Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Junk Mail Experiment

During my annual inbox purge, I came across a forward that I received last fall, but never bothered to read. The only reason I didn't delete it is because the subject matter-- clever ways to reduce spam, junk mail, and unsolicited phone calls-- actually piqued my interest. So I skimmed its contents and was particularly amused by the proposed solution to curb unwanted junk mail.

Now, I'm already on just about every opt-out list that I know of, but I still get my fair share of crap in the mailbox each week. The author of the forward suggested sending the utility company's ads back to them with their payment stubs, but I pay my bills online, so that's not a problem. Then the author shared some suggestions from Andy Rooney, the shouty old curmudgeon with woolly eyebrows who rants about some mild annoyance or other at the end of every 60 Minutes episode. I normally mute the guy, but this time he was in print, and he actually seemed to have a point.

Apparently, Rooney saves the return envelopes from the junk mailings he receives, then stuffs them with generic letters, advertisements, and application forms and drops them back in the mail. This forces companies to dispose of their own junk mail, and it also makes them pay-- twice!-- for sending it out in the first place. Even if there's nothing in the envelope, it still costs about 50 cents to return it to the sender. It sounds like he's careful to shred anything with his name or information on it, yet Rooney crows that the amount of junk mail he receives has decreased dramatically in the years since he's been single-handedly keeping the postal service in business, and that if we all would just do as he does, we could eliminate it entirely.

So I decided to try it for a week. I returned a blank application form to a credit card company, I sent AARP (they shouldn't be sending me stuff yet, anyway!) information on how to save 15% or more on car insurance, and I enclosed pledge forms supporting spay and neuter campaigns to an airline (on which I've never flown) that still wants me to join their frequent flier program. Granted, it was kind of fun, but my conscience kept me from making the experiment as effective as it could have been.

I decided from the outset not to return mailings to charities (many of them don't send out postage paid envelopes, anyway!), which automatically disqualified the majority of the junk mail I receive. But of the mailings I was willing to return, it was kind of fun to give these companies a chance to experience firsthand the frustration of receiving junk in the mail. Ultimately, though, I decided that my time would be better spent doing just about anything else. I guess I'm not cantankerous enough to single-handedly eliminate junk mail, but at least I tried!

Monday, February 14, 2011

In Lieu of Roses...

... give your Valentine some fair-trade chocolate! Or plan an activity together; depending on how much you're willing to invest in this Hallmark holiday, you could go ice skating, make reservations at a nice restaurant, see a museum, volunteer, or even cook together. Whatever. Just no roses. Especially cheap roses. I'm serious-- do or give anything but roses!

Not only are roses cliche, they're also ruining the already fragile ecosystems of some of the developing countries from which our supermarket bouquets are exported. In Kenya, for example, the cultivation of Valentine's Day roses is draining (and polluting) Lake Naivasha, a precious and crucial source of water for the region. And in Colombia, the roses they export have been sprayed liberally with highly toxic pesticides and dipped in a myriad of chemicals by the time they hit store shelves. In addition to ruining their soil, surface water and groundwater, the workers who are repeatedly exposed to these chemicals (many of whom are single mothers) are at higher risk for health problems. Many children whose mothers came into contact with these pesticides and preservatives during their pregnancies showed signs--both physical and mental-- of developmental disabilities or delays.

So next year, consider starting a new tradition. Guys, I speak from experience when I say that, while flowers are nice, I'm much more impressed by a gift or a gesture that was well thought out and came from the heart. It doesn't have to cost a lot; in fact, I usually prefer that it doesn't! It just has to show that you care.

However, if you (and/or your Valentine) is/are dead-set on giving/receiving a colorful bouquet, consider buying organic. offers a variety of Earth-friendly options, including some rose alternatives that are grown a little closer to home. Potted plants are also nice (I like orchids!); they generally don't wither in a week and, when watered, can be enjoyed year round. So get creative, guys-- you can thank me later!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I Spy... With My Little Eye...

