Author Archives: Carl Zimring

About Carl Zimring

I study junk and talk trash. Author of Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America and general editor of The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage.

Green Week at Pratt

Pratt_Willoughby_Main_GateIf it’s late March, that means it is time for Pratt Institute’s annual Green Week series of events. This year’s schedule kicks off with the Sustainability Crash Course this Saturday from 9-4:30pm. Admission is free, but registration is required. The schedule:

PRESENTATION SCHEDULE

9:00 – 9:15 am

Registration. Please sign in on the 1st Floor of the Engineering Building on Pratt’s Brooklyn Campus

9:15 – 10:00 am : Session 1

Session 1A: Sustainable Fashion is Personal: The Industry’s Impact on Workers, Communities and YOU

Alexandra P. McNair – Founder, Fashion FWD

Session 1B: Up Sh*t’s Creek: Creative Approaches to Organizing in Flushing, Queens

Cody Ann Herrmann – Artist and Grassroots Organizer

Session 1C: Green Roofs & Machu Picchu

Brent Porter – Adjunct Professor of the School of Architecture

10:00 – 10:10 am : Break

10:10 – 10:55 am : Session 2

Session 2A: Digital Storytelling: How To Create Authentic Content and Grow Your Business Online

Sam Dagirmanjian – Co-Founder of Storey Inc.

Session 2B: MAKING CONTACT… Music of the Plant

Marguerite Uhlmann-Bower – RN, Clinical Herbalist

Session 2C: Reimagining Waste

Josh Draper – Lecturer, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Principal, PrePost

10:55 – 11:05 am : Break

11:05 – 11:50 am : Session 3

Session 3A: What you wear tells who you are. Speak well.

Althea Simons – Founder/designer/CEO of Grammar NYC

Session 3B: Climate Futures, Building Futures, City Futures – Getting New York City Ready for Tomorrow

Richard W. Leigh – PhD, PE, LEED AP, Visiting Professor of Physics at Pratt Institute

Session 3C: Biomimicry: Interior Design Strategies and Examples

Tetsu Ohara – Pratt Institute, Interior Design Department

11:50 am – 1:00 pm : Lunch Break

1:00 – 2:20 pm: Session 4

Session 4A: Weaving Culture and Sustainable Fashion

Melissa Eidson – Director & Producer

Manfred Lopez Grem – Cinematographer (Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca)

Dana Schlieman – Editor

Session 4B: What’s in my Water?

Kayla Fennelly – Project Coordinator NYPIRG

Session 4C: Citizen Enforcement Can Eliminate Vehicle Idiling

George Pakenham – Filmaker

2:20 – 2:30 pm : Break

2:30 – 3:15 pm : Session 5

Session 5A: Field notes: The Global Organic Textile Standard and Sustainability

Ely Battalen – Sustainability Consultant and Educator

Session 5B: Take Back the Tap

Jennifer E. Telesca – Assistant Professor of Environmental Justice in the Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute

Rebecca Welz – Adjunct Professor – CCE, Adjunct Professor – CCEFoundation Art, Industrial Design

Ira Stern – Chief of the Natural Resources Division for the NYCDEP Bureau of Water Supply

3:15 – 3:25 pm : Break

3:25 – 4:45 pm: Keynote Panel: THE TRUMP EFFECT: Women, Weapons & Weather

Brenna Cohen – NYC District Environmental Coordinator for Patagonia

Debera Johnson – Executive Director, Brooklyn Fashion +Design Accelerator

Susan Lerner – Executive Director for Common Cause NY

Mireia lopez – Creative Director and Founder of Milo Tricot

Nantasha Williams – Women’s March

The opening reception for Green Week will take place Tuesday at 12:30pm in Higgins Hall. We’ll have music, food, and beverages, and details about the several events taking place during the week.

I will speak as part of two Green Week events. On Thursday at 12:30 in ARC E-02, several faculty will present Pecha Kucha style presentations showcasing Environmental Awareness/Sustainability integration in their classes, and I will discuss field events in one or two SSCS-housed Sustainability seminars.

