Friday, March 31, 2006

Consumer Culture: What Does “Green” Mean?

Reading through some favorite blogs today I got to thinking, what do people really mean when they say “green”?

A post in Grist discusses a house purportedly built with “green” design that the writer suggests, at an unsustainable 5,500 square feet and plotted in a desolate location, is missing the point of “green” building.

A post on World Changing talks about how the entertainment media industry is “embracing green as their new favorite shade of cool.” But again the writer points out how “green” efforts fall short as, for instance, the May issue of Vanity Fair features eco-focused articles printed on 100% fresh tree paper.

So, what does “green” mean anyway? And is it even possible to do anything that is entirely “green?”

I think everyone agrees that “green” means “eco-conscious.” It’s “green” to recycle, to plant trees, to buy long-life lightbulbs, energy efficient appliances, and unbleached paper towels. It’s “green” to keep the thermostat down to 68 in the wintertime, to take public transportation, and not to litter. There is a huge and growing industry for “green” products, not to mention countless “green” blogs and websites where you can learn more. Heck, even Walmart is starting to offer organic foods which, besides being better for your body, are also produced using more eco-friendly methods (theoretically). And that’s all great for the environment. Theoretically.

But isn’t “green” more holistic than that? It’s not just about, say, buying organic beef when you crave a burger. It’s also about being conscientious of where that beef comes from, how the cow was raised, how the workers who tended the cow were treated and paid, how the cow was killed and how its meat was processed, how it was delivered to the store, how the store employees are treated and paid, who owns the store, and so on. But back up, can you even eat meat and still be “green?” What about animal slavery and the negative effects of red meat on the human body? Back to the drawing board…

It seems that the more people get hip to “green,” the more people’s “green” efforts undergo criticism. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it challenges us to question and reflect on what “green” means, and that kind of questioning is good for integrity. So “green” isn’t as simple as it seems at first. It is complicated and layered and elusive.

I for one don’t mind that “green” isn’t a black-and-white issue. In fact, maybe “green” is really an ideal, and as such is ultimately unattainable. Maybe we can only aspire to being “green,” but will never accomplish 100% “green” anything. Eco-tourism lodges in the Caribbean may be built to make a minimal impact on the environment, but you still have to take a (gas-guzzling, emissions-spewing) airplane to get there. We buy organic foods, but the brand may be owned by a major international company linked to poor labor policies and environmental negligence. A “green” products store opens, but its walls are lined with shelving made in exploited countries where workers are abused and ill-paid. Is there any way to win?

Maybe not. But maybe being perfectly “green” isn’t the point. What’s important is that we bear in mind the holistic nature of “green” and that we stay alert to our choices. We must not blindly buy “organic” milk without awareness that the USDA definition of “organic” allows factory farm cows to be penned up in crowded outdoor corrals with minimal access to grazing pastures while company owners collect the premiums we pay for said milk. And if that concerns us, it’s up to us to tell our Representatives that we’re not ok with that, because speaking up is as important, and maybe more important, than making “green” purchases.

Being kind to each other, speaking up to fight injustice, casting conscientious dollar votes, and treading lightly on the planet – this is my definition of “green.” Can we do all these things all the time? Probably not. Will some of our choices contradict others? Probably so. But at the end of the day, every dedicated effort counts.

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world."
- MK Gandhi
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photo by Seng Lin Saw

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Susan Pratt-Smith's Jewelry (Finally) Shines!

[Click here to view available work by Susan Pratt-Smith]

Our jewelry displays arrived today, and I have started slowly introducing them to the jewelry in the shop. My plan is to display each jeweler's work against fabric that best show off the pieces, which means lots of customizing by yours truly.

For instance, Erica Schlueter's work will be mounted on wire mesh screens covered in orange-ish silk shantung, and Alana Dlubak's on board covered by soft white jersey, possibly with a white lace overlay. New artisan Alison Mackey (of Park Slope!) will have her jewelry set off by grass green silk. And I'm looking for some nice antique burlap to highlight Connie Verrusio's pieces. I had a blast at Mood Fabrics in the garment district last week finding just the right materials for these displays and am excited to go home tonight and start working on them!

