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SR Sanders on "Breaking the Spell of Money"

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Think of someone you love. Then recall that if you were to reduce a human body to its elements--oxygen, carbon, phosphorus, copper, sulfur, potassium, magnesium, iodine, and so on--you would end up with a few dollars' worth of raw materials. But even with inflation, and allowing for the obesity epidemic, this person you cherish still would not fetch as much as ten dollars on the commodities market. A child would fetch less, roughly in proportion to body weight.

Such calculations seem absurd, of course, because none of us would consider dismantling a human being for any amount of money, least of all someone we love. Nor would we entertain the milder suggestion of lopping off someone's arm or leg and putting it up for sale, even if the limb belonged to our worst enemy. Our objection would not be overcome by the assurance that the person still has another arm, another leg, and seems to be getting along just fine. We'd be likely to say that it's not acceptable under any circumstances to treat a person as a commodity, worth so much per pound.

And yet this is how our economy treats every portion of the natural world--as a commodity for sale, subject to damage or destruction if enough money can be made from the transaction. Nothing in nature has been spared--not forests, grasslands, wetlands, mountains, rivers, oceans, atmosphere, nor any of the creatures that dwell therein. Nor have human beings been spared. Through its routine practices, this economy subjects people to shoddy products, unsafe working conditions, medical scams, poisoned air and water, propaganda dressed up as journalism, and countless other assaults, all in pursuit of profits.

Read the entire article: "Breaking the Spell of Money" by Scott Russell Sanders, Orion

Magic by the Lake*


Check it out:


The water at the northwest corner of the Great Salt Lake is pink. It's PINK. According to the Wikipedia entry on the Spiral Jetty, the color of the water "is due the presence of salt-tolerant bacteria and algae that thrive in the extreme 27 percent salinity of the lake's north arm, which was isolated from fresh water sources by the building of a causeway by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1959."

The reason I discovered this is of course that I visited the Spiral Jetty, which I've wanted to do since I moved to Utah. In case you haven't heard of the Spiral Jetty, it's a sculpture constructed in 1970 by American sculptor Robert Smithson. It's hard to describe why this counter-clockwise spiral of rock jutting into a lakebed is so magic, but it is. It just is. Even with no water lapping at the rocks, it's magic. I was going to offer a feeble but inadequate account of why it's magic, but then I decided I'd just offer some photos instead--I'd let this be one of the times when a picture stands in for 1,000 words.

this upset me so much that I had to stop it twice and put my head between my knees.

Watch this. Pay attention to this. The oil from the leak could coat the entire east seaboard--and then reach the beaches of Europe.

Greener Mayo

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Yesterday evening I got a phone call from an administrator at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix in response to the letter I sent in a few weeks ago, expressing my concerns about Mayo's seemingly nonexistent environmental policies. I neglected to note the name of the administrator, which I suppose is just as well, as his identity doesn't really matter; what matters is what he told me. He said he had called me because it seemed easier than writing a letter, and as he was still at work at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, I have no problem understanding why he would want to save a little time.

What he had to say was pretty reassuring overall. I wasn't so thrilled when he explained that Mayo discourages people from using the stairs because a few patients have tried to use the stairs, then fallen down and broken stuff. OK, I don't want sick people falling down and injuring themselves either, but I still don't see why signs leading to the stairs can't be available for others. Or why there can't be a sign requesting that patients use the elevators, out of concern for their well-being, but for anyone else who wants to take the stairs, well, hey, they're right over here.

But he told me that Mayo does a lot of recycling; it just happens behind the scenes. He said that at one time there had been bins in the cafeteria, but people hadn't sorted properly--which is essential to effective recycling--so now most of the recycling happens after the trays are returned. (Make a note of that: if you ever go to Mayo, send all your plastic back on your tray; don't throw it away.) He told me that they recycled vast quantities of paper, metal, glass and plastic--as much waste as possible that they themselves, rather than visitors to their facilities, produce.

Beauty: Sustainable or Not?

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Green Mormon Architect has an interesting post on the idea that "only beauty is sustainable," which I cannot link to because he has made his blog private. (GMA: wtf? I doubt being "green" or an "architect" is much reason to take a blog private. Must have something to do with the "Mormon" part....) He writes, "If the community doesn't embrace a building, the building will not be saved or preserved when the time comes. Unaesthetic buildings will not last and are unsustainable even if they have a LEED rating." He then provides a photo of the Mark Miller Toyota building in Salt Lake City, and it is indeed pretty damn hideously ugly despite its LEED gold rating. He adds, "I will be the first in line to tear this building down when the time comes." He notes that the SLC Library has no LEED rating, but is a beautiful, functional, inviting building, and adds, "I will be the first in line to preserve this building when the time comes."

