It’s In the Bag

27 11 2007

Plastic Bags

By Jill Ettinger

November 20th marked the beginning of the end of plastic bags for San Francisco. It’s no surprise that this progressive city is leading the way in reducing their carbon footprint. Mayor Newsom attracted worldwide attention when he implemented a ban on plastic water bottles in all city government buildings earlier this year (citing the more than one billion bottles that end up in California landfills annually). Many cities followed suit, looking for ways to minimize plastic use. Almost overnight, the faucet is back in fashion. The city is now at it again as their Board of Supervisors recently enforced a ban on plastic bags. When an agreement with the California Grocers Association failed to yield the reduction they promised, the city’s ban went into effect.

The plastic bag first found its way to grocery stores only thirty years ago. It has since taken over our culture: we use 60,000 plastic bags in America every five seconds. Plastic bags are made using millions of gallons of oil. “Freedom” Plastic Bags Inc. describes their method:

“The process starts with a resin that feeds into an extruding machine. As the resin is fed through a heated screw, it is forced to mix and melt to a liquid state. The screw forces the melted resin through a die forcing it into a tube. Blowing air through the center of the die ring expands the tube, sometimes called a bubble (much like blowing up a balloon). The amount of air and speed in which the tube travels up a tower determines the size and thickness of the plastic. The bubble travels up a tower to cool the melted plastic. Once cooled, the bubble is flattened and travels down the tower through a set of rollers. When the plastic reaches the bottom, it is wound on a large roll.”

Seems like a lot of work just for carrying stuff in, especially considering that they tear, rip and often break wide open. Why does this unreliable trade-off seem more reasonable than carrying around a sturdy alternative, like a canvas bag? If plastic bags were cars, most wouldn’t be allowed on the roads. In addition to the wasteful and caustic production process, plastic bags take nearly forever to break down. No one has outlived a plastic bag. It takes approximately one thousand years for a plastic bag to reduce itself into microscopic particles, which continue to contaminate water and soil. They have been found on the shores of Antarctica. (Unless there’s a secret penguin Wal-Mart that we have yet to discover, they are washing up from somewhere else.) Yet we hoard them like they were gold. Perhaps future cultures will dig this stuff up and place it in museums, wear it around their necks and wonder how it came to be that humans figured out how to make precious plastic.

Mayor Newsom will certainly be remembered for his contribution to a plastic-free society, and even more remarkably, so might New Jersey. Historically, New Jersey is a leader. The most densely populated state has been first in a lot of things. Atlantic City built the first (and still longest) boardwalk in the world: four miles. Blueberry cultivation started here, as did the holiday must-have condiment, cranberry sauce. The country’s largest grove of summers’ favorite blossom – the cherry tree – is in Newark. The FM Radio, movie camera, lithium battery, postcards, saltwater taffy, zippers and drive-in movies, all originate from the “Come See For Yourself” state. Music was significantly influenced as Frank Sinatra grew up in Hoboken and both Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen hail from the Jersey Shore. (And, InnerContinental calls Jersey City home too). According to New Jersey is poised to seize another credit by possibly becoming the first U.S. state to ban plastic bags. Maybe the mafia has a sustainability initiative as well? Whatever. We’ll take it.

If you live anywhere near the Jersey Turnpike, or have ever just even had the displeasure of driving through it, it’s no secret that there’s heinous stuff going on that can’t possibly be related to blueberries. New Jersey houses the second largest petroleum containment system IN THE WORLD (second to the Middle East). Jersey refineries are responsible for pumping out more than half a million barrels every day. Un-bagging New Jersey is an important, albeit subtle message to the petroleum industry inoculating our air and water. If we remove the petrol-based bags, we’re reducing the barrier to the real problem itself, putting us just one step closer to replacing oil once and for all.

[The picture at the top depicts the amount of bags used in this country every five seconds, taken by Chris Jordan in his “Running The Numbers” series.]


Darker Saturday

24 11 2007


By Derek Beres

Waking up to this article in the NY Times, it’s sad but not surprising to see where the focus of major media outlets has gone. Within two days, from covering the continual web-driven and -sponsored debates by Democratic hopefuls and the continuing perils of oil and Iraq, all eyes turn on: Santa Claus.

