Monday, November 23, 2009

Blog Dot

This site is hibernating. It's not going anywhere, but I doubt I'll update it for a while.

The More Perfect Market blogging experiment continues, however.

At blog.moreperfectmarket.com.

I've been playing quietly over there for a little while now, and I'm approaching things a bit differently. I'm taking notes. Links, pics, vids, quotes, and quick commentary. Using the Tumblr blogging platform the way I think it was designed to be used.

The idea is to put less pressure on myself, rid my life of monsters like the dreaded Blog Archive Sidebar, which would stir my OCD neuroses into a frenzy whenever I'd notice I was on pace for less than 13 posts per month.

I need to keep things simple. I won't stop writing. I can't stop writing. But I probably should stop staying up way past my bedtime night after night because I can't quite explain why I'm not angry at Earl Butz.

So, in case you missed the link a few paragraphs ago, I present you A More Perfect Market, Version 2. If you've liked this blog, you might like that one too. I hope you'll at least have a look.

Thank you!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Too Much

Tough to admit. Took me a while. But my blogging pattern has changed. And I need to shelf this site for a while.

Lots of words on here. Lots of questions. Lots of thoughts.

Some I like a lot. Some I just simply needed to get out of my brain and into electronic storage. Some will probably never make sense to anyone but me.

I'm glad I collected them.

It'll be fun to check back in. Tomorrow, when I read something that reminds me of something I wrote. In five years, when I try to remember what it was I was reading when started wondering about something else. In 30 years, when my children get curious about what I was like when I was young. And in 60 years, when my grandchildren ask me what people were thinking about before humans got their collective shit together and started taking care of each other and their planet.

And I think that's the first time I've ever blogged about my children. It's important to note, of course, that they don't exist yet and probably won't for quite a few years.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Whoops

Accidentally posted a song here last night.

Didn't mean for it to cross post, so I took it down.

It lives on on Radical Transparency, however, if you want to listen.

And I do love rock operas.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Eggplants and Hazelnuts

Justin Finnegan and I never lived in the same Chinese city at the same time. Our paths did some crossing, however, both in this country and that. Always enjoyably.

As far as I know, he's still affectionately known, to his Chinese friends, as The Big Eggplant.

And, after a couple of years back in the States, he's taken his show on the road. To Bhutan. To plant hazelnut trees.

Entrepreneurially. Microfinancially. Adventurously.

Says Justin:

The world is in need of—and ready for—a lot more nontraditional careers.

Yes it is. Lots of problems. Lots of paths that haven't led to real solutions. Lots of feelings of helplessness. Lots of giving up. Lots of lowered standards. Lots of half-assed comfort. Lots of conservatism. Not enough crazy decisions to move to Bhutan to set up sustainable nut economies.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What The People Want

Hacked transportation.

Recycling.

Tata Motors with Chinese characteristics.

The Future...



Pretty sure I'll always feel a special love for the Chinese street entrepreneurs with the sootiest, greasiest hands.

Note: That video came into my life through the TIME Video feed, something to which I subscribed after finding out that Ze Frank is doing his (how do you work this) thing (?) at TIME Video, and I couldn't figure out how to subscribe only to Ze. The inescapable pre-vid ads are a bit of a bummer, but, all in all, it's a pretty fun stream of videos to follow.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Predictions, Surveilance, and The Terminator Seed

Jon watched Food Inc. on Monday.

And, as an aspiring metaphorical physicist, he's worried about Monsanto's trajectory...

...Then, when they stop supplying air, and people can only live in renegade underwater bubble cities supplied by soot spurting volcanic faults on the ocean floor, and everyone is constantly covered in volcanic ash and chronically coughing from the stubborn volcano air, a grandfather will tell his granddaughter about lost days of sunshine and free fresh air and soybeans that you could pick and plant without a lawyer handing you a paper and taking away your farm... But his granddaughter will be asleep dreaming of being allowed to marry a dolphin and raise a dolphin family.

I want to meet the people that make the big decisions at Monsanto. And I want to read their journals, bug their phones, talk to their brothers and sisters, and find out what motivates them. And I want to bring Jon. And see if he adjusts his prophecies.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sadness, Sanity, Cynicism, and Van Jones

Still sad about the Van Jones resignation.

Sad that Glenn Beck has so much influence.

Sad that one of very few environmental leaders that appeals across races and socioeconomic backgrounds didn't get a chance to spend more time on one of the world's biggest stages.

Sad that the world's most powerful government lost someone that simultaneously champions justice and sustainability.

Sad that the unnamed government official that talked to the Washington Post was nonchalant about that loss. Instead of admonishing Beck for calling Jones a communist revolutionary, he pleaded carelessness....

He was not as thoroughly vetted as other administration officials. It's fair to say there were unknowns.

Yuck.

But maybe it's a good thing that Jones is back on the outside, back in a world that operates with a little more sanity than Washington DC.

And yuck again.

For now I'm being cynical.

Well. Hmmm. Is it ok to be cynical when you're cynical about cynicism?

Probably not.

But still.

I'm excited to see what Van Jones does next.

Friday, September 4, 2009

On Camera

Stopped in Chicago on my way from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

Hungry.

Hoping I might be able to eat something without creating heaps of garbage.

So I stepped up to a pizza counter, ordered, and told the woman with the hairnet and rollerknife that I didn't need a bag: she could hand me the food, and I could wash my hands after I ate.

She shook her head...

I'd rather give you a bag, dear. I'm on camera here, and I don't want to lose my job for putting something hot in your hand.

Something about rules and airports, I guess.

At least she didn't give me a styrofoam plate.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hyper-Conservative

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, felt misrepresented by the press, so he wrote a letter.

Here's the portion of that latter in which he responds to a reporter from The Guardian possibly insinuating that he could maybe possibly be a "climate-change denier:"

I am hyper-conservative ecologically (meaning super-Green). My position on the climate is to avoid releasing pollutants in the atmosphere, on the basis of ignorance, regardless of current expert opinion (climate experts, like banking risk managers, have failed us in the past in foreseeing long term damages and I cannot accept certainty in a certain class of nonlinear models). This is an extension of my general idea that one does not need rationalization with the use of complicated models (by fallible experts) to the edict: "do not disturb a complex system" since we do not know the consequences of our actions owing to complicated causal webs. (Incidentally, this ideas also makes me anti-war). I explicitly explained the need to "leave the planet the way we got it" .

Instead, I was presented as a "climate-change denier" (Lucy Mangan), and my environmental views summarized by "Climate change is not man-made" (Nicholas Watts).

A minimum of homework on the part of your staff would have revealed that I am one of the authors of the recent King of Sweden's Bonham declaration on attitude to climate change.

Hyper-conservative ecologically. Never heard that before. And I kinda like it. A fancy way of saying careful.

One Pig

What happens when you ask the right questions...



Next for Ms. Meindertsma?

