To Change Everything…Start Anywhere (Goodbye, TNTSU!)

Oberlin Sky 2015

This post marks the end of an era. Over five years ago, in the hot summer of 2010, I started this blog as a way to post about things that mattered to me, to promote veganism, to interview cool people, and to have an outlet to speak my mind. The Nail That Sticks Up has served that goal in spades!

My life has changed dramatically sense then. Relationships, jobs, lovers, friends, beliefs, cities, apartments, and lifestyles have come and gone. Some I miss, others I am glad to have moved away from. I’m still vegan, still straight-edge, still trying to love the only life I have (as a secular humanist) and make it better for others (both human and non-human).

I’ve posted about CrimethInc often because I’m often inspired by their anarchistic, pro-love, anti-authority, balls-to-the-wall, fuck-capitalism approach to life. It rules. I’ve decided I’m not going to waste time wishing I updated this blog more, and instead, simply move on! My words will find a place if they truly need to take up space on the internet (Medium, perhaps?). Those who want to keep up with me will. And the articles that are still here will forever be cached in Google (a good thing, too, because people loooove my Sentinelese piece!)

To change everything, start anywhere. So I’m starting here, and saying goodbye to TNTSU. It served me well for five years and was an excellent springboard to my next venture. What that will be, I don’t know yet – and that’s the exciting part!

Thanks to you, the reader, the commenter, the troll, the instigator, the friend, and inspiration, or the Google bot who gave me a trackback. Hails!

Sam is the author of this blog and occasionally likes to write about himself in the third person. You can follow him on Twitter at @sam_metal.

Top 5 Posts For 2012

2012

As the year comes to a close, I’m a bit saddened by the lack of posts on TNTSU. I have no one to blame but myself, mind you, but it’s often hard to find the time and motivation to write, research, and coalate thoughts in a presentable form that one is happy with. You are your own worst critic, right? Still, I have hope for the blog and whatever form it may take in 2013, be it a more personal narrative, simply an archive of information, or a full-on vegan propaganda machine (ha!). But 2012 did give us some great posts, and below are the five that exemplify both my writing and the spirit of the blog. Read on:

#5 – Committed To A Wood Burning World

This post was inspired by Sam Harris’ incredible article about the perils of wood smoke, and how our reaction to such an “outrageous” claim is the same thing that believers feel when we state that there is no god, heaven isn’t real, or Mohammed wasn’t really a prophet. His post was widely received and I filled in a bit of the background research, along with some commentary of my own. Consequently, any bonfire I now attend is met with a high level of skepticism, much to the chagrin of my bonfire-loving friends!

#4 – How To Take Any Compliment

I’m continually inspired by Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements and subsequent books on Toltec wisdom. Religious aspects aside, the ideas he presents are pure gold: don’t take anything personally, always do your best, free yourself of emotion poison, etc. Along with not taking the negative side of life personally, we should strive not to take the positive too personally, either. This is most exemplified by our society’s vast inability to take compliments. They’re either downplayed, dismissed, scorned, or weakly returned. I tried to illustrate strategies for how to take any compliment, from the mundane to the sincere.

#3 – 5 Things You Should Post More Of On Facebook

I’ve often thought that there should be instruction manuals for some of the basic things in life. Not that Facebook is very basic, but when you signed up, did anyone ever give you precursor of what you should post? We sort of infer what to post based on what our friends post, and that can quickly turn into – to put it bluntly – a lot of “bitching and moaning.” In the post I cover five positive topics that I think people should post more of. The theme is the usual be-thankful-be-grateful motto, mixed in with some modern technology.

 #2 – Ask Me Why I’m Veg[etari]an (AR 2012 Guest Post)

I had my friend Ethan write about his experiences during the whirlwind that was AR2012. He did a much better job than I, and got this to me within just a few days of the conclusion of the conference. The National Animal Rights Conference showed me that we are heading towards a vegan society, and Ethan eloquently described all the ways we are going to get there.

#1 – Kindness is King: Interview with Philip Wollen

I’ll admit this is #1 partly because it’s one of the most popular articles on the blog, with quite a few shares, likes, and tweets. But it’s also powerful. Philip Wollen has a story to inspire animal rights advocates everywhere, leaving a life of wealth and power to concentrate on saving our earth and its species. His responses are genuine, kind, and real. He was brought into the limelight with a spellbinding ten minute YouTube clip back in May of this year. My favorite quote is this:

I am always perplexed when people question Sea Shepherd’s “direct” action. It seems a tautology. What is “indirect” action? I wonder what any of us would do if we saw a kitten or a puppy being beaten to death in the street. Indirect action?