... the contents of the blue recycling carts being tossed into the same truck as the garbage! For shame, Streets and San guys! Yes, I am aware that there was a blizzard last week. Yes, I know that many of you had to work overtime to salt and plow all the streets in this city. And I'll even admit that, since the city doesn't plow the alleys, it's a crap shoot as to whether the garbage trucks can even get down the alley ways at all.

But this is Chicago. The city that works. So man up, boys; if you can collect garbage, you can collect recyclables. Our recycling rate in this city is shameful enough as it is; let's not use a couple feet of snow as an excuse to make things even worse.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Say Ye Now, Groundhog?

Here in Chicago, outlandish weather forecasts are not at all uncommon among the local news stations. In fact, a rush-hour flurry or a sudden downpour is usually all it takes for meteorologists to cut in to the evening's top stories with "breaking news" of the (usually obvious) precipitation affecting portions of the viewing area, and to dispatch rookie reporters to the lake front and expressway overpasses to confirm that-- "live, from outside"-- the white stuff that's hitting my window is, in fact, snow.

So when forecasters began making their catastrophic storm predictions last week, I tuned in to Chicago's Very Own, WGN, to see what my buddy Tom Skilling had to say. He is by far the most level-headed, non-alarmist meteorologist in the tri-state area, so as soon as I heard him calmly describe the impending blizzard as a "storm of historic proportions", I took notice. And as it turns out, he was right on the money.

In this (delightfully snarky for NPR) article posted yesterday, an Atlanta meteorologist said (in response to the "monstrous monikers" that have been attached to the megastorms of recent winters):"Just in passing, I've overheard conversations about the intensity and danger of impending storms. People refer to the storm systems by their TV names, which lets me know that being creative gets people's attention."

But since terms such as "Snowmageddon" and "Snowpocalypse" are so East Coast 2010, I'd like to present to you a medley of the Chicago versions, coined specifically for the Blizzard of 2011. Here goes!

Snowly cow! Snowtorious B.I.G. himself has descended upon the Windy City. We've learned that Mother Nature's first name is, in fact, Snowprah, and that no one was excluded from her first "Favorite Things" episode of February. In a shrieking voice, loud enough to be heard over the howling winds, she has declared that, "you get a blizzard... and "you get a blizzard... everyone gets a BLIZZZZARRRRD!" Only this time, it's not just a room full of hysterical middle-aged women in brightly colored tops who are squealing "SNOW-M-G!"; school children everywhere are overcome with joy to learn that, what started as a snowrnado last night has closed even the Chicago Public schools today. And since this blizzaster has all but crippled transportation in the city, tomorrow's not looking good, either.

It warms my heart (but not my hands) to know that residents are banding together in the wake of this snowtastrophy; in this magical time-- after the snowfall has ended but before the lawn chairs appear (to claim "dibs" on their owners' dug-out parking spaces)-- neighbors are helping neighbors clear drifts from their front doors, shovel narrow pathways for brave commuters and dog walkers, and they're also responding to all-too-literal questions of, "Dude! Where's my car?!?"

On my quiet little side street (that probably won't see a snow plow or a back hoe until sometime this weekend), the only modes of transportation I saw in the two hours I was out unearthing my car were el trains, skis, and snowshoes. Plenty of people ventured out of their homes to marvel at the mess, though, snapping pictures like tourists while trying not to lose their dogs or kids in the waist-high drifts.

I know that 48 hours from now, we'll likely be back to business as usual, cursing the city's never-fast-enough response to snow removal, screaming "oh SNOW you didn't!" at drivers who cut us off or park in a way that is considered stupid-- even for blizzard standards-- but for today, I'm going to do my best to enjoy Blizzardpalooza 2011.

And as for the groundhog... I saw Punxsutawney Phil on the news, smugly predicting an early spring for those out east. Closer to home, our resident rodent in Woodstock, Illinois, wouldn't even come out. Groundhog's day was cancelled. What's that supposed to mean? My guess is that it doesn't bode well for any of us Chicagoans... well, except for maybe the meteorologists.