May 8, 2008

Volunteer Journal

During my volunteer training session at Bethlehem Community Center on March 26, Program Manager Maurie Clipperton told us a story. He told us about his childhood. He said that his father had been cold, had taken no real notice of him, had rarely even smiled or said hello, but that there had been a man at church who always greeted him warmly and saved him he seat. Whereas his father had been distant, the man at church acknowledged him, made him feel valued. He told us that here, at Homework ‘n’ Hoops, our aim was to do as the man at church had done for him. Also, we were given some basic principles to observe, the most fundamental and revealing of all being, “Every young person wants to do right / do well.? This, it seems to me, is something that is often forgotten, but must always be at the forefront of our minds when dealing with children, especially those that appear not to be doing well.
My duties consisted of planning and executing science and art projects. On March 4, my first day, I planned an art project for the next week that dealt with inventing seeds. Students would be asked to create a plant, as fanciful as they’d like––my example was a beach ball tree––and design a seed packet for it. They would draw a picture and include planting directions. When it came time to run the project the following week, however, I couldn’t manage to drum up any business among the students, and ended up helping my co-worker conduct a science experiment about the performance of parachutes of various shapes and sizes. I was a bit discouraged at the failure of my own project but, coming back the next week, I was ready to plan again. I found an experiment that involved running cars down ramps, and figured that some of the kids might be a little more responsive to this. The project consisted of running cars down ramps set at various inclinations and measuring the distance travelled and the time taken by each. I prefaced the whole thing with an overview of the scientific method––identifying the problem, hypothesizing, experimentation, etc.––and also explained that running multiple trials would yield more accurate results. The students responded positively. I managed to round up four students and their tutors. Though their main concern was, of course, playing with the cars, they, with the help of their mentors, were able to conduct three trials at each of the three inclinations tested. Their experimentation yielded fairly consistent results, and I was happy with the way things went. Most recently, beginning on April 8, my co-worker and I have been working collaboratively on a Papier-mâché project. We spent April 8 taking inventory everything we would be needing and planning what would become a three week project. The first week, April 22 (we spent our April 15 session testing our methods), we had the participating students tear up newspaper, mix the adhesive, and apply the strips to glass jars. During our next session, May 6, we had the students decorate their jars with paint, glitter, ribbon, and other such things. On May 13, we plan to have the students make tissue paper flowers for their jars.
To briefly conclude, I very much enjoyed the time I spent working at Bethlehem Community Center with the Homework ‘n’ Hoops program, and am considering volunteering for one of their summer programs.

May 5, 2008

UN MDG Response II

I was quite moved by Sarah and Krista's presentation on MDG No. 4, reducing child mortality, especially after viewing the video they put together. The video juxtaposed the smiling and eager faces of bright-eyed children––the sort of idealized vision of children people often assume––with images of disease and death, images of hollow-eyed children with emaciated, skeletal frames––the stark truth of the matter. The video ends with a quote saying, "Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see." Often though we may hear it, and trite though it may seem, children are our future, and it is vital that we ensure their health welfare. First we must do it for their own sakes, but we must also realize that how we care for our children is a measure of ourselves, the present state of society. And if we cannot establish a foundation for future generations, as many prior generations have done for us, then their is a serious flaw in our society, some unsustainable preoccupation with irrelevant objects––avarice or some other such thing. As Sarah and Krista showed, we can work to reduce child mortality. Their topic dovetails smoothly with mine, that is, ensuring access to affordable drugs and health care. Though I focussed specifically on AIDS drugs, all drugs battling infectious diseases are essential––even just mosquito nets, as was mentioned in the presentation. Much of reducing child mortality consists in obtaining medicines to treat and prevent diseases that, though curable, when left untreated will kill. The quote that Sarah and Krista leave us with in their video, "What kind of message are we sending?" really makes us step back and take a look at ourselves, hopefully to the benefit of the many millions of impoverished and disadvantaged children worldwide.

