Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Blogterview with Tim Geaghan, Gogyohka Poet

This article is the first in a series of interviews with People I Know who are Doing Cool Things.

When I was a freshman at Harvey Mudd College, I took a class from an insane graduate student named Tim Geaghan. His class on American literature during the Cold War introduced me to such amazing books as Nabokov’s Lolita and Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. Tim had a unique relationship with his students, often coming out to the dorms to read Faulkner and Ginsberg to us on Friday afternoons. At the end of the semester, we went to his house and helped him pack a U-Haul truck full of stuff so he and his girlfriend Olivia and roommate John could move to Brokelyn. I mean Brooklyn.

But that was then, and this is now. Even though Tim and I are both out of the Inland Empire, we have kept in touch, most recently through our respective blogs. On Tim’s blog, most of his posts these days are Gogyohka, a Japanese form of poetry, which piqued my curiosity. I asked Tim if he was willing to be interviewed about Gogyohka on my blog, which is visited weekly by literally TENS of readers. The interview, which was originally conducted on Gchat, has been edited for clarity.

Claire: OK, let's start out with a question that has been plaguing me for awhile. How do you pronounce Gogyohka?

Tim Geaghan: All the g's are hard, as in "good." It's four syllables long, so: "Go-gee-oh-ka." That's actually the #1 asked question from people.

Claire: Ah, great! So, when people ask you to describe Gogyohka, how do you respond?

Tim Geaghan: Usually I start with Haiku, since most people know what Haiku is. Then I got to Tanka, which is just 5 line Haiku, with syllables patterns 5/7/5/7/7. Gogyohka is just free verse Tanka. The lines should be short, but there are no syllable restrictions. Also, you can write about whatever you want. Traditionally in Tanka you have to include a seasonal reference and you're not supposed to talk openly about your feelings. Not so with Gogyohka. The word itself translates into "five-line poetry." So five lines is really the only rule. Enta, it's creator, calls Gogyohka "a small door that opens into a wider world."

Claire: So how did you discover Gogyohka?

Tim Geaghan: By discovering Enta! Enta Kusakabe, along with Elizabeth Phaire, the then director of the American Gogyohka Society, held a reading/lecture about Gogyohka at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden as part of their Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) back in May of this year. The experience moved me deeply, so my special lady friend Olivia bought me a book by Enta, which he signed to me, and that night I read it and began writing. The next day I posted a blog about the experience and got a comment later that afternoon from "The American Gogyohka Society." It was Elizabeth! She said she and Enta enjoyed my post and Enta wanted to meet with me before he left for Japan. So I ate lunch for three hours with the two of them and have been writing and in touch with Enta ever since. It's kind of fairy tale actually, and hard to believe as true when I write it out.

Claire: Wow, that IS a fairy tale! What about this form of poetry drew you in so well? Were you much of a poet before this?

Tim Geaghan: I'd been writing poetry since I was 15, and took poetry workshops as an undergraduate. But never really thought of seriously or wrote it regularly. It's weird--I wrote long, long lines for a period of nearly 10 years up to the point I discovered Gogyohka. I think it was the relief of doing something brief and immediate, the appeal of condensing a spontaneous moment into a lasting impression, that hooked me, at least in part. I also like that 5th line, the fact that it has an odd number of lines. I'd always liked to write sonnets, but sonnets are easy compared to Gogyohka, because in a five line poem, you have to write a couplet, resolve it, in one line! And it can be the 1st line, 3rd line, or 5th line. But I don't wanna get too technical...

Claire: On your blog, you seem to post new Gogyohka every day. Why/how do you write so much?

Tim Geaghan: Ha! That's a great question--well-timed. Just last night I was trying to reckon how many I had written so far, in the past six months. The estimate is at about 500--crazy! I once wrote:

I write these
every day
I can't stop
I don't know why
but it feels good

and it does. Why is hard. But how is easy. I write them in the shower, or at night, when my brain is calming down. It's not a big investment of time, and it's a great way to sort out all the emotionally significant observations and experiences I have in the course of a day, to figure out what's important, to come back to myself and the world in a way that's not driven by ok what did i get done today. It's the most anti-neurotic form of writing I've ever done. I wrote a novel. It was agony. But I finished it, gritting my teeth. And I've written short stories--again, total nose to the grindstone experience. But these--I can pop off three or four before even putting pants on. So I do, and it just so happens meaningful stuff happens all the freaking time!

