Links and Tweets of the Week: January 9, 2010

Bowen Island by Marcela

photo taken on Bowen Island, my new home, by Marcela


Resilient Systems vs Efficient Systems: Ever since I read David Ehrenfeld’s Beginning Again I have been intrigued by the stark contrast between modern ‘efficient’ industrial processes and systems, and ‘inefficient’ but effective and resilient natural systems. Natural systems are full of deliberate redundancy and constant evolutionary experiment and adaptation, whereas industrial systems are wound tight, change-resistant, fragile, seeking their own perpetuation by trying to control and prevent outside factors. Stoneleigh has done an exhaustive study and review of the work of Buzz Holling, Bob Prechter and Joseph Tainter, leaders in adaptation and resilience theory, and it’s hard slogging but important reading. See the Thoughts for the Week below for more on this theme.

How Online Activism might work: Andrew Mason presents some interesting ideas on why online activism hasn’t worked and how, using ‘tipping point’ methods, it might. Thanks to Tom Atlee for the link. Some key points:

  • It’s not that most people don’t care; it’s that they don’t see activism as effective.
  • The Internet lets us do 3 things we couldn’t do before as activists: Identify groups/communities with a common interest, collaborate virtually, and coordinate activities virtually and instantly.
  • In keeping with Pollard’s Law (“We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun.”) our objective must be to push people, and through them decision-makers, past the tipping point where the desired action becomes more attractive than other actions, or inaction — to the point we must, or can’t resist, or really want to, take the desired action.

What a Difference a Decade Makes: The end of a decade tends to make us reflective, and it can be helpful to think about the journey we have taken over the past decade, and how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve yet to go. Such a review, if written down, can also be very helpful for readers/listeners to understand and appreciate the context for what you write and say. I’m therefore going to do such a “decade recap” soon, and put it in my bio. Here are two good recap models to follow: Sharon Astyk’s “How We Got Here” and Janene Smith’s “What a Decade It Has Been”. Anyone else up for such an exercise?

Move Your Money: Several readers have pointed me to this site which explains how leaving your money with big banks is bad for the economy, the ecology, and society, and how to move it to credit unions and other small, community-based financial institutions.



Getting Things Done: Personal Kanban Approach: Jim Benson suggests that when we lay out our work in a tableau like the one shown above, we can visualize what needs to be done, see the bottlenecks and impracticalities, and manage our workflow better. Thanks to Jerry Michalski for the link. The steps in the process:

  1. Lay out the 3-column tableau above, with most urgent/important stuff at the top and using colours for different types of tasks.
  2. Put all your “to dos” in the backlog column — all of them.
  3. Set a limit on the number of things that can be in the middle WIP column at once — maximum 5.
  4. As you finish and begin work projects, pull those items across the columns to the right.
  5. Periodically scan the whole board to prioritize, refine and reduce.

One-Word Theme for 2010: Colleen Wainwright’s theme word for the year is ROOM. She writes about the theme word for 2010 of other bloggers. I think mine, in various connotations, is MOVE. What’s yours?


Hendrik Hertzberg on America’s Pathetic Fallacy: The brilliant New Yorker writer describes how the US political system is hopelessly broken and why Obama, under the circumstances, is doing what he can and what he must. Excerpts:

The pathetic fallacy is a category mistake. It’s the false attribution of human feelings, thoughts, or intentions to inanimate objects, or to living entities that cannot possibly have such feelings, thoughts, or intentions—cruel seas, dancing leaves, hot air that “wants” to rise. The American government has its human aspects—it is staffed by human beings, mostly—but its atomized, at-odds-with-itself legislative structure (House and Senate, each with its arcane rules, its semi-feudal committee chairs, and its independently elected members, none of whom are accountable or fully responsible for outcomes) makes it more like an inanimate object. In our sclerotic lawmaking process, it is not enough that the President, a majority of both Houses of Congress, and a majority of the voters at the last election favor extending health care to all citizens…

The health-care bill now being kicked and prodded and bribed toward passage will not “do the job,” either—only part of it. Are Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress doing enough? No. But they are doing what’s possible. That may be pathetic, but it’s no fallacy.

Wandering in the Wilderness: Some stunning writing by Starhawk at the conclusion of her vigil in Egypt protesting the plight of Palestinians. Thanks to Tree for the link. Excerpt:

From a heritage of pain, you can draw a number of different conclusions.   You can say, “In a world of slaves and masters I choose to wield the whip rather than suffer the lash.  You can say, “Never again will I let this happen to me or mine!” Or you can stand with [Holocaust survivor] Hedy and all those like her, and say, “Never again will I let this happen to anyone.”  Not in my name, not to my benefit, not by my silence.