April 24, 2008

UN Millennium Development Goals

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

I, undoubtedly like many others, have an overabundant stockpile of plastic grocery bags. I have one of those cloth, eco-friendly, reusable grocery bags but–I'm a trifle embarrassed to say–have used it only once. Instead, in my frequent trips to the northeast Minneapolis Lunds for bread or milk or, when feeling not so health-oriented, microwavable White Castle sliders, I always take their plastic bags–two bags for the milk alone. Plus, given that I usually bring my backpack, I immediately take most things out of the bags and stuff the food in my pack, tossing the excess bags that I've crumpled in an outside pocket under the kitchen sink when I get home.

This is precisely the kind of waste touched on by the group presenting UN MDG 7. To ensure sustainability, it's vital that we find some alternative means by which to ferry our groceries. I read in the Star Tribune recently that something like only 1% of all plastic bags are recycled, and Americans used on the order of 90 billion plastic bags every year. Frankly, I never even realized you could recycle plastic bags, though you'd think it ought to be obvious. At Lunds I've recently noticed bins popping up that encourage shoppers to recycle their bags. Lunds, at least the one in northeast, uses only plastic bags, and despite their efforts to promote recycling, this seems to only compound the problem. I've seen many places selling their own cloth bags, but it seems that many people aren't yet willing to forfeit the convenience of conventional paper and plastic. I, for one, will at least try and use my cloth grocery bag more often, and will recycle all the unused bags cluttering my kitchen cabinets.

April 3, 2008

MDG Cover II

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MDG Cover I

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March 24, 2008

An outline? Simple. I like it. (6)

Given that I am not an architecture student and have very little (read: no) experience in design, I must say that paying so much attention to the visual aesthetic of the presentation style, that is, the format, is a bit foreign to me. I had to have my group members explain to me what exactly a design portfolio was. Despite my lack of knowledge as to how one might go about designing a project or portfolio (I think I may leave most of that to my colleagues better versed in the field) I can see clearly why it is that the style of documentation comes to bear with such importance. After seeing the sample portfolios presented in class, it is clear how much of an impact design can have on understanding and accessibility. There is a marked difference between a standard textbook and a design portfolio. Upon opening a textbook, one is often daunted, overcome with a sense of fearful apprehension, and repulsed at the sheer volume of text. Indeed, when pitted against a college textbook, one’s prospects are grim. You’ve lost before you’ve even begun. Upon opening a design portfolio, however, one is comforted by generous tracts of white space and, of course, plenty of pictures with concise captions. You don’t dread opening it, but are instead encouraged, even eager. Effective design actually aids in the consumption and assimilation of knowledge by making it more accessible and, hopefully, more enjoyable. So the importance of design is not lost on this otherwise design not-so-savvy mind. All that having been said, though, we invariably come back to the fact that I am not design savvy.

Included below is the information for which I am responsible and, frankly, I think presenting it as it appears (with proper indentations and formatting, and with as yet unrealized revision and polish––and images, of course) would be appropriate. The commonplace outline, used as a schematic template for innumerable ninth grade English compositions (5 paragraph essays, anyone?), though simple and straightforward, is an effective design solution for those very reasons. The problem is clearly stated. The policies are not buried in reams of impertinent and obfuscatory text. The design, though common and arguably uninspired, is reliable and effective. Bold-faced and bulleted. Looks good to me.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development
•In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries

I. Problem
A. Report on the Global HIV/AIDS epidemic (UNAIDS - 2002)
1) - 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide
- 37.1 million of which are adults, 3 million of which are children (under 15 years of age)
- 3 million annual deaths
2) 1/3 of the world’s population does not have regular access to affordable medicine
3) - Annual AIDS treatment regimen using generic drugs from India costs US$350
- Annual AIDS treatment regimen using name-brand US drugs costs US$1200

II. Policy
A. 1994 WTO-TRIPs Agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights)
1) significantly strengthens patent protection standards
a. phased implementation allows undeveloped and under-developed countries more time to adopt new rules
b. Pharmaceuticals cannot be excluded from patentability
2) Developing countries have customarily excluded drugs from the patent process to reduce costs
B. Doha Declaration on the TRIPs Agreement and Public Health
1) Intellectual property rights should not infringe on public health

