Unpacking Dutch Tolerance

AMSTERDAM– In the two weeks I spent in the Netherlands, I repeatedly encountered the Dutch vocab word “gedogen.” This cherished verb– which one pronounces by issuing a flem-clearing throat rasp at the appearance of each ‘g’– roughly means “to tolerate.” It describes a kind of pragmatic tolerance, often expressed to me as ‘turning a blind eye’ or ‘seeing it through the fingers.’

It can be used to describe minor, everyday occurrences and major policy positions alike. For example, when a classmate of mine asked if he could eat his apple in the public library, and the librarian replied “No… But I won’t see it,” she gedogd it. The term is also evoked to describe the Netherland’s (restricted) decriminalization of prostitution, soft drug use (including marijuana), and the use of euthanasia for assisted suicide. As Yasha Lange explained in a 2001 article published on BBC News, these activities are permitted because the government believes they will occur regardless of their legality, but pose a lesser threat to individuals and society as a whole if they occur openly instead of in the shadows. Pragmatic tolerance. Gedogen.

In the optimistic understanding of this term, gedogen alludes to an admirable tradition of respecting difference within the Netherlands. That is to say, the concept of gedogen both reflects and reproduces various forms of tolerance, including tolerance of religious difference, artistic expression, sexual orientation, and more. Gedogen becomes a banner flying high above the country that reads ‘everyone welcome’ and illuminates the Netherlands as an uncommonly progressive nation.  Continue reading “Unpacking Dutch Tolerance”

Encountering Amsterdam: First Impressions, People, and Bikes

AMSTERDAM – Hello from Holland, this strange and exciting land renowned for its windmills and waterways, its tulips and tolerance, its pot, pedal-power, and prostitution. The language is Dutch, the currency is the Euro, and the affordable home goods & grocery chain of choice is Hema. Waffles are ubiquitous, ordering “beer” usually means ordering “Heineken,” and fries are by-default served with a hearty dollop of mayonnaise.

I arrived in here on Wednesday June 15th and spent two nights in a youth hostel in Noordjwik. I briefly explored Leiden and Rotterdam, then came to Amsterdam to embark on a two-week urban studies program offered through the University of Amsterdam (UvA) titled “Amsterdam Creative City: Media, Art and Urban Culture.

Houses on the canal in Amsterdam
Houses on the canal

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Dear Bernie

Dear Bernie,

It looks like the race to become the Democratic nominee is coming to a close. Whatever happens next, I want to thank you– both for the incredible presidential campaign you have run, and for the prior 30+ years you spent in public service. As I have educated myself about your political career, I have been profoundly inspired by your empathy, foresight, integrity, and drive.

I watched with awe and admiration how you passionately argued for military spending cuts before the House of Representatives in 1992:

We are spending $270 billion a year on the military, but we don’t have a major enemy! I know it hurts your feelings, I know you’re upset about it, I know you’re hoping and praying that maybe we’ll have another war, maybe somebody will rise up. But it ain’t happening! … Let’s have the guts to give leadership to this country. The Cold War’s over. Let’s reinvest in America.

Perhaps a dozen times I watched the clip of you rising in opposition to the 1991 crime bill to declare:

This is not a crime prevention bill. This is a punishment bill, a retribution bill, a vengeance bill… If you wanna get tough on crime, let’s deal with the causes of crime. Let’s demand that every man, woman, and child in this country have a decent opportunity and a decent standard of living, let’s not keep putting poor people in jail and disproportionately punishing blacks.”

And I wept as I watched you, realizing how uncommon this view was at the time, and knowing that those crime bills of the early 1990s did not make crime drop but instead helped construct today’s system of racially-biased mass incarceration.

You were right right about the crime bill, Bernie– they were wrong. Just as you were right to oppose war in Iraq. Just as you were right to repeatedly oppose the Patriot Act and the mass surveillance it entailed. Just as you were right to gallantly filibuster the 2010 agreement that extended Bush-era tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Just as you were right to vote and speak out against ineffective “war on drugs” policies again and again and again. You have been right so many times over the years, Bernie, while the popular view has been painfully, dangerously, destructively, wrong. Why couldn’t more people see that?