A chicken?

A cow?

A truckload of "100% recyclable" plastic on its way to the waste management facility?

An acre's-worth of feed corn?

The King Corn project started with just that question: If we grow some corn and drop it into the system, where will it end up? They decided it wasn't possible, gave up, and made an awesome movie anyway. I wonder if the barrier they hit was corn-specific. And I wonder if Ms. Meindertsma could have helped them get around it.

Big thanks to Lauren for the introduction. Even The Mighty LA can't keep her from sharing the goodness.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Genius, Power, and Magic

The conversation this afternoon went from compostable shoes to storytelling on the internets to oh shit moments to a metaphor about marathons to this...

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen events, meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would have come their way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

A Scottish mountain climber named WH Murray said that.

I hadn't heard it until today.

But I think it goes in the relevant to everything category.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On the Record

Some bands record every idea they have, every first draft, every half-song. And set the recordings aside. And listen again in a few days. And then again in five years. So they can learn from mistakes and build new music from pieces of the old.

Some hitters watch all their at-bats. And save the gametape. And use it to help them break out of slumps. To note foot placement and hand movement. To analyze approaches against particular pitchers or in particular ball-strike-count situations.

I think that means we should blog.

If even about nothing but blogging.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Fun

Bob Thurman says compassion is more fun.

And, sometimes, I think, the same goes for turning the lights off when you leave a room.

And eating cookies that don't have corn syrup in them.

And walking a block out of your way to give your broken bike business to a mechanic that makes you smile.

And yet the fun is still a secret. Even, sometimes, to those of us that think we know about it.

People still say the reason they recycle is peer pressure. And I still drive a car and use a dryer and buy things from big companies that I'm not excited to support.

So.

How do we share the fun, or the Kool-Aid, or whatever it is that makes it easy to turn around and walk back into that room and hitting that lightswitch? With the peer pressure people? With the people immune to the peer pressure? With the people without pressuring peers? And with ourselves, always?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Nature, The Power, and The Vision

This makes me wonder if every big fancy corporate executive should go spend a week alone in the deep mountains.

It makes me wonder how we might go about convincing every big fancy corporate executive to go spend a week alone in the deep mountains.

And it makes me wonder how powerful the dirt and wind and mountain goats really are. What, for example, would Don Blankenship and his mustache see on his fifth hungry day in the quiet? Dollar signs? Boogeymen and their rabid wolfsteeds? Winking ants flashing peace signs? Reasons to be happy to be alive? New possibilities?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Long Time

Here's Jared Diamond, quoted in a Financial Times column, on sustainability and collapse...

If we continue to operate non-sustainably, then in 50 or 60 years, the US and Japan and Europe will be in bad shape. But my friends in the highlands of New Guinea will be fine. Some of my friends made stone tools when they were children and they could just go back to what their ancestors were doing for 46,000 years. New Guinea highlanders are not doomed. The first world lifestyle will be doomed if we don’t learn to operate sustainably.


Hard for me to imagine a first world collapse not spilling its messes into every last habitat, industrialized or otherwise.

But, that's not the point...

46,000 years is the point. A long time. Almost 100 times the history of the non-indigenous occupation of the Americas. Without catastrophic water crises or soil blowouts or population explosions.

46,000 years of human ingenuity directed at non-industrial technologies and non-industrial wisdoms.

Incredible how far that lies from our cultural mindset (mindsets). And, cruel and oppressive as stone age societies were - and, in the remote tropical valleys where they still exist, continue to be - they must have something for us.

Like proof that humans can do this sustainability thing?

Makes me want to read Diamond's books again. And whatever he gives us next.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cowboy Math and Economic Reality

Excited to see a little love for natural capital in the New York Times today.

Guest columnist Eric Zencey thinks GDP, as a measure of economic well-being, is a worry. It's a measure of transactional activity, not a measure of how things are going. For example...

Consider the 50 miles of sponge-like wetlands between New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that once protected the city from storm surges. When those bayous were lost to development — sliced to death by channels to move oil rigs, mostly — gross domestic product went up, even as these “improvements” destroyed the city’s natural defenses and wiped out crucial spawning ground for the Gulf Coast shrimp fishery. The bayous were a form of natural capital, and their loss was a cost that never entered into any account — not G.D.P. or anything else.

Or, if you prefer metaphorical explanations...

When you’re feeling a little chilly in your living room, you don’t hold a match to a thermometer and then claim that the room has gotten warmer. But that’s what we do when we seek to improve economic well-being by prodding G.D.P.

I'd never thought much about G.D.P. before tonight. But I think Eric makes a good point. And now I want to see a counterpoint. Gotta be at least a couple of G.D.P. fans out there, right?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

That Does Not Mean They Are Not Recyclable

As I mentioned before, I want to find a home for some well-loved but no longer playable Wiffle gear.

In addition to emailing Hank the ball dealer, I asked the internets what they knew, and, among other things, found a story about mascots in Cincinnati.

I wrote to Rumpke Recycling, and Rumpke wrote back...

Wiffle balls and bats are not acceptable materials for our traditional residential recycling programs, but that does not mean they are not recyclable. With any commodity, we have to find a buyer/manufacturer to take the material for re-use. For example, we send plastic milk jugs to a manufacturer of industrial drainage pipe. We know we will consistently receive milk jugs from people on a weekly basis, and we have an agreement established with the manufacturer.

They say they'll take my bats and balls if I have enough to interest one of their clients.

I bet enough's a lot.

But I'm tempted to try anyway. Patiently, of course. But not passively.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Dear Cat:

Apparently blogging's a good idea....



The fact that I can make a five sentence post about the bummer of the 24 hour limit and get a huge, stream of wisdom email from my sis about the beauty of the 24 hour limit is reason enough for me. But good to listen to Seth too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Beware the Opt

I'm reading On Writing by Stephen King.

As the title suggests, it's about words, stories, books, and how a very serious pop horror novelist makes them happen. Parenthetically, however, anything goes.

I don't want to speak too disparagingly of my generation (actually I do, we had a chance to change the world and opted for the Home Shopping Network), but there was a view among the student writers I knew at that time that good writing came spontaneously, in an uprush of feeling that had to be caught at once; when you were building that all-important stairway to heaven, you couldn't just stand around with your hammer in your hand.

Probably smart to keep that opting history in mind. It happens for good reason. Not fearlessly virtuous reason, of course. But understandable reason. Real reason. Reason the roots of which are in everyone probably.

Hopefully knowing that will help us choose the different path.

And, stepping back outside the parentheses, I'd be curious to hear a conversation between King and Elizabeth Gilbert on the subject of spontaneity. Just sayin.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Receiving Like We Give

Another thing about being a rookie...

Or maybe about trying to make a business out of a cause...

Or maybe just about something I don't do well...

I've had a hard time accepting help on The Carrot Project.