We are still wandering in the wilderness.  Over a far horizon, we can sometimes catch a glimpse of a new Promised Land–a place without walls, without checkpoints, without prisons, without masters and slaves, us and them, our tribe and their tribe—a place where everyone is free.  But we have a long journey still before we get there, and we do not know the way.

What America Can’t Do: The astonishing thing about this scorecard on America’s succeeding and failing institutions is that all of the ‘successes’ on the list are, in my view and that of most of the people I know, failures. Thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for the link:

‘Succeeding’: Biotech, Silicon Valley, Civil Society, Philanthropy, The Military, Small-Town Life, the Arts (so let’s see: GM foods, Big Pharma price-fixing, viagra, fascist ‘tea parties’, guilt money from billionaire foundations mostly spent on real estate, Abu Ghraib, Blackwater, Appalachia, Nascar, dogs tearing apart wild boars for public spectacle, and violent Hollywood porn directed at adolescents — have I missed anything on this ‘success’ list?)

‘Still Functioning but Struggling’: Higher Education, Environmental Protection, Energy

‘Failing’: Elementary Education, Federal Government, State Governments, Infrastructure, Airlines & Airports, Rail Transport, the Financial System, Electronic & Print Media, Manufacturing

Canada Suspends its Government: Canada’s right-wing extremist minority PM Harper has prorogued parliament for three months to avoid facing more criticism over his total capitulation to Big Oil in Copenhagen and the disastrous war in Afghanistan he so fanatically supports. Comedian Rick Mercer provides a scathing indictment of Harper’s lack of responsibility. Thanks to Eric Lilius for the link. Excerpt:

It is too bad that prorogation isn’t something that our soldiers had in their arsenal. When faced with the order to head out on a foot patrol in the Panjwai district of southern Afghanistan, to risk their lives to bring democracy to that place, wouldn’t it be nice if they could simply prorogue and roll over and go back to sleep? Soldiers don’t get that luxury. That is afforded only to the people who ultimately order them to walk down those dangerous dusty roads in the first place.

Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Approved: This ecologically devastating pipeline from the Canadian arctic permafrost to the Alberta Tar Sands (its main purpose is to provide clean energy to power the production of the Tar Sands’ dirty energy) has passed the next-to-last hurdle, and all it needs now is a rubber-stamp by the Big Oil-controlled Harper government and the similarly-controlled National Energy Board. Oh, and it needs lots of government money. I fought this project as a student 40 years ago, and we managed to stall it off, but it will be tougher this time. Our best bet is to dump the Harper government and lobby furiously against any public funding of this project.


Heather Gold, a kind of NoCal version of Colleen Wainwright, explains how to turn a presentation into a conversation. Thanks to Jerry Michalski for the link. Excerpt from Heather’s ‘unpresenting’ notes:

Contain everyone. Go first.
Be vulnerable: Be genuine. Express yourself. Emotions affect energy more than data. Your vulnerability allows others to do the same.
Accept everything that happens. (classic improv: “Yes, and…”)
People are interesting if youʼre interested. More will participate if they feel listened to and invited.
Energy follows attention. Arthur Miller was right: Attention must be paid.
Feature people not as an end unto themselves (ie experts) but as kindling to start and scale the conversation
Translate everything: what did they say? what did they mean? If youʼre not sure: ask.
Mirror / give acknowledgement to all contributions.
Connections are strengthened more quickly by difference. More energy released.
Thread and make connections. Acknowledge others who thread and respond. Eventually the “room” will thread itself some if you model it.
Domino effect: drawing in someone on the fringe (“low status”) has exponential effect. Amplifies connection.
Release tension: name the unnamed.
Have cake.

The year’s 10 best tech ideas.

If you’re familiar with Myers-Briggs personality testing, you’ll enjoy this Pumpkin Soup recipe adapted for each personality type. Thanks to Isabella Mori for the link.


From Joseph Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies:

Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole. Competitors who evolve as peers collapse in like manner.

From David Ehrenfeld, in Beginning Again:

There goes a chunk — the sick and aged along with the huge apparatus of doctors, social workers, hospitals, nursing homes, drug companies, and manufacturers of sophisticated medical equipment, which service their clients at enormous cost but don’t help them very much.