I didn't need to do anything to the standard-issue black velvet displays I got for Susan Pratt-Smith's work though, so I put those up today. We thought of doing something more inventive, but her amazing dichroic glass jewelry really looks best on black velvet. Susan's jewelry has been ill-served by its flat location on the North shelves since it's all about the play of light in the glass. It looks much better now brightly lit in the jewelry case, as you can see in this photo. Finally, Susan's work shines like it's meant to! (For close-ups, click here.)

I'll post more pictures of jewelry all gussied up in its new displays as I complete them. We'll be getting in work by six new jewelers over the coming months, so look for that here too.

This Spring, the jewelry at Greenjeans is really gonna POP!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

New Artisans: Jay & Janet O'Rourke

The Guy Gifts you've been looking for have arrived!

A few weeks ago, I mentioned some new polished wooden boxes that had arrived at Greenjeans. Today I have some pictures of them for you in this slideshow, as well as a brief introduction to their makers, artisans and husband-and-wife Jay & Janet O'Rourke of Hood River, Oregon.

The O'Rourke's make all of their boxes to order from fine exotic woods from around the world including ebony, cocobola, and the extremely special pink ivory. Their signature works are their wonderful Hinged Boxes, which come in 5 different sizes from the Pocket Box size (good for pills, rings, etc.) to the appropriately sized Business Card Box, to the Large Box (for cufflinks, keepsakes, photographs, and so on).

Besides the Hinged Boxes, they make a handy Toothpick Box that dispenses one toothpick at a time through a little aperture in the front.

And they make their incomparable Folding Letter Openers which open like straight razors and are very nearly as finely honed.

All of their pieces are impeccably crafted. In fact, they are as close to perfect as anything we've seen. Once cut and assembled, the O'Rourkes sand their pieces progressively with 40 - 800 grit sandpaper, then oils them with a Danish oil and left to dry. When dry they are buffed with a jewelers rouge to remove any oil or scratches. Finally they are sealed with a pure carnauba wax finish. Care for the boxes is simple: keep them away from direct sunlight or high heat, and polish them with a clean cotton cloth to restore shine. They never need to be reoiled or waxed.

A few of these boxes have already found their way into the pockets and bureau drawers of the men in the lives of our shoppers. But we have more here for you, and expect that we'll be working with the O'Rourke's for a long time to come.

So enjoy looking at these beautiful boxes, and please stop by the shop to see them in person and try them out for yourself. Oh, there's a picture of our display case installed in the shop in this slideshow, too!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Word of the Day: Anaerobic Digester

One of my passions, besides craft, happens to be garbage. In my pre-Greenjeans life, I studied with and worked as research assistant for anthropologist Robin Nagle at NYU who teaches a class called "Garbage in Gotham" and is writing a book about sanitation workers and the "labors of waste."

So yesterday when an old colleague from Jae's pre-Greenjeans life (working for a green architecture firm) happened into the shop and told us about a new office building that converts its own garbage into electricity, I was rapt.

He was describing what's called an anaerobic digester, which works like a giant compost pile in the building's basement. He said that paper, food waste, and other organic material gets collected and special bacteria work to break it all down in an oxygen-free (anaerobic) environment. The methane generated from this process gets funneled off and used to produce up to 75% of the electricity the building needs to operate. 75% from garbage!

Obviously, I'm pretty new to this anaerobic digester stuff, but Jae found a few websites to read (click here and here) to learn more. From what I can tell, it seems to be a technology used sometimes on farms but not so much in urban environments, so this new building is quite cutting-edge.

I can't mention the architect's name nor the building's identity, but once completed it will be a major achievement for green architecture in New York City. Yay garbage!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Good for a Few Laughs

Grist Magazine is not the place I usually go for laughs -- their environmental news and commentary is informative and smart, but it isn't really that funny. But today I came across a post by local writer and Greenjeans friend Emily Gertz that mentioned another blog called Overheard in New York that is quite funny. She wrote:

Judging from this quip recently overheard in New York at the West 4th Street subway station, the Environmental Defense + Ad Council's new Fight Global Warming ad campaign can't start soon enough:

Girl: ...I mean, who doesn't like being warm? It's not like they call it "Global Sweltering"! So who cares?

Emily's point is well-taken. But I'd never heard of this blog, so I clicked on the link and within seconds I was in a fit of laughter over the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction quotes. I'm not talking about little smirks of recognition that something's funny. I mean belly laughs. (Ok, I've been said to have a kind of dorky sense of humor, but anyway...)

