Friday, October 30, 2009

New York By Peer Review - Ciao Phyllis Arnold, you are Gotham

Ciao Phyllis Arnold, you are Gotham.

Phyllis Arnold began with the wonderful Walter Jennings. She invited us to her Upper East Side apartment for wine and cheese, proclaimed that she “was Gotham” and triple-checked none of us were allergic to cats (we would then have to go someplace else).

None of us ladies had ever met anyone called ‘Phyllis’ before, and in the lead-up to our visit, she was the subject of much speculation, like:

- “Phyllis is 80, has 20 cats and lots of newspapers”

- “Fast-talking ‘proper woman’, bookish, dusty academic”

- “Phyllis is kinda like a Jewish version of Samantha”

- “Phyllis has four kids and is an evangelical Christian”

- “This will be awkward”.

We were so far way off.

Phyllis Arnold is not only Gotham, but deserves her own genre. We hung out with Phyllis for a few hours at her apartment, this is some of the best of Phyllis:

- “You do work with [insert PR company], ow dear uuunnnh…well that’s owkay hunny, we can still tawk”

- “My fawther was a musician and so you never approwch and awtist after a show…but I would break that rule for Russel Crow”

- “I can count on my hands how many times I’ve been to Brooklyn – 9 times. If I have to go over a bridge or through a tunnel – well…that’s travelling”

- “My friend said ‘Phyllis, Brooklyn’s not a third-world country’ – I’m not sow shaw”

- “Ow look, Bear [the cat] is showing us how to do it”

- “Do not text me…it’ll take 2 days to reply, send me an email…”

- “Bear (cat), get owffa the table” as Phyllis chases Bear across the room with a spray bottle full of water.

AMAZING. Though she looked not a day over 50, 66 year-old Phyllis was the only person we met that had grown up in Manhattan, she has been married once and ‘did her time in Connecticut’. She’s not much of a cook, but put on a great spread of meatballs (gleaned from a friend’s freezer, a toothpick in each), orange cheese, a great dip and plenty of other treats.

We asked Phyllis where to get a Martini, so she calls about five people, she (rightly) assumed they know is calling and immediately launches into a “I need a place, four lovely friends from Australia, they wanna good martini”…”Nawh, don’t text…email the address…ok..ciao”, the other person left talking on the phone, Phyllis ended the call. The lady don’t mess around!

We were treated to two bottles of incredible Zinfandel courtesy of her lovely sky-diving (he took an 80-year old up recently) friend and his upstate winery, the wine was topped-off with tequilas and Baileys on ice (oh yeah!). She told us all about what it was to grow-up and be a true New Yawkan – good and bad as well as her stories of travel, love and some brilliant life lessons “it awl gets better after 25! Trust me…”.

As our wonderful time with Phyllis came to an end, she asked if we could do her a favour as she ran into the bathroom ‘”Oh this stuff is a-mazing stuff, I’ve never used anything better, and so cheap you have to send me some from Awstralia – that would be just great..oh…we don’t have it here”, Phyllis emerged from the bathroom moments later with none other than a pink can of Cedel hairspray in her hand….

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New York By Peer Review - The Oxfam Connection

In New York City there’s Manhattan and there’s Brooklyn. Across the bridge things are much less shiny, but oh so interesting. Rachel lives in Brooklyn. An Oxfam peer recommended by two wonderful women there was never any doubt that Rach would be anything less than a rockstar.

Despite the ankle-deep rain, a foiled cab ride and a minor Subway incident I made my way over to hang out with Rachel, her friend Elyssa and housemate Chris.

Over a few beers, some ridiculously good Little Italian pastry and blue corn chips we talked about the organising Rachel had done, most recently on the Obama campaign, with Mayor Bloomberg (apparently being the Mayor of NY is comparably difficult to being the President) and how that type of experience compares to the grassroots climate movement in Australia.

Undoubtedly those involved with the Obama organising did a great job – but talking to Rachel it became apparent that the stratosphere status and ridiculous fees campaign ‘consultants’ attract may not be worth it. The Obama campaign was heavily resourced, worth millions upon millionsof dollars, controlled and hierarchical – can it really be replicated in a different, social political, media and economic context?