People tell me they'd be happy to take on a little piece of work. I feel guilty that I might ask for too much. And, instead of explaining my concerns for overburdening a volunteer or taking advantage of generosity, describing exactly what I'd love to have someone do, and seeing if the offerer feels ready to commit, I choose something based on its smallness.

I remember (but can't seem to dig up) a passage from The Art of Loving about giving and receiving love. Fromm's point was that to receive gracefully is much more difficult than to give.

Maybe the same goes for help.

Does for me, anyway.

And I'm writing this blog post to tell myself to get better at it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shoes, Money, Research, and Mystery

I've been doing some work for a shoe company.

They're getting serious about the materials aspect of sustainability, and they've hired me to help them launch a new brand.

Carl has decided that the hourly wage they've been paying me counts as The Carrot Project's first revenue. He reckons they hired me because they can tell from The Carrot Project and everything I've written in connection with The Carrot Project that I'm committed and maybe even a little knowledgeable about consumer education and sustainable business. I reckon they hired me because my mom went to high school with one of the founders, and I've known her since I was little.

We're probably both right.

Anyway, I've left the company's name out of this post because I'd much appreciate it if you'd take a few minutes to fill out a little market research survey that connects to the shoe project.

It's anonymous for suspense, and we'll open the curtain and show you the wizard as soon as you finish filling it out.

And, then, if you want to know more (about the company, the project, the materials, whether I'm worried about being both a consultant to the creators of consumer products and a provider of unbiased brand comparison information), get in touch. I'm happy to discuss.

Posted via email from Radical Transparency

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Extroverted Consumption and White Plastic Balls

Tough to keep up with the blogging during Wiffle season.

And tough to play with plastic bats and balls that show no signs of recyclability.

There's no clear Contact Us channel on the Wiffle site, but I just sent this to Hank at The Connecticut Store, the Wiffle distributor through which I order cases of balls when summers begin...

Hey Hank,

I'm sending this to you because Wiffle itself doesn't seem to want to be in email contact with anyone. And because I've corresponded with you in the past about cases of balls that I've ordered. And because you've been exceptionally nice and helpful...


I play Wiffle whenever I can. My cousins and I play hard. We think we play well. We love it. We learned from our uncles. And we'll teach another generation someday for sure.


We're hard on our gear, however. We dent, bend, and crack bats often, and it's rare that a ball lasts more than a week before we've disfigured it and dropped it in the retired balls bucket.


Looking at that bucket today, I thought about plastic and petrochemicals and pollution, and I decided I'd figure out how to keep those old balls (and their bat cousins) from evre being sent to a landfill.


Step one in that process is finding out if there's a regular old recycling option available.


I've looked on all the Wiffle packaging I can find (minimal, mostly cardboard packaging, which I like), and I haven't been able to find any info on recyclability there. But I'm not giving up that easy. So I'm asking you what you know.


Might Wiffle balls and bats be recyclable after all? Do you know what kind of plastic are they made of? Possible that they're made of recycled plastic already? Possible to make them of recycled plastic? Or compostable bio-plastics? But I'm digressing.


First things first. Any suggestions on recycling Wiffle gear?


Let me know.


Thanks!

Jake

Maybe one way to consume responsibly is to initiate with the producers.

Maybe they'll talk back. Maybe we'll listen to each other. And maybe we'll all learn.

We'll see.

I'm definitely swinging with my eyes closed a little bit here. But you never know. And I say better to swing and hope than let a fastball down the middle fly by. Or at least that's what I say when I really badly want to end a blog post with a baseball metaphor...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What the People Want

Crazy that a big, fancy newspaper would let Sarah Palin write an op-ed about greenhouse gas legislation.

I bet the article was really good for business. For one day.

And I wonder what that'll mean for tomorrow. I wonder what the paper will have learned. I mean they've got to be tempted, right?

I request a follow-up op-ed about the ethical implications of giving a celebrity politician a soapbox for which she's clearly not qualified.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Comedy, Education, and Corn

Steven Soderbergh, Matt Damon - welcome to the the industrial ag discussion...



Exciting.

And, as usual, I can't resist...

If we can't do it with a smile on our face, if we can't do it with love in our heart, then, children, we ain't got no right to do it at all.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Two Years Later

In June 2007, Wiley and I started reading Marc Andreessen's blog.

I don't remember how we found it (though my guess is that Wiley did the initial finding and I instigated the daily ranting and raving about it at the dirty little Beijing noodle shop where we ate most of our lunches that summer).

I do remember that it felt overwhelming relevant. Instantly. We were a year deep in what we already fully acknowledged (most of the time, anyway) to be a tragic comedy of a dot com startup experience.

The founders were clearly in over their heads. We had way too much money, way too many employees, and were making way too little progress toward the kickass language tutoring service we thought we were building. And we were not only surrounded by idiots, but we were at least as incompetent as everyone with whom we were working.

And we fell in love with Pmarca. He made us feel like everything was ok, like, yeah, this shit's hard, but, if you like it, you might as well keep giving it all the effort you have. Eventually, you'll figure something out, and you'll do something useful, do it well, and feel great about it.

Or at least that's how my fallible memory tells me he made me feel. I'll let Wiley amend or dispute that with a comment if he wants to.

Anyway, we dug the blog. And I like to imagine that we learned from it. And we we gave it to the founders for whom we were working, hoping they'd learn from it too (which they probably did). And we left the company.

And now we're doing other things, all improbable and entrepreneurial and involving the internets.

And I post this because Pmarca blinked online for a moment last week, announcing that he was starting a new venture capital fund, and raising hopes that he'll start blogging again.

So I went back and read some of my old favorites. And they're still scary and inspiring and honest and totally entertaining. The Pmarca Guide to Startups, part 1: Why not to do a startup is a great jumping in point.

The Guide tells me that I probably should not be doing a startup. At the same time, I think Pmarca would agree that I should.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Teach Me To Recycle, Please

Been thinking a lot about shoes lately. Shoes and materials and compostability and what to do with things when we're finished using them.

And I've been curious for a long time about customer service and sustainability. To what extent will a business engage with a customer that's concerned about energy use or pollution or human rights? And what might come of that?

So, feeling outgoing yesterday, I sent this to Merrell:

I've worn Jungle Mocs almost every day for the past 10 years.

I love the shoes. I think they're versatile and comfortable and extremely easy to put on and take off.

I've worn through many pairs, and I now have something of a Jungle Moc graveyard.

I don't want to just throw them away. I hate throwing things away, especially things that have been good to me (less uncomfortable for me to get annoyed at the company that wrapped my dental floss in an extra layer of unrecyclable packaging than you guys, who have given so much love to my feet in the past).

Will you help me recycle them? Maybe you take them back? Maybe can point me in the direction of a recycler nearby that takes shoes?


I know I could send the shoes to Nike. Or talk to professional recyclers. Or see if Brent would help me with a little fungal decomposition project.

