December 27, 2007

Wherein My Latest Attempt to Go Green Turns to ... Brown

I have written a series of posts dating back to November 2005 that chronicle my baby steps to become green. These include studying green issues, attending green business conferences and seminars, investing in companies that produce green technology (such as solar panels), and suggesting common-sense steps that even non-committed, lazy people can follow to help save our planet and save themselves some money.

My latest step to go green is to forego bottled water in favor of filtered tap water. I have heard from the experts that discarded plastic bottles number up to 60 million per day, and most of these are water bottles. Moreover, plastic water bottles are made with petroleum. According to the Earth Policy Institute, it takes 1.5 million barrels of oil -- enough to fuel 100,000 cars for a year -- to make the plastic bottles to meet Americans' demand for bottled water. Therefore, reducing the use of plastic water bottles could help stem the skyrocketing price of gasoline.

However, my kitchen sink faucet is unusually large. My refrigerator does not have a water dispenser. Therefore, I could not find a built-in water filter that would fit. Instead, I went with the low-tech Brita pitcher that you fill from the tap and store in the refrigerator, and which contains a charcoal filter.

Unfortunately, the Brita pitcher has a design flaw. The flap that covers the spout refuses to lift out of the way when I tilt the pitcher to pour water. As a result, the water spills all over the place. I returned the pitcher yesterday and grabbed another one, hoping that it would work. However, when I took the pitcher out of the box and tested it in the store, the flap over the spout once again refused to open.

So now I am back to square one, pouring water from plastic jugs. This episode reminds me of what I heard over and over at a recent green business conference: that consumers want great products that work well, and they will not stand for substandard products no matter how "green" the products purport to be.

Do you hear that, Brita?

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December 23, 2007

Separated at Birth? 2

Former CIA operative John Kiriakou, who recently went public about the CIA's waterboarding of terrorism suspects, calling waterboarding "torture," and satirist Mo Rocca, who is so deadpan that I wonder whether maybe he just isn't funny.

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December 20, 2007

Separated at Birth?

Russian President Vladimir Putin on a fishing trip last summer, and Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (played by Robert Duvall) in the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola film "Apocalypse Now."

I love the smell of sturgeon in the morning ! .... The smell-- .... Smelled like --victory.

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December 16, 2007

Generation YouTube

Have you ever looked up old friends on the Internet and found nude photos of them? Now I have. Every now and then I do an Internet search for friends and acquaintances who I haven't contacted in a while, to see if I can find what they have been up to publicly or professionally. This time, I looked for a friend who I have not spoken to in a couple of years. She's in her mid-twenties, and I don't really know her that well (we may be considered more as acquaintances), both of which are relevant here.

This friend has an unusual first and last name, so when I typed her name in the search box, very few hits came up. The third and fourth hits were pretty innocuous-sounding social networking sites, but not the big ones with which everyone is familiar. So I clicked on the first one, and it is a social networking site. Her profile appeared, with a photo of herself nude. She had a bunch of other nude photos posted as well, and I'm not talking R-rated silhouetted glamour shots. The second site was more raunchy. It also followed the social networking model, but it appeared to be for people who want to hook up either personally or for professional "gigs." Some of her photos there were even more revealing, full frontal shots. I guess I found out what my friend has been up to. I was pretty surprised that she had put herself out there so publicly for her family, friends, prospective employers and the world to stumble across simply by searching for her by name.

My friend may be an older member of what I call Generation YouTube, those people, mostly in their late teens and early twenties, who are combining youthful stupidity, which has been around forever, with cheap, small video cameras (including phone cameras), which never existed before, to chronicle their lives and post the highlights on the Internet. Naturally, they want to post the most interesting parts of their lives. Naturally, that includes bad behavior, which often involves alcohol and the shedding of clothes. So now there are sites and groups such as the "30 Reasons Girls Should Call it a Night" group on Facebook, which features photos of girls who are so drunk, so throwing up, so making fools of themselves, that everyone agrees they are past the point where they Should Have Called it a Night.

I was trying to think through what this all means. In ten years, will everyone under thirty-five have nude photos and sex tapes of themselves on the Internet? As everyone posts their innermost thoughts and feelings on their MySpace and Facebook pages, will the idea of a written diary kept under lock and key to keep Mom, Dad and Little Brother away become a quaint thing of the past? By the time "Girls Gone Wild" number 157 is released, will every young woman have been filmed in a compromising position?
Will no one then care? Will we become like the French, nonchalant about our bodies and matters of sex? While now it might seem horrifying that one night of filmed drunken, semi-nude revelry can be forever available for employers and job interviewers, what happens in ten years when the next generation of job interviewers themselves have incriminating photos and videos on the Internet? If everyone does it, will the photos and videos no longer be incriminating? Will Miss America finally get to keep her crown?

