Friday, May 30, 2008

Eco Bags up for Consideration

I have met Tracy Penwell through my friend Karen Longo∙ They are buddies from their days at Thunderbird Graduate School of International Management. Tracey is with Rima Fine Art, a gallery in Scottsdale. She is also a designer in her own right. This is her latest email:

I (Tracy Penwell) am a finalist in the 2008 IHDA Best Handbags Competition . My "green" (eco-conscious) handbag, "Summertime", is one of five bags chosen from over 600 entries submitted from all over the world! "Summertime" is on display right now in NYC in a Harve Bendel display window!

But I really need your help: I am also a candidate for the "Audience Favorite Handbag" at the Awards. The winner will be decided by online voting, and YOU could help me put Scottsdale on the handbag eco-fashion map once and for all with TWO wins! Both awards will be announced at
the Awards Ceremony at the New York Historical Society on June 18th.

Would you please go online and vote for my bag, "Summertime"? Here's how: visit . My bag is second from the top--just click on the "VOTE" button! And do you know any other handbag fans? Please ask them to vote too!

I've also relaunched my website for the handbags: Take a look and see which of my newest bags is YOUR favorite. (If you can't live without it, whip out your card--you can now buy it online!) And if you can't get to the voting site through the link above, there is one in the lower left corner of my site.
Many thanks, everybody, and stay tuned for the results!

Stoned on Karma

About a month ago my daughter went to see the Dalai Lama speak at the University of Michigan campus. She said it was an amazing experience but the mantra she took away from it (and keeps repeating almost daily) is a simple one: "Eat outside more often, have more picnics".
A short couple of weeks later what do you know but about 450,000 Chinese families are having to do just that! Coincidence or karma?
Then comes along Sharon Stone, unaware of the Dalai's admonition, naively chalking it up to karma.
What horror! The world recoils in disgust. Her contracts are cancelled and her movies will never be seen in China!
Are you kidding me? Who CARES what Sharon Stone has to say? Why give it any print? And more importantly, why pay any attention to it?
For a full picture of the absolute absurdity of it all here is the link to the news story:
One thing is for sure; Sharon Stone is no Dalai Lama.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Masticating on Going Green

The following is from an email exchange with a colleague that was spawned when discussing the merits of writing a column for publication on tips on how to “go green.”


Being a realist of the highest order, I am not so sure all this going green stuff is anything but a marketing scheme that is rooted in philosophy rather than reality and once it becomes clear that it really does not make any actual difference on the macro scale people may begin to see that the retailers were just using it to sell more stuff which is really not very environmentally sound. In other words, it would depend upon how you are thinking of addressing it whether it would be a good long term marketing tool. I noticed today that Jupiter is acquiring big red spots that they are attributing to global warming. What do you suppose the Jupitereans are doing to cut down on their contribution?

I heard a report on NPR yesterday about the legal roadblocks to harnessing one of the most prolific energy sources currently available: reusing the waste energy at industrial operations and nuclear plants. Harnessing all the “waste energy” that is a byproduct of these operations could generate 200,000 megawatts of electricity per year (think capturing all the steam coming off the cooling towers at Palo Verde to power turbines). There are all sorts of legal roadblocks including the Clean Air Act. This would be considered a modification and would trigger highly expensive pollution controls be added as well so people can’t afford to do it. If we could find things like that to write about every month it would make a lot of sense coming from a law firm.


Haha, you're right that I don't agree. Caution: speech ahead, proceed with plenty of time ;o)

I don't think there is anyone (including those selling the greenwashed products) that thinks the rampant greenwashing of every product is a impactful or meaningful...except me...

I see it very much the same way as the health revolution of sorts that happened a few decades ago. One minute it was good enough to eat Mom's down home cooking as long as you ate the Lima beans too, then everything on the shelf said it was light or was in some way healthier for you. It wasn't of course, and eventually (after people went from skeptically discounting the claims and warnings of death by any one of thousands of potential ailments to frantically gobbling down everything that said heart healthy and light) got regulated so that unless it was actually "Light" you had to call it "Lite" so the consumer could retreat comfortably back into a foggy cushion of belief that "they" were again safely in the hands of governmental controls on what was put in front of them.