But I want to give Merrell a chance to impress me. I want them to talk, like real people.

I know they can. I know every company can. And I'm convinced that a little discussion would do a lot of good.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Energy Technology Olympics

One thing that consistently made me uncomfortable when I lived in China was everyday nationalism. And one thing that consistently makes me uncomfortable now that I live in the USA again is everyday nationalism.

Community-level cultural solidarity I feel. Planet-scale compassion I feel. Drawing boundaries between Americans and Chinese and Italians and Tanzanians, however, doesn't make as much sense to me. I get that it's useful in lots of ways, but I don't like that it closes minds to exchange and evolution.

That said, I think Thomas Friedman made a compelling argument for nationalism over the weekend.

He thinks everyone in the world should be competing to create the energy technologies that'll lead us to a sustainable future.

He thinks Chinese nationalism has led to aggressive lawmaking, which has already become a positive force in creating that competition.

And he hopes American nationalism follows suit.

Makes me squirm a little. But you gotta love competition when the race is to the top.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Simple Accumulation

A few days after Giuls and I last went to prison, she told me to watch Chris Abani's second TED Talk. She watches it all the time. More, she says, than I watch his first.

We had talked to the prisoners about big dreams and little actions, but I'm not sure she even meant to make the connection. As I remember, she and I were thinking about stories when she recommended that I go back and listen again. Stories connect to everything, though, I guess. Big dreams and little actions included...

The world is never saved in grand, messanaic gestures but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion...everyday acts of compassion.

I dig the mispronunciation.

And I think Chris would agree that there's nothing wrong with a big dream if it motivates everyday acts or helps organize their accumulation.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lunch Tables, Dogooders, and Metaphorical Music

Day before yesterday, Stacey Monk, founder of Epic Change, a nonprofit that "helps hopeful people in need share their stories," wrote about dogooder communities. While she enjoys the company and appreciates the support, she thinks it's time to branch out...

There’s these kids sitting at the other lunch tables in our global cafeteria. They’re jocks, geeks, artists, musicians and cheerleaders…and we need their help. Doing good isn’t our job, it’s everyone’s. And as long as changing the world is relegated to a sector, it will never happen.


I agree. And, to Stacey's metaphorical problem, I offer a partial (but metaphorical) solution.

Bridge songs.

The songs you use to convince rookies and skeptics that the musicians you love are worthy. Maybe not the best songs. Probably not even your favorites. But the ones that can make disproportionately good first impressions. The ones that are least intimidating. The ones that get people humming along immediately. The ones that broaden the fanbase.

So, maybe, before Stacey takes her tray over to the punk rockers' table, she should have a quick listen through the tape in her boombox and make sure it's rewinded strategically.

Just exactly which songs bridge best when played for punk rockers, I don't know. As I said, this is a partial solution (and solution probably isn't the right word). But maybe ask the punk rocker that sits behind you in Algebra II. Or, maybe better, ask the dogooder that used to eat lunch with the punk rockers...

Well, Stacey, that's what I got for you right now, at 4pm on a rainy Tuesday. You recognize something important, and you're calling for a good thing. I'll do my best to do my part.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Leading By Letting Go

While Danny was visiting, he got an email.

He works with artists. He gives them assignments. They draw. He gives feedback. They draw some more. And then he prints tee shirts.

The email made him smile big.

He called me over to have a look.

It was a gorgeously colorful drawing of Andy Warhol as an auto mechanic.

He said it was by far the best thing he'd ever seen that artist do.

And he thought he knew why it was so good:

The thing she did was do something I didn't ask her to do.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Expediency Vs. Efficiency

A few days ago, Lauren ordered three books on Amazon.

None were immediately available, so Amazon gave her the group my items into as few shipments as possible option. She chose it, figuring it'd save fuel and packaging. And she felt both good and grateful to Amazon for letting her choose patience and efficiency.

Then, today, she got an email:

We thought you'd like to know that we shipped this portion of your order separately to give you quicker
service. You won't be charged any extra shipping fees, and the remainder of your order will follow as soon as those items become available.

Sigh.

I guess the next step is to tell Amazon's magician logicians that their automated customer service system needs to get a little more discerning when evaluating opportunities to impress...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Two Peas in the Soup

Danny's here.

He's a rookie entrepreneur too. And a writer. And a teacher. And an aspiring but unimpressive competitive eater.

I love getting advice from people that know what they're talking about, but there's something extra special amazing about talking business with someone that knows as little as I do, admits and understands that, and thinks the thing to do is to go for it anyway.

Monday, June 22, 2009

More Than Abundant

I wrote the word corn yesterday. It made me think of syrup and advertising. Which sent me on a search for an ad. Which reminded me of an interview with Earl Butz.

In King Corn, a documentary about a couple of kids that want to see what it's like to farm with the big boys, filmmakers Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney ask Butz, Secretary of Agriculture in the Nixon administration, why he created corn subsidies.

Butz, a quiet old man in the interview, said his goal was abundant, inexpensive food. He didn't want Americans to worry about going hungry. He wanted food to be a given, something everyone could always afford, something that didn't get in the way of the rest of people's lives.

I don't doubt his sincerity. I don't disagree with his goals. And I think he was on to something. But he created a monster.

And one reason that happened, it seems to me, is that he didn't dream big enough. Abundant and inexpensive was enough for him. He lacked the imagination - or the courage - or the energy - to strive for inexpensive, abundant, and healthy - for people and for the planet.

The good news is that imagination and courage and energy do exist, and there's at least one city of 2.5 million, in one big developing country, that's learning to feed itself well.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Smells Like Money to Me

I'm a little worried that the first half of this preview is going to chase people away. But wait for the music to change; it gets good...



People have gotta start demanding good, wholesome food of us, and we'll deliver, I promise you.

Crazy that something that simple - that fundamental - that obvious - is so hard to do.

Big world, I guess. Lotta corn. Lotta junk food. Lotta money invested in both.

But you never know. The right story told the right way could change everything. Good luck, Food, Inc.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Tail And The Chute

I've been living with my now 88 year-old grandfather for about 18 months, and hardly a day's gone by without him hassling me about one aspect of The Carrot Project or another.

He knows just about everything about everything at this point: plans, dreams, challenges, lessons learned, sleep lost. And there's no subject on which he doesn't have advice.

Less than three months from now, however, I'll be living in LA, and not having him around will be a bit of an adjustment.

Or, if you ask him, a bit of a worry.

This, from tonight, at my mother's house, where Hal and I were having dinner...

I'm gonna miss this one.

He's deserting me, you know?

Which means I won't be around to grab his tail as he goes up the chute and pull him back to reality.

No question it's the unrelentingly improbable bigness of the vision that sparks the highest intensity commentary.

But, grumbly as that commentary often sounds, I know it's improbable bigness that he loves most.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Is Partially Ever Enough?

About a month ago, Coke announced that they were going to start integrating plant materials into their plastic bottles.

