Links for the Month: February 3, 2011

[My work on local Transition, Co-housing and Pattern Language initiatives is taking up all my serious time these days, so this month’s Links are disproportionately fun. You already know the bad stuff that’s going on, and what we have to do about it, anyway.]

Cartoon by Tom Cheney from the New Yorker


Dmitry Orlov on Collapse: Dmitry describes what is happening with the increasingly dysfunctional, impotent and fractured US administration, and how it echoes the Soviet Union before its collapse. Must reading. Excerpt:

The way collapse unfolds is actually very interesting because a lot of it has to do with people’s faith in the status quo. As long as people think that there’s something in it for them, they will cooperate. As soon as they decide that there is nothing in it for them, they will cease to cooperate and the system starts to crumble, cave in on itself. So what we saw in the Soviet Union was a political dysfunction where basically the communist regime was so endemically corrupt and so out to steal as much as they could at the very end that they really didn’t even bother paying attention to whether they kept the system going, the system was basically on autopilot until it crashed. Something similar is happening here where we have people in all branches of government, both political parties, really trying to prop up the financial industry which has really become completely irrelevant to most people in the United States who don’t have savings and are not credit worthy. They’re basically trying to use up people’s savings and use up people’s retirement to prop up this set of institutions that only help the very rich people and these very rich people are only rich on paper, they are long paper. All of them. What they own is pieces of paper with letters and numbers on them, which will turn out to be worthless. So this is all just basically musical chairs and something very similar was happening in the Soviet Union and something like that is happening here…

[When a system collapses] really the most important thing to consider is, who do you know and how will they help you even if you don’t give them any money for it. It’s as basic as that.

Vinay Gupta’s Simple Critical Infrastructure Model: Vinay tells his audience that once civilization starts to collapse, all that will happen is that the proportion of the world struggling to survive will increase from 80% to 95%. And then he tells us what we need to do now to survive when that happens. Complex Risk Management 101. Check out and save his slide deck. Thanks to Lucas Gonzalez for the link.

Being Unschooled is a Little Like Being Grown Up: One of my favourite young bloggers is Kate at Un-schooled, an accomplished writer who also writes for the Huffington Post. Here’s her take on the value of unschooling (“most of what you do takes place in the ‘real world’ “) but just about everything she writes is worth reading.

Herman Daly on the Tragedy of the Commons and the Tragedy of Artificial Scarcity: The steady-state economist explains when the market ‘makes’ the best decisions and when government intervention is needed to manage, tax, allocate and free resources to optimize the common good.


ignoring the pipedream forecast for the future, this is what bankruptcy looks like; from Stuart Staniford’s blog

Addicted to Growth: Dave Gardner draws an analogy between economic growth and substance addiction, with the same temptations, vicious cycle, denial, and ultimate consequences if the addictions are not addressed and arrested.

Economic Development as Abuse: In contrast to Gardner, above, Derrick Jensen (in Orion) argues that the Industrial Growth economy is an economy of war and imperialism, and the appropriate metaphor is not addiction, but abuse, with an entirely different 12-step program required to stop the perpetrators.

Scientists Plead with US Government for Climate Change Action: As the US Government dithers and even backslides on taking steps to deal with looming runaway climate change, a group of scientists affiliated with the National Academy of Scientists pleads with the US Congress to look at the science and act while there is still time.

The Myth that Innovation Will Save Us: Interesting article by economist Michael Lind on the heels of Obama’s speech encouraging more innovation and education to fix the US economy, explains why these are not the culprits behind the US economy’s problems of massive and intractable unemployment. The real problems are unsustainable processes, underregulation, growth, economic inequality, global corruption and unfair, exploitative trade.

What If a Magnitude 9 Earthquake Hit the Pacific Northwest?: A fascinating scenario exercise suggests we would be almost as overwhelmed and devastated by a major quake as the people of Haiti were, and proposes some intriguing ideas for increasing local resilience. Thanks to Tree for the link and the two that follow.

Food Prices Hit Record Highs: Around the world, the price of almost all foods is at or near record high levels. Guess what else is jumping in price when almost everything else is entering deflation? Oil prices. Not a coincidence, of course. In the costs of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides and transportation, it is oil we eat.


Permaculture Around the World: A series of videos shows how permaculture methods, if they replaced industrial agriculture, could make food security even in some very inhospitable regions possible, and sustainable. Alas, this won’t scale to feed anywhere near 7 billion people