Sunday, August 30, 2009


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.


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.