In fact, I think the mass marketing overload is a key component in slipping the importance of environmental responsibility into the recesses of the American psyche. Right now, everything and it's emission is getting a green lens on it, and everyone with half a brain can see right through most of it chortling at the ridiculousness of a hybrid SUV that still only gets 20 miles to the gallon. We call it stupid and scoff at the lack of impact something like that will have on how soon we create a dearth on earth of people. This is the equivalent of those who, rightly, laughed at the first "health" foods that were hardly so. Slowly, people went from not thinking they even needed to change their diet to demanding that the "healthy" food actually be that and the FDA stepped in. Next thing you know, healthy living/diet is one of the most lucrative industries. I think the whole "green" thing will eventually work itself out the same way...

Oh yea, I would also just add that the other school of thought on Industrial waste energy is to come up with ways to not waste the energy in the first place...but I am deeply in the school of thought that things like that should be voluntary not mandatory and make your existing system more efficient and cost effective; people choosing to do things on their own, whether it be to triple profits or save endangered anemic orphaned baby skittering plankton found only in the crevices of sub oceanic pre-historic craters, makes it far more inclusive, less adversarial, and just happier. I don't see why you can't have this cake and eat it too...


Ok, sorry, but you kind of stepped in it when you decided to use food as analogy. Your argument using food as an example of how marketing can change lives (with a little help from the government) for the better by convincing people to change their behaviors would be pertinent to the green thing if derived from a sound premise.

I completely disagree that by naming products lite the marketers got people to change their health habits for the better and that in their zeal to sell things were adequately "checked" by the FDA. Just putting the issue into play did not make any long term difference to Joe Blow. He doesn't really think about this stuff.

In actuality, the people who are eating right and exercising would have done so on their own. This country has the worst record for obesity. This is a human nature life style choice that is abetted by the way food is produced and distributed. Those who watch their diet and work out also read labels and were savvy enough to have interpreted the farce of lite without the government's help and did so. Sure, lots of people started thinking about their unhealthy lifestyles but were soon distracted with thoughts of their inadequate erections and forgot to get on the tread mill.

I have been working out three times a week at the same facility for over 15 years. The population of my classes rarely varies. The same people who were there before the marketing are still there. Everybody else comes once or twice and never returns.

The FDA did nothing to improve matters. In fact they have made them infinitely worse. They insist on inspections but do not have the staff to adequately do so, thus putting us all at risk of E coli and meat recalls. Meanwhile, the pure meat farmer is unable to sell his wares to the public as it would be illegal without inspections. This forces mass production with its inherent risks. The small operations, however, are unable to get the attention of the inspectors because they are overwhelmed by the big guys. So we have few alternatives. Not that most people care.

Most people buy food at the grocery without giving any thought to what it is made of. If it says light they buy it under the false pretenses that they are somehow being healthy. Most processed foods (and these are the most consumed items in the average American diet) are made up of corn which has been broken down into its components and rearranged into all manner of chemically designed foodstuffs. It is easy to determine where this crap is in the food chain: read the label. Most people only glance at the large type on the package front.

As for the FDA making verbage more accessible, what a nightmare. Light no longer means light and organic has no meaning whatsoever. Unless you are a huge enough operation to be able to afford to jump through the hoops required to be able to use the word on your products, even if you are in reality the most organic farmer in the world, you are forbidden from saying that. The government now OWNS that word which renders it just an arrangement of seven letters. Small local farmers cannot sell their harvest for what it is without breaking the law.

And this is supposed to help the consumer?
For more reading on this and many other food issues I recommend Michael Pollen, "The Omnivores Dilemma."

I submit to you that most people are too busy to spend time thinking about this. They want taste and convenience so they can get back to their video games and DVDs. The people who changed their lives after the "healthy" marketing schemes are thinking people who would have done so just because they didn't feel good.

The upshot is that after the marketing we are now left with total confusion. Organic may or may not be organic. Green may or may not be green. What does it all mean?

One of the greatest writers of our time, David Foster Wallace, refers to all this miasma of information as Total Noise. It now takes professional sorters to comb through this noise and shake it down into little segments that are digestible by the common person. There is just too much information out there to process for decision making purposes. But having other people do it for you risks distortion and bias. (See David Foster Wallace, introduction to Best American Essays 2007).

This column idea is our attempt to provide that service to the public and in the process get some name recognition and hopefully more business for ourselves. I applaud that concept of course (after all I think I do a pretty good job of seeing reality as evidenced above) so why not do it? All I am saying is that we should do it with integrity and about things we know to be real and meaningful to avoid the risk of being exposed in the end as greedy hypocrites who ignored the truth.
That is all I am saying.

Oh, and eat local and seasonal. Come to the Downtown Public Market.


Well said Kim. You're right, I did step into it when I used food, clearly an area you are familiar with, as an analogy and then didn't qualify with anything.

I apologize in advance for my wordiness.

I agree with you, unfortunately, that the food/diet/agriculture situation in our country is in an abysmal state and that to argue that we are better off now than we were a few decades ago b/c of a crescendo of a health food revolution is not an easy pitch. I have alos heard some very accurate and hilarious alternative definitions of the acronym FDA that I would share with you another time that I think you would appreciate. However, I do think that it is possible that mass marketing and the rise of the media colossus has had a very significant influence on the direction society has taken with respect to eating and diet, not just in a bad way.

Raised as a kid to admire foods like fluffy flakes of questionable derivation that could miraculously become mashed potatoes, to appreciate the time saving of McDonald's "happy" meals (though I had no where to be), to see the good in the coffee and dining room tables being one and the same, and to savor the potato flavoring unwittingly consumed on the king of burgers' french fried potatoes, I left the nest to became a one time vegetarian (short stint that will not be revisited), long time member of many CSAs in most places I've lived, eschewer of soft drinks, caffeine, fast food, and many other low hanging fruits for health, and someone who currently thinks when he shops, reads labels, tries to keep up as best he can on the status of many of the good fights being fought.

With several close friends farming organically in various parts of the country whether they can advertise it or not, several other friends who will make a run to the border for a double dipped thrice fried mexi-melt chalupa with an extra helping of guacamolito sauce from that infamous eatery who thankfully got rid of the Chihuahua, and most somewhere in between, I feel like I have seen at least a bit of more than one side and have come to the same conclusion as you, that there is a significant group out there who live as consciously as they can and would inform themselves as best they can for their purchases and lifestyle choices independent of the marketing that they are exposed to (at different levels depending on if they have a tv or listen to the radio or otherwise engage mainstream society).

However, I also think there is a much larger portion of the population that is so exquisitely and precisely depicted by the cunning wits who write for the Simpsons (America's longest running prime time television show animated or not). That depiction is of a group who can only think as one mob and whose opinion can be swayed readily by a person with charisma or just a threat to be feared. It is this group who, as you seem to agree, still buys anything that has a label on it saying that someone else is making sure it is good for them without wondering what standards are used or what the enforcement is. This is the group who today's advertising works best on and who it is primarily directed at, in my opinion. This is the group that I think would not have even looked for the label saying healthy years ago. This is the group that I think hasn't really even started looking for the green label yet. Has the food/diet/agriculture situation reached an idyllic point of perfect balance? Ha! I think we all know that isn't the case. Has it come a little further along from where we were when people thought it was good to cook with lard, good to eat a large helping of meat with every meal, safe to chase the DDT truck, and set up lawn chairs to watch the nuclear tests? I think we have, though I understand that you may not. Obviously it is not just b/c of marketing. There have been countless good people trying to do right and educate others; without them, we wouldn't have even taken these few steps.

I did not mean to imply that the FDA or the government regulation on food has saved the national health and waistline. I did mean to imply that the beginning of the movement as a whole, along with the health-washing equivalent of today's green-washing, played a part in raising awareness (I guess this is where we disagree). I think there are some big lessons to be learned from what has happened with our food industry (that it is currently primarily one is part of it) but that we should indeed learn something from that and apply it now to what I, in one humble opinion, think is another case of history repeating itself with global instead of individual health. If nothing is done differently, we will be planting corn on farms tens of thousands of acres large run by machines and filling our buildings with thousands of CFLs instead of using day-lighting all the while wondering why the planet is still going into the crapper, much like so many order a salad from McDonald's with extra dressing, then get in the car to drive across the parking lot to the Jamba Juice wondering how they and their kids are still getting so fat and having so many health problems. There may also be some things we should do the same so as to not "throw the baby out with the bath water" as they say.

As Michael Pollan's books Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food sit yet unread (though this may be the impetus needed) on my shelf next to several other lately popular ones by his colleagues that I have read about the state of our food industry and national habits, I am glad that we are having this conversation and believe you are right that the upshot is total confusion where once there was total ignorance and denial. Sounds like a step forward to me.

As a perpetual devil's advocate even with myself the thought also occurs to me that perhaps we are trying to solve the current problem with an old solution. Maybe, as hard as it is for me to believe, the solution is something more radical that we can't even entertain yet b/c it seems impossible or at first contradictory to the goal. Many things throughout history must have seemed like that without the hindsight we now have through history's lens, as inescapably skewed as it is.

I agree that we should pursue a column that provides the service you mention with integrity and about things we know to be real and meaningful. Extremely long story short, I would like to clarify that I think the greenwashing is "impactful and meaningful" only in so far as it is a necessary part of the process of getting to a point of raising awareness in a way that I don't think most people think of, but integral nonetheless.


My final thought. All this green stuff is great, if it works because it is nice and good for us and makes us happier people. That is why I am into it; I am greedy, I want to live in a nice world. The planet will cope.

Having studied this subject and taught enviro science I am convinced that our arrogance will always be held in check by mother nature, who is a cruel taskmaster in her own right. I think we both reached the same conclusions; just by different routes. You are a very wise man!
This was so much fun I just thought it would make a good post for others to read. Crazy way to spend a virtual weekend. You are a thoughtful guy and a worthy sparring partner.
Somewhere in all of this I never read the column. Can you send it to me again?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Get Me to the Dirt on Time

"I can’t tell you how many times people have come up and said 'I know you are not used to this redneck stuff' and I would calmly reply 'this is my family; of course I am used to it and I love it!'” This quote is from Lisa Lopez-Fund, my first cousin, and metropolitan denizen, having lived in NYC, LA, Hawaii and now, for the second time, Atlanta, a burgeoning southern metropolis unlike Phoenix only in terms of humidity.

The occasion of the remarks were my niece Trina’s white-linen, twinkly light, elegant wedding. The red neck part? The wedding was at the site of the annual megalopolis of sorts formed by the campers accompanying the elk hunters lucky enough to get drawn for the forest area outside of Williams, Arizona.

The “camp” is formed around an enormous fire pit, stoked by mountain-sized piles of wood gathered from the environs by those who choose to go up a couple of weekends in advance to prepare. Seventy or eighty people then pull in, dragging or driving RV’s and campers of every sort. Smaller four wheel vehicles ranging from Polaris open-air “sedans” to miniature ATV’s for the three-year-old set get parked in a tented garage erected to accommodate the need. Tents form dining halls and storage areas. “Furniture” is chain sawed from giant logs for reclining in between treks after the big game. At night the camp rivals any city; it is fully lit and can probably be seen from the space station. All of this magic is powered by portable generators. If there is ever a nuclear holocaust, these are the people you want to be hanging with.

Trina, the bride, is known for being one of the few success stories in terms of bagging the prey on these steroidal hunting trips. No doubt her secret to success is that she looks so damn good in the lavender camouflage she so casually pulls over her perfectly coiffed and manicured self each morning as she rises in the dark to make the pre-breakfast trek. I can envision her sitting out on a bluff watching the sun rise and planning her dream wedding like any beautiful young woman. Fortunately, she met the groom on one of these very trips; their Dads being hunting buddies; one from Prescott and the other from Yuma.

Well, Trina’s dreams came to life last weekend when she pulled off a major coups by staging an elegant (“not hick” she so stoically submitted each time the subject came up) wedding at that very spot. And I must say, it was one of the most entertaining weddings I have ever been to and that is saying a lot coming from me. Lucky for her she has her grandmother Jacquie’s genes and is a highly organized and capable individual. Not unlike Clint Eastwood, she not only directed the entire operation, she (and Brandon, the groom, who is no slouch himself when it comes to organization, skill and capability) was the star of the show.

Nearly 300 people attended, most in RV’s, but some stayed in the town 6 miles south at more traditional accommodations. Everything went off smoothly from the rehearsal and dinner right through to 24 hours later when the real event took place. And every detail was nailed down tight, so to speak.

There were separate tents for the food, the 13 cakes (with baby pictures of the happy couple sprinkled throughout), the beverages including the beer kegs, margarita machines and lemonade/coffee/tea service, the gifts and guest book (which was a glossy hard back filled with photos of the couple to be signed by the guests with gel pens), and the all important porta-johns.

The dance floor was assembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle beneath strings of globe lights. The crowning glory was the wood and glass chandelier lovingly handmade by family friend Denton Cooper (another type A in the group) using mason jars for the light globes. This was to be the wedding gift but when Denton found out that mason jars would serve as the vases for the gorgeous hand assembled silk flower centerpiece bouquets for each table, he realized he could incorporate his gift into the evening’s ambiance.

The ceremony took place against the fence separating the forest from the meadow. The arbor was crafted from aspen logs and decorated with pine boughs sporting the red, yellow and purple flowers that formed the color scheme. The unity candle was on a table just beneath the arbor that was covered in red and yellow rose petals on the day of the wedding. Although the breeze threatened to blow them away, we were able to hang on to most of them as the weather cooperated most exquisitely, warming into the low 70’s in the afternoon, with a few wisps of clouds for color over the green tree line and a slight breezy gust from time to time, just enough to keep us on our toes and our underarms dry.

The procession was led by the grandparents who emerged from behind the curtain that formed the eastern edge of the party area. Followed by the parents who were escorted by the best man-Brandon’s best friend Justin from Yuma, and the “man of honor” Trina’s brother and best friend, Travis. (Yes, she did this before the Patrick Dempsey movie was ever marketed).

Then came the flower-chuckers; five little boys under the age of 4, in white shirts and black pants. One was pulling and another was pushing the other three in a farm wagon draped with red and white netting and red flowers. The riders tossed rose petals along the aisle to the tune of “Sweet Home Alabama.” About that time the maroon Model A that Shorty, the bride’s father loving built along side his great Uncle Joe could be spotted making its way in from the direction of town. As the traditional wedding march piped out the car pulled up and Shorty emerged to escort the bride up the aisle.

The ceremony was moving, particularly for me as officiant and aunt of the bride. I am known for tearing up over radio commercials and my voice was a bumpy as the rutted dirt road Trina just rode in on, but eventually I hit my stride and it was all good. Brandon’s stepfather joined the ceremony with a poem written for the couple complete with reading parts for the two of them. Other than the wind playing havoc with the candles, it all went like clockwork. Janna sang “The Rose” as the rose petals on the table floated in the breeze and they sky grew ever bluer as dusk was approaching. Melanie’s perky reading on friendship restored light to the mood.

After the happy couple and their extended families weathered the grueling photo session, complete with signing the license on the hood of the car, the couple made their way across the lawn to officially start the festivities and gaze upon the bare appetizer trays that had been so coveted by the waiting crowd. After the first dance and wonderful toasts from the two bridal party members the hungry hoards headed for the food tent. While standing in line they were treated to a slide show of the last two and one half years of Trini and Brandon’s lives together. This lucky pair appears to be on perpetual vacation from the looks of the photos.