At the end of the week (March 30-31), Pratt’s Global South Center holds the Archipelagos and Aquapelagos conference in the Alumni Reading Room from 11am to 5pm. About two dozen scholars from all over the world will discuss the prominence of water in the shaping of contemporary cities. Several members of Pratt’s Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies will present; my own presentation will investigate several ways waste informs the past, present, and future of Newtown Creek.

Those are just a few of the events taking place this week; consult the full schedule at the Pratt Sustainability Coalition website.

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Discussing Environmental History in Philadelphia and St. Louis

The end of winter has dynamic meetings and discussions of environmental history, and 2018 is no exception – though the format departs from my usual routine of ASEH meetings. I had the pleasure to visit a couple of exciting programs the past couple of weeks. At the end of February, I was a guest in Scott Knowles and Chuck Haas’s City of Systems course as part of Drexel University’s new Urban Strategy M.S. program.

Drexel_talkThe program is a cross-disciplinary approach to urban problems and solutions, and the course is team-taught by a historian (Scott) and environmental engineer (Chuck). As part of their module on waste, they assigned Clean and White, so I agreed to join them for a public talk and conversation with the seminar about the social and cultural dimensions to municipal waste management. The program is the kind of exciting mix of social sciences, engineering, and public policy that Carnegie Mellon in general (and Joel Tarr in particular) exposed me to during my graduate training, and I suspect the Philadelphia region will benefit greatly from its students in the years to come.

WUSTL_posterOne week later, Washington University in St. Louis hosted me as part of its Mellon Sawyer “Wastelands” Seminar. Like Drexel’s program, this seminar focuses on a set of issues investigated by scholars working in and across several disciplines. After an exciting set of rescheduled flights due to Northeastern weather, I made it to St. Louis in time for my public lecture on establishing the long history of environmental racism based on the chronology of Clean and White. That was my second event of the day; immediately after stepping off the plane, I was able to make it to campus in time for an engaging conversation with Heather O’Leary’s Environmental Anthropology class.

The following morning, I got to workshop my current research project on Newtown Creek, getting terrific feedback from the participants. Particular thanks to Nancy Reynolds and Heather O’Leary for inviting me and contextualizing my work in the seminar’s activities, Waseem-Ahmed Bin-Kasim for our conversations about urban sanitation, and Vasiliki Touhouliotis for both cogent comments on the Newtown Creek piece and handling logistics for my visit.

I particularly value these discussions because this year is a departure from my annual routine: I am missing the ASEH meeting in Riverside this year. While I am heading to California, I will be in the Bay Area for the Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law’s symposium and related events honoring Franklin Zimring’s career in criminology. Paraphrasing the Haggadah, “next year, in Columbus!” I look forward to resuming the routine in 2019.

Reg E. Cathey

About 4 1/2 years ago, our late and much-missed dog Hudson landed a role in an independent film called Nasty Baby, which Sebastian Silva was filming down the street from our apartment. This led to a few weeks where Jen and Hudson spent long hours on the set, and I would sometimes visit briefly while staying at home with our frail older dog Chloe.

The antagonist in the film was played by Reg E. Cathey. If you see it, he plays a frightening and belligerent character. Proof he was a splendid actor, because he was the most warm and charming presence on the block with the cameras off. Kind to our dog, and friendly to me when I would drop a dog bed off during a long shoot. Meeting him was a highlight of our experience with the film, not because of his impressive acting resume, but because he was such a nice man.

All this made news of his death last week particularly sad in our household. He leaves behind some terrific performances and, no doubt, many, many friends.

On an error in my New York Times essay: Where the “death every day” mistake originated.

The online version of my New York Times op-ed on the perils of waste work has been corrected and eliminates the error discussed below. I owe the readers, the Times, and all involved in waste handling occupations context for the original error that was corrected.