When I discussed this with a friend the other night, she told me that maybe Generation YouTube won't even care about their Constitutional privacy and liberty rights that many of us are trying so hard to protect against a brutal assault by the Bush Administration. She may be correct. I can hear the thought process: So the government is listening to my phone calls? What-everr. I record all my calls and post them on YouTube anyway.

Now that thought is even more disturbing than all of us turning into the French.

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December 10, 2007

Getting the Christmas Materialism Monkey Off My Back

Even the Pope says that hyper-materialism at Christmas, as exemplified by Black Friday madness, is bad. I agree. But there is one type of Christmas materialism that even His Hatness would approve of. Each Christmas, I go to Toys R Us and purchase a toy for a needy child, through Toys For Tots or a similar charitable program. It's something that I always look forward to.

Yesterday was my day to go toy shopping. It so happened that, just beforehand, I spotted the book Investing For Dummies while ordering some business cards. I called a friend who I know is looking for some basic investing advice, and recommended that she take a look at the book. We then discussed our respective businesses, which are still in the early stages of development. Each of us would like to be even more successful with our new companies, and we could have focused on the negatives rather than the positives. However, I told her that I was on my way to the toy store, and that, compared to children who might have no Christmas at all without the help of strangers, we are doing quite well.

Toys R Us had its usual overwhelming inventory of toys, from educational to Barbie to video games. I had no preconception of what I was going to buy, or even whether it would be for a boy or girl. I looked through the educational toys, including those by Leapfrog, but did not see anything that caught my eye. Then I spotted a bright purple and pink Dora the Explorer backpack, with a raised colorful graphic of Dora and (as I discovered from Wikipedia) her best friend Boots the monkey. It was both great-looking and useful, a combination that always attracts me. I also know that one of my friends' daughters, who is five going on six, is crazy about Dora, and I'm pretty sure that Laney is a good arbiter of taste.

As usual, I will never know who received my gift. And I know that my small gesture doesn't mean much in the scope of things. But once again, I felt some true Christmas joy knowing that, somewhere, in a few weeks, a little girl may have a big smile on her face as she lugs around her Dora the Explorer backpack full of school books, or, better yet, new Christmas toys.

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December 05, 2007

Let Them Eat Cake

Let them do anything except watch the abysmal film "Marie Antoinette." For those few people who saw Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette," I am sadly too late. For everyone else, take heed: "Marie Antoinette" takes a guillotine to the filmmaking process.

Most people know the basics of Marie Antoinettte's story: Austrian Archdutchess, married at a very young age to the future King Louis XVI of France, installed and isolated at the insanely opulent Versailles palace, out of touch while the French Revolution takes place all around her to the point of making her famously callous remark "let them eat cake" when told that her countrymen had no bread to eat, and, finally, paying for this callousness with her life. This is a terrific story that would make a great film. All the filmmaker needs to do is follow the plot that already exists.

Astoundingly, Sofia Coppola, who wrote, produced and directed "Marie Antoinette," ignored much of the history that was right in front of her. While would-be screenwriters are repeatedly told that every scene in their films must drive the plot forward, "Marie Antoinette" has no plot at all. Rather, it's a lavish series of set pieces taking place at Versailles, with fabulous (and Oscar-winning) costumes, opulent displays of food, giggly shopping sprees with the Queen and her girlfriends, designer shoes and wigs, masked balls, and sexual intrigue. "Marie Antoinette" is a gallery full of very pretty paintings. Unfortunately, still-life paintings do not make a movie.

Perhaps Sofia Coppola's motive was to leave out the plot and concentrate on shallow, pretty images precisely to show how shallow Marie Antoinette's life was at Versailles. Somehow, I doubt it. Some of Coppola's best-known and best-liked films, such as The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, are full of gorgeous imagery but lack much of a plot as well. I guess when one is a member of the most nepotistic family in film history ("Marie Antoinette" also co-stars Coppola's first cousin Jason Schwartzman), one can violate many rules that apply to the rest of us.

But alas, even a Coppola cannot violate the harsh rule of supply and demand that exists at the movie box office.

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