Celebrating Eco-Progress: Dell

As much as I love technology, I’m also aware that technology is one of humanity’s dirty little secrets.

Oh, we do so love our shiny new toys, and we think to ourselves, “Well, at least it’s not a Hummer. At least I’m not clearcutting. At least no animal products were used in the production of my new iPhone.”

And yet, as the Story of Stuff so clearly illustrates, we’ve fallen so thoroughly for planned obsolescence, and the planned lifespan of electronic products, in particular, has been so drastically reduced, that e-waste is a very real global problem.

(Just think about cellphones for a second. From a profit motive standpoint, the two-year contract was a stroke of brilliance, as it has now become almost standard practice to replace a perfectly good cellphone every two years just because you can do so and get a new phone at a significant discount. Cellphone manufacturers and carriers figured out that the increase in sales volume from such a dynamic would not only compensate for the discounts they offer for upgrades, but would actually stabilize a market with a predictable life cycle.)

Anyway, hats off to Dell, the focus of today’s Celebrating Eco-Progress installment, for their recent efforts to address the issue.

Via GreenBiz.com:

Dell-Goodwill Partnership Fuels Record E-Waste Recycling

Dell recycled more than 150 million pounds of electronics globally in fiscal year 2011, the computer giant said today.

This puts the company about two-thirds of the way to its overarching goal of recycling one billion pounds of electronics waste (e-waste) by 2014. The FY 2011 figure was about 16 percent higher than the year before.

The company credits its partnership with Goodwill Industries with helping it to make strides in the amount of end-of-life goods it recovers in North America, including used computers, monitors, printers, scanners and other pieces of equipment. The Dell Reconnect partnership helped Dell collect 95 million pounds of e-waste last year.

I had some personal experience with Goodwill’s commitment to e-recycling about six months ago, when I donated an old iMac computer.. A week after I dropped it off, I had a mild panic attack, thinking I’d left some confidential personal information on the hard drive. So, I called and asked if they still had the computer, and whether or not I could come down there and check it out.

Much to my surprise and relief, I was told that all computers are sent to an e-recycling center in Seattle, and that the hard drives are always wiped clean.

I don’t know if Dell had anything to do with the recycling program at my local Goodwill, but it’s clear that these sustainable practices are taking hold.

Oh, and props to Dell as well for the other sustainability efforts mentioned in the GreenBiz article:

The company recently made headlines when it said it would begin shipping its servers in mushroom-based packaging instead of foam. Mushroom roots are added to cotton seed or wood fiber waste, where it digests the material to form cushions that can protect heavier electronics equipment.

Dell said in late 2010 that it had reduced the energy consumption of its desktop and laptop computers by 25 percent, meeting a goal set two years ago.

Again, we need to celebrate these efforts in a very public way, to let these HUGE companies know that we approve and are grateful and that we will be more likely to remain customers of theirs if they continue in this direction.

Lyric of the Day: Rise To Me

Well, for the third Lyric of the Day installment in a row, the theme that grabbed me is Love.

The source of today’s lyric, Rise To Me, from The Decemberists‘ most recent album, The King Is Dead, is just about the most beautiful song I’ve heard in a long, long time. From a musical perspective alone, the song has a lovely, simple chord progression and verse-chorus-verse-chorus-etc. composition; and the arrangement, rooted in acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica, Chris Funk‘s gorgeous, pining pedal steel guitar, and Gillian Welch‘s perfectly placed harmony vocals, provides a lush canvass for Colin Meloy‘s characteristically poetic lyrics.

So, let’s dig into those lyrics and see what’s going on here. I think you’ll agree that Rise To Me is a very powerful expression of love.

Big mountain, wide river
There’s an ancient pull
These tree trunks, these stream beds
Leave our bellies full

In this first verse, Meloy sets up an image of a maternal natural world that lovingly sustains us. And while the mountain is big and the river wide, the first chorus that follows speaks of challenges and threats.

They sing out:
I am gonna stand my ground
You rise to me and I’ll blow you down
I am gonna stand my ground
You rise to me and I’ll blow you down

The photo I’ve included above seemed to capture something of nature’s stubborn determination to stand fast in the face of challenges. While the tree may have been shaped by the wind and receding glaciers may have moved those boulders around tens of thousands of years ago, the boulders now seem unmovable, the tree still stands, green with life, and the green grass, too, seems to have decided that it will stick around as well.

With this image of steadfastness established, Meloy turns to the subject of his son Henry, who has high-functioning autism.

Hey Henry can you hear me?
Let me see those eyes
This distance between us
Can seem a mountain size

As a father of a son myself, this is the part of the song that first caught my attention. There may be nothing more painful, emotionally, than to witness your child suffer, and so it’s only natural that a parent, out of pure, primal love, might desire that their child learn from the example set by the unyielding force of nature in the first verse, so that he may be as prepared as possible for the many challenges that life will bring.

