And the Pursuit of Happiness review

What a name for a blog, And the Pursuit of Happiness.

The blog’s beautiful, but it’s not really a blog. It’s a place that, once a month, displays a new piece of written and visual art—created by author and illustrator of children’s books Maira Kalman. It was one of the most popular items on New York Times‘ website recently, which is how I found it.

Here’s another thing the blog isn’t: it isn’t focused on people pursuing happiness. Its name is more a reference to its decidedly American focus, and also its storyline that there is happiness here, despite the myriad and potentially devastating problems inherent in our system.

I like Kalman a lot. She acknowledges the problems, but lets the columnists deal with them. She’s resolved her little corner of the Times is gonna be about the good people are doing and trying to do. It’s not reckless promotion but, rather, she realizes that sometimes journalism means telling, simply, the happiness people have and bring to others. Kalman’s a good journalist.

Continue reading

Consumerism as conspiracy (and I believe it!)


The interior of the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street. In the Victorian style, it's cluttered with stuff. (Creative Commons-licensed photo from the Flickr account of practicalowl)

Here’s an article written by a professor in my academic department, Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin. I haven’t yet had her in class; she’s on sabbatical this semester.

In this she’s written the most complete, historically accurate magazine-format depiction of planned obsolescence I’ve ever read. And I’ve read several great ones.

Planned obsolescence is, in my own words, designing something to wear out, give out, or otherwise become unusable or out of style after a certain amount of time. Which prompts the consumer to buy another.

It hasn’t always been around; in fact, it has only governed business practices in the last 80-90 years, and, arguably, the vast majority of it has popped up in the last 40 years.

In my opinion, it’s dishonest. In most cases, we (well, industrial engineers) know how to make stuff last, say, ten or a hundred times as long as it “normally” lasts in our experience. Why don’t we? People like to make money.

Obviously it’s destroying our planet, and to a certain extent, our souls, if you believe in that kind of thing. I like good product design as much (and probably a lot more) than the next guy, but what happens to our humanity if we’re never satisfied with what we have?

One man asked that and came up with the “100 Thing Challenge,” where he sold, donated, or put into storage all his possessions except a carefully-chosen 100 things—for one year. He got coverage by Time magazine online and now has a book deal with Harper Perennial.

My sister today said something like “I’m against the production of new stuff.” She thinks the world has everything it needs, and if we just passed it all around—Freecycle, that sort of thing—we’d all be better off.

I’m not there yet, but I’m on my way.

Best of Twitter 5: Links to others’ green stuff part I

Flickr CC photo from susiepie.

Flickr CC photo from susiepie.

Contest: What’s the “greenest” concept you can think of? Mine is the “100 Thing Challenge.” Only 100 personal possessions. Could you do it? 2:11 PM Feb 20th

And visit— a site (and book) that ranks companies for responsibility. Almost all products have a better option. 11:01 AM Feb 25th

Cell phone radiation harmful? Who knows, but I won’t take chances. This low-rad cell list is constantly updated: 12:19 PM Feb 26th

“How am I gonna find these local farms to sell to me directly?” Excuses, excuses. Almost everyone has one nearby. 10:15 PM Feb 27th

I may not have mentioned The Story of Stuff here. Shame on me. Ever wonder where your stuff comes from and where it goes? 10:22 PM Feb 28th

NPR’s Morning Edition today had a story on my friends’ green economic development coalition. 86:31 PM Mar 3rd (See next tweet, also)

As a matter of fact, I’m a guest blogger on their site, Remember Wilmington, Ohio from 60 Minutes? Yeah, that’s us. 6:32 PM Mar 3rd

You’d think someone would have come up with this a long time ago: postage for sending AND returning – 9:26 AM Mar 6th (See next tweet, also)

In case it wasn’t clear, two-way postage eliminates the need for envelopes inside envelopes. Death to the SASE! 10:12 AM Mar 6th

Planning for a speech about organic food. Using Ann Cooper’s “Lunch Lessons” and George Pyle’s “Raising Less Corn, More Hell” 2:21 PM Mar 28th

My ideas on organic food line up closely with Mark Bittman’s when he wrote a week ago: 2:47 PM Mar 28th

Do you read Orion? It’s the artistic, philosophical side of the environmental movement. A brilliant and beautiful magazine. 9:41 PM Apr 1st