Gladwell and Surowiecki Chat About Each Other’s Books: An interesting e-mail exchange over three days on Slate has Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, and James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, chatting about each other’s books and contrasting their messages. It starts here. [Thanks to Mark Brady of Fourboros for the link]

New Developments in Solar Energy Technology: Canadian company Solar Hydrogen Energy Corporation claims to have a revolutionary new process that uses mirrors to focus sunlight on a chemical reactor that cleanly and efficiently separates water into hydrogen and oxygen using a catalytic thermal water splitting process that works at 400 degrees Celsius, not the 3,000 degrees Celsius of previous technologies using this process. Lots of impressive sounding scientific certifications and testimonials. Meanwhile a team at the University of Toronto claim to have invented a solar cell that is five times as efficient as previous technologies at capturing solar energy, and which can be woven into clothing which could then power your cellphone, laptop and other portable electronics. Is there an engineer in the house who can tell us if this is too good to be true?

Making Investors Take the Long View: GreenMoney Journal explains three changes to accounting and disclosure that could make companies and investors realize the folly of short-rage thinking: Internalizing (adding in all costs created by the company, including social and environmental costs, even if the company currently doesn’t have to pay them); Blended Value Accounting (combining financial, social and environmental performance measures into an overall score); and Wealth Consolidation and Concentration (the disparity of wealth and the concentration of ownership in an industry, which leads to costly social unrest and risky brittleness of supplies and markets). Although all these things have a long term impact on sustainability of profits and hence stock value, investors will only be able to factor them into decision-making if and when this information is part of mandatory disclosures.

Bush Tries to Spin Deficits: The NYT reports that, in the light of the Bush administration’s astronomical and soaring trade deficits, even after a dive in the US dollar and oil prices, Bush is saying the deficits are actually good news, and that they’re Europe’s fault for not buying more American products. None of the reputable economists are buying it, and the Europeans simply reply that if Europe isn’t buying, that means the quality, the price, or the suitability doesn’t meet market demand. You need only sit in New York harbour and watch hundreds of tankers arriving daily from China packed to the brim, and then heading back with the only product the Chinese are interested in taking back from America — its garbage and packaging materials, to realize that this just can’t go on.

The Perfect Sweetener You Can’t Buy: It’s a Paraguayan herb called Stevia Rebaudiana, and in Japan it’s 40% of the sweetener market. It’s been around for years, and is completely natural — none of the risks and side-effects and expensive processing of aspertame. It’s sweeter than sugar. It’s grown in countries that could desperately use a cash crop for export instead of cocaine. But because of intense pressure from lobby groups, it’s illegal to bring Stevia into the US. Oh, and our friends at Monsanto have a corner on aspertame. But since we have ‘free’ markets and ‘free’ trade, that must be just a coincidence, right?

Photo of swans is by Kevin Cameron at the visually stunning Bastish.

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12 Responses to WEEKEND ROUND-UP

  1. Rayne says:

    You do remember that Donald Rumsfeld was CEO at Searle when aspartame entered the market? Wonder if he still has friends in the industry…

  2. otterhound says:

    I’m pretty sure you can legally buy stevia in the US.

  3. Dale Asberry says:

    Solar Energy Tech:SHEC: Looks promising, but requires a centralized power facilityU of Toronto: sort of misleading, the comparison is against PLASTIC (not silicon) cells. The most efficient silicon cells are about as efficient as these new plastic cells.I believe that the most promising solar energy tech will use a solar funnel (avoids need for a tracking motor) to heat water, ammonia, whatever and then to use a Stirling engine to generate the electricity. At night, the flow can be reversed and heat can be radiated back into the sky for refrigeration.

  4. Cyndy says:

    It’s only illegal to call stevia a sweetner in the US. I use it all the time. I can buy it in health food stores or regular grocery stores. I noticed the new Burpee seed catalog is selling stevia plants this year too.

  5. Evan says:

    Regarding the new solar cells: My skepti-senses are tingling. I heard about these last week, followed a link and read all I could about them, and found that a lot of what’s claimed at the beginning (30% efficiency, for example) are dislaimed at the end (it turns out to be an estimate of the efficiencies that _might_ be acheived after some further research is done).What they’ve come up with is a kind of cell that converts infrared energy (that is, radiant heat) into electricity, considerably more efficiently than prior techniques. If you combine that with a conventional PV cell that converts visible light, you might conceivably get into the 30% efficiency range. It’s a promising idea.But when promising ideas are splashed around in the major media, with big claims that aren’t yet justified by results, I can’t avoid the suspicion that I’m being scammed.

  6. Rebecca says:

    I’ve grown stevia in my garden (upstate NY) and used it for sweetener in tea and such. Don’t need much, it’s -very- sweet.

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    The official regs on Stevia are pretty severe, and are here. The only loophole is as a “dietary supplement for specified reasons other than its sweetening effect”. These regs are pretty bizarre, and seem written to protect the US diet sweetener industry rather than consumers. They call it ‘unsafe’, yet say as long as it’s not for sweetening, and is needed for other specified dietary purposes, it’s OK. Makes no sense, except to protect Monsanto (who now owns Searle). The Japanese are very fussy about what they import, and they have no problems with it.

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    Dale/Evan — thanks for the views on the solar energy advances. We need somebody in the mainstream media who can critique these intelligently.

  9. Anne says:

    What a beautiful photo of swans, and thank you for the Bastish link!

  10. Dave,RE: stevia – the regs are indeed somewhat bizarre, though no moreso than most other FDA regs. However, it appears that it is the use of stevia as an additive — i.e. sweetening a product that is then sold for consumption — that is illegal. The substance is indeed available here, in most every healthfood store in most every state that I have visited. Or it may be that the enforcement of such regs is simply problematic. It’s worth noting that the Food Service Administration in the UK has similar regs, noting that:

    … Stevia and stevioside are not permitted for sale as food or food ingredients in the UK or elsewhere within the EU.

    None of this argues against your main point — that oligopolistic interests in the pharma and agra businesses have biig seats at the regulatory table, and get regs that benefit themselves at the expense of the public.

  11. Lanaeve says:

    I love sweetleaf stevia, it is the only sweetener I use besides Raw honey. I love my body too much to put those artificial chemicals in it, my moto is “choose all natural your body will thank-you in the long run”….change your diet now by adding whole fruits and vegetables, lentils, beans, nuts, and cutting out the crap! Read labels if you can’t pronounce it don’t put it in your body. No more preservatives, food colorings, pesticides, sugary corn syrups etc. It’s time we got back to nature, back to health, and back to nautral living. If you take care of yourself now and nourish your body with whole foods it needs, you will live a happy, healthy, long energetic life! Peace & Love & Health to all!

  12. narenner says:

    I totally agree with the last comment! You shouldn’t put things in your body that aren’t natural, especially when it comes to sweeteners. I’ve tried a lot of different brands of stevia and have found that the SweetLeaf brand is by far the best tasting and the best for you. It also doesn’t hurt that it has no calories, no carbs and no glycemic index – ideal for pretty much anyone. Recently I’ve been susbstituting stevia for sugar in all my recipes. I always add a filler substance like mashed bananas or yogurt to keep the amount of ingredients the same. I haven’t baked anything that hasn’t turned out delicious! I’d definitely recommend giving stevia a try!Also, I found these videos on stevia while I was surfing YouTube if anyone wants to check them out for more info:http://youtube.com/watch?v=6wwMAe_Hi0khttp://youtube.com/watch?v=s5ILDC5Cx_o

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