But boy:
You are gonna stand your ground
They rise to you, you blow them down
Let me see you stand your ground
If they rise to you, you blow them down

Finally, Meloy adresses his wife, wishing for her the same kind of strength and resiliency. And I can’t help speculating that there’s recognition here too that the strain of raising a child with autism can lead to strain in their marriage, and that on top of all the usual challenges most couples face, there’s hope that their relationship can stand firm.

My darling, my sweetheart
I am in your sway
To cold climes comes springtime
So let me hear you say

My love:
I am gonna stand my ground
They rise to me and I’ll blow them down
I am gonna stand my ground
They rise to me and I’ll blow them down

Reminds me, in a beautiful way, of a line from the famous sonnet:

[Love] looks on tempests and is never shaken

–William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Anyway, enough analysis. Here’s the band, sans Gillian Welch unfortunately, performing Rise To Me live.

Nicaragua? Yeah, I could go there!

Like most people who were around and followed current events in the 1970s and 80s, when I think of Nicaragua I normally think of the brutal and corrupt Somoza dictatorships, the devastating 1972 earthquake; the late, great Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Clemente, a Nicaraguan, who died in a plane crash, on his way to help the earthquake victims; the rise of the Sandinistas; the bloody proxy war between the Soviet-backed Sandinistas and the U.S. backed Contras; and the Iran-Contra Affair.

And yet, today I received an email from some acquaintances who have built a vacation rental home, Casa Del Sol, on Playa Marsella, just north of San Juan Del Sur.

Yeah, um, I could go there!

Now, for purposes of full disclosure, I have really mixed feelings about visiting developing countries and living in luxury, while within miles locals are living with very limited means. Nicaragua, after all, is the second poorest country in the Americas after Haiti.

But then again, after agriculture, tourism is Nicaragua’s second largest industry, and like Costa Rica, where my family and I visited last year, Nicaragua is capitalizing on the increasing popularity of Ecotourism, which, while not perfect, is mostly proving to be a positive benefit for both the economies of the destination countries and for the environment.

It could be argued, then, that I’m actually doing some good, bringing my vacation money to a poor country, rather than travelling in, let’s say, Europe.

For now, I will go back to daydreaming, thinking of these lovely descriptions from the Casa del Sol website:

Wake up to the chirping of birds, the howling of monkeys and the song of the waves…the house is absolute beach front, directly on the sand on Marsella beach…Explore the pre-historic rock formations along the coast with our ocean kayaks…Time your vacation right and observe the miracle of Olive Ridley turtles hatching on the beach.

Hmmmmm. When’s the next flight?!

Video Fridays: Neil Young Covers

I’ve written several times about my love and appreciation for the art of interpretation, especially as it applies to cover songs.

Well, today I came across a video of my favorite band, Wilco, doing a cover of a somewhat obscure Neil Young chestnut, Broken Arrow, from Neil’s days in Buffalo Springfield.

And, as is often the case with YouTube videos, watching the one video led to watching another video and so on, and so on, inspiring me to dedicate today’s Video Fridays installment entirely to Neil Young.

I discovered this first one while reading on Pitchfork about an upcoming DVD of a concert tribute to Neil Young. That DVD, with performances by Wilco, Neko Case, Dave Matthews, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, Ben Harper, and many other top-notch artists, will be a delight for cover song lovers like myself.

It’s a real treat to see/hear this version of Broken Arrow, since I’ve always theorized that this song was the primary influence for Wilco’s Pieholden Suite, from their 1999 album Summerteeth. Both songs, as the title of the Summerteeth track suggests, are in suite form, consisting of short pieces, with changes in tempo and melody, sewn together to make one longer composition.

Remember, when you start watching, don’t get fooled into thinking that it’s the wrong video just because the first thing you hear is another Buffalo Springfield song, Mr. Soul. That’s how Broken Arrow actually starts off. The song is autobiographical, after all, exploring the experiences, stresses, and conflicts that go along with being in a famous band…a band like, say, Buffalo Springfield.

Next up, another fairly obscure song, Don’t Cry No Tears, off of Neil’s 1975 album Zuma, performed here by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie and Jay Farrar from Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt.

Not as much to say about this one, except that I really love Farrar’s harmony vocals here.

And finally, another song from Zuma, this time the better-known epic Cortez The Killer, performed here by the Dave Matthews Band, with guest, electric guitar master, Warren Haynes.

Facebook Activism

So, I’ve been struggling a little bit with this thing that has happened on Facebook, where it seems that more and more of the content posted by my friends and family and acquaintances is of a political and/or grassroots activism nature. And the reason I’m struggling is because, I’ll admit it, that’s not what I’m looking for when I go to Facebook.

