Sunday, May 31, 2009
Jack just graduated from Bloomington High School South, class of 2009, on the floor of Assembly Hall, the well-known basketball court. It has been a very busy few days, with his Minnesota grandparents here, and friends stopping by, with lots of reminiscing.
Congrats to Jack and his friends! We're really proud of you, and can't believe how rapidly the time has flown past to arrive at this moment. There's his contemplative Dad, in the photo with next year's roommates. His mom is rendered a little bit speechless! Here is a link to a piece by Frank Bruni, in today's New York Times, about graduation speech themes during this year of economic recession.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Consider the humble wooden clothespin: one of the great little inventions. I got pulled into a new little crafting obsession with this stumbled-upon tutorial from Pin and Paper (who endearingly describes herself as "mother, crafter, knitter, reader, writer, procrastinator. Sarcastic, self-deprecating, exhausted yet inspired"). It's very easy, and before I knew it we had a crowd of embellished clothespins, perfect as magnets or an alternative to paper clips.
My first batch was made with beautiful postcards from my friend Deb, from the Garden and Cosmos show at the Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C., where she works. Here's a glimpse. I loved seeing that show last November, and the images continue to haunt and inhabit – now they are hanging from their own clothespins. The photos aren't fabulous, but the clothespins really are!
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Andrew Lih, author of The Wikipedia Revolution, appeared on C-Span2 Book TV on March 25, 2009. The broadcast was of a recent public conversation at Harvard University.
Lih created the new media program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he served as adjunct professor and director of technology for their Center for New Media.
This book took two years of research in the social and technical dynamics of collaborative communities. It has made Lih the most widely recognized expert on the Wikipedia project, one of the largest collaborative reference works on the Internet.
Lih is an administrator on the Wikipedia English edition, and has served as proceedings editor for the annual Wikimania conferences. He hosts the Wikipedia Weekly roundtable audio podcast, discussing issues related to Wikipedia, free culture, peer production and crowdsourcing.
I've added his blog to my Ideas and Inspiration list at the left, and will be tuning in regularly to listen and learn as journalism rides the wave of the new media transformation. (I've also found another book I want to give to my son Jack as a high school graduation gift.)
• Governance of the creative commons: the difference between inclusionists and deletionists.
• Distinctions between English-language and the more tightly controlled German-language
versions of Wikipedia.
• The different natures of the growth community that created Wikipedia, and the maintenance
community it now requires (having at this point over 2 million entries).
• Issues of editorial oversight, technical expertise, and administrative control.
• The eventual merging of information from Wikipedias from various countries.
• Anonymity, pseudonymity, and authenticity (as in the notorious case of "SJ", a contributor
exposed as someone who had created a fraudulent identity).
Lih used a phrase I like: "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." It's a reworking of an earlier theme on this blog: "Transparency is not for the squeamish." Okay, so I now have a reliable new media guide: very cool. Check out Lih on the topic of Kindle DX and newspapers.
We recently had another truckload sale at Bloomingfoods, and decided to use the tent at the end of the sale to hold a community swap meet. This was a huge success: people brought in all kinds of items to swap. There was a wedding dress, a brand new mattress, a spinning wheel, lots of television sets, several computers, household goods, books, toys, and clothes. Not a cash box in sight: everyone just
took what they could use.
I scored a first edition copy of Heloise's Housekeeping Hints, the first book of its genre, written by Heloise Bowles Cruse, who (like advice columnists Ann and Abby) was an identical twin.
Heloise graduated from business college, married a captain in the Army Air Forces, and moved from China to Texas, then Virginia and Hawai'i. She had one child, daughter Poncé Kiah Marchelle Heloise, who maintains the Heloise legacy today. Heloise began building her cred as "every housewife's friend" in 1959, with a newspaper column in the Honolulu Advertiser. By 1964 it appeared in 593 newspapers in America and abroad.
Building an empire on dust cloths and practical tips, Heloise eventually bought herself quite a fine hat and got to meet President Richard Nixon.
The original edition of the book is filled with very basic, practical suggestions and some pretty cool vintage drawings of a woman enamored of her ironing board. But what I love best is the photo of Heloise on the back book jacket, sitting at a chaotic and cluttered desk ("between many household duties"), talking on the phone, surrounded by piles of books and stacks of paper. Oh yeah: that's how media content used to get made, before the housewife had her computer!
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
On May 31st, the American Girl Doll Company of Middleton, Wisconsin, will introduce a new character doll, Rebecca Rubin, the company's first historical Jewish character. There was an article about her last week in the New York Times.
