Monday, February 28, 2011

This one is for my friends in Texas

Two articles I've read recently are begging to be connected, and the purpose of this post is to make the connection and get people thinking.

The first one actually came second. In a scathing column this morning, Paul Krugman made it plain that our governor, Rick Perry, having "discovered" a massive budget deficit that he didn't notice while campaigning for re-election, plans to take out virtually all of the damage on our children by crippling education in Texas. This is not an overstatement.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/28/opinion/28krugman.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

The second one, which I discovered a few days ago, shows how people in Britain realized that they didn't have to take the drastic, punitive cuts being proposed by their new government lying down. They discovered that a single company, Vodafone, owed almost enough in unpaid taxes to solve the crisis.
There was no need for new taxes, it turned out; all that was needed was the will of British citizens to insist that Vodafone and other corporate delinquents pay what they owed so that the entire British social support system did not have to be destroyed.

http://www.thenation.com/article/158282/how-build-progressive-tea-party

Naturally, this has me wondering what companies haven't paid their taxes in Texas. Apparently, all it takes is for enough people to make it clear that they won't stand for it. If, like me, you want a decent future for our children, please send suggestions for how we can duplicate the striking success of UKuncut. Who are the corporate tax evaders that stand between us and our children's future? It's quite clear that unless we identify them and hold their feet to the fire, Perry is going to proceed with his plans to destroy education in Texas. It's also clear that we don't have to let it happen.

Ideas? Suggestions?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Don't know much about...

I've been stuck at home sick for most of the week, and I've had time to read and think (things I would never ordinarily do). There are plenty of interesting observations just in the Opinion section of today's New York Times.

• From Gail Collins: Mike Huckabee, whom I used to like, has published a book in which he compares the Obama administration to "the kid in school who waves his A test score in front of the entire class but never gets picked to play baseball. He’s an arrogant nerd, and no matter how smart he is, he can’t hit, he can’t throw and he can’t run." Thanks, Mike. I didn't see myself as arrogant, nor did I wave any of my grades in front of the class, but I never got picked to play anything, and the ritual of watching every single classmate chosen before me for every single game we ever played was humiliating in a way I'd never expect you to understand. Thanks for trying.

• From Bob Herbert: "Among the many heartening things about the workers fighting back in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere is the spotlight that is being thrown on the contemptuous attitude of the corporate elite and their handmaidens in government toward ordinary working Americans: police officers and firefighters, teachers, truck drivers, janitors, health care aides, and so on. These are the people who do the daily grunt work of America. How dare we treat them with contempt." So it's not just us nerds who get treated that way. Good to know.

• From Charles Blow: "It is savagely immoral and profoundly inconsistent to insist that women endure unwanted — and in some cases dangerous — pregnancies for the sake of 'unborn children,' then eliminate financing designed to prevent those children from being delivered prematurely, rendering them the most fragile and vulnerable of newborns. How is this humane?" I don't know, Charles. It seems pretty consistent with the last two observations.

Nerds.
Police officers.
Firefighters.
Teachers.
Truck drivers.
Janitors.
Health care aides.
Mothers with sick children.

Put us together and we make up a pretty large swath of the population. What do we all have in common? It's interesting that nerds are the only ones that Huckabee (whom I used to admire) considers fair game for public ridicule. Imagine if he had said that the Obama administration is like "the kid in school who waves his firefighting abilities in front of the entire class but never gets picked to do anything else because no matter how good he is at rescuing people from burning buildings, when you get right down to it his job is expendable." Doesn't have quite the same ring to it. That's why you need to read between the lines.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On renegotiating the contract, or Who Would Jesus Fire?

http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Resolutions/1991/CA91,-p-,06,-p-,35-Workers-Rights.aspx


This is the official position of my church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, on labor and collective bargaining. Before going further, I should explain that the ELCA is an extremely diverse "mainline" denomination. It was created a little over 20 years ago when the Lutheran Church in America merged with the American Lutheran Church to create the single largest body of American Lutherans. The divisions between these groups were to some extent ethnic, but they also reflected ideological and political rifts that remain and fester. Thus, for the past 20 years, the ELCA has generally been quite careful not to step on anybody's toes.

At least that's my perception. I know that many conservative members of the ELCA feel very antagonistic toward the national leadership, which they believe does not speak for them or their concerns. This exploded a few years ago when the ELCA agreed to ordain and bless people in committed same-sex relationships. The denomination's honest striving not to disrespect anybody's views was reflected in the qualifying statement that no congregation would ever be forced to do either. That's more or less how we stay together, despite the friction.

The above position statement on labor, though, is unusually clear for an ELCA document, and I want to suggest why. The idea that the poor and down-trodden have a particular claim on God's favor is central to the Gospel, as is the denunciation of wealth and the power it gives to its possessors. It is very hard for anyone who has read the New Testament to believe that Jesus, were he to appear suddenly in Madison, WI, wouldn't call on both sides to tone down the rhetoric and then give a lecture on the impossibility of serving both God and Mammon.

I've written recently that there seem to be two completely irreconcilable views of where American is now and where it is going. I'm now going to make the bold statement that, no matter what Glenn Beck may think, Jesus was always on the side of social justice. That's why he began his ministry in the Gospel of Luke by reading from Isaiah, saying that he had come to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (when all debts would be forgiven) and to bring good news to the poor. Jesus understood these concepts well. He had never heard of capitalism. It's fair to say, though, that in a lot of the stories he told, people with a lot of economic power don't come out looking very good.

Does that mean a Christian can't be a capitalist? Of course not. After all, most Christians wear zippers in their pants. There's a lot about the modern world that could not have been anticipated in 1st century Palestine. What I will say unequivocally, though, is that capitalism is like a cancer; it eats away at the souls of those who catch it, and they must undergo frequent sessions of spiritual chemotherapy in order to remain alive.

When I look at what is going on in Wisconsin, I see excesses on both sides. The people participating are, after all, human. I'll even concede that some public sector unions have developed their own kind of institutional cancer that requires some drastic treatment as well. However, I also see a budget crisis that was created by lowering taxes on the richest citizens, and I see hard-working teachers and their supporters trying very hard to retain some sense of dignity as their own voices are marginalized, giving those wealthy people even more control over their lives. To extend the analogy above, the cancer the rich people have is being allowed to grow freely, while the cancer the hard-working teachers have is being removed by blunt instruments and without anesthesia.

Now here's the catch - as long as this continues, both patients will die. Any hope for recovery requires an acknowledgment that there is cancer on both sides, and a mutual willingness to enter treatment together. In short, it calls for sitting down at a table and doing some collective bargaining. If, in the process, all the people involved come to have a deeper respect for the humanity and integrity of those on the other side, there may yet be some hope.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The most important post I've written so far

Imagine the following scenario: The legislature in your state passes a bill that requires all doctors to post their confidential medical records on an internet site where they will be available to the public. Every doctor, no matter the specialty - psychiatrists, gynecologists, proctologists - is obligated to do this, with absolutely no exceptions. What do you think would happen? Would the doctors willingly comply, or would at least some object strongly that the new law violates the fundamental ethical principles of their profession?

Now imagine the following: The legislature in your state passes a bill that requires all college professors to allow students with permits to bring guns to class and to other campus buildings: the library, the professors' offices, the dorm. Every professor is obligated to allow this, with absolutely no exceptions. What do you think would happen? Would the professors willingly comply, or would at least some object strongly that the new law violates the fundamental ethical principles of their profession?

Here in Texas, we may be about to find out the answer to the second question. While I am not aware of any laws being contemplated that would require medical records to go online, my own legislators are now very close to requiring me, as a college professor, to violate every principle on which my professional identity is founded.

Let me explain. Like every profession, college teaching depends on certain fundamental principles that absolutely cannot be compromised. Doctors cannot be required to make confidential information public, because patients would be afraid to come to them for treatment. Such a requirement would violate the very first statement in the Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm."

For those of us who teach college, there is nothing more important than the open community of the classroom. It may not always be realized in practice, but at the heart of all of our lives is the belief that we are creating a space in which students can be unafraid, and in which the quest for knowledge can lead freely in whatever direction is necessary. The classroom is a sacred space, in which the anxieties of the world can be temporarily laid aside. Students come to us from different backgrounds, but we offer them all the same thing: openness, trust and absolute integrity. Students who violate that trust by cheating are rightly punished, and trust is thereby affirmed. Professors who violate that trust by inappropriate conduct are rightly fired, and integrity is thereby defended.

As someone who has devoted my life to this ideal, I can only be horrified at the prospect of students legally bringing guns to class. Nothing that I have ever dreamed or imagined would more thoroughly or effectively undermine the openness and trust of which I speak. They would disappear as completely, and as irrevocably, as my doctor's or lawyer's confidentiality would disappear once their private records went public. Virtually everyone I know who teaches understands this, and our opposition to the bill making its way through the Texas legislature is absolute.

Now here's the difference. The legislature and the people seem to understand the importance of confidentiality in the practice of medicine, and so nobody would dream of introducing such a bill. In the unlikely event that it were to be introduced, it would not pass, and in the inconceivable event that it did pass, the courts would block it. The occasional rogue doctor might still trespass on patients' trust and cause great damage. That doctor would be punished with the contempt of decent society and go to jail, and that would be the end of it.

So why are we even talking about the possibility of making it legal for students to bring guns to class? If our society had any understanding of the nature and importance of my profession - if it truly valued and nurtured teachers and professors, as it often claims to do - this law would never be considered. In the unlikely event that it were to be introduced, it would not pass, and in the inconceivable event that it did pass, the courts would block it. The occasional rogue student might still trespass on the ethics of our profession and cause great damage. That student would be punished with the contempt of decent society and go to jail, and that would be the end of it.

As someone who has devoted my life to my profession, I am appalled at the thought that what I give to society is so little understood or valued that such an unthinkable piece of legislation may in fact soon become law. For once in my life, words fail me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Irreconcilable differences

You've heard it before. Paid thugs start showing up at political events and shouting down speakers. Some are seen carrying weapons. They soon expand into direct intimidation, stalking politicians and their staff members and bullying them into doing their will. When they win, they are emboldened, and begin running and electing candidates of their own. A national audience hears from their leader, on a well-respected news program, that what is happening is a triumph for democracy. Then the newly empowered movement turns around and tries to shut down the network that broadcast that program, allowing its own paid outlets to dominate the airwaves.

Things like that happen in third world countries all the time, right? We hardly pay attention. Maybe we've read enough history to know that such things also happened, less than a hundred years ago, in advanced European countries with long traditions of enlightened thinking and intellectual progress. We still tend to assume that they won't happen here.

Except that they did. Everything I describe took place in Waco, Texas, within the last two years. The politician they bullied and then defeated was Congressman Chet Edwards. The network on which their leader was interviewed was NPR, which now faces the threat of losing all of its federal funding. And the wealthy billionaires who paid for this exercise in subverting democracy and free speech are licking their lips.

At least that's the way I see it. I think I'm a good person with decent values, and I'm terrified right now for the future of my country.

I know people, though, who I also think are good people with decent values, and their perception of what's happening is the exact opposite of mine. The good guys are finally winning. Government is being reclaimed for the people. Right is triumphing over wrong. Far from being terrified, many people are exultant.

Who is right? Naturally, I think I am. What I'm becoming convinced of, though, is that the differences between these two ways of seeing reality may be irreconcilable. Two sets of people look at the same facts and draw completely opposite conclusions from them. It seems impossible that there can be compromise, and that scares me more than anything. If we can no longer talk to each other because we speak completely different languages, then how can shared, representative government possibly survive?

I write this in sheer frustration. If you think there's any common ground left, I want to hear about it, because right now I'm not seeing it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

If you don't C-sharp

"They read other people's mail." That was the standard response of a graduate-school acquaintance when he was asked the inevitable question: "What do musicologists do?" As of this week, I have another answer: "They argue about C-sharp."

Not just any C-sharp, of course. There's a famous one at the beginning of Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony, and we've been discussing it all week on the American Musicological Society's list-serve, formally called ams-l.

Why do so many people care about this note? Well, to begin with, it's the main thing that distinguishes the opening melody of this epoch-making work from a similar one that Mozart wrote as a child, in the overture to his opera Bastien und Bastienne. For another, it sounds strange. In musical terms, the first six measures of the symphony, including two "wake-up" chords from the full orchestra, are built out of what musicians call the tonic triad. Think of it as home base. Since the symphony is in E-flat, this is an E-flat major chord.

In measure 6, though, the melody slips down to a D, which is what musicians call the "leading tone." If you sing DO-RE-MI-FA-SO-LA-TI, the leading tone is TI. It naturally leads back to DO. If you stop before returning to DO, anyone who has ever heard a major scale will know that you haven't finished—that there's another note yet to go. Now imagine that you are singing the scale the other way around: DO-TI-LA, etc., but that instead of LA, you follow TI with a kind of super-TI, a TI on steroids, as it were. You've now squared the power of the leading tone. It's obvious that whatever you're singing is nowhere near done.

This is roughly what Beethoven does with the C-sharp in measure 7 of the "Eroica," and many people believe it is this gesture that allows his first movement to last 17 minutes, compared to about 2 minutes for Mozart's overture. It announces very emphatically that the piece is not finished, and that GREATTHINGSAREGOINGTOHAPPEN.


video

Or maybe not. The discussion began when my friend Bill Meredith wrote in to point out what he considered a misleading interpretation of the famous C-sharp in Burkholder/Grout/Palisca, the legendary textbook used for most college-level music history courses. According to BGP (actually according to Philip Downs, but let's not go there), the C-sharp indicates an inner weakness, which is only overcome at the end of the movement when the theme reappears, "no longer falling at the end but sustaining its high note in a sign final triumph." [sic]

The discussion on ams-l, to which I have been a primary contributor, has focused on whether, and to what extent, this interpretation is accurate. If you're wondering why this is important, consider the following questions: Can a musical event, including an unexpected and surprising turn of phrase like this one, have meaning? Can a musical theme represent a character, and if so, who? Can an extended instrumental piece illustrate personal psychological growth, making it analogous to (or perhaps even superior to) the established Romantic genre known as the Bildungsroman?

To say that these are vexed questions among musicians is an understatement. For years, though, I have presented this piece as part of an interdisciplinary humanities course, which requires me to situate it within the Romantic movement and justify—or at least explain—its inclusion as a primary text. Thus, I have a vital interest in the topic. If I can't explain to an audience of college sophomores why this piece revolutionized the world of music, and why it should still be of interest to them, I'm not earning my keep. I'm pleased to say that my Beethoven lecture is widely considered one of the highlights of the course. That's because I offer my own set of answers to the questions posed above.

Since I've been told that I should keep my blog posts short (hi, Leonard!), and since I've obviously failed with this one, I will simply pose a few further questions for discussion. If anybody is still trying to figure out what, exactly, this blog is about, I imagine this won't help.

• Why is familiarity with the Beethoven symphonies not considered as important, for an educated person, as familiarity with the plays of Shakespeare or the paintings of the French Impressionists?

• Can, or should, music convey ideas, or are composers and listeners who expect it to do so simply confused?

• If you don't C-sharp, you will ... ?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My teacher is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous...

I first encountered them at Oberlin 37 years ago last fall. At the end of the semester, a few of my professors passed out forms that they had designed themselves, in which they invited their students to critique their performance. I don't remember what the questions were, but they required thoughtful, paragraph-long answers. The professors handed them out and collected them themselves. That's because they intended to read them immediately and use them, if possible, to improve their teaching. Whether anybody else ever saw them I have no idea.

Fast forward to my first full-time teaching job eleven years later. I was at a large state university on the west coast. Student evaluations were now required in all classes. The form asked a series of multiple choice questions that were answered by filling in a "bubble" with a no. 2 pencil. They asked things like "The instructor is well prepared for each class section." A. Strongly agree. B. Somewhat agree. C. Agree. D. Moderately agree. E. Faintly agree. F. Neither agree nor disagree. G Faintly disagree. H. Moderately disagree. I. Somewhat disagree. J. Strongly disagree. K. No opinion. They were handed out and collected by a student volunteer, while the professor left the room.

Students had about 10 minutes in which to answer about 30 such questions, and, if they had any time left, they could also respond to a few questions on the back of the form that required written answers. Most didn't bother, having been taxed to the maximum by having to decide whether they "somewhat agreed" or only "slightly agreed" with the statement that the instructor used clearly established criteria to evaluate their work. The results of this exercise in hasty judgment, based on criteria that were neither clear nor established, were tabulated in a computer printout, which went into each instructor's permanent file. These results constituted evidence of "teaching effectiveness." Careers hung in the balance.

The experience I describe is, of course, familiar to anybody who has either attended or taught at any American college or university during the last three decades. Answers to multiple choice questions on a computerized form are used to determine whether A is a better teacher than B, because A "begins and ends class on time," while B doesn't.

I was therefore deeply gratified to hear someone (I didn't catch the name) point out on NPR the other morning that the universal dependence on these forms has had one rather obvious, and predictable, result. The scores that students give their professors directly correlate with the scores the professors give them. In even simpler language, the better grades a professor gives, and the less work he or she requires, the better student evaluations that professor will receive.

Given how obvious this is, and how long people have had to think about it, I am a little taken aback by the surprise occasioned by recent studies suggesting that most American college students are not getting much out of their education. After all, if they were challenged to write 20 pages a semester and work three hours outside of class for every hour they spend in class, and if they were given C's on their papers when they were convinced they deserved As, their professors would be fired.

Now, of course, we are all accustomed to evaluation fatigue. We cannot even call Sears to arrange to have a dishwasher installed without being invited to take a survey about whether we found our conversation with the service representative "excellent," "good," "average," "below average" or "poor." I have spoken to enough people working in service jobs to know that there is only one acceptable answer to such questions. If the 30-second conversation we had with them is rated anything less than 'excellent," heads will roll. I just hope I haven't gotten anybody fired by refusing to take the survey. The fact of the matter is, I've already answered that question. Or maybe it's already answered me.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The flavor of the month

Libertarian: It's a word I'm encountering more and more often lately, which is why I'm about to write my second blog post on the subject in as many weeks. That's because it seems to be the flavor of the month among college students asked to identify themselves politically. I cringe every time I see it. I know those who apply it to themselves don't believe this, but libertarianism is a cynical abandonment of responsibility dressed up in a fancy, trendy term.

A society as big as ours cannot run by itself. If a large number of citizens insist on denying government its legitimacy, others will step in to do the job: people who have no interest in your welfare, or in improving anybody's lot in life but their own. That is what is happening now, and I greatly fear for the future of our democracy.

Just yesterday, a member of my private Facebook discussion group sent me two links to stories from The Guardian, a left-leaning but perfectly mainstream British paper, that show exactly what is happening. They appear at the bottom of this post. I can't seem to make them into hyperlinks, so you'll have to paste them in your URL line to read them.

Here's the Reader's Digest version: Very rich people are paying huge amounts of money to have their employees post aggressive, negative comments on any internet discussion they can find dealing with climate change, health care reform, or other topics that threaten the bottom line of the huge corporations they run. If you've ever wondered why every on-line discussion of these issues quickly degenerates into "Obama is a socialist/Muslim/terrorist," now you know. The billionaires also pay people to spend countless hours giving low ratings to politically progressive books and movies on sites like Amazon and Netflix, so people won't read or watch them.

They also created—that's right, created—the Tea Party movement. Although the members of that movement don't know it, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams because billions of dollars of corporate money are being spent to allow them to "mobilize for freedom, unaware that the freedom they demand is freedom for corporations to trample them into the dirt." The Tea Party libertarians may believe they are defending our democracy, but they are actually enabling its destruction.

I don't make these charges lightly. I believe in the free expression of ideas, and I don't want to silence anybody else; I just want those who consider themselves libertarians to understand what they are supporting. The big corporations have found an ingenious ploy to get citizens out of politics so they can run everything their way. They have done so by appealing to a legitimate sense of grievance among the very people who are the most hurt by their actions. They have convinced those people that it is "liberals" who threaten them. In the process, they have managed to neuter two large groups of their natural opponents by getting them to turn on each other. I have seen just how vicious this can get, which is why I consider my posts here "Not Ready for Facebook."

Certainly one of the prime villains in this story is Ayn Rand, whose books continue to outsell just about anything else that is considered "serious" fiction. Since I'm pulling no punches in this post, let me say that Rand's ideas are surely the most destructively evil ever to be put forward by a major writer. Her vision of a godless, community-less world makes a certain grim kind of sense if everybody is strong and self-sufficient. In a world with children, elderly and disabled people, and intractable environmental issues that free enterprise has no reason to address, her backward morality is quickly exposed for the vicious farce that it is.

So here's my challenge to any libertarians who might be reading this: Wake up. It's not working. The longer it takes for you to figure this out, the worse it's going to get, and the richer the Koch brothers will become. There is no reason for anybody who is not a billionaire to want this to happen. As I pleaded in my last post, it is our very world that is at stake.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/dec/13/astroturf-libertarians-internet-democracy

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/25/tea-party-koch-brothers


Friday, February 4, 2011

Global "weirding"

The weather in Waco, Texas, has been strange. Last weekend it was sunny and balmy, with highs in the 70s. This week we've had four days in a row when the temperature never rose above freezing. Last night, dry powdery snow began to fall, and quickly coated the frozen ground. Today everything slowed to a halt as we enjoyed a "snow day."

And there the story might end except for some oddities. I've lived here for seven and a half years. My first year, it snowed about half an inch on Valentine's Day. The Texans went crazy; our next-door neighbor's teenage son made a snow angel in the lawn - shirtless! A friend of my son, who was nine years old that year, said it was the first time he had ever seen snow. Since then, we have had many snowfalls here, including a freak one in early April a few years ago and a mini-blizzard last year that dumped nearly 7 inches. The fact that literally every single last sign of that snow was gone by the next day is an indication of what's really happening. The weather is getting weird. Overall, this has been a warm winter, even for Texas. Now we're in the deep freeze while people in Anchorage, Alaska, are baking - at least by Alaska standards.

A lot of people have been deeply inspired this week by the courage of the protesters in Egypt, and I am among them. The most inspiring moment of my week, though, came last night during a concert at Baylor by the St. Olaf's College choir. Anton Armstrong, the director of the choir, is well known here. A few years ago, he won Baylor's Cherry Award for distinguished teaching, so he spent an entire semester on our campus. He is acknowledged both for his consummate musicianship and for his deep religious faith. He is a Lutheran (and showed up unannounced for a service at our little Lutheran church here, much to the consternation of our choir director), but he seems to relate well to the Baptists at Baylor. He includes a hymn at every concert, and invites the audience to sing along. He knows how to talk religion to Texans.

That's why his speech in the middle of last night's concert was so stunning. The choir was about to sing a piece whose text, in the African Sahel dialect, means "the earth is tired." Dr. Armstrong stepped up to the microphone and told the audience that the music they were hearing spoke of the immensity of God's creation, and of the truly humbling gift we have received in being entrusted to care for it. He then told us, with no holds barred, that the strange weather that had followed the choir down from Minnesota to Waco means that we are failing. "You know it's not supposed to be like this here," he said. It's up to us, for the sake of the young people in the choir and others like them, to do a better job of preserving the world that we all have to live in.

The audience was perhaps a bit flummoxed, and might not have applauded as loudly as they could have at the end of the piece, which included groaning noises to reflect the earth's suffering. Nevertheless, they clearly heard him, and the message was reinforced by having to drive home in the snow - which was coming not down from the north, but up from the Gulf of Mexico, as the general heating of the earth's atmosphere continues to add more moisture than has been there for many thousands of years.

I've written about this before on Facebook, but I'm going to say it again. Some people in our government appear to be taking this problem seriously, but they are being blocked in every conceivable way by the vast money resources of the big oil companies. The government will not do enough, and will not do what little it can in a timely enough manner. That's why I'm not calling for a government solution. I'm calling on us. If you agree with me that we are gearing up for the largest man-made catastrophe in recorded history, and have barely any time to start taking drastic measures, please join me in doing the following:

• Refuse to buy a car that gets less than 35 miles per gallon. Better yet, demand one that gets 50 or more.

• Cut down on meat, especially red meat. Clear-cutting of rain forests for grazing cattle, and for growing grain to feed them, is one of the leading contributors to rising CO2 levels. I eat no red meat at all, and have many vegetarian meals.

• Buy your electricity from a company that uses only renewable energy sources. If you live in Texas, I recommend Green Mountain Energy. If you don't have this option in your state, demand it.

• Buy an electric lawn-mower. Two-cycle internal combustion engines, which are used on most power mowers, are grossly inefficient. Mowing the average lawn adds as much CO2 to the air as driving nearly 200 miles.

• Recycle everything you can. Bring canvas bags to the grocery store. Refuse to use wasteful packaging.

I could go on, but studies show that people change most readily when they aren't confronted with an overwhelming array of choices and action points. Just bear in mind that even if we all do everything we possibly can - and we're nowhere even close - 100 years from now what we're seeing at present will look like only the beginning of a growing, world-wide disaster of unimaginable proportions. And that's if we *do* act now.