Get cozy at Providence GA

The General Assembly housing site opened today I was curious to see how much rooms would cost in Providence for General Assembly. (Not for myself: I’m staying with friends.) The city is rather thin for hotels, and when (in my day job) I sent people there, I thought the price was high.

But every room for the days of General Assembly (GA) proper were full. How? Ah.

Hotel rooms for General Assembly are currently sold out. Due to unforeseen circumstances, two hotels originally contracted (Renaissance and Hilton) are now involved in labor disputes. We terminated our contracts with these properties as the UUA supports fair labor practices. Dormitory style housing is still available at Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University click here. We are working to secure additional hotels in surrounding communities and will post as they become available. Be advised that housing is fluid, so please check back on a regular basis to see if rooms have become available.

As if the trouble with Phoenix GA hotels wasn’t heartburn inducing enough.

I feel bad for the GA office, but the policy is correct. If you had to make a short list of people whose well-being could be improved by ethical spending, hotel workers would be high on the list and they deserve our support.

This puts financially strapped attendees in a bind: do you go to the rejected hotels and side with management? I hope the core labor isseo can be resolved, but the least one can do is not cross the picket line early.

Also, take the dorm room option seriouly, if you hadn’t before. Oh, and if you got a room today, double up.

If I was going to liveblog my life…

There have been some very good “follow along with the blogger” blogs out there. Continental road trips by bike. Eating on a foot-stamp budget. Recording very low consumption. Reducing one’s possessions to so many items. Recording every bit of plastic used: a personal favorite.

I thought of such an idea. Not for me, but perhaps for someone who’s finds him- or herself in such a situation as I describe. Consider a blog about shrinking one’s household goods in anticipation of some kind of loss. A loss of family members, or stable income or independence, perhaps. I’m thinking here of people who have to move from a larger house to a smaller one, or into a care facility. Or a chosen loss: a decision to be be more secure and more connected because one’s household goods are more manageable. (Hubby and I are a mild, everyday version of the later: the apartment we bought is smaller than the one we once rented.)

Image you know the downsizing is coming, and you live in a house large enough to carve out an “apartment” the size you will likely have. Or room. Bathroom optional. Kitchen optional. (Many people share these, of course.) Empty it completely. Then treat the rest of the house as a store in which you shop for filling the new, smaller space.

What would you choose? What storage items, forgotten items, “perhaps for later” items would be given up first? What might be given away with an easy heart? What items would be savored and valued above all others?

I’ve just returned from visiting family, and so been thinking about relatives, many now dead. I’m thinking about cleaning up their homes, and knowing that this task will one day will fall on my relatives. I would rather spare them the trouble, and it could be quite comforting to undergo this difficult task in the presence of others. And such a liveblog could be a gift, too: to draw our attention to the relationship we have with our possessions in greener and happier times, so we can act with strength when we have little choice.

Chinese prisons keep slavery alive

It’s hard to see the “reeducation through labor” prisons in the People’s Republic of China and not see slavery. These laogai prisons not only detain people — including prisoners of conscience, including in Falun Gong and Christian believers — but then sell their products overseas. So some of those cheap Chinese goods come not simply from an artificially depressed Chinese currency and at the expense of Chinese workers, but from real, live modern slave labor. The EU has no effective law, and the US is toothless.

A documentary on Al-Jazeera — a part of their Slavery: A 21st Century Evil series(watch it online) — brings it home. Or if you’re in Washington, D.C. you can visit the Laogai Museum and see more yourself. I’ve been — it’s north of Dupont Circle — and is worth the visit.

Laogai Museum
1734 20th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009

View Larger Map

Perhaps instead of “Black Friday”/Buy Nothing Day?



Preparing for "Buy Nothing Day"

Is a lingering sense of disgust that makes “Buy Nothing Day” so especially appealing this year? That is, the deliberate decision to not shop on the Friday (or whole weekend) following Thanksgiving, in preparation for a trimmed-down or even shopping-free Christmas holiday. Certainly the campaign, long supported by Adbusters magazine, has special resonance because this is the same source of the poster that inspired the Occupy Wall Street encampment and movement. (They also do an anti-branding and “digital detox” campaign that I’ve seen many allusions to.)

And I won’t fight the “but don’t you need food” canard. Peeling back impulse shopping, therapeutic shopping, class-positioning shopping and stress shopping is the key. I’d buy oatmeal at any time, but am training myself to avoid so-called status goods always.

First step: get off of catalog lists. Even in these web-web-web days, I get many catalogs and I don’t think I asked for any of them. Fortunately, most catalog merchants seem to know that bearing the cost of the printing and postage for no return is useless and so give you an easy out. I used to recommend calling the catalog centers, but increasingly you can opt-out by the same web. Plus, it’s such a waste of paper.

Overwhelmed by them? You can start by going to Catalog Choice and opting out. I did, and suspect it has helped. (It can also help clear out the catalogs you get.)

Cold outside, inside — but action

One of the tensions I feel is how far we (Americans, global citzens or the 99%) should respond to the current economic situation: act primarily in concord to develop a new economic order, or retool our expectations for life with less.

