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GSBN:Re: A photo and questions

I think the photo was completely appropriate for The Last Straw.  It is
fun, funny, and provides a needed balance to the overly-serious approach of
most building journals.  This balance is what makes the natural building
community the special place that it is.

It's true that an issue of The Last Straw may sometimes be used for
purposes and situations beyond the confines of our community, such as
educating building officials.  It's hypothetically possible that some
future building official might take strawbale building less seriously,
because of a humorous photo in TLS, or some other extraneous reason.  But
we can't change the world by worrying about the possible reactions of a few
hypothetical people who are welded to the status quo.  I'd rather think
about the positive effect the photo might have on people who are looking
for alternatives on many levels.  And many of those people are building

The Last Straw is not the Bible.  Nor is the building code a religious text
(we hope).  This TLS issue expresses the life and vitality of the movement,
which includes joy and laughter.  Martin, you express the concern that if
"even one reader" considers strawbale less credible because of the photo,
it would be a bad thing.  I say let's focus on the balance, not just the
negative side of the ledger.  I am sure that we can find one person who
will object to anything we might do, or not do.  Ignore them.  As Rene
recently pointed out, this TLS issue is making a great contribution to
people across the world.  The levity of that photo is a valuable part of
the whole message.  The Last Straw would be poorer, if it didn't include
the humor and spirit of its readers, writers and editors.

That's how it seems to me.  And I'm proud of my inverted values.


Derek Roff
Language Learning Center
Ortega Hall 129, MSC03-2100
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001
505/277-7368, fax 505/277-3885
Internet: derek@...

--On September 7, 2006 4:43:33 PM -0700 Martin Hammer
mfhammer@... wrote:

Hello everyone -

I turn to the GSBN community with a personal straw bale matter that
extends to larger questions about straw bale building, its place in the
world, and the way it is perceived.

This has to do with the photo I used in the guest editor's notes of the
June issue of The Last Straw Journal.

Most of you subscribe to The Last Straw and many of you have at least
glanced at the June issue, which I was honored to guest edit, and which
was primarily about straw bale codes and permitting.  I worked hard
researching, writing, and coordinating with others for the issue.

For those who haven't seen or noticed it, the (amusing?) photo shows me
doing a headstand on a circular straw bale on the plains of North Dakota.
I chose it along with an amusing yet topical caption, partly to add some
humor to an inherently dry subject matter.

After going through two public hearings in July for the proposed "Straw
Bale Code" here in California (with their inherent gravity, and with
particular scrutiny from the California Building Officials Association) I
questioned the wisdom of including such a photo in the issue.  Suddenly
all I could imagine was a building official being handed the "Codes
issue" of TLS, seeing that photo, and thinking - "Aha!  This confirms
what I suspected. That straw bale building is wacky and not to be taken

I no longer saw the photo exhibiting playful exuberance as I intended, but
instead exhibiting wacky recklessness.  It suddenly expressed going out
on a precarious limb, and I imagined readers seeing it as an unflattering
metaphor for straw bale building itself.  Or, "So, this is the guy who is
writing the straw bale code for the State of California.  Hmmm."

The levity in the photo belies the diligence and seriousness with which I
approached the fact finding and writing of the pieces in TLS, as well as
my writing of the proposed California Straw Bale Code.  It belies some
serious points I made in the guest editor's notes themselves.

So I've struggled with this, and I'm too close to it to tell whether this
matters in any way.  I don't want to place undue importance on it, but I
certainly believe words mean something (I took pains to find the right
words throughout the issue) and if the adage is true that a picture is
worth a thousand words . . .

I see The Last Straw as the life blood of the straw bale building
movement. If the use of that photo lessens the credibility of TLS or of
straw bale building in the eyes of even one reader (building official or
otherwise), then I apologize for its use.  I care deeply about straw bale
building and all that it represents.  Also, for me this opens up broader
questions about how the written and spoken word, the publications, the
actions, and most importantly the buildings that all of us in the straw
bale building community put forth affect the perception that people have
of this way of building and all that goes with it.

Not that straw bale building should be devoid of humor (Matts Myhrman
wouldn't allow that), any more than life should be devoid of humor.  Or
devoid of exploration, joy, inspiration, comfort, beauty, or any of the
other qualities that make straw bale buildings worth building.  But it
seems that those lighter qualities are necessarily coupled with sober

Each of us and each of our buildings are ambassadors of straw bale and
natural building, and we each bring something different to the table.  I
hope in this case I haven't brought something to the table that was
misplaced.  I'm interested in anyone's thoughts about this specific and
broader subject.  Thanks.

Martin Hammer

Derek Roff
Language Learning Center
Ortega Hall 129, MSC03-2100
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001
505/277-7368, fax 505/277-3885
Internet: derek@...