Thursday, June 29, 2006

Get Big

If I must cram myself into a tiny, restrictive box with regard to my political affiliation, I'd say I'm a "geo-green." Politics, power, social change, freedom of speech, it's all there. According to New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman (author of The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty First Century), these folks believe that:

"...going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil - by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power - we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran. All these regimes have huge population bubbles and too few jobs. They make up the gap with oil revenues. Shrink the oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It is that simple."

So from this standpoint, by interjecting knowledge of basic laws of thermodynamics and biology and geology and sociology into every facet of our politics, we can counter some of the most pressing issues facing humanity. That's a pretty broad brush, and has profound implications. In the end, it comes down to money.

I didn't fall in love with The World is Flat, believing some of the premises exclusionary of the energy equation. His basic economic theory foreseeing a future of Chinese and Indian technological dominance didn't in any way discuss the inherent problems in making all these things happen, the real estate development, the raw materials acquisition, the powering of the millions of new vehicles and roads and condos and airplanes.... It was too simplistic. The pace of growth in these places isn't feasible for any sustained amount of time. Or is it? Maybe this new geo-green thing is simplistic as well, although it's getting a lot of backing from the Apollo Alliance and the Save America Coalition. Capitol Hill is abuzz, as is Silicon Valley and churches in the Bible Belt. It's really interesting to see evangelical conservatives siding with liberal environmentalists and former political hawks and military generals. My father called me yesterday to tell me he just got cable internet, but while setting it up my mother was watching Oprah and she had the global warming episode. He went out last night and bought enough compact fluorescents to change out all the lights in their house. My father doesn't believe in global warming, is devoutly religious, and thinks we'll run out of oil before the price kills demand. He owns a Chevy V8 pickup, but is looking at electric scooters as around-town transport.

I love all the attention the subject is getting, but as Friedman said on his Charlie Rose interview "It's still a boutique thing, it doesn't scale." [[watch video]] Smart folks out there with lots of ideas and/or money to toss...get behind the movement. Friedman's latest project is a documentary called Addicted to Oil, which recently aired on the Discovery Channel. Very enlightening for the uninformed viewer, and quite entertaining for experts as well. Our office is planning on making it required viewing for all staff.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

That New-New

When my site is up and running, don't be surprised if you notice some "similar elements" gleaned from the updated home of Castor canadensis. Stealing is the sincerest form of flattery.

Their work is awetastic. Maybe Canadians are good for something. I wish I were this cool. Peep the credenza, and the sauna, and the antlers.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Girls on Bicycles

Originally, I'd planned to write about beautiful women on bicycles, that rare sight on America's streets. But as I searched for photos of the aforementioned beautiful women on bicycles, I came across the featured shot. It's a thought-provoking image of a wee tyke-fighter holding a Kalishnakov machine gun, (c) Gary Trotter. So moving from fashion (Milanese 30-somethings looking oh-so-sessy on their Bianchis), to the benefits (and perils) of urban riding in a dress and without a helmet, we're brought to the topic of armed conflict and the plight of child soldiers. Ponder for a second or twenty.

*If you're a woman who rides a bicycle, post a pic somewhere as inspiration to your sistren. You can be stylish, save money, and avoid parking tickets while perhaps attracting the jerk in the red "Fiorano" who'd love nothing more than to take you on a Prada shopping spree.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Last night, I caught a little of of Tavis Smiley's show on PBS. Well lookie here, it's Oswald Boateng, one of the "new breed" of clothing designers. Well, maybe not SO new. The guy's sense of style is crazy-bananas (in the lingo of the young folks). If you don't know, he's the Creative Director of Givenchy's menswear division, and is a bespoke tailor to the stars (Fishburne, Smith, Bowie, Jagger, Foxx....) Even his cousin rocks it; check out the green coat and yellow shoes: The Sartorialist - Wednesday, March 22, 2006.

So besides his impeccable fashion sense and devotion to the craft of tailoring, what really jumped in my ears up was talk of...biofuels? What, a fashionista has gotten into the energy game? Bowl me over with a liter of methyl ester.... This can't be-a melding of fashion with humanitarian work, a project so grand it possesses far-reaching implications that just might include me driving a carbon-neutral Bimmer 535D in the U.S.? That's not supposed to happen (even with Bono and Edun or Rogan).