Claire: Like literary therapy, I suppose.

Tim Geaghan: Eh, sort of. Enta talks a lot about the emotional benefits of Gogyohka. We all have a central axis, the core of who we are, and Gogyohka helps us access that. When we do, stress dissipates, because we are able to see what's important and what isn't. Stress usually is the result of not knowing what's important. Anyway, apparently he's gone into cancer wards and helped people live better lives before they die.

Claire: Can you share with me one or two or however many of your favorite poems that you've written?

Tim Geaghan: Here's one I wrote after the National Park PBS special:
You can kill
the wolf
but you can't kill
fear of the wolf
inside you

Here's one I wrote after the NYC marathon last Sunday:
Gospel choir singing so hard
in front
of the Baptist Church
even white boys on the avenue
have to smile

Here's a New York one I know you like:
There are six million people living in Brooklyn
not one
And if he keeps acting like that
he's going to meet them
real quick

That's a sassy one! Here's the best one I ever wrote, which Enta published in the August issue of his Magazine:

The corn tassels
blowing softly
in the wind of the Plains
grow higher
on the bones of the buffalo

That one and the wolf one are linked, somehow, despite being written far apart. It is also linked to a poem by Enta:

It wasn't the Americans
Who dropped the bomb
It was the consciousness of the Era
If the Japanese had had it
We would have dropped it too

Claire: Those are some cool ones, thanks for sharing. So I hear you are writing a Fulbright application on Gogyohka?

Tim Geaghan: You hear right! I'm done, actually. In the mail. We'll find out if I got past the first round January 2010. I'm hoping to spend a year in Japan "walking near" Enta and having him be my poetic sensei in the traditional Japanese sense. Also hoping to learn about the Japanese "Membership Society" model of writing poetry, whereby folks who want to write in a given form submit monthly dues to help run a magazine and monthly workshops and visiting lectures. It's very different from how advertising or non-profit subsidies works to support print magazines in America. With so much poetry tanking in America, it'd be nice to see how a society makes it an integral part of their lives. 500,000 people are registered to write Gogyohka in Japan! While there I would also have the added responsibility of being "English Advisory Editor" for Enta's magazine, as well as lead monthly workshops for folks who want to write in English. The whole thing would be English only.

Claire: I wish you much luck. It seems like the Gogyohka movement is quite alive in Japan. What is it like in America?

Tim Geaghan: Thank you. If the movement in Japan is a sturdy oak then the movement in America is barely a sprouted acorn, sadly. It's very new, but lately a lot is happening. The American Gogyohka Society is one year old, and planning to have Enta back in the States next Spring, with workshops, readings, lectures--the whole bit. I just did a reading in Westchester County with Peter Fiore, who published the first book of American Gogyohka Poetry. We're doing another reading up there in a couple weeks, followed by "Gogyohka Nite" (I hate the misspeling, but what can you do?) which will feature about 10 poets at Cornelia St. Cafe in the Village in Manhattan. Other than that, I'm rolling out a social networking site devoted entirely to Gogyoha in the next few days, which will include events listings, blog posts, and most importantly, a place for folks to share and comment upon Gogyohka. It's at We're also working on doing some workshops at the Brooklyn Public Library. I'd like to do one with kids through the children's library, one with adults through the main branch, and one with seniors through an arm of BPL called "Services to the Aging."

Claire: That sounds like a lot of things.

Tim Geaghan: Yeah, I'd call this thing my second job, but that would imply a paycheck.

Claire: Well, our time is almost up (because, you know, we have schedules). Is there anything else you'd like to say about Gogyohka...or anything else for that matter?

