Friday, November 14, 2008

Barack Obama Portrayed as George Washington

How To Change Things

by Owen Lipstein October 24, 2008

If there has been a more fetchingly, blissfully beautiful spate of autumn weather here in the Hudson Valley, I don’t remember when. I confess to being a closet optimist (an occupational hazard for entrepreneurs), but lately I can’t quite shake the thought that Britain also enjoyed a shockingly gorgeous summer in 1940. According to historian John Lukacs, the not-so-salutary effect of it lulled some Brits into half-believing their endless summer might last, that perhaps war could be held at a distance indefinitely.

In fact, in their world, bombs started dropping manically from the September skies as the Germans began the Blitzkrieg on Britain with 57 straight nights of air raids on London. Here, recent economic developments, still a little remote to some, have begun raining down on us against a backdrop of jarringly discordant, perfect weather.

This “Next” issue of InsideOut chronicles some possible outcomes for the future, both for the nation and in the Hudson Valley. We would suggest that the collective voices within resonate with something approaching hope.

If you want to think about the future, the body of knowledge about twin research provides the ultimate controlled experiment. If you believe you are the sole author of your own destiny, then can you explain how identical twins separated at birth both became firemen in California, and clutch their Budweiser in a plainly unique manner? I think you’ll find our interview with noted twin expert Dr. Nancy Segal at once disquieting and reassuring.

Local boy James Howard Kunstler’s body of work, from predicting the end of conventional suburbs to the current peak-oil scenario, makes other forecasters look silly. In his novel World Made by Hand, he imagines a future Hudson Valley where there are no power grids, no oil, no central government, and where cities languish in squalor. It’s both a trip forward in imagined time, and a nostalgic—though not sentimental—nod to the necessary skills we as a culture and a society once possessed.

We interview Giancarlo Esposito, fresh from an appearance at the Woodstock Film Festival, where he showed his new film, “Gospel Hill,” which is about…everything. It’s hard to see a movie more of its time than this one.

We also spoke to nine kids. In some ways, they demonstrated a clearer grasp of what lies ahead than many of their elders.

One more thing: No, I don’t think we’re going to be embarrassed for the next 60 years—as the Chicago Daily Tribune was after running the headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN the day after that election­—with a triumphant McCain waving a hot-off-the-press copy of InsideOut in ebullient ridicule. But if Obama doesn’t win, our chagrin will hardly be this magazine's—or nation’s—biggest problem.

We were inspired by the first, iconic cover of the late George magazine, a prescient publication founded by the late John F. Kennedy, Jr. about “demystifying the political process.”

Imagine George Washington changing everything, traversing the Hudson Valley, the best horsemen of his day, surprising the British where they slept—and altering the future of this country for the better. Now that man was a maverick.

We think Obama is made of the same cloth. With his courage and competence, intelligence and moral clarity, he just might redeem the hope and the promise of that first American Revolution. (And allow us all to better enjoy the next wave of heaven-sent weather.)


We dedicate this issue to the artists in the valley. Why? Because these are the people who do something. Something (perhaps) ineffable, something that—every day makes this valley better. So whether they light an empty studio with dance, anoint a blank canvas with oil, or take a note and make it sing, they do something. When they make clay come alive, weave blades of grass into a hat, transform a hunk of metal into something else, they make a difference. And when they set a stage on fire. Or wrestle with words that will not stay in place. They perform a service, and nourish us in a way that truly matters.

Some artists are recognized for what they do; some do it with just about no one paying attention. We celebrate 100 artists (101 when you include Karen Allen who is interviewed on our back page) artists here—as individuals, and as a group— imagining no rank, conjuring no score, no handicap for success. We think that’s as it should be.

(By the way, it was easy—Amanda shoot me—to find 100 working artists. Next year we’ll do another 100. This place absolutely incubates them.)

Consider the example of sculptor Harvey Fite who, in 1938, bought ten acres in the middle of the Saugerties woods. He started off thinking of the quarry as raw material, which is, of course, what it was.

Then apparently “Opus 40” (named by him with exasperated irony) began to emerge as a setting to display a variety of his works.

But as he cleared away the rubbish, the place ceased to become a mere pedestal for sculpture. It became a sculptured environment; it became a work in process, the art itself.