They got some cautiously optimistic love on the internets for it. And, when they actually launch the PlantBottle, they'll get some more.

But my humble prediction is that 30% plant materials, regardless of the positive impact that'll have environmentally, won't earn them significant trust or loyalty or increased market share.

30% isn't big enough. It's not a good enough story. It's not a revolution.

It betrays, to use a word I learned from Gary Vaynerchuk, half-pregnancy.

And that's a bummer, because Coke's doing a good thing.

But the feeling that 30% isn't enough is a good thing too, because while Coke recognizes and admits that it's a bad idea to use petroleum-based plastics to package their liquids, they still feel ok about using bottles that are made of 70% petroleum-based plastics, and that is a bummer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weird The Things That Frustrate Me

A year ago, 16 year-old Daniel Burd won a big Canadian science fair by befriending plastic-eating bacteria and making a grocery bag disappear in three months.

And that's it. No news since.

Shouldn't someone have taken Daniel's research and run with it? Shouldn't biodegradation of plastic be a massively sexy opportunity and attract armies of the world's most brilliant and innovative minds? Shouldn't everything be different by now?

I guess I might be unreasonably impatient with science and engineering. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for bacteria...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Measuring Global Innovation

From Stephen Johnson's Time Magazine cover story about Twitter, The Open Conversation, The Super-Fresh Web, and End-User Innovation:

When we talk about innovation and global competitiveness, we tend to fall back on the easy metric of patents and Ph.D.s. It turns out the U.S. share of both has been in steady decline since peaking in the early '70s. (In 1970, more than 50% of the world's graduate degrees in science and engineering were issued by U.S. universities.) Since the mid-'80s, a long progression of doomsayers have warned that our declining market share in the patents-and-Ph.D.s business augurs dark times for American innovation. The specific threats have changed. It was the Japanese who would destroy us in the '80s; now it's China and India.

But what actually happened to American innovation during that period? We came up with America Online, Netscape, Amazon, Google, Blogger, Wikipedia, Craigslist, TiVo, Netflix, eBay, the iPod and iPhone, Xbox, Facebook and Twitter itself. Sure, we didn't build the Prius or the Wii, but if you measure global innovation in terms of actual lifestyle-changing hit products and not just grad students, the U.S. has been lapping the field for the past 20 years.


I realize that it might be a bit problematic that I've let my thoughts drift so far from the hit consumer technology products context here, but I have, and I think it's worth noting (and a bummer) that there are no innovations on that list that relate directly to food, water, health, materials, or (except for the Prius) energy.

Information exchange is valuable, long-term, for everyone and everything. So no question about the fact that Wikipedia and Google (and probably Facebook and Twitter) are important. But I don't think it's a good idea to "measure global innovation in terms of actual lifestyle-changing hit products" if you consider video game systems and software that lets you rewind your TV to be fundamentally lifestyle-changing.

Innovations, if we're going to celebrate them - if we're going to define our country's economic and education systems by them - should change a whole lot more than the ways in which we in the developed world entertain ourselves.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Work

The first time I read Bird By Bird, it strengthened my love for baseball. It reminded me that I'm not a total lunatic for (or at least not alone in) loving the Phillies so much that I want to jump and scream and hug every other Phils' fan every time Jimmy Rollins gets a hit.

I'm reading it again.

And this time it's strengthening my love for the imperfectly organized pursuit of big, improbable dreams...

The problem that comes up over and over again is that these people want to be published. They kind of want to write, but they really want to be published. You'll never get to where you want to be that way, I tell them. There is a door we all want to walk through, and writing can help you find it and open it. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won't do any of those things; you'll never get in that way.

Now replace writing with working on a project the goal of which is to make meaningful change. And replace being published with making money or getting recognized or exploding into household name hugeness.

Making that meaningful change might require money or hugeness or recognition, of course, and that's an important crack in the analogy.

And an important reality for us dreamers to keep in mind.

But not as important to keep in mind, I don't think, as the fact that good things don't happen because of commitment to The Result (the high five, the payoff, the name in lights); they happen because of commitment to The Work.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Spontaneous Wisdom of the Day

Running a business is one of the hardest things you can do. And if you're gonna do it, you'd better be ready to use your fucking imagination.

That's Hal, my grandfather, frustrated at General Motors for investing in luxury and power instead of fundamental, truly transportation-related, potentially game-changing technology (aerodynamics, advanced materials, hybrid engines, etc.).

I think it's a fun quote with or without the context.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bury Them with Their Cars

According to Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger, the hum purr screech vroom culture that built America is in danger. Liberals and godless tax-raisers have captured Washington, and they and their emissions standards think the only way they can save the planet is by sacrificing the country's heart.

Made me think of this song...



Strange country, this one. Strange and stubborn and, hopefully, evolving.

In Henninger's words...

This tension over how we live arrived before the world began standing on its head over global warming. The guys in the hemi-powered drones used to mock the granola and Birkenstock crowd. Look who's on top now.

I hope he's right.

For the Record

When you're doing something important, like launching a big project, or a new company, or running some sort of campaign designed to change things, keep a scrapbook. Not a note book, a tool for writing down facts. A scrapbook. Include photos and quotes and clippings and events. Two reasons. First, you'll be glad later (I still have scrapbooks from some of my previous projects) and more important, because it will remind you that you're doing something important and that time is precious.

That's Seth Godin, in a sidenote to a post about nostalgia.

I started this blog thinking it'd become something like a scrapbook, a catalog of thoughts and questions and stories connected to my first shot at starting something serious.

I wanted a scrapbook so I could look back at yesterday's mind and analyze.

I wanted it so friends and colleagues and advisors could see me starting to fly off the rails and yank me back.

I wanted it for my grandchildren, so they can meet the 26, 27, etc. year old me someday.

I wanted it because I thought I might spill out some words worth saving.

I wanted it because I wished I had everyone else's scrapbooks. For guidance. For ideas. For inspiration. For laughs.

And I wanted it because maybe I'm on the road to something huge, because it might be useful to the world someday to see the instant replay of someone that knows very little about doing anything gets his hands on a good idea and somehow takes it big.

Seventeen months in, I don't think More Perfect Market, in isolation, is a scrapbook. It's a pile of scraps, some for the book, some for somewhere else.

Selections from More Perfect Market plus The Carrot Project Blog plus a little Radical Transparency plus videos like today's that go on too long or for whatever other reason never make it out of Viddler, and I think there do exist the components of the beginnings of a scrapbook.

And it is good to know it's all safe on the internets. Reminds me, in moments of doubt and sleepiness, of how badly I want to give this project all I can, how much I'd love to make this little change in the world.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Film From The Farm

This is how McDonald's hamburgers are made.

That video is on the McDonald's site, which makes it marketing.

It feels far more transparent than I would have expected a video in its situation to be, which is great.