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[Guest Post] Feminist Farting: The Gender Politics of Passing Gas

farting manFive Dunns sit squished in a white Prius, bellies bursting with lime margaritas and bean burritos. As we turn onto Denver St. and pull up outside our house, Papa Dunn rips a big one. Noses wrinkle, eyes roll, disapproving groans ensue. He lets out a chuckle and quickly exits the vehicle as I, trapped in the middle seat in intense olfactory discomfort, must wait for my sister and cousin to move before I can escape. Once clicked free from the sulfurous inferno, the suffocating bath of toxic air, a gaseous microcosm of patriarchy, I confront the inconsiderate culprit: “Really? You couldn’t have held that for two more seconds?”  Call me ageist but I think it’s OK to assume a 60 year old still has adequate autonomy over his anus. This is a matter of unabashed privilege.

Mama Dunn, the all too modest breadwinner in our family, nods in silent agreement with my grievance. She has dealt (more like smelt ha ha) with this for almost thirty years now and knows protest is futile. But strangely, she never attempts retaliation. No all fiber diets. No wake-you-up-with-a-fart-to-the-face radical resistance to rude flatulence. You see, no matter what, Mama Dunn doesn’t fart. Like, ever. For a long time I’d thought her incapable. In our household, the precious rare occasion she let something escape was a spectacle! No matter how weak the squeak, it was a big fucking deal. The two times I remember it happening, my sister and I went bonkers. Through riotous laughter we’d scream to everyone around “GUESS WHAT??? MOM FARTED!!!!!!!” She smiled sheepishly while scolding our hysterical reactions and “dirty” language (the f-word was forbidden, we had to soften it to “fluff”). Farting, both as a concept and an action, is a highly censored subject, and is undoubtedly the next frontier for feminist critical analysis and deconstruction.

Continue reading “[Guest Post] Feminist Farting: The Gender Politics of Passing Gas”

A Novel Encounter: My First Time Reading About Sex

Well, it finally happened. It took until my sophomore year of college, I’m a little embarrassed to say, but last night I finally had a chance to read about sex. Her name was “American Identities, Lone Stars, and the Politics of Radicalized Sexuality.” I have to admit I stumbled through the ordeal quite clumsily; at times I felt totally lost. She was just so… knowledgeable… moving me from “Chicano Marxist” thought, to “imperialist nostalgia”, to “the periphery of the American capitalist culture.” When we finished, I felt utterly dazed, but also exhilarated.

Sure, I suppose I sort of read about sex in high school. I read about characters with complex sexual lives and I read about meiosis and all that, but I’m not sure you can really call that reading about sex. This was the real deal: this time there was actual penetration into “the processes of subjection made possible… through stereotypical discourse”. Continue reading “A Novel Encounter: My First Time Reading About Sex”

Pooping with Java

I’m currently living in a 17-person, sustainability focused community on Carleton College’s campus, called “Farm House.” When it comes to toilets, we tend to adhere to the classic environmentalist manta “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.”

Here is a java implementation of this central dogma, which I recently taped up in several bathrooms.

An image of a java version of "if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down."

 

The Myth of Conscientious Consumption

*Originally published in The Carletonian.*

The Viewpoint section of my school’s student Recycling symbolnewspaper posed the question “As a college student, what are your strategies for being a conscientious consumer without breaking the bank?”

This question implicitly relays the myth that ethical and sustainable living is prohibitively expensive. We are so inundated by ads for “eco-friendly” and “socially-responsible” products, we easily forget that simply not consuming is often the most powerful choice we can make.