Tim Geaghan: I hope everyone feels compelled to give it a whirl. One of the best things about the form is its accessibility and availability. Anyone can write it. Peter Fiore called his Gogyohka collection Text Messages, which reminds us that you could text Gogyohka to each other if you wanted to. Anyway, it's very compatible with our lives these days, so I hope folks feel compelled to check it out--talk to me and I can hook you up with Enta's book. Good stuff! I think Gogyohka is like twitter poetry, as goofy as that sounds. Poetry with a 140 character limit, that sort of thing.

Claire: That makes a lot of's quick and whatever you want it to be.

Tim Geaghan: Pretty much. It's easy to write Gogyohka, though it's hard to write a good one, and it's not all "arty" and intimidating. I like that about it...


By five lines, Claire concludes with

A haiku instead

Monday, October 5, 2009

Extreme Solutions to Climate Change

Since I am very interested in climate change mitigation, unemployed, and completely in love with the internet, when I stumbled on a link to a talk on TED by David Keith on climate engineering, you can bet I took the time out of my incredibly busy day (hah) to watch it. If you haven't used TED before, it's a great resource for...everything. Basically, TED is a repository for videos of experts giving brief (15 minutes, usually), informative talks on random subjects, from art and design to science and technology to history and current events. It's a great way to feel productive without actually doing anything.

Anyway, David Keith is a climate scientist talking about some of the ways that we could possibly alter our planet to mitigate the effects of global climate change. While virtually all of the ideas that policymakers talk about to reduce carbon dioxide equivalent levels focus on reducing emissions through cap and trade and zero-emissions energy resources, Keith offers a more radical suggestion - that we put a bunch of ash into the atmosphere.

Keith explains that a bunch of ash (fine sulfate particles) in the stratosphere, where they will reflect away sunlight, lowers Earth's temperature. We know this works because it's what happens when a large volcano erupts. The ash cloud technique would be fast and cheap compared to most other options, though not without its side effects. However, the possible side effects are not what I want to focus on.

Although we've been aware of climate change for over fifty years, the discussion on climate engineering has been tabled, even though many of the first publications on climate change focused on it as a more feasible solution than emissions reductions. After fifty years of discussion and treaties that haven't accomplished much (the ice caps are melting and emissions are increasing at rates faster than some models predicted), climate engineering seems like a more attractive option, though certainly not without some careful thought, obviously.

But talking about geoengineering constitutes a "moral hazard." Basically, if everyone believes that most of the negative side effects of and political issues surrounding geoengineering can be overcome, there is no reason to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, since we have a fix that is much quicker and cheaper. But if the negative side effects of geoengineering aren't overcome, then we're much worse off than we are now. Geoengineering is a dangerous idea, because it's not a guaranteed solution and it may distract us from other ways to stop global warming that we understand better.

I hate the idea of an idea being too dangerous to talk about for fear of being misinterpreted or distracting or offensive. Thank Al Gore for the internet! With the internet's democratization of media, there's somewhere to talk about everything - especially dangerous ideas.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why I Like America, But Love Pittsburgh

Today, world leaders converged in my home city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the G-20 summit. Accordingly, many of the accompanying protesters had marches and rallies around the city. The local and imported anarchists staged an "unlawful" march (they did not apply for a permit on principle) through Lawrenceville towards the convention center. The protest was mostly peaceful, although some windows were broken and tear gas was used to disperse the group. Pittsburgh is normally not very exciting, so the local news crews had a field day following the events. I'm glad that things seemed to go about as expected.

As I stated in my last post related to the G-20, the groups who protest during the G-20 have a lot of different agendas and problems with the group, from its elitism to its policies to its very existence. And Pittsburghers had a lot of different agendas now that thousands of representatives of worldwide media outlets have descended upon the Three Rivers. But they seem to have found common ground.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, a.k.a. The Pens, won the Stanley Cup back in June, and their fans haven't stopped celebrating since. Their leader must be this guy. I saw him on the local news all day. He paraded around with his fake Stanley Cup for hours.

