Monday, June 21, 2010


I finally finished reading Autophobia over the weekend. It wasn't a hard book to get through - the writing is very engaging, but the book gave me so much to think about that, long periods of deep thinking were needed on a regular basis. I read this book over the course of nearly 8 months - so when I state that I spent a lot of time thinking about the 200+ pages, I really did spend a lot of time thinking about what I was reading.

If it isn't evident from reading this blog, I have a love-hate relationship with the automobile with my feelings leaning more on the hate side. I personally love driving and I especially love driving large pickup trucks. I find driving to be very enjoyable, relaxing and a luxurious activity. My general attitude toward the automobile is often the result of feelings I cannot control despite my attempts to do so - my animal instinct, if you will. My feelings stem from my inability to accept reality as it exists: my refusal to acknowledge that the automobile has provided many people with many benefits, provided much comfort and security.

My inability to accept this reality and the knowledge that many people want to drive stems from my knowledge that the automobile is still a very new invention, but one that has changed history in numerous ways.

Brian Ladd's Autophobia, has finally allowed me to accept reality. I've finally gotten to a place where I don't have to hate the automobile, where I can acknowledge the power, the convenience, the troubles and its influence it has had on the world I'm currently living in. The book has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding into human beings and our complex relationship with the world around us.

In other words, I no longer feel smug when I read about people complain about increasing gas prices - I have managed to develop genuine empathy. Yes, I'm the ass who used to gloat when people suffered.

For the longest time, I think a lot of my hate stemmed from the fact that I had a visceral belief that those who owned and operated an automobile were happier than me. I was blinded to the fact that the automobile is both a blessing and a curse to the owner. I allowed myself to engage in thoughts that aren't very nice. And those thoughts made me feel terrible about myself as a human being.


Unless you're living under a rock, you're probably aware of the oil spill that has been ongoing for a while now. You've probably seen the photos depicting birds and animals drenched in oil, about the destruction of Grand Isle and all the other things being written about and lamented over.

For the first few days, I avoided reading or watching anything about the oil spill. Then I did, and temporarily spiraled into depression and then snapped out of it just as quickly.

The reason I snapped out of that pit was because I began to see my own implicit role in the disaster. I am equally to blame in the mess. My life and lifestyle and my very existence contributed to the disaster in untold ways. While I do try to be mindful in how I live, I have done things that would not be possible in a world without (still) cheap oil. Actions that would not be possible if companies all over the world were not drilling into the depths of the earth. Blaming some third party justifies and elevates my own consumption patterns without acknowledging my implicit role in this oily mess.

Putting the blame on external entities allowed me to engage in a perverse combination of self-hate and smugness. The mess happened because of our collective desires and wants and inability to let go of all the comforts, conveniences and cheap goods that make our lives more comfortable and convenient. Autophobia allowed me to understand and accept my role in how everything around me operates.

So when I state that the Autophobia has affected profound changes in the way I view the world, it is not an exaggeration. I feel that as long I'm living in a world where my daily world is surrounded by the automobile, I will be much more at peace acknowledging their power and presence and ubiquity, rather than not.

And so I'll end this post with Autophobia's conclusion,

It does make sense - if we understand the automobile to be a fundamentally benign (or desirable) tool. It makes sense if we assume that the earth and the market and the cities will somehow accommodate hundreds of millions of additional cars in China and India. It makes sense if we believe that our increasingly car-centered lives are indeed the lives we want. It makes sense if we can agree that the dark side of automobility is a price worth paying for its blessings. But we have never agreed about these matters, and we never will.

I originally posted this review, on my bike blog.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Crude Awakening

I'm spinning off the printed path to post a trailer for an excellent documentary that I just watched called Crude Awakening. I ordered it before the Gulf Spill and it seems especially relevant now. What can we do to get off oil, and on to non-polluting and clean energy options? I think the first step is to truly recognize the problem.

This documentary explores the history of oil as well as the known and associated problems with ongoing use. Politics, pollution, wars, and economics are all explored in a straightforward documentary style.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sewing Green

Sewing Green: 25 Projects Made with Repurposed and Organic Materials by Betz White caught my eye on the hot new bookshelf at my local Library and I quickly snatched it up. It holds a variety of projects that the sewing novice may be able to approach and use. At the least it gets the creative juices flowing for how one may be able to repurpose existing resources.

The introductory chapter has information on how one can start to think with a repurposed mindset as well as a few tips of keeping vs. cluttering. Author Betz White also gives handy tips on types of materials, and intersperses the book with green tips of an interesting nature. She includes a wealth of links for more information and resources, and introduced me to the concept of fabric swaps and swap-o-ramas.