There go the college students along with the VPs, provosts, deans and professors who have nor prepared them for life in a changing world after formal schooling is over. There go the high school and elementary school students, along with the parents, administrators and frustrated teachers who have turned the majority of schools into costly, stagnant and violent babysitting services.

There go the lawyers and their hapless clients in a dust cloud of the ten billion codes, rules and regulations that were produced to organize and control an increasingly intricate, unorganizable and uncontrollable society.

There go the economists with their worthless pretentious predictions and systems, along with the unemployed, the impoverished and the displaced who reaped the consequences of theories and schemes with faulty premises and indecent objectives. There go the engineers, designers and technologists, along with the people stuck with the deadly buildings, roads, power plants, dams and machinery that are the experts’ monuments.

There go the advertising hucksters with their consumer goods, and there go the consumers, consumed with their consumption. And there go the media pundits and pollsters, along with all those unfortunates who wasted precious time listening to them explain why the flywheel could never come apart, or tell how to patch it even while increasing its crazy rate of spin.

The most terrifying thing about this disintegration for a society that believes in prediction and control will be the randomness of its violent consequences. The chaotic violence will include not only desperate ruthless struggles over the wealth that remains, but the last great violation of nature. What will make it worse is that, at least at the beginning, it will take place under a cloud of denial and cynical reassurances.

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8 Responses to Links and Tweets of the Week: January 9, 2010

  1. First, these weekly roundup posts are f*cking GOLD. If all of the MSM world gave juicy, beautifully curated pieces like this, it would be thriving. Okay, maybe not. But it would be relevant, at the very least. (Not holding my breath.)

    Second, speaking of GOLD, Heather Gold is the NorCal me? We need a midCal meetup. Must meet Heather Gold. In fact, I think we were actually seated across the table at some bar during SXSW last year, but there was loudness and the distraction of too many people I’m always DYING to meet with in too short a space to meet them in. Quality problem, but still.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Hey Colleen: Heather’s doing a session in SF on Feb. 4. Don’t think I’ll be able to make it, but I will be in SF on/around that date, so if you’re there then maybe you and I can finally meet too.

  3. vera says:

    Nice collection, Dave, as always. My word for the year 2010… JUMP.

    To add to the list of things “succeeding”: city people’s ongoing entitlements to plunder the hinterlands.

    As for activism: “our objective must be to push people, and through them decision-makers, past the tipping point” Well, if Pollard’s Law holds it’s not going to happen because this “pushing” is neither an everyday must, nor easy, nor fun.

  4. I would love that. There’s another thingy I’ve been trying to get to for months now in SF that meets first Thursday of the month.

    Unfortunately, the stupid State of California thinks I will be of some use to someone suing someone else via the judicial system that week. Huzzah! No SF for me, and we must wait yet again.

    OH! And a big P.S.: I like this commenting system soooo much more. Go, WordPress!

  5. Jon Husband says:

    all of the ’successes’ on the list are, in my view and that of most of the people I know, failures.

    Yes, and all of the things the USA is failing at are the things that are necessary for an effective, progressive and more-or-less fair society. The USA is doing car wheelies back towards the feudal days as fast as its gas pedal will let it, IMO

  6. Dale Asberry says:

    Hey Dave,
    I’ve been making a huge push into permaculture and have just started reading Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. A very good chunk of it so far is focused on every design element fulfilling multiple functions and having every function fulfilled by multiple elements. Coupled with using natural systems designed to harvest and re-cycle “energy” flows, the overall system requires little or no added energies and becomes self-sustaining, resilient, and abundant.

  7. JayD says:

    Re: “The chaotic violence will include not only desperate ruthless struggles over the wealth that remains, but the last great violation of nature. What will make it worse is that, at least at the beginning, it will take place under a cloud of denial and cynical reassurances.”–this is a good enough set-up to mention the increasing physical “clouds”, and the lack thereof in other places…etc., courtesy of anthropogenic climate change.

    Re: Heather Gold’s list—I’d rate the “yes, and…” orientation as the most important, underpinning most others, if you think it through.

    Dave, were you saying you worked to stop the pipeline to Alberta Tar Sands 40 years ago? If so, how so, what was up with that way back then?!

    I like the “decade re-cap” exercise.

    I like Vera’s theme-in-a-word for the year, “JUMP”; is what we’re doing here the key step of looking before leaping? I know some of us are VERY interested in wrapping up the “looking” part ASAP!…we mustn’t shortchange the importance of either.

    I like Colleen’s idea of “mid-Cal meetup”…soonish! Like maybe 2/4? Been reading this blog since last March, and that would seem to be a good big next step toward…something!

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