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The Core Principles of Green Product Design

An Urgent Appeal to Silicon Valley

The time has long since passed that Silicon Valley was a global center of technological innovation. It has become a center of entrenched institutional power instead. Nowhere is this more evident than in the failure to excel in the field of cutting edge green product design. The inability of Silicon Valley to create sustainable online services and the wide array of green products needed to access them is due to a lack imagination, not insufficient investment or enthusiasm. It comes down to an inherent limitation in the dominant binary logic of zeroes and ones that drives the core processes powering the high tech economy. Creating green solutions that will extend the warranty of the planet beyond our lifetimes requires a base 3, ternary approach to product and service design that thus far has woefully been lacking. Without a quantum leap of the mind from digits to trits, Silicon Valley and the communities and industries that rely upon it are doomed to go the way of so many lumbering dinosaurs and deserted desert empires before them. 

At its most basic, the problem is rooted in an inability to ground green product design in fundamental principles derived from nature, rather than highly rationalized processes invented by humans to benefit ourselves. Until the leading lights of Silicon Valley confess to the highly extractive and often vampiric nature of their current product offerings – and take decisive actions to correct them – we all will suffer in the end. There are only so many rare earth minerals to go around, and only so much landfill space available to house the glut of fossil fuel derived components needed to build the smart devices and touchscreens that power today’s Internet. In addition, ever increasing demands on overstretched and outdated electrical power grids from cloud computing services are ticking time bombs that have and will continue to explode across the face of the Bay Area’s highly integrated networks of communication, public safety, and commerce. 

The wildfires and rolling blackouts of 2020 were harbingers of what is to come. Wind farms and solar panels alone will not fix this mess, nor will fleets of semi-autonomous electric vehicles that continue to rely on manufacturing chains that take more out the planet’s resource base than they put back in. Corrugated cardboard is still created by cutting down trees, and no amount of recycling of discarded Amazon shipping boxes will change this reality. And the tragedy of it all is that the companies who powered Silicon Valley to such prominence had promised us all so much more. 

What, then is to be done? I believe that true solutions lie to found in nature, if only we can train ourselves where and how to look. There are at least four core principles of green product design. Each one of them begins and ends in cyclical patterns of grow and decay that can be replenished and sustained over time but that allow humanity to benefit during the interim. Beginning from these natural principles, the companies of Silicon Valley who currently command so much financial power and intellectual bandwidth can create the innovative processes from which a new generation of green products and Earth-friendly services might emerge. And if this were to happen, we all would benefit in the end from their efforts.

By way of analogy, we might look to the work of scholars in the historical profession and related fields in the social sciences and humanities – precisely to those disciples in today’s academic environment that currently are under the greatest threat from the rising tides of the STEM industrial complex – for clues to where such principles might be found. Historical narratives, for example, are not built by assemblies of facts alone; they start out as inchoate fragments and shards of human endeavor that are collected, cataloged, and archived before something as coherent as a “fact” can come to life. The situation is similar in the world of high tech. Only by studying nature at its most pristine and primal can we assemble the step-by-step processes out of which more sustainable, greener products will be manufactured.

Broadly speaking, the natural world is characterized by four interconnected fields of potentially infinite energetic self-expression: recyclability, reassemblability, repurposability, and retainability. These, in turn, may be observed in practical operation in the carbon-based life form ecology that surrounds us: wood, stone, glass, and metal. In each case, active human intervention is required to unlock the inherent forces that each contain. Wood can be a source of heat, light, and shelter. Stones can be used to build and buttress. Glass can be a transparent, chemically neutral source for pragmatic storage as well as aesthetic showcase. Metal can maintain is use value and flexible strength over impressively-broad scales of time. 

If the core natural principles of wood, stone, glass, and metal were to be more fully integrated into the current fossil-fuel centric configuration of computing power that drives the world economy, then the possibilities for a more resilient high tech marketplace might yet be born. By thinking deeply, intensively, and creatively about how high tech tools and gadgets can be recycled, reassembled, repurposed, and made to retain their value, the titans of today’s Silicon Valley can redeem themselves for past mistakes committed during their initial rise to power in the past century. The good news is that there is still time. Nature waits for us to discover her inner truths with an implacability and imperturbability that can only elicit admiration, adoration, and affection. If we are not willing to learn the lessons that the Earth patiently waits to teach, we do not deserve to call this planet home. Then the Valley’s elite would all be better off gathering into their exclusive enclaves and inner circles and rocketing themselves to the moon.     