It’s hard to admit this, because I’m a firm believer in being well-informed and civically active , and yet there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to be bothered by that stuff on Facebook. I want to see what everyone is up to much more than what they’re pissed off or scared about. I spend enough of my time each day checking in on the goings on in the world via a wide variety of sources, and when my thoughts turn toward my friends and family I mostly want to see photos of their vacations, BBQs, or their adorable pets doing adorable things.

And yet, Facebook and Twitter activism is now credited with having been a major factor in popular uprisings, as far back as the 2009 so-called Twitter Revolution in Moldova, and as recently as the movement that led to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt this past February. Closer to home, you might recall my having written about a relatively much smaller little revolution that happened right here in Bellingham in early March, wherein a Facebook Page, created in opposition to plans by a local coffee shop chain to erect a billboard passing as a sculpture in front of their new store in the arts district downtown, led to the withdraw of those plans.

And what about the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster in Japan this past month? It was touching to see the outpouring of concern, sympathy, and grief in my news feed everyday, as I tried to make sense of the senselessness of it all.

How can I complain about that?

Hmmmmmmmmm…

I’ve got it!

An Open Letter To Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

Yo Mark!

I’ve got a great idea for an enhancement to the Facebook experience, one that will both capitalize on the popularity of Facebook Activism, providing you with a chance to brag about Facebook’s social significance as an agent for good, and at the same time improve the experience for your millions of users.

Idea: Provide a separate feed for Facebook Activism content, allowing users to toggle back and forth between their News Feed and a new Activism Feed. (The name for the new feed is negotiable, but I fully expect to be reimbursed at the going rate for the idea.)

Now, you might ask how this content will be separated into the separate feeds, and I have a solution: Two simple radio buttons that allow the user to choose which feed a given post will appear in.

Naturally, it will take some time for users to get used to this change, and you have to be prepared for the usual apoplectic response you always get when you change anything about Facebook.

However, you know that the uproar never lasts long, and when the smoke clears Facebook will be providing a much more focused and effective tool for activists of all stripes and colors.

You can reach me by visiting the Contact page, here at Fish & Bicycles. I look forward to working with you on this project. (My wallet does too!)

Sincerely,
F&B
Founder, Editor, and Writer
Fish & Bicycles

Eyecatchers: Vacation

As promised in my first post back from vacation, here’s a memento of the trip, with photos from Joshua Tree National Park and Point Dume State Beach.

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Even a Baboon Could Tell Which Of These Doesn’t Belong

Computer automation can be really, really cool…or it can be really, really stupid.

Here’s the Related Posts list added by my blog host WordPress.com at the end of my last post on primates:

I find it hilarious that WordPress goes to such great lengths to protect themselves from these kinds of embarrassments. Note how these links are described as “possibly” related, and how the parenthetical information is included to make it clear that these were generated “automatically” rather than by the very talented WordPress staff.

That this happened on a post that directly compares apes to men adds a delicious layer of comedic irony that I couldn’t ignore.

If Baboons Can Do It…

I read an absolutely fascinating article in Yes! Magazine today by Robert Sapolsky, loaded with a ton of information that I did not know about primates, full of surprises, by turns disturbing, sweet, sexy (yes, sexy!), sad, scary, and hopeful.

Disturbing

It used to be thought that humans were the only savagely violent primate. That view fell by the wayside in the 1960s as it became clear that some other primates kill their fellows aplenty. Males kill; females kill. Some kill one another’s infants with cold-blooded stratagems worthy of Richard III. Some use their toolmaking skills to fashion bigger and better cudgels. Some other primates even engage in what can only be called warfare—organized, proactive group violence directed at other populations…

Goodall and other chimp researchers have carefully documented an endless stream of murders, cannibalism, and organized group violence among their subjects…

The most disquieting fact about the violent species was the apparent inevitability of their behavior.

Sounds pretty bleak, huh?

Sweet

But all along there has been another chimp species, one traditionally ignored…Now known as bonobos, they are recognized as a separate and distinct species that taxonomically and genetically is just as closely related to humans as the standard chimp. And boy, is this ever a different ape…

Male bonobos are not particularly aggressive and lack the massive musculature typical of species that engage in a lot of fighting (such as the standard chimp). Moreover, the bonobo social system is female-dominated, food is often shared, and there are well-developed means for reconciling social tensions.

What’s that I hear? An old song I discovered via the Grateful Dead?

That’s right, the women are smarter
That’s right, the women are smarter
That’s right, the women are smarter
The women are smarter than the men today.

–Norman Span

Sexy

And then there is the sex…

Bonobos have sex in every conceivable position and some seemingly inconceivable ones, in pairs and groups, between genders and within genders, to greet each other and to resolve conflicts, to work off steam after a predator scare, to celebrate finding food or to cajole its sharing, or just because.