See you in 2013, if the world doesn’t end before then!

Dive! The Film: Powerful Message But Misses The Mark

Dive! poster. Ironically, he has tofu in his hands.

Just finished watching Dive! The Film at the suggestion of a friend who shares my love for “dumpstering” waste, be it food, electronics, hardware, or milk crates. While the film was entertaining (mostly due to main character’s children), I felt it missed the mark on two levels: one, that eating meat and dairy, whether hormone-free, out of a dumpster, or from your local farmer, is somehow effective in the food movement, and two: that eating dumpstered meat and dairy is a good idea at all. Since this is a pro-animal rights blog those viewpoints aren’t exactly revolutionary here, so allow me to explain:

Jeremy Seifert’s documentary follows him and some cohorts around Los Angeles, blasting Trader Joe’s and other groceries for wasting tons of food, while highlighting the necessity of fixing our logistical waste nightmare so we don’t have 11 million people who go hungry each day in this country. This is an admirable task, and I agree with it. TJ’s and their ilk should be held accountable, in fact, all groceries, and people should: waste less, people! Seifert’s tie-in with sustainability from the WWII era was great, and I, like him, are stoked to see a resurgence of this.

But when facts are displayed on the screen about how much grain and water it takes to produce a pound of beef, what is the viewer supposed to think? That we should only eat dumpstered meat? Or buy it from a local farmer? There’s no good solution here: eating local meat is often worse for the environment due to the huge about of carbon emissions grass-fed cows produce. Eating dumpstered meat is just bad for you, and I felt the movie lacking that Seifert didn’t address this once. Surely, a conscious consumer in LA has been exposed to the arguments of veganism. Meat and dairy intake are linked to increased risk of all major diseases, and improperly cooked chicken is a huge risk, especially for children. I’m not arguing that dumpstered food is somehow “unclean” – I’d eat it myself, just not stuff that comes from another animal.

How can we argue for a less wasteful society, one that prizes sustainability and conscious consumerism, but allow rampant meat and dairy eating, whether it comes from the farm, grocery, or dumpster? Meat just doesn’t make sense to feed the world, it’s simply inefficient. Cow’s milk and its by-products, being the result of gluttonous humans (milk after infancy? why?), isn’t a health food either – Harvard realized this just a few months ago. And producing dairy takes the same cruel, wasteful approach as meat; fatten up cows, impregnate them, and steal their milk for human use. Let the cows live in peace and use that extra grain and water for starving humans!

So while I deeply appreciate Seifert’s look into the world of dumpstering, and I agree on all counts regarding waste reduction, to simply offer the option of eating nearly unlimited quantities of chicken, beef, yogurt, or whatever foodstuffs he finds in the dumpster – merely because they are trash/wasted – is short-sighted. We have to choose food wisely, regardless of the source. “Freegan” is a lame term – nothing is truly free, and eating animal products comes at a price. A vegan lifestyle, and a diet centered around plants, is the optimal one for health, sustainability for our earth, and for alleviating the suffering of billions of animals.

A Week Off The Internet: How I Did It, Observations, and More

Hyperconnected

I’m returning to the blogopshere, twitosphere, Facebook, e-mail, and so forth after a much-needed seven day break. It was, and still is, a glorious experience, for the books I read, the time I spent away from a screen, and the countless observations I had during the time. How, in our tech-obsessed world (where I am quite “connected,” in a digital sense) did I survive? And why would I do something like this voluntarily, for an entire week? Read on…

The quest was sponsored by a few factors, one of them being pure timing and convenience – it was my school’s spring break (I teach math at a local college) and there was little need for me to get online to e-mail students or receive notifications from the administration (or so I thought). We primarily communicate through e-mail, both students and faculty, as the course is largely online with a once-per-week in-class component, so they e-mail me with questions, post in discussion forums, and thus, internet access is paramount. A week without classes was the perfect time to stay away from e-mail and the anxiety it can often bring. But moreover, I needed a break: a break from the stress of being online all the time, of constantly checking Twitter and Facebook, of having my phone beep, whether text message, Instagram notification, or e-mail. I hear the naysayers already: “just turn the notifications off! put your phone on vibrate; turn your computer off…” and so on and so on. Sure, those are good ideas in theory, but as most of us know, much more difficult in practice. It is very difficult to completely disconnect, because the world doesn’t stop. Our friends don’t stop updating Facebook just because we’re not there, nor does e-mail stop coming, nor text messages continuing to arrive. For me, moderation is the not the course, because I’m not very good at it (at least, not yet – this break may have changed that). I need to go cold Tofurky to really have an impact on my life, and that’s exactly what I did (with a few minor errors) for seven days.

