Two of Americans’ least favorite subjects remain race and class. They’re not pleasant subjects, not easy to resolve or always get a grip on and inflame strong passions in many people. All the more reason why these subjects fascinate me and make me want to learn and read more about them. As I gradually wrap my brain around a Frantz Fanon book (Black Skin White Masks from Grove Press) that my girlfriend got me for my b-day, I also note Dr. Edward Rhymes’ Caucasian Please (Black Agenda Report) which explores the deep and long-running roots of misogyny, crime-glorification and other vices or as Rhymes puts it “Never do we ask, ‘What has been society’s role in shaping and influencing hip-hop?’” He gets some rock facts fudged but his general point is well-taken. Then there’s Danah Boyd’s Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace. Boyd lays out an interesting class divide between MySpace and Facebook that points out divisions reflected online and offline, though some of his research methodology is a questionable (i.e. the age information and other vital info given on MySpace definitely ain’t always on the up and up).
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Via Brad Plumer, a link to a recent NY Times article about dumpster diving. (Oh wait, according to Webster’s 11th that should be Dumpster diving—wouldn’t want to infringe on that copyright! Yeah, right.)
On a Friday evening last month, the day after New York University’s class of 2007 graduated, about 15 men and women assembled in front of Third Avenue North, an N.Y.U. dormitory on Third Avenue and 12th Street. They had come to take advantage of the university’s end-of-the-year move-out, when students’ discarded items are loaded into big green trash bins by the curb.
New York has several colleges and universities, of course, but according to Janet Kalish, a Queens resident who was there that night, N.Y.U.’s affluent student body makes for unusually profitable Dumpster diving. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the gathering at the Third Avenue North trash bin quickly took on a giddy shopping-spree air, as members of the group came up with one first-class find after another.
Apparently I’m not the only one fascinated with other people’s trash, not the only person who conceives a potential ethical mission upon discovering usable things piled on the street. I’ve sort of vaguely intuited that this sort of thing was happening, but never really thought through the implications as the people profiled here obviously have.
Freegans are scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism. They forage through supermarket trash and eat the slightly bruised produce or just-expired canned goods that are routinely thrown out, and negotiate gifts of surplus food from sympathetic stores and restaurants.
They dress in castoff clothes and furnish their homes with items found on the street; at freecycle.org, where users post unwanted items; and at so-called freemeets, flea markets where no money is exchanged. Some claim to hold themselves to rigorous standards. “If a person chooses to live an ethical lifestyle it’s not enough to be vegan, they need to absent themselves from capitalism,” said Adam Weissman, 29, who started freegan.info four years ago and is the movement’s de facto spokesman.
I seemed to remember a similar movement from the late 1960s led by this man
that believed in freeloading off of society’s garbage. He even wrote some catchy tunes about it, namely “Garbage Dump”, which featured these lyrics:
Oh garbage dump oh garbage dump
Why are you called a garbage dump
You could feed the world with my garbage dump…
Here’s a market basket and a A&P
I don’t care if the box boys are starin’ at me
I don’t even care who wins the war
I’ll be in them cans behind my favorite store
(Of course, he had some other, more radical ideas about racial conflict and what his group needed to do to foment the inevitable black-white struggle.)
Anyway, I’m skeptical that shopping in someone else’s trash exempts you from participation in consumer society, and “absents” one from capitalism, as the “freegans” seem to believe. I’m sure the logic is that by reusing something, they are circumventing the need for new objects to produced. They are not adding to the problem by contenting themselves with stuff that already would have existed anyway.
But parasites need their host to survive, and in fact they will in some cases do what they can to perpetuate the lifespan of the creature they feed from. It’s no good to castigate a culture while living on its leavings. Obviously if everyone decided to live on the refuse of others, we’d quickly run out of refuse—somebody (people who would no doubt be derided as wasteful and evil) would need to be throwing stuff away for this system to work.
And if freegans are merely fulfilling the same consumer desires with secondhand goods, how are they opting out? Opting out would seem to imply conceiving an alternative set of values, desires, ways of fulfilling one’s human potential, etc. The means don’t justify the ends; getting a cool thing out of the trash doesn’t make the acquisitive lifestyle righteous.
Sadly, this sort of article tends to discredit leftist politics, as it is populated with people like this:
Many freegans are predictably young and far to the left politically, like Ms. Elia, the 17-year-old, who lives with her father in Manhattan. She said she became a freegan both for environmental reasons and because “I’m not down with capitalism.”
Leftism becomes associated with an interim period of youth when you are not yet firmly entrenched in the system, not yet making the most of your earning potential, and are disgruntled with the effort it takes to become assimilated into in society as it is. You consider dropping out and rebeling against mainstream society by rejecting its rules, like “Don’t eat what other people throw away.” So when you are not busy watching Fletch you have time to complain and conceive of schemes to freeload off the capitalist society you blithely put down. Then one day you grow up, and you give up picking up trash items from the sidewalk, and you stop crying about the environment, and you set your worn-out, second-hand ideology by the curb.
LOS ANGELES - Dow Jones & Co.‘s board of directors and News Corp. reached an agreement in principle Tuesday on the makeup of an editorial board that would oversee Dow Jones’ flagship newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, people familiar with the matter said.
The major elements of the deal were set in place, but some smaller issues were still being finalized, according to two people familiar with the discussions. It was not clear how soon the negotiations would be concluded.
Details of the pact’s structure were not immediately available, but the removal of this sticking point in the slow-motion negotiations regarding a takeover of Dow Jones by News Corp. could pave the way for a merger of the two in relatively short order.