Most of the quotes posted involve sexual innuendo or profanity, but not all of them. One that is even somewhat craft-related, headlined "None of that Drag Queen Lassie Crap," runs like this:

Man: Those are some fine-lookin' sweaters!
Old lady: Do you like them? I made them, you know.
Man: You made those?
Old lady: I did.
Man: Do you think you could make one for him?
Old lady: I would be delighted!
Man: But, you know...I, for a boy chihuahua.

Ok, these aren't the funniest ones I read, but this is a family show and I'm trying to keep it clean. You'll just have to check it out for yourself if you haven't seen it before. Because laughter is good for you and overhearing unbelievable stuff in New York is one of my favorite things about living here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

White House Collection of American Craft

While browsing The Strand Bookstore last week, I came upon a book titled White House Collection of American Craft. From tea pots and vases to clocks and quilts, the book is filled with pictures of fine works by 70+ artisans from around the country. It struck me as just absolutely perfect, inspired even, that The White House should collect American craft to fill its stately rooms and grand hallways.

The book was 11 years old, but I figured the program must still be going on, and I resolved to find out about it, maybe even let the White House know of the fine artisans represented at Greenjeans. Like the New York Lottery ad says, hey, you never know.

Well, today I googled about the matter, and learned that, sadly, the program is no longer active. The site says that the idea was hatched by Hillary Clinton back in 1993, and ended when the White House changed hands. [3/25/06: But Mary Anne Davis pointed out yesterday (see comment) that Joan Mondale was the one who got the White House involved in collecting craft, and indeed significantly helped raise the profile of American craft back during the Carter administration.] I have no idea why the collections wasn't continued -- what, is American craft too lefty or something? But anyway I wanted to let folks know about what I think was a great program. (It appears the collection is now stewarded by the Renwick Gallery, part of the Smithsonian.)

If you check out the website about the collection, you will be able to take a pretty interesting virtual tour of the White House as it was in the 90s when the collection was on view. The work looks quite striking in such a fancy setting. The picture here is an example. There are also video clips with Clinton and others from whom you may learn more about the program.

I'm not ready to endorse Clinton or anyone else for the next President, but I do have to give her high marks for championing American craft as First Lady. Seems rather enlightened, no?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New Jewelry Case Arrives!

Today our bright and shiny new jewelry case arrived! Here's a picture of Jae uncrating it earlier today after its long trip from California where it was built. We've got it set up in the shop now, near the window, and have been playing with how different things look inside. The case is a perfect study in the magic of glass and halogen lighting -- everything you put in it looks like a million bucks!

We will be working on our jewelry displays for the case over the next few weeks -- making silk-covered boxes, experimenting with earring trees -- so please stop by and let us know what you think.

It's going to be fabulous once we have the display case Dad's building installed next to it. But already, the glass case makes the shop look a bit sharper, neater, even a little sparkly. It is a lovely way to start Spring!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Wooden Boxes & The West Wing Soothe Me

I was going to write today about the handsome polished wooden boxes we got in yesterday, made from glowing exotic woods by a couple in Oregon who have been woodworkers since 1969. They are ideal "guy gifts," a category our customers have been asking for, since not everyone wears cufflinks. (We have marvelous cufflinks.) But we forgot the digital camera at home, and so we'll have to wait a few days before we post about the boxes.

Instead, I'd like to share with you a cool short commentary by Thomas de Zengotita in the L.A. Times about what he dubs the "How Great Men Once Managed Great Events" genre. From recent biographies of John Adams to the TV show The West Wing, this genre has grown robustly in the last few years, de Zengotita points out, in part because we are craving a sense of reassurance. I'll let the rest of the piece, titled "Powdered Wigs, Pinging Devices Soothe Me," speak for itself.

The reason I share it with you is because Jae and I have an overdeveloped appreciation for The West Wing, and I like any opportunity to talk about the show. We spent so many nights this winter on the couch watching Netflixed episodes in order, basking in the glow of the characters' fictionalized competence portrayed through snappy dialogue and artful lighting... Ahhh, the relief and pleasure it brings. And the excitement, too! It borders on, I'm gonna say it, porn. I can't believe the show is even legal. (Though, of course, it has recently been cancelled. Hmmm...)

De Zengotita is also a wonderfully conversational writer and keen observer of our mediated existence. In addition to the L.A. Times, he writes for the The Huffington Post. His book, Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It, is recently out in paperback (and has been mentioned in a previous post). Check him out -- he's got his finger on the pulse.