The meal was stunning. Brandon’s Dad Mitch has spent the better part of the day roasting 95 pounds of tri-tip on his homemade grill. This thing is so big it gets pulled along on its own wheels and probably should have an MVD trailer plate. An ingenious set-up it has a pulley system that raises and lowers the grill rack to get just the right heat. After rolling the roasts in a seasoning mixture they were coddled over a fire of indigenous wood until they were just short of done. With his pig tail tool the roasts were lovingly transferred to foil-lined ice chests and sealed inside, capturing the heat and bringing the meat to the perfect serving temperature by dinner time. The same process was used on 98 pounds of marinated chicken.

The food tent was manned by the McCarty’s. This family’s DNA is intertwined with the
Weedon’s from generations of hunting together. We all remember stories from Grandpa Frank about old McCarty. His spawn have kept hunting-story-making tradition alive to this day as an integral part of the lore that has arisen from this very spot and plenty of others in all the previous hunting trips these groups have done together. These people are also overactive and so they were the perfect group to handle the food service. Fresh handmade tortillas, corn, green beans, rolls, salad and the best pinto beans you ever had were served as if at a top notch resort buffet.

Travis’ ex-girlfriend and current love of the entire rest of the family, Chelsea Gould, a darling if there ever was one, caught the bouquet. Alas Travis missed the garter. But after a night of “everclear” and nonstop dancing in the mountain air, Travis and Chelsea were seen walking off together. Although we heard no bells and saw no lightening, it was nice to see them at least talking again.

The madness continued into the deepest part of the night, eventually migrating to the huge fire pit. The diehards and the urban cowboys stuck it out to the bitter end. We left the 37 degree party ourselves at about midnight as the dancing was winding down and without the movement it was a bit on the nippy side. Up until then even the dogs were dancing.

The only down side to the entire adventure was the dirt. It was inescapable. And sticky. Trina had a gorgeous hairdo that was blond on top with brown curls emerging from beneath it and streaming down her back. By the halfway mark her gorgeous white dress that cascaded to the ground was blond on top with brown curls emerging at the bottom. At least it matched her hair!

But one happy, happy time. The attention to detail paid off and it was a most memorable event for us all. Thanks Trina and Brandon and here is hoping that rest of your marriage is as successful and fun as the wedding!

Go to: for more pictures.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Where Wright Went Wrong

I guess all the whooptey-doo over Reverend Wright is not going away so I might as well weigh in.
Woe is he who plays with politics. Obama made one giant tactical miscalculation if he thought Reverend Wright gave a hoot about what anyone thinks but himself. You have to give him credit for eschewing the apparently overwhelming lure of all things politic; this has to take a very strong person. Strong people are obviously the types attracted to political office--deluding themselves that it is not the meek who shall inherit the earth. Many good and strong people have been unable to resist the lure of political office and its offer of power, most often at their own peril. Wright, though, has made the Sharpton's and Jesse Jackson's of the world look like fools for their inability to resist that temptation as those Reverends tried the political route and met a huge roadblock.
What Wright knows better than them is that in politics you are absolutely unable to ever tell the truth--at least the truth as you may personally interpret it. Wright is wedded to his version of the truth and is totally and completely unapologetic about it. Obama, on the other hand, is caught having to rewrite the truth in order to try and remain in the game. Wright's truth seems to be winning out. Although people are concerned about the economy and costs and the war they are all talking about Wright.
Watching the analysts try and rationalize Wright's views into a message that can in any logical way be dealt with in front of the national body politic is like watching Bill Clinton try and explain how he did not have sex with that woman. It is strained at best and pretty much internally illogical.
In the end Obama's downfall will likely be attributed to Wright. Which brings me to where Wright went wrong. Rather than make any progress on the issues with which Wright has such fortitude to stand up and fight for with all his might, he is actually setting up more roadblocks. I suspect at his age it is not a job security thing to cause him to be greedily seeking to maintain the status quo. The real problem is he is so embedded in his own vitriol he has failed to put it into the context of the bigger picture. His own blindered perspective therefore prohibits him from making the progress he so desperately laments is being withheld.
As human beings we must be able to understand and sympathize with the position of another in order to allow our own attitude to be adjusted enough to be able to live together in harmony with those who are not exactly like us. It works both directions. That ain't gonna happen in Wright's world.
Ironically, he may be keeping it from happening in Obama's as well. But if truth be told....