Archive for 2007

Van Jones speaks, Thomas Friedman listens

You know you’re somebody when you’re featured in a column by Thomas Friedman in the NY Times. Not that Van Jones needs any affirmation that he’s somebody. Today Friedman brings Van Jones to the attention of his thousands of influential readers worldwide. And what an incredible platform for Jones to spread his vitally important message.

In the past year I’ve had the good fortune to hear Jones speak twice. I’ve never heard a more compelling speaker. Both times he was addressing audiences of almost all white progressives and environmentalists. His powerful request to us as people helping to build the next new economy is this: As you’re hopping on that train to the land of the lush green economy, ask yourself, “who are you taking with you — and who are you leaving behind.”

If Van Jones has any say in the matter, and believe me he does, the African-American community will not get left behind this time. He also knows that it’s going to take great effort on his part and among African Americans to ensure the new economy is not just green, but inclusive. The first step is getting this message out to as many people of power and influence in green political and economic circles as he possibly can. That’s why Friedman’s column strikes me as a watershed moment in Jones’ crusade. Friedman speaks to power and influence across America. I fervently hope they’re listening.

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007
Posted in Business & Economics, Sustainability | No Comments »

The language of global warming

A couple months ago, I signed up for Google Alerts on certain keywords. Two of them are “global warming” and “climate change.” I wanted to get a sense for what is being said and argued in the blogosphere and the general media about these topics. I don’t begin to read all the posts and opinions that come to me each day. In fact, I find myself increasingly wanting to tune out.

Why? First off, let me state that I’m deeply concerned about the broad environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change, and I absolutely believe human actions contribute greatly to, and are maybe the sole reason for, our warming atmosphere. I believe we must act now, collectively and individually, to avert the worst outcomes of climate change. But I also have a new concern: the rise of global warming fear mongering, what others view as hysteria and alarmism.

Unfortunately, on this point I find myself sympathetic to the complaints of those I will call “The Deniers” — those on the other side of the debate (FOX News, anyone) who deny the existence or predicted impacts of climate change and continuously rant against the alarmist claims they see spewing from their liberal enemies. And let me tell you, they have plenty of fodder for their daily diatribes over the global warming movement. Consider a few of the headlines I pulled from my Google Alerts in just the past three days:

– Global Warming Linked to Worst Mass Extinctions in Earth History
– Global Warming And A Deadly Amoeba That Feeds On Your Brain
– Global warming report gives grim outlook for state
– Pumping Particles Into the Atmosphere: A Global Warming Doomsday …
– Climate Change, Past Tipping Point
– Environment: Climate Change: Can We Stop It?
– The rising threat from global warming affects us all, warns Sir Emyr
– Another reason to sweat about global warming
– Global warming driving up humidity levels, says study
– Burning Earth: Linking Wildfires to Global Warming
– Global warming may aggravate Argentine energy woes
– A matter of life and global warming
– Global warming brings additional woes to orangutans
– WITNESS – Global warming changes face of high Alps
– October heat wave adds to global warming fears
– Where Climate Change is Felt More Strongly Than Anywhere
– Papua’s forests and global warming
– Climate Change “Mega Disaster”
– GLOBAL WARMING: Connecticut lobsters dying off
– Will Global Warming take away monsoon & food?

These headlines are from bloggers and journalists worldwide: US, Asia, Europe and South America. The Deniers would look at this sampling as evidence of hype, junk science and liberal conspiracy. I view it as the potential cause for human inaction. Yes, some of us read posts and articles like these and feel compelled to act, out of fear or a deep sense of obligation to Earth and its inhabitants. But I’m also convinced that these dire-sounding reports and opinions, repeated over and over again by well-meaning media and bloggers, will lead many to tune out and send others into a tailspin of depression and powerlessness. In which case, scientists, politicians, journalists and concerned citizens attempting to raise awareness and ignite action on global warming will be stymied.

If large numbers of people stop listening because the drumbeat of warnings is too loud or are rendered inert by the perceived vastness of the problem, the doomsday warnings will become self-fulfilling. Those who are out front on climate change issues worldwide need to rethink and carefully monitor the effect of their language choices. We need everyone on board in this great cause.

Thursday, October 11th, 2007
Posted in Climate Change, Communications, Sustainability | 1 Comment »

‘The War’ and the war

I have sat transfixed through nearly every gruesome and heartrending hour of Ken Burns’ telling of “The War” this past week. It’s almost been enough to take my mind off the war; I mean that one our administration wants to call the war on terror. Unfortunately, the last world war didn’t make history of all war. Loss of limbs and lives continues unabated in places we Americans choose to fight and in plenty of other spots around the globe we choose to ignore.

Today I find myself looking to compare the war my father fought in with the one our soldiers are ordered to contest in Iraq. But I stop short. There really is no comparison, aside from the individual bravery, sacrifice and brutality common to all wars. Still, I can’t help but observe the Iraq news backdrop to the 15-hour airing of “The War” — BlackWater, the mercenary, ahem, private security firm coming under harsh criticism for a recent tragic confrontation in Iraq. I suspect many other Americans go to the same place I do as they hear about the involvement of Blackwater and other private profiteers of war: cynicism. We grow even wearier. What else can we expect from an administration for whom the invisible hand of the free market belongs to God. Of Blackwater, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich remarked:

“If war is privatized, then private contractors have a vested interest in keeping the war going. The longer the war goes on, the more money they make.”

