Posts Tagged ‘Forum’

Word count

December 2, 2010

I’ve been counting a lot of words since I started to write for the Forum some five years ago. Usually up to 500, but never more then 600, words that were supposed to reflect – however loosely – on my life in town.

In recent years I have been endlessly counting words, in English and other foreign languages as well. The Forum column naturally intersected with my work and life: depending on what documentary film project kept me busy, I was logging words in Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish and Portuguese, as well as Hebrew, French, and occasionally Arabic too. It’s been a constant multilogue of cultural, geopolitical experiences that took me places, some times literally and often from behind my desk at my hometown, northwest of Boston.

Depending upon reliable Internet connections and decent time zone differences, I found myself writing from a small café in Paris, or from a hotel room in Buenos Aires. New York City was a constant source of inspiration, and many a time, the muse kicked in at airport terminals or on a plane. Random environments offered a distant backdrop to universal content that hopefully resonated with our local realities.

But it was an old woman in a rural village in the Ukrainian heartland that provided one of the least expected ties between my “day job,” the Forum writing and Carlisle. During the filming in a village so rural that even locals had a hard time locating it on the (pre-MapQuest days) map, trying to reach the remains of a house of a villager who sheltered three young Jewish sisters during WWII, we ended up crossing through an elderly woman’s backyard to avoid the flooded dirt roads. As we carefully made our way through the mud, between her flock of geese and her German Shepard dog, which barked violently while chasing us along the metal wire that ran across the barren yard. Smiling warmly at us and visibly emotional, the old woman spoke to us in Ukrainian. With no translator onsite and no common language to communicate, it came down to the minimal pleasantry exchange of Good Day and Thank You in Ukrainian on our end.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I sat down to log and edit this abandoned clip of footage from Ukraine that I understood what that woman was trying to tell me: “Thank you for filming the house,” and then added, “My dear cranes, my distant children . . . let me kiss you.” It was through the impromptu exchange of emails with my Forum editor Maya Liteplo who shared with me a personal, moving anecdote that I got to learn about rural Ukrainian dialects and the symbolism of the cranes in the Ukrainian folklore. The cranes that return to their homeland each spring are the souls of the soldiers who died in WWII. All of a sudden we happened to share a tender memory that had nothing to do either with the film or with the Forum – the recent loss of a father.

And I realized that this is a lot more than a shared zip code. This is really about connections to a place and its people that meshed into my own experiences. I’ve been counting more than 10,000 words over the last five years, and no matter where I was, they always came from the heart of Carlisle. Take my words for it.

569 words

My two cents per kilowatt

May 21, 2010

It ain’t easy being green, as in environmentally conscious and responsible. It certainly costs to initiate and implement the necessary steps.

In our town, green has always been more than just the preferred color of its manicured lawns and surrounding nature. As a community, we have created frameworks that encourage and implement environmental forward thinking and we readily comply with recycling regulations and sustainability measures. As longtime citizens of the community we even grew to appreciate these added responsibilities. From nature conservation to energy efficiency, as a community or as individuals, we all try to go green, or at least greener.

About two years ago, we were excited to learn that the library offered a device called Kill-A-Watt, which will monitor energy usage of home appliances and will display kilowatt per hour readings of the efficiency of any appliance hooked into it. We put our name down on the waiting list, and were told that there was a long wait . . . It seemed to be a good first step in assessing our own usage of electricity, monitoring the readings as reflected in our monthly bills.

Coming from Israel, a country where solar energy has been regulated and available for consumers’ use for decades, energy conservation and efficiency are not new to my family. However, I have to admit that we never seriously entertained any thoughts or visions of wind turbines in our backyard. Yet, we loved the heavy cast iron wood and coal stove that was put in by the original owners of our previous house. Positioned amidst the vast open main living area, near an outside wall of glass, it stood in testimony (once we got it to work) to the energy efficiency and sustainability measures taken by many home owners in response to the energy crisis of the early ‘80s.

A lot of kilowatts have gone under New England bridges since. The 2008 Massachusetts Green Communities Act was designed to promote cost savings and renewable, clean energy technology. By requiring state utilities and electricity suppliers to obtain renewable power equal to 25 percent of their sales, the new law will bring down cost of generated power, which in turn will lower consumers’ electricity bills.

