Wednesday, March 30, 2011

speech for president obama

i wrote this a bit less than a year ago as the speech i wanted to hear president obama give during the gulf oil disaster. it could easily be adapted to reflect current catastrophes:

Uniting Towards a Sustainable Future: A Speech for the President

My Fellow Americans, I stand before you tonight wishing that I could tell you from the bottom of my heart that everything is going to be all right. But that would be dishonest, and you have been lied to enough. You have been lied to by politicians, by CEO’s, and, the sad fact of the matter is that we have been lying to ourselves. We all know that our system is broken – that rampant borrowing is unsustainable, that voracious, wasteful consumption of non-renewable resources is unsustainable, that a culture based on greed and fear is unsustainable. Everywhere we turn, we see evidence of muck rising to the surface, muck we sensed was lingering just out of view, but chose to ignore. Citizens cannot go on pretending, and nor can the government. The time has come for us to look ourselves and each other in the eye and ask the question, “What really matters? What are the things that bring real happiness?” For most of us, family, community, health, and security might come to mind. And yet many of us feel that these things are in jeopardy. How did this happen? When we take a moment to think about it, we may realize that at some point we simply stopped nurturing the things we value most. We mortgaged away our most precious assets, bet them against some artificial notion of future success. When did the American Dream become something that very few can afford, with many others so caught up in the struggle just to get by that they have no time to tend to the things that matter most?

In the April 3, 1944 issue of LIFE magazine, there is an article on page 93 titled “OIL – U.S. Must Drill 20,000 More Wells to Get Enough in 1944.” In the same issue, almost every advertisement – from aftershave to shoes - alludes to the motto of the day, “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do…or Do Without”. On page 130 there’s a full-page ad from the “War Advertising Council” with a list of things you can do “if you want to be able to enjoy the good things of life in the peaceful days to come…if you want to speed victory and thus save the lives of thousands of fighting men.” The first item on the list is “Buy only what you need. Take care of what you have. Avoid Waste.” Another point urges the reader to “Pay off your old debts – all of them. Don’t make new ones.” Next is “If you haven’t a savings account, start one. If you have an account, put money in it – regularly.” Last, “Buy and hold War Bonds. Don’t stop at 10%. Remember – Hitler stops at nothing!”

How different would our current wars and other crises be if our leaders asked us to contribute, to collaborate with them, all of us working together to do our parts? During WWII self-sufficiency in general was encouraged. Citizens were asked to grow “Victory Gardens” in order to limit the burden on trucking and railroad supply lines and other industries. A national “Victory Speed” of 35 miles per hour was enforced. Gasoline was rationed according to necessity, and for almost a year, anyone with an “A” sticker – those for whom driving was deemed non-essential – were allowed only 4 gallons of fuel per week. Since rubber was in extremely short supply, citizens were asked to contribute old raincoats, shoes, garden hose, and tires to the recycling effort.

What has changed? In 65 years, how did we go from a culture eager to share responsibility and involvement to one of selfish obliviousness? After 9/11, George W. Bush advised us to go about business as usual, act like everything is fine and leave it to him to annihilate “evil”. Well, it turns out that, unlike Hitler’s army, this far less tangible and insidious enemy could not be annihilated with aggression – in fact, hostility and hatred are the very food on which it thrives. After 9/11 we were justified in our anger – but we did not clearly define our adversary before we began the battle. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan were not our enemies. Brothers, fathers, mothers, children, homes, schools, farmland, ancient relics – all destroyed because violence was used as the first resort instead of the last one. Our crusade to root out and destroy evil has wreaked havoc on countless families, livelihoods, and traditions in the cradle of civilization – and here on our own soil as well. In our vain attempt to destroy the enemy, we have lost no small part of ourselves.

But it’s not too late to begin now to do what’s right.

This starts with the understanding that there are bad seeds and extremists in every land, but this does not justify unbridled aggression. We must trust what we know in our hearts to be true: that most people, regardless of their religion or nationality, yearn for a peaceful existence, and hold out hope for a better life for their children. We must focus on that which we have in common with our neighbor, rather than seek out and exaggerate our differences. After WWII, Americans were viewed as heroes who made great sacrifices to come to the aid of forces fighting on the side of good. In stark contrast, our current wars have caused us to be seen as lone vigilantes, serving only to isolate us and ignite disgust and disdain for the United States around the world.

These wars have cost too much in every sense of the word, in lives as well as dollars. WWII was a boon to our economy because we manufactured goods that were sold to our allies. We stopped making cars and made airplanes instead. In contrast, our current wars provide few benefits to our domestic economy, with the majority of funds going into the coffers of war profiteers who have proven time and time again to favor their own bottom lines over the safety and well-being of those they have been charged to protect. The biggest winner in the war on terror is the oil companies themselves. More petroleum is purchased by the Department of Defense for use by the U.S. military than by any other singular entity in the world. If the oil companies had their way, we’d be at war until our tanks came to a grinding halt on the battlefield, having run out of last drop of fuel on planet Earth.

Which brings me to the subject I came to speak with you about tonight - the torrent of oil currently gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. I wanted to speak with you first about the wars in order to make something amply clear: we are not fighting over religious differences, or to retaliate for the attack on our soil on 9/11. The unspoken truth is that we are in these battles for the sake of a substance that controls our every action. We have been led to believe that we cannot survive without it, and the fear of not having enough of it compels us kill or die for it.

We can and must end these wars, but doing so as quickly, efficiently, and humanely as possible will require us to first understand the real reasons we began them. As a nation, we must come to realize that the true enemy is our dependence on oil, and collectively agree that the appropriate way to fight it consists of each and every one of us doing our part to simply use less of it. These wars – and the system that supports them - will cease to exist the moment we reduce our reliance on oil. We need to bring our energy and our efforts back home to help protect the things that are in danger here on our home soil. Our men and women abroad are needed here on our own shores to join a new and very different kind of battle.

This will necessitate immediate legislation and, in the longer term, the development and implementation of technologies based on harnessing renewable resources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. This is your government’s responsibility. We have subsidized the oil industry, provided astronomical tax breaks, and given it free reign on the shortsighted premise that our economy will continue to require more and more oil - and only oil - in order to thrive. We have put ourselves in the precarious position of having no back-up systems, no safety net. Rather than accept oil’s limitations and begin to scale back our reliance on it, we’ve developed a culture based on ever-expanding markets and increasing dependence.

Let me be clear: BP is fully to blame for the Deepwater Horizon disaster – they will be held financially and personally accountable for the reckless, irresponsible decisions that caused its equipment to fail and put its employees, the Gulf of Mexico, and countless lives and livelihoods at stake. But there are painful truths that must be faced – first we need to understand that all the money in the world is not sufficient to clean up the oil that is choking sea life from plankton to birds and is seeping into sand and marshes. We will try everything in our power to restore the Gulf to its former glory, even strive to make it better than it was, but a clean up could take years, or even decades.  The most difficult truth to face is that, directly or indirectly, we encouraged and participated in a system that cut corners and allowed this catastrophe to occur. Now we must leave behind these obsolete and reckless ways, and instead concentrate our efforts on new, sustainable means to thrive. The government can and must facilitate these changes in any way it can, but the fastest route to change will be through the actions of the people. Your help is urgently needed. We must act immediately if we wish to enjoy the good things of life in the peaceful days to come, if we wish to live healthier, less wasteful, more sustainable lives, if we wish to share the burden with our soldiers abroad. If we have any hope of leaving the world a better place for our children, we must make changes necessary – today, not tomorrow. The fate of our families, or nation, and our world is in our hands. Our greatest resource has been and always will be the determination of our people, our resolve, and our ability to do what is necessary in the face of challenge and adversity. 

It seems there is a lot of fear around change – many people argue that changes will take too long and cost too much. The hemorrhage of oil into the Gulf is the most tangible evidence our country has ever seen that we have no choice – we cannot afford NOT to change. This isn’t only a matter of the perilous state of the economy of the Gulf – this is rapidly becoming a matter of health and safety on a global scale.

American citizens constitute 5% of the world population, and yet we consume nearly a quarter of all the world’s resources.  China has a billion more people than the United States, and yet the Chinese consume less than a third of the resources we use. So much of what we Americans consume is simply wasted – water down the drain, lights left on, disposable packaging, inefficient automobiles, appliances, and architecture. By reducing waste and maximizing our efficiency, almost without noticing we could cut consumption of resources – and costs - by 50%. During World War II, citizens were asked to “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without.” I must ask this of you again today.

Using less would also go a long way towards resolving another problem – pollution.  There’s been a lot of debate about global warming, about whether it exists and if we should trust the scientific data. The fact is that it doesn’t really matter if humans are causing global warming. Clearly, humans are causing pollution. Pollution causes cancer, lung disease, birth defects, and a whole host of ailments too numerous to list. We now know better than to eat lead paint chips, drink the effluent from a factory, or breathe the air in a sewer. We need to learn to be more conscious stewards of the home we share, this small and miraculous planet Earth. We don’t need scientists to tell us that all the oceans are connected, or that the air we breathe here in the United States is the same air that people in China or Australia or Europe are breathing. Poet John Donne said, “No man is an island.” No war, no environmental catastrophe is an island either. All of these events are interrelated. Decisions we make today will determine not only the future of our own families, but the future of families on the other side of the world.

This is why today I am proposing the following:

1. A permanent moratorium on all deep water drilling for oil.

2. A national campaign for every citizen to USE HALF of all non-renewable resources to begin immediately, with greater emphasis placed on those who have had the luxury of using the most. The new American way of life will not be one of wasteful excess, but one of thoughtful, sensible, comfortable efficiency. Constantly striving to streamline our habits will make the transition to alternative energy sources easier and cheaper – the less energy we require, the smaller and more affordable the system needed to sustain our lifestyles.

3. The establishment of an independent non-profit Sustainability Advisory Council to develop guidelines for the transition to a more sustainable society. This council will design programs for corporations, government offices, families, and individuals to assist in maximizing efficiency and eliminating waste. The American government will serve as an example, beginning immediately by converting the White House and all buildings in Washington to renewable energy. These guidelines will be considered when taking into account future government contracts, purchases including supplies, vehicles, and buildings, and other government spending. Non-essential plane and automobile travel will be eliminated or discouraged, with as much business as possible being carried out via Internet and electronic technologies.

4. A 5% tax on fossil fuels with all monies going to fund development of renewable technologies, green jobs training for those in the fossil fuel industry or other industries such as fishing which have been put at risk by non-renewable resource mining and drilling, improving and construction of new national train infrastructure and improving efficiency for other ground transportation systems, rebates and incentives for those who build new homes and businesses that utilize renewable resources, and retrofits for existing structures.

5. New utilities billing practices, with the greatest discounts given to those who use the least. This new more-you-use-the-more-you-pay model will make it especially desirable for the largest consumers to develop ways to maximize efficiency and reduce waste.

6. New efficiency standards for all vehicles and appliances, and incentives for the development and implementation of technologies that maximize efficiency from foot-pedal operated faucets to chest-style refrigerators that require a tenth of the energy of upright models. The age of planned obsolescence, disposable everything, and shoddy workmanship to save a dime in the short run and lose dollars in the long run is over.

7. A “Victory Maximum Speed Limit” of 55 miles per hour on all roadways, with 65 being allowed on major interstates only.

8. The establishment of a “Peace Advertising Council” to encourage “Using It Up, Wearing It Out, Making It Do, or Doing Without”, promote green entrepreneurialism, and distribute information on gardening, permaculture, and food forestry for homes, parks, college campuses, community developments, and industrial complexes.

This is just the beginning. With your help, this horrific catastrophe will become an opportunity to unite the people of our United States of America towards a common goal. Together we can strengthen and heal our families, our communities, our society, and our world. In this way, the suffering of our Gulf of Mexico and all affected by this tragic disaster will not be in vain.

Thank you and good night.

Monday, March 28, 2011

the social & scientific implications of the perfectly round tortilla with enrique madrid

Texas/Mexico border historian/scholar Enrique Madrid and his wife Ruby offer a lesson on how to prepare traditional Mexican recipes, including Enrique's theory that perfectly round tortillas that obey the very same laws of physics as the universe milliseconds after the Big Bang. Enrique and Ruby feel strongly that teaching people how to cook simple, wholesome food helps to preserve traditions and keeps "endangered flavors" alive. Sustenance - both physical and philosophical - provides individuals and families with the means to thrive, and creates bonds within communities and between cultures.

It so happened that I posted this video on the same day that an article on the very same subject titled Holy Frijole by Jake Silverstein was published in Texas Monthly.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

everyone as activist

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality,” Buckminster Fuller said. “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” In 2007, the Buckminster Fuller Institute began offering an annual $100,000 prize to the individual or team who could present the most practical, efficient, viable way to make a poorly functioning aspect of the existing reality obsolete. Bucky called this kind of solution a “trimtab,” named for the tiny rudder on an enormous ship that is ultimately responsible for steering. I wasn’t ready to enter the competition that year, but from then on, my mind began working around the clock on the riddle of the trimtab. What universally accessible and implementable strategy could bring as many people on board as possible, inspiring contributors to take immediate action using whatever materials may be at hand?