And it involves multi-staged industrial meat grinding and giant robotic arms lifting boxes and boxes of perfectly trimmed and frozen uniform patties, lifting boxes and packing them neatly for massive scale delivery to megamall food courts and highway service areas and school cafeterias, which, of course, is terrifying. And fascinating. And awe-inspiring. And then, when the fear mixes with the awe and fascination, even scarier.

And, when you click that link and watch the video, note the URL. Films from the farms. I'll definitely be checking back to see what else they post. I'm putting it on my calendar right now, in fact. Wednesday morning at 9am. Check films from the farms. Repeating weekly.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Certainty and Trust

Certainty is a worry.

It's pretty much best friends with Closed-Mindedness.

But it's also really tight with Trust.

And hard to keep Passion around if Trust is getting antsy to leave the party.

...

The Certainty my sister and I started talking about last night was certainty about knowledge and certainty in discussion. And we didn't like it at all. "So much pleasure and excitement in constantly pursuing things," said Giuls.

But then we thought about the word in other contexts. Aren't we certain about our love for each other? Doesn't it take certainty about the rightness and potential positive impact of our work for us to commit to it?

We decided that Trust might be a better word for us.

But, still, this is tricky. Because I think I am and should be certain about some fundamental things. And I think I should also be scared of closing the mind.

So maybe what we want is Certainty in the moment? Given the information we have about the present situation, and given what that information and other information tells us about the likely future, we are certain, in this moment. Maybe?

Language. Not afraid to make the mind spin around and trip over itself.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Touch Test



A. By posting this video, I feel like I'm doing my part in keeping the crunchy toilet paper meme alive.

2. Gotta love Rolf Skar. I would never have expected a Greenpeace spokesman to have stayed so cool in a Fox News interview.

d. In Megyn's mind, she made Rolf's best point for him: far more important than protecting ancient forests is keeping scary-sounding chemicals off our bodies.

It always makes me feel a little sad to hear things like that, for I'm pretty sure Megyn is speaking for more than just her Fox News audience when she says it, and I wonder just how slippery the health-consciousness to envronmentalism slope really is.

My suspicion is not slippery enough. And I think those of us that have already been rolling down the mountain a while need to do a better job with our ice and banana peels.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Should

Should is a strange word. Someone told me recently never to use it, that speaking it was a form of settling, of giving up, of accepting an unnecessarily not-ideal situation. And I haven't been using it. Not much anyway.

But now I hear Umair Haque say this:

One of the big problems in the economy today is that we talk about what we can do, not what we should do, not what we ought to do. What we should do and what we ought to do very often are very different from what we can do. And when we think in terms of only what we can do, we limit ourselves from achieving what we should do in the first place.

[From in a video in response to the comments on his post on How to Save Newspapers (Or, Why the NYT Should Acquire Twitter).]

It makes me think of acts of futility, jobs that are way too big, and Ray Anderson, the recovering plunderer.

It makes me think we should acknowledge what we should do. Acknowledge it, and then try.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mythic Adventuring

In April, the NY Times Magazine asked former merry prankster acid tester Stewart Brand about his drug of choice these days...

"I’m stoned right now on two cups of coffee," he said. "I’m 70, and the easiest way to young-up your mind is to drink caffeine."

Every time I've had coffee since, which has been twice, maybe three times (the high is more than I can handle comfortably, usually), I've wondered about miracle drugs, wondered about Brand, and wondered why he's still considered (by the NY Times Magazine at least) an important character in the sustainability movement.

So, last night, I watched the first of his two TED Talks.

And, while it didn't really answer my question (How the heck is The Long Now Foundation going to help us treat our natural capital better?), it did feel relevant, somehow, accidentally, to everything.

Danny Hillis is one of Brand's Long Now co-conspirators, and he, Hillis, according to Brand, is interested in mythic adventures. And mythic adventures, according to Hillis (according to Brand), have seven stages...

Stage One is the manifestation or formulation of the image, the picture of the goal at the end of the journey.

Stage Two is the point of embarkation, the moment at which the image pushes a person to transition from ordinary existence to life as a pilgrim on a quest.

Stage Three is the labyrinth, the substance of the journeying, the series of challenges, many unexpected, many seemingly insurmountable. It's a rough place, the labyrinth, full of darkness and despair, but in there with the pilgrim is the draw, the beacon, the often distant but ever powerful motivating force.

Stage Four is the payoff, the accomplishment, the moment the dream becomes reality.

Stage Five is the secret payoff, that other thing that happens that no one could have predicted but everyone totally digs.

Stage Six is the return, the pilgrim's gradual reacclimation to the ordinary world.

And Stage Seven is identifying the memento, the humble little something that the pilgrim takes away.

Worth noting I think. And worth considering alongside Freedom's Plow.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Message in a Bottle

Belu is a carbon neutral bottled water company. They bottle in glass or compostable plastic-like corn. All their profits go to clean water projects.

And they're trying to put themselves out of business.

From the front page of their website, they link to Tap, a reusable bottle company slash activist organization that they helped start.

Tap's business is "carbon neutral, environmentally sensitive, ethically driven and as wholesome as a cup of strawberries." And its goal is to destroy the bottled water industry.

I think bad ass is the word I'm looking for. Or words I'm looking for, if you're counting.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Freshly-Connected Community of Heavy-Duty Yearners

Most movements, most leadership that we're doing is about finding a group that's disconnected but already has a yearning, not persuading people to want something they don't have yet.

Seth Godin said that in his latest TED Talk.

I can't help but think of it in relation to The Carrot Project...

The Carrot Project is something people don't have yet.

It does, however, invite and, frankly, can't live without user participation, which, I think, makes it a means of finding and connecting a community.

Whether we're able to foster that participation, of course, is largely dependent on the strength of the disconnected yearning.

But maybe there exists a persuasion element too. Maybe we need to tease the yearning out of some people. Maybe some people really badly evangelically want businesses to quit the short term greed and do good.

Or maybe - and I think this could be where Seth is trying to lead us with his presentation - a freshly-connected community of heavy-duty yearners is a highly long-term effective persuasive force.

So, are we equipped to do enough connecting, to allow for the most comfortable and useful forms of online connection? And do we appeal to the heavy duty yearners?

Seth, want to come think about this with me?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Big Word

Did a 9pm to 3am drive with Jason on Sunday night.

We hadn't seen each other for a while, so we had a lot to discuss. Tomatoes. Pyschics. China. Purpose...

He asked me if I felt like The Carrot Project was My Purpose.

I thought Purpose was a big word. Sometimes a scary word. But probably a good word to keep in mind.

So I told him The Carrot Project was a piece of My Purpose. A Purpose, which, at the moment, feels something like this...

The Purpose is to help people participate in making the world a better place. To help make the participation meaningful. And to help people see that their participation, even if it's only a small part of a small part of a small part of something, is meaningful.