The utilities and power suppliers, though slow to adopt changes, are constantly exploring innovative ways to smarten the grid. National Grid announced two weeks ago that it signed an agreement with Cape Wind to purchase “green power” and became Cape Wind’s first customer.

The very close vote adopting the Stretch Code at Town Meeting last week, preceded by a lengthy public debate, showed that change is slow in coming. However, it is clear that joining other area communities in adopting the Stretch Code will bring down energy use in new homes, and will bring the town closer to meeting eligibility criteria for the state’s Green Communities grant.

At the heart of the discussion lies the broader question of whether energy efficiency will come faster through enforcement of federal or state legislation, or through personal measures of energy conservation and environmental sensibility.

The upcoming vote on the Stretch Code got us back to the library to check out our status on the Kill A Watt wait list. (The device is available at any home improvement or online shopping portal.) We never got to borrow that Kill-A-Watt device, but we keep doing our homework, taking small, personal steps to lower our footprint on the electric grid, one kilowatt at a time.

Green, the new black

October 30, 2009

Anybody driving across town last week couldn’t but notice the signs along the road sides on all main roads leading to and from town center. 350 Day was celebrated last Saturday around the world with some 3,500 demonstrations in more than 170 countries.

350, a citizen action group, founded and led by author of The End of Nature, Bill McKibben, hopes to steer enough public activism and to bring people, media and governments together to create climate change. With the upcoming UN Framework Convention on Climate Change taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark later in December, 350’s climate-change rallies, walks, sign-making and a host of other localized events were especially timely.

The other week, speaking at a Harvard University “Climate Convocation” event, McKibben said that climate change is too late to stop, but not too late to act.

Across town, on the same side of the Charles, just last Friday, President Obama addressed an invitation-only crowd of environmentalists, community activists, industry leaders and MIT faculty and students:

“From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to produce and use energy. The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. I am convinced of that. And I want America to be that nation. It’s that simple.”

While I believe in pushing for excellence and leadership, I somewhat question the desire to win first place in a race. It might be a race, but it’s not that simple. It’s certainly not about winning first place in this race. It’s more about working in unison to be winners, or – as a world – losing together.

Living 2.7 miles from town center, I did not get to hear the 350 rings of church bells opening the day’s events on October 24. Though, like everybody else, driving to the Post Office or Transfer Station that morning, or stopping briefly at Ferns, I noticed the signs around town.

Environmentalist and local activist Mike Hanauer listed the events planned in town on the website, followed by a post on the City in the Woods website, calling community members to join the planned rally. He was “heartened by the fact that there were about 500 people at Concord, about three times what I would have predicted for a rainy day.”

Saying that Carlisleans played a major part in planning and attendance he adds, “Carlisle Climate Action has just signed onto the “Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy” initiative (, which I believe is an excellent start in that direction. Bill McKibben and E.O. Wilson have signed on as well. I have; you can.”

Lowering CO2 emissions is a much needed step; though lacking public transportation (for example) might make it harder to do in Carlisle. Meanwhile, we shall not be asking what our town can do for us, but rather what we can do for ourselves to “green the black.”

Birds of a diferent tweet

July 3, 2009

“Spring bird walk finds Scarlet Tanagers plentiful, but few other migrants” – reads the headline to last year’s spring bird count on Towle Conservation Land, led and reported by avid birdwatcher Ken Harte. Later that summer he observed a total of some 132 different species in Helen Lyons’ article “Exploring the Towle Field Conservation Land” from August 15, 2008.

Our rural neck of the woods, no doubt, offers a wide range of fauna and flora, both native and migrant, sometime invasive, but mostly essential to keeping an ecological balance in our immediate environment.

In a way, taking a short walk in cyber space today is analogous to taking a nature walk in one of the many wooded sites surrounding us – sans the Bobolinks, warblers or Scarlet Tanagers, more like small numbers of teenagers native to the digital world, and rapidly growing flocks of early adopters, migrants of the global village. The virtual habitat called Twitter is a social network which allows its users to share real-time online updates that are 140 characters-long via their computers or mobile devices.