In my essay on waste work in the Saturday Times, I made an error obvious to sharp-eyed readers: 31 deaths of refuse and recyclable material collectors in 2016 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) does not equal one death every day. The error is inexcusable but has an explanation: my research covers waste-related work in several occupational categories ranging from janitorial services and laundry work to salvage yards, and in my notes I used in developing the essay I consulted BLS data for the larger category: “administrative and support and waste management and remediation services.” The number of deaths in that category (including the refuse and recycling workers, and also related categories including janitorial and cleaning work — excluding maids and housekeeping cleaners — and hazardous waste remediation, among other occupations such as landscape maintenance and pest extermination) in each of the years between 2013 and 2016 range between 360 and 458, a number that sadly meets the death-per-day rate as expressed in the published essay. Among the 2016 deaths within this category included the following subcategories: 16 in janitorial work and 67 in waste management and remediation services.

(Outside of that broader category, but pertinent to discussions of the hazards of waste work, BLS reported 64 deaths of building cleaning workers, 19 deaths of recyclable material merchant wholesalers, 8 deaths in laundry and drycleaning services, 8 deaths of first-line supervisors of housekeeping and janitorial workers, and 6 deaths in sewage treatment facilities in 2016.)

In my mind, I was thinking of all of these workers when approving the final wording of the essay. However, that thought remained only in my notes and my mind: I made no reference to the above data in the essay or sources I gave the Times (nor did I provide distinctions in the “administrative and support and waste management and remediation services” category between waste-related occupations, and, for example, landscaping services). Responsibility for this error is mine and mine alone.

I regret the error because it detracts from my point that we must recognize and protect the often-overlooked workers who handle wastes. In doing so, I myself obscured the deaths of the workers who perform the various waste-related tasks described in this letter, while presenting an assertion that did not match the data for refuse and recyclable material collectors. I write this letter to recognize those workers in the conversation that no doubt will be generated by my error.

New York Times essay on the hazards of waste work 50 years after the Memphis Strike.

We have entered the fiftieth anniversary of the Memphis Strike, and I wrote a piece for the New York Times about the hazards of waste work then and now.

The hazards facing people in this line of work have a long history — they inspired the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike of 1968. That walkout was set off in part by the deaths of two Memphis sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed to death by the hydraulic press of the truck they were riding on one rainy winter evening.

The strike, whose organizers demanded higher pay, the recognition of the workers’ union and safer working conditions, is often associated with the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis the day after delivering his “Mountaintop” speech in support of striking sanitation workers. But when we think about the strike, we should also remember that half a century after his death, the work Dr. King was focused on in the last days of his life remains unfinished.

Thanks to Jenee Desmond-Harris and Clay Risen for giving me space in the paper, and Chris Kindred for the accompanying illustration.

The Dirty (and Racist) Origins of Donald Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Slur

Heck of a way to celebrate an anniversary. For the one-year mark of the Trump Administration, I look at President Trump’s rhetorical choices when discussing immigration policy with senators in my essay for the Washington Post’s Made by History blog.

President Trump didn’t choose his xenophobic slurs in a vacuum — his use of shithole or shithouse reflects the vicious racism that swept him into office and, as in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, portends tragic, inhumane, racist, exclusionary policies related to people he equates with excrement.

Thanks to Brian Rosenwald for editing and Alexandra Filindra for suggesting the piece.

The Best Music of 2017

2017 was a brutal year in many ways, and no less so in the world of music. Many of the musicians who informed the sensibilities of my past lists died, some long before their time. That directly shaped this year’s list and inspired the creation of the records at the #1 and #10 slots. Click on each album title to hear selections from each record and instructions to support the musicians by purchasing their work.

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Karl Hendricks died in January at the age of 46. During his life, he wrote, taught, was the buyer for (and eventually owner of) Pittsburgh’s best new records store, and released nine records. In all of these endeavors he set a standard for excellence combined with a quiet, wry decency that sought to help people find hidden excellence. His life made many lives better.