This was one of the day's most visible banners. I'm glad that the protesters have finally settled on a clear, cohesive agenda that the people of Pittsburgh can get behind.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jon Krasinski Writes and Directs Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

John Krasinski (Jim from The Office) apparently wrote and directed and starred in an adaptation of David Foster Wallace's short story "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" that is also the title of a collection of his stories. I read the book a few months ago, and especially enjoyed this story. The movie features Will Arnett (G.O.B. from Arrested Development) and Ben Gibbard (the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service).

Here's the trailer:

The main character is a smart, short-haired female graduate student conducting interviews with men about their relationships with women, but this character doesn't exist in the book - no context is given for the interviews. Krasinski has called the movie "feminist" in the press. I am interested to see what he means. Good thing I don't have long to wait because the the movie comes out on Friday.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Mosque By the Sea

I lost most of the last 5+ years of photos recently in the Great Hard Drive Crash of 2009 (well, except for those I've posted to photo accounts online). One of the few picture collections that I had backed up is from my trip to India in June. I thought I would share a few photos and stories here periodically.

Near the end of the trip, Rebecca, Shannon, Oliver, and I flew from Delhi down to Mumbai to stay with our friend Rishad's family. They hosted us, stuffed us with delicious Indian desserts, and drove us around to many of Mumbai's awesome attractions, including this, the Mosque By the Sea.

This building's real name is the Haji Ali Mosque and Dargah (tomb), named for Haji Ali, who according to legend renounced all his riches after a pilgrimage to Mecca and drowned on the site where the mosque now stands. Another version of the story is that he died during this pilgrimage but that his casket floated back to the current site of the mosque. Still another states that the guy found a woman crying because she spilled all of the oil in her vessel. Haji Ali poked the soil with a stick and oil gushed out, but afterward he felt extreme guilt for puncturing the the earth, and soon died. He left instructions for his casket to be thrown into the sea.

Anyway, the building stands on a little islet in one of the bays that surround Mumbai. As you drive the costal highways around the city, you can see people attempting to walk across the 500 yard causeway that connects it to the land. Although you're only supposed to attempt the walk at low tide, from the shoreline we saw a couple people get soaked by huge waves as they tried to make the trek at less than opportune times.

We wisely decided to go at low tide. It was a rainy, misty day for the most part (the monsoons actually let up a bit! yay!), but the path is always soaked, even on nice days. You can see my travel companions ahead of me.

The mosque itself was also really wet, thanks to the rains and constant sea spray. As in all mosques, you have to take off your shoes to enter, even if you're not Muslim, which makes for some very wet, cold, and dirty feet.

The mosque is supposedly whitewashed, but it's actually covered with bird poop due to its popularity as a hangout for Mumbai's large seagull population.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Should I Have Beef With the G-20?

It's been a year of highs and lows for Pittsburgh, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently observed. The Steelers won the Superbowl. Three police officers were killed in one night on duty. The Economist declared Pittsburgh America's most livable city. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup. Three women were killed by a nutcase with a gun at LA Fitness. Obama declared that Pittsburgh would host the G-20 meeting on September 24 and 25.

One question the Post-Gazette hasn't really asked is whether or not that last thing is a good thing. Most news outlets have been repeating the endless stream of some variation of "The G-20 is a perfect opportunity to show off Pittsburgh's transformation from a major center of heavy industry to its resurgence as a center of biotechnology, green design, and medicine." While the preparations for the summit have received a lot of media attention ("Michelle Obama is hosting an event at the Andy Warhol Museum!" "Free pizza for volunteers to remove graffiti from the streets of Oakland!"), the preparations for the inevitable protesters that the G-7/8/20 bring haven't been as publicized, and most of the articles don't really go into why so many groups come to protest - they generally mumble something about globalization and war.

A few websites for people interested in protesting have popped up. The G-20 Media Support team created site to provide information on organizations and events voicing dissent with regard to the G-20 summit, track media coverage to enforce "a reasonable standard of fairness and accuracy." The Thomas Merton Center, Pittsburgh's Peace and Social Justice Center, hopes to bring together the many different groups of activitists that will be converging on the city. The Pittsbugh G-20 Resistance Project seeks to "demonstrate and build new and existing alternatives to the worldview represented by the G-20 and the direct policies it promotes, and to disrupt the summit and undermine its attempts to gain legitimacy." A variety of marches, protests, and coordinated actions are planned, some with permission, some without. "Direct action" to disrupt the day's events (people purposefully getting arrested) and other sorts of media-friendly activities are inevitable.

