The most essential component to any gift is the giving, so with this in mind, I’ve researched a number of trust-worthy charities in a number of categories. (Feel free to check up on them or find your own at Charitynavigator.org, “your guide to intelligent giving”.) Many so-called charities come with nasty strings attached. They scoop the largest amount of the take for overhead and/or push religion on people, denying help based on faith, race, sexual orientation, gender, or even, as the Salvation Army has recently been caught doing, base nationalism.
These following organizations are, to the best of my knowledge, free of such traps. They encourage, educate, and work towards a more sustainable future.
Amensty International: Free prisoners of conscience, abolish the death penalty, stop violence against women and ensure the human rights of all people. Kapow!
Oxfam International: A confederation of 14 like-minded organizations working together to bring about lasting change, Oxfam offers direct action with their catalog of Unwrapped Gifts, presents like water jugs, school books, education, and goats, to benefit those living in poverty.
Kiva: The world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend to unique entrepreneurs around the globe. Working with the knowledge that your dollar goes significantly farther elsewhere in the world, browse the entrepreneurs’ profiles and choose someone to lend to. If you make your money back, lend it again! Only drawback: You, the lender, are not paid any interest, but the lendees do pay interest. This goes to the “local partners.”
Seva: Seva Canada’s mission is to restore sight and prevent blindness in the developing world, helping communities develop their own capacity to deliver affordable eye care services. Seva provides funding and expertise to partners in 7 countries and regions: Nepal, Tibet, India, Tanzania and eastern Africa, Guatemala, Cambodia and Egypt. Seva is creating sight programs that are locally managed, high volume, low cost, directed to those most in need, accessible to women and girls, and sustainable.
International Foundation for Education & Self-Help: Through self-help programs, IFESH specializes in education systems, health, community development and conflict mitigation. The work of IFESH supports the efforts of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals, particularly the eradication of poverty and hunger, achieving universal education, combating HIV/AIDS, promoting gender equality and maternal health.
Plan International: Sponsor a child! Tony’s got one named Ruth. We put her letters on the fridge. Founded over 70 years ago, Plan is one of the oldest and largest children’s development organisations in the world. We work in 48 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.
The Nature Conservancy: The leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people, they offer gifts like Adopt-An-Acre programs, which include coral reefs as well as the usual rainforests, tree planting, carbon offsets, and donations to particular wildlife and habitats. They also have a shop where 10% of all purchases go to supporting the Conservancy, but I’d go for the acres of land, myself.
World Wildlife Federation: Adopt an animal! Save the world and get something cute! With every symbolic adoption of one of the seventeen species, you receive a small kit that includes a plush version of the animal, a personalized adoption certificate, and a report detailing the work that your symbolic adoption will support. To spice up the usual OH NOES SAVE THEMS species, pandas, tigers, polar bears, they’re also offering zomg-cute! animals like meercats and black footed ferrets, and, for those better hearted humans who do not care if the animal they save is adorable, cod.
Electronic Frontier Foundation: An international non-profit advocacy and legal organization dedicated to the right to freedom of speech in the context of the digital age, they are principled, effective civil liberties watchdogs and I love them very much. Among their many, many attributes, they defend individuals and new technologies from baseless or misdirected legal threats, provide guidance to the government and courts, organize political action, and monitor and challenge potential legislation that would infringe on personal liberties and fair use. Become a member, directly donate, buy stock or nifty swag. They’re pretty darned clever with how they spend their money, so every penny counts.
Wikipedia: Jimmy Wales is a bit sleazy, but Wikipedia’s bigger than him these days, and if you’re even a little web savvy, you probably use it almost every day. They’re trying to give free access to the sum of all human knowledge. As projects go, that’s pretty spectacular, especially as a non-profit, as it’s only donations which keep Wikipedia alive.
Wikileaks: Similar, but not. Wikileaks is an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. It combines the protection and anonymity of cutting-edge cryptographic technologies with the transparency and simplicity of a wiki interface, and provides an incredible service for human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public.