Boateng: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And [Ghanaians] are [the nicest people]. And it’s like one of the safest places in the world to be in. And Ghana has enormous opportunity, and it’s funny, 'cause as I was saying to you, is I was only in Ghana, like, a week ago, and I was talking to the King Of Ashanti, and there's a couple of projects that I'm working on right now where we’re basically effectively planting trees.

*EK: [Planting trees???]

There's this tree called a pongamia tree which is amazing. It creates these seeds that basically you can compress or process and actually create diesel fuel, biofuel. And it’s something that the King of Ashanti…

Tavis: Out of the tree?

Boateng: Yeah.

Tavis: Wow.

Boateng: So actually, it’s basically these seeds that grow.

Tavis: Right.

Boateng: The trees take between three and five years to grow, and basically I'm doing a project with planting trees on about a million acres of land there, and we’re doing a similar project in Uganda. And hopefully, it will spread across Africa. So it’s an interesting project, and it’s where my heart is.

*EK: [Million acres??? Uganda too? Spreading?]

*Full transcript

Tavis trailed off onto another topic. They should have fleshed this out more, but the guy has a show and stores to promote so ya'll get a ghetto pass.

Of course Google had to help me out here because I'd never heard of this tree. In the U.S., biodiesel is usually made from virgin soy, canola, or sunflower oil, and in some cases waste oils from restaurants and animal rendering plants. In tropical locales, palm or coconut plantations are displacing rainforests to produce the stuff, but that has attendant issues as well. This Honge oil (as it's referred to in India) seems like a good candidate (along with jatropha) for producing biodiesel oilcrops on marginal lands unsuitable for food production.

At first, I'd intimated that because he opened his first shop outside of the UK in...Moscow of all places, that he must have come into contact with some sharp-dressing Lukoil execs. Maybe. Or he's been partying hard with the eco-diplomats and Morgan Freeman at some chic Plenty launch party in Hollywood. Whose to know, I mean the guy knows the King of Ashanti, so anything's possible.

This cross-pollination of ideas couldn't happen at a better time. It shows you don't have to wear birkenstocks and ride a bicycle to work in mid-winter to proudly show your eco-badge. Boateng's project has tremendous potential for rural economies in developing nations, so I wish him all the success in the world. If anyone in the blogosphere can connect the PSK family with Mr. Boateng (or any of his venture partners), I'd be indebted to you for...a little while. We need to talk about expanding his line to include organic wool, vegetable-dyed 3-piece suits and organic cotton shirts.

*Tree Provides Biodiesel For India By Keya Acharya (scroll on down, it's not difficult).

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Desire Under The Elms

Nevermind that the title of this entry is from a classic 1958 melodrama that a certain missus attempted to ram down my throat one crisp autumn eve. Or maybe it was summer? Of course, my mood at the time wasn't at all conducive to watching Sophia Loren run sappy for a brooding Anthony Perkins, despite the fact it was set on a farm. (She just KNEW I'd love that part, the whole "Psycho star enticed by sexy mid-centuryish foxy lady to carouse amidst the fertile acres." It didn't work, sorry boo). After visiting IMDB to see what exactly the movie is about (and maybe a bout of internal searching on the meanings of life, ho-hum), I think I can now view this flick with an open mind. Sometimes, women do know best.

Which brings us to the real topic of today's post. It is the story of young man aging, more left-brained and rigid than poetry and art, or so he thought. Today, I bought my first potted flowering plant in, well, ever. This $2 purchase at the local garden store was driven by an initial desire to find a very specific orchid (anyone seen "Adaptation"? Greatest. Movie. EVER. *view trailer). A White Ghost orchid this is not, but now I'm even happier than first supposed.