Then using some ancient principles of Mayan art, he erected the monolith. He removed his old stuff. He improvised.

He found his rhythm and worked for 37 years.

I am told that the stones he put down will pretty much stay in place (with no mortar) for a very long time. Maybe even 10,000 years.

Of course, a magazine like this is made of more perishable stuff. Maybe that’s why we feel okay channeling something as timeless as Manet’s “The Picnic” for
our cover, and doing our own improvisation.

We didn’t exactly turn it inside out, but we did bring it home.

Monday, November 10, 2008

by Owen Lipstein


You are appalled at the rampant, pervasive “consumerism.” Your government continues to wage an insane, debilitating war. Warning signs of environmental degradation are systematically ignored. As for the oil prices, they are out of sight. More than $10 a barrel… and rising. Even though the first Earth Day gets a lot of attention, soon enough business as usual returns with a vengance. All of this makes you feel… helpless.
You grow tired of feeling that way. You decide to take charge of your life. What do you do?
If you are Helen and Scott Nearing, you move up to a farm in rural Vermont and start figuring out how to live on the land and from the land. You write some books about self-sufficiency like ”Living the Good life.” You learn as you go.
If you are John Shuttleworth, you start a magazine “to give people back their lives.” It starts as a community handout, mere information sheets left under doors. It is called Mother Earth News.
If you are Stewart Brand, you create a catalog of tools, design aids, maps, and metalworking so that “civilization can learn to be more sustainable.” You call this production The Whole Earth Catalog.
These solo, entrepreneurial acts of social and ethical defiance become, after a while, not so solo. Someone gives this trend a name: the back to the land movement.
Today is April 17, 2008. Not 1970. And this magazine is not produced in Vermont, North Carolina, or California. But the unsettling realities of the world we now live in are far scarier than what brought those pioneers to their feet. The marketplace and Mother Earth herself will soon impose their own will on us without waiting for a vote or a treaty. The time is now. As we go to press, oil is at an all-time high of $116 a barrel.
Julian Darley is executive director of the Post Carbon Institute — a think, action and education tank that helps communities “relocalize” and adapt to an energy-constrained world. Even two years ago, the purpose of an organization with that name (as Julian admitted to me with a certain jocularity), might seem specious or remote. But not now. We are at the end of an era in which a certain level of consumption was possible because oil prices were so low.
As Julian explains in the first of a three-part series that kicks off our new column, Hudson Valley Homesteader, the world’s decreasing supply of oil will eventually change everything. From our supply chains to the food we eat, to where we live, work, or travel, and how far we will go to find a dose of so-called culture. Learning to live wisely, frugally, and practically is going to be a life-long process.
For the future of us all, how well we do this new work of saving ourselves will be worth… nothing less than everything. But it doesn’t mean it has to be depressing. Or boring.
This Play issue celebrates the idea that “living locally” in this extravagantly gorgeous valley can be a lot of fun. In fact, the evidence contained in this issue is — to us, at least — absolutely compelling.
For the record: The Hudson Valley, in addition to all its other bounty, is demonstrably a happening place. In fact, we recently had a sighting of Marilyn Monroe parachuting into our own city of Hudson, New York, in broad daylight.

If you’re having trouble getting InsideOut (our copies are disappearing days after distribution), you are not alone. But now you can subscribe. (Call our high-tech subscription office at 518.943.9200.) That way, the magazine will appear at your door days after we publish it. What could be better?

by Owen Lipstein


Our fifth anniversary issue is on hope. What gives me hope? See below. These folks don’t think that print is dead. They don’t think that it’s a bad time to relaunch a magazine. And they don’t think (that much) about how many hours they put in, or what the price of this much effort is.
Until I read Paul Johnson’s “Heroes,” Shakespeare had for me a monopoly on describing the power of small groups, the alchemy of comaraderie, with “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” But it turns out that our man from Stratford lifted that line and the sentiment almost directly from the real Henry V. For the young king had to have a little sit-down with his troops at Agincourt after being informed that his own 6,000 tired soldiers were no match for the 14,000 well-fed Frenchmen who were shadowing them. The king actually said: “I would not have a single man more than I do, for these I have here with me are God’s people.” Turns out they triumphed in the battle, and went on… to Calais.
If we’re talking about hope, I don’t have to look very far: this inspiring work, this unlikely bunch, the stories that we chronicle here, our incredible river valley.

