Links and Tweets of the Week: September 12, 2009

BLOG Links and Tweets of the Week: September 12, 2009

does congo matter
image from Does Congo Matter? by Emily Troutman


Not a Problem, a Predicament: Sharon Astyk introduces some complex adaptive systems thinking in her post on approaches to problems (complicated challenges, that can be ‘solved’) versus predicaments (complex challenges, that we must adapt ourselves to). Most of the critical civilizational collapse challenges facing us (economic, social and economic) are inherently complex, while we continue to try to ‘solve’ them, fruitlessly. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.

US Economy Teetering: Ilargi and Stoneleigh continue to argue, compellingly, that it will be economic collapse, led by the collapse of the US dollar and economy, that will precipitate the collapse of our civilization, the first domino to fall (before the effects of climate change or the End of Oil). These two writers (formerly the Canadian correspondents for the Oil Drum) have done an extraordinary amount of research and written volumes of commentary (they reply patiently to all comments on their blog, explaining complex issues in understandable terms) on why this will happen. Their arguments are more reasoned and better supported than anything I’ve read from mainstream economists. Thanks to Eric Lilius for the link.

At the Gates of Ecological Hell: My friend Mushin, at the precipice of letting his heart be broken over the inevitable and horrific collapse of our unsustainable human civilization, blinks and retreats to the comfort of belief in the “emergence of collective consciousness”, which John Gray describes as the humanist equivalent of the Rapture. Give him time, though, he’ll come around.

David Abram on Living in the Now: The author of the extraordinary Spell of the Sensuous explains that we have to be present, not future-oriented, before we can start to change the world. (And no, despite the similarity of appearance, he and I are not related.) Thanks to Siona for the link.

The End of Money: Thomas Greco in his book The End of Money argues that fiat money issued by governments that citizens are forced to accept at their stated value acts to corrupt the political and economic system and concentrate more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands, and that it is unsustainable. His prescription: “A multi-stage plan involving diverse segments of the community. It is designed to accomplish the following: (1.) Institute measures that promote import substitution;  (2.) Provide an alternative payment medium, independent of any political currency and banking establishment; (3.) Issue a supplemental regional currency; (4.) Develop basic support structures that strengthen the local economy and enhance the community’s quality of life; (5.) Develop an independent value standard and unit of account. The keystone of this plan is the organization of a mutual credit clearing association in the second stage. I also describe the emergent web based exchange systems and slight modifications that are required to make them fully functional as non-governmental exchange and finance alternatives.” This is not an easy book for novices, but it is an essential component of any new community-based economic model, so it’s must reading. Full disclosure: I provided a critique of the pre-publication version, and recommended that Chelsea Green publish it. Thanks to P2P Foundation for the great online summary.

The Logic of the Barbaric Heart: Success is Virtue: Curtis White’s June Orion article on the Barbaric Heart is now online. “All of this is a roundabout way of saying that there is no need for environmentalism. Environmentalism has no victories to win. The very notion of environmentalism is not much more than a way of isolating a problem from its true context. The crisis of a degraded natural world is a part of the larger problem of the crisis of thought, the crisis of faith, and the crisis of the relation of human beings to Being.” Synopsis: three basic principles have driven human economic activity worldwide since the dawn of our civilization (and they need to be replaced with an ethos with the opposite principles):

  • Prosperity is dependent on violence
  • We are motivated most by the self-interested Ego, the pursuit of the personal
  • There is no need or place in our culture for self-examination, or regret for or rectification of ill-conceived behaviour; a society can never be punished for its excesses or learn from its mistakes


Another Alternative Lighting Solution: Expect to hear more about (and start seeing) OLED lighting over the next few years.


North America: Still the Growth Wasteland: A couple of great posts from Chris Corrigan: One lamenting Obama’s sacrificing of his only real progressive Van Jones, and the other lamenting the growth at any cost agenda of Canada’s so-called Liberal party. I keep saying it: Expect no help from North American governments in the work we need to do.

