Thursday, April 28, 2005

Fresh Greens From the Garden Kings

The weather was really nice yesterday, a break from this pseudo-spring and fake-me-out warmth. As you know, housematedude Dale and I have a garden out back. Last year was the beginning, this time it’s for real. I walked on over to our “year-1 bed,” the first one we constructed as a sort of experiment. The first go ‘round, we planted everything in the confines of its 4x8’ foot frame. This time though, there’s a system, and it’s starting to work. Coincidentally, “year-1” is in the midst of a naming competition. The winner will receive a container of organic cherry tomatoes, so enter now.

The red-leaf lettuce and Rocket Arugula clamored to be eaten. Green-sheen is one of those interesting springtime colors, one that really doesn’t exist any other time of the year. As the name suggests, the red-leaf possesses a deep ruddy shade of carotenes, those heroes of the antioxidant world. I snapped a few of the largest bottom leaves from both types, put them in my big white Ikea bowl (you know, the Crate & Barrel knockoffs that cost $2.99), and took ‘em in the house for a washin’. After getting all the dirt off, I dumped the wash water into the rainwater catchment barrel. Remember, it’s all about conservation folks. Not that water’s super-expensive, but I like to get myself into habits of not wasting anything that can be used again. Plus, those are Karma points - *ding*. At this point in our story, I feel it wise to admit that the additional ingredients were storebought; the onion and dressing from Glut Co-op just up the road, and the red pepper from uhm...uh...well, okay it came from Sam’s Club. I didn’t buy it though, Pat did, for some conference. I’m sure it was shipped all the way from California and was laden with pesticide residues. Not sustainable at all. If only we had a heated greenhouse.... That's really the only reason I want to be a billionaire - to own thousands of organic greenhouses heated with recycled vegetable oil, but I digress.

Yes, this was good. I’m happy today.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Having Taste is Un-American

I just finished reading an interesting manifesto by Paul Graham entitled "Made in USA." The basic premise I've gathered, besides seeing this as a nice promo piece for his upcoming book, is that Americans don't have good "taste." It's nothing cultural. Instead, we are techno-innovators, which doesn't mesh too well with the basic ideas behind good design. Global competitive advantage has, for the post-WWII generation, been concerned with getting great new products to market fast. We've built tremendous national wealth on being the biggest and baddest, the new kids with the new ideas. Unfortunately, "design" has suffered as a result. The author presumes that even the idea of good taste is unto itself wholly un-American. That is, until Apple rebirthed itself and introduced the iPod.

The Japanese and even Europeans are seen (by some) as having a higher design sense, mostly due to their appreciation for craftsmanship. Of course, vocalizing such beliefs could get you a bloody nose in some parts of the U.S. Question: Did Americans lose the desire to have attractive, well-designed, long-lasting products, neighborhoods, or cities during the post-war boom? Sounds likely; "they don't make things like they used to." Or do they? Check out the classic piece of Detroit iron, this time in a sealable package to keep vagrants at bay. It's the Ford SYN US concept (pictured above), a vehicle I pray never makes it anywhere but a recycling bin.

Maybe we're at a tipping point when good design will again merge with American ideals of individuality and market predominance. Hopefully, a more sustainable component will form the crux of this new design ethic, which actually draws on centuries-old principles. Time will tell if we'll replace our garish American-designed autos with well-designed, fuel-efficient models that exude a soothing Appley glow. Maybe I'm the only one that finds Nokia phones and Powerbooks know, with their soft fading backlit screens. Then again, Target has made a name for itself introducing pleasant (and affordable) design to our red-state brethren. If only the products were made in America, constructed of locally-sourced materials by the skilled hands of our neighbors and friends....

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

What Are You Living For?

A simple question. Ever stop and think "Why exactly am I here? What is my purpose?" Of course, lots of people do that. There've been countless haiku, short stories, plays, films, books, letters to the editor, all on this exact same subject. So why's now any different?

It's not, really, but isn't it fun/scary to think that the world is undergoing some major shift in thinking? Have humans really evolved into something new species, perhaps Homo colossus, as suggested by William Catton in his seminal 1982 book "Overshoot." Has progress shocked us into drunken stupor, so much so that we have no idea what's going on at all? Writing in 1970, Alvin Toffler referred to it as "future shock."

In light of today's techno trends, and the constant realities exhibited on the nightly news...I'm fairly confident we're screwed. At least in the conventional sense that humanity as a whole is about to enter some new age. What that is, I have no idea. The fundamentalist Christians can hope to swept to Heaven in the rapture. The militiamen will hide out in Cold-War era missle silos, guns drawn, beef jerky sticks in hand as they await the Horsemen bearing turbans and communist armbands. Everyone else may just wander about aimlessly wondering what happened to their wonderful way of life. Or, if they were already screwed, there may be an air of happiness- "Finally, the rest of the world knows how it feels to live hand-to-mouth like me."

Then again, I could be all wrong, and everything's going to be a-okay for the rest of our days. Regardless, whenever the sun is shining and I can wake up to a fresh new day, one ripe with possibilities, I smile. The human experience is something I wouldn't trade for the world, except maybe to be a flying rainforest ant...because they're cool. To interact with people and experience the joys and pains of living are truly magnificent things. There's something inherently sexy about working together as a community toward a common end. Sappy I know, but think about that for a second. Whatever the future holds, there'll always be bumps and bruises. Relationships with other people - indeed with all living things - are crucial to our continued existence on this planet. Interacting with people will bind us closer together as we ride this spaceship along it's glorious path to...somewhere. Can't wait.