When I began a career in journalism during college ’93-’97, and then full-time in East Brunswick and Princeton in ’98, you are taught that there has to be objectivity in coverage, meaning to take yourself out of the picture to cover the “facts alone.” What you learn, however, is that regardless of what you’re covering, there can never be true objectivity. That’s a very Cartesian idea, being able to remove yourself from the world around you to write about it. The reality is that you can learn how to write an article to make it seem detached, but what you choose to cover, be it yourself or your editor, denies any signs of objectivity. That the total focus of newspapers and television networks has shifted to what Americans are spending on the holiday season is indicative of the growing consciousness of an economy in turmoil, certainly, but also a condensed reality show passing itself off as news.

In this NY Times piece, industry analysts have dubbed this the “trade down” season because high-end stores are “losing” business to major discount retailers like Wal-Mart and Target. (How one can “lose” business that is never given eludes me.) Quoting shoppers saying “I don’t like to be seen here” and “this is two steps down for me,” is a sad display of the perpetual gossip one of the supposed top media outlets in the country has turned to. Yes, it is the true mindset of many, but again the focus of this as lead quotations is truly sad, but given journalist’s approach of seeing what’s “wrong” with us, instead of what’s right (besides the fact that analysts have said we are off to a “strong, but discounted” start in sales), provokes the constant guilt over worrying about the money, and not the love, behind our presents. When this replaces presence, there can only be confusion and grief.

I’ll be avoiding the chains and boutiques altogether, and once again shopping at the Union Square Holiday Market.  At least there, for the most part, I get to meet and talk with the people that are either creating the products or importing them. There’s something inherently special about that to me, making a direct connection with the creator of the craft, which in turn gets passed along to the receiver of the gift. Its something you can’t analyze or create into very dependable statistics, but it is also something that is felt more than thought about. And for some odd reason, I thought that sharing these feelings with friends and family was closer to the intention of the holiday in the first place.

Dark Friday

23 11 2007


By Derek Beres

“What the hell is Santa doing here?”

Not the exact type of language (or even question) you’d expect from a group of suburban housemothers, yet it was posed—repeatedly, I’m sure—at the Menlo Park Mall in Edison, NJ a few weeks ago. Everyone knows that Santa doesn’t start appearing at the mall until after Thanksgiving, meaning, today. So what the hell was Santa doing there, cuddling with stuffed lions, coaxing girls in pigtails over with his affectionate if not slightly bloated smile?

With barrels of oil pushing the $100 mark, creating a large upswing in heating and gas expenses, along with the catastrophe of the unforgivable housing market, retailers are scrambling for what is expected to be a slower-than-average Christmas shopping season. Many businesses are made or broken during this stretch between Black Friday and the day ol’ Saint Nick comes a knockin’. So why wouldn’t he be at the mall early? He’s got some major PR work to do!

Santa knows marketing well. While the former bishop from Turkey known as Saint Nicholas of Myra may not have been “invented” by Coca Cola, it is certain that their campaigns put the image of the red-and-white fella into the hearts and minds (and wallets) of hundreds of millions. Just as Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ” gave what Christians have grown to believe to be the definitive gaze of Jesus, Coke’s annual print and subsequent television ads have given the jovial character its final figure.

Yet Santa was nowhere to be seen on the mass television coverage this morning where, from a helicopter hoisted above a Wal-Mart in Somewhereville, thousands of people trampled atop each other to break the barricade of other customers to flood the stores. This phenomenon occurred nationwide; Macy’s in New York City had a waiting line of over one thousand people at 5:30 am, and decided to open their doors a half-hour early.

Across the board, retailers are reporting that electronic is “it” this year. It reminds me of the story in Michael Pollan’s excellent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, where the farmers that face surplus are faced with only one solution: grow more corn. The act of growing more decreases its value, and the only way to catch up is to…keep on growing. In general they are receiving a dollar a bushel less than what it takes to grow it, and their “profits” are secured by government subsidies. In a nation filled with less expendable income due to the startling increases in electric bills, what do we do? Buy more electronics. Perfect solution.