My little flower is a small and spindly Melampodium, cultivar "Showstar". The internet says it's a type of daisy. I guess. My version isn't nearly as full as most of the images. It's more akin to an ambitious architectural prop than a plant. The majority of the tiny yellow flowers are concentrated near the top, as if approximating a bouquet (plants play grown-up too?). There are 10 flowers all total, with 5 or 6 tiny budlings. Further down sit the leaves, a photosynthetic factory prepped to go gang-busters (it prefers full sun, which renders my cubicle window inadequate as a homebase). These leaves, they remind me of dandelions. Then there's, or rather "stems devoid of offshoots and such," as the inspired botanical lyricist might say. Toward the bottom, close to the life-sustaining moistness of the soil, the story from above is recreated in miniature. There reside 9 smaller leaves, 1 smaller flower, and 3 pinhead-sized buds. One can only imagine if the plant were taller, another even more minute scene would exist further toward the base, much like those paintings of a mirrored room looking into another mirrored room looking into another, ad infinitum. Because there wasn't a pot that jostled my senses enough to spend money on it, I settled on covering the cheap plastic container with a reworked white box. In Japanese, such creativity is often viewed as origami (how clever those Toyota engineers). Origami this is not, but it's an unexepectedly elegant solution, despite the absence of a bottom. Or waterproofing. And nevermind the stains and pencil marks. Wabi-sabi at its finest.

Ok so I know by now you're wondering, Why this lame description of a $2 flower, and an even lamer "pot" made from a box? Well my friends, I've been reading and introspecting. As we all know, such activities set loose a beehive of emotive man-thought; we buy and/or make things. This was my contribution in dousing that particular fire. I'd forgotten how good books are, what with all my spare time having been spent in the presence of others. Though they tend to be wonderful company, something had to give along the way, and for better or for worse I've retreated to the gentle solitude of my paperbacks. It'd been a while, but it's familiar territory and a place one forgets they love when distracted by prolonged romantic endeavors without a break (para la *sigh*). I'd also forgotten how important it is to notice, indeed appreciate the details of life's ephemera, things like ants and dustballs and bird droppings.

As such, my most recent book acquisition is "The Botany of Desire" by Micheal Pollan. You'll remember his name from another of my recent posts: "Pollan on-On-Pollan". To be brief, the work is a short but heady glimpse into the "mind" of 4 species of plants, namely the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. "Yep, interesting stuff!" chirps the economist with a vaguely caustic smile. No, really, it's a great book. If you've ever wondered why Holland is so fascinated by tulips (hint - it has a lot to do with a speculative buying and breeding frenzy in the 1630s that drove many to financial ruin), or questioned the intrinsic value of an entheogenic experience with the majestic cannabis, well this one's for you. Even if neither of these topics sets your literary passions aflame, anyone can find some minute pleasure between its pages. Pollan does well to brush the major themes of classic prose - sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control - over a layer of scientific gray primer, the droll made mystical. The difference here being, these fundamental human desires are examined through the eyes of the plants themselves, as if plants had eyes (Woe human, he of anthropogenic folly). Because I still haven't read "Zen and the Art of the Motorcycle," I must naively conclude that this might be what it's about. I'm not sure that book is even about motorcycles at all.

What initially led me to Pollan was a piece in Harper's, where he decided that the best way to research the beef industry was to buy his own calf and follow its life through to the slaughter house and upon his dinner plate. His wit is almost always superb and finely placed, with a careful balancing of science, history, politics and cultural observation. In Pollan's works, I've been surprised that subjects aren't handled with an overwrought pen, the mark of some other contemporary hippie-treehugger perspectives. In this age of eco-oneupmanship, who needs another Toyonda Pious-driving romantic? Though the language is at times flowery and dare I say excessive, simplicity always returns to knock the point home. One can easily discern that Pollan's pleasure is derived from the mental connections he's made in researching the topic. It seems great fun for him to connect the dots in his own head; the reader just happens to be along on the trip, and by chance will learn lots of weird little "facts" in the process. For that reason alone, I recommend any of his books and essays. At 245 pages (including the Epilogue), "The Botany of Desire" makes for a quick and enjoyable read for anyone willing to learn why marijuana loves humans far more than any San Francisco pothead. And if my novice review wasn't enough, try Bilger's "For the Love of Potatoes" over at the New York Times (firewalled. get a password).