Last but not least, I wanted to relax: I wanted to lay around the house, read books, take excessive naps, eat excessive food, play with the dogs whenever, and not feel the obligation of my inbox, waiting there for me to read, act, and worry about whatever its contents may be.

That’s exactly what I did, and it was awesome. Seriously. I was a little bit skeptical I would get bored and crave the web, but that really didn’t happen. I craved human contact, social interaction, and activity, but not status updates or @ replies. I found that really, all I needed was cool stuff to do, whether that be reading a good book (getting information!), mountain biking (camaraderie, fitness, and skill improvement), or simply eating vegan pizza with friends (food, activism, inner growth). The internet can definitely facilitate that, but is hardly necessary. And while most of us would agree with that statement in principle, it’s a lot harder to put into practice.

Here were my self-imposed rules for the last seven days, along with some of my minor transgressions (most brought about through unforeseen obligations):

  1. No computers: no laptop, no desktop, no internet cafes (do these even exist in the US anymore?) With this came:
    1. No Facebook
    2. No Twitter
    3. No Google (Try not looking anything  up online, just for a day – it’s hard!)
    4. No Wikipedia (see above)
    5. No Google Maps (how do I get anywhere?! just kidding)
    6. No e-mail
    7. No internet TV, downloaded movies, etc.
  2. No cell phone, meaning:
    1. No texting (or reading of texts)
    2. No access to my contacts, or phone calls (though I subverted this a bit with the help of my fiancee)
    3. No Instagram, tweeting on the go, looking up things while out, calling my fiancee, etc.

In addition I sort-of imposed a “no TV” rule, though I broke this over the weekend catching up on Game of Thrones and Shark Tank. The justification was my partner was going to watch these shows anyway, and I just happened to be there anyway. Cheating, maybe? But rather than focus on how I failed at the week of “no-tech” I focused on all the awesome things I learned.

The two major rules, were, of course, broken, but not due some addiction to Facebook or calling up friends: work intervened, as (un)expected, and in order to confirm which classes I was teaching this week, I needed to contact them directly. While I did make a stop at the school on Wednesday to address this planned consequence (and just to check-in), the information I sought was not there, so I had to e-mail, and call, on Thursday and Friday. Frustrating, but such is life. In addition I had to “fix” our server in order to facilitate some Game of Thrones watching (seriously, have you seen this show? Exceptions can be made…) and update a eBay buyer who I had made a commitment to prior to the tech-break. Commitments, even about eBay auctions, are very important to me, so I wasn’t going to let that dwindle for seven days.

For my friends, family, etc. I did my best to inform them of the break, and used a Tim Ferriss-style auto-response to assist with that. I had no idea what transpired throughout the week, trusting my e-mail would be dealt with by the following announcement:

Hi, and thanks for your e-mail. I’ll be unavailable by e-mail until Monday, April 30 at which time I will respond to all queries in a timely fashion.

If this is an urgent matter, please leave a message with my fiancee at 502-XXX-XXXX.

Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely,

Samuel Hartman

As it so happened, no messages made it across to my fiance, meaning that either 1) there was nothing urgent to discuss with me that couldn’t wait until April 30, or 2) no one wanted to take the time to make an extra phone call (which probably means it wasn’t that urgent). Now, I’m under no guise that my advice and assistance is so integral to the productivity and well-being of my cohorts and their tasks. I’m not the CEO of some company that needs to sign 10 different strategic plans every day, but I do have my responsibilities, and obligations, namely to places like the Veg Club and to my band. In addition, I have reasonable expectations about my friends when it comes to responding to e-mail, voice-mail, or text messages, like we all do. Consequently, being absent for a week might agitate a select few, no? But in all reality, and given the fact that my partner was still in touch with the world, things proceeded as usual, with little upset. I visited a friend at his house to confirm some plans (to which he responded “didn’t you get the text?”), confirmed many of my week’s plans on the Sunday before, and when something didn’t go according to plan, I let it go. This is both uncharacteristic and difficult for me to do, but I forced myself to let go and let things unfold as they may, not rush for the nearest communication device to try and fix the problem. This was a healthy and much-needed change.

