Sunday, May 25, 2008


Update to my "Who are we?" post: a local blogger coined a new term that relates neatly.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Who are we?

Across Europe, filthy, fetid camps hold African, Albanian, and Asian illegal immigrants. Italy is rounding up gypsies again. In South Africa, Zimbabweans and Mozambicans are hunted by mobs and burned alive. In the U.S. we criminalize and now imprison Latin Americans. These people are being brutally punished for simply trying to live another day. Who among us would behave differently if in their straits? Of course immigration is a political and economic challenge. Of course the idea of immigrants en masse crossing borders requires a response. But did we always hate them so?

Social sustainability

It is a sad state of affairs when the passage through adolescence requires the loss of the humanizing ritual of mealtime. Let's face it, the Slow Food movement, which tries not only to restore that ritual before it is gone for good but connect people to the idea of sustainable agriculture and living, has an uphill battle.

I read about this problem today while still mulling over yesterday's PNCA + FIVE panel on Portland and sustainability. Susan Szenasy, editor in chief of one of my favorite magazines, Metropolis, moderated the discussion, touching on a few topics that merit much more attention, one of which is social sustainability.

We don't just want to preserve biological systems so that we live, but so that we live meaningfully. The loss of mealtime as a time to come together is a sign of a degraded social environment.

Biological and social sustainability are tightly interrelated because, simply put, if we don't have a reason to sit down and enjoy a meal with our kin and clan then we fail to feed our social instincts, which for eons have been the reason for our survival and the occasion for joy in living. Sustainable systems recognize the need for planning, architecture and infrastructure not just to preserve ecosystems but to bring people together in a way that supports our desire to mix and mingle.

Americans already have largely lost touch with the daily custom of coming together over the table, and it is no wonder kids don't know or care where their food comes from, or if it is really food at all. Our degraded environment is the result.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I once heard an amateur field recording ornithologist mimic the song of a few tropical rain forest birds he had identified on various scientific expeditions. He was the late, great Ted Parker, and his passion for birds was such that he had memorized the distinct songs of more than 300 different bird species. Of all the voices of the earth, those of birds, as Ted demonstrated, carry an enormous power to delight us if we listen and hear.

All I have to compare is the ordinary cacophony of early morning wake up calls coming in my open window but I'm happy for it. The wonderful sound binds me to the natural world, and its ritualization of spring is a comfort. I wake, listen and strain to make sense of the chatter. And sometimes I wonder if the finches, jays, flickers and bushtits are raising their voices to be heard over the distant roar of the highway, airplanes and other unnatural sounds.

So does scientist Bernie Krause, according to Clive Thompson of Wired magazine. Krause says biophony -- the pristine sound of the world -- is being drowned out by anthrophony, or man made noise. It isn't just that birds and other animals need to shout, it is that the spectrum on which their calls operate is being interfered with and the flow of information among and between species is interrupted. This can mean life and death for these creatures.

To my mind, this situation isn't just a matter of what we lose. Given our altered ecology, what will arrive to take their place? More red ants?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

BarCampPortland 2008

I've mentioned before how much I like being around designers and tech people. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their optimism seems of an appealingly innocent nature. So I really enjoyed BarCamp Portland, now in its second year. Here's what I noticed:

*More women this year. Yeah! There are a lot of gals who love to code, not just knit.
*More men in skirts this year. Seriously, the Utilikilt company in Seattle is getting a real following with geeks and, I've heard, with Burners (as in Burning Man).
*OpenID needs to build some steam. Last year, I succumbed to Twitter. This year, I'm checking out this tech to make my life signing on to web easier much easier. But there is no groundswell yet.
*Speaking of Twitter -- I thought I really knew about this stuff. Apparently there is advanced Twitter use of which I can only stand in awe.
*I got a new way of looking at Twitter, Google Reader, YouTube and feeds. They represent the rapid fragmentation of the Web and perhaps the rise of widgets as a means to content.

Next up: Ignite Portland 3.