III. Pharmaceutical Company Objections
A. Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association (PMA) of South America
1) organization representing 39 leading drug companies filed suit against South Africa for provisions of the 1997 Medicines Act that improved access to generic medicines
2) In response to Oxfam’s Cut the cost program, the PMA withdrew their challenge
B. Novartis
1) the Swiss pharmaceutical company filed suit against India in respect to their patent laws and to appeal the rejection of a patent for a cancer drug
2) complaint dismissed by Indian court in Aug. 2007

March 6, 2008

On the Verge

Much as I’d like to think I exist wholly in and of myself, that I am guided in action, as it were, by some internal governing principle, that my essence, my nature is unequivocal and exists irrespective of my surroundings, I cannot deny the influence the built environment has on me, at least insofar as I am defined by my interaction with it and, in the case that follows, the lessons I derive from it.


There is one feature of my immediate environment that has come to bear quite heavily in the past six or seven months, that being the 35W bridge collapse and subsequent reconstruction project. Though I cannot say clearly or distinctly what it is that has affected me, I can at least relate my experiences and observations. On the evening on August 1st, 2007, three friends and I were just crossing back into Minnesota from a concert we’d been to at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside of Denver –– Daft Punk, if you’re at all interested. A little while after 6:00 PM we turned the radio on to MPR and heard something about a bridge –– some kind of collapse, though we didn’t think much of it at the time. We hadn’t caught the beginning, so we were left to speculate half-heartedly. Some sparsely traveled highway overpass or some other such thing. But when they finally did that whole “If you’re just joining us...? deal and we were abruptly awakened. Like so many other people, we said to ourselves, hey, I’ve been over that, just last week or just last month or last year. I thought of calling some friends who I knew were on campus during the summer, but I didn’t. I should have, though.

Last year we’d always walk to a friend’s fraternity by way of the 10th Avenue Bridge, and on the way back we’d take some time to admire the night-time city lights. We barely even noticed the bridge that ran parallel, not more than the width of a city block away –– less, probably. It was part of the image. It was a permanent fixture. Whether the leaves were falling or the snow was drifting, it was always there, underneath, waiting to be uncovered, waiting to be covered, always waiting, it seemed, for something. It was solid, it was, like I had once conceived of myself, unequivocal. But it was gone. The wait was over. We couldn’t quite wrap ourselves around that.

When I got home after letting off my friends, I sat and watched the news for two or three hours. I was trying to get a glimpse of my apartment building –– it’s on 4th Street, probably what amounts to two blocks up 35 from the bridge. Now, just over seven months later, the foundations have long since been poured and the pillars erected. Most recently they’ve been grading slopes here on the north side and driving piles along the embankment where the entrance ramp used to be. It’s rising alright, but it’s not what it was before. There was a bridge of green steel that spanned the Mississippi for 40 years, and it’s gone. What few incoherent fragments remain, marred by orange paint and covered in snow, lie in an open grave under the Washington Avenue Bridge, neglected, no longer able to bridge the waters of the Mississippi River.


All I can think of are delicacy and transience –– the precariousness of our whole edifice. The realization that we are always on the verge. The verge of what, I cannot say, but I am certain that we are on the verge –– the verge of collapse, perhaps, or the verge of happiness, the verge of sadness, the verge of peace, the verge of war –– like we’re walking along the edge of a straight-razor, a toe’s width and a wobble from falling or slicing ourselves down the middle.

February 28, 2008

Impacting Our Environment

The single most enduring lesson has been the importance of service to the community –– actively engaging those around you. Unfortunately, I’ve never been one to act or speak without prior solicitation, without some manner of directive to follow, a prompt to which I can respond. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I’m uncomfortable exposing myself –– like crawling out on some thin and wispy branch, perilous and precarious, clinging, always fearful of collapse. Consequently, I’ve never been involved as I would have liked. I’ve done my fair share of volunteering, mainly for local (i.e. Mankato) political candidates, but only because it was convenient. Either the candidate would be a family friend or teacher, or my friends would be interns rounding up the weekly herd for parades or phonebanks. Never have I really gone out of my way to help. Marching in parades, I’d be quick to grab the banner or a sign because I didn’t want to distribute stickers or campaign literature –– even that basic level of interaction, asking someone if they wanted a flyer or a sticker, made me uncomfortable. Trivial as it may seem, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was exposing myself (before you think I’m just flat pathetic, I’ll add that stickers were never a real problem. I managed to give them out cheerily enough. In fact, my discomfort was common –– nobody wanted sticker duty, but we swallowed our irrational fear of four-year-olds prowling for stickers and shored ourselves up). Basically, the whole point of this –– I went on a bit longer than I expected –– is that I am grateful for the opportunity (forced volunteerism though it may be) to engage and interact with the community in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise have done. Though I am still following a directive to fulfil a requirement, and have therefore not yet demonstrated a capacity for real proactive engagement (i.e. totally unsolicited and by one’s own volition), I am still stepping outside of my comfort zone, for this is not simply born of convenience –– far from it, in fact... (don't be surprised if you see this again as part of a volunteer journal)