The Obama campaigner price tag question aside, it's good to know that in the US (well the Peoples Republic of NYC) there is an exuberant and progressive energy, beautifully skilled and creative organising going-on. The universal challenge is to ensure that the momentum can be built and good people don’t become frustrated and burnt-out.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

NY By Peer-Review: Peter Singer

So when I asked people 'who do you know that is interesting in NY?' I guess I kind of expected...well, I'm not so sure really. I certainly didn't expect Peter Singer. But if anyone was going to introduce me to a celebrity academic, one-time Greens Senate Candidate and all-round brave thinker, it was going to be Dan Cass.

So thanks Dan.

After a few emails, moments of intellectual self-doubt (would my ethics be judged by a professional?) induced by a New Yorker friend Matt (whose nurse Mum was blown-away by Peter's piece in the New York Times about health care), I met Peter and his wife Renata next to a Surviva Ball at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge and tagged along with them on the day of action.

Renata and Peter have lived in New York city for the last 20 years. Peter is an academic at Princeton and Renata works at a local NGO - their accents only slightly impinged by the NY twang, they still very much had the laconic, relaxed 'Aus-Melbourne' going on.

Obviously I had heard of Peter Singer, and may have even read his books courtesy of my Mum's libary and political science degree, but I don't remember them and am not particularly on top of his politics. So I did what anyone else would do and googled him.

If you've not read his books or papers (of which there are many), Peter goes where its not comfortable. From infanticide, to animal rights to euthanasia - it's brave logic. What I didn't know was that he writes on environmental policy, and that to him meat consumption huge climate issue.

I haven't really considered this in much depth as to me it feels like a self-evident lifestyle issue, when I'm more concerned about big structural concerns (coal). Most 'movement' people I know don't eat a great deal of meat and personally, I'll eat what ever is in front of me and am a big fan of Kangaroo.

I raise this, to which Peter said "someone did some research and said that if beef were to be replaced by Kangaroo in Australia, the entire current existence of the Roo population would need to increase fivefold to supply the equivalent amount of meat". Sensical.

I also lamented the 'knowing to much' and bliss of ignorance. To which he said something to the effect of "well in the States most people are ignorant and they are causing the problem - is it fair that the rest of us take responsibility for this?" (or something like that). I guess it reminded me of the whole 'if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem' adage.

So, say I am part of the solution. Does walking over the Brooklyn Bridge in the rain, with people around you chanting slogans to cars really make a difference? You could argue media coverage and awareness make it worthwhile but for the most densely populated city in the world, 400 people showing-up to care about our common future of an estimated 22 million is pretty lame.

Nonetheless. It was an interesting experience because it made me think and also afforded the opportunity to be somewhat voyeristic about the movement - a bit of an outsider for a day.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Green Drinks NY Folks - NY by Peer Review.

So the first of the NY by Peer-Review stops was in a cute little office tucked-away in Nolita - it was the wonderful Liane's idea.

Margaret began Green Drinks NY 8 years ago, works on it full-time and now has something like 10,000 people on her e-list - it's big! Not only that, but there is a manual, a media kit, sponsors, a regular newsletter, (people pay to come) and best of all - the Yes Men are known on occassions to rock-up in Surviva Suits.

Yep. Jealous? Yep.

In Sydney, our Green Drinks (GreenUps) is still really fresh and like many great things happening in sustainability requires lot's of 'love time'. It's been really interesting to see how other people are turning their passions into their livelihoods. It's a bloody hard balance to strike.

I also found out that not so long ago Dan and some other folks from the Melbourne Green Drinks caught-up with Margaret, which is amazing and just goes to show the strength of the network and energy it has not only at home but all over the place.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New York By Peer Review - what is it?

Despite the fact that I blatantly am, I'm not at all comfortable being a tourist.

I'm also pretty lazy when it comes to finding things to do in new places.

I'm also a firm believer that a city is its people - not it's galleries, shops and buildings.

So as I am currently in New York, I am trialling a new way of traveling -it's called New York by Peer Review. Basically, this is how it works:

1. You ask about 10-20 people that know you pretty well from home (they can be work mates, family, friends whatev - diversity is good) the question ' if there's one person you think I should meet in New York, who would it be?'.

2. You then ask them to introduce you to this person via email.

3. If this person is open to the idea, you make a time for a cup of tea or coffee at this person's favourite cafe or spot.

Within minutes, you may realise that you have absolutely nothing in common with this person and because its a quick chat over coffee - you can leave. Or, you might hit it off extraordinarily and hang-out all day.

Though I've been here three days already, NY by Peer Review begins on Wednesday.