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Beyond Vegetarian: One Man’s Journey from Tofu to Tallow in Search of the Moral Meal [Interview]

daniel_zeta
Photo of Daniel Zetah, taken by Kristine Leuze

I met Daniel Zetah this past summer, while interning on a small-scale vegetable farm in northern Minnesota. He arrived one Thursday in a white, well-worn isuzu pickup, together with his fiancée, Stephanie. They brought with them two coolers full of meat (which they raised and butchered themselves), a few baskets of vegetables, a live turkey and her poults, two dogs, some camping equipment, and an old friend from their eco-village days who they had fortuitously seen hitchhiking along the side of the road. Daniel had interned on the farm years ago, and he was now returning to be married.

I learned over the course of their visit that Daniel had spent years living in Tasmania, where he had been a “freegan” (someone that scavenges for free food to reduce their consumption of resources), and full-time environmental activist, then a permaculture student, and then a natural builder. I learned Daniel had spent nine months on The Sea Shepherd—an anti-whaling ship vessel that uses direct-action tactics to confront illegal whaling ships—and played a very active role in Occupy Wallstreet.

I learned, too, that after ten years of vegetarianism, Daniel had become a big-time carnivore. As I had recently given up meat in an effort to mitigate my environmental impact, this choice struck me as incongruous. We ended up having a conversation about ethical and environmental eating, which challenged, angered, intrigued, and enlightened me. Daniel and his wife returned to their once-farm in central Minnesota, to finish packing and preparing to move to Tasmania. I called him at home to get the whole story, and record it for this article.

Would you describe yourself as a long-time farmer and environmental activist?

Not at all. I used to be a redneck. I used to race cars and motorcycles and snowmobiles… I was a motorhead. I don’t want people to think I was always like this, because then they’re like “oh, they were just brought up that way by parents that…” it’s like no, no: I was raised by wolves.

Until I was in my early 20s I ate nothing but crap. Like, garbage, American, supermarket food. When I would go shopping, I was literally after the cheapest calories I could possibly find at the supermarket.

Continue reading “Beyond Vegetarian: One Man’s Journey from Tofu to Tallow in Search of the Moral Meal [Interview]”

In Defense of Divestment

What is fossil fuel divestment?

It is an international network of campaigns calling on powerful institutions to sell any stocks/bonds they hold in the top 200 fossil fuel companies. Many colleges, governments, and foundations have already divested: my own Carleton College has not.

Why might an institution want to divest?

ExMIt was recently unearthed that as early as 1977, ExxonMobil– the world’s largest oil and gas company– knew that their product was causing global temperature rise that could prove catastrophic. Rather than change their business model, they spent tens-of-millions of dollars propagating misinformation, obstructing political action, and cultivating denial across the globe.1

The other major players have all done the same: deny, distract, and drill baby drill.

While many of these companies have changed their tone, they have not changed their actions. “For well over a decade, several of the oil majors have claimed to be voluntarily using their profits to invest in a shift to renewable energy,” writes Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything, “but according to a study by the Center for American Progress, just 4 percent of the Big Five’s $100 billion in combined profits in 2008 went to ‘renewable and alternative energy ventures.’”2 The rest went to shareholders, uber-rich executives, climate denial lobby groups, and the pursuit of ever-more-elusive oil, gas, and coal.

For decades, fossil fuel companies have unequivocally failed to recognize and respond to the threat their business creates. Moreover, they have deliberately suppressed localized and renewable energy models3 and disproportionately targeted communities of poor people and people-of-color as the sites of pollution-generating wells, refineries, and pipelines.4

To divest is to acknowledge the myriad offenses of fossil fuel companies and emphatically declare “We can no longer, in good conscious, make the profits of fossil fuel companies our own.” It’s a powerful symbolic gesture gaining traction across the world. But it is often misunderstood.

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The Poop Map I Made

I discovered CartoDB— a free and open source web mapping tool– through a class I’m currently taking titled “Hacking the Humanities.” Upon learning about ol’ Carto and other tools for visualizing/analyzing spatial data I developed a strong (and unfamiliar) desire to make digital maps.