Or, I suspect, both. I am by habit a rather thrifty person, even in times of plenty. I suppose I want to have reserves in difficult times, but I also believe that it is immoral to live in such a way that depends on others to suffer for your comfort.

The weather is cold quite early this fall here on the Eastern seaboard. A good place to start. Better to wear more appropriate clothing indoors and turn down the heat than — as is the case in metropolitan Washington — to use far-shipped gas or (in my case) heat with electricity that comes from strip-mined coal.

Here’s an article from early this year that continues to inspire me. Saves energy, saves money, avoids the hubris of overconsumption.

Insulation: first the body, then the home” (Low Tech Magazine)

Having banks on the brain

A person I respect — wise, patient and politically savvy — asked me credit unions today. It seems the excesses of the large, national banks, epitomized by their recent collective fee increases, led him to consider a credit union in place of the large national bank that he uses.

I mention this, not to suggest that everyone would join a credit union or that he is cheap or petulant, but to consider how we choose to give over power, in this case financial and social power. These banks are “too big to fail” both in their political power and their hold — as impressive, important institutions — in our own consciences. And so it’s easy for them (at least easier than what you and I) to extract government support, defense from industry and — at the end — profits from customers. But if you remember that there are alternatives to the banks — or Facebook, or particular retailers or even churches — even if the best alternative is “none of the above.” And once you realize you can live without something, you’re in a better position to choose how your money, effort and influence works to what you believe in. A simple thought, but worth repeating. And one of the reasons I buy American-made clothing and don’t eat animals.

For the record, if you live, work, study or worship in the District of Columbia — one of their membership classification — I can recommend Signal Financial Federal Credit Union. And here’s my last blog post on local credit unions, at the beginning (2008) of the current economic crisis. Read it for the comments.

The underwear post

I’m just going to grit my teeth, be grateful that the last two months of blog posts are back, summarize the facts of the substantive post I wrote today — now it’s gone! — and then back up my databases . . . .

I found some sweatshop-free underwear I like. Boxer-briefs. Not too snug. Made by this union shop in Pennsylvania and sold by this workers’ co-op in Maine. Be warned: they don’t have all colors (normally, white, black and grey) in all sizes.

They’re cheap if you buy your skivvies in a box, but expensive if you get them in plastic bags.  I like them, and recommend them.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written on the subject — links there for women, too — and here’s my most recent general clothing shopping guide.

Now, back to blog and church administration . . . .

Where I buy clothes

I like my clothes to be hard wearing, plain cut and American made, with union made as a plus. Also, I won’t buy any more leather. After years of searching here and there, suffering poor quality or poor service, I have settled on a few vendors, including one whose parcel arrived today.

For pants, jeans, white socks, polo shirts and some t-shirts, I choose All American Clothes; I may have also gotten my last jacket there. For oxford shoes, I go with Pangea‘s “No Bull” house line, and for more fun ones (European made) I go with Vegetarian Shoes sold by MooShoes. For dress shirts, I get Canadian- and union-made Forsyths from, but may branch out to Pennsylvania- and union-made Gitman shirts that I can get through a men’s store in Athens, Georgia, my college town. (And yes, they’re expensive. Indeed, the only place I’ve seen them otherwise for sale in a store is in Paris.) But the as much as I think ethical sourcing is important, so to is taking care in choosing and maintaining clothes. Cheap clothes, badly chosen, are no bargain.

Stand up for Hartmarx workers

My mother’s opinion of Hart, Schaffner and Marx suits — “they’re good” — has stuck with me, even though I was too young to wear (or buy) suits at the time. And because they exist, people like me, who buy whenever possible U.S.- and union-made clothing had a vendor. And they’re still good suits.

Well, they may be a victim of the “for me but not thee” economy. Wells Fargo (no relation) was bailed out — they even bought my bank, Wachovia — but Hartmarx is threatened with liquidation at their hands, and with it a thousand jobs.

Give Wells Fargo a piece of your mind. Patrick Murfin wrote about this and there are links from his blog. I think I’ll make a stink directly with Wachovia, who might have easily been flushed, but weren’t.

Use your voice, less electricity to save mountains

Cranky Cindy wrote about mountaintop coal mining, and the environmental disaster is causes.

Universalist fun fact: the much-reported town deluged by coal ash, Harriman, Tennessee, was the site of the church extension project of the Young People’s Christian Union, a predecessor to Unitarian Universalist young adult ministries.

Not-so-fun fact: coal is not clean. It pollutes the air, and in mining districts it pollutes the water and soil.

And if you use grid electricity in the United States, you’re probably a part of the system that allows this to happen. That includes the power that runs my computer. So I try to use less, and learn more about mountaintop mining. Next comes the advocacy.

Last week, I attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco for work. One of the sessions I attended was about online mapping tools. One of the presenters was from, which uses maps and video to make the connections between mountaintop mining and your electricity.

Learn those connections. Use less electricity. Advocate for cleaner technologies and mining communities.