Why You Should Listen to Mark Knopfler’s Privateering This Weekend.

Mark Knopfler’s Privateering as a 2-disc CD collection is available on Amazon.

Leave it to musician and songwriter Mark Knopfler to prove that bigger sometimes IS better.

Mark Knopfler’s Privateering is available as a 2-disc CD collection on Amazon.

There is a lot of music on this album: 20 tracks spread out over 2 CDs. And not just quantity, but quality matters here, as Mark outdoes himself by exploring multiple musical genres and thematics, proving himself not only a master guitar player, but also a masterful, if somewhat enigmatic, storyteller. “Redbud Tree” opens things off marvelously, but things only get better and more immersive from there. You can press play and settle back into your chair for the next hour or more; Mark and his talented team of fellow musicians will not let you down.

Even if you are already a committed fan of Mark’s music, particularly his solo efforts since the disbanding of Dire Straits in the 1990s, my advice is that you play all 20 tracks multiple times before forming an opinion. Listen to the music, then focus on the words, and then try to meld the melodies to the mood of the lyrics. It’s like mixing oil and vinegar to make the perfect salad dressing. Each is potent on its own, but together they create new textures, tastes, and tempting possibilities.

The profound influence of traditional Delta Blues is evident all over the album, but especially in the songs on Disc 2. There is also a lot of humor hidden beneath patches of darkness and light. Many of the songs on the album have a vivacity that lends them an up-tempo sensibility. Disc 1 has more meditative topics and a beautiful, unlikely love song about the rainy romantic possibilities of living in Seattle. Even in the Age of Amazon.

Several songs are reflections on lost lives – drowned, shipwrecked, or sunk in battle. “Haul Away” and “Dream of the Drowned Submariner” are among the best. These tracks practically demand a glass of rum or single malt in your glass as you listen to them, so plan accordingly. Please don’t play this album during your daily commute! Save something this fine for the weekend instead. You will thank me later.

Sustainable Earth Solutions #1: SIGG Swiss-Made Reusable Metal H2O Bottles

SIGG 0.6L Smoked Pearl Lightweight Reusable Water Bottle available on Amazon.

I have been using SIGG Swiss-made metal reusable water bottles for years. I started when I moved to Northern California in 2008 and added several more in various sizes when I relocated to Western Montana in 2011 for a four-year teaching position in Missoula. I have lost a few over the years and dented others while hiking, mountaineering, or cross-country skiing. Through it all, I have always been so grateful not to have to store my drinking water in plastic, which is of course derived from fossil fuels and cannot easily be recycled. All those Nalgene and other plastic water bottles I see other hikers using on the trails made me shake my head in disbelief. There is a better and easier way!

SIGG metal bottles cost less than $30 on Amazon. There is a beautiful copper model that I will be adding to my collection soon. Well, I requested it ads a gift. And it is definitely the sort of gift that keeps on giving – for years.





The 1.0L size I find too large for simple day hikes. I much prefer to use two or three 0.6L sized ones in my backpack, which allow me to stay hydrated throughout my journey.

Metal is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet, especially the high quality aluminum used by SIGG, which has its headquarters in Switzerland and still makes its products there. That matters to me, as well, since I know that the employees who manufacture the bottles receive top quality social welfare benefits and fair wages. Unlike other parts of the world and product chains where these things definitely cannot be assumed.

There is a lot of stuff out there to buy that makes the planet a dirtier, less pristine place. Reusable metal water bottles that stand the test of time do not. They help encourage us to get out and explore of natural settings, to stay hydrated when we do, and to do our part to keep plastic waste to a minimum. You could do worse than giving a SIGG metal bottle as a gift the next time you’re looking to something nice for a friend, family member, or acquaintance.

Franklin Point Overlook, one of my favorite places to visit on the San Mateo coast, California.

Vince Guaraldi – A Bay Area Jazz Master

The Definitive Vince Guaraldi 2-disc compact disc collection is available on Amazon.

Jazz music from a Bay Area master that is suitable for all ages and times of the day.

If there is a more iconic album cover in all of American West Coast jazz history, I have yet to come across it. A nattily dressed man in dark suit, thick rimmed eyeglasses, and an enormous handlebar mustache casually rests one foot on a children’s piano while a beautifully coiffed blond boy in a black and red striped tee shirt, shorts, and potato shaped brown leather shoes looks curiously at the white keys from a short distance away. The boy, of course, is Schroeder from Charles Schulz’s beloved “Peanuts” comics, and the mustachioed man in the dark glasses and suit is – who else? – San Francisco’s own jazz piano master, Mr. Vince Guaraldi. 