No surprise, then, that when Karl became ill, the community of people he touched came to his aid with fundraisers in 2014 and 2015. In the days after Karl’s memorial service, a plan to use Bandcamp to assemble a benefit record for his family quickly fell into place. The musicians on this tribute range from the highly recognizable (Eleventh Dream Day’s Rick Rizzo, Chris Brokaw) to those that toured with Karl (Kyle Sowashes). Tracks by fans who never met the man adjoin those from friends and coworkers who knew Karl for more than a quarter of a century. Karl’s lyrics tempt comparisons to Raymond Carver for his precise details about the lives of working people, though my mind goes to Pittsburgh writer Jim Daniels as the closest analogue. His melodies and beautifully composed guitar parts produced songs sturdy enough to withstand adaptations into country music (The Beagle Brothers), electronica (Entertainment), and, well, incompetence (The Card Party).

That last track is mine. Yes, a record I played on is #1 on my list. I make no claims to objectivity here, nor do I see this fact as a conflict. Music does not exist in a vacuum; it is part of the cultural fabric of communities. I am part of the community that benefited immeasurably from Karl’s contributions to Pittsburgh and the world, and so I am part of this small contribution by the community paying respects to the man as well as a listener who deeply appreciates the music on this compilation.

One of the benefits of making this record a Bandcamp release is the project could grow gradually over time from its initial release date. As of this writing, 22 different artists have contributed to a living, evolving tribute. The Wheel & the Alphabet is not the only home of a Karl Hendricks tribute this year (the Gotobeds’ brilliant cover of “Flowers Avenue” came out late in the fall), but it does a fine job of showing the influence and brilliance of the man. Thanks always to Karl for showing us the best way forward.

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You know Cohen from his work in Silkworm and Bottomless Pit over the past quarter century. (If you do not, and you are somehow reading this anyway, just BUY EVERYTHING NOW and enjoy.) Here, Chicago trio Light Coma acts as his Crazy Horse for a mostly-electric set of new songs. Cohen’s ability to turn mundane details into poignant character sketches has defined his work at least as far back as “Don’t Make Plans This Friday,” and here it shines through in the opening “Repack,” a collection of overhead children’s dialogue that becomes a swirling anthem. Neil Young comparisons come with the alternately gentle acoustic fingerpicking and shrieking electric lead lines, as well as the decision to close each side of the record with alternate versions of “Midwest DTs.” If these are Cohen’s “ditch years,” may a flurry of releases come soon, as his voice is a distinctive one that I always have time to appreciate.

Dream Syndicate, How Did I Find Myself Here? (Anti-)

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In the three decades since the Dream Syndicate’s last proper album Ghost Stories, leader Steve Wynn has sharpened his writing further, become an even better guitarist, and forged a partnership with stunt guitarist Jason Victor that has been the most sustained collaboration Wynn’s had with any lead guitarist. Here Wynn and Victor team up with the Ghost Stories rhythm section (as well as that album’s coproducer Chris Cacavas on keyboards and, for one track, original bassist Kendra Smith on vocals) to create a record as informed by the care and craft of the Miracle 3 records as the cacophony of 1980s-era Dream Syndicate. What is especially glorious is how Victor takes to the sound and sensibility of the earlier band, matching the violence of anything Karl Precoda or Paul Cutler did on record. The result is a record that is fully in the spirit of past triumphs without ever feeling derivative, and possibly Wynn’s finest record since Here Come the Miracles.

OUT, Swim Buddies (Comedy Minus One)

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The singalong (yell-along) album of the year comes from veterans of Kalamazoo’s Minutes, who bring the rock and then get out of the way…eleven songs in half an hour, none feeling rushed nor wasting a second. “Left for Dead” is one of the more inspiring songs possible with a title like that, and if you manage to listen to “Cyclists” or “Back That Truck Up” and don’t get their hooks lodged in your consciousness, then we simply are wired differently. I am grateful (though not surprised) that Swim Buddies is sufficiently faithful to OUT’s exhilarating live sound.

Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock (Yep Roc)

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Covering “Vegetable Man” while with the Soft Boys no doubt cemented Hitchcock as an acolyte of Syd Barrett, but his own music reveals a writer more grounded on Earth…indeed, his placement of people within ecosystems featuring insects, fish, and birds make him one of the least anthropocentric songwriters I know. He is also a terrific guitarist influenced by the 60s British folk-rock movement at least as much as he is by Barrett and John Lennon, and these ten tracks show off his chops and wryly fatalistic lyrics alongside contributions by past collaborators Gillian Welch and Grant Lee Philips as well as new ones in his current Nashville home. The mood reminds me of a cross between 1989’s Queen Elvis and 2004’s Spooked, though more electric than the latter and less self-consciously weird than the former. (No less funny, though, including a song about the lead character in the ridiculous film Mindhorn.)

