It’s Tuesday! We got some wonderful produce in this week, although the season has decisively shifted towards fall. It was a rainy, chill morning. The rain has been an interesting backdrop to some of what my family has been discussing over the IPS intersession, as a lead up to Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. Because I’m the kind of mom who thinks that school breaks are a great time to do learning projects, we are learning about what UNICEF is and what it does, both as a research project but also so that she understands what she is raising money to achieve. It turns out that UNICEF does quite a bit, and since the girl is still six, we are focusing on a particular aspect of what UNICEF does – providing clean water. But it’s Food Themed Tuesday! Yep: water is integral to food, agriculture, and health, and our agricultural practices certainly impact the water supply, by diverting water to fields for export crops, by polluting water supply with pesticides and herbicides, by replacing tree lines with crops that do little to prevent erosion, among other things. Crops don’t only provide the vegetables we eat; we grow crops for energy, for livestock feed, for genetic breeding and research, and we often do so following agro-industrial standards that are more suited for profits than for sustainability.

We watched Blue Gold this afternoon, and while it’s obviously intended to be a persuasive film, it makes a lot of good points along the way. It reminded me that water scarcity isn’t just an issue in the Horn of Africa, but a problem for everyone – especially those of us in the industrialized countries. We have achieved a point of industrialization wherein we are able to sustain the pretense of having beaten nature. We build vast cities in the desert, ship in water (not by truck but via pipeline), and call it good. We are frontier minded, but the frontier is vanishing beneath the haze of urban industry. How many of us drink bottled water because it’s ‘safer’ than tap water, without considering how often they share a source?

It’s funny, but as I was looking up information about Veolia water, the huge transnational corporation that ran our local water utility in a “public-private partnership” since 2002, I discovered that the city ended that contract early (for $29 million), transferring control this year to Citizens’ Energy Group, a “public trust” run like a not-for-profit. Waste water is still managed by United Water, affiliated with Suez, another private transnational group. I also found out that water prices are expected to triple over the next 15 years. To review, control of Indianapolis’ water utility changed hands 2 times in 10 years, with significant changes each time.

Indianapolis is not yet at the point where most people consider water shortages a critical issue. But dry periods over the last several summers, and also spring rains heavy enough that the ground can’t hold the water, suggest that water supply will be increasingly tenuous. Farmers planted corn (an Indiana staple) late this year, with smaller yields because of the early floods, and harvests scanter still with the dry weather in July. Increasingly, nature forebodes a reassertion of its whims, and we are unaccustomed to meeting nature on its terms. A great deal of attention is paid to finding realistic water supplies in developing nations, but few people spend their time pondering the changes that we in the industrialized world must make to persist into the future. Societal collapse seems inconceivable, yet history chides us quietly to the contrary. In yet another example of how we seem to be rushing headlong into a precarious future, I wonder, what changes will come, and can we act in time to forestall the most extreme consequences?

I started with Part 1 in thinking about how society perpetuates historical ideas (and stereotypes) and the way the media discussed the name of a parcel at a ranch that Rick Perry leases. Here, I will continue that thread, looking at the example of the recent statements that Herman Cain and Michelle Bachman made about how they would deal with illegal immigration.

The notion that our nation would kill any person for the crime of crossing a proverbial line-in-the-sand is appalling. Also dismaying is that Bachman’s promise to make English the official language of the government seems pale by comparison. Bachman referenced her Norwegian ancestors as examples of how one ought to immigrate to the US. Never mind that even the more ‘palatable’ northern European Norwegians arrived to find settlements that preserved their language and traditions, or that much like other cultural groups, the nationalistic imperatives of WWI seems to have been the driving force of ‘Americanization.’ Bachman’s building (upon) a myth that suits her interpretation of history, while reinforcing her ideals in the present. The historical reality is that ethnicity has always been a basis for some to exclude newcomers, and those that argue that current objections to Hispanic immigration are not rooted in similar stereotypes nonetheless refer to assumptions – like dependency on the state, on welfare, on emergency rooms, having a lot of children, all without learning English, contributing to taxes, in a way that is somehow distinct from what other groups did in the past – that are rooted in stereotypes of ‘lazy’ immigrants looking for a handout. They are also strikingly similar to stereotypes about other minority groups who face similar problems achieving economic parity. Moreover, Bachman’s suggestion that English should be an official language doesn’t simply target people who lack a particular document; it targets anyone who doesn’t speak English – and that includes legal immigrants, refugees, asylees, and so forth – without any data that describes the use of English, the ability to speak English among what groups, or even what the benefits might be. One can assume that such an act would reinforce an idea of what it means to be “American,” but her definition of “American” ignores the poignant and significant contribution of immigrants over years (as well as the atrocities that some of those groups committed to establish the nation).

Unfortunately, the Republican field hasn’t pointed out the inconsistencies in Bachman’s myth-making, or suggested viable alternatives. Instead, Herman Cain is on an Ayn Randian roll, knocking the Occupy Wall Street protesters for their inability to find jobs (the demonstrators are also lazy un-Americans) even while members of the Tea Party lament the same joblessness. I don’t even want to acknowledge his 9-9-9 plan; an accountant from Cleveland apparently has all the answers, surely to the chagrin of all those professional economist who have spent their professional careers trying to understand the US economy. And immigration will be no problem once we electrify the border. The whole border. Or build a double fence. Because those things are possible. Apparently being robbed by gangs through Mexico, falling prey to those you hire to help you, and potentially dying of dehydration while crossing a dessert isn’t a cruel enough fate in a desperate attempt to achieve economic stability.

Both of these candidates speak in terms of a nation-state that is easily definable, in terms of belonging, defining, and even outlining. At least Rick Perry seems to recognize the border as complex. The US-Mexico border is no less intricate than the definitions of the US, and of the nation-state more generally. The relationship between the US and Mexico is a really good example of how boundaries remain fluid rather than static. Trade and commerce flows easily, increasingly so with the implementation of NAFTA and similar agreements. An interesting example is of the Tohono O’odham, whose territory crosses the US-Mexico border (if this is interesting, I strongly encourage a Google Scholar search as there are several fascinating academic papers that discuss this group and their relationship with the border).  As languages and culture flow from one side of the border to the other (both ways – consider US tourism), you could even consider the border to be expanding we define internal boundaries through similar means. Someone may find themselves as far north as Maine, yet still have one foot straddling the border, so to speak, because of language, culture, temporary or undocumented status, economic status, social alienation, and so forth.

While politicians and others may speak technically about illegal immigration, this conversation affects a much broader Hispanic population, as we are seeing in Alabama. Officers along the border may have some clear(er) idea about how to differentiate residents from people crossing the border illegally based on gear, clothing, and the like, but for many people who are removed from the crossing points, the conversation is much more blurred on who is documented or undocumented, how to identify that status, and increasingly who deserves that status – like the children born in the US to undocumented citizens. More and more, laws and discourse target Hispanics as a group. On the one hand, we are seeing and acting out a new phase in the US, where we are redefining ourselves according to changing local and global circumstances. Unfortunately, if we include or reward others who include such divisive language and rhetoric in our national discourse, while simultaneously restructuring so many of our institutions, we will foster the entrenchment of racism and class divisions for an entire generation to come. Nor will they look kindly upon us for having done so – history rarely does. Well, unless you reimagine it to suite your purposes.

About two weeks ago, Rick Perry was faltering in the polls because of a poorly named rock at the ranch he, and his father before him, leased out in Texas (also here). I started to reference this to underline how the other candidates took note of Perry’s mistakes in the more recent discussion on immigration. Instead, as I reviewed some of the articles, I realized that something was missing from the coverage, and that same something is significant to the discussion about illegal immigration.

It’s notable that the major newspapers who carried the story (Washington Post and New York Times) talked more about the impact that ‘the rock’ would have on Rick Perry, and very little about why calling a place “Niggerhead” is newsworthy in the first place. It is newsworthy, but not because it makes Rick Perry look like a backwoods clod. The bigger conversation happened away from the main pages, like at The Root, or even The not-a-news-source Daily Show (which the commentary at The Root references). The attitude that, ‘It’s just a word, get over it,’ appears in the comments section of the original breaking story in the Washington Post. There’s the rub – that a situation that employs the word ‘nigger’ should be insignificant, so long as it isn’t directed by one person to another.

Tied into the conversation is an oft expressed frustration with what it means to be “politically correct.” It may be that we all get frustrated when someone corrects us, but the idea of “political correctness” should remind us that words do have meaning and even underlying significance. Use of a word in a place-name may not constitute an insult hurled at an individual, but it does highlight the pervasiveness of the ideas the word represents in our society. Some words have a history of demeaning and pejorative use; repetition brings that history into contemporary society, even though some might regard the use innocuous. Indeed, the view that something like that can be innocuous is as problematic as anything. When a person points to words and concepts that rely on racist sentiments – i.e. are a step removed from racism yet ultimately dependent upon it – often such a person is decried as looking for racism where none exists. History (as a discipline) reminds us that society does not exist as a static point in time, but as a complex interweaving of ideas and events, while the effects of past events and ideas remain with a society through time. The benefits and burdens of those events remain as well.

One way in which the past stays with us is that we use it to build our definitions of ourselves and of others. We create narratives and discourse, our stories and ideas, such as those we use to understand the importance of the Founding Fathers in the formation of the nation. Honest Abe and The Cherry Tree are more pervasive ideas in our national mythos than are Jefferson’s slaves, let alone the stories of the slaves themselves. We, our newspapers, and our political leaders craft the discourse that fits our understanding of our nation. At one point, parts of the national discourse accepted the pervasive racism of slavery, and later that of segregation. Today we are forming a new discourse that, rather than striving to overcome the old disparities that persist in geographic and economic marginalization, are fomenting new ways of stratifying social groups. The next post will discuss how this happens, looking at the discourse of politicians regarding immigration.

Well, I lost about a week of blogging, as well as sleeping, to the Occupy Indy initiative. I lost a couple more days to visiting grandma, but that’s another story. I’m really proud and excited for the Occupation, though. I admit I’m surprised it took off here – Indy’s not exactly known for this kind of thing. While my participation has been limited, I’m excited enough to want to take a moment to describe just why it is that I’m so keen on this movement-or-whatever-it-is-and-might-become.

The Occupy movements are really exciting because they are using  long-held activist methods, while developing a message that encompasses a range of ideologies. The methods of consensus based decision-making are really interesting here. Seasoned activists may be used to the tedium of consensus meetings like the General Assemblies and often are impatient with them. After all, a meeting where everyone has to agree will take a lot longer than a meeting where a few people can decide for everyone else. But this is what is really striking about the Occupy movement. The conversations here may still reflect the same arguments with which we are accustomed; on Saturday evening in Indianapolis there was a fair bit of discussion about voting, and a couple of people attributed the current state of affairs to lack of voter participation. That’s a fairly common conversation, and it depends on the assumption that it is possible for one person to appropriately represent another’s interests in government. That is representative government. Here’s the kicker, though: the people having this fairly mundane conversation were also participating in a different kind of democratic process – direct democracy through consensus based decision-making. Ok, so maybe I’m a dork who’s easily excited by tedious processes.

To understand why I get giddy about this, you might need to understand how I perceive governance and government. I understand governance as a collective process of making decisions, rules, and so forth that apply to the whole society. Government is the institution that applies those decisions (although a lot of government works to maintain the government). In the United States, decisions are made by the Congress and the Senate, by the president, upheld by the courts, and enforced by the police – a process generally repeated at more local levels of government. We elect people to represent us in government, and we are supposed to trust those people to make decisions that reflect our needs and desires.

The Occupy movements reflect the need for people to feel they have a voice in their own governance. “We are the 99%” implicitly refers to the abundance of influence that the 1% have on government, influence that is tied directly to the amount of money the 1% has at its disposal. In effect, the Occupy movement consists of people who are standing up to demand a voice, a role, in their own governance. Frustration with corporations is a part of this, in that corporate entities are more represented in government through their lobbying and business and personal connections to the representatives. OF COURSE the Occupy message is incoherent – there is a plethora of issues that tie in to lack of representation in government, from the state of public education, the wars waged, the bail out of banks in the midst of ongoing foreclosures, homelessness, joblessness, and on, and on. These are all issues that we deal with as the middle class, the lower class – the 99%. And here, in the midst of these seemingly incoherent occupations, here are people who perhaps for the first time are participating in their own governance through the consensus process. If they, with their myriad needs and perspectives, can come to agreement on what their message is  through this process – in a matter of weeks, even – then maybe we can begin to imagine how government would work if governance were also a consensus process, wherein we all participated in governance rather than asking and allowing others to do so on our behalf.

Ultimately, I’m excited because the Occupy movement stands to be more than a movement. I’ve heard mentions of a new political party, but I don’t think that will come – the people involved have such diverse perspectives and ideologies that I don’t see them combining to a shared platform. What the people do share is a need for government to recognize them and their needs. Maybe, just maybe, the people involved in these movements will be able to experience a way of participating in their own governance in a meaningful way, and in so doing, remind us all what democracy looks like.

I was all set to publish a different post about the death of Anwar al-Awlaki. However, as I was reading over today’s New York Times daily email, a different story caught my attention: Fatal Accident Puts Focus on Deportation Program. The article describes a traffic accident that has put Massachusetts in the spotlight for the governor’s refusal to implement the Secure Communities program – a program that uses information sharing between the FBI and ICE to identify immigrants who are in the country unlawfully, especially those who have committed violent crimes.

The traffic accident involved an immigrant from Ecuador who, while driving drunk, hit, dragged, and killed a motorcyclist. Author Abby Goodnough states in typical New York Times’ passive voice judgement: “The Guaman case and several others … have become part of a growing debate over whether Massachusetts is too easy on illegal immigrants.” She doesn’t clearly outline who the participants are in this debate. While, “many here have pointed to his case as an example of why the federal program, known as Secure Communities, is necessary,” we have no information that hints as to why that might be. One must be content to wonder whether Guaman had a previous record, in which case Secure Communities might have taken steps to deport the man – otherwise the suggestion would have little bearing.

Along with another oblique use of passive voice denouncing the outrage that the incident “has stirred” in… well… someone, Goodnough opens the article by identifying the man involved as an “illegal immigrant.” Perhaps she is quoting the police, whom she credits for the information. Regardless, I am stunned at such a careless and irresponsible turn of phrase in the New York Times. Even more astonishingly, the New York Times created an email alert topic titled “illegal immigrants.”

The phrase “illegal immigrant” is neither accurate nor appropriate. Legality does not pertain to one’s personhood, but to an action, whence phrases like: unlawful entry, undocumented resident / worker, illegal immigration. One can enter the country unlawfully, they may lack the requisite documentation for residence or employment, but they do not become, themselves, illegal. I have referenced this in an earlier post, but when society creates a group and distinguishes it as “other,” marginalizes that group according to official sub-class status – like that of “illegal” – the road is set for that group to be castigated, penalized, oppressed, and subject to an array of abuses, because they are less-than-citizens.

Our government agencies are adept at creating public discourse that maintains respectful and appropriate rhetoric, which demonstrated that this is possible. Our major newspapers should be at least as adept in their use of rhetoric to frame an argument – or at least conscious of having done so – in order to sustain even a pretense of impartiality.

This is my response to Melina Kennedy‘s appearance today on No Limits. Ms. Kennedy is a mayoral candidate. No Limits is a local radio program.

I asked a question about immigration and mayoral initiatives regarding the issue, and was pleased to hear of Ms. Kennedy’s support of the Indiana Compact and keeping immigration under federal purview. Unfortunately, it seems that in many ways immigration is off the radar locally. While Ms. Kennedy referenced SB 590, which pitted state against federal authority, she did not address other initiatives like HB 1402 or the international tuition rates to be charged students without documentation (regardless of how long they’ve lived in the US: if they had been raised here, attended school here, graduated here, paid state and local taxes here, and so forth – you could call it the Anti-DREAM Act, if you like).

Also: the man who presented HB 1402 had no evidence that universities had a problem with students tuition rates, or any data about what percent of students the law would pertain to, or what effect it might have. This was just some guy who thought it would be more fair even though he didn’t previously know that immigrants without legal documentation pay the same state and local taxes that support our universities as do legal residents of Indiana – residency is a tax status. OK, big breath – in, out – and carry on.

I am looking for initiatives in my community that address these issues. The issue is not whether immigrants are or should be here, because they are here. Indianapolis is promoted by the governor, businesses, and economic development committees alike as a “global city” – how will we respond to the changes in our city? Will we renew old allegations surrounding “white flight” with gentrification and continue to marginalize minority groups and the poor? Or can we find new and creative ways to meet this issue and discover approaches wherein we all benefit?

Ms. Kennedy said today that she hopes improvements in early childhood education will be a hallmark of her tenure as mayor. To achieve this goal, she will have to address a myriad of issues plaguing IPS. Getting people to think of IPS as a place to educate their kids is part of that; there are also a whole host of kids already in IPS whose performance suffers from all the traditional reasons that urban students fail to succeed. We need to improve our neighborhoods and to show our kids that there are opportunities for them in life. Many of those kids just lost the opportunity to go to college, no matter how well they do in primary and secondary schools. What will they do instead?

“All the traditional reasons that urban students fail to succeed” are in key ways amplified for children of immigrants. If we cannot find ways to address immigration at a local level, we will continue to have a large group of people who are poor, disenfranchised, with few options (in addition to the other groups who are poor, disenfranchised, with few options). I agree that the Indiana Compact is a good start; Indiana has no business looking to reform federal policy. But if the State Congress can so severely limit the ability of good, hardworking kids to attend university, surely there are other proactive steps we can take as a community to build up all the residents. We need to act – and create policy – according to the understanding that people are human regardless of citizenship, and no person can be “illegal.”

International Law tells us that countries have a duty to protect all  people within the territory of that country. We learned this lesson from atrocities like genocide. We also learned that policies leading to atrocities begin with institutionalization of “otherness,” of hierarchies of belonging and citizenship. Slavery was possible in that the slaves were considered three-fifths a person – less than human – and that was a constitutional compromise. Society has changed, but it still regards many of the people who come here chasing the American Dream to be less than citizens. There are clear reasons for maintaining precise methods by which one may become a citizen. Yet, if we regard a group of people as ‘illegal’ and therefore unworthy of citizenship, we go beyond promoting legal entry and instead castigate and marginalize that group of people, and alienate others who identify with that group. There are institutional tiers that deal with different aspects of immigration: international treaties; federal laws, regulations, and enforcement; state laws (like tuition accessibility); yet we still live and function at a local level. What can we do here, where we live, work, play, and learn, to build tolerance and support structures in our communities? Can we integrate the still-disparate groups in our communities into one thriving, multi-cultural, beautiful and safe place to be? Those final steps of community building can only occur at a local level. I would hope any mayoral candidate would be willing to pursue that kind of community as a point of policy.

Woot! It’s co-op day! Every Tuesday I’m like a kid in a candy store, only with fruit, veggies, and other awesome deliciousness! In honor of my giddy excitement to see what the week’s order will bring, let’s hear it for food-themed Tuesdays!

If you’re wondering, the answer is yes: I am totally one of those hyper-intensive food moms. Really a hyper-intensive all-around mom. Not the kind that follows kids around with de-germ-ifyer, but the kind that will spend hours trying to figure out how exactly to make a balanced diet that her kids (including the larger-than-life grown-up one) will actually eat. I remember growing up with stories about all the food my great-grandma would make for the family, and how she taught my grandma to cook, but the foods I remember eating as a kid are frozen pizza, macaroni-and-cheese, and Kids’ Cuisine frozen dinners. My mom was always really good about making sure that we had fruit and vegetables with dinner – I definitely remember trying to hide brussel sprouts under the napkin! But she was busy, worked long hours, and needed easy dinners.

I have felt compelled to relearn all my nutritional knowledge over the last few years. The springboard for this was when I was “spilling sugars” when I was pregnant with my youngest. We had awesome midwives, and they really helped me to understand what was going on as a long-term trend, rather than a temporary condition called “Gestational Diabetes.” In short, I had a really poor understanding of what parts of food become sugars. I mean, sugar is a sugar, but so are carbs, starches, etc. So our awesome cheap-food diet was working against me. For all those who have ever wondered how poor people can be overweight, it’s right there in the processed food box. Pasta, rice, white bread, potatoes, and on and on… Inexpensive foods you can find at the dollar store because your neighborhood lacks a real grocer. Pretty much all of those foods-in-a-box break down into sugar.

I also learned there are simple and complex carbs, some foods have a lower glycemic index, and ok so I’m still a bit fuzzy but I know to buy colored potatoes and whole grains. I also know if I can find the blue/purple potatoes, my daughter will eat them! I know to work in leafy greens, and try to use a variety of vegetable-colors. I also figured out that molasses is a good iron source, but I have a harder time keeping straight how to get the kids calcium and iron but not together…

It’s not as simple as avoiding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in favor of more “natural” sugars either. While the jury is still out on the effects of HFCS compared to cane or beet sugar, I think that a survey of the nutritional info on the side of our food packaging suggests at least one certainty: we put sugar in everything, in large quantities, a lot. Soda may use HFCS instead of cane sugar, but we also started drinking cases of soda each week, and a lot of other sweetened foods as well. It takes crazy amounts of work to find food that doesn’t break down in some fashion to sugars. And by “crazy amounts of work” I mean the easiest, most consistent way has been to just prepare our meals from scratch.

*GASP* (Yeah, “from scratch” is the crazy part.)

But I make a mean spelt pizza. And some other stuff, although I almost never start out with a recipe. I have basic categories that I fill with appropriate food. My kids will eat fruit and dairy all day long, so dinners are protein and veggies, and maybe some decorative flavoring also. And it’s working. My daughter knows she has to eat certain kinds of food to fill out her diet, to turn food into energy she can use. When she came home from school upset because someone called her fat (!!!) (also, she’s a freaking string bean – I’ve worried about her being underweight since she was a baby) we talked about what it means to be healthy, how you can be overweight OR underweight, and neither is healthy. As we talked about what foods are healthy foods, I realized: she has no conception of any other dietary practices. She doesn’t see commercials. She knows she likes Pop-Tarts but can’t have them, but all those other cereal-candies aren’t even on her radar! You have to realize, this is the same kid who ate fast food three nights a week when I was an undergrad and didn’t know what else to do; she doesn’t ask for McNuggets anymore. We’ve come really far, and I’m really, really excited about it. But it has been a journey.

The good news is that nutrition is a really good way to direct my neurotic tendencies in a way that benefits my family without overwhelming them. They just get to eat really good food. Except for last night – it turns out that the purpleness of cabbage does not compensate for the vegetableness of cabbage, at least in my daughter’s opinion.

Immigration is an issue that I keep near and dear. It may be one of the greatest challenges the United States currently faces, because it requires so much self-analysis and truth telling in one shot. Immigration makes people stop to think: who are we, where are we headed – as a society, an economy, as the power-that-is.

More than anything else, when we are presented with arriving immigrants who some perceive to be threatening ‘our culture,’ we are forced to consider who we are. Are we “Americans?” Have we become “natives?” Are we one group or a pluralistic society? How do we identify and position ourselves in response to changing society? Who has the right to decide what our society is and will become?

The perceived polarization of national and local politics in the US suggests that immigration is not an isolated issue but is a part of a complex array of issues. Polarization results from contemporary issues because society perceives a crossroads is at hand. The US’ international status is changing diplomatically, militarily, economically. We are unlikely to remain the worldly superpower – but what do we become? When the status quo is no longer available, will we revert to a perception of simpler times or do we find new ways to affect (hopefully positive) change in our world?

Immigration, which in reality is a surprisingly old issue, mirrors the impression of either-or conservatism or liberalism because immigrants can either adapt to a new society or that society can adapt in response to immigrants. Whereas World Wars I and II acted to unite a country of disparate groups into “Americans,” current trends in immigration and multiculturalism offer few indicators that immigrants will reconsider their heritage(s) anytime soon.

Indeed, many immigrants with tenuous legal status consider themselves temporary residents.  Immigration patterns used to follow a seasonal ebb and flow, whereas tightened border security has made the journey so dangerous that few return to Mexico, knowing the return journey would be arduous at best. Moreover, these workers have deep ties to life and society in the US, although they may often be overlooked. For centuries now lifestyles in the US are sustained with resources from the “undeveloped nations.” Economics tell us that it is only logical to buy the cheapest good available; on a global scale, competition for buyers and limited government in the undeveloped world has enabled the US to extract those resources at prices that benefit buyers in the US much more than the foreign workers who make the supply possible. The disparity currently works against all workers, to the benefit of the corporations, yet workers often perceive their struggle as against other workers and not against those who profit from the inequalities. It is enforced disparity elsewhere that makes the journey to the US not simply appealing but necessary for so many. Now we are confronted with the poverty that is necessary for us to afford to live as we do, and yet we turn away and blame the poor, the disaffected, the immigrants for our selfishness. To do otherwise would require us not only to acknowledge our gains at another’s expense, but to change the way we live, purchase, consume, and pursue “happiness.”

I don’t know what it is about the Google anti-trust hearings going on that has me so worked up. I keep wavering between the notion that there is no anti-trust issue and that Google’s services are free besides, and the possibility that maybe there is some monopolistic tendencies but I like Google. To really get the effect, there is a bit of foot-stomping with that italicized ‘like’ up there ^^.

In brief, Google’s would-be competitors dislike their standing in Google’s search results. The more complicated explanation from Yelp, for example, is that Google takes its content and publishes it without permission, and on Yelp’s protest Google threatened to remove Yelp from search results entirely. So yeah, that sounds pretty unfair, but I do wonder… Google displays reviews, including those from Yelp, as an aggregation of web results, which is kind of how Google does everything. If that’s true, then Google would be removing Yelp from those results to prevent their display. But all that assumes that Google’s Places works like Google’s basic Search, by aggregating results, but of a specific type, in this case, of reviews available on the internet. If the reviews are useful, one can click to follow just like on the basic Search.

I think the real problem has more to do with internet enterprises being so dependent on Google to do business – and that’s their problem, not Google’s. In the traditional business world, it would be foolish to expect a standard yellow pages listing to attract a large business following. That’s why yellow pages allowed advertising, why businesses advertised in.. wait… what were those? Oh – newspapers. How are any of these web sites and corresponding businesses relevant to my life? Well, they aren’t, but I’m unusually not-open-to-buying-things (i.e. – poor). But if I were open-to-buying-things, would Yelp, for example, be of any use? Not really. When we do spend money, where we go usually involves some old fashioned social capital: our friend works here, this place sponsored our school’s last event, etc. We are, you could say, discerning (you know, if you were nice about calling us cheap!). The problem with Google’s competition is that they haven’t found a way to make themselves relevant… at all.

You know who is relevant? Google. We chose an urban public school district (on purpose, even) where resources are a big issue. The technology at our school isn’t what we would like. High up on my list of resources I would like to see, as a parent, is an online platform that allows parents, students, and teachers easy, coordinated communication, where I can see homework, read newsletters, teachers can send emails, etc. We don’t have that now, but that kind of platform has become an intrinsic resource for higher education, and I think its absence is to my child’s detriment. Well, it turns out Google offers just such a platform, for free, for educational institutions. It’s the same apps package it offers businesses (and non-profits at a discounted cost). Google makes tangible efforts to benefit people’s lives in key ways, and that increases their social capital in a unique way. In other words, they make themselves relevant in real life in a positive way, while other online enterprises have stuck to the internet without getting creative in their marketing; I can only assume they are squirreled away in the intertubes counting acorns somewhere…

 

I decided that sometimes my rants are, in fact, good ideas gone wild. Three years ago, I harassed a friend at length about how Obama should take advantage of the need to create jobs and boost flagging industry to boost the green industry. Well, he kinda sorta did that in the way that he kinda sorta did most things, and the fall out has been headline news this week. The green industry is poised for innovation and technological development of the kind Ford implemented, which sent the US hurtling along its hegemonic 20th century course. Simply put, industry in the US has to be innovative, creative, and successful to be a global leader. Green energy is a good bet, because almost every other industry depends on energy as a key resource. The financial industry may be an outlier here but even Wall Street likes to have the lights on. However, China has already positioned itself as a rising player in the green(er) energy industry, which means the window of opportunity for the US is creaking its way shut.

There’s a difference between what China has done and the US could do, however. China has developed a bright and shiny business environment rich in low wages and low environmental standards – and thus a low overhead even with shipping costs. Yet China is also notoriously bad at producing creative thinkers – and known to jail those it does have. Herein lies an opportunity for the US to foster the kind of creativity and innovation for which it is known, and develop products that do not depend on existing systems OR seek to replace them, but work instead side-by-side. Obama wants to foster such development; unfortunately, he has yield tangible results.

To elaborate on side-by-side: current alternative energy sources of electricity have to tie into the “electrical grid” in order to send electricity from where they are to where we are. One commonly referenced problem is that electrical supply from wind or solar is not constant the way a power plant is, and so storage is necessary to avoid power fluctuations. Yet, storage of electricity is easier said than done. Batteries can store electricity, but would be expensive and take vast amounts of space to be even somewhat functional for an urban grid. At the same time, it would be the ultimate redundancy to imagine creating a secondary grid. What does this mean for product development?

A successful product would be straightforward and easy to adopt, both financially and logistically. Right now, installing local energy-producing equipment in a home is expensive, complicated, confusing, bewildering, and… you get the point. You need *something to harness energy, another *something to turn it into electricity, an additional *something to store excess electricity for when you need it, and more *something(s) to tie all that in to your home’s electrical service. You might not be surprised to know that this is a specialized skill, beyond the scope of your average electrician, let alone your average homeowner. Information about such systems are often homespun directions, like how to turn pvc pipe into a windmill using an old junkyard generator. But I am astounded that it could be so incredibly difficult to turn your rooster-weather vane into a constantly spinning electrical source that plugs in, literally, to your home’s electrical grid. If an average consumer can go to their *Local-Big-Box-Home-Building-Super-Duper-Store* and buy something for <$50 that takes an hour or two to install… they would do that, especially if it saves them on their ever-rising electrical bill. Fine, so a $50 part won’t revolutionize industry. The idea is that we need creative ways for people to adopt new habits of energy consumption – and by “ways” I mean products that one innovates, produces, and sells, or it doesn’t really count as an industry.

Unfortunately, I am not an engineer, and my mama-skills can’t seem to produce this magical energy source. If only I could bottle my kids’ energy! And that, folks, is why Obama is responsible for the creation of this blog; if he would have just listened to my sage advice… through his obviously telepathic… psychic… oh, never mind.