Not My Best Run

I headed out today on my morning run and decided I'd expand it a little to see if I could participate in the 10 kilometer part of The Medved Lilac 10K and 5K Family Fun Run rather than the 5K I did last year.  Well, things didn't go so great.  The bottoms of my feet were sore, I abraded one of my toes, and I was getting some rash-like feeling where my clothes were rubbing. I'm not sure it was due to the 3/4 mile I added to the course as much as it was just a bad run. Since the wet morning we had earlier in the week (the one with the snow, hail, and graupel — thanks, Gerry for reminding me of the word), my feet have been more tender and generally a bit out of whack. Hopefully the two days of not running on the weekend will be enough, but I may take a "sick day" on Monday as well. No sense adding, well, injury to injury.

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No Trash Week

I decided to take part in No Trash Week, wrapping up today. The general idea is to try and produce no trash for the week including Earth Day. As I've come to discover from past experiments in quitting established behaviors, the initial goal is not necessarily to achieve the goal so much as it is to assess the minutia of that behavior.

In general, most of my trash was junk mail, packaging from work-related consumables, packaging from food, single-use devices (like dental floss), and the incidental items from bars and restaurants (paper plates, soda straws).  I already do pretty well with obvious stuff, placing all my vegetable waste into compost for instance (even though I generally don't use it — but that's another story). I also tend to shop for groceries that either have reusable containers, or seek to buy bulk items that skip the individual packaging step. And I'm not a big purchaser, although the toilet I bought the other week produced a lot of packaging, most of which was either reusable or recyclable.

Due to the way my meals played out, I didn't feel compelled to buy a sandwich from one of the shops nearby: a stupidly wasteful practice involving several sheets of waxed paper and bags so I can carry it across the street, throw the packaging away, and eat the sandwich. My idea is to ask that they pack my lunch in a reusable package I provide and see if they'll go for it. If not that, then at least cut the wax paper to a minimum and skip the bags.

Aside from that, I found myself targeting the little things, even though it's really the rare purchase of something like a toilet that produces the most waste. Regardless, I think I'm going to try and do better at bringing reusable containers where I go. Coffee mugs are easy, but I'd like to experiment with permanent dinnerware to displace disposable paper.

I'm also considering building a wood gasifier that I can use to take organic waste (mostly paper and wood) and make a gas like propane. Many challenges exist there: first getting it to produce a usable gas (something something, and then safety: third), and then figuring out how to store it to use later. I think that's the wisest thinking of all: rather than see waste, I should see resources. I already look to garbage like broken electronics and steel frames as a source for otherwise expensive materials. I can probably expand my view and get more out of what I have.

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The Art of the Steal

I went to see The Art of the Steal at The Little (240 East Ave.) tonight. I wasn't sure what I was getting into because I'd read just a little about it, but it turned out to be an excellent documentary … at least for me.

It sets up the battle between Albert C. Barnes and the Chicago art community. The deal is that when Barnes was alive, he began collecting works of modern artists of the middle 20th century; further, he displayed those works only once at a Chicago gallery and the works were derided by the art community as inferior in nearly every way to true art. This only fueled his disdain for that art community — and he was embroiled in full-out battle when they realized his collection was one of the most valuable in the world, after that form of modern art became popular. Upon his death, he set up a trust for The Barnes Foundation (300 North Latch's Ln., Merion, PA) which was an educational institution for teaching art in a unique way — stipulating that it was specifically not a museum of art, no artwork may be loaned out, etc.

The film sets up Barnes and his foundation as the heroes, and the art community as the greed-infested enemies. As I understand it, Barnes had a view of works of art as things that had value because they spoke to human beings; and specifically that monetary value had no place being attributed to art. The art community intertwined historical value, personal value, and monetary value in a jumbled mess, and never understood Barnes' point.

So, blah blah blah, they go about dismantling the trust and gain access to the collection in ways Barnes never intended.

The reason I found it an excellent documentary is it opened more reasoned questions than it answered. How long should one man's dying wish be honored? How should we view art? By what mechanism does a person's property become public when they die?

But at its heart, the film asks: for any clause in a person's financed trust, how do we measure if it goes against the public good so much that it must be overturned? That's essentially the argument: the Barnes Foundation has all these great works "locked away" from public view. But how many people can really appreciate an original Matisse, for example? Isn't uninformed public viewing just a matter of bragging rights — don't most people say they saw this-or-that artwork and begin with its appraised value rather than any deeper understanding?

I didn't really see Barnes as the "good guy". I agree with his philosophy of art, but think that important works should have public access (even when it's pearls before swine). Perhaps I'm looking back with a lens tainted by 2010's copyright laws and seeing a world where ideas are longing to be free but are blocked. I'm sure Barnes saw a future where art whose dollar value drops below its value as fuel would simply be burned for heat. I don't know if either of us is wrong.

