to make a note about the point of this blog. As much as I throw out the term economics, this blog is not about money or finances — it’s about people and ideas. How is a changing economic reality transforming the way we view ourselves? How is it changing our expectations, our immigration patterns, our families, our lifestyles, our ideals?

So, for those of you living outside the U.S. how has the economic crisis affected your country? And on a somewhat related tangent, have views of the U.S. changed since Obama’s election?


News roundup

“One Man’s Trash …” Kate Murphy, New York Times

This will be the only time I post something from the “Home & Garden” section of a newspaper. But this is just fascinating — Dan Phillips a former Army intelligence officer,  college dance instructor and syndicated cryptogram puzzle maker (what?) has spent the last 12 years building low-income housing out of “trash.” In Texas.

He’s used wine corks for flooring and old picture frames to cover ceilings. Check out the photographs here.

“You can’t defy the laws of physics or building codes,” Mr. Phillips says, “but beyond that, the possibilities are endless.”

“Urban Chickens: The Latest Trend in New York City” Huffington Post/MSNBC

Chain smoking hipsters are no longer the only creatures in Brooklyn — now the chickens are moving in.  New Yorkers are buying their own chickens and keeping them at home, really taking “eat local” to a new level. Watch the video.

I’m curious — you urbanites out there, have any of you seen this? My roommate in Buenos Aires made her own yogurt (hi Mechi!), but I never saw any chickens in the city …


How’s the crisis affecting you? Pt. IV

I received some thought-provoking comments yesterday from a college friend. I’ll call him Jake. He’s one of those rough-and-tumble journalists who will do anything for a story, and I know we spent at least one evening speeding around in my Civic, chasing crime in Chapel Hill. I promised him anonymity, although I’m pretty sure he’d never grant it to a source. He’s 23.

At first I was lucky: I got a job just before the worst of this recession, or depression, or whatever the hell it is, hit. And so, while I’d been pretty poor in college, I became broke at a much higher level, which was lovely. Eventually, though, the economy caught up with even the rural little town I was holed up in. There was a sharp pay cut for everyone who still had a job, and I went back to being just plain broke.

I didn’t like that very much, though I don’t think anyone does, really. I started looking for a better job the day they announced the pay cut, and it took me three months. I’m now in a nicer town, making a little bit more than I did when I first started out, though everything here costs more, too.

I’m doing alright, but I’ve had to sweat and run a bit to hang on to what I have. That said, I eat plenty of meals out, buy booze each week and generally have the sort of life I want to live. What’s a little sweat?

I like “Jake’s” attitude — What’s the big deal if we have to work a little harder?


PS. Read Ben’s comments on “Changing our habits.” Thanks Ben!

What is this blog?

The "Unstatic Blog" documents the changes going on around you and me. It will ask and answer — and then ask again — how is your world changing? Read and participate in the conversation.


/ˈstætɪk/ –adjective 1. pertaining to or characterized by a fixed or stationary condition. 2. showing little or no change: a static concept; a static relationship. 3. lacking movement, development, or vitality