How US Politics Really Works: A great speech by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Van Jones’ lieutenant at Green for All, that explains how politics works. She dismisses the mainstream environmental organizations, describes the progressive movement as “pathetic”, and explains how to organize to get and leverage power (the Green for All message is: millions of new, good, green jobs right in our communities). Brilliant and ruthless. The fact that organizations led by women like this still can’t get any kind of environmental or health care legislation passed in the US shows how hopeless achieving any real political change is. The system is utterly broken. Thanks to Jerry Michalski and Sheri Herndon for the link.

Why Cap-and-Trade Can’t Work: A study by Friends of the Earth concludes that carbon offset schemes will be fraught with error and fraud, and won’t reduce carbon emissions anyway. So in the meantime we’ll have wasted years without introducing programs that can actually combat climate change. Climate SOS agrees.

Historic Shifts in US Labour Market: Women now outnumber men, and boomers unwilling or unable to retire are preventing Gen Y from entering the labour force. Thanks to Kim Martins-Sbarcea for the link.

Why Congo Matters: Emily Troutman provides a photo-essay and some horrific data about a failed and mostly forgotten state, the Congo. This reality coming soon to a country near you.


Three Fishers (starts at 4:58 in this video), by Stan Rogers: This stirring folk song is nearly 160 years old and was written by one of the founders of the British socialists. Its story of the struggle of working people still rings true. The “moaning” of the “bar” refers to the sound of wind across the sandbar, which was considered an ominous sign for fishers.

Northwest Passage, by Nathan Rogers and Friends: A remarkable version of the Stan Rogers song recently voted Best Canadian Song by CBC listeners, sung by his son and a cast of excellent musicians. I’m going to a Nathan Rogers concert October 7 in Toronto — any GTA readers game for a meetup?

Explode, by Nelly Furtado: An animated video and song about a subject rarely mentioned in pop culture and only glossed over here: the brutality of the “education system”, with morality left up to the power politics and peer pressure of the students themselves, driven by the bullies and other young damaged psychopaths, as teachers and parents simply shrug off all responsibility for the traumatization and psychological destruction of one generation after another.

Gross National Happiness: “Bhutan’s constitution, which emphasises the importance of Gross National Happiness over Gross Domestic Product, stipulates the country must have at least 60 percent forest cover.” Well, at least one country is measuring prosperity correctly. (This article was written by Rain, a member of my Second Life community, who works in Bhutan.)

Biomimicry Goes Ape: New research suggests orangs can craft harp-like instruments to disguise their voices, while some birds use medicinal herbs to disinfect their nests. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the links. And here’s a recap of 15 great examples of biomimicry. Thanks to Michelle James for the link.

What To Do When Riding a Dead Horse: From a commenter to Ilargi’s article referred to above (thanks to Eric Lilius for catching this too) this hilarious advice:

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed down from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. In the public service, however, a whole range of far more advanced strategies is often employed, such as:

    1. Change riders.
    2. Buy a stronger whip.
    3. Do nothing: “This is the way we have always ridden dead horses”.
    4. Visit other countries to see how they ride dead horses.
    5. Perform a productivity study to see if lighter riders improve the dead horse’s performance.
    6. Hire a contractor to ride the dead horse.
    7. Harness several dead horses together in an attempt to increase the speed.
    8. Provide additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.
    9. Appoint a committee to study the horse and assess how dead it actually is.
    10. Re-classify the dead horse as “living-impaired”.
    11. Develop a Strategic Plan for the management of dead horses.
    12. Rewrite the expected performance requirements for all horses.
    13. Modify existing standards to include dead horses.
    14. Declare that, as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overheads, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line than many other horses.
    15. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.
    16. (added by another commenter) Issue Collateralized Horse Obligations