My favorite project in the book is the Take it Easy Lounge Pants, and one that I may actually try. They look comfy and light, perfect for some old sheets that I have been hanging out in my closet. I actually seem to back burner buying things like nightclothes and jammies for myself, so this seems like a nice project to try that would be guilt free. The wool shrunken socks look like a great way to make slippers off the thrift store sweater that we all encounter at the end of season.

I'll admit that I might not try the Capri Sun auto shade, but some of the other projects like Reusable Sandwich Wraps seem right up my alley. Plenty of pillows, a leaf themed scarf, draft blockers and napkin rings are just a few of the other projects included in the book.

This is a book that I would recommend for some concrete projects, good for the crafty seasoned or a nice jumping off point for the Greenie seeking ideas. 143 pages, indexed, lots of additional resources and ideas, beautiful photography and patterns.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: Practically Green

Practically Green: Your Guide to Ecofriendly Decision-Making by Micaela Preston is a colorful, easy to read, green guide you will use over and over. It has great pictures and DIY projects anyone can do.

I couldn't put this book down. Each chapter gives you information on buying greener products and making your own. This book is great no matter what shade of green you are. Micaela is not preachy and understands you can't do it all. She is totally honest about what she does in her own life and let's you know she isn't perfect either.

My favorite chapter is the one on cleaners, she not only gives you cut out guides for what to look for in cleaners but how to make your own. I can't wait to try her "recipe" for Lavender Orange Room Spray.

Practically Green is a must have for anyone trying to be greener. It's amazing all the information that is packed in this book. Be sure to check it out as well as Micaela Preston's blog, Mindful Momma.

Here ya go FTC: I was not paid for this review. I was given sample products for the review but these are my honest views.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book Review: Smart Mama's Green Guide

Smart Mama's Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child's Toxic Chemical Exposure by Jennifer Taggart is a valuable resource for parents and those just wanting to reduce the toxins in your life. While the topics are often scary, like learning there may be lead in your kids' toys, Jennifer does a good job of not getting you too worried and giving you options to fix the problems. Jennifer knows we can't do it all so she helps to let you know what is most important and cheaper ways to fix problems.

You will learn what dishes are safe, ways to find out if your house has lead paint, which organic foods are most important and, of course, you will learn all about BPA and how to avoid it.

With learning that costume jewelry may now have cadmium (which is replacing lead) the chapter "Busy Baby, Busy Mom: The Playroom and Baby Gear" could be very helpful. She gives simple steps to reduce exposure to toxic jewelry. One tip that is highly important is to "check the recall list." This is a good reminder for everyone right now.

I just finished the book a week ago and have already found myself checking it before buying some items like the cookware I just got. Well, for most books borrowing is best, but this one may be one you want to think about owning as it is a wonderful resource book. I know I will be going back to it often.

Here ya go FTC: I was not paid for this review. I was given sample products for the review but these are my honest views.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft

I just finished reading Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford. A friend had lent me the book and the title alone had excited me.

The book talks about a lot of topics that we environmentally-conscious bloggers have been writing, reading and talking about these past few years. The books talks about the decline of shopclass in high schools and the move to create "knowledge workers". It discusses the distance between where something consumable originates from and where it finally winds up. It also discusses the disappearing handmade goods industry that is now slowly making a comeback, and the lack of pride in work. In other words, the topics in the book was something that would really appeal to all readers of this blog.

The book is also a narrative of the author's own life to date. The author, Matthew Crawford, obtained a PhD from the University of Chicago and then moved to Washington D.C. to head a conservative think tank where one of his duties was denying the existence of global warming (if I understood him right). Besides ethical dilemmas with his job, Crawford also missed working with his hands on motorcycles - a task that given him much satisfaction in the past.

He eventually quits his job at the think tank and moves into other cubicle jobs for very little pay. These jobs continue to bring him dissatisfaction until he decides to go back to working on motorcycles, and thus working with his hands to create a tangible result for which he can feel honest about the living he is earning for himself.

Crawford has an essay on The New Atlantis that covers the message of Shop Class as Soulcraft well.

When the ladies here at the Blogging Bookworm initially invited me to post to this blog, I was excited to post a review of Shop Class as Soulcraft. I thought I would enjoy it and that I would highly recommend it to everyone.