So there it is. As it has evolved up to right now.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

THE Three Questions

I want to write. I need to write. And I will get back to the serious writing.

But it's late, and I think I can take this note more understandably with voice and head gestures.

So, I present to you, making their More Perfect Market debut, my much beloved Ricky Vaughn glasses...



Good questions? Confidence inspiring answers? Cool glasses?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What to Eat and What to Say

Read about word choice and strategic persuasion in the New York Times last week.

Wrote about word choice and strategic persuasion on the Carrot Project Blog last night.

And now, today, I see this. From a site called Frugal For Life. Via GOOD Magazine.

Good and frugal. Probably a little more main-stream friendly than crunchy...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Broken News and the Climate Science Memo

I read a piece of front page breaking news. It didn't feel powerful or interested or questioning or humble enough. And I thought of this...

I left at a time...when the Baltimore Sun was earning 37 percent profits...

All that R&D money that was supposed to go in to make newspapers more essential, more viable, more able to explain the complexities of the world. It went to shareholders in the Tribune Company. Or the L.A. Times Mirror Company before that. And ultimately, when the internet did hit, they had an inferior product that was not essential enough that they could charge online for it...


The internet, while it's great for commentary and froth, doesn't do very much first generation reporting at all. And it can't sustain that. The economic model can't sustain that kind of reporting. And to lose to that, because you didn't value - they had contempt for their own product, these people. I mean, how...do you give it away for free?


But, for 20 years, they looked upon the copy as being the stuff that went around the ads. The ads were the God. And then all of a sudden the ads were not there, and the copy, they had had contempt for. And they had - they had actually marginalized themselves.

That's David Simon, creator of The Wire, in an interview with Bill Moyers.

And I realize it's a stretch to make that connection.

But.

I think it's worth noting that Andy Revkin, the journalist that wrote that front page article, also blogged about the edited memo.* And his posts, in my opinion, are much more powerful than his front page story.

But maybe I'm just a sucker for the vernacular.

Or maybe another way newspapers marginalized themselves (and continue to marginalize themselves) was (is) by clinging to a communication style that's aggressively non-conversational.

And now I've changed the subject, so now I'm going to stop. For tonight.

I'm still convinced there is something in here, though. Something.

*Note: And also worth noting that he gets paid to blog. By the same company that pays him to write front page stories.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Meat, Lasers, and Business Cards (A Confession)

Until a couple of days ago, I thought The Carrot Project had the coolest business cards possible.



Then I saw this.

We still win on crunchiness, of course. But wow. Meat and lasers? Crazy. And, despite my electricity-conserving vegetarian tendencies, awesome.

Posted via email from Radical Transparency

Friday, April 24, 2009

Not Impossible

If they can pull this off without raising prices, I think it's big news...



...And the questions become:

Do people know how to compost?

Do people know why it's important?

And what portion of the planet's biological metabolism can we afford to set aside for the packaging industry?

Well. Some of the questions anyway...

Productive Distraction

Good question from No Impact Man yesterday:

How do we get people not to try not to care?


Given the immense emotional energy we expend worrying about our immediate, personal-level problems, to accept the burden of planet-level problems is overwhelming. It's extra pain, bonus frustration. And since, unlike our own worries, which often stem from obstacles we can, by ourselves, or with a little help, overcome, the big problems - war, poverty, corruption, pollution, disease, climate change, etc. - are all but the tiniest fraction out of our control. They're causes for hopelessness, the kinds of things that drive people to alcohol, heroin, styrofoam coffee cups, and V-12 luxury SUVs.

When I first read the question, the answer that jumped to my mind was to convince people that caring is more fun. And to start the convincing process with Bob Thurman's TED Talk.

But, thinking about it more, I wondered if maybe Bob's too stark a contrast, too giggly for people that are struggling so much that they're trying not to care.

So maybe Bill McKibben (and a comment he made in an interview with Yale Environment 360) is a better starting point...

e360: How optimistic are you that the world will take the steps necessary to avoid what you see are the most drastic effects of climate change?

McKibben: You know, for the moment, I am not spending my time being either optimistic or pessimistic. I am just working.


Just working. Head down. One word at a time. One nail at a time. One meal at a time.

Harder to worry about the pain of caring when the task at hand is clear. And accomplishable. And needing to get done. Right now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Appreciating Our Home

Maybe a good little Earth Day exercise is to remember how majestically weird this place is. Mysterious. Improbable. Surprising. And everything else in that category of adjectives.

Three examples:

A cave.

A bird.

And a dude in a contest.

Three crazy little flecks awesomeness grown and fed by this planet. Three reasons to treat it well, to keep it happy, to keep it productive, to keep it weird.

Happy Day, Earth.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Chicken Sourcing Experiment

We needed chicken last weekend. For the big pre-egg-hunt meal. So I made some calls. To a farmer and some butchers.

And, while it took a little while to find exactly what we wanted, we got the chicken and cooked a beautiful meal.

But.

One of the conversations from that day has been haunting me ever since:

Butcher: Hello. Bachetti Brothers. How may I help you?
Jake: Hi. Do you guys have any local, organic chicken?
Butcher: We don't have any organic food here.

And she said it righteously. A roll of her verbal eyes.

Ugh. Total bummer.

But I think I've just exorcised the haunting. By pulling out the calendar and turning this into an experiment...

Two months from now, I'm calling Bachetti Bros. Gourmet Meat Market & Catering, asking that same question, and taking notes. And then, two months from then, I'm calling and asking again. And after another two months, another call. And on and on.

Until.

Baschetti Brothers tells me they can sell me local, organic chicken.

Or.

They go out of business.

I Just Wish I Were Better At It

My unofficial but for all intents and purposes cousin Danny is starting a web-heavy t-shirt business.

A couple of days ago, he posted about the trickiness of working with illustrators.

I just read the post, and three sentences leapt off the page:

Working on this site is a major learning experience.

I love it all.


I just wish I were better at it.


I feel the same way. I bet a lot of other rookie entrepreneurs do too. And I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't just a rookie thing either.

Thank you for the validation, Danny.

And thank you for blogging, too. Our unrelated but related grandchildren will appreciate it. For the windows into your brilliance and madness. For the story of Icronical. And probably especially for the post about promises and ice cream.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In Uncertainties

When I first read the quote below, it was describing the state of mind that makes communication with alethiometers possible.

But maybe it's the state of mind to achieve when working on anything creative, when accessing the imagination.

Or maybe it's just simply the state mind to achieve...

...capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason...

One of the things I appreciate about the blog medium is that it allows lots more products of those uncertainties out into the world. No editors to demand a particular kind of clarity. No significant structural constraints. Just pure mid-thought thinking. In writing. In public.

Not the easiest body of content to sift and curate, of course. But definitely stuff I'd rather have on the internets and searchable than hiding in forgotten notebooks.

The world needs all the wisdom it can get. Even if its authors don't know its wisdom when they write it.