by Owen Lipstein


I am very proud of this issue.
In fact, I am bowled over by our writers, humbled by the images, and completely taken with the design. But most of all, I’m smitten with our subject. Apparently, love brings out the best in us.
Here are some (passionate) highlights:
The Raw and the Cooked: Brigit Binns reaches deep within to recount, with muted eloquence, the painful relationship she shares with her mother — and how she heals herself with cooking.
Earth Diary: John Cronin tells the exhilarating tale of braving the Hudson in his first boat, and the fisherman who bought it for him. If you have ever been a teenage boy (I have), you never forget the first mechanical object or the first place you fell for.
In My Garden: If you love a gardener (and we’re all gardeners, right?) — Paula Forman tells us spiritually, emotionally, and concretely what to give them. It’s about the flowers. Stupid.
Seek: When our occasionally shy managing editor told me about her interview with Dr. Gina Ogden, author of the book “Women Who Love Sex,” I didn’t have to feign curiosity. There are, it turns out, women who have spontaneous orgasms.
American Health: I’ve admired Dan Goleman for decades; he’s a virtual advertisement for the many rewards of following your bliss. Among other things he told us in our interview: Love employs three different brain systems — caretaking, attachment, and romance.
Build: Jessie Koester, in an open letter to the former owner of her cedar cabin, reminds us that we are mere passengers on our land and in our houses — that we never own them; we just borrow and share them.
Arts & Culture: Philip Alvaré takes us on another wild ride, this time investigating with precision and humor the historic and local pairing of love with apples.
Local Love Stories: We admired their independence, their courage, their zaniness. We knew better than to try to say what love is, so we caught them in the act. In a moment.
Pattie Boyd: What do three of the best love songs in rock-and-roll (“Something,” “Layla,” and “Wonderful Tonight”) have in common? Not just their timelessness or the way they bring you to a very specific place every time you hear them. It’s that they were written for Pattie Boyd, the premiere muse of our time. And her photographs are remarkable — they are limited editions, and we are grateful to Pattie for letting us print them. Knowing some details behind the stories gives these songs dimensionality and earthiness. It makes you feel very young and very old. And it’s easy to understand the hold she had on these men.
Twenty-seven years ago, Annie Leibovitz took one of the most memorable love pictures of all time. It is a portrait that became an icon — a cover for Rolling Stone that slowly, and then all at once, became imprinted on the public mind. It showed John Lennon, in his last living image, with all his high-guts vulnerability. A rock star without clothes. It showed Yoko Ono as a woman who didn’t care about any of that stuff, who just cared about him. It was first an image totally of its time, and then an image totally for the ages. Now it’s a timeless one, a moment that is still very much alive. And that’s why we chose that image, that moment, to say what we want to say about love:
From the inside out, we modestly proclaim that in the Hudson Valley it is more important that you love genuinely — honestly — than what your sexual preference is. Or the color of your skin. Or who’s wearing the clothes.
Love is the thing. Compared to that, everything else is just a detail.
Have a good year.

Why? by Owen Lipstein


Why do people do what they do? What inspires them? What keeps them going? We put this question to a set of somewhat improbable, deeply interesting people (who live up and down this valley), making some inside bets on what the answers would be. It shouldn’t be a surprise to you, our readers, that we were pretty consistently wrong about these projected answers; such are the surprises we regularly receive from the denizens of this Hudson Valley.

We asked the same question of our columnists, and they didn’t disappoint either. Brigit Binns tells us why we might want to prepare for the (idea of a) $40 tomato. John Katz explains why dogs need a job. Paula Forman informs us why some people would be better off paying someone else to golf for them. Julian Darley expounds on why we should all plan on being locals. Carlo and Dominique De Vito remind us why choosing a good wine and visiting a local farm stand may turn into a one-stop event. Dakota Lane enlightens us about why we should pay attention the next time His Holiness the Karmapa shows up in town. Joan Morgan sheds light on why a top Manhattan magazine editor (herself) might pick her life up one day and move to Kingston. Erika Tsoukenalis describes why putting a whole array of grasses and plants on your roof might be an excellent idea. And Drew Coffey tells us why taking a sentimental journey back to Albany might make for a religious experience.