I sort of lost where I was going with all of that, so I’ll just say it straight: to impact my environment, I would simply continue volunteering. Helping children attain “developmental assets? –– the proprietary term used by my volunteer organization –– seems very important and is the most elementary way by which to exact change in the environment and in the world at large. Fostering positive relationships, investing in children as resources, and maintaining a positive, productive, and above all caring work environment are essential assets that promote success and prosperity.

We Are The World

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We Are The World

To be blunt, I have not found the topic of developing a global partnership for development to be expecially inspiring –– a bit too vague, I think –– at least not so far as calling notable quotes or song lyrics or images to mind (granted, I admit to investing a minimum of effort). There is one song, however, that I was able to come up with. The song is “We Are The World? by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. They gathered a superstar chorus to raise funds for drought relief in Ethiopia. “We Are the World? promotes the kind of global partnership that we’re interested in.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmxT21uFRwM

February 25, 2008

Critical Mass

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February 14, 2008

City Cycling

Minneapolis consistently ranks among the most bicycle-friendly cities in the United States, but simply because we’ve done well in the past does not mean that we can grow complacent and neglect our duties to the cause of healthy, sustainable (and, moreover, fun) transportation. The design and construction of bicycle paths, the care taken in determining routes and ensuring ease of use, are very much matters of social engineering. A properly implemented design program has the potential to make a significant and positive impact on the community. If the route is accessible, convenient, well maintained and generally well provided for, then people will be more inclined to take advantage of it. All of these positive features make evident a significant investment by the community. Further, if the community publicly and prominently promotes use of the resource, then people will recognize that it is a project in which the community has invested its faith and its resources and, given that people recognize their own vested interests, will again be more likely to use it.

For instance, Minneapolis recently opened the Midtown Greenway bike and pedestrian bridge, costing $5.1 million. The fact that the city made such a substantial investment, coupled with the print coverage (I’m getting this from the Star Tribune), leads people to believe that the city has a great deal of faith in the cause of bicycling and will continue to improve infrastructure. Of course, as I’ve said, Minneapolis is already pretty bicycle-friendly. The Grand Rounds, designated a national scenic byway, stretch for more than 50 miles through some of the cities most picturesque areas, and an abundance of bicycle paths run down the city’s most well traveled downtown avenues.

Still, we cannot simply be satisfied with the existing infrastructure, good as it may may. Many bicyclists feel disenfranchised, alienated, marginalized by a society that prizes automotive transportation and is always looking towards the bigger and “better.? The Critical Mass bicycle festival, which occurs on the last Friday of every month in major cities around the nation, encourages bicyclists to take back the streets by riding en masse through city streets. This promotes visibility but, if not conducted peacefully and within the law, has the potential to aggravate people and make cyclists seems like one of those rebellious, “nonconformist? fringe groups that are, well, irritating and don’t really do any service to their cause, however noble their cause may be. So bicycle advocacy must be taken up by the community at large and given a credible voice so that people will listen.


