Friday, August 29, 2008

A Tutorial on How NOT to Write a Book Review

I know the internet is the great equalizer of our time. There are no gatekeepers. Anyone can write anything, no matter how dull, pointless, or just plain dumb. Within the world of social networking sites, idiots are likely to pop up, but you can always turn the down as friends.

However, I have a higher standard for Goodreads, the social networking site for people who actually read books. I expect people who spend enough time reading to warrant creating a Goodreads profile to at least comment on their reading selections with some intelligence.

But this is the internet, and I should never have expected so much. Here are my favorite stupid comments on some of my latest book choices:

On Naomi Klein's No Logo
"Ok ok ok, I know the hype surrounding this book. Your dreddy activist friend keeps recommending this to you. That dirty hippy that is a total vagabond is doing the same.

Well, what sold me on this book was an image taken from a busy street with all of the logo's removed using Photoshop. Striking.

And the book is long, interesting and at times redundant. Naomi Klein is hot, first of all, but mainly she's right. Advertising ruined the planet. Basically."

On David Kuo's Tempting Faith
"Zzzzzz...*snort*...*cough* *cough*...zzzzz..."

On David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed in Flames
"1. I HATE men who don't do the dishes, I hate it when they sit around and let women do the dishes. David Sedaris doesn't do the dishes and I am glad, because it shows I can hatefully resent slash stereotype gay and straight men equally, and therefore I'm probably not homophobic, although I probably am slightly androgynist, oopsies! But not being homophobic cancels that out, right?

I also HATE IT when a man, like say someone I know, does the dishes as a little something extra to show his wife how much he loves her. ARE YOU SERIOUS? You love her enough to ::GASP:: do the dishes???? OH MY GOD! What a man!

2. I always wonder if David Sedaris would be a fun person to hang out with. I mean, would he just be lame and totally obsessed with creating more stories about his lameness so he could mine his life for better (a k a more pathetic) material? It used to bother me that there might be people in the world who were cooler and better and awesomer on paper than they would be in real life."

More to come.

Monday, August 25, 2008

More Anti-Corporate Ranting (and Book Recommendation if You Agree)

I was hesitant to write yet another post on my growing anti-corporate sentiments. However, Naomi Klein's No Logo has become the manifesto of the anti-corporate movement, and it was a worth-while read.

Much of the content is quite dated. Klein did most of her research in the late 90s and the book was published in 2000. The version I read had an afterward written in 2002, which covered some post-9/11 complexities. That said, I often found asked myself what were today's equivalents of her examples of branding overload and corporate meddling.

However, I find her diagnosis on No Space, No Choice, and No Jobs still very relevant in our over-branded society and big-box dominated landscape. I'm grateful to live in Austin, where local businesses thrive, and for the most part, I've been able to cut myself off from such pervasive corporate encroachment.

I still hold the resentment Klein describes in the latter half of the book, and I still cringe every time I look at the labels on my clothes. Klein gives a detailed account of her visit to factories in the Philippines, and much of the evidence she presents is thorough and well-researched.

That said, I'm sure economists (especially those proponents of the free trade) have criticized this book to no end. As far as the sweatshop debate goes, I'm sticking to my commitment to only buy second-hand clothes and search for fair trade options. I have no doubt that Klein's descriptions were accurate and represent factory conditions across the developing world. Economists have to live with their consciences at the end of the day.

I found her exploration of advertising's growing role in our lives to be the most interesting (and disturbing). Klein describes the corporate pursuit of teenagers, and during the late 90s, I was a part of the crucial demographic and bought many of their promises. Gap jeans did not make my life better, but I was told they would. As a young adult 10 years later, I think my resentment has grown from that influence on my life as vulnerable teenager.

I have to wonder how many of my peers bother to question these things and explore any of their resentments. I think many of them are happy to go along with what their fed, as long as they can still get cheap clothes at Old Navy and lattes at Starbucks.

Overall, No Logo is incredibly thought-provoking, and I'm glad I read it. The book is slow towards the end, somewhat repetitive and tiresome (especially Klein's criticism of Nike). Nonetheless, it's an important read for anyone who is involved in media and interested in media criticism. I wish I had read it in college.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Little Green Things

For a while, I've been compiling a list of easy habits that can decrease one's environmental impact, and here's the list I have so far:
  1. Change your lightbulbs. It costs more initially, but you'll save loads on you power bill.
  2. Eliminate plastic bags by using resusable ones at the grocery store.
  3. Reuse plastic bags creatively. I've starting crocheting with them, so you can always give your old ones to me.
  4. Use your dryer sparingly and air dry your clothes. Use drying racks and laundry lines outside.
  5. If you have a backyard, start a compost pile and vegetable garden. You'd be surprised how fun it is.
  6. Rinse and reuse plastic baggies and plastic food containers. It's a little more work than just throwing them away, but it saves you money, too!
  7. Conserve water by taking shorter showers and turning off the water when you shampoo your hair and shave your legs.
  8. Unplug all appliances when you're not using them or plug them into a power strip you can switch on and off.
  9. Carpool.
  10. Bike (I'm not at this point yet myself, but I hope to soon.)
  11. Use pubic transit.
  12. Educate yourself on your municipality's recycling program and find other recycling centers that take items your municipality doesn't pick up.
  13. Eating less meat, especially red meat.
  14. Start using a resuable water bottle rather than drinking bottled water.
  15. Stop buying new clothes. Buy second-hand and hold clothing swaps.
  16. Stop buying new books. Use the library more often and borrow and loan from personal libraries.
  17. Don't buy any new furniture. Buy second-hand locally.
  18. Make your own natural cleaning products.
  19. Shopping more locally in general.
A related topic, I have not eaten meat in 12 days. Even though I've thought of myself as a flexatarian for about three years and have expanded my vegetarian pallet since moving to Austin, this is my first intentional full vegetarian stint. Dave, my vegetarian roommate, told me if I made it a month, he'd buy me dinner at Mother's, a pricey vegetarian place that has renowned spinach lasagna. So far, so good. Now I have just have to decide what to eat for lunch...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Faith-Based... Politics?

Barack Obama and his campaign know he needs some percentage of the evangelical vote to win the general election. They also know that young people make up a huge portion of his constituency.

So it's no surprise that he was happy to have a conversation with Cameron Strang, founder of Relevant magazine, a hip, progressive media group aimed at hip, progressive, young Christians. He managed to land this interview weeks before John McCain, and I'd actually be surprised if McCain did talk to those kids. He's more after their parents, seeing as Relevant readers are only a small percentage of those oh-so-crucial evangelical voters.

Here's the link to the interview.

What was most interesting was Obama's ideas for Bush's Faith-based Initiatives Office. He's planning on renaming it the President's Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

I'm guessing Obama, or at least someone on his campaign, read David Kuo's book about being an insider in Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives Office. After reading it myself, I think his ideas sound like good improvements, but we'll see what happens if he's elected and how things look four years from now.

I don't doubt Obama's commitment to faith-based service, but politics are politics. I believed the lie of compassionate conservatism. Granted I was 17 and gullible and going along with my parents' views for the most part. Now, I've gotten pretty jaded about politics, but I'm not so cynical that I won't vote. I just hope money gets to the organizations and services that need it.