On Evolution’s Unintended Consequences: From Stephen J Gould: The guy who taught us that the evolution of vertebrates (of which we are merely one) was an astonishingly unlikely random event, a crap-shoot, a one-in-a-billion accident (in Full House), also tells us that what Darwin missed in his theory of evolution were two additional and related evolutionary occurrences other than adaptation (the development of some new characteristic to meet a need). The first of these is exaptation, which is an evolution that occurred to take advantage of an adaptation, but which was not what the adaptation was designed for. His famous example: birds, when they evolved from reptiles, developed feathers, an adaptation designed to help them conserve body heat. The additional application of feathers as a device first to attract mates with bright colours, and then to fly, are exaptations, not adaptations — flight was not the original purpose of the evolution of feathers. The second concept is spandrel, which is an unintended consequence of an adaptation, and which may or may not confer evolutionary advantage. The most notable example: Humans evolved large brains to compensate for our rather feeble bodies (slow speed, weak teeth and claws, poor body insulation etc.) That’s an adaptation. But the spandrels of this adaptation — human languages, art, and the waging of wars — were unintended consequences. Thanks to Dave Snowden, who’s at a symposium on the subject, for the link.

On Not Waiting: From Joseph Campbell (in Hero of a Thousand Faces) (Thanks to Rob Paterson for the link.):

The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. ‘Live,’ Nietzsche says, ‘as though the day were here.’ It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal – carries the cross of the redeemer – not in the bright moments of his tribes’ great victories, but in the silence of his personal despair. 

On Feeding the World: From Sharon Astyk:

The correct questions are not being asked.  To what extent can local food continue to feed the world?  How can we begin to grow food in a way that doesn’t undermine our capacity to feed ourselves in the future?  What are the best demonstrated ways to adapt to climate change?  How should we add complexity to discussions of ‘organic or local’ to create ways of eating that actually lead to a future where everyone gets food?  How do we make the best use of our limited resources, in a world of limits?  Until we ask the right questions, we will never get decent answers.

On the Dangers of Wealth Concentration: From former US Justice Louis Brandeis, a century ago (thanks to Thomas Greco for the link):

We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.

On the Spell of the Sensuous: From David Abram’s book of the same name:

An alder leaf, loosened by wind, is drifting out with the tide. As it drifts, it bumps into the slender leg of a great blue heron staring intently through the rippled surface, then drifts on. The heron raises one leg out of the water and replaces it, a single step. As I watch, I, too, am drawn into the spread of silence. Slowly a bank of cloud approaches, slipping its bulged and billowing texture over the earth, folding the heron and the alder trees and my gazing body into the depths of a vast breathing being, enfolding us all within a common flesh, a common story now bursting with rain.

On Readiness for Change: Richard Shindell’s song So Says the Whippoorwill (thanks to Tree Bressen for the link):

The change could happen anyday: so says the whippoorwill.
She hangs around for the seeds I leave out on the windowsill.
“Be-free-you-fool, be-free-you-fool” she sings all afternoon.
Then, as if to show me how it’s done, she leaps into the blue.

The change could happen anyday: so say my true love’s eyes.
They see into my shadows with their sweet, forgiving light.
She smiles and says “Come on – let’s go, let’s stroll the boulevard
It’s such a shame to waste the night just sitting in the dark.”

The change could happen anyday, or so says Father Brown.
I listen for that still small voice but I just can’t make it out
Beneath the constant whispering of the devil that I know.
But who’d I be if I believed? Who am I if I don’t?

The change could happen anyday: so said the mountaineer
Before he turned to face his cliff without a trace of fear.
“Yodel-ay-hee-hoo, yodel-ay-hee-hoo” he sang right up until
He caught sight of the open blue and became a whippoorwill.

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4 Responses to Links and Tweets of the Week: September 12, 2009

  1. Siona says:

    Again, are you sure you and Abram are not the same David? When I saw that video I jumped. ;)

  2. Siona says:

    Again, are you sure you and Abram are not the same David? When I saw that video I jumped; it’s not so much that you look related, but that you could be the others’ twin. ;)

  3. Jon Husband says:

    The additional application of feathers as a device first to attract mates with bright colours, and then to fly, are exaptations, not adaptations — flight was not the original purpose of the evolution of feathers.Are feathers necessary for flight to occur ?

  4. Christopher says:

    While I appreciate David Abram’s insights, I could do without the inane music accompanying it. Americans can’t live without having some soppy crap music on EVERYTHING. Just let the guy speak for crying out loud.

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