I began to study and implement appropriate technologies and permaculture. I started a Facebook group called USE HALF NOW to explore the notion that more mindful consumption may be an efficient place for many to begin (at least for those of us living in “overdeveloped” countries). I studied the wildly successful conservation and Victory Garden campaigns introduced in the U.S. and Britain during World War II. Leaders called on citizens to “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” and people ably complied. I wondered, what if a similar campaign could be put forth today? What if people were simply invited to have a stake in creating a healthier, more peaceful world? What if the sense of helplessness, disempowerment, and defeat that seems to pervade our culture could be overcome, simply by suggesting that each of us contribute to the solution in whatever ways make the most sense to us? Perhaps the fastest-acting, most accessible trimtab would not appear as some new magic-bullet “green” technology—instead it might come in the form of a radical mental shift.

The German artist Joseph Beuys practiced social sculpture, a kind of art-activism that called upon audiences to participate. He believed that everyone, by infusing even the most mundane action with a sense of purpose and creativity, could contribute to ones’ own health and the health of society and the environment at large. By so doing, he proposed that “everyone is an artist” of their chosen vocation. Beuys taught that in order for social transformation to be truly constructive and enduring, methods used to achieve it must be as holistic and inclusive as possible.

21st-century advances in internet technology and network accessibility offer extraordinary new tools for the contemporary social sculptor. Interactive initiatives based on the dissemination and sharing of information have far greater potential than during any other age in history. Inspired by the developing power of virtual networks, the spirit of the 1940’s conservation campaigns, and the Buckminster Fuller Challenge itself, after four years of deep consideration, it finally seemed that an opportune moment to present a formal application to the Challenge had arrived.

My proposal, “The Instant & Efficient Comprehensive & Synergetic Omni-Solution,” is a customizable, interdisciplinary, collaborative, philosophical approach to social change. It’s a conceptual framework within which to investigate our inherent interconnectedness and shared responsibility for the health of one another and our environment. SOS is at once a call to action, a compendium of possible strategies, and a means of describing, documenting, and contributing to do-it-ourselves revolutions currently underway around the world. It draws parallels between simple, emotionally-rewarding, system-defying action—such as line-drying laundry, freecycling, and home-growing food—and more complex, radical measures undertaken by those demanding basic human rights and an end to oppressive regimes. By cultivating a willingness to commit to small actions, one may become psychologically prepared to participate in and initiate larger ones.

Through the Synergetic Omni-Solution website, the SOS Facebook page, interviews with visionaries and activists, interdisciplinary art installations, and happenings such as the weekend of SOS launch events to be hosted by Ballroom Marfa in late April 2011 in Marfa, Texas, I plan to compile examples of innovative works in progress by others, connect dots, and gather collaborators. As the project proceeds, data will be collected from those in a wide range of fields—alternative agriculture, music, art, politics, history, philosophy, economics, and social, political, and environmental activism—and condensed into concise, comprehensive, strategic booklets, posters, videos, and multimedia guides to be disseminated digitally and via alternative media outlets.

To carry Beuys’ proposition a bit further, perhaps infusing actions with purpose and personal creativity not only makes us into artists, it makes us into activists as well. Realizing the power we have as individuals to shape the world may be the most efficient, accessible, renewable resource available to us—and also the most often overlooked. By approaching issues that affect us all from the standpoint of how to create the greatest health for the greatest number, through shared information and compassionate action, together we have an opportunity to craft a trimtab that's more beautiful and efficient than anything any one of us alone could have imagined.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

makers: DIY agents of social change

by: Alyce Santoro, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed


As our society collectively awakens to the realization that it must devise ways to stem the hemorrhaging caused by years of denial and excess, and as the DIY (do-it-yourself) movement grows in popularity, Joseph Beuys’ words “Everyone Is An Artist” ring all the more true. Beuys, who referred to himself as a “social sculptor”, believed strongly not that everyone should make (so-called) fine art, but that everyone can live a richer and more meaningful life by infusing any vocation or action with his or her own personal creativity.

From the 1950’s through the mid-1980’s, Beuys expressed the notion that personal creativity could be cultivated and honed by connecting with nature and by developing a more intimate relationship with it. He believed that individuals, as well as our entire society could be healed by returning to a simpler way of life, and by becoming more attuned to the subtle, ineffable forces of the ecosystems we inhabit.


Some call one who consciously connects to, communicates with, and elaborates on the intangible a shaman. Some called Joseph Beuys that. Most just called him an artist. Shamans, artists, cooks, gardeners, scientists, inventors and all others who bring imaginary things out of the realm of the intangible to help give them form routinely benefit from enhanced access to the mysterious force of inspiration. In this sense, everyone is a shaman as well.