 

Joel RL Phelps and the Downer Trio, Consulate (12XU)

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Joel Phelps is a master interpreter of songs, as evident by the inspired covers he has released of songs as diverse as the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” and Iris Dement’s “Calling for You.” Here he and the Downer Trio (joined by Marino Correia) reinterpret four of his own songs, all spare acoustic versions of tracks from Gala, their 2013 album. The effect evokes the skeletal arrangements of the mostly-covers Inland Empire record while reminding listeners of how strong the Gala songs are. Brilliant as always, and a fine companion to the 2013 LP.

Clipping, Splendor and Misery (Sub Pop)

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This came out in 2016, but I didn’t hear it until the winter. (Somehow my attention span for Daveed Diggs’s work in the fall was absorbed completely by his recurring role on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.)  Splendor and Misery reminds me of science fiction radio plays of the early 80s (most famously the original version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) as filtered through an Afrofuturist perspective ranging from hiphop to gospel and just enough white noise to make this lodge into my brain.

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Halvorson’s Away With You was on last year’s list; this record departs from the ensemble sound of that one by emphasizing the virtuosic interplay between Halvorson’s guitar and Courvoisier’s piano. That said, the contrast is not that great. Initially, Crop Circles lulls you into complacency as tracks start slowly, then gradually pick up in intensity as both spew dense clusters of notes that flesh out the sound as if a large band was playing. Not recommended listening if it makes you lose faith in your own guitar or piano abilities, but if insecurity is not a problem, enjoy this spirited duet of two confident, dexterous musicians.

Game Theory, Supercalifragile (KCM Records)

SupercalifragileCoverThe first half of this record is vintage Scott Miller. Witty lyrics, incredibly melodic guitar and keyboards, and that distinctive voice singing songs that rank with the best of his 90s work with the Loud Family. Hell, they rank with his 80s classics, making the resurrection of the Game Theory name worthy.

The second half is distracting. Painfully so, due not at all to the people who worked on it and entirely due to the circumstance that necessitated its existence. The problem is Miller’s voice is only detectable as writer, as friends and fans ranging from Aimee Mann to Ted Leo take over lead vocals. This was unavoidable, as Supercalifragile is a posthumous release painstakingly assembled by Miller’s widow and Ken Stringfellow, and their work is remarkable in achieving the level of detail that was a hallmark of Miller’s craft. In a vacuum, these tracks are beautiful and thoughtfully rendered in Miller’s style. Listening to them just reminds me that this distinctive, talented, and very nice man is no longer with us. The one exception is his onetime bandmate Alison Faith Levy’s one lead vocal, as I can fool myself into thinking it a spotlight feature for her made under normal conditions. I may grow to enjoy these tracks more and greatly appreciate the work that went into them, but I would be lying if I said I enjoyed them as much as the great Miller tracks on the first half.

Archival Release of the Year

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Alternate title Thank You So Much Terry Katzman. This 3 CD/4 LP set documents the early years Grant Hart, Bob Mould, and Greg Norton played together, with much better audio fidelity on contemporary live work than found on Land Speed Record. Katzman’s tapes made this possible, and this surpasses the Rhino edition of Everything Falls Apart and More as the best sounding CDs from the band. May Numero Group have the opportunity to treat the band’s later  work with the same care; for now, this serves as a fitting tribute to Hart, who died a few weeks before the set was released.

Also well worth your time: Lardo, SinkingMark Eitzel, Hey Mr. Ferryman, Xetas, The Tower, The Bismarck, Follow Your Heart, and Jon Langford, Four Lost Souls.

Check the links for information on purchasing these fine records and compensating their creators, or in the case of too many of these records, the creators’ surviving loved ones.