I also modified my voice-mail to alert callers that I would not be responding to messages until today, and while I haven’t heard the ensuing messages (this post needed to come first!), I doubt there is much frustration. The fears and worries of, “but what will happen if my friends can’t call me?!” fade quickly as you realize that life goes on even if you aren’t in the front seat, tweeting your way through it. This need not be depressing (“well then why even try!”), but liberating: we can take a break. We can put our phones down at bed time, and not even check them again until 10am the next morning! Ferriss advocates, in his quest to one e-mail check per week, to whittle down the times to noon and 4:00pm, as no one responds to e-mail first thing in the morning anyway. Even using an auto-response – such as “I’ll be checking my e-mail at…” to alert those trying to reach you that, hey, I’m a busy dude, but I want to get back to you and will do so at this time – can help make the transition easier for your friends and co-workers. Trust is a beautiful thing here, and we should trust the people we associate with to do the right thing even in our absence. This applies more so to job situations than friendships, but the thing to remember is that we can take a break. We need not be connected 24/7, or hyperconnected as CIO guest columnist Irving Wladawsky-Berger puts it. In the article, he writes, quoting MIT professor Sherry Turkle:

She believes that our smartphones offer us three gratifying fantasies: that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; that we will always be heard; and that we will never have to be alone. “And that third idea, that we will never have to be alone, is central to changing our psyches. Because the moment that people are alone, even for a few seconds, they become anxious, they panic, they fidget, they reach for a device.”

So, will we be able to adjust to this hyperconnected phase of the Internet, just like we seem to have adjusted to the initial connected phase by finding a reasonable balance between the physical and digital worlds? We now have to find a reasonable balance between paying quality attention to the people around us and being able to respond to the little devices constantly vying for our attention.

That’s exactly why I took a break. To put the attention back on myself, my friends, my partner, and the quest to find knowledge in some “old fashioned” ways…like reading! A few books that helped me “get through” the week are the following, and I highly recommend you check them out:

  1. The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris. An absolutely incredible read about defining morality through science. Harris doesn’t have all the answers, but he makes a powerful philosophical case for why, in a world where there are clearly lives that are better and worse than others, we can use science to determine the proper course. There’s an illustrious critique of religion, and a lot of discussion on free will and brain states, as well.
  2. The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. I was turned on to Achor through a TED Talk where he outlines his premise that happiness inspires productivity, work, and success, not the other way around. His book is about the burgeoning field of positive psychology, and while it contains data from animal testing (boo) and success stories of greedy capitalists (banks, insurance companies, etc.), Achor is an inspiring writer and motivator. Just reading the book made me happy!
  3. Evasion “by” CrimethInc. It’s hard to describe this book, but many of the stories of it are enthralling. The author sprinkles his train-hopping, dumpster-diving life with various politics and occasional vegan straight-edge anecdotes which add variety to the book. While it doesn’t flow as well as some of the other CrimethInc works, it represents a very powerful ideology in the anarchist world; that of contributing nothing to capitalist society, and taking whatever one wants.

All in all, I was very excited, but a little anxious, about returning to technology this week. While I look forward to getting caught up on some news, the latest Groupons, and  countless e-mails (some of which are quite positive, I bet!), at the same time, the freedom to do “whatever” without an obligation of technological interference, is desirable. My goal now is to find some sort of balance, perhaps less cell phone usage at night, a ban on Sunday, or simply a reality check: when free time comes and the decision is to be made, go the opposite way of Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk. After all, they are nothing but digital interpretations of our lives. Shouldn’t we strive to live our real lives first?

There were quite a bit of revelations and smaller aspects of the tech break I left out, as this post is quite long already! If you’re curious about a specific aspect of it, please leave a question in the comments. For another look at the problems of hyperconnectivity and smartphones, see this article: “Do iPhones Make Us Narcissists?

Photo: Hugh MacLeod

Occupy Louisville In Full Swing, Huge March In Solidarity

#occupylouisville

I had the privilege, pleasure, and extreme joy of being part of a 200-person march up and down Bardstown Road today, all part of the the October 15 Global Day of Action, in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Louisville, those brave souls who have been camping out at Jefferson Square Park for almost two weeks now, continue to organize and get Louisville motivated to take action, to fight corporate greed, to take back “our street” and demand accountability. Protests are happening all over the world and I was so proud to be a part of one today.

Below are a few pictures and videos of the grandiose event, which drew young and old, black and white, and everyone in between. We all united, screamed our lungs out, and showed Louisville, indeed, there are people who care. I am proud to be one of those people and stand behind the millions of others who back Occupy Wall Street and all the Occupations around the world.

This is the time for action. It’s time for you to get involved. Find an occupation near you (Occupy Together), get online and share the hell out of #ows posts or news coverage of the occupations. Don’t be embarrassed to tell your friends why this matters to you – we are the 99%, and that’s a hell of a lot more people than the tiny 1% who control forty percent of the wealth in this country.