You know, I kinda wish I was a bonobo all of a sudden.

Then again, maybe not…

Sad

So—a wondrous species (and one, predictably, teetering on the edge of extinction).

Sometimes I really hate that fucker Charles Darwin.

But, here’s where it gets REALLY interesting.

Sapolsky proceeds to describe two troops of Savannah Baboons he observed over many years, troops that inhabited neighboring territories, troops that were typically aggressive and violent, until one day a tuberculosis outbreak, spread via the garbage from a tourist lodge, wiped out the whole troop nearest the lodge as well as most of the males from the other troop, who made early morning raids into their neighbors’ territory in order to get at the garbage from the lodge as well.

Scary

The results were that Forest Troop was left with males who were less aggressive and more social than average, and the troop now had double its previous female-to-male ratio…

The social consequences of these changes were dramatic. There remained a hierarchy among the Forest Troop males, but it was far looser than before. Aggression was less frequent, particularly against third parties. And rates of affiliative behaviors, such as males and females grooming each other or sitting together, soared. There were even instances, now and then, of adult males grooming each other—a behavior nearly as unprecedented as baboons sprouting wings.

Speaking as a male primate, that is some scary damning evidence that the very testosterone coursing through my veins is the primary cause of so much death and destruction throughout history.

And yet…

Hopeful

Female savanna baboons spend their lives in the troop into which they are born, whereas males leave their birth troop around puberty; a troop’s adult males have thus all grown up elsewhere and immigrated as adolescents. By the early 1990s, none of the original low aggression/high affiliation males of Forest Troop’s tuberculosis period was still alive; all of the group’s adult males had joined after the epidemic. Despite this, the troop’s unique social milieu persisted—as it does to this day, some 20 years [later]…

As defined by both anthropologists and animal behaviorists, “culture” consists of local behavioral variations, occurring for nongenetic and nonecological reasons, that last beyond the time of their originators. Forest Troop’s low aggression/high affiliation society constitutes nothing less than a multigenerational benign culture…

The first half of the twentieth century was drenched in the blood spilled by German and Japanese aggression, yet only a few decades later it is hard to think of two countries more pacific. Sweden spent the 17th century rampaging through Europe, yet it is now an icon of nurturing tranquility….

Is a world of peacefully coexisting human Forest Troops possible? Anyone who says, “No, it is beyond our nature,” knows too little about primates, including ourselves.

Looking Down…For a Moment

You know the well-meaning cliché, invariably offered up to someone who is afraid of heights, when said acrophobe is, um, up high someplace?

Well, here I am, looking down, not afraid of heights actually, but in this shot merely anxious to confirm that my climbing shoes were indeed sticking to the rock, since there were precious few hand holds available on this route.

And now I’m home and things are looking down, as they always do for a short time at the end of a vacation. Time to unpack, to catch up with the business of housekeeping, to catch up with and hook back into the day-to-day concerns, and to browse through photos of the trip that, for now, only make you wish you were still there, still anywhere but home.

Oh, it always passes (I’m sure it wouldn’t be so acute if it weren’t cool, windy, and rainy right now), when I notice just how good life here in Bellingham is, how all the things we had the most fun doing — rock climbing, hiking, eating good food, hanging out with friends — are things we do all the time right here.

I have a few ideas for some additional blog posts related to the trip to SoCal, but for now I’ll just say that Joshua Tree National Park was as jaw-droppingly beautiful as I remember it, and yet, ironically, the most amazing spot we climbed at on the trip was just north of Los Angeles, at Point Dume in Malibu.

The kid, with our friend Atsuko, at Point Dume

Fish & Bicycles Takes A Vacation!

I’m sorry to report that things are going to be awfully quiet here at Fish & Bicycles for the next week or so.

The family and I are heading south for the warmer, drier climes of southern California, specifically the otherworldly landscape of Joshua Tree National Park (pictured here), for three days of hiking and rock climbing, and then Los Angeles, for time with friends and some unabashed sightseeing and entertaining seeking. (This is the trip mentioned in my Vacation Irony Is A Cruel, Cruel Thing post back in February.)

While I’m gone, feel free to browse around Fish & Bicycles in any of the following ways:

  • Tags: In the sidebar, under Stuff About…, you can click on any of the Tags and see all the posts I’ve done that have at least something to do with that topic.
  • Recurring Series: At the top of the page, hover over the Recurring Series drop-down menu and select from options like Celebrating Progress, which applauds businesses adopting sustainable practices; Eyecatchers, a collection of photos, graphics, and videos that have, well, caught my eye; Video Fridays, my favorite video of the week pick; and more.
  • Archives: Towards the bottom of the sidebar, select a specific month to see everything I posted in that time period.

Thanks, as always, for stopping by!