Unfortunately, I thought that the book was very poorly written. I enjoy books that are well written and impart information in an easy to digest manner. This book was written by a former academic containing loads of academic jargon that people hardly use outside of a university funded research paper. The entire message in the book could easily be boiled down to a single page. As such, the book was a real struggle to finish. I wouldn't recommend the book, but I do highly recommend the message. To conclude, I'll quote an excerpt that state the message well:

To live wakefully is to live in full awareness of this, our human situation. To live well is to reconcile ourselves to it, and try to realize whatever excellence we can. For this some economic conditions are more favorable than others. When the conception of work is removed from the scene of its execution, we are divided against one another, and each against himself. For thinking is inherently bound up with doing, and it is in rational activity together with others that we find our peculiar satisfaction.
Rated: 2 out of 5 (I'd give it a 4 for message, but the writing was not to my liking. If you are an academic, the writing will be more to your liking.)

: To anyone interested in reading about one person's perspective on making and fixing things with one's own hands.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Big-Box Swindle: The true cost of mega-retailers and the fight for America's independent businesses

Following on the tails of my latest read, The Way We Eat: Why our Food Choices Matter, Stacy Mitchell's Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses (2006), was not an intentional companion to Singer and Mason's book on food ethics, but certainly a fated one. Both published in 2006, where The Way We Eat was a primer on all that encompasses the ethics of eating, Big-Box Swindle tackles the hard-core realities of what chain stores do to our local communities and economies... and it isn't pretty.

Here are some highlights. Big-Box (aka chain) stores:
  • increase resource demand on local government (fire, police, utility, roads) – studies show that small, local businesses make far less demands on community infrastructure, infrastructure for which its citizens have to pay
  • decrease a sense of community - citizens of towns without big box stores are more active in their communities and local governments
  • decrease job opportunities – contrary to popular opinion, after initial jobs are gained, small businesses are forced to close their doors and in the end more jobs are lost than gained because of the efficiency of big-box stores (they can do more with less people - not to mention less skilled, lower paid people)
  • decrease the amount of revenue changing hands in a community - at least 3 times the amount of money stays in a community when you shop at a locally-owned store; more if you shop direct from a farmer or eat at a local restaurant
  • decrease product quality and push jobs overseas – the incessant demand for lower prices forces suppliers to lower their standards and move jobs overseas or else lose a significant source of income when the big-box refuses to sell from that particular supplier (keep in mind Walmart now accounts for 10% of all retail sales. That's serious power!)
  • increase urban sprawl leading to increased car use and pollution – big-box stores operate on the fringe of communities, unlike small local businesses which tend to be central to the community, located near homes and restaurants.
  • increase the tax burden on local citizens – big-box stores use their size to manipulate local governments into tax breaks which means local businesses and citizens must make up for lost revenue
  • decrease the quality of living – big-box jobs are lower in pay and benefits than jobs at local businesses
  • increase the threat to the environment – every big box stores comes with its own massive parking lot, one of the biggest sources of highly-concentrated water-way pollutants; big-boxes are famous for clear-cutting land and destroying natural habitats
  • decrease individuality by creating cookie-cutter communities
  • decreases personalized customer service – salespeople were once experts on their products and knew their customers likes and dislikes, taking the time to get to know their customers, helping best meet individual customer needs. Big-box associates are reprimanded for spending too much time with customer. Their job is to move product as quickly as possible.
Disgusted? Even knowing some of these things, I felt despondent at all the havoc these chain-stores leave in their wake, the manipulation they calculate behind doors at board meetings. And we're not just talking about Wal-Mart here (though they are the easy fall-guy), but Target, Costco, Barnes and Noble, Kroger, Bed Bath and Beyond, Home Depot, Old Navy, Best Buy, PetSmart - you get the idea - are all culprits.

Interesting to note, was that today's growing anti-chain movement is not the first. In the 20's and 30's politicians actually ran on platforms of preventing big-box expansion.
Opponents argued that chains threatened democracy by undermining local economic independence and community self-determination. As they drove out the local merchant – a “loyal and energetic type of citizen” – the chains replaced him with a manager, a “transient,” who was discouraged from independent thought and community involvement, and who served as “merely a representative of a non-resident group of stockholders who pay him according to his ability to line their pockets with silver.
Wow! Sounds familiar, doesn't it? The bottom line is we've reached that time again, where we as citizens (not consumers) need to take a stand on the future of our communities. Thankfully, the book concludes on a positive note, citing examples of successful anti-chain campaigns. There is hope. But like anything else, the first step is awareness, and that awareness is sorely lacking in the U.S. today.

Big-Box Swindle is a powerful ally in the buy-local movement and a must read for those wanting to live a life of mindful consumption. Don't set foot in another chain-store until you read this book. You (and your community) will be glad you did.
Rated: 4 out of 5 (I'd give it a 5, but it was so full of data, it was at times hard to concentrate - you have to take your time on this one)

Recommended: to anyone who wants to live a more mindful, citizen-driven (not consumer-driven) life