Inside, there are not one but two wonderful long playing CDs filled with Vince’s classic compositions and jazz interpretations recorded between 1955 and 1966, all beautifully mastered by Joe Tarantino in Berkeley and released in 2009 by Fantasy Records as a “definitive” anthology. A revealing, well written essay on Vince’s life and musical legacy is provided by jazz journalist, Doug Ramsey, and the liner notes include essential details on the original recordings and the many talented musicians who accompanied Vince over the years, like guitarists Eddie Duran and Bola Sete, bass players Dean O’Reilly and Fred Marshall, and drummers Colin Bailey, John Markham, and Jerry Granelli.

The Definitive Vince Guaraldi gets played more often, all year long, on my home stereo than any album in my jazz, rock, folk, or classical music collections. Maybe it’s because I acquired most of Vince’s music shortly after moving to the Bay Area, or because I feel a special connection to his familiar haunts in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco and in Menlo Park, where he passed away following a heart attack in 1976, while taking a breather between gigs at a local club – a music man to the very end. Maybe because the 2-disc collection works so perfectly well with mealtimes in the afternoon and evening, with California cuisine and local wines. Disc 1 contains some of Vince’s best original works, like “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and “A Star Song.” Disc 2 has all the Peanuts classics, plus great Latin and Brazilian inspired tunes, and several previously unreleased recordings, such as “Blues for Peanuts” and superb version of “Autumn Leaves.” You cannot go wrong with any of the tracks on either CD. Press play, pour some wine, light a few candles, clink glasses, and prepare to enjoy one of American music’s greatest gifts to humanity.

If you are a true fan of what you hear on this anthology, I highly recommend adding additional albums to your collection, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Flower is a Lonesome Thing, The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi, Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus (which has very cool versions of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind’ and the Beatles’ “Elanor Rigby”), Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, and North Beach (my favorite of his individual albums). 

If you love jazz – even if you are just a casual listener – The Definitive Vince Guaraldi will make you a believer in the power of music to heal, to make happy, and to help dull the pain of daily life. Peanuts songs may be the gateway drug to Vince’s musical treasures for younger listeners, but beyond those wonderful, well-loved tunes, there lies a veritable ocean of possibilities to explore, one poignant song and near-to-perfect piano performance at a time.

All the Roadrunning, by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris

To call this immortal album a series of duets would be like calling the Bible just another book.

All the Roadrunning, by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, is available in multiple formats on Amazon.

There are duets. Famous ones, even. And then there is All the Roadrunning. It’s immortality on a shiny compact disc, showcasing two of the best singers, guitar players, and performers in the past 50 years. Together. Playing and singing and swinging in time to songs that defy easy categorization. To call these songs duets would be like calling the Bible just another book. Maybe a good book. But not THE Good Book.

That’s what All the Roadrunning is: THE Good Book for lovers of true blue, honest-to-goodness music. You know! M-U-S-I-C. The kind you knew as a child watching Sesame Street. Or the Muppet Show. Or Laurence Welk, for all I care. Grand Ole Opry. The actual opera houses of Florence, Paris, or Vienna. Music. The kind that resounds in memory, that makes you tap your toes, and the kind that fills your hearts and makes you dream at night of a better, kinder, gentler world.

Will this album get played at weddings? “This is Us” certainly deserves it. Will it make anyone’s top 100 list of the best albums of the 21st century? Who the heck cares! I don’t. Mark doesn’t. And as for Emmylou – that woman is ALL woman, and she bleeds music, and she won’t stand for any amazon.com reviewer nonsense. She’s been there. Done that. 

Mark and Emmylou: you are welcome at our Santa Cruz Mountains cottage anytime. Maybe you’re on tour in the Bay Area. We’ll treat you to a hazy IPA at the Fieldwork biergarten in San Mateo’s Bay Meadow. Or gin and tonic and whiskey cocktails at Venus Spirits Distillery in Santa Cruz. We’ll sip local wine at Ridge Monte Bello while looking out over Facebook, Google, and Apple headquarters and dig into homemade rye bread and smoked salmon and cured ham and sausages and goodness knows what else. Because when you make music this good, you deserve credit where credit is due. 5 stars does not do this music justice. Wine, food, and Pacific sunsets do. Mark and Emmylou, you must trust that what I am telling you is true! 