Rebecca has been vetted by Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, who read and approved of the first of six books about her. A 9-year-old girl living on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1914, Rebecca has Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, siblings and a grandmother known as Bubbie.
She joins an Hispanic doll, Josefina (who lives in New Mexico in 1824); a Nez Percé girl, Kaya (from 1764); and an African-American girl, Addy (from 1864), as well as other characters representing various ethnicities and time periods. American Girl historical dolls all have analogous objects: a bed, a wardrobe, a birthday outfit, a special necklace, a handbag, some kind of food, cooking utensils.
I've always been fascinated by these historical dolls, not least by the idea of girls (presumably) playing with them across these time frames. What happens if someone with a Kit doll (who now has loads of cool canning gear, from the 30s) gets together with someone with an Addy doll (born into slavery) or a Kirsten doll, from 1854 Norway? Then throw child-of-divorce Julie into the mix, from San Francisco in 1974, with her crinkle-gauze peasant blouse, bell bottom jeans, beaded belt, and long blond hair with single side braid. The result is a kind of wild post-modernist time-warping, in which historical accuracy falls away to the necessary play of error and imagination.
American Girl spent several years researching possible components of Rebecca's background, her appearance, and the likely details of her life if she were an actual child of that time period, living in a tenement house in New York City.
While the company acknowledges that Jewish immigrants had an impact on the labor movement, I suppose it's too much to wish that they'd made her a child raised not in the tenements but in the Coops – the cooperative housing colony in the Bronx built by Jewish garment workers (many of them Communist) in the 2os, mentioned here yesterday in connection with the film "At Home in Utopia." I found another post about the film over at the Bronx Bohemian, too.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Filmmaker Michal Goldman spent eight years working on a film called "At Home in Utopia" about the housing co-op known as "the Coops," the United Workers Cooperative Colony built in the Bronx in the 1920s. I watched it last Sunday as part of the PBS Independent Lens series; it aired on April 28th, 2009.
This is a fascinating story, documenting the history of many topics: Jewish immigrant communities to New York City, the history of Communism in the U.S., successful efforts to integrate African-Americans and Jews within the community, and the social experiment of co-op housing. It includes interviews with people who grew up in the Coops, who go back to look at the buildings, which are still occupied today.
The filmmakers have created a DVD with bonus materials, including:
..stories about daily life in the Coops, about the severe political battles they had and about all the different ways people reacted to harassment by FBI agents during the McCarthy period. There’s a great story about Angie Dickerson, a black tenant organizer who lived in the Coops, chasing two young FBI agents out of her apartment with her broom. And then there’s the whole story of the Amalgamated Houses and how—and why—they have survived to this day as a cooperative.
You'll find a story by Samuel G. Freedman about the film at this link. And here is Michal Goldman, talking about the architectural and social design of the community:
In their architectural design, the courtyards of these cooperatives offer an interesting metaphor because they provide some separation from the outside world, but they also open up to it. The people in these communities didn’t withdraw from the issues and struggles of their times; they engaged. They also believed that as working people they had the right to healthful, pleasing apartments and beautiful surroundings. They filled their basements with communal spaces for themselves and their children—and they streamed out of their courtyards to march for workers’ rights on May Day. These cooperatives were a force in their surrounding communities, partly because they were organized. They got people elected to local government. They got public schools built within walking distance. They saw the advantages of acting together, collectively.
Monday, May 25, 2009
I hate to stay with yesterday's topic (and its hideous images) but I'm tanked up on caffeine and can't help myself! No, seriously, I've come to the conclusion that the beverage Cocaine should never have made the Woman's Day list as something that "We guarantee you can’t find [..] at a grocery store near you." If you click on the topic of "energy drinks" on the web, you discover a world of caffeine "food products" (including caffeinated sunflower seeds) that could keep you up all night just thinking about them.
These were over at the website Oxide, a place to buy high intensity computer lighting and other supplies for LAN parties, bring-your-own-computer parties usually fueled by high sugar and caffeine content "energy" drinks and large amounts of junk food.
Gateway drugs, anyone? For dietary reasons alone, LAN parties can be a teen's mother's nightmare. If you want to swiftly destroy your health, you can't do much better than this: high quantities of sugar, caffeine, and days and nights gaming continuously without sleep. When I first saw the breath mints Foosh, I thought they said "Foolish": when it comes to choosing your poison, these contemptible products are killers for sure. (Okay, that's my furious mom lecture.)