The goals of this summit of the G-20 are to reform the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and talk about "green economies." From what I can distill from reading the goals, mission statements, associations, and everything of the voices of dissent, the protestors oppose capitalism, globalization, war, hierarchy, discrimination, and a whole lot of other things. They are in favor of the eradication of poverty, self-determination, peace, social justice, and anti-authoritarianism.

But all of this doesn't really answer my original questions, which is whether I should oppose them.

Although most people assume I am politically liberal (and it is true that am a registered Democrat), when asked, I tend to say that I am anti-everything - it's easier than actually explaining that even though I do think that capitalism is an evil system that oppresses people and makes it impossible for everyone to obtain their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I think that it is less evil than the results of economic systems that require a spirit of collectivism on a scale that is unnatural for humans (we are protective of our family and tribal groups and generally distrustful of people we don't know). I don't think that globalization is inherently evil, but when government subsidies in one country make it impossible for people somewhere else to make a living, I think it needs to be reconsidered. I want the government to stay out of my personal life, but I want it to protect the environment and make sure that I am not getting exploited by some multi-national corporation whose actions hold no person legally accountable.

Although I sympathize with many of the sentiments of the protesters - self-determination, freedom of speech and assembly, social and environmental justice - I don't believe that the capitalism and globalization need to be completely abolished to accomplish those goals, and I think that the stability they provide is vital to the improvement of places where no such stability exists. So, G-20, have fun hanging around in my city, I hope that you guys are working toward the world your citizens deserve.

I'll probably attend some of the G-20 protester events just to see what's going on, but the only ones I am willing to say I agree with (and even then, not completely) are the ones on climate change. I'll try not to get arrested.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Book Review: Cory Doctorow's Little Brother

This weekend I started and finished Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. Although it's been sitting on my shelf since Christmas, I only got around to it reading it now. The title is a reference to George Orwell's 1984, where "Big Brother" watches over everyone.

Little Brother centers around a small group of high school hacker-geeks in San Francisco. The protagonist, Marcus (also known by his handles m1k3y and w1n5t0n, pronounced "Mikey" and "Winston") is intelligent, self-assured, and a bit rebellious, exploring his esoteric and unique hobbies without being pushed by his parents or teachers. The novel opens with him convincing a few friends to skip school to continue playing their favorite ARG. While running around SanFran to find their next clue, a terrorist group blows up the Bay Bridge and the kids are thrown into a prison run by the Department of Homeland Security, suspected of being terrorists. The rest of the book chronicles Marcus and his friends in their struggle to keep their freedom and privacy from being taken away in exchange for ineffective attempts at security. It's a fun read - well-paced, humorous, and enjoyable for adults even though it was written for teens.

Doctorow also uses the book to explain how a lot computer technology works, especially data encryption and RFID chips ("arphids"). It also delves heavily into why the "security theatre" in a post-9/11 world doesn't outsmart determined criminals, American social movements, free culture and copyright issues, and other aspects of techno-geek subculture (gaming, the Swedish Pirate Party, etc.). Doctorow takes the time to explain the difference between ARGing and LARPing, what horchata tastes like, and other small details that will make readers familiar with such things smile with recognition of something that doesn't show up in your everyday novel, and makes sure n00bs aren't lost.

A few aspects of the book annoyed me, such as Doctorow's insistence that when Marcus talks about his girlfriend, he describes her as "h4wt" rather than hot. I also didn't feel that one of the plotlines was wrapped up adequately (when Marcus is detained initially by the DHS, one of his friends is also detained for the duration of the novel. He reappears at the end, but only as an aside). Still, Doctorow's writing is smooth, fresh, and fun.