Love Kills: A Britt Montero Novel by Edna Buchanan
Simon & Schuster ($25)
BUCHANAN FINDS THE RIGHT BLEND THIS TIME
Taken separately, Edna Buchanan’s two series about Miami reporter Britt Montero and the city’s Cold Case Squad haven’t lived up to their potential. The last five Britt novels lacked the vitality of her earlier outings; the Cold Case Squad has been the epitome of missed opportunities, stalled by ineffectual tension and character development.
But in Love Kills, the Miami author melds her two series into a novel full of vitality with sophisticated plotting, expert tensions and characters who leap off the page. A former police reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize, Buchanan delivers a vivid tale in her 13th novel. She weaves several plot threads in Love Kills for a story that is ultimately about violence against women and the high cost of love. Despite a few stumbles and rare bits of clunky description, including a chaotic ending, Buchanan delivers one of her best novels, full of twists and surprises and a view of Miami that is fresh and energetic.
Grieving over her fiance’s death, Britt is on a leave of absence from the newspaper, escaping to a Caribbean island to remember him and ponder her future. She and her best friend, a newspaper photographer, find a disposable camera on the beach that turns out to contain the honeymoon photos of a couple missing at sea.
Back in Miami, Britt is on the minds of the Cold Case Squad members: She was the last to interview Spencer York, a kidnapper for divorced fathers whose body has just been found after several years.
It was assumed that Spencer, who had no compunctions about harming mothers while abducting their children, had just skipped bond shortly after Britt’s interview—her first big story. Now the detectives know he was killed shortly after talking to her and the detectives hope Britt will remember every detail of their interview.
When Marsh Holt, the bridegroom in the photographs, shows up, Britt is pulled into his sad tale of grief and loss. But Marsh has another side to him, as well as a long list of wives who never lived past their honeymoons.
Buchanan keeps the two stories parallel, alternating between Britt’s reporting and the new developments in her private life, and the detectives’ investigation. Both stories are equally compelling and Buchanan doesn’t resort to cheap gimmicks in showcasing the two investigations. The resolutions to both are well-conceived surprises.
Love Kills falters when Buchanan violates a time-honored rule of writers and journalists—by telling, not showing. A character’s monotonous litany about what’s wrong with Miami pales next to Buchanan’s skillful way of illustrating the changing face of the Magic City and its residents: small apartment buildings being sold to developers, traffic jams, exploding garbage trucks and bizarre thefts. “You can leave Miami, but Miami never leaves you,” sums up Britt’s—and Buchanan’s—affection for the city, and that’s the heart of Love Kills.
—Oline H. Cogdill (South Florida Sun-Sentinel (MCT))
Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott
Spiegel & Grau/Random House ($24.95)
DIGGING INTO MYSTERY AROUND ISAAC NEWTON
As strictly a knee-jerk reaction, Isaac Newton wouldn’t seem the likely choice around which to wrap a mystery. But real people and icons are now all the rage. While Ghostwalk lacks the nonstop action of The Da Vinci Code or Steve Berry’s novels, it more than makes up in its intelligent, literary approach to the modern gothic.
Alternating between 17th century and contemporary Cambridge, Rebecca Stout masterfully delivers an intricate plot that is supported by a book within the novel. At the heart of Ghostwalk are the suspicious deaths that happened around Cambridge’s Trinity College during the 17th century and were connected somehow to Isaac Newton. But Stott, a science historian in England, gives equal weight to the murder of a contemporary academian that may be related to a group of radical animal rights activists.
Ghostwalk drips with the atmosphere of Cambridge—from the plague-ridden 17th century where the city must have “seemed like a vision from Revelations” to its current incarnation as “a city of keys and locked doors and private secret inner courtyards.” The pace is deliberate, but never dull.
The intrigue begins when Cambridge historian Elizabeth Vogelsang is found, drowned in the river near her farmhouse. She had been working on a controversial biography of Newton that dealt with his infatuation with alchemy and the supernatural.
Elizabeth’s son, Cameron, asks his former lover Lydia Brooke to finish the book. Lydia respected Elizabeth and they maintained a close friendship long after she and Cameron broke up. Living in Elizabeth’s home, Lydia soon finds this “ghostwalk” to the 17th century comes with flickering lights that dance across the walls, missing papers and an odd assortment of people, one of whom may even be a ghost.
Stott keeps the gothic tones high, while not neglecting the mystery elements or the contemporary story that pulls Ghostwalk together. Only the inevitable romance seems clunky and out of place.
The author, whose last work was a biography of Charles Darwin, has supported Ghostwalk with meticulous research, footnotes, timelines, an extract from Newton’s works and a suggested reading list. That’s all well and good and adds to the feeling of authenticity. But most important, Stott knows how to tell a good story.
—Oline H. Cogdill (South Florida Sun-Sentinel (MCT))
As June comes crawling to a close, the final retail Tuesday sees some interesting choices, all available at your favorite local home entertainment emporium. Granted, they tend to represent the less than successful members of the mainstream set, movies that failed to make their mark at the box office four to six months ago, and are just now seeing a seismic turnaround onto the fiscally friendly format. But there is a great deal to enjoy here, including a solid second film from a critically acclaimed director, a stereotypical uplifting sports film, a by-the-numbers actioner and one of the most intelligent looks at the horror film ever created. Toss in some off title entities and the usual under-performing suspects, and its standard Summertime fare. While it would probably do better come October, SE&L suggests you forget the sunshine and pick up its selection for 26 June. It will have you thinking of Fall’s autumnal terrors lickety-split:
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Vernon Leslie
Other Titles of Interest
Black Snake Moan
And Now for Something Completely Different
Frankenstein Conquers the World/ Frankenstein vs. Baragon