And check back in a couple days to see pictures of those beautiful wooden boxes that also bring great pleasure...
...but without all that pesky mediation.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Table Art by Mary Anne Davis

On her blog today, ceramicist and artist Mary Anne Davis (see previous post) whom we represent here at Greenjeans, posted this wonderful table setting concept. Mary Anne is inspired by the table as art, and her imagining of what that means comes through beautifully in this picture. All our dinnertimes should be so artfully rendered!

We have pieces by Mary Anne here at the shop, and can always order anything else from her that you fancy in any of the 12 colors and endless patterns she works in.

So if you're feeling that your table could use an aesthetic lift, this vivid porcelain tableware is just the ticket. We can help you customize a truly unique and memorable set of dinnerware that will knock the socks off you and your guests. Or if you aren't ready for that kind of commitment, try a new set of soup bowls in lime and blue, a rainbow assortment of new dinner plates, or a cluster of seed and pod vases in the center that coordinate with your existing tableware.

But be warned: this tableware just might inspire singing at the table...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

New Arrival: Sol Mate Socks!

Ready for some Spring color?

Come on in and get yourself a pair of Sol Mate Socks!

These colorful cotton socks, introduced in a previous post, are just the thing for these cool, pre-Spring days, reminding us that crocuses and daffodils are just around the corner.

Kids socks come in 3 sizes and are sold in groups of 3, or "a pair with a spare," for $18. Adult socks also come in 3 sizes and are $16 a pair.

And now, here's more than you may ever have known before about a pair of socks...

Sol Mate Socks are the invention of Marianne "The Sock Lady" Wakerlin of South Strafford, Vermont. Marianne started knitting when she was nine years old and her family moved to Spain. “I didn’t speak Spanish at first and was too timid to go play with the Spanish children in the neighborhood. It was during those first few months that my mom taught me how to knit.”

Her mother’s name was Sunny, “and since she taught me how to knit in Spain I named my company after her in a playful way I think she would have appreciated. The Spanish word for sun is ‘sol,’ so Sol Mate Socks is very much rooted in those early experiences with my mother. I don’t know what my first knitting project was, but I do remember that the yarn was blue and that it was hard to keep track of which side of the stitch to go into. I felt challenged.”

Marianne has been knitting now for over 40 years, but it wasn’t until she attended a weekend workshop on knitting socks that her passion was born. ”I found it exhilarating, designing a pair of socks that didn’t match and were knit in random patterns with multiple colors… There were some outrageous socks that came out of these experiments, and I liked the way a pair of mismatched socks could still appear related. The reception to my hand knit socks was so enthusiastic that I simply had to try it as a business.”

That was five years ago. Since then Marianne has stewarded Sol Mate Socks into a robust business. Marianne no longer makes all the socks herself, but she continues to knit by hand to develop new patterns and color combinations, which she uses for designing new sock styles. She employs the able assistance of a small workshop of machine knitters in North Carolina to make the socks, and a group of home-based sewers in Vermont to transform sock overages into dog coats, hats, and scarves. As for materials, the cotton socks have a little nylon and lycra blended in for comfort and durability. Sol Mate Socks are machine washable and dryable and do not shrink or run.

We think you’ll love Marianne’s delightful creations for their quality craftsmanship, comfort, and beauty, and besides as The Sock Lady says...

“Life’s too short for matching socks!”

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Greenjeans’ Picks for Best of New York

In response to New York Magazine's new Best of New York issue that came out this week, Jae and I have assembled our own list. It could hardly be described as comprehensive, and it's in no particular order, but this is what we came up with this afternoon. Enjoy!

Best Sushi in Brooklyn: Café Sakura
This tiny, neat spot on 5th Ave. serves superb sushi and sashimi that is much better than it has to be given the prices and location. Also offers a thoughtful, diverse saki list, and specials that are always delightful plays of flavor and balance. The chefs here are the real deal and the service is proper and smooth. The simple garden out back is a quiet oasis. Try the surprisingly delightful annin dessert, the unlikely but great Japanese favorite of almond jello and ginger ice-cream topped with chunks of fresh pear.

Best Soba & Udon Noodles: Soba-ya
They make the soba and udon noodles on site here. Some afternoons you can catch a chef cutting batches of noodles in the dining room. Try them cold or hot in any dish offered for a hearty and comforting yet clean meal. You will leave feeling well taken care of.