Note: Maybe not the most spot-on relevant post when it comes to the creation of a more perfect market, but this is the original blog for me, and that makes it feel like the natural place to celebrate blogging.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Water Is For Fightin

I was catching up on comment responses this morning, and I noticed that a thought I posted on nouns and verbs brought in a link to some rules governing literary art.

It's Mark Twain criticizing James Fenimore Cooper. And it's harsh. And funny. And useful. If you write or tell stories. Which I think we all do, in one way or another.

Anyway, as soon as I finished reading the essay and responding to the comment, I figured I'd follow my catching up on blog commenting with some catching up on blog reading. I checked in on No Impact Man, pressed play on the embedded video I found there, and, magically, nouns and verbs segued perfectly into water and plastic...



I love weird little coincidences like that.

And I love to see journalists working to educate consumers.

Whole lot of dangerously partial truth in water marketing. Whole lot of manipulation. And someone's gotta fill in the gaps.

Thank you Stephanie Soechtig. In advance. Provided that the movie's as good as the trailer makes it look. And the soundtrack's as good as the trailer makes it sound.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Patience, Policy, and the Seven Dollar Cup

This is how I remember it anyway...

Customer brings a stainless steel water bottle to an airport coffee shop and orders a drink.

Barista (a word I'm pretty sure I've never written before) looks at it skeptically and says the bottle's skinny neck and spout make it an unacceptable latte shape.

Customer is determined not to use a paper cup, leaves, figures she could do with another ceramic mug in her life, spends seven dollars at the shop that sells gum, magazines, and Salt Lake City shot glasses, and goes back to see Barista.

Barista says ceramics are no good either. Lattes go in paper cups. According to The Rules, anyway.

Customer stares, thinks, holds back a scream, breathes, smiles, explains, and asks REALLY nicely.

Barista feels the smile, agrees that the rule's a bummer, and inaugurates the seven dollar cup.

I react in three ways...

First, I love the patient perseverance. A lot of power there. Tough power to harness. Easy power to lose. But very serious power that we all can have, hold, wield, use, whatever it is we do with power. And that, I think, is worth a few moments' thought.

Second, policy scares me. It lingers. Because it's so often less hassle (in the immediate, instant gratification term) to let it linger than to review, consider, adjust, perfect, etc.

And, third, you gotta love the virtuous subversion of policy. But you gotta follow it up with policy change. Which probably, given the nature of policy, requires none other than patient perseverance.

As I said, that's how I remember it. Second hand. Here's how it really went down.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A New Nature?

Good, in my opinion, to see that Disney is going into the environmental education business...



This is a bit of a yucky way of looking at things, but I think it'll bode well for the planet's long-term health if this movie shows that Charismatic Megafauna* and their stories can be short-term (and Disney-level) profitable.

*Elephants, wolves, polar bears, whales, sea turtles, etc. I think of it as a Van Jones term, though he might be quoting someone else.

Bunnies, Carrots, and Compostable Cups

I had visions of following my unplanned, week-long More Perfect Market hiatus with something a little thinkier, but this is current, so it's going up. Thinkiness to follow soon. I hope.

My grandfather hosts an egg hunt and softball game every year on Easter, and whichever of us (his progeny) are closest at hand do the organizing (inviting, dyeing, hiding, old glove repair, etc.).

Given my living arrangement for the past year plus, I'm definitely close, so, in the spirit of crunchiness (and because it's the right thing to do), we're going be a little more mindful this year.

And that starts with eliminating bottled water from the shopping list. We'll have beer and juice boxes (which might be an environmental disaster themselves...gotta do some learning there), but, if people want water, we'll have taps and hoses.

And cups. Sustainably produced cups. Or, at least, what we hope are sustainably produced cups.

I just placed an order with Eco Products. I thought about going the show the big company that it ought to commit hard to its "green" product lines route and getting bare cups by Solo, but I had a good chat with the Eco Products customer service department (full IM transcript here), and I figured I'd give them a try.

Their corn polymer sourcing looks decent. They offset their transportation footprint. And the fact that they're wiling to talk and think and do a little follow up info gathering for me is a good sign.

Gotta be accessible if you're gonna be transparent. So far, so good from Eco Products.

I'll report more if there's more to report.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Helpful Dissent

Freeman Dyson is a well-respected, independent, principled scientific mind.

He's an "Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources."

He has written that “we live on a shrinking and vulnerable planet which our lack of foresight is rapidly turning into a slum.”

But.

He is not afraid of climate change, carbon dioxide, or coal.

He says "that protecting the existing biosphere is not as important as fighting more repugnant evils like war, poverty and unemployment."

He has "tremendous faith in the creative imagination’s ability to invent technologies that would overcome any predicament."

And he "sees coal as the interim kindling of progress," though, "in 'roughly 50 years,' he predicts, solar energy will become cheap and abundant, and 'there are many good reasons for preferring it to coal.'"

He's also 85 years old and an incorrigible breaker of scientific consensus.

Or so says the Nicholas Dawidoff article from this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

What it doesn't say, however, and what I want to know, is what the fossil fuel industry and their scientists have to say about Dyson. Do they cite him? How? How does he feel about the way he's represented? And is he skeptical about the reasons for their skepticism?

Dyson's feels to me to be a different strain of climate crisis dissent. It feels refreshingly uncorrupt. Mischievous maybe. Rebellious. A product of the same imagination that expects us to be growing ourselves pet dinosaurs in the not too distant future. But motivated by neither greed nor self-preservation.

And I appreciate that.

I'm not ready to agree with him. I'd much rather err on the side of overestimation of the climate change problem. And I think it's crazy to say it's too soon to make a concerted push for sustainable energy abundance.

But I think it's good to have Dyson's opinions out there. I think they can be, if treated calmly and open-mindedly, points of useful discussion. And I think they provide an enlightening contrast to the opinions of Dyson's vested-interest-funded climate skeptic cousins.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Building a World

Freedom's Plow is a Langston Hughes poem about dreams and work and the foundations of America.

And maybe this piece of that poem, standing alone, is about every visionary and every idea and every movement...

When a man starts to build a world,

He starts first with himself

And the faith that is in his heart-

The strength there,

The will there to build.


First in the heart is the dream-

Then the mind starts seeking a way.

His eyes look out on the world,

On the great wooded world,

On the rich soil of the world,

On the rivers of the world.


The eyes see there materials for building,

See the difficulties, too, and the obstacles.

The mind seeks a way to overcome these obstacles.

The hand seeks tools to cut the wood,

To till the soil, and harness the power of the waters.

Then the hand seeks other hands to help,

A community of hands to help-

Thus the dream becomes not one man's dream alone,

But a community dream.

Not my dream alone, but our dream.

Not my world alone,

But your world and my world,

Belonging to all the hands who build.


Now read the whole thing. It's fun to see how context adjusts the meaning.