Living Liberally Blog

Living Liberally Blog

The GOP's Still Partying Like It's 2006

Jack Abramoff's name returns to the headlines
as John McCain is questioned on secret emails
suggesting that "Straight Talk" may be all-talk.

Karl Rove re-emerges on the frontpages
in a story of political manipulation & abuse,
as Newsweek's guy makes news rather than observes it.

Harriet Miers steps back into the spotlight
as Congress was forced to hold in contempt
Bush's one-time pick for the Supreme Court.

You'd think they'd learn, but basically...
the GOP's still partying like it's 2006.

McCain already promises four more years
of Bush's war & Bush's economy...
do we get Bush's cronies & corruption as well?

Raise a glass to scandals gone by,
and another to the ones that keep coming back,
as you share your views & a little booze
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

A Conversation with Chris Metzler, Director of "Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea"

Screening Liberally Big Picture
By Josh Bolotsky

We recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Chris Metzler, director of Screening Liberally NYC's February selection, the critically acclaimed Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea. We talked about Sonny Bono, John Waters and where his film fits (or doesn't fit) into the recent spate of eco-documentaries.

How did you come to this project?

Like a lot of things in life, it was purely coincidence. I grew up in the Midwest - I didn't even know that the Salton Sea existed when I moved out to Los Angeles for school - and one day, decided to take an exploratory road trip, camping with a friend and maybe checking out other parts of the dessert - you take a few wrong turns here and there, and you wind up upon this huge body of water, the Salton Sea, and just kind of quickly fall in love with it, just based on water being out in the desert in such huge amounts, but secondly, the kind of apocalyptic landscape, which was my own fascination. That's got things started. Congressman Sonny Bono had been interested in restoring the Salton Sea, seeing it as both an environmental wetland, and also a place for resorts and boating and fishing…as a result of this discussion about making Sonny’s dream come true, we wanted to explore how those attempts at restoring the Salton Sea were going to go.

It seems like the residents of the Salon area have become used to extravagant promises laid at their feet every couple years, whether it be through Sonny Bono, or the [longstanding] hope it will become a large retirement community - in making the film, was that something you had to consciously overcome in gaining their trust, that you weren’t going to be someone coming in with promises as happens every few years.

That was one of the difficult things that Jeff [Springer, co-director] and I anticipated from the beginning – we knew that the Salton Sea had this long history of nothing ever being done, and that most of the film and news coverage of the Salton Sea had been very negative. Given how just complicated a place this was, [we figured] it deserved some unbiased, entertaining journalism. Once we started meeting people in the community, there was something that drew them to us - we didn't have to overcome any inherent skepticism… and most embraced us from the get-go. Maybe it’s just because so much of the other coverage of the Salton Sea often dealt with politicians and scientists and they really just appreciated that we were going straight ot the people who had lived in, thrived and struggled in the community for so many years.

One unique aspect of the film is that you're talking about an potential ecological crisis which, unlike a lot of the eco-documentaries that came out in the last several years, is not directly related to climate change..Have you had difficulty explaining to people this is a separate issue?
The Salton sea being such an obscure issue…drawing attention to it and explaining why it's an important film in addition to being entertaining does present a problem. That's one of the reasons why when we market the film and present it to people, we [emphasize] the carnivalesque factor. 'Come and watch this movie about what these unique people have created in this place you’ve never heard of.' In a lot of discussions we try to have with people after the screening, [we tend to present it as] a microcosm of these larger environmental issues that are going on in other parts of the US and the world…Some of the things you see going on down there could, through climate change, happen elsewhere. It’s a great example of the environment run amok, whether you discuss the flooding that happened in the 1970’s, and how that relates to Hurricane Katrina, or the rapid evaporation of the water of the Salton Sea, and the dust storms that might be affected, that relates to climate change, [similar to those in] other parts of the world, where, if temperatures continue to rise, you’ll have more exposed dried lake-beds…In a way the Salton Sea is a parable to other things that the larger part of society might have to deal with in upcoming years.

How did you get John Waters? His voice is so perfect for the film.

At first we didn’t really want a narrator, because we wanted to let the people of the Salton Sea to speak for themselves. But given some of the larger issues which were difficult to condense and explain in interviews, we decided we needed to rely on a narrator, and we thought, if we needed to use as narrator, we needed some a little unorthodox and untraditional, and John Waters came to mind given his unique voice, but also his own deep affection for people who live on the fringe…As we started doing a little bit more research on John Waters, and watching his films from a different perspective we also recognized that while we often associate his films with comedy, with a camp value, all of them deal with these undercurrents of larger social issues…Coincidentally, he was friends with Sonny Bono from his film Hairspray, and kind of liked the idea of doing this as a payback to Sonny, who had done something really important for him.

What are your next projects after Plagues?

Both Jeff and I are drawn to projects about outsiders – we think those are the ones who are the real risk-takers in society because they've decided to live life in the way they want to. We have some projects going on [in this vein,] one about evangelical backpackers Christians following the path of the Apostle Paul, a documentary on gay truck drivers, another on outsider artists in the south – the documentary coming out later this year is one on the black punk band Fishbone…We try to disguise our films as entertainment, with a lot of information in there.

Mocking Fox News...While On Fox News

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying

One of our beloved Laughing Liberally regulars, Lee Camp, had the golden opportunity this weekend to tell us what he thinks about Fox News...while on Fox News.

After having performed for both Yearly Kos's and for the Young Democrats of America, it's nice to know that Fox News got to meet the same gentlemen us liberals know and love - as did Dan Abrams. Congrats, Lee!

Feng Shui Fast Food: McDonald’s Puts the "Chi" in "Ka-Ching!"

Well, of course, where else would you expect to find America’s first feng shui’d fast food outlet? A McDonald’s in the Los Angeles suburb of Hacienda Heights has opted to bag the golden arches’ classic red, yellow, and plast-icky décor in favor of “leather seats, earth tones, bamboo plants and water trickling down glass panels.” As the AP reports:

…the restaurant's owners say the designs are aimed at creating a soothing setting that will encourage diners to linger over their burgers and fries, and come back again.

One of the owners, Mark Brownstein, explained that he and his partners hope to benefit from their proximity to a renowned Buddhist temple, which is supposed to bring good luck. They’re also betting that the more serene setting will attract the area’s growing Asian population, as well as other customers seeking to “tap their inner Zen,” as Brownstein put it.

Now, I happen to be a big fan of feng shui myself, despite having spent my whole adult life as a jaded New Yorker. Some vestige of my Valley Girl childhood compelled me to pick up a paperback called Feng Shui Tips For a Better Life a few years back. This handy little how-to persuaded me that I had nothing to lose by hanging a few strategically placed wind chimes and mirrors and painting my front door red.

When my feng shui “cures” actually started to work, I became a believer and even an amateur practitioner of sorts, advising friends on how to cope with a toilet located in their “relationship corner,” or a collection of chi-crushing clutter (chi being the “life force” that gets squished under stacks of unread New Yorkers or neglected Netflix.)

The layout of our own apartment is the reason why Matt and I are so obsessed with food, according to Sarah Rossbach's “Interior Design with Feng Shui:

The placement of rooms within a home can affect residents' behavior…For instance, the room nearest the entrance will, by the suggestive nature of its use and contents, determine residents' lifestyle at home—particularly if it is located very close to the main door….
If the first room is a kitchen…the household will be food oriented. The sight of the kitchen will create a Pavlovian need for food, encouraging excessive eating.”

The doorway to our kitchen is barely a foot from the entrance, so food seems destined to be the center of our universe, if you buy into feng shui theory.

The Hacienda Heights McDonald’s is buyin’ it, but while its décor has been overhauled to inspire good health, happiness and prosperity, the menu is still larded with the same old artery-clogging, cruelty-contaminated animal products. Talk about a chi-killer! Oh, that Agribiz aftertaste.

If McDonald’s really wants to create a healthier, more life-enhancing dining experience, they might want to fine tune their feedlot-flavored menu. Yeah, I know they sell salads; they just don’t promote them. Consider the "dollar menu"; you can get a double cheeseburger, or a side salad. Which do you think most folks are gonna choose? Would it kill them to offer an entrée salad for a buck?

Too bad Bob Langert, McDonald’s Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility, just went on sabbatical a couple of weeks ago, or I’d ask him why McDonald’s continues to come up with gluttony-glorifying, planet-polluting stuff like the Angus Third Pounder. As the experts who met at an Oxford University-sponsored health conference in Sydney last weekend just announced, obesity and other "lifestyle diseases" are killing millions more people than, say, the terrorism our government is spending billions to combat.

The Sydney conference attendees also noted that “insufficient physical exercise is a risk factor in many chronic diseases and is estimated to cause 1.9 million deaths worldwide each year,” so I’m sure they’d applaud Langert’s decision to take a break and work on his backhand. If only his time off would also encourage some forward thinking. Sorry, dude, but bad food will never be good feng shui.

Let’s Ask Marion: Who Benefits From Bio-Tech “Breakthroughs”?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: Scientists and bio-tech companies have been tirelessly tinkering with plants and animals in pursuit of such innovations as E-coli-resistant cows, crops with built-in pesticides, and pigs whose poop is less polluting. Biotech boosters tout genetically modified crops as the solution to everything that ails the world, from hunger to drought to depleted topsoil to oil dependence.

Meanwhile, the Frankenfood-fearing faction worries that cloned cows, omega-3 enhanced sows, and errant seeds from genetically modified crops will unleash a pandora’s box of health, environmental, and ethical issues.

But are we letting our justifiable distrust of corporations like Monsanto blind us to biotech’s bright side? Are there any technological breakthroughs that represent real progress, or are the scientists too busy putting probiotics into Pop-Tarts (or whatever) to accomplish anything truly useful?

Dr. Nestle: I'd say the Pandora's box is already wide open. That's why I wrote Safe Food (Univ. of Calif. Press, 2003). In it, I tried to distinguish the health from the environmental and ethical issues and to consider each set of them separately. Because the biotechnology industry only considered health issues--and discounted ethical issues as irrelevant--it made two serious mistakes. It over-hyped the benefits of the technology, and it lobbied successfully against having to label foods as genetically modified. First, the non-labeling: it turns GM foods into something shoved down consumers' throats. If you want to avoid them, tough. You can't.

The over-hyping leads directly to your question about whether food biotechnology does any good at all. What good are they to anyone other than patent holders like Monsanto? I am willing to grant that several GM products are useful, if not breakthroughs, but the list is short: (1) pharmaceuticals such as recombinant insulin (more reliable than other methods), (2) chymosin, the enzyme required for coagulating cheese (it sure beats killing baby calves for their enzymes), and (3) papayas with genes for resistance to ringspot virus (I like papayas).

Beyond these, I think the benefits are still in the realm of theory. I wish the industry would do some serious work on solutions to problems of third-world agriculture--nitrogen-fixation and drought-resistance, for example--but those are difficult scientifically and who would pay for them? Biotech companies are not social service agencies; they are corporations. So instead, they did GM soybeans and corn.

Maybe something like the Gates Foundation would be interested in funding useful research, but the industry has behaved so badly--fighting labeling, persecuting farmers, protecting patents above all other considerations--that it has lost whatever credibility it might have had at one time. That's why ethical issues matter.

No Way Bush Makes the Hall of Fame

A scandal of deception & hubris
shook Americans faith in their institutions
& Congress rushed in to take action.

Hearings came quick, with bold questioning,
& people were held accountable for misdeeds
as the public tuned it to watch.

A proud Texan stuck to his guns,
even as his story frayed, opinion turned,
humiliating him & threatening his legacy.

Now...if Congress can do it to Clemens,
why on Earth can't they stand up to Bush?

Treat the pumped-up case for illegitimate war
like pumped-up, illegitimate athletes...
& there's no way Bush makes the Hall of Fame.

If only Congress had some way
to punish the President more seriously...

You'll never strike out sharing your views
as you share some booze with left-leaners
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

No Way Bush Makes the Hall of Fame

A scandal of deception & hubris
shook Americans faith in their institutions
& Congress rushed in to take action.

Hearings came quick, with bold questioning,
& people were held accountable for misdeeds
as the public tuned it to watch.

A proud Texan stuck to his guns,
even as his story frayed, opinion turned,
humiliating him & threatening his legacy.

Now...if Congress can do it to Clemens,
why on Earth can't they stand up to Bush?

Treat the pumped-up case for illegitimate war
like pumped-up, illegitimate athletes...
& there's no way Bush makes the Hall of Fame.

If only Congress had some way
to punish the President more seriously...

You'll never strike out sharing your views
as you share some booze with left-leaners
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

How To Set The World On Fire Without Burning Out

Poor Michael Pollan. Well, OK, poor is probably a poor choice of words; after all, his new book’s been at the top of the New York Times bestseller list since it came out last month, so he’s presumably making big bucks exhorting America to buck Big Food. Pollan’s so famous now that there’s no time for personalized inscriptions at book signings, as I discovered when I went to hear him speak in NYC last month.

The thing is, though, Pollan never intended to become the biggest star in the progressive foodie galaxy. He’s gone from Walden to Wal-Mart; after making a name for himself as a Thoreau for our times with a series of brilliant essays and books on our uneasy relationship to the natural world, he took on industrial agriculture and stumbled into Upton Sinclair’s Jungleland, where he’s been tangled up ever since.

The Just Food fundraiser where I heard Pollan speak took place in a sleek ‘n’ swanky Manhattan loft, the kind of event a scruffy blogger only gets to attend by volunteering to check coats and clear plates (and spill red wine on a white rug—sorry, Molly!) Hearing Pollan discuss his latest book, I couldn’t help feeling that he’s gotten himself trapped in a CAFO—a Confined Author Feeding Operation.

He’s really ready to move on, to sink his teeth into a non-edible topic, like, say, ethanol (I think the USA Today photographer who took the liberty of rummaging through Pollan’s fridge uninvited was the last straw.) And who would be better at getting the word out about the environmental disaster that is ethanol? Besides, the corn lobby’s probably already got a contract out on his life; he might as well go for it.

But Americans--sick of, and sickened by, this warped Western diet we’ve been roped into by the robber barons of Big Food—needed a hero to lead a showdown at the We’re-Not-OK Corral. So when lean, lanky Michael Pollan strode onto Agribiz turf like some kinda Gary Cooper of Good Food, he became the Sheriff of Sustainable Ag, like it or not.

I can kind of relate, because when we started growing tomatoes on the roof of our West Village apartment fifteen or so years ago, I had no intention of becoming a food activist myself (wasn’t planning to end up in court with our landlady, or in the pages of Garden Design magazine, either, but that’s a story for another day.)

This is what happened: I became obsessed with gardening, and then, organic gardening. I started hanging out with the farmers at the Greenmarket and speaking in agricultural acronyms: CAFOs, GMOs, CSAs. I read Michael Pollan, Bill McKibben, Helen and Scott Nearing, Wendell Berry, Joan Gussow, Marion Nestle, Gene Logsdon, et al., trying to make sense of the crazy way we live and eat these days.

I never wanted to be an agri-culture warrior. I stumbled into the real food revolution, literally, after a knee injury ended my career as a painter/landscaper and forced me to take up “mental manual labor,” as John Gregory Dunne aptly called the vocation of writing.

Sometimes I feel like I’m making a little bit of a difference, but a lot of times my head hurts from being banged against a wall day in, day out. Some days being an advocate for sustainable agriculture just feels, well, unsustainable.

I feel bound up by the cord to my laptop, trapped in the blogosphere when I really want to be puttering in my garden or just reading for pleasure, something I vaguely recall having done a few years back. In my darkest moments, I think Wendell Berry was right, and that the Internet sucks (well, that’s not what he said but that was the gist of it.)

So I was in dire need of the warmth and wisdom of Hillary Rettig, author of The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way, who gave me, Matt, and a roomful of twenty-something vegans a pep talk at NYU last night on the subject of “Living a Joyful Progressive Life While Avoiding Activist Burnout.”

Rettig is a consultant and a life coach for activists, volunteers, and other do-gooders who so often shortchange themselves in their zeal to change the world. The talk was sponsored by Farm Sanctuary, a non-profit dedicated to ending cruelty to farm animals--hence the twenty-something vegans, and the butter-free baked goods we snacked on as Rettig enlightened us on how to lighten our load.

Her simple and sage advice on how to manage your time, define your mission, conquer your fears and do good in the world without doing bad by yourself is priceless, but Rettig’s so committed to cheerleading us citizen activists that she gives it away for free at her website, in an E-book you can download called “The Little Guide To Beating Procrastination, Perfectionism and Blocks: a Manual for Artists, Activists, Entrepreneurs, Academics and Other Ambitious Dreamers.”

The E-book expands on part III of her engaging and inspiring book, which is the next best thing to actually having your own personal life coach. Admittedly, the book presented a bit of a Catch-22 for me, though; having read about it and rushed out and bought it, I procrastinated about actually reading it. I have an ever growing stack of “must-read” books I can’t seem to make a dent in—for every book I finish, two more come along.

So I was delighted to have a chance to hear Rettig share the highlights of her strategies on how to make the world a better place without making yourself miserable in the process. Rettig shows us non-profit types how we can profit from the marketing savvy and fiscal pragmatism of the business world without selling our souls or diluting our goals. Activism is, after all, a kind of marketing; it’s just that we’re trying to sell people on a common good instead of consumer goods.

The way to do that, according to Rettig, is to avoid the “us versus them” mindset, and try find common ground instead of alienating people by passing judgment on their (to us) obviously boneheaded choices, or, in my case, hitting them over the head with a sustainably harvested two-by-four.

Rettig calls on us to be more compassionate to ourselves and the world around us, to make realistic goals and spend our time more wisely. She disputes the adage that “time is money,” pointing out that time is, in fact, a far more precious commodity than currency.

If your back aches from carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, let the Lifelong Activist’s message massage those sore spots. Rettig’s book and website are the ultimate self-help guide for those of us who are hellbent on helping others.

Originally posted on TakePart.com.

Shooting Liberally Takes Aim Today

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
by Justin Krebs

I admit that I was skeptical when local liberal drinkers in New York suggested Shooting Liberally. "We have some groups that call billiards nights Shooting Liberally...isn't that enough?"

Personally, I am not enthusiastic about guns -- even in safe, legal, regulated, recreational settings -- so I didn't really get it. Fortunately, it wasn't up to me. As these grassroots ideas tend to grow on their own, this one took root -- and tonight, in three cities, Shooting Liberally begins.

Billed as a program "for the First Amendment enthusiast ready to move on to the Second," Shooting Liberally is arming progressives with a new hobby...or rather, recognizing a hobby many of us already have. While the New York outing will bring mostly newcomers to Manhattan's only gun range, the gatherings in Charleston, South Carolina, and Denver, Colorado, will feature a mix of gun-owners, experienced hunters and relative rookies. (Contact info for all the local organizers is on the temporary Shooting Liberally site -- if tonight goes well, these events will become more frequent.)

The more I tell people about the idea, the more surprised I am by the energetic and positive responses. "We've been meaning to go to a gun range," was the reply of one liberal millennial friend living in DC. Another: "My uncle is a big Dem and runs a gun club -- he'll love this."

The experience around the country may vary -- in NYC, you would need to bring your gun in a locked case if you possess your own, and you need to plan ahead to reserve the range; in Charleston, it can be far more spontaneous as permissible areas and gun ownership are far more prevalent -- but the bond is common...many Liberals like to shoot.

And being Liberals, they want to shoot smartly, safely, and in the company of a community - and most of all, want to prove that being a responsible sportsman and supporting sensible gun control isn't an oxymoron.

Don't worry, we won't start Drinking Liberally until afterward.

Shooting Liberally Takes Aim Today

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
by Justin Krebs

I admit that I was skeptical when local liberal drinkers in New York suggested Shooting Liberally. "We have some groups that call billiards nights Shooting Liberally...isn't that enough?"

Personally, I am not enthusiastic about guns -- even in safe, legal, regulated, recreational settings -- so I didn't really get it. Fortunately, it wasn't up to me. As these grassroots ideas tend to grow on their own, this one took root -- and tonight, in three cities, Shooting Liberally begins.

Billed as a program "for the First Amendment enthusiast ready to move on to the Second," Shooting Liberally is arming progressives with a new hobby...or rather, recognizing a hobby many of us already have. While the New York outing will bring mostly newcomers to Manhattan's only gun range, the gatherings in Charleston, South Carolina, and Denver, Colorado, will feature a mix of gun-owners, experienced hunters and relative rookies. (Contact info for all the local organizers is on the temporary Shooting Liberally site -- if tonight goes well, these events will become more frequent.)

The more I tell people about the idea, the more surprised I am by the energetic and positive responses. "We've been meaning to go to a gun range," was the reply of one liberal millennial friend living in DC. Another: "My uncle is a big Dem and runs a gun club -- he'll love this."

The experience around the country may vary -- in NYC, you would need to bring your gun in a locked case if you possess your own, and you need to plan ahead to reserve the range; in Charleston, it can be far more spontaneous as permissible areas and gun ownership are far more prevalent -- but the bond is common...many Liberals like to shoot.

And being Liberals, they want to shoot smartly, safely, and in the company of a community - and most of all, want to prove that being a responsible sportsman and supporting sensible gun control isn't an oxymoron.

Don't worry, we won't start Drinking Liberally until afterward.