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Olivia Putnal wrote an article called The Biggest Food Product Duds of All Time, posted at Woman'sDay.com on April 23, 2009. She identified a number of products that were pulled from the market, usually due to poor sales.
Just looking at these so-called foods makes me feel like I'm in an over-lit truck stop somewhere in the dead of night. The most outrageous of the bunch are:
Ore-Ida's Funky Fries only lasted for one year, from 2002-2003, due to poor sales and a terrible response from consumers. The fries, which included off-the-wall variations including chocolate-flavored, cinnamon-flavored and blue-colored fries, were intended to be kid-oriented. However, as it turned out, children just weren't that crazy about the flavors. Photo: Heinz
Beginning in 2000, Heinz introduced EZ Squirt-the first non-red ketchup for kids. The colors included Blastin' Green, Funky Purple, Stellar Blue and Mystery Color. At first, the products were a big hit with the youngsters, but by 2006 all of the colors were discontinued. Photo: Heinz
Cocaine energy drink
First introduced in 2006, Cocaine energy drink contained three and a half times the amount of caffeine in Red Bull and 750 milligrams of taurine, a synthetic version of an acid found in the lower intestines of animals. The product was eventually pulled from grocery shelves after the FDA decided it was illegally being marketing as "an alternative to street drugs." Photo: Redux Beverages
It's good to know that some of the strange products passed off as foodstuffs die out due to a lack of consumer enthusiasm. I'm sure there are more things out there today that should be recognized as duds: let me know what YOU would put on a list of dubious "food" products.
Postscript: I did a little research and learned that the story on "Cocaine" is not so neat and tidy as Womans' Day would have you believe. A simple Wikipedia search indicates that this beverage ("the legal alternative") is back on the shelves here in the U.S. and in other countries. You can also easily order it on-line. I wonder how many people are driving big trucks through the night, tanked up on this evil beverage? If I drank it, I think my brain would explode.
I am also wondering about the naming conventions here. Is it possible to make a new product of some kind and just call it "Heroin" or "Marijuana"? Is this an example of creative appropriation or just commonplace crass commercialism? (I think you can guess my answer to that one.)
Friday, May 22, 2009
Something to tweet about: the long slow view. Today is World Turtle Day, acknowledged by Jaime Sweeney, owner of Wandering Turtle Art Gallery and Gifts here in Bloomington. If you follow her link you'll find more pieces by artist Brian Gordy, such as this wonderful watercolor, In the Cool Creek. They are from his series "Basking: Reflections on the Turtle."
Here are some words from the artist:
Turtles as subjects drag a deep trough of content with them. Ancient animals dating back some 200 million years, turtles have survived without any major evolutionary reworking. They exist in countless legends throughout the history of folklore and mythology, showing up in pictographs and iconography from some of the earliest evidence of the existence of humankind. Today, however, we must acknowledge that turtle populations across the world are struggling… we have found a way to compromise the existence of this impressive example of survivorship. In Indiana alone, 6 of the 18 species found here are listed as state endangered, while nearly all are threatened in some capacity.
My paintings pay homage to the distinct, original and effective design of the turtle, but they also are intended as a warning shot fired at the unnecessary destruction and segmenting of our turtle habitats.
Gordy says this about the beautiful shells of the turtles: ..the differences between the shiny purple-black shell of a Painted Turtle, the serrated knobby shell of a Map Turtle, and the leathery smoothness of a Spiny Softshell Turtle shell are quite profound.
Earlier this past week, at John Caddy's website Morning Earth, the photo above of a painted turtle, with this poem in her honor:
A painted turtle carries eggs
to plant in warm sand
in this her time,
as mother did,
and her great- and greats-
stretched back deep
into the spiral dark
long before the dinosaurs.
Her features are fixed, but
if we see expression there,
it’s of a mother implacable
knowing none of the above
but knowing this is her time.
You can subscribe to a daily poem and photo from Morning Earth, or find them posted at the website. Take some time today to bask in the sun, paying homage to the turtle!
MIT's Comparative Media Studies program has put together a cool site called Project New Media Literacies (NML). It is a research initiative that "explores how we might best equip young people with the social skills and cultural competencies required to become full participants in an emergent media landscape and raise public understanding about what it means to be literate in a globally interconnected, multicultural world."
My only problem with that has to do with the modifier "young": this work concerns people of all ages.