My ambitions were momentarily thwarted when I realized I had no location data to map. But then came a surreal moment of total clarity, and I knew what had to be done.

Since October 16, I have painstakingly logged the GPS coordinates of my every poop using an app called GPS Logger for Android. I transmitted these time-stamped coordinates to Google Drive, and then uploaded them to CartoDB. Now, as fall term at Carleton comes to an end, it is my honor and privilege to present to you the results of my labor: a gorgeous and interactive poop map!

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Wit and Wisdom in ‘The Monkey Wrench Gang’

The cover art of Edward Abbey's book "The Monkey Wrench Gang"Per a friend’s recommendation I read Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang this year. The novel follows four unlikely companions who– angered by the destruction of their beloved southwestern American desert by ever-expanding industry– turn to sabotage.

The gang is comprised of the wise and eloquent Doc Sarvis, the strong-willed Bonnie Abbzug, the “incorrigibly bucolic” Seldom Seen Smith, and the brutish, testosteronic Vietnam vet: George Hayduke. These characters come from diverse backgrounds, but are unified in the conviction that no one has a right to destroy the the impeccable and essential wilderness they cherish.

So they disassemble bulldozers, they blow up assembly lines, they uproot survey stakes… you know… eco-terrorist stuff. They come together to strike back against the oil companies, coal companies, and mining companies destructively extending their greedy paws into the pristine desert of the American southwest.

Entertaining and artfully constructed, the book challenges the assumption that permanent growth is both desirable and necessary, which seems to be largely ingrained into the American psyche. Though Abbey’s writing is often confusingly scattered and alarmingly opinionated, it is also excellent. Abbey unleashes an impressive vocabulary– often bending obscure words into unlikely contexts, in a way I find beautiful and exciting– and presents many deep and compelling thoughts.

Here are some examples of the wit and wisdom exhibited in The Monkey Wrench Gang.

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To the Daily Camera: Stop propagating climate change denial

*Originally published in the opinion section of Boulder’s “The Daily Camera,” April 6, 2014*

Greetings. I’m a senior at Fairview High and I’m writing to urge the Daily Camera to follow the example of the Los Angeles Times and commit to no longer publishing letters to the editor that deny human-caused climate change. The claims made by climate change deniers are not only inaccurate, but also damaging, and newspapers have no obligation to propagate their misinformation. In fact, they have an obligation not to.

From pixabay.com.

Let me begin my argument with few words about science. There exists a faction of citizens, pundits, and politicians that like to remind us that climate change is “just a theory” and therefore any attempts to mitigate it would be thoroughly premature. Per the diligent conditioning of my biology teacher, I would like to state that the term “theory” bears a different significance in the sciences than it does in casual conversation.

To a scientist, a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation. Gravity is a theory. The idea that some diseases are caused by microorganisms is a theory. The idea that an object heavier than air can achieve flight when lift balances weight and thrust exceeds drag, which makes air travel possible, is a theory. And the theory of special relativity that makes your GPS function is, in fact, a theory. To oppose one of these concepts and not another would be hypocritical, for each is subjected to the same degree of rigorous review.

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The Joy of Cycling

Note: This piece was originally written for my Common App college application, in response to the essay prompt “Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?”

Fourteen years ago I learned how to bike, but six months ago I learned why. Six months ago I discovered the true power of biking, not just as a form of transportation, but also as a tool for improving personal and planetary health. My embrace of cycling began as an environmental gesture: I decided for all the global-warming-related fear I bear, I should explore the viability of biking more and driving less. This seemed like a simple action I could take to directly reduce my carbon footprint, and while I anticipated the change would make my life harder and less comfortable, that was a sacrifice I felt willing to make. Before long, however, I found biking was not a sacrifice at all, but rather… a gift. I have discovered that biking creates a space in my life to connect with my mind, body, and environment, in a society where that space can be hard to find.  Continue reading “The Joy of Cycling”