Being Green Transcript: Introduction to the Podcast

Approaching the Franklin Point overlook along the San Mateo Coast, California.

Introduction to the Being Green podcast

Hello. Welcome to the Being Green podcast. I’m Brett Winters, the host. I am a former academic history professor turned writer and eco-entrepreneur living and working in the Santa Cruz Mountains, just outside of Silicon Valley.

In 2020, I founded a small consultancy, sempervirens117.com, whose mission is to assist Silicon Valley companies in designing greener products and promoting sustainable Earth agendas on their online platforms.

As part of my work, I lead team training sessions into natural open spaces in the mountains and along the Pacific coast, which are followed by group discussions at local restaurants or wineries as well as subsequent online feedback.

The goals of each training session are threefold. 

The first goal is to strengthen divergent thinking skills – the type used to brainstorm new ideas effectively and come up with creative solutions to intractable problems.

The second goal is to expose participants to alternative forms of collective, group-based leadership where there is no fixed hierarchy but instead a common sense of mission to which all members of the group contribute their own unique abilities and insights.

The third goal is to encourage participants to experiment with their own styles of work-life harmony that include additional quality time spent in nature. Improved health and fitness are only the start of what can become a lifelong passion for nature to share with friends and family – or to rekindle a lost connection due to the challenges of education, relocation, and work. 

While my training sessions are limited for the time being to the San Francisco Bay Area, my podcast is not. And the ideas that inspire me to think creatively about solutions to our current climate crisis and other environmental problems are all on display in these episodes. 

The first episode, An Appeal to Silicon Valley, is written as a polemic of sorts and differs in content and tone from the episodes to come. I composed it at an earlier stage in the process, and rather than modify it by softening some of the rough edges, I decided to present it in as raw a form as possible. 

I am not a professional podcaster by any means, nor do I have a natural radio voice or the sort of YouTube onscreen charisma that wins thousands upon thousands of followers. I am one human being on a mission to make this planet a better place and to do my part to extend its warranty so that future generations can experience the same joys in exploring this world as we did. 

If you enjoy listening and share my sentiments, please subscribe and share this podcast with others.

Thank you for your time.

Namaste,

Brett

Tracy Chapman’s Let in Rain – 20 Years (and Many Tears) Later

A hard album to love; an impossible album to forget.

Originally published as a review on Amazon. This album is available for purchase on Amazon as well in multiple formats.

This is indeed a hard album to love. It took me a full 10 listenings before I was able to embrace it with unabashed affection. At first, it seemed too slow, too sad, too unbearable. Why, Tracy? Why? Why is it so hard for you to fall – and stay – in love? Many of us have been in love for years, if not decades. Why not someone as special as you? 

It was while driving alongside the Crystal Springs Reservoir in northern California, on cruise control at 50mph, that these songs hit me. They are not sad. They shine. They resound into heaven. They make me smile. They make me weep. I wish I could comfort you, Tracy, but these songs, they are almost two decades old. Can you possibly still be hurting from then now, in 2019? 

Why get this album? Because we are all one. Because Tracy is a Son of God, just as we are all. Because forgiveness is our function in this world of illusions. Because only love is real, because only love is true. Ambition? Not real. Envy? A fantasy. Vengeance? A fool’s errand. Tracy, she suffers. But in truth, she does not. She is perfect as God created her. When I listen to this album, with my ears tuned to the song of the Holy Spirit, and not NPR or Donald Trump, all I hear is beauty. Profound beauty. Enduring peace. Endless joy. 

Tracy, my friend, I love you and all you do. Sing for us as long as you wish, and we will listen to your words. God bless us, each and every one. Is there any way to rate such a thing on Amazon? Does Jeff Bezos even care? I have literally no idea. But in my heart of hearts, I have to hope that Jeff “gets it.” That Jeff, too, loves to listen to Tracy Chapman albums as much as I do. That Jeff, for all his billions of dollars in wealth, also has loved and lost and hurt, and that Tracy speaks to him. Of loss. Of lust. Of the need to be loved. Of the way we all hurt and harm and heal and hope for a better life in heaven. Jeff: listen to this album! It will make you a better man, and better husband, a better father. I have no doubts whatsoever that these words are true. 

Mark Knopfler’s Sailing to Philadelphia Two Decades Later.