A very useful document at NML defines the skills of participatory media culture (from a white paper called Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century). Looking at the list, I'm convinced that many groups of people, such as artists and actors, have been honing these collaborative skills for centuries. Today, we are using new networking technologies to develop them, but they build on traditional skills of literacy, research, critical analysis, and technical expertise. It's a feedback loop: we apply these skills to new technologies, and use the technologies to connect with each other, further developing the skills. What I find interesting is that these capacities emphasize flexibility, imagination, empathy, and the ability to shift and sort through texts and contexts: rigidity, top-down tyranny, and dogmatism don't make the cut.
Here's that excellent provisional list, as well as a video from the site:
Skills for New Media Literacy
Play - the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
Performance - the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
Simulation - the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
Appropriation - the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
Multitasking - the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details
Distributed Cognition - the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
Collective Intelligence - the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
Judgment - the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
Transmedia Navigation - the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
Networking - the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
Negotiation - the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms
Visualization - the ability to interpret and create data representations for the purposes of expressing ideas, finding patterns, and identifying trends
Thursday, May 21, 2009
In an effort to put "everything [parents] need for their kids under one roof" the giant chain store Toys 'R' Us is planning to open grocery departments ("R" Markets) in the front of over half of its stores, with more rolled out later in the year. Here, from Supermarket News, is the company plan:
The goal of the shop is to position Toys 'R' Us as a one-stop shopping destination for families and kids. Each “R" Market features snacks like chips, puffs and pretzels, cookies and crackers, fruit snacks, cereals and nutrition bars, as well as juice boxes, and bottled water. Paper goods include napkins, paper towels and toilet paper. Baby food and infant formula brands include Gerber Earth’s Best Organic, Similac, Enfamil and Nestlé Good Start.
A dedicated candy section contains chocolate, lollipops, novelties like Pez dispensers, cotton candy, mints, and sour and hard candies, along with a wall of theater candy boxes.Eeeew. I am trying to imagine the day of a mother with young children, stopping in at the "R" to pick up items for dinner: an even more stressful supermarket scenario than the one described by David Foster Wallace in his Kenyon College Commencement speech. Roll into the huge parking lot, get the kids from their car seats, pile them into a huge grocery cart, and then take them into the friendly Big Box store where you can find every single thing they need, from infancy (all that Similac!) on up – to their very own plastic play kitchens, and beyond. And so very convenient to have that whole wall of blockbuster candy, right there where you need it! At least we've got a boy "cooking" (and chatting on the cell phone) in one of those monstrous plastic kitchens, pictured here.
It's remarkable how out of touch Toys 'R' Us seems to be regarding parenting trends, including concerns about plastic toys, infant formula, and conspicuous consumption. "R" Markets are a half-baked ploy derived from the specious notion that gigantic over-lit warehouse stores can rescue us from time pressures. Hmmm, this mom is not at all convinced: I prefer a much more "roofless" parenting mix.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
My copy of The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006, edited by Dave Eggers, arrived yesterday. It's perhaps the last copy of this book available right now on the Internet, snatched up by readers for its final piece, David Foster Wallace's Kenyon College Commencement Speech of 2005, written about earlier here at elenabella.
It's a fine collection that gives a word picture snapshot of the times, including Best Fake Headlines from The Onion ("Case of Glitter Lung on the Rise among Elementary School Art Teachers") and Best New Words and Phrases (downlow, dramedy, geocaching, greige, podcast, spendy, and twofer make the 2006 list).
Coming from a national co-op grocery marketing conference last week, where we talk a lot about the quality of experience offered to our shoppers, I was quite amazed to see that the heart of Wallace's speech is the story of an alienating trip to a super-lit sensory-deadening supermarket. Here is how he describes the numbing effects of everyday adult life:
By way of example, let's say it's an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired, and you're stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home -- you haven't had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job -- and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the workday, and the traffic's very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store's hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it's pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can't just get in and quickly out: You have to wander all over the huge, overlit store's crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the ADHD kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough checkout lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day-rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can't take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.
Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your check or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn't fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etcetera, etcetera.
Throughout the speech, Wallace is examining our notions of freedom, and our tendency to see ourselves at the center of the universe ("the freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation"). He's urging more imaginative awareness:
...the freedom of real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted: you get to conciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. [ ...] The real important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.
Without realizing it, Wallace is talking about the kind of culture co-op grocery stores work to create – with real connections to member-owners, customers, staff, and suppliers – and the conscious effort it takes to build and sustain quality interactions. I wish he'd been a customer at one of our stores, with a humanizing, restorative experience, a cashier who could talk to him about his writing (or at least ask "how's it going?"), a familiar place to energize and revive his day.