Coinciding with the season will be the onslaught of commercials, with retailers, as usual, reminding us how important family values and time spent with loved ones is. Oh, and buy our product, because that helps you get closer to your family. What’s lacking in the retail sector—what’s always lacked in the retail sector—is honesty. You can’t bake that cake and sell it at a cost below what you paid for ingredients. Hence, wily marketers gloss over the idea of the value of time with the value of their time: spending time in their stores. Fortunately for them, as witnessed at the mind-numbing focus of mainstream media on Black Friday, we’ll never know the difference.

Global Beat Fusion: Big Brass at the Disco

22 11 2007


by Derek Beres

“Initially I had a lot of difficulties. I did not find a label that wanted to release it. I was in a lot of negotiations, but they all said that nobody would listen to this. They would say, ‘Why are you into this music?’ I had to create my own label and system to make it happen.”—Shantel.

There is much irony in this statement. When you hear the opening “Espirita” by a group of 20-some Italian 20-somethings basing their music on the traditional banda music of Sicily, the unique sound of Banda Ionica—as well as a number of incredible groups on the first edition of Bucovina Club—engage and invade your auditory senses with some of the most interesting rhythms and melodies on the planet. Now as much an institution as a CD, Shantel’s famed Bucovina Club nights have launched from his Frankfurt base to the far reaches of Europe. Yet upon the first outing, which featured a mind-blowing cast including Taraf de Haidouks, Fanfare Ciocarlia, Goran Bregovic, Gogol Bordello and Kocani Orkestar, it was an unconvincing sale. Indeed, the battle is far from over.

Shantel started creating a turntablism career in the ’90s dropping a more expectable soul, house and jazzy cuts indicative of open-minded heads and hips. He was long aware of the regional musics of Southeastern Europe, and carried around vinyl for kicks. One evening while performing at a fashion show in Paris, one filled with “all this attitude, this coolness, this stylish whatever”, he decided to test a hypothesis. While usually relegated to ceremonies, Shantel pulled Macedonian wedding music from his bag of tricks. The tunes, heavy on brass and Turkish percussion, were considered dance music, albeit in a much different setting than fashion gatherings and discothèques. “The music changed totally the attitude of the night. It opened a strong emotional area, with all those clichés of people dancing on the tables.”

To read full column on PopMatters click here

Eleven Things That Challenge My Perceptions (And the Endless Pondering of Possibilities)

21 11 2007


By Jill Ettinger

I just attended an event in Texas called the Leadership Gathering. It’s a profound gathering of natural products industry folks that come together, just to see what happens – discuss ideas, connect, share, and so on. The theme this year was “challenging perceptions” and this list was compiled for the event. Originally, it was about one hundred zillion light years long, but I trimmed it down to eleven. A complete listing of things that challenge my perceptions is available everywhere, all the time.

11. If Barry Bonds met a fastball strike in the forehead that split open his skull and then aliens started walking out, right onto home plate, like they were de-boarding from a long intergalactic space journey, would anyone really be surprised? What if they all looked exactly like David Beckham?

10. Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is not fiction!? So apparently, Great White Sharks are real, folks. They live in oceans and eat people. (Note: “Chum” is not your “buddy.”) You’ve been advised. Also, if you have any friends who are seals (who doesn’t?) you may want to let them know that they should probably be on alert, too.

9. Cold-pressed, Fair-Trade, Organic, Yummy Coconut Oil. (See #6.)

8. The number 8, as in, Infinity. How’s that again? Never-ending, huh? Well, ok then.

7. But wait! What about String Theory? So our Universe is actually a giant cello now? I would have thought it more like a beanbag, but whatever. Music’s cool. Still, that’s a whole lot of strings. Are they at least organic cotton?