Rediscover the “lost art” of making an album by revisiting this Mark Knopfler classic from 2000.

Sailing to Philadelphia by Mark Knopfler is available on Amazon.

One of things that live streaming and downloadable songs by demand has tended to obscure is just how beautiful a well crafted album of original music once could be. It’s not just the cover art, the vinyl records, the shiny, rainbow-hued CDs, the liner notes, the acknowledgements, or the properly credited names of the guest vocalists and backup musicians – although it is also all those things. It’s how all the pieces precisely fit, how one song follows another; how the pace, tone, and rhythms ebb and flow and rise and fall and crescendo into showers of sparks, only to fade away back to deafening darkness. It is very much like a sonic-and-lights fireworks display, as you experienced such spectacles as a child, not a jaded adult fading into old age and decaying memory.

And that’s just when the album is released, at the time. What’s equally amazing is how you can take the album off the shelf – years if not decades later – to replay the songs to discover how much your listening world and sensibilities have changed. 

Sailing to Philadelphia was released in 2000, when Mark Knopfler was approaching the age of 51 (he was born in August 1949, a Leo). Now, he’s almost 70 and has several additional albums out there, including Down the Road Wherever (2018). At times like this, I enjoy replaying older albums to see how much has changed. Who changed more, I wonder: Mark or me?

The songwriting talents of Mark are as strong as ever, but what makes Sailing to Philadelphia so memorable, in retrospect, is the array of guest vocalists who joined him on the album, and in the way that the songs capture something about the year 2000 – the start of a new millennium, after all – that makes all of his songs historical, and not just the ones he intended. 

The most famous duet here is arguable with James Taylor on “Sailing to Philadelphia,” a creative imagining of the story of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, British surveyors who mapped the southern border of Pennsylvania that became in time a diving line between free and slave states. While this is a great song, when I first listened to this album it was “The Last Laugh,” which featured Van Morrison as guest vocalist, that caught my attention.

Now, in 2021, I have come to love “Silvertown Blues,” and the vocals of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, in a song about a gentrifying docklands district of London that has by now been completely transformed by 20 years of urban redevelopment. So, the song is a time capsule, and it sounds like a Western country song, but set in a frontier-like section of London. How quintessential Knopfler is that!

The other thing I really appreciate now, that I probably missed in 2000, is the pedal and lap steel playing of Paul Franklin on multiple tracks, including “Wanderlust” and “The Sands of Nevada,” both of which I appreciate more now than I did earlier. 

All the songs here are historic, now. In 2000, some were explicitly set in the past, but others were meant to be contemporary. Listen now to “Do America,” “Speedway at Nazareth,” and “Junkie Doll,” and you are hearing ghosts of the past. Nazareth Speedway, in Pennsylvania, has now closed, its race track shuttered and empty. And who takes a “777” to L.A. anymore? And the drugs taken by mark’s “junkie doll” are probably hard to find anymore, what with all the prescription opiates and Chinese-made fentanyl available for purchase on the Internet. 

I loved most of these songs when I first listened, but now my ears have changed. They ring a bit more now at night when they did back then, but the quality of my listening has changed as I approach my own experience with middle age. Mark’s songs on Sailing to Philadelphia aren’t necessarily about getting older, or wiser, or more skeptical of the world’s glittering array of pleasures, but they do reveal a shifting mental landscape of a male musician who had seen decades of life already, with decades more to go. Hard to rate that on Amazon, so this WordPress review will have to suffice.

Mark Knopfler, Down the Road Wherever – an Appreciation.

Mark Knopfler, Down the Road Wherever is available on Amazon.

Moody melodies, quirky turns of phrase, superb supporting cast, & virtuoso guitar tones aplenty.

Over the course of a musical career spanning more than five full decades, Mark Knopfler has learned to do three things extremely well. He has become a master storyteller, due in no small part to his early years as a newspaper reporter, English major, and lifelong lover of history. He became a virtuoso guitar player by mixing and matching a dizzying array of musical styles and techniques until his own distinctive and utterly unique sound emerged – explosively at first and then, gradually, in a process of sonic evolution that lasted through middle age and beyond. And third, he found ways to work with some of the world’s best musical talents on tour and in studio to craft soulful, bluesy, toe-tapping, and emotionally moving melodies that at their best become almost incantatory, trancelike, and quietly hypnotic. Some of his most popular songs strike quick and fast like lighting, but the majority of the hundreds in his voluminous songbook seep into your skin more slowly, after multiple listenings, in front of open fires, while driving lonely 2-lane highways in Nevada, or while sipping a glass of whiskey with a passel of really fine mates. If you put it all together, you have the makings of a musical legend who lives on through his music, even as he prepares to turn 70 later this year.