And therein grows the cynicism of the day. If it’s good for business in America, it’s good for America. Chalk up war as another commodity to be bought and sold. Of course Corporate America benefitted tremendously during World War II. But Americans then were not afforded the luxury of cynicism. The war could not be won without the all-out efforts of business and every other institution. Whatever it took, whatever the cost to win the war was what Americans signed up for. They had little choice. Those who would destroy us had to be destroyed.

When I imagine Baghdad, I don’t see the tyrants of Berlin or Tokyo. I picture the civil war leaders of Hanoi and Saigon. I don’t find towering figures like FDR and Churchill to take comfort from. I seethe over the deceit of Bush and Blair. And I don’t witness the sacrifice of all Americans. I see volunteer soldiers from the ranks of our most disadvantaged families and a depressingly large swath of our citizenry more concerned with Britney Spears’ wellbeing than that of our warriors.

So how will filmmakers years from now look back on America’s war of 2007 and counting? You can easily guess my prediction. What’s yours?

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007
Posted in Current Affairs, Film, Politics, Television | No Comments »

Lattes, scones and what really matters

I know him only as Mohammad. Today I learned his last name when much to my surprise I read a brief editorial that featured him and his cafe. Most weekday mornings for nearly six years I stopped in at Mohammad’s corner juice bar for a latte and one of his irresistible scones or muffins. It would usually be a brief stop, because like Mohammad I had my own business and needed to get to my office just a few blocks away and get started on my day. But many times over the years I would linger to chat between the orders of his many other loyal customers. We talked business at first. Eventually we got to know about each other’s families. He met my mom before she became too physically unstable to visit. He still asks about her today. My wife drops by regularly, too. And now Mohammad has met my in-laws from out of town. Several years ago, I started seeing Mohammad’s young son at the cash register on Saturday mornings or weekdays when he didn’t have school. I can’t help but think of myself, years ago, when my dad would bring me to his store. I liked operating the cash machine, too.

Like my dad once did, Mohammad runs a family business. I don’t know that family businesses are endangered species, but for the last 30 years or more they have inexorably given way to corporate chains and franchises. And as they have, we citizens of communities keep losing faces and places that bind us together. Like me with the editorial writer at the Oregonian. I’ve never met him, but I know now we share something important in our lives. Taking direct aim at the mermaid joint directly across the Park Block, he writes:

Mohammad would never ask you if you stupidly forgot to order something from his pastry case. He figures if you want a scone, you’ll order one. But he has been known to slip one into a sack and just hand it to a good customer once in a while. That’s class. It shows why his tip jar is usually brimming, and why he’ll probably be able to take his kids back to Disneyland or somewhere else fun next summer, too.

Mohammad has also shared his story with me of taking his kids to Disneyland this summer. I was happy for him because I know he almost never takes a break from his business. I suspect you know people just like him near your workplace or home. If not, look a little harder. Your life will be richer for it.

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007
Posted in Business & Economics, Food and Drink, Oregon | No Comments »

Tesco in the US: Good neighbor or Trojan Horse?

Wal-Mart may one day have some competition for the most despised retailer in America. Tesco, the Wal-Mart of Britain, will be making its entry into the US market in November, starting with 500 outlets in Southern California, Phoenix and Las Vegas. The Hometown Advantage monthly bulletin today cites a study of what to expect from Tesco in the US.

The company appears to have learned from Wal-Mart’s image problems in the US and is taking a different approach. Tesco’s US strategy makes it look like a paragon of social responsibility. It is locating many stores in “food deserts” that other grocers have abandoned because the areas may be poor or unsafe while also branding itself as local, sustainable and good community citizens. Its stores will be known as Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets, instead of Tesco. Time will tell whether there is real substance to its image making, or whether its strategy is simply a Trojan Horse to get into the US with little opposition and then revert to business as usual. Already, groups are calling its bluff. And one LA academic told Reuters:

“If it’s really all that it has been advertised as … then they will be successful. If it turns out that it is just really impressive marketing that covers up a business that is not much different from its competitors … then the American public will figure it out in a while.”

Mainstream business media are watching to see how much market share Tesco will grab from other large chains like Safeway and Wal-Mart. Aside from watchdogs like The Hometown Advantage, I don’t see anyone asking what Tesco’s US arrival portends for independent locally owned grocers. We can assume the first 500 stores are in the southwest are just the start, and they will be coming to a strip mall near us all soon. Oh joy.

Friday, September 28th, 2007
Posted in Business & Economics, Food and Drink | No Comments »

Deserved accolades for Portland restaurant scene

There are a lot of reasons I love living in Portland. And the New York Times has done justice to one of them: our amazing restaurant scene. I’m sure the tourism crews in the city and state are diggin’ yesterday’s lengthy piece, “In Portland, a Golden Age of Dining and Drinking.” For those of us living here, it’s not news. But it’s a good feeling to know we live in a city where the ingredients that make for a high quality of life – local, sustainably grown food and people who revel in producing and preparing it – are in such abundant supply. The article also touts our local wines, micro brews and distilled spirits. I would add my favorite, terrific local coffee roasters, to the list as well. (Another New York Times reporter recently featured Portland’s burgeoning and distinctive tea culture.)

If you have read this blog, you know my bias for things local. Local businesses and the people who own and work at them give communities their unique character. In Portland, we are blessed with many fantastic locally owned restaurants. I look forward to the day the New York Times returns to feature Portland for the thriving locally owned businesses of all sizes and types and their thousands of loyal customers that have stood up to America the Franchise and declared victory for what makes our community special.

Thursday, September 27th, 2007
Posted in Food and Drink, Oregon, Sustainability | No Comments »