Friday, October 30, 2009

On Afghan Heroin Farmers and Other Consumption Factoids

I am just back from a trek to Kansas State University in Manhattan (Kansas, not NY), for a workshop on adult learning assessment.  The day has been long. The alarm jangled everyone's nerves at 6 a.m..  I gave myself another five, then pulled myself from the bed.  I let Lucy & Lexie relax while I got ready, but even though they had at least 30 minutes' more sleep than I did, they weren't awake enough to pee on command.  They have internal clocks set to 7:25 a.m.. Hmm... I wonder what happens when we "fall back" for daylight savings time this Sunday.

Finally, I loaded the girls into the car, and 2-plus hours later, dropped them off at a swanky Manhattan doggy day care called "HOWL-A-DAYZ INN."  By that time, they were awake enough to be excited, and Lexie did on the Inn floor what she'd refused to do hours earlier in my back yard.  Lex!  How embarrassing. 

Wishing I was in jeans and boots instead of heels, I made my way across campus to the conference site.  I picked up a tidbit or two at the conference, then lunched with the Poli Sci department chair Jeff Pickering and my lighthouse beacon in a foggy academic world, administrative assistant Cheryl Heverin.  That was followed by tea and conversation with Dr. Krishna Tummala, head of the department's MPA program. It was a lovely, productive and tiring day. Fortunately, the girls were also worn out from their day, and are pretty much leaving me to my typing this evening. My first order of business was to catch up on my reading, starting with my class's discussion board conversation.

To my great delight, my Managing for Sustainability class is engaged in a zig-zaggy conversation about water shortages in China, the ecological and health risks of drinking milk, the reasons for and against glass bottling beverages (recyclable, but heavy to ship, larger carbon footprint, air results in more bacteria) vs. plastic-coated cartons (stay fresh longer, but more trash, plastics leach into product), the woes of overconsumption (and whether it's possible for America to change this problem behavior), fair trade issues around the farmer's cut of the profits, and more.  And, did I mention, they are comedians?  One of my students said, in regard to the last topic, "The Afghan heroin farmers should be getting paid more. It's like a 2 or 3 billion dollar industry and the farmers receive next to nothing from it."  It started me thinking about a sitcom. 

I love my class.  Call me a romantic, but their discussion transports me to a bistro somewhere in Paris, lounging with a table full of expats, earnestly discussing the problems of the world over a bottle of wine, enjoying the camaraderie.  They've posted over 700 posts in the first eight weeks of class.  I am lucky.  They are a smart and passionate crew.  Sometimes I spout off, but usually, if I look before I leap, someone has already offered my thoughts before I've even arrived.  I don't know how much I'm teaching them, versus them teaching each other.  It's a different world, teaching on line.

It's my blog, so I can ramble about my life like that.  But the talk tonight did make me want to google down some additional information about our over-consumptive habits.  There was plenty to choose from, but two of the sites were particularly visual in very different, very dramatic ways, and I want to share both. 

The first site is called, simply, "Global Issues."  A cross between a website and a blog, the author (whomever that may be) found some interesting and stark data showing the disparity in consumption between the world's haves, and have-nots.  I found the above pie chart, created from World Bank statistics, on the site.  The statistics are four years old, but I doubt we've either curtailed or increased our consumption enough to worry that the data is irrelevant. 

There's more, and it's shocking when you put it this way.  E.g., the world spends $8 billion on cosmetics, but $6 billion on education.  Yes, this is what the article says, and here's the citation, (Source: The state of human development, United Nations Human Development Report 1998, Chapter 1, p.37).

I urge you to go to the site and read the rest of the article. It offers very telling statistics.

The second group of images is entirely different.  They are the work of Seattle photographer Chris Jordan, who says about his display, "Running the Numbers,"

"'Running The Numbers' looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a collective that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming."

I've reproduced below one of his series, and then, to whet your whistle and make sure you make it to his website, I've given you a couple more of the "far" view, hoping you'll want to go see the "near" view.

Now for the whistle-wetters:


PHOTOS FROM ABU GRAIBS (beware, very disturbing)



  1. Nice post - heroin photos ..Keep Posting

    heroin photos

  2. LOL. It was heroin farmers, not photos. But thanks for the share, and for stopping by.

  3. Nice blog---I also enjoyed the discussion board this week. And, BTW, you are teaching us AND I'm learning from my of both worlds. Heather