More than anything else, I wish I were 13 or 14 years old reading this book for the first time - the age I was when I read 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World. I hope that Little Brother someday joins the canon of dystopian literature. But for now, a movie version is rumored. I can't wait.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Common Slang in Claireadise

If you have spoken to me for more than 30 minutes at a time, I have probably tried to convince you to adopt some new slang that I or someone I know has invented. I would like to share a few of those with you now.

Wom - short for "Woman." While calling someone woman, or saying, "Get me a beer, woman!" rightfully earns you a slap across the face, calling someone "wom" rather than "girl," "chica," or any other term means that they are a hardworking, cool girl. "Wom" is a term of respect. So if someone says, "Get me a beer, wom!" you should get them a beer, and one for yourself as well, because woms always drink beer if there is any to be had.

Living the dream - living with your parents while being unemployed or jobsearching. Living the dream is a euphemism for our recessionary times. During the economic booms of yesteryear, living in your parent's house after your post-secondary education was a mark of a total and complete loser - even 20-somethings with useless degrees in art history and anthropology lived in their own ramshackle apartments and worked temp jobs. However, the over-educated and under-employed have started to realize the value of living at home again - free room, board, cable...hell, your mom even makes you a sandwich if you catch her at the right moment. Being a complete leech on the rest of society really is "living the dream," at least for awhile.

Yayf/Boof - "yay for" and "boo for." These two terms are used to concisely express appreciation or dissatisfaction for anything - for example, "Yayf beer!" or "Boof speed trap!"

More slang to come - and feel free to suggest your own favorite slang!

On Knotweed

On Wednesday night, my friend Rosemary and I drove out to Polish Hill to participate in removal of some knotweed and a discussion on permaculture. Rosemary found out about this event through, a site that tries to connect people with the same interests in the same region with social and activist networks. This event was organized by the Smart Urbanism meetup group and the Pittsburgh Garden Experiment.

The goal of the evening was to cut back some of the Japanese knotweed in Frank Curto park. Knotweed is a fast-growing plant that looks like bamboo (although they are not closely related), but with larger, rounder leaves. The stalks are brittle and hollow, and edible when they are small. It is also a major sources of resveratrol, which is sold as a nutritional supplement (although its health benefits have been reported in animals, but not yet in humans).

However, once knotweed has taken root in an area, its huge size (the plants can grow to be 9-12 feet tall in a single growing season) and extensive root networks (up to 10 feet deep and a lateral radius of over 20 feet) choke out any other plants in the area. Even more unsettling, trying to remove the plant through excavation often makes the situation worse, because the plant will resprout from its vast root network. It is able to tolerate a wide range of soil conditions and climates, though it doesn't do well in shade. The only way to really contain it is through toxic herbicides such as Roundup.

Or is it? At Wednesday's meeting, we discussed possibilities for containing the knotweed invasion in Pittsburgh (it is widespread in the park we were in) keeping organic and permaculture principles in mind. One of the suggestions was to cut the stalks but leave them to dry and die, blocking the sun for any new growth, which we did in one area. Another suggestion was to look into fungi species that might have an adverse effect on the knotweed. Another was to try to find a use that would require frequent harvesting, making a good out of a "bad." I've been hunting around for research into non-toxic methods of containment, but I haven't found much so far, other than this delicious knotweed snack recipe.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Music is My Aeroplane

In my most recent travels, I've tried to make a point to learn a bit about local music and instruments. I went to a music store in Mumbai to look at tabla (Indian hand drums that take FOREVER to learn to play at a beginner's level). I bought a singing bowl (Asian instrument that you hit with a thick stick and then rub the stick around the bowl in a circle). It sounds similar, though more sustained and interesting, to rubbing the edge of a wine glass with a wet finger.

I am currently staying with Alice Clifton, and her boyfriend Charlie O'Brien in Killarney, Ireland. Charlie is a full-time musician, playing banjo and guitar in various bands, from Irish drinking music (Pogues, etc.) and American country music covers to Irish traditional music (which is what he'd be doing all the time if it paid well enough). He has a trad gig tonight, but last night we went to one of the "drinking music" gigs. Even though the band is paid to perform by the venue, anyone from the crowd can go up and play a tune if they are so inclined - a girl from Dublin played some of her original tunes, a woman sang a couple famous Irish songs, I played shaker and glockenspiel, and one of the town drunks came and took over things for a bit. The band played a few Johnny Cash songs.

During "Ring of Fire" I looked at the sea of people in the pub, pints of Guinness in their hands, an American watching the band of Irish musicians play American music in Ireland. And while I was looking at singing bowls in India, a bunch of Indian teenagers were fooling around on electric guitars, playing Pearl Jam and Nirvana. It made me laugh out loud.

People protest economic and cultural globalization and Americanization, but I love living in a world where methods of recording and distribution allow music to transcend the borders it's supposed to.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Poverty

As many of you know, I'm spending this summer traveling through India, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, and then heading back to real life in Pittsburgh on August 3. I've been in India for a few days now. The best way that I can describe the experience is...dense.

On one hand, India is home to countless architectural marvels, the king of them being the Taj Mahal (which is much smaller, but much more breathtaking than I expected). The history of the different regions, the forced unification of them into India under the British empire and the subsequent founding of the modern nation are fascinating. The food varies a lot more from region to region than most American restaurants would indicate, and the mixture of Western clothes and traditional clothing of people is unlike anything else I've seen.

Unfortunately, a significant fraction of India's billion people live in grim poverty, and numerous institutions (institutions in the cultural, legal, and economic sense) keep them there. And this poverty isn't hidden, as it is in many other places - it is everywhere. Children tug on my arms in the streets, bone-thin mothers with babies hold out their hands for a few rupees (1 rupee = 0.02 USD), and amputees sleep on the sidewalks with their fingers cupped.

I haven't given money to any of them.

Sometimes I am annoyed that they are harassing me and my companions, other times I am concerned that they are trying to distract me so they can pickpocket me, and sometimes I can't help but feel ill at the sight of the sores on their stumps. Mostly I feel sick that the reality for many of the children I see is that they don't understand why some adult pushes them out to collect coins from sympathetic tourists and turn over every rupee what is essentially a pimp, and that the babies held by their mothers are doomed to the same fate. And I feel even sicker about the fact that most of the horrendously mutilated people on the streets were purposefully mutilated by someone so that they would earn more begging in the streets.

Giving money to these people supports the exploitation of begging, which is why most people don't give anything to them. In theory, it all makes sense, but when someone is looking at me with my fancy backpack and boots, and knowing that I have more money in my pocket then they will have in a year, it eats at me.

As part of the cost of my trips this summer, I have resolved to make donations to one or more reputable organizations in the places I visit to give something back to the places I've been.

And keep my conscience clear enough to help me sleep at night.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Urban Agriculture in Pittsburgh

In yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, there was an article about the uncommonly high number of vegetable seeds sold this year - some vendors reporting twice the amount sold last year, overtaking flower seeds for the first time in a long time. While I am thrilled to see that urban and suburban agriculture is increasing, I have to wonder what sort of practices are being undertaken. Not all gardens are created equal.

I took a class called "Farms and Gardens" at Pomona College last semester in the Environmental Analysis Department under Professors Rick Hazlett and Juan Araya. The class was a mixture of agricultural theory and application, including weekly reading assignments and homework packets, guest speakers, a field trip to the Upland Apiary, as well as cultivating a garden plot (shown below) and other special projects at the college's organic farm.

We learned a lot about organic farming practices, and some students experimented with permaculture techniques and other non-traditional farming practices. I wonder how many of the gardners in Pittsburgh are going organic to avoid contaminating waterways with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers this summer.

And then there's the subject of "organic" fertilizers, but I'll have to tackle that subject later.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Global Warming Hasn't Yet Changed the Composition of the Blogosphere

Mattt Thompson told me I should start blogging, so I did. Hopefully this blog will
  • improve my writing skills
  • force me to keep up with environmentally-related news, and
  • help me figure out what I want to do with my life.
Also, the more things you can find about me on Google, the more proof there is that I exist. And I am all about asserting my existence.