And as people begin to seek opportunities to “do it themselves” they are exercising a form of personal creativity that has been largely neglected in our culture for far too long. A basic fact of existence that has been all but forgotten is that human happiness and the sense of freedom depends largely on the ability to express personal creativity. Beuys also famously said, “To make people free is the aim of art. Therefore art for me is the science of freedom”.


It is possible that the reshuffling of our collective deck, while discomfiting at times, will ultimately result in an overall increase in happiness as people come to realize that we were misguided in relating the ravenous, mindless accumulation of stuff to personal joy, and as we begin to experience instead the sense of simple, profound satisfaction that comes from planting a seed, sewing on a button, or cooking a meal from scratch.


Consciously creative types (“makers” as they have come to be known) are returning to the sort of DIY approach to the creating and sharing of their work that the fluxus artists of the 1960’s and 70’s pioneered – only now we have the internet. Websites, blogs, and social networks have made the notion of the white box/velvet rope style gallery virtually obsolete - now everyone has the same access to the same art and artists, from the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Sculptors can create installations in a basement, musicians can give concerts in their living rooms, writers can publish in an instant – and everything can be shared with millions of people across the globe.


The internet is a fascinating artifact of the fundamental human longing to connect. The telegraph, telephone, and television are all apparatus devised to facilitate communication. The internet takes it all a step further – now we are able to pool resources, share information, and generate tangible links. In 1998 Howard Rheingold, an early internet researcher and pioneer, published a brilliant article called Thinking About Thinking About Technology in the Institute of Noetic Sciences newsletter. In the piece, Mr. Rheingold posits that for new technology to develop into tools for enhancement of creativity and “mind amplification” as opposed to becoming merely a source of “disinfotainment” we must develop a philosophical framework within which it can evolve. That was 12 years ago. Now we can say for certain that technology, devoid of philosophical framework, will become everything that we are - enriching and distracting, elegant and dangerous, brilliant and ridiculous.

Technology has arrived at a point in its evolution when it is exceptionally easy for the maker to direct all aspects of his or her own creation, from inception to publication, marketing, and dissemination. From Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger to Ebay, Etsy, and YouTube, it is an exciting time for the DIY innovator.


Technologies for the amplification and enhancement of imagination and conscious intent have existed in every aspect of human culture at least since the first cave painting was created. Modern western civilization’s fanatic rejection of the unquantifiable has, in many ways, done us a great disservice. To trust only that which can be measured negates inspiration, intuition, and imagination – some of humanity’s most precious attributes.

Perhaps Joseph Beuys was right - reenchantment with the intangible, reverence for nature, and an open-minded acceptance of alternative modes of perception may make it possible for humanity to emerge from this period of economic, environmental, and social upheaval and reevaluation into a more peaceful and contented era. By perceiving ourselves as artists of our own particular medium (be it plumbing, politics, cooking, medicine, teaching, healing, engineering, or painting), we have an opportunity to sculpt our very culture into a masterpiece that’s beyond our wildest collective imagination. We just need to keep in mind that technology is only an electronic, externalized version of some far more sophisticated software that exists inside all of us, preinstalled. There’s no Google search that can tell us how to use it, however. For that we’ll need to move away from the machines, and step outside.

Friday, March 4, 2011

call for participation! reading of gene sharp's list of 198 methods of nonviolent action

all are invited to participate in a collaborative audio-visual reading of gene sharp's list of 198 methods of nonviolent action to be shared on youtube, and i invite your participation! would like to include folks of all ages, accents, nationalities, geographies, etc. in the piece.

if you would be interested in contributing a few lines, please choose your favorite 10 or 20 actions (or more) from the list - preferably consecutive - and videotape yourself reading them in any way you like, facing or back to the camera, in silhouette or profile, with any background or in any setting you choose. please read the number of the action as well as any subheadings/titles/text so that i can line everything up in the correct order. please send your quicktime or mp4 video file via yousendit or other filesharing service to alyce (at) alycesantoro (dot) com (please do not send files as email attachments, as i'm on internet with very limited bandwidth and will need to schedule downloads of large files!). BETTER YET: please post videos to this project's DEDICATED FACEBOOK PAGE.

please let me know how you'd like your name to appear in the credits...or if you'd prefer to remain anonymous. please don't hesitate to let me know if you have any questions! the moment we have all 198 actions on tape, i will edit them down into a single video. thank you so much for your participation!!