And then there’s this: Why ask why? Besides the highly entertaining, occasionally idiosyncratic information we got from the answers, it’s hard not to be moved on another level. Call it the salutary effect of hearing the question why answered honestly. Suddenly, perhaps, you look at everything in a new light. You want to eject the frivolous, delete the unnecessary, throw out what doesn’t work anymore. You become a strict sergeant of your own time. The rich possibilities of life, the big stuff your dull brain skipped over, now jump out at you. As wise people always tell us: It’s all in the asking.

So it should come as no surprise that the theme of this issue started out as Faith, morphed into Why? then wound up being about faith after all. So much for planning and predictability.

One more note: This will be Bethany Saltman’s final issue as managing editor. We are all going to miss her. The magazine owes her a big debt for helping us get it to the healthy and strong position we are in today. Thanks, Bethany.

by Owen Lipstein


Imagine there are no people.
Imagine that we’ve all disappeared. Without the messy footprints of an over-the-top nuclear exchange, or the kind of monster asteroid that rained on the dinosaurs’ parade.
Instead, imagine, if you can, just this: That in one single day our “cloud-capped towers, our gorgeous palaces, our solemn temples” are suddenly, and completely, bereft of people. That the we of the planet have virtually disappeared, leaving not a rack behind. Everything else in the world is … just as it was.
That, in short, is the darkly interesting premise of Alan Weisman’s New York Times bestseller, “The World Without Us.” Alan spent a morning speaking with us. We found this discussion about extinction somehow very energizing …
What happens in our valley if we’re not around to live in it? What happens to some of the people, places, and things we chronicle in this magazine?
For those of us who live in wood structures: Those buildings should not expect a long future life without their mortgage holders. Ephemeral would be the apt word for the formal barn described in our Home section by Erika Tsoukanlis. Weisman, we surmise, might say that without an owner to fix the inevitable roof leak, the barn would stay vertical for only 15 to 20 years. We love that place.
On the other hand, if you, like our brick-celebrating columnist Philip Alvare, are forward-looking enough to live in a brick building, your neighborhood birds and animals may be living there comfortably … for at least 150 years … before things start to get a little tipsy. Because inevitably, with no one there to repoint the corners, the mortar will start to wash away …
Brigit Binns, columnist of The Raw and the Cooked, discusses with a certain enthusiasm the prospect of eating very local venison. Good news here for future venison eaters (if only there were someone to eat it): Weisman shows convincingly that without human beings, animals tend to get larger (big animals eat small ones in a world without humans — with humans, there are a lot fewer lions and elephants). Assume the Hudson Valley without us would showcase an order-of-magnitude larger, beefier horned creatures.
John Cronin, in his Earth Diary, laments the gradual extinction of ancient sturgeon. Guess who will be sure to make a vigorous comeback if we’re not around?
Dr. Scharf, in this issue, warns us not to declaw our cats. It’s more painful for the cats than we might realize. For his part, Weisman is downright down on cats — they destroy more birds than we can fathom. But in a world without us, to his evident delight, the domestic cat would suddenly lose its biggest ally and chief shill. In a world without us, the housecat would have to fend for itself. It would not be fruitful … and it would tend … not to multiply. (Cockroaches also have a less-than-rosy future.)
But it is in the future of Paula Forman‘s garden, for one example, that we see most clearly what we have to look forward to. Weisman figures it would take just five centuries for her soil, now rife with “Ugly Bettys” (red salvia), to squire giant oaks, 200-foot walnuts, colossal chestnuts — stuff that would make her garden look, for all the world, like the primeval forest that Adam knew.
Call it a dubious distinction. But in a world without us, the Hudson Valley as we know it now (even with a rich imagination) wouldn’t look or be that different. And not just because we wouldn’t be underwater in two weeks as Manhattan would, or transformed into a gaseous holocaust, as the Houston-Austin corridor would.
It’s because the Hudson Valley was drafted, long ago, with the ultimate foresight — to make the mountains and rivers and streams the dominant architecture of the land — and Homo sapiens are still, after all, just another animal (though one with a troublesome history and an emerging worrisome future).
That is yet another reason we’re crazy about the Hudson Valley.