Best Ramen: Taku
Like Japanese but not up for sushi tonight? Try Taku on Smith Street, where the multiethnic kitchen turns out great dishes including their specialty Taku Ramen with pork, smoked bacon, and sea vegetables in a tasty broth. The line-caught Chatham cod is served over kabocha squash, ginger sauce, and pink grapefruit – don’t miss it. Cocktails feature house-infused sochu and are expertly mixed.

Best Almond Croissant: Almondine
Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. Buttery to the nth degree with a pale, not-too-sweet almond paste layered inside, with a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top. Absolutely dreamy.
Runner-up: Fauchon

Best Restaurant for Body and Soul: Applewood
Can’t say enough about Applewood. The food is creative and detail-oriented. Ingredients come from local sources and are organic and seasonal whenever possible. Wine pairings are spot-on and desserts are worth the extra calories. And they host monthly meet-the-farmer dinners. What other restaurant does that?

Best Source for Fabulous Women’s Shoes: Shoe Mine
Owner Temah M. has a great eye for shoes that are design-conscious yet eminently wearable. Featuring lesser-known designers from around the world as well as some tried-and-trues for good measure, Shoe Mine is always fresh and always unexpected in a good way. It’ll be hard to leave without falling in love.

Best Haircut: Ali at Lotus Salon
I never loved a hair stylist before I met Ali. But I love Ali. We all love Ali. She cuts Jae’s hair and his brother’s hair and his cousin’s hair and his other cousin’s hair, and my hair too. And we love her not only because she is smart and kind and bright, but because she does a great great great job on our hair. Simple as that.

Best Little French Bistro: Lucien
Another gem that’s better than it has to be for price and location and because it’s kind of an East Village institution. At night the place is always hoppin’, but once you get installed at a table it feels intimate and exciting. During the afternoon, it is calm and neighborhood-y and you feel like family. And the food, from escargots and pate to the duck confit and French onion soup, is exactly what you want it to be.

Best Hot Chocolate: Café Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie
It just is.

Best Museum Gift Store: Neue Galerie
If you love the aesthetics of the Vienna Secession, and I know you do, this is the place to get your fill. Wonderful books, note cards, wrapping paper styled after wallpaper, actual wallpaper, silver tea services – it’s all here and it’s beautiful. The impeccable museum is definitely worth a visit too.

Best New England Clam Chowder Outside of New England: Pearl Oyster Bar
Fresh, tender bites of clam mingle with savory bits of bacon and pieces of potato and corn in a creamy but not-too-heavy base. Served with the requisite Oyster Crackers, it makes me feel almost home. The oysters are top-notch, too. (See picture.)

Best Place to Get Some Writing Done: Hungarian Pastry Shop
This well-worn and time-tested dive of a coffee shop cannot be beat for getting work done if you’re a writer. It’s full of students and other writerly folks hunched over their books and laptops in the dim bulb light. There’s no music to guide your emotions, and the din of tourists chattering at the front mixed with the clipping of keys and pens creates a glorious accompaniment to the turnings of your mind. Get yourself a serious cheese Danish and bottomless cup of coffee and tuck in for hours of productivity.
Runner-up: The New York Public Library Rose Reading Room

Best Place to Get Red Socks: H. Herzfeld
Though his casual jeans-and-tee-shirt look might belie the fact, Jae has a penchant for bright red socks, and this is the place he gets ‘em. This proper haberdashery offers the best selection of superior quality, mostly British-made red socks of various lengths, fibers, and textures. They have other color socks, too, as well as bespoke suits, ties, hats, pajamas, umbrellas, toiletries, and accessories for the gentleman in your life. Or for Jae.

That's it! Thankyouverymuch! G'night!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

When the Weather's Springing Like This...

... what else can one even think of to blog about?

All of a sudden, yesterday New York turned into Spring. Today's the second day of happy sunshine and temperatures in the low 70s. Everyone is out strolling and smiling and enjoying light jackets and even flip flops! Winter seems like it maybe never even happened. (Which granted it barely did this year, but still.)

My friend, Mia, reported to me yesterday that the crocus bulbs she planted last fall, the ones we gave as favors at our wedding, were coming up in her back yard! Nothing but NOTHING signals the start of Spring for me like the popping up of crocuses. I was so inspired by her news and the weather yesterday that I totally recreated the shop window around a theme of daffodils. The picture above is a detail -- yellow kites, yellow books, sunny ribbons, and smiles.