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies: Founded by the developer of the polio vaccine, the Salk Institute is doing the basic lab research necessary to find cures for a whole host of human diseases. The major areas of study are: Molecular Biology and Genetics; Neurosciences; and Plant Biology. Knowledge acquired in Salk laboratories provides new understanding and potential new therapies and treatments for a range of diseases — from cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease, to cardiovascular disorders, anomalies of the brain and birth defects. Studies in plant biology at the Salk may one day help improve the quality and quantity of the world’s food supply.
Doctors Without Borders: An international medical humanitarian organization working to assist people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, DWB provides aid in nearly 60 countries. In 1999, they received the Nobel Peace Prize. The organization is committed to bringing quality medical care to people caught in crisis regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation.
By almost any argument, living in an apartment is good for the environment. By compacting our living space, we’re using less resources, reducing our footprint, and discouraging car culture. Sure. Okay. But where’s the garden? No matter how nice our pad, public parks and apartment complex courtyards don’t measure up to having a back yard, which is where this next bit of gift guide list comes in, presenting indoor garden alternatives to augment our kitchen potted plants and tiny windowsill flower boxes.
Air Plants: Like fresh air but don’t have the knack of keeping plants alive? These weird, bizarrely wonderful plants grow on anything, in any direction, even upside down, and require little to no watering. I first encountered them at Paxton Gate, where dignified arrangements of them were hanging flat on the walls on square planks of wood. Distinctly odd, that, and terrific. Etsy is an excellent place to find a whole spectrum of terrariums with air plants inside. Steampunk vases exist, as do sleekly modern vases, vases in the shape of cute teapots, faux jellyfish, and miniature arrangements.
Wooly Pockets: First spotted over on Apartment Therapy in June, these vertical garden eco-planters have been spreading to design sites everywhere. Created by the same couple responsible for the SmogShoppe, the greenest event space in California, they’re lightweight, made from recycled bottles, suitable for indoor as well as outdoor use, and positively elegant, as both an object and a solution. The only drawback is that they’re a little pricey. Pockets start at $39 and go up from there.
Which brings me to..
DIY Windowfarms: Vertical, hydroponic, modular, low-energy, high-yield edible window gardens built using low-impact or recycled local materials that generally cost about $30 to start. They’re not as chic as the Woolly Pockets, but for a similar thing, they have a higher yield for far, far cheaper. Instructions on how to make your own are available on their site as free PDFs and starter kits will be available for purchase soon. (If you live in NYC and are feeling especially short on time, you can commission a team of windowfarm experts to come make you one.)
It’s begun. December. The time of year when people I haven’t spoken to in six months start asking me about “good” presents, the sort of memorable, interesting, quirky gifts that perpetually win. This year, partially in self defence, partially because there’s really no good reason why not, (and I’m certainly not going to write Canada Council Grant Applications for all of you), I’m going to attempt to write a gift guide.
To start, here’s some pretty fabulous reading material.
Oryx & Crake and After The Flood: a duo of nested dystopian science future novels from Margaret Atwood detailing the collapse of an utterly believable civilization only a few steps farther down the road. They’re fascinating, beautiful books, not only for the intense, incredible story telling and characters, but for how terrifyingly accurate her future seems, as the science and politics of her future world are not so much invented as they are extrapolated from current breakthroughs in technology and recent social and economic developments. When I first finished Oryx & Crake, I turned immediately to the first page and read it again. Upon finishing After the Flood, my response was the same.
Boneshaker: Steampunk! Seattle! Zombies! The ever exciting, ever fantabulous Cherie has fallen in love with every larger-than-life pulp archtype possible, and a few more besides, and hells bells, ladies and gentleman, it makes for a heck of a ride when she packs them all in. (HINT: She’s currently writing an “urban fantasy adventure about a neurotic vampire/thief and her wealthy blind client, now with Bonus! Cuban drag queen and military intrigue”). I haven’t even read this one yet and I’m excited. The reaction to its release has been bloody overwhelming, and all of it positive. For extra fun, Amazon’s offering it cheaper when paired with Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, another grumptious run through the world of sepia-tinted rivet sci-fi/fantasy.