6. George Clooney. (See #9)

5. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, but Blind Willie McTell and a Girl From The North Country have both just confirmed that we are indeed living inside one (or possibly a Series) of Bob Dylan’s Dreams. We are a little Tangled Up In Blue (from Blowin’ In The Wind), but When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky, we’ll have just enough time for One More Cup Of Coffee before The Hurricane. There is Shelter from the Storm and you will stay Forever Young, Like A Rolling Stone, actually. Just look for the Visions of Johanna All Along the Watchtower.

4. Can someone please explain Leap Year to me? Seriously, how does that really work in the whole time-space continuum? If we could unravel this major hiccup in time measurement, you’d think we could also figure out a way to make puppies stay cuddly and clumsy forever. Priorities, people.

3. You’re awesome. This one is just for you.

2. Nothing is something. Yes, it is, because anything is possible.

1. Which must mean ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING is possible. And in that case, there’s really not very much else to discuss.

Beating the Balkans

16 11 2007

 Nuit Tsiagne

Nuit Tsigane: Gypsy Night at Le Divan Du Monde (Crammed)

Talk about cross-culturalism: It was during a fashion show DJ set in Paris that Moladavia native Stefan Hantel, a.k.a. Shantel, realized that Balkan music destroyed (in the best sense) dance floors. He returned overseas and started the Bucovina Club night in Frankfurt, to showcase the brass and percussive sound of Romania, Hungary and the rest of Arabic-inspired Eastern Europe. Just as Shantel dropped his former jazz and house tendencies, Brussels native Gaetano Fabri was spinning techno in European clubs for nine years before being infected by the Balkan itch. He created Nuit Tsigane at the club Le Divan Du Monde, and has since become a juggernaut on the Balkan electronica scene. Breaking through internationally with his beat-heavy take on Kocani Orkestar’s “Siki, Siki Baba” on the Shantel-produced Electric Gypsyland, this entire collection of remixes is approached in like mind. Being a compilation, there is a broad range of treatments he offers to various tracks. His remake of Fanfare Ciocărlia’s “Alili”—the very band that inspired Shantel under the Brooklyn Bridge—tones down the original guitar-driven tune in favor of a more club-ready low end. Similarly, his sensual take on Balkan Beat Box’s “Adir Adirim” remakes the hyper and high-pitched song with a tasteful and knowing bass. Sometimes less is more, especially given the frenetic range of violins and darbuka that occurs in Balkan music. Fabri can remove, yet he can also add. His take on the cimbalom-driven Taraf de Haidouks cut “Go East” features a reverberating high hat that’s as persistent as any mallet pounding upon string. And when he touches up Romani fusionists Kal with the blips and beeps of video games, there is something endearing to this whole process. – DB


14 11 2007

The Abyssinians

By Derek Beres

Satta Masagana [Deluxe Edition] (Heartbeat)
As record labels scatter and scrimp to survive via publishing rights, this classic album of the reggae pantheon truly stands the test of time. The three-part harmonies of Bernard Collins, Donald Manning and Lynford Manning helped defined what “classic” reggae was in the first place. The accompanying musicians, including Robbie Shakespeare and Horsemouth Wallace, provide a lesson in Jamaican folklore. While the title track became biblical in the Rasta world—a dreamlike ode to the roots of black spirituality—there is plenty here to reminisce and recline to. The two previously unreleased extended mixes of “Abendigo” and “Poor Jason Whyte” are nice collector’s items, but truly unnecessary. The original always was, and will remain, enough to keep any sane mind occupied for hours.

Another Dance: Rarities From Studio One (Heartbeat)
If you’ve ever stepped foot into the Bob Marley Archives, you’d quickly know there is plenty of unreleased material and rare outtakes awaiting public ears. Archivist Roger Steffens contributes liner notes and, most likely, creative direction on these eighteen cuts, originally recorded for Clement Dodd between 1964-66. It’s rough, analog and gorgeous, if only because you know where Nesta was headed. This is Bob in his ska-soul days, with plenty of soloing horns and (original) dancehall rhythms. Hearing prime cuts that would never be re-recorded for Island, such as the vibrant “Ska Jerk,” and original templates of “One Love” and “Cry to Me,” make this a more-than-worthwhile investment.