However, while singularly wonderful, Spring is the least reliable season here. A friend once aptly described Spring in New York not as a season at all, but rather as those few glorious days sprinkled nonconsecutively in between Winter and Summer. And to be sure, soon enough we'll be languishing in the dog days of 90-degree heat and humidity. That is, if we don't get hit with another snowstorm first!

And so today, while it is here, let us celebrate and revel in the joy of Spring!

Sweet springtime is my time is your time is our time
for springtime
is love time
and viva sweet love!
- e e cummings

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Greenjeans’ 1-Year Anniversary Today!

How time flies… We can hardly believe where we were a year ago today, frantically installing the long wooden shelves with Dad, putting the finishing touches on our bumble bee yellow wall, and cleaning up fast before opening the doors to the public for the very first time. We had so little inventory that the shop looked almost… conceptual. (For a slideshow of images from those first days, followed by some shots of the shop today, click here.)

Now, one year later, that concept has grown into a healthy young business. When we started, we had no sign, no advertisements, and barely anything to sell. In fact, Greenjeans consisted of work by exactly four artisans, whom we mention with many many thanks: Jeff Brown, Kit Cornell, Jane Kaufmann, and Chris Rom & Geoff Buddie. Those early days were all pottery and felted wool, which evidently makes for a good start!

Today we represent nearly 50 artisans working in more than a dozen different media. We’ve gained the attention of publications ranging from the local (The Park Slope Reader) to the national (American Craft, Natural Home & Garden) to the international (Metropolis). And we’ve welcomed thousands of customers who have purchased hundreds of beautifully handcrafted items. Folks must be enjoying the furniture, toys, jewelry, pottery, books, and other works they’ve found here, for in a year we’ve only had one return.

Along the way, we’ve met and learned from many wonderful people and made many new friends. We are grateful to those who have shared with us advice, resources, and time. And we are grateful to those who have lent their generous support as we build Greenjeans’ foundation strong and true.

So today as we celebrate our first anniversary, we would like to say Thank You, all of you, for supporting independent business, valuing fine handcraft, and helping to make the first year of Greenjeans a joy and success. As we enter into Year Two, we wish you all peace, prosperity, good health, and joy.

With many thanks and many blessings, - Amy & Jae

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Try This: Green Grenades

True confession: I am a bit of an anarchist at heart, and have always loved something my dear friend, Mia, calls "guerrilla gardening." For me and a few choice partners in crime during college, guerrilla gardening meant going out into the city under the cover of night with scissors and a shopping bag and making our week's selections from the various concrete planters of tulips and daffodils that dot the well-kept sidewalks of Washington, D.C.'s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. I loved to have fresh flowers in my dorm room, but was too thrifty to buy them from the florist, and besides, stealing them was much more fun.

My sense of civic responsibility trumped my passion for guerilla gardening as I grew older, and now I get my (admittedly non-organic) fix from the local green grocer (though from time to time I will still, y’know, pinch an apple blossom or two to tuck behind my ear from a public tree, which is petty larceny by comparison).

But yesterday in Cottage Living magazine, I read about a way of guerilla gardening that weds civil disobedience with civic pride: making green grenades!

Green grenades are basically water balloons with a bunch of flower seeds funnelled in. In fact, that's exactly what they are. To make one, get a bunch of cheap balloons from the 99-cent store, a bunch of non-invasive annuals seeds, and a few friends who share your anarchism-for-civic-beauty attitude. Then, haul your loot to an empty lot and hurl 'em! The article says to clean up the balloon mess afterwards, which would be the responsible thing to do next, of course.

What would be good seeds for green grenades? I'm not an expert on this, and please post a comment if I'm wrong or if you have other suggestions, but I think cosmos, calendula, zinnias, asters, sunflowers, snapdragons, and marigolds might be good choices: tall(ish) and showy and hearty enough to actually grow in random plots of earth without becoming a nightmare for someone who ends up wanting to do something later with the land.

I love this idea and hope if you do it you'll send us a picture of the flowers if and when they come up!

But if anyone catches you at your guerilla gardening, it wasn't me who told you 'bout it...

Friday, March 03, 2006

Political Beat: What's all this about impeachment?

Let me preface today's entry by saying that this will not be a political rant or a soapbox speech. Instead, in the spirit of conscientious living, I am writing in response to an event Jae and I attended last night in order to share some ideas and resources with you, gentle reader.

The event last night was a public forum at The Town Hall on the question, "Is There a Case for Impeachment?" (C-SPAN has made the whole event available to view online -- click here.)We went because we are curious about all this impeachment talk and because it would be an opportunity to see some smart people talk live about an important issue. Lewis Lapham (pictured), venerable editor of Harper’s Magazine, had conceived the forum and invited Rep. John Conyers (ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee), Michael Ratner (president of the Center for Constitutional Rights), former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, and John Dean (Nixon Administration whistle-blower) to sit with him as panelists. Sam Seder, co-host of Air America’s show The Majority Report, moderated.

Before I mention the "answer" to the question posed, what I found most useful about the forum was to learn that "impeachment" means the same as "indictment," and a President (or any other elected or appointed government official) can be impeached whether or not they are found guilty of a crime. Reasons for impeachment can include treason, high crimes and misdemeanors, and other actions that threaten checks and balances and/or the supremacy of the Constitution. For instance, the panelists mentioned repeatedly that “executive tyranny” would qualify. But in fact, the President can be impeached for any reason at the discretion of the House. When writing the Constitution, the Founders foresaw that sometimes an elected official might turn out to be a bad apple, so they built in the impeachment process as a remedy.

Though it has only happened three times in history, it is up to Congress to impeach a President, and the process starts in the House of Representatives. The first step is to form a bi-partisan select committee to begin investigating whether or not there is adequate support for impeachment hearings. Rep. Conyers, who is on the House Judiciary Committee, has been tirelessly working on this for some time. In December 2005, he proposed House Resolution 635 calling for the formation of such a committee, accompanied by a 182-page report that took his staff six months to complete.

At first this committee business sounded like foot-dragging to me, but the advantage is that it has subpoena powers, meaning the committee could call forth for questioning anyone it wants and they will be under oath when they testify. There's no other way to get an adequate reading on Congressional support for impeachment since no one, especially Republicans, wants to say how they really think given the Administration's fondness for intimidating dissenters.

So, basically, before there can be an impeachment there must be a select committee. Conyers is the man heading up the efforts for forming this committee, but as of now there are only 27 others who have signed onto H. Res. 635 (click here to find out who they are). If you want to take action on this, call your Representative and urge them to sign onto H. Res. 635, or click here to sign and email prepared by the Center for Constitutional Rights, adding to the text that you urge them to support this key resolution.

So, ok, but is there a case for impeachment? The short answer according to this panel is yes, and the reasons why go on and on. The three primary reasons have to do with:
1) Spying on American citizens via warrantless wiretapping;
2) Detaining people without charges and condoning torture; and
3) Misleading the American public and Congress about Saddam Hussein's relationship with Osama bin Laden and about WMDs in order to gain support for going to war in Iraq.

Now, as Holtzman pointed out, when Congressmen come to office they also take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and if that Constitution is being threatened by the actions of the Administration, which many believe it is, then Congressmen have a sworn responsibility to take action. Again, however, they don't have to decide first whether or not Bush, Cheney, or anyone else is actually guilty. Impeachment means checking it out, under oath, and proceeding from there. Impeachment is the remedy for when a bad apple gets elected.

Thinking about the forum afterwards, Jae, big-picture kind of guy that he is, was left with two questions that I put here not so much to solicit answers but more as food for thought. The first is, what does the current Administration and its supporters envision for the future, for the next 5 years, 20, 50, 100 years? What is it they're after exactly? And his second question is, how did we get here, into this current situation? What allowed this veritable take-over to occur?

Being the details-person I am, I say that these questions, while valuable, cannot be answered quickly or easily, so in the meantime, if we citizens want change, we have to make some noise. Start with a call or email to your Representative (click here to find out who your Rep. is by zip code and how to contact him or her). And then find out who is running for a seat in the 2006 election and give them your support, because unless there is a party shift in Congress, impeachment is unlikely to occur.

If you’d like to read more about all this, check out the following:

“The Impeachment of George W. Bush” by Elizabeth Holtzman in The Nation (January 31, 2006)

“The Case for Impeachment” by Lewis Lapham in Harper's (March 2006)

Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush by John Dean (Little, Brown, 2004)

The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War by John Conyers (2005)

Ask questions, learn the facts, make your own decisions, then act.