While birds’ morning chatter is one of the most audible signs of spring, the Twitter messages, or tweets, have been heralding anything from the devastating earthquake in China, to the arrest of a demonstrating student in Egypt, the simmering post-election protests in Iran, or Michael Jackson’s untimely passing, which dominated Twitter’s Trend List throughout last week and drove general web traffic to new heights. The Twitter wilderness is characterized by loosely connected flocks of people who are “following” the message streams of other users. The message stream can run from a personal broadcast to “followers” about one’s opinion on the weather or favorite selection of green tea, to CNN or local WBUR urging their audiences to “follow” them on Twitter, or “friend” them on Facebook.

And much like in the wild, where birds will flock together in masses to establish roosting territories, the Twitter crowd recently willingly, literally followed the “1 million followers” challenge declared between Ashton Kutcher and Larry King over the public media chatter. Guess who won that “race”?

A couple of weeks ago, at the 140 Characters conference in NYC, I interviewed Twitter co-founder and chairman Jack Dorsey about the uniqueness of his networking platform. Asked about the evolvement of “followship” on this service, he explained: “We were on the focus of following the updates …I think that’s very important in terms of the lightness of being that is Twitter,” and adds, “one of the most exciting things about Twitter is the globalness of it.”

He goes on to say that he would “like to see more transparency in the world, more personability … and to do so all in real time, so immediately. That’s what I’d like to see in the world.” Back in March 2006, Jack’s first public tweet read: “Just setting up my twttr,” and the rest is his-story. And, as the Twitter chatter catches on, we (or some of us) are sure to flock and follow..

It’s a World Wild Web out there

June 8, 2008

It all started a couple of weeks ago when I noticed our own newspaper editor Ellen Miller’s name listed as a speaker at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society 10th anniversary events. Having planned to attend the conference and also recalling her past association with the university, I immediately e-mailed Ellen for some insider information… Alas, it turned to be another Ellen Miller (of the D.C.-based Sunlight Foundation) who moderated a discussion on how the new information and online technologies can enhance political transparency and accountability.

With a heated Presidential campaign knocking on our door, timing couldn’t have been better for looking at the way political campaigning has changed in the digital age. And, judging by the numerous “Obama for President” signs on so many local front lawns, there is no greater relevancy than looking at how Obama, with the help of Silicon Valley supporters, pioneered an impressive method of generating grassroots support and funds by relying heavily on evolving means of social networking applications on the web.

Up until not too long ago, it was the 1960 televised debate between then-Presidential candidates Richard Nixon and J. F. Kennedy that was considered a classic part of the curriculum in every mass communications class. It wasn’t until Presidential hopeful Howard Dean who, with the enthusiasm and support of many young, Internet-savvy, college-age voters, raised the bar of the common campaigning boundaries yet another notch by establishing an innovative online fundraising platform which addressed and especially appealed to young potential voters.

As a media professional, I find these anecdotes an excellent demonstration of how a calculated use of media, which has moved from emphasizing the message to highlighting the delivery through new means, created such political shifts. And, while it could have been the lack of on-air charisma (and the apparent lack of appropriate TV makeup) which cost Nixon the elections, it was most likely the loud on-air “Dean Scream” (emphasized over the background noise level by the unidirectional microphone he was holding) which cost Howard Dean his innovative “invisible primary.”

For 15 years now, since the inception of the World Wide Web, our lives have been changing bit by bit, literally. And ever since, a whole generation, born into the digital age and now coming of age, has been reshaping culture, education, social connectivity and civic engagement. Dubbed the Digital Natives generation, according to Berkman’s executive director and professor John Palfrey and faculty fellow Urs Gasser, they keep defying quite a few myths.

Their recent research shows that children not only gain critical thinking and social engagement skills from their online activities as well as from their offline lives, but that, though naturally not politically engaged or taking part in civic activities on or offline, they understand their civic role in society. They realize that their voices can be heard. The wide, fluid space of the Internet provides them with virtual networks in which they can engage in socializing, entertainment, learning and political action.

As a voting parent to two first-time voters, and as a Digital Immigrant (like most other pre-1980 folks), I explore the new virtual playground made available to us on the Internet. Even with the rapidly changing rules of the game, I am quite amazed at how seamlessly children move from one medium to another, able to sort through the bombardment of messages out there and choose the right content (for them) and the right level of engagement, whether educational, social or political, whether virtual or real.


( This article was posted here and published there on May 23, 2008 )