February 7, 2008

35W Bridge Construction

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The Thousand-fold Smile

“‘This,’ he said, handling it, ‘is a stone, and within a certain length of time it will perhaps be soil and from the soil it will become plant, animal or man... But now I think: this stone is stone; it is also animal, God and Buddha. I do not respect and love it because it was one thing and will become something else, but because it has already long been everything and always is everything.’?
-Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse

In Rivers and Tides, there is one motif that recurs throughout the film, one relevant pattern than Andy Goldsworthy finds and recreates wherever he goes, one particular form that governs the course of his work – and what is that form that pervades and permeates? – a lithe and curvaceous figuration that resembles the course of a meandering river. The figure can occur (that is, be made to occur by Goldsworthy) in the delicate arrangement icicles jutting from a rock, in autumn red leaves strung together and loosed in a rocky stream current, or in a stone wall that rises from the water, falls, rises again and falls to nothingness. The figure is Goldsworthy’s way to perfect naturally occurring phenomena; his way to consolidate, unify and manifest what he knows, what he feels instinctively to be the natural order of things. Furthermore, if we want to extrapolate and extend the significance of the figure, we might project the figure on the temporal dimension and conclude that Goldsworthy’s conception of time is nonlinear (or at least, to be a tad bit more practical, that they way in which our society advances through the ages is not strictly a matter of “forward? progress, but might fall back upon itself – the modern incidence of Classical architectural forms, for instance ), that time curves and sprawls, meeting itself, colliding, running parallel or perpendicular. Here we turn back to the opening quotation from Hesse’s Siddhartha – the concept that something is, in one moment, all that it ever has been and all that it ever will be – a river, we observe, flows simultaneously at its beginning and at its end. Goldsworthy, like Hesse, deals with this concept in terms of the the fluidity of the stone. In Goldsworthy’s case, he demonstrates this by breaking iron rich rocks into ochre pigment and throwing it into a river. We are left to envision the fine particles settling and reconstituting themselves, perhaps to be broken again. I term this concept the simultaneity of continuity and concurrence (sounds nice, right?). To simplify, this means that while our society and civilization continue to advance through time in a straightforward way (this is the continuity bit – we can’t literally question the linearity of time, unless of course we broach the theory of relativity, but that’s irrelevant to our immediate discussion, so we’ll skip it). Okay, so we’re piddling along through time, but we see an old edifice rung with columns (Ionic, let’s say), wrapped in a frieze, and topped with a pediment. This building can be regarded as a historical artifact, and its presence and continued influence in the here and now, coupled with our knowledge of its historical context, constitute a coincidence of past and present; the past informs the present (this is concurrence, though not quite like what Hesse means with the rock). The city (yes, I haven’t forgotten what I’m supposed to be writing about, though my path was circuitous and quite tenuous) materializes this notion of the simultaneity of continuity and concurrence. The city is comprised of ever-changing elements (people, buildings, etc.), but some inevitably endure and remain. From that which remains (or at least the knowledge of what the city once was, and, by the rule of Hesse’s stone, still is), that which is continuously forging new routes derives energy (I didn’t explicitly address flow and transformation, but I think these are implicit in what I’ve said).

In addition to the figure of a meandering river, there was another motif favored by Goldsworthy that I found to be especially poignant, that being the image – if it can be spoken of as an image – of a void. A perfectly blank, empty space – surrounded, perhaps, by vibrancy and color, but in itself totally devoid. This was his way of showing that any loss, no matter how acute, will soon be covered and overshadowed by those things we love and are grateful for. The void Goldsworthy created in the entanglement of tree roots is soon broken by the fresh green sprouts of spring, piercing the black like the upward thrust of a knight’s sword, vanquishing it. So too is whatever loss we suffer triumphed over. This has particular relevance, right here, right now in the city of Minneapolis, because as I draw my blinds and look out my window, I see, as it were, the northern end of a nonexistent bridge. A void. But (as can be seen in the attached photo), two sprouts have taken root and have broken through the winter’s snow. I speak of the two columns (growing more massive by the day) that have risen to pierce the void left by the collapse of the 35W bridge. And this, more than anything, demonstrates the fluidity of the stone. What has fallen shall be rebuilt. What has died shall be resurrected – the Phoenix rises from its ashes. And by willing ourselves forward in time, but living amongst the products of history, will come to recognize the simultaneity of continuity and concurrence. “He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha. Instead, he saw other faces, many faces, a long series, a continuous stream of faces – hundreds, thousands, which all came and disappeared at the same time, which all continually changed and renewed themselves and which were yet all Siddhartha.? Or, in our case, our friend Minneapolis.