(One of her publishers, Subterannean Press, is having a 50% off pre-orders sale right now, too.)
Scenting the Dark and Other Stories: Primarily a puppeteer, of all delightful things, Mary‘s also on Subterranean Press, and also an incredible, wonderful woman I wholly endorse. This most recent book especially, as not only is she a very dear writer, I love short stories, a format woefully underappreciated outside of Strange Horizons or 365Tomorrows. Her puppeteering story Body Language is now up at OSC’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, as the cover story. (IGMS charges $2.50 for access to the full issue).
COILHOUSE magazine: Inform. Inspire. Infect. Mer, Nadya, and Zoetica got together to make a magazine and madly, madly succeeded. Here’s their schtick, “COILHOUSE is a love letter to alternative culture, written in an era when alternative culture no longer exists. On paper and on the web, a collection of articles, interviews, rants, musings, and imagery showcasing the planet’s bravest explorers of Ye Old Future.” Each issue is a piece of art wrapped in design then hammered onto paper. As a bonus, they’ve also got some pretty sleek t-shirts.
Chiggers: One for the kids, Hope‘s latest graphic novel is a very sweet story about “nerdy teenaged girls” who meet at summer camp. The local indie bookstore has it on the shelf up next to Twilight with a little sign that says, “this author won an Eisner Award, please give this to your daughter instead.” (Really, I even took a picture.) Salamander Dream, her first book, is available on-line.
(As a footnote, Charity Larrison, someone I will love forever, also has kid-recommended work available on-line. Start with Busted Wonder, a work of joy if there ever was one.)
Y: The Last Man: A graphic novel set for the adults, this time, by Brian K. Vaughan and David‘s darling friend, Pia Guerra. A mysterious plague has killed every man on earth except Yorick Brown, who was somehow spared. Pia’s a solid, very talented artist, and I sorely wish she’d had the chance to contribute to the writing near the end of Y as much she did at the beginning, but even so, they’re well worth your time.
The fast fiction challenge by Lee Barnet: One of the best things about following Budgie on-line are his completely delightful, razor wire witty short short replies to a challenge he posted to his journal ages and yonks ago, “requested: “reply with a title (no longer than four words) about which you’d like me to write a fast fiction of exactly 200 words, along with a word you want me to include in the tale.” This little chapbook is 180 of his so-far favourites. Given how clever the man can be, if they’re his favourites, you know they’re going to be killer.
Hacking The Earth: “Environmental futurist Jamais Cascio explores the implications of geoengineering in this collection of thought-provoking essays. Is our civilization ready to take on the task of re-engineering the planet?” For $12.99, can learning how to save the planet get any easier?
The Age of the Warrior: Selected Writings: Robert Fisk is a war correspondant for London’s Independent. The bleak depths of winter might not be the perfect time for this, but if you’ve ever been curious to learn what is actually going down in the Middle East, here’s a grand a place to start. It’s understandably a bit liberally biased, as the man’s been living surrounded by atrocity and violence for thirty years, but it’s very well possible his writing and perspective on his topics are unmatched.
Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony: A magnificent small collection of essays by the scientist Lewis Thomas. I haven’t the foggiest how I acquired my copy. I suspect it was a gift in a batch of books, but I truly do not know, which is sad, as I would very much like someone to thank. Late Night Thoughts is a very pretty book, so elegant and thought provoking it near breaks my heart that the author is dead.
Superfreakonomics: The Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner. They are excellent. I say so. The internet says so. I’ve just realized the time, so that’s all I’m going to say. Find them, read them, laugh, worry, enjoy. The life of the day-job requires I must now get to bed. edit: apparently they’re playing silly buggers all through the second book, so nevermind that one, stick with the first.
Pipe up in the comments if you’d like a plug to something, (I’m looking at you, David), or even if you simply appreciate what I’m trying to do. The more positive response, the more I’ll put the effort in, and hot damn, have I got a lot of cool stuff I want to show you sitting open in tabs right now.