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Bill Forsyth After an End to Housekeeping

I couldn't attend the screening of Local Hero yesterday, but I did make it to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Housekeeping. Writer/director Bill Forsyth — lucky for me — stayed an extra day for this screening and for a question-and-answer session afterward.

Anyway, the film is excellent and human like Forsyth's other films, but also just a bit disconcerting. It's the story of Ruth and Lucy, orphans who get bounced through the family lineage until they are cared for by their Aunt Sylvie, but what makes it disconcerting is how I was forced to judge Sylvie: are her actions eccentric, insane, misplaced, enlightening, or harmful?

She goes just a little "too far" with what would otherwise be just personality traits — for instance, finding old newspapers useful, but collecting them to an obsessive degree (and yet, she also seems perfectly able to part with them). On the one hand, that kind of thriftiness could prove useful in a time of scarcity, especially when compared with one who is wasteful. On the other hand, she doesn't seem to be making conscious effort to drive her life, allowing whatever whim suits her to guide her.

I found the question-and-answer session afterward to be enlightening, revealing Forsyth as a modest fellow who wasn't particularly driven to make films, yet ended up producing work that is warm, unique, and expertly-made.

I had been tipped off before the film that he might go on to socialize with some of the Eastman House staff afterward, but I forgot.  I intended to join a couple friends on the staff to walk with them until they got to their house, but when they went instead to The Strathallan (550 East Ave.) I considered excusing myself out of courtesy as I hadn't been invited, but I decided instead to leave it up to those who were there to ask me to leave if they so wished.

The conversation was fun and interesting as one might expect. We had some laughs and talked about movies, people, and the state of the world. Ordinarily I wouldn't think of myself as excessively brash, but next to the quiet gentle wisdom of Forsyth and the woman he traveled here with (who I assumed is his wife), I felt like some loud-mouthed, opinionated, know-it-all, American stereotype.

On the actual walk home with my friends, we talked about some of the quirky people and their unusual mannerisms. One example is a guy who supposedly couldn't get Forsyth's traveling companion's name right — yet we also know that he's said he has Asperger syndrome, so his unusual behavior is somehow acceptable. Another case was a friend whose palpable social discomfort was given attention in friendly mockery — yet since we know of no diagnosed disorder, it was somehow acceptable to do so.

In the film, Sylvie's behavior was likewise dead-center in the gray/grey area between unusual and insane. Why is there a difference in how we react to someone we know has a psychological problem versus another who acts the same but is not diagnosed? One's individual reaction to any other person is certainly unique, and perhaps it's the "political correctness" drummed into our psyches that causes a reactionary rift between those afflicted by a proper disorder and others who are not. If that's the case, then perhaps the best course of action is to assume everyone you meet is somehow disabled and should be treated cordially nonetheless.

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Watching Dirt

I headed to the WXXI Studio (280 State St.) to see Dirt: the Movie. It was part of the WXXI Community Cinema series which includes a couple more screenings in the coming months. Although you can see Dirt: the Movie yourself on April 20 on TV, you miss out on the panel discussion afterward. To be perfectly frank, the panel was biased toward the statement of the movie: that dirt is an essential, living part of plant and animal life on this planet. As such, there were no experts from Monsanto to provide a counterpoint to sustainable, organic farming (you may notice that I'm also biased and lean toward the message in the film).

So anyway, the film. It's basically an essay film that argues that dirt is, as I said before, an essential, living part of plant and animal life on this planet. Some cute animations and a half-dozen or so talking-heads plays into the standard structure for such a film. I don't recall whether it mentioned how much of today's food comes from non-natural farming techniques, but since I figure it's a large percentage, I think that's an important fact to remember. The film spends more time highlighting the efforts of CSA farms — "Community Sponsored Agriculture" — that provides a counterpoint to the debt-based system we've attempted to apply to farming. The overall message is that the artificial structures we've created that are supposed to increase farming efficiency and feed us all are not sustainable in the long-run, and we must develop a sustainable model if we are to not go extinct.

Now, about that "debt-based system". In modern farming, farm owners are expected to have capital up-front to buy seed and equipment they need at the beginning of the season; they recoup their expenses by selling their crops throughout the year. Typically they will get a loan — often a mortgage — for those initial expenses and hope to pay it back. However, forces of nature and market forces play a huge role and a farmer may not be able to match their upfront expenses. CSA's do away with the risk associated with a loan because members of the farm pay dues up-front to pay for the crop, distribute the risk of farming, and result in farmers not going into debt.

Anyway, they also gave out door prizes and I won a DVD set of New York Wine and Table along with a coupon for Patty Love to perform a consultation on "permaculture" in my back yard. I was trying to decide whether to join the CSA at Mud Creek Farm (McMahon Rd., Victor), so I took it as a sign and (once I pay my taxes) I'll buy myself a membership. I have felt the push to start getting into farming and sustainability — I think I'm going to start paying less attention to my technical skills and start focusing on more plain, traditional techniques and steer toward laziness through innovation.

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