Self-Sustaining Pride: from energy cards to clean flushing

Eighty-two residents of the Scottish Island of Eigg demonstrate how energy self-sufficiency works. “What we’re doing all the time is balancing [the energy] the island is using,” one resident explains.

This is episode five of AlJezeera’s Earthrise, a new, optimistic series exploring environmental projects and initiatives around the world. Other features include “Gardens in the Sky,” as on the roofs and “highline” of New York City; and “Flush With Pride“–the kind of pride a pioneering waste-water purification system can afford the residents of California’s City of Arcata. Envisioned by local officials, professors and activists, this low-cost sustainable sewage system uses ponds and marshes for oxidation and filtration, and has restored abundant wildlife and clean water to Humboldt Bay.


Laughter: Still the Best Medicine

Laughter—we don’t practice it enough! What makes us laugh, why we love it to the point of paying for good laughs—it’s all a mysterious and funny sort of thing to me.  How about the fact that our funny bone can be aroused through more than one of our senses? But I hadn’t thought of it in the context of evolution, even if “laughing like a monkey” is the only animal sound I can successfully emulate, in wide open spaces.

Here’s from an article in today’s New York Times, “Scientists in Britain Say That Laughter Releases Endorphins, Limiting Pain”:

Dr. Dunbar thinks laughter may have been favored by evolution because it helped bring human groups together, the way other activities like dancing and singing do. Those activities also produce endorphins, he said, and physical activity is important in them as well. “Laughter is an early mechanism to bond social groups,” he said. “Primates use it.”

Indeed, apes are known to laugh, although in a different way than humans. They pant. “Panting is the sound of rough-and-tumble play,” Dr. Provine said. It becomes a “ritualization” of the sound of play. And in the course of the evolution of human beings, he suggests, “Pant, pant becomes ha, ha.”


[First posted at]

Manhattan Shoe-Box Apartment: Making it There

Manhattan architect Luke Clark Tyler rents this 78-square foot space for $800.00 a month in mid-town. Throughout the video you’ll hear him saying, “I work from home, so…”—as if that fact enhanced the beauty of his living arrangements.

I can see how someone who seldom makes it home to sleep or eat–say, a medical student–might find Tyler’s set up ideal. And I applaud the low carbon-imprint of Tyler’s life style—the “McMansions” up my country road should blush! I can also remember a time—over 20 years ago—when I wished my possessions would all fit into my 4-door sedan. However, part of that youthful longing was for less cluttered, more open living space–and a life free of moving companies. But the idea of spending all working hours and personal time in such tight, economic quarters makes me think of the challenges of a trip to Mars!

For more stories and videos about sustainable life choices, go to Fair Companies.
(Recommended by Andrew Revkin, DotEarth, New York Times)

[First posted September 25, 2011, at]

ROBOTS Growing Our Food?

When Robots Run Our Nation’s Farms” published on predicts greater efficiency and productivity for America’s agriculture but asks—as do I—what happens to the whole eat-local and organic movement? (Will there be robots at my farmers’ market?)

The researchers at growBot Garden Project don’t find them mutually exclusive, but it’s a huge shift in the way we think and relate to our food. And might agriculture robotics put small farmers out of business, in a Walmart-like effect? On the other hand, it’s interesting to consider how agriculture automation might help fight hunger in regions plagued by food shortages.

[First posted September 27, 2011, at]

Tunisians in Charge

Democratic nations ought to commend Tunisians for holding free and fair elections–just 9 months after street demonstrations ushered in a contagious revolution and the ousting of the authoritarian and corrupt regime of Ben Ali.

The reverberations of Tunisia’s civil resistance continue to be felt across the Middle East. For a visual sense of events set in motion in Tunisia in December of 2010, play with this interactive timeline of the events of the Arab Spring kept by The Guardian (last updated on October 20).

While foreign affairs’ experts analyze and debate the meaning of Tunisia’s election results, we can draw reassurance and inspiration from this video depicting Tunisians’ reactions to a clever voter-mobilization initiative. Watch the changes in the reactions of unsuspected citizens to the hanging of a giant portrait of their former dictator on the side of a building, before and after they realize that it’s meant as an important reminder.

Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street: America’s Distrust of Big Institutions

A recent 11-minute documentary produced for “Need to Know”PBS TV and web news magazine–discusses the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements in the context of America’s history of individualism and resentment of big institutions–from government, to businesses, to any powerful groups that come to be perceived as threatening to our national interest.

Titled “The politics of resentment, from the tea party to Occupy Wall Street,” the short film includes interviews with thinkers and media voices on either side of the political spectrum and offers important insight into Americans’ state of discontent.

“The strength of the argument” NOT “the status of the speaker”

Tracing the networked “global public sphere” exemplified in Occupy-Wall-Street to the Greek agora–where male citizens gathered to debate ideas– Faizullah Jan, American University doctoral student, looks at the evolution of public opinion expression and the interaction between state and society.

“Without a functioning public sphere the state’s interaction with the public is reduced to the relatively brief periods surrounding elections.  Though election participation is a a hallmark of representative democracy, without a functioning public sphere, the government, corporations, and interest groups remain unaccountable to the people.”

Full article: “Understanding Public Sphere in a Networked Society,” guest post on Matthew Nisbet’s “Age of Engagement” at Big Think

West Liberty, IA: A Worst-Case Scenario for Alabama?

Last week was filled with news and debate (NYT) around Alabama’s new immigration law requiring schools to check the immigration status of students. The result of getting at the parents through their children: unauthorized-immigrant parents keeping children home and asking friends to care for their children (AP) in the event of deportation.

What’s the worst-case scenario behind Alabama’s strict immigration law? A Hispanic population majority? What happens to a small American town when Latinos become the majority and own half of the town’s businesses?

West Liberty, is now a mostly Hispanic town in the overwhelmingly white state of Iowa (NPR). What does West Liberty’s Mayor Chad Thomas have to say about that?

“[…] unlike a lot of other small Midwestern towns that are dying, West Liberty is alive […] growing and thriving […] If you didn’t have the Hispanic population here in town, yeah, we would be much more like a lot of smaller towns, and there would be a lot more storefronts that are empty,” Thomas said to NPR.

What happens when schools offer a voluntary dual-language program?

“[…] in the end, all the students then become bilingual, biliterate and bicultural,” West Liberty Elementary School principal Nancy Gardner said to NPR.

How do people feel about that?

  • Anglo families have moved to West Liberty from nearby towns;
  • The program has a waiting list;
  • Other Iowa school districts with growing Hispanic populations are duplicating the program.

Bicultural utopia? Not yet. According to Mexican-born Jose Zacarias–a resident since 1984 recently sworn US Citizen–business and school integration is yet to produce community integration. But Zacarias has a plan. The only Hispanic present at a recent school board meeting, he is considering running for a seat in West Liberty’s City Council.

“We need to get together with the Hispanics and say, we are no longer a minority, we have some responsibilities, and we need to get organized,” he says. “We’ve run out of excuses. It’s time to do some work,” Zacarias said to NPR.


For more on the Latino experience in the US, check out the NPR series
Two Languages, Many Voices: Latinos in the US
Play with the interactive map: A Decade of Hispanic Population Growth

And consider a less-known aspect of Alabama’s immigration law, as depicted in this photo published in The Guardian: