Stumpf, Bill. The Ice Palace That Melted Away. New York: 1998. ISBN 0375402217, Pages 17, 35 and 45
Imagine that McDonald’s restaurants, the world’s largest retailer of hamburgers, were redesigned to honor labor and production as well as merchandising and speed. What would it look like? Imagine that they baked their own buns on the spot. How much better it would smell! Imagine machines making ketchup, mashing tomatoes, and spouting steam. Or machines grinding meat and pressing it into burgers. Perhaps the economies of scale necessary for McDonald’s to sell us their food so cheaply would preclude a bakery in every franchise. But what would happen if we could witness the activity and energy of the staff making our meals—in the heart of the restaurant in full view of you and me.
A restaurant I know of treats its customers to a regular show of chefs and assistants doing a culinary dance behind large glass dividers and the food issuing from the visible kitchen. They aren’t afraid to show anything. A giant material muncher could recycle all the food packaging on the spot and spit out new cups, bags, and trays. We could give children a sense of production that seemed a part of their lives. Rarely in America is labor associated with fun….
Every day, they walked to the farmers’ markets, and on Sunday afternoon they had barbecues at family-oriented taverns. They always bought fresh bread at ethnic bakeries on the corner, had fresh milk and produce delivered to their doors, felt safe in their beds, and even had time to polish what little silverware they owned. Somehow they lived to old age, raised a large family, all of whom went to college, survived prohibition, the Depression, two world wars, rationing, gender inequality, polio, TB, and measles. In short, they were like millions of Americans.
My grandfather never sought permission to live less hurriedly, less like a consumer, less oblivious to time. He never sought recognition for doing so. I would sorely like to have a little of his independence. I often find joy in walking the dog, washing the car, shopping for fresh vegetables, cooking dinner, or hanging up my clothes—the details of life. But somehow looming over me is a great, importunate world where existence and one’s daily routing are measured out in nanoseconds. Sometimes I feel like just another petty functionary enmeshed in the classic carrot-and-stick game, trussed in my work harness, blinders in place, ready to go, eating from a bag tied to my head,
defecating on the street while I work, running in place on my Nordic Track, apparently willing to work myself to death.
Just Say No to Gadgets and Gizmos, An Easy Guide to Reclaiming Our Humanity and Simple Ways By Ken Ringle, Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, December 29, 2002; Page F01
If you feel that high-tech has turned our holidays into the direst of wolves, snarling with electronic toys, staring like digital cameras and rapacious as a DVD burner, Nicols Fox wants us to know there’s a way to transform them into a cuddly puppy.
Next year, just say no to an electronic Christmas, she says, and you can reclaim our collective humanity. She says this in her new book, “Against the Machine,” which is subtitled “The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art and Individual Lives.”
Meeting the challenge, she acknowledges, will not be easy. We’ve been mainlining extraneous technology so long we think we can’t open the cat-food can if the electricity’s off. We spend 10 minutes microwaving four separate cups of coffee rather than spend four minutes heating the same amount in a pan on the stove. We’ve got so many friends on speed dial we’ve forgotten their phone numbers. This is progress?
“Well, it was supposed to be,” she says, plucking lint from the folds of her navy blue wool dress. “But we kept being seduced by what technology could do for us and ignoring what was being lost in the process. Progress wasn’t supposed to cost us anything we value.”
From beeping cell phones at the “Messiah” singalong to hip-hop elevator carols, it’s easy to make a list of the cultural lumps of coal that modern life has left in our Christmas stocking. But less immediately obvious, Fox says, are the absences — the spiritual and aesthetic values we’ve allowed to slip away almost unnoticed in our collective embrace of machinery from the steam engine to the Palm Pilot.
Fox is not exactly a Luddite, but she’s probably an unindicted co-conspirator. She lives on an island near Southwest Harbor, Maine, refuses to have an answering machine or a cell phone and says she brings her black-and-white TV out of the closet only for major events. Her rabbit-ears antenna pulls in only two snowy channels.
She concedes to a computer as a reality of the digital publishing age, but says she prefers to compose her books in longhand so her fingers can’t outrun her thoughts.
That may seem a far cry from the followers of the apocryphal Ned Ludd, who smashed mechanical looms in the British Midlands between 1811 and 1816 to protest the seismic changes wrought on weavers and their communities by the Industrial Revolution. But she says the violence of the Luddites was far from a measure of their cause. What they were protesting, she says, was not so much the onset of machine-made cloth as the erosion of their creative birthright as human beings: “Not . . . the loss of jobs, but . . . the loss of a way of life.” And though the Luddite movement was quickly and rather brutally put down, its spirit lives on in those of us who despair of ever learning to program our VCRs.
“We tend to see winning and losing in this country in absolute terms,” Fox says. “As if when someone fails to triumph in an election or a cultural movement they just disappear. But, of course, they don’t disappear. Sometimes they’re converted to the winning side, but often they live on unpersuaded, continuing to believe in and contribute their point of view.”
What her book documents, to an extent that surprised even her, is how persistent and pervasive the Luddite spirit has remained in Western culture, casting a shadow that stretches from Wordsworth and the Romantic poets through the agrarian literary movement of the Depression-era American South to the back-to-the-land communes of the 1960s.
Sometimes the spirit is expressed in nostalgia for a simpler time, as in Wordsworth’s verse. Sometimes it “rages against the machine,” as in the poetry of William Blake and the novels of D.H. Lawrence. And sometimes it triggers the establishment of alternative living experiments, as with people sharing the ideas of Emerson and the transcendentalists, or a whole school of aesthetics, as in the late-19th-century Arts and Crafts movement of John Ruskin and William Morris.
But it’s always there, Fox says, and it’s there because “what it represents is not just a rejection of the mechanical in life, but a reaffirmation of what it means to be human. We have been on this Earth for thousands of years. We’ve been mechanized for less than 200. Obviously we don’t owe our survival as a species to technology. It is the qualities of imagination, and creativity, and our shared humanity that have kept us from extinction. And those are the qualities we hunger for today.”
So what are we supposed to do? Throw out the stereo and the Cuisinart, sell the cars and computers, and set up housekeeping in a yurt?
We might end up happier if we did, Fox says, but that’s not what she’s advocating.
First of all, she says, we shouldn’t be surprised at or feel guilty about the seductive power of technology. Its hold on us is not simply the illusion of saved labor or expanded leisure. Its real hold, she says, is the primal one of sorcery and myth.
“Look at the TV channel changer,” Fox says. “We push a button and images appear and disappear. What is that but witchcraft? . . . Look at the television itself: It’s the tribal storyteller. It’s the campfire we sit around to hear the stories. It’s even a deity. We speak of religion and wisdom as the appearance of light, and television tells its stories and even sells its products with beams of light. There’s something really primal about our attraction to it, and we should acknowledge that.”
At the same time, she says, we need to understand how much television and its sibling technologies have separated us from what’s real. And then all we really have to do, she says, is “decide to take control of our lives again.”
It can start in small, even tiny, ways:
Fox is wedded to her morning cup of fresh-ground coffee but gradually realized that the shriek of her electric coffee grinder was setting her teeth on edge and costing her more in stress than the pleasure of the coffee was relieving. She junked the electric grinder for a hand grinder she bought from a mail-order store that caters to the Amish and discovered that her mornings had been transformed out of all proportion to the change.
“I realized the noise of the coffee grinder had been bugging me for years and I didn’t even realize it. Now there’s a kind of peacefulness about my mornings I wouldn’t trade for anything. And I get a curious satisfaction out of grinding the coffee beans by hand.”
Not everyone, she realizes, cares that much about coffee grinder noise or even has a grinder. “But all of us have something . . . that we consider a necessary irritant in our life. And it’s probably not really necessary. It may even be keeping us from discovering the pleasure in simple things.”
When her clothes dryer broke some time ago, she says, she decided to dry her clothes outside on a line the way her mother used to. “I discovered that the trip outside to the clothesline forced me to interact with the day in a new way. I became conscious of the sun and wind and weather differently. I heard the birds. Now I hang clothes outside every day, even in the Maine winter. Believe it or not, it’s therapeutic.”
Fox realizes that questioning something as fundamental as a clothes dryer will sound weird to most people. She also knows what works for her won’t work for everyone. Her kids are grown, and she lives alone. Her sister, she says, has lots of young kids and genuinely needs the time and energy her clothes dryer saves. “But she and her husband have locked their TV in the closet. Now their children read everything in sight.”
The key, she says, is figuring out which machines help you live life in a more human way, in harmony with the world around us. And which we’ve allowed to rob us of that humanity and intrude on that harmony.
William Morris, the 19th-century designer best remembered for the Morris chair, came up with a series of rules for living with machines without becoming a machine oneself.
“He said if you were a potter making a bowl,” Fox says, “it made sense to use a tool or a machine to scrape the bottom of the bowl because that was just boring work and drudgery: It had nothing to do with the shape or design of the bowl, which was a product of human imagination and creativity. On the other hand, if you run a machine that stamps out identical bowls one after the other, you’ve given over your humanity to that technology. And we do that all the time.”
Fox grew up in Staunton, Va., and spent a lot of time during the 1950s at her grandparents’ rural home in the Shenandoah Valley. There she learned the pleasures of country life that she sought to recapture in Maine after an urban adulthood and a broken marriage.
“My mother and grandmother and I used to wash the dishes together in the kitchen, and we had a lot of really good conversations in the process. They passed along stories and lessons about life. . . . I found ways to ask questions there I might have hesitated to ask in other settings. Washing dishes wasn’t just washing dishes. It was a kind of event.”
Then along came electric dishwashers. The dishwasher, she says, is “a perfect example of the wrong kind of technology. It leaves you with the non-creative work, the drudgery, which is scraping the plates and loading and unloading them. And it robs you of the only interesting aspect of dishwashing, which is how to get off that piece of cheese that’s stuck to the plate. And it removes the opportunity for the kind of shared family task and conversation that dishwashing used to be.”
However that may sound, Fox is not trying to romanticize dishwashing. She realizes there are times when there are piles of dishes and too little time and the dishwasher can be a big help. But what she wants us to understand, she says, is “that it’s up to us how we use it. If we want to just let it sit there and make dishwashing into a family event occasionally, we can do that. That’s our choice. And it might do more for parent-child relationships than turning on the machine and using the time it saves to prop ourselves mutely in front of the television.”
We can take steps like that every day, she says: steps to increase the interaction within our families and our communities and between ourselves and our natural environment. We can stop buying our children toys that make noises and rob the children of the pleasure and the imagination of making the noises themselves. We can stop trying to stimulate our children with electronic toys and realize the most stimulating thing we can give them is a story we read or a walk we take with them or an hour we spend with them just listening to what they have to say.
“There’s obviously a lot of stress in the way most of us live, and it’s getting worse,” she says. “People think they can’t live without three cars, two jobs and an hour-and-a-half commute in stop-and-go traffic. We spend most of our waking hours watching television that isn’t even real entertainment but just people screaming at us to buy more things. We literally spend more time charging the batteries of our cell phones and computers than we do talking to our children. And guilt about that drives us to spend ourselves into more debt buying the kids things they don’t need but we’re convinced they must have.
“And yet all we really want is what the Luddites wanted. We want to control our own lives. And we can.”
Donald b. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture. Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001. ISBN 080186772
The technological age has brought the World Wide Web and high-speed travel, multiplying the number of possible ties individuals might have around the globe. But in other ways modernization is also a process of separation that pulls things apart and partitions whole systems – psychological, social, and organizational—into smaller parts in the name of efficiency. Many of the social bonds of modern life are abstract, rational, complex, and detached from a particular social context. The fragmentation of modern life is often experienced on the personal level as alienation when ties with meaning, work, and place evaporate. Modernization often segments social relationships and activities. Working in a factory instead of at home, going away to college, and moving to a retirement center break up family units and separate members. Living in one city, commuting to work in another, and vacationing in a third separates family, work, and play. This pervasive process of separation threatens to rupture the traditional ties of close-knit communities.
The process of modernization also pulls people and things out of their social context. In a small village everyone knows almost everything about everyone else. Modernity decontextualizes. A photograph pulls people out of context. In a telephone conversation, especially with a cell phone, it’s impossible to know the social context of the other person. Television portrays floating images without context. Virtual reality on the World Wide Web literally has no context. On the Internet, lovers are unhitched from social reality. When things are taken out of context, we lose perspective, meaning, and clarity.
Here we have a social system without poverty. Widows, orphans, and the destitute are cared for by the church. The Amish are rarely imprisoned. Here is a society virtually free of crime and violence. Some youth are occasionally arrested for drunken driving, and children are occasionally paddled, but incidents of violent crime and murder are conspicuously absent. Amish suicide and mental illness rates are substantially lower than those in a the larger society. Alcohol abuse, present among some youth, is practically nil among adults. Divorce is unheard of. Individuals are not warehoused in bureaucratic institutions — large schools, massive factories, retirement homes, or psychiatric hospitals—but are cared for within the family.
Moreover, the generous resources of social capital in Amish society lower the transaction costs—the need for insurance, formal agreements, litigation, legal costs, and third party brokers. Many of the routine exchanges in Amish society are lubricated with trust and integrity, which reduces the economic cost of transactions. Recycling goods, frugal management, a thrifty lifestyle, and a rejection of consumerism produce scant waste. Energy consumption per capita is remarkably low. Beyond exhaust fumes from diesel power plants and water contamination by manure runoff, the Amish add little to environmental pollution. Personal alienation, loneliness and meaninglessness are for the most part absent. There are, of course, some unhappy marriages, lonely people, obstinate bishops, cantankerous personalities, and family feuds. But all things considered, the quality-of-life indicators for Amish society as a whole are remarkably robust. The Amish have, indeed, created a humane social system that attends to individual need and generates strong levels of satisfaction.
Callicot, Baird, J. Earth’s Insights: A Survey of Ecological Ethics from the Mediterranean Basin to the Australian Outback. California: 1994, ISBN 0520085590, Page 70
Imagine cooking a stew. The Western concept of order is like preparing it from a recipe. A certain Stew-universal or Form—let’s say Hungarian goulash calls for such and such ingredients, in measured proportions, cooked at a set temperature, for just so long. One draws up a grocery list and goes to the supermarket and buys the ingredients. Finally, one assembles the ingredients according to the specifications of the recipe.
The Chinese concept of order is rather like cooking a stew in the following way. One collects seasonally available vegetables and herbs and perhaps a little fresh local seafood—the catch of the day. One begins not with a recipe but with the particulars that happen to be at hand, considering not only their generic characteristics but the idiosyncrasies of each. Perhaps the carrot is a bit overgrown—tough but tasty; the bok choy, inadvertently left out of yesterday’s stir-fry, a bit wilted; the potatoes new and very crisp, and so on. One cuts, boils, and tries; one decides to add a little of this and more of that; one turns up the flame a little and then, finding it too high,
turns it down—until the blend is just right. If it is done well, the flavor of each of the components is present in its insistent particularity, but complemented—and complimented—by all the others. Each ingredient is enhanced by virtue of its relationship to the others. The whole is a harmony, not just an aggregate. (I owe this analogy to Roger T. Ames, personal communication.)
April 21, 2007 Editorial New York Times
The trouble with modernity is how efficiently it obliterates the troves of age-old knowledge otherwise known as wisdom. The good news from Palau, a Pacific island nation near the Philippines, is that some wise old ways have reasserted themselves to the great benefit of that tiny republic’s fish and reefs, and the people who depend on them.
Under an ancient system of laws known throughout the South Pacific as tabu or kapu, rulers would forbid fishing in certain areas to let them recover from overuse. Their decisions relied on deep knowledge of seasons and of the habits of fish and plants, and were strictly obeyed by islanders, who understood that depletion of fisheries meant death.
Overfishing by local fishermen, commercial boats and poachers using dynamite has been as much a problem in Palau as elsewhere in the Pacific. Then elders in Ngiwal, a state of Palau, banned fishing on a small section of reef in 1994. It took only a few years for fish to return. Palau now protects 460 square miles of reefs and lagoons, and its reputation for recreational diving is unmatched.
In 2005, Palau’s president, Tommy Remengesau Jr., issued the “Micronesian challenge,” calling on the region to conserve 30 percent of coastal waters and 20 percent of land by 2020. Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have created hundreds of “no take” zones. Meanwhile, nations in another sea are pursuing their own “Caribbean challenge.”
The trend is encouraging, but there is still a lot of water to cover. It would help if the United States dove in. Hawaii’s reefs and inshore waters are increasingly barren, depleted by pollution, invasive species and fishermen using things like brutally efficient gill nets to catch vast amounts of fish.
Hawaii’s House of Representatives, pushed by the commercial fishing industry, recently passed a deplorable “Right to Fish” bill that is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of Palau. It erects impossible barriers against the creation of no-take zones. It would stamp out the small but growing efforts of local communities and conservation groups to adopt their own sensible fishing restrictions.
Native Hawaiians know all about kapu. What the lobbyists pushing the legislation are banking on is that Hawaiians will forget the usefulness of the old ways and bristle at the supposed paternalism. It would be a perverse victory for “rights” if such an attitude hastened the demise of a shared, precious and vulnerable resource like an island fishery.
Quick – hit the ‘breaks’ In a mad-dash 24/7 world, a few people are resisting the rush, moving slowly amid the rat race By Marilyn Gardner, from the July 06, 2004 edition – http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0706/p17s01-bogn.html
Life-changing experiences take many forms. For Carl Honoré, a Canadian journalist, the moment of truth came when he read an article about “One-Minute Bedtime Stories.” Weary of nightly struggles with his 2-year-old son, who loved long stories told slowly, his heart leapt. At last! A way to shave precious minutes off parental bedtime duty!
But reason quickly prevailed. Honoré realized that his whole life was “an exercise in hurry.” He had become “Scrooge with a stopwatch, obsessed with saving every last scrap of time, a minute here, a few seconds there.” There must be a better way to live, he reasoned. But how?
A self-described “speedaholic,” Honoré packed his bags and began racking up thousands of frequent-flier miles, studying the prospects for slowing down in a world obsessed with going fast. Beginning with an Italian-born movement called Slow Food, based on the premise that cooking and eating should be leisurely, Honoré found groups and individuals trying to regain a sense of well-being and pleasure.
Out of that mission came his engaging new book, “In Praise of Slowness,” which delivers an urgent message: Slow down and enjoy life.
In America’s 24/7 culture the pace has become so intense, Honoré charges, that we have forgotten how to enjoy the moment. In restaurants, we pay the bill and order a taxi while eating dessert. We sleep too little and work too long, hardly daring to take time off. (“Vacationitis,” he calls it.) We overprogram our children, creating stress in those as young as 5.
The solution: Balance – the heart of the Slow movement’s philosophy.
In his appealing first-person approach, Honoré offers a you-are-there view of global efforts to challenge the “false god” of speed. Everywhere, he sees evidence of “a great hunger for slowness:” The popularity of gardening, book clubs, and knitting reflects a longing for a more relaxed pace.
In England, he spends a day at a Speed Awareness Program – penance for a speeding ticket – learning, not always successfully, how to tame a heavy accelerator foot. He retreats to rural Wiltshire for three days of meditation. He and his wife even enroll in a class on Slow Sex.
In Italy, Honoré enjoys a four-hour Slow Food dinner. In Germany, he hears a group called Tempo Giusto play Mozart and others more slowly. And in Japan, he visits a school called Apple Time, founded by desperate parents as a “slow school” alternative to high-stress classes.
In his zeal to include every example he can find, Honoré occasionally risks overstating his case. He breathlessly calls SuperSlow “the weightlifting movement sweeping North America and beyond.” Sweeping?
For all its benefits, living Slow remains a luxury unavailable to many. Four-hour dinners are expensive, as are alternative schools. And middle-class workers often can’t afford to cut their hours to enjoy more time at home. Yet such quibbles do not detract from Honoré’s provocative message.
In a fast-lane culture where efficiency is king, he insists that devotees of Slow are not Luddites. Nor are they backward or technophobic. Slow and Fast do not have to represent an either-or choice. Who wants to give up jet travel or the Internet?
Ever the realist, Honoré cautions that decelerating “will be a struggle until we rewrite the rules that govern almost every sphere of life – the economy, the workplace, urban design, education, medicine. This will take a canny mix of gentle persuasion, visionary leadership, tough legislation, and international consensus.”
The most important question, Honoré says, comes down to this:
“What is life for?” Making a persuasive case for balance, he adds, “To let work take over our lives is folly. There are too many important things that need time, such as friends, hobbies, and rest.” That also includes the children like his son who hunger at bedtime for “just one more story” – preferably a long one.
Marilyn Gardner writes about family issues for the Monitor.
Carl Honoré, In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, HarperCollins: New York, 2004. ISBN 006054578X.
Survival was one incentive for measuring time. Ancient civilizations used calendars to work out when to plant and harvest crops. Right from the start, though, timekeeping proved to be a double-edged sword. On the upside, scheduling can make anyone, from peasant farmer to software engineer, more efficient. Yet as soon as we start to parcel up time, the tables turn, and time takes over. We become slaves to the schedule. Schedules give us deadlines, and deadlines, by their very nature, give us a reason to rush. As the Italian proverb puts it: Man measures time, and time measures man. By making daily schedules possible, clocks held out the promise of greater efficiency – and also tighter control.
In 1748, at the dawn of the industrial era, Benjamin Franklin blessed the marriage between profit and haste with an aphorism that still trips off the tongue today: Time is money. Nothing reflected, or reinforced, the new mindset more than the shift towards paying workers by the hour, instead of for what they produced. Once every minute cost money, business found itself locked in a never-ending race to accelerate output. More widgets per hour equaled more profit. Staying ahead of the pack meant installing the latest time-saving technology before your rivals did. Modern capitalism came with a built-in imperative to upgrade, to accelerate, to become ever more efficient.
During the early part of the Industrial Revolution, the masses worked too hard, or were too poor, to make the most of what free time they had. But as incomes rose, and working hours fell, a leisure culture began to emerge. Like work, leisure became formalized. Many of the things with which we fill our spare time today came into being in the nineteenth century. Football, rugby, hockey and baseball turned into spectator sports. Cities built parks for the public to stroll and picnic in. Better printing presses, coupled with rising literacy, fuelled an explosion in reading.
Even as leisure spread, people debated its purpose. Many Victorians saw it chiefly as an escape from work, or as a means to working better. But others went further, suggesting that what we do with our free time gives texture, shape and meaning to our lives. “It is in his pleasure that a man really lives,” said Agnes Repplier, an American essayist. “It is from his leisure that he constructs the true fabric of self.” Plato believed that the highest form of leisure was to be still and rece3ptive to the world, a view echoed by modern intellectuals. Franz Kafka put it this way: “You don’t need to leave your room. Remain seated at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, simply wait. Don’t even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Bernadette Murphy, a forty-year-old writer based in Los Angeles, caught the mood with her 2002 book, Zen and the Art of Knitting. She sees the return to needles and yarn as a part of a wider backlash against the superficiality of modern life. “There is a great hunger in our culture right now for meaning, for things that really nurture the soul,” she says. “Knitting is one way of taking tie to appreciate life, to find meaning and make those connections.”
Knitting by nature is Slow. You cannot push a button, turn a dial of flick a switch to knit more quickly. The real joy of knitting lies in the doing , rather than in reaching the finish line. Studies show that the rhythmic, repetitive dance of the needles can lower heart rate and blood pressure, lulling the knitter into a peaceful, almost meditative state. “The best thing about knitting is its slowness,” says Murphy. “It is so slow that we see the beauty inherent in every tiny act that makes up a sweater. So slow that we know the project is not going to get finished today – it may not get finished for many months or longer – and that allows us to make our peace with the unresolved nature of life. We slow down as we knit.”
In almost every culture, the garden is a sanctuary, a place to rest and ruminate. Niwa, the Japanese word for garden, means “an enclosure purified for the worship of the gods.” The act of gardening itself – planting, pruning, weeding, watering, waiting for things to grow – can help us slow down. Gardening does not lend itself to acceleration any more than knitting does. Even with a greenhouse, you cannot make plants bloom on demand or bend the seasons to suit your schedule. Nature has its own timetable. In a hurry-up world, where everything is scheduled for maximum efficiency, surrendering to the rhythms of nature can be therapeutic.
Like knitting and gardening, the act of sitting down and surrendering to a piece of writing to size the cult of speed. In the words of Paul Virilio, a French philosopher, “Reading implies time for reflection, a slowing down that destroys the mass’s dynamic efficiency.” Even when overall book sales are stagnant or falling, many people, particularly educated urbanites, are saying to hell with dynamic efficiency and curling up with a good book. It is even possible to talk of a reading Renaissance.
Kitchen Stories Movie Review:
Kitchen Stories is a quirky Norse/Swedish co-production that functions equally effectively as a critique of common sociological methods of observation, a male bonding movie, and a satire of certain aspects of the countries where it transpires. The film, which takes place during the 1950s, introduces a Swedish scientist, Folke (Tomas Norström), who travels to Norway to observe how a volunteer, Isak (Joachim Calmeyer), functions in his kitchen. It is Folke’s job to map Isak’s every movement in the kitchen so the results can be used to determine how to engineer a kitchen to best meet a single man’s needs. (Similar studies really took place in Sweden and the United States during the 1950s, albeit with married women.)
Before beginning his work, Folke is given strict instructions not to interact with Isak. He is to sit in a high chair (one that looks a little like a lifeguard’s perch) in a corner of the kitchen and watch. The theory is that Isak will go about his business as usual, oblivious to Folke’s presence. The reality is that the presence of an observer – even a silent one – influences Isak’s every action. This raises questions about how legitimate any study can be that relies upon supposedly impartial observation. Not only is it impossible for a human observer to be objective about a subject, but the subject will almost always act differently. (One has to wonder about the “honesty” of people who set up webcams in their houses with the objective of showing how they live to anyone who discovers the URL. Do they really go about their business as usual, or do they “perform” for their audience? And, after a camera has been around for a long time, is it possible that what we’re seeing is no longer influenced by an exhibitionist, self-conscious awareness of being watched?)
As one might readily anticipate from a movie of this sort, Folke and Isak, both of whom are loners, develop a friendship. It begins with a few innocuous questions and ends with Folke buying Isak a birthday cake and Isak letting Folke listen to the chatter of radio station broadcasts that can be heard coming through the silver fillings in his mouth. There are other characters in the movie, but they fill minor roles, adding a little color. For the most part, director Bent Hamer is interested in Folke and Isak. The nature of their interaction will be familiar to those who have seen any of the countless male bonding pictures available in video stores, although the acting and writing are of a higher caliber than that which one typically discovers in Hollywood fare.
One aspect of the film which will likely be lost to North American viewers is Hamer’s tongue-in-cheek view of Swedish and Norse stereotypes, and the way he satirizes the mutual antagonism between the countries. The Swedes are portrayed as cold, uptight individuals who rely on science and technology, while the Norse are depicted as somewhat backward, folksy people. One element that typifies their differences is the side of the road on which they drive – during the ‘50s, the Norse stayed to the right, while the Swedes took the left (scientifically proven, a character asserts, to be the safer side).
I’m tempted to describe Kitchen Stories as an inconsequential film, but that sounds a little too like a pejorative. Rather, let me say that it’s a simple story told well, with plenty of lighthearted moments and kernels of thought-provoking material, but little to really excite the cinematic appetite. In some ways, the central relationship between Folke and Isak, despite being the most emotionally satisfying aspect of the film, is the least interesting. Kitchen Stories is not the kind of motion picture that will receive widespread distribution, nor will it draw significant crowds. But most who see it will come away with a positive impression.
Rating: *** out of ****
Marks, Alexandra, “How drinking harms on-the-job efficiency.” Christian Science Monitor, 12/23/98, Vol. 91 Issue 20, p2
NEW YORK….For the first time, researchers have documented that it is these social drinkers – not the hard-core alcoholics or problem drinkers – who are responsible for most of the estimated $67 billion worth of lost productivity that’s attributed each year to alcohol-related problems. The implications are expected to transform corporate drinking policies across the country. Most now focus strictly on people with serious alcohol problems. As a result of this study, researchers say, they should start educating every worker about the negative “stealth effects” of even low levels of drinking at work, and any heavy drinking off the job.
Conducted over four years at seven Fortune 500 companies by JSI and researchers from the Harvard and Boston University Schools of Health, the study also found that 80 percent of the drinking that took place during the workday, took place at lunch. The study found that even a glass of wine or a beer with a burger impaired worker productivity.
Counter to popular wisdom, the study also found that it was managers, not hourly employees, who were most often drinking during the workday. Twenty-three percent of upper managers and 11 percent of first-line supervisors said they had a drink during the workday, compared with only 8 percent of hourly employees.
Be You Drunken! Baudelaire, 1869
One must always be drunk. That’s all there is to it; that’s the only solution. In order not to feel the horrible burden of Time breaking your shoulders and bowing your head to the ground, you must be drunken without respite.
But; with what? With wine, poetry or virtue, as you will. Be you drunken.
And if sometimes you awake, on the steps of a palace in the green herbage of a ditch or in the dreary solitude of your room, then ask the wind, the waves, the stars, the birds the clocks, ask everything that runs, that moans that moves on wheels, everything that sings and speaks—ask them what is the time of day; and the wind, the waves, the stars, the birds and the clocks will answer you: It is time to get drunk. In order not to be the martyred slave of Time, be you drunken; Be you drunken ceaselessly! With wine, poetry or virtue, as you will!
Vienne, Veronique. The Art of Doing Nothing. New York: 1998. ISBN 0609600745, Page 73
Learn to hold your liquor—literally. How you hold a glass of wine can make the difference between staying sober and getting buzzed. Borrow a couple of tricks from wine-tasting pros and you’ll never have to call a cab to go home and apologize to your host the next day. Always raise your glass in front of your eyes before you begin to drink. Sit straight, breathe easy, and make a silent toast to Bacchus, god of inebriety your adversary for the evening. Don’t cling to your glass. Keep a respectful distance. When you are not drinking, the edge of your glass should be at least eight inches from the tip of your nose. Never look up at the ceiling when you drink. Look through the glass, straight into the room. Every so often, bring the glass to your lips, tilt it, inhale the aroma—but don’t drink. Don’t ever take a mindless swing. Taste the wine as you swallow. The secret to remaining sober is to appreciate what you drink.