Down the Road Wherever may well be Mark’s last solo album, and likely his final world concert tour. The songs have a syncretic cadence to them, with bursts and fits of frenzy but mainly a long, slow, and satisfying burn. He doesn’t need to revisit the guitar heights of Brothers in Arms or the story-telling genius of Sailing to Philadelphia anymore. Been there, done that. What stands out in this unassumingly awesome album is the “Mark & Friends” melodic majesty, fitting for a man who has been inducted into the Order of the British Empire and granted membership in the elite London’s gentlemen’s organization, the Garrick Club. It sounds so amazingly good, you will want to pop open a bottle of Santa Rita Hills Pinot and offer a toast to the musical talents who put it all together with what seems virtually no effort at all. It is smooth, lingering, and meditative. “Tunnel of Love” or “Roller Girl” these songs most definitely are not. No harm meant to those phenomenal songs, but the ones here are deeper, denser, and ultimately even better. Play them a few times, and you may just agree.

If you enjoyed songs like “Basil,” Beryl,” “Mighty Man,” and “Lights of Taormina” from Mark’s earlier album, Tracker, or loved the slightly mysterious lyrics to “5:15am,” “Back to Tupelo,” or “Don’t Crash the Ambulance,” from the immensely entertaining album, Shangri-La, or if songs like “Seattle,” “Haul Away,” “Kingdom of Gold,” or “Redbud Tree” from the 2-disc compilation, Privateering, get stuck in your head, you should find the Gesamtkunstwerk of Down the Road Wherever to your liking. There isn’t a single smash song here, just a slow build up of audio accomplishment. If there is a showpiece track, it probably is #9 (“One Song at a Time”), which has the sort of autobiographical coloration, critical sense of history (references to the English slave trade and public hangings), and musical flashes of brilliance (guitar, fiddle, low whistle and wooden flute) that are Knopfler’s current trademarks

“Slow Learner” is the sneakily great song on the album, if you give its understated vocals and haunting instrumentals time to sink in  – especially the trumpet bit, which for some reason is uncredited on the liner notes – could it a guest appearance by Chris Botti, I wonder? Likely not, as it sounds like the same musician who ends track#5 (“When You Leave”) with another pitch-perfect trumpet bit, but there isn’t credit given for this in the liner notes, either. Tom Walsh, who plays trumpet on several other tracks, isn’t listed on track #11, but this could be a typo where the track numbers are mixed up. Track #12 clearly has back up vocals and a trombone part, not track #13, as indicated. Track #13 (“Matchstick Man”), with its spare acoustic guitar and wavering male vocal solo that raises unanswered questions about hitchhiker’s place in the universe amidst the dawn of a cold, snow-covered Christmas morning, is the perfect ending track, closing one chapter yet somehow leaving space for another to begin. 

In between all these tremendous signature tracks, there are lots of catchy guitar riffs and some flashes of humor, loads of introspection, top-notch backup vocals, excellent keyboards, percussion, woodwinds, and brass, and Mark’s trademark deftness of touch with both words and notes. Turning 70 doesn’t mean you check your childhood or early adulthood at the door. OBEs can still reminisce about being down on their luck drifters, and making lots of money doing something you love isn’t anything to fret about, either.

Just ask Bruce Springsteen, whose own newest album, “Western Stars,” would make a nice companion piece to “Down the Road Wherever.” Bruce, by the way, was also born in 1949, like Mark, about 6 weeks later. Mark is a Leo, while Bruce is a Libra. Leos are strong forces to be reckoned with, emotional people who seem to capture the attention of others. Libras, for all of their many gifts, have a hard time remaining humble and uncomplaining and tend to be overly concerned with appearances and image. Trust me, I am no astrologist, but in the case of these two magnificent male musicians and icons of late twentieth century rock, these descriptions do somehow kind of fit, don’t they?

Golden Songs from a Golden Heart: Reflections of Mark Knopfler’s First Solo Album

It took me ten years to realize how fantastic Mark’s debut solo album, Golden Heart, truly is.