Never underestimate the far-reaching effects of a visit to the grocery store, whether it's a good trip or bad.
The Wall Street Journal reprinted most of the speech in full; you can find it at this link. They leave off the final couple of sentences, which I've restored below:
It is unimaginably hard to do this – to live consciously, adultly, day in and day out. Which means yet another cliché is true: your education really is the job of a lifetime, and it commences – now. I wish you way more than luck.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Every so often I jump over to Jezebel to take a look at what's happening there. Jezebel promises "Celebrity Sex, Fashion for Women" but that's just a ruse for hefty doses of wit and incisive debunking regarding the daily news ("without airbrushing," sez the Jez).
You'll also find a slew of very clever Judge Judy Comic Confrontations ("What Would Judge Judy Do?") where the good Judge takes on Minnesota's own Michele Bachmann, among others. Click here for the latest, where Judy addresses feminism – from the id-ish excesses of Courtney Love to the crazy provocations of Camille Paglia (and yes, Camille still has a crush on Sarah Palin):
Feminists love bickering about feminism. And as more women join the conversation, it gets nastier…and better! But it's time Judge Judy kept some order. (Continued from Part 1.)
Judge Judy for Supreme Court, perhaps?
Monday, May 18, 2009
As we all know, girls of all ages prefer pink to any other color, from the minute they are born – or before, when they signal to their mothers the need for pink nurseries. So thank goodness we can now get classic board games in pink: from Scrabble to Monopoly to the Ouija board. Gender-specific versions of these games can be found "only at Toys 'R' Us." Mystery Date and LIFE also come in pink editions.
Eeeew, as Summer would say on The O.C. How many points for g-r-o-s-s?
The "Designer's Edition" of Scrabble spells out the words "fashion" (natch) and "fun game" on its cover: "Every word's a winner!" in this perverse beauty contest for words. Here is the official product description:
A timeless classic with a modern makeover, this pink SCRABBLE Deluxe Designer's Edition has style, taste and elegant accessories like a pastel rotating gameboard, pearlescent letter tiles and embroidered fabric pouch. All the fashionable game pieces are designed with a woman in mind, but with the same SCRABBLE challenge you know and love. Just choose 7 of the unique locking letter tiles, and start spelling - this Designer's Edition has a flair for F-U-N! Includes rotating gameboard with textured frame and raised letter grid, molded letter tiles that fit in place, 4 matching tile racks, zippered storage pouch, scorepad, pencil and instructions.
The Monopoly game comes packaged like a jewelry box. Meanwhile, at a more aesthetically progressive Target store, a temporary price cut on "Boys' Toys," also known as the Lego corner.
Thanks to Gwen and Abby over at Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing, where there is an interesting comment thread for this post. As one person observes, the pink Ouija board box looks at first glance like packaging for "feminine hygiene products." And yes, that spinner on the game of LIFE does look like a packet of birth control pills.
Eeeew again. I just found yet another version of pink Scrabble, this time as a "worthy partnership" for the cure for breast cancer. "Every word counts towards breast cancer awareness." I won't even comment on that.
I couldn't recall playing the disturbin' game "Mystery Date" as a kid, so I did a little search and came up with this Special 2008 Election edition of its 1960s television ad. (Kind of ironic that the first door should open to reveal John Edwards.)
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Here are some photos from the environs of the Pike Place Market in Seattle, where my eyes were drawn to typefaces, and senses drawn to the bustle of early morning, with coffee and croissant at Le Panier. We're back home now, but the memory of that perfect coffee lingers.
I like the Piroshky sign for the art and the unusual use of punctuation. The Starbucks logo is from the original store, back when the mermaid was a bit more...complicated. There's a nice version of the mermaid on an umbrella at a more recent Starbucks. It's an example of how to use a logo as art, but you have to have a really good logo.
Left Bank Books – a classic bookshop, of a dying breed, going the way of the typewriter. But wait: it is collectively owned by its workers, and does have a website (and there are other, unrelated, Left Bank Books stores in other parts of the country).
The Sanitary Public Market was interesting, too, right across from a Showgirls porn shop. That's an observant mannequin on one of the balconies, checking out the patrons of Showgirls.
I like the simple Lois Lenski-style font on the Farmers Market sign, which Jack captured at night. The Meet the Producer sign is also wonderful, referring not to the Market Theater (the sign at the entrance to the subway) but to the theater of produce coming out of those early morning trucks.