Sustainability in relation to buildings generally refers to the amount of resources they use in their building and maintenance. You know: are renewable materials used responsibly in the construction of the structure? Are the environmental considerations of the building site reasonably attended to? Are energy-saving features incorporated into the design? Of course it's possible to attend to questions like that and still produce an ugly building. GMA's example of Mark Miller Toyota illustrates that perfectly well for me. I also have a feeling I might not be such a fan of the LDS church's new stake center in Farmington, despite the fact that it "is insulated with polyurethane foam, uses highly efficient windows, carpet made from recycled materials, tankless water heaters and European-style toilets that offer the choice of little or lots of water with each flush"-it still probably looks like an uninspired, unimaginative LDS building. Plus I'm guessing that those "highly efficient windows" don't provide for much light or ventilation, making the building as dark and stinky as most LDS buildings from the past 30 years generally are.*

I'm not entirely sure that ugliness is unsustainable--there's plenty of very old ugliness in the world--but I like to think that we might someday achieve a world where that's true. And while I believe in and support the goal of sustaining beauty, I want to discuss the challenges it involves.

An Order of Green Mayo, Please


a letter I sent to Mayo Clinic this morning, about its environmental practices, which quite frankly stink.

Mayo Clinic
13400 East Shea Boulevard
Scottsdale AZ 85259

Dear Mayo Clinic Administrators:

On Friday, March 19, 2010, I visited the Mayo Clinic Hospital and Specialty Building on the Phoenix Campus with my mother, who was a patient of your clinic. [a bunch of redacted stuff about my mom's doctor, who was great, and the fact that the lab lost my mom's blood work, which her doctor said happened all too often.]

I would also like to bring to your attention a few matter unrelated to my mother but still of great concern to me. When I went to the Hospital with my mother for some tests, we used the elevator to get to the second floor. I left her while some procedure was performed, and went to get a cup of coffee. I tried to use the stairs, but couldn't find them, largely because there were no signs leading to the stairs. (This could be very bad in the case of an emergency.) Eventually I simply took the elevator down to the first floor, which required me to wait for an elevator and also needlessly used electricity, two things that really irritate me. When I wanted to return to the second floor, I asked the volunteers at the help desk where the stairs were. "Why do you need to know where the stairs are?" one of them asked me.

"I like taking stairs," I said. "It's one way I get exercise. Plus I hate waiting for elevators."

"Our elevators are very fast," the volunteer replied.

"Not if a lot of people are getting on and off at every floor," I said. "And anyway, what does it matter to you if I want to take the stairs?" Still nonplussed that an able-bodied person would voluntarily climb one flight of stairs rather than take an elevator, they gave me directions, which proved inadequate. I gave up and took the elevator again.

The Right to Have Plans of Any Significance


I just finished a book that I never would have read--or perhaps even come across--had not a friend given it to me for my birthday: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. It's long and dense, all about a topic I have never before thought much about: what makes for a vibrant, safe, interesting, pleasant city?

The short answer is that great cities are diverse, and diversity is created, Jacobs maintains, through four primary conditions:

Loss, Made Concrete, in Concrete


Here's a link I found way back in July or August on a friend's Facebook page. I saved it to blog about and look how long it has taken me... It seems appropriate to post the link after yesterday's entry on loss, since these images of the Ruin of Detroit all depict great loss. They are gorgeous photographs of tragic and appalling ugliness and waste. I personally HATE tragic and appalling ugliness and waste--I mean, it really, really upsets me.

I have never been anywhere in Detroit except the airport, but I flew in and out of it enough times to thoroughly assimilate the fact that "Detroit is in the eastern time zone" (I could even understand the Chinese version of that announcement) and so developed an affection for the city. Plus it's my friend Jim's hometown. Plus, it became the Motor City only because my old home of Erie turned down Henry Ford's request to build an automobile factory there.

See, Henry Ford wanted to build his factory in a port city very close to the ports of Buffalo and the steel mills of Pittsburgh. And there happens to be a port city almost midway between Buffalo and Pittsburgh, which is--that's right--Erie.

But Erie city fathers told Mr. Ford, no, we don't want your nasty factory. Take it some place else. So he went to the port city on the other side of Lake Erie, which was Detroit.

Erie is solidly in the rust belt and has plenty of urban decay, but it's nothing like Detroit. So perhaps the decision of Erie's city fathers, which seemed very foolish long about 1950, was actually wise in the long run.

In and Around the Lake

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As I have mentioned, Lake Erie didn't do all that much for me, except for the part where all the water in it fell over a bunch of rocks and flowed into Lake Ontario. Lakes really aren't my thing.

I now live in a city with the word "Lake" in its name. I haven't spent much time at the Great Salt Lake, I confess, and I didn't make it a priority to visit it when I got here. There have been a few times on visits to SLC in the past when, driving past the lake on the way to the airport, the sulfurous stink of the lake was so unpleasant, that I wondered why anyone would ever visit it at all.

But then, in March, I needed something to do on a pleasant Friday afternoon, so I went to Antelope Island, a state park on an island in the northern part of the Great Salt Lake, reachable by a long causeway.

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

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I love cats. I love little cats, I love big cats. I especially love tigers.

Spike sent me this link to a slide-show of portraits of 18 Bengal tigers. All 18 photos are really cool. I did not know there was ever such a thing as a "golden tabby Bengal tiger," much less than there are a mere 30 of them left in the whole wide world. I'm glad I got to see such amazing portraits of a few of them.

Here, kitty, kitty!


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