That’s right: it took me ten years to realize that “Golden Heart” is an amazing solo debut album by Dire Straits’ frontman, Mark Knopfler, whose father left Hungary to escape the Nazis and whose wife, Kitty Aldridge, must be one hell of lady. He’s clearly found true love in her, and it shows. Hearts abound in this album, but so too do Cajun and Arcadian rhythms and musical styles. Plus, a song about a soldier in Napoleon’s grande armee, and one about a rabid German mega-fan named Rüdiger – with umlaut! How cool is that?

Well, most of this totally flew by me for years – and I have a Ph.D. in modern European history. It’s just that Mark is, well, a very intelligent, soulful, deep thinker who also happens to play guitar like a Rock ‘n Roll demigod. I mean, this was his debut solo album after Dire Straits stardom, so you just know he poured his heart and soul into this album. Now, years later, I get that. Perhaps turning 45 helped? Mark – a Leo – was born in 1949, so he was 47 when this album was released, so yes: maybe being older helps appreciate his awesomeness.

It’s not east to love this album. You need to know who Imelda Marcos was, and lots of other details that require brains as well as heart. It’s called “Golden Heart,” that’s true, but without brains as well, this album makes almost no sense.

Plus, Mark lets other musicians shine, not just himself. People who play Cajun, or Irish, or various traditions that normal rock and roll artists don’t pay much attention to. This album was a sign, I now realize, that Mark as a solo artist was going to reinvent the entire rock music genre. He was going to become a musicman of global importance without pretense. He and his darling Kitty were going to go on and make love and music for decades to come, and we as listeners get to savor the beauty. Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Kitty. If either of you happen to be reading this Amazon review, please know that you are always welcome to visit with my wife and me in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We will make you a meal of local king salmon, garden tomatoes, heirloom polenta, and local white wine and finish with local single malt whisk(e)y and something sweet and delicious while the fireplace crackles with oak firewood and the rains from the Pacific tumble down on the cottage roof hidden amidst the redwoods. We can play your music, or maybe something else by Tracy Chapman or Mandolin Orange. Or Martha Scanlan – because we are as much Montanans and we are Golden State Bear Republicans. Interested? Check out my Yelp profile and message me, Mark. Or Kitty. Either way, we are sure to have a great time, I guarantee. 

Gender Non-Binary Civil Rights: An Online Movement for the 21st Century

Base-3 Gender Thinking in Action

I just posted the inaugural issue of The Chronicles of Nonia on Revue, Twitter’s new long format news and opinion web site. It is a newsletter that showcases the talents and identities of gender non-binary writers, artists, outdoor enthusiasts, environmental activists, and business entrepreneurs. As America’s newest and least known minority group, gender non-binaries are underrepresented in the mainstream media and online. I want to help change this. I hope to use the newsletter to get a better sense of how many self-identified gender non-binaries there are in the country, and beyond. Greater online recognition and acceptance will, in turn, allow us to feel freer to discuss our lifestyle choices and what this might mean for the future.

I encourage you to subscribe to the newsletter if you are interested in promoting this cause – regardless of your own gender role – because it is, I predict, going to be one of the defining civil rights movements of the 21st century, in addition to all the many, unresolved ones from the century before. The cost is $1 a month and will help to fund interviews, expenses, and travel costs (if this proves to be a future possibility).

Until then, I will keep advocating for the cause of gender non-binaries of all colors, creeds, and countries of origin, regardless of the support I receive from the world of men and women who surround people like me and who force us to make impossible either/or choices in life when they simply for us are not an existential option.

In March’s Issue 2, I hope to profile a leading gender non-binary performer or artist of some sort – although their identity is not known to me at this time. The search for a suitable person continues.

I also plan to debut a Non-Binary Bill of Rights sometime later this spring, in order better to articulate a shared political, cultural, and economic vision. For this to happen, gender non-binaries must make their voices heard online and in print wherever and whenever possible. We must form groups online and place our real names on Google Sheets and digital directories so that our true numbers are known. We should contribute opinion editorial pieces (op-eds) in major news media like the Washington Post and the New York Times, which are both good places to start. Twitter’s new long-format newsletter site, Revue, will hopefully be another. We should follow each other on social media and tell our friends and admirers to do the same.

The Chronicles of Nonia is not the first effort in this movement, nor will it be the last. It is one step on a journey of a thousand million digital footprints. I am working hard to make mine felt and searching the Internet for traces left by others.

Soon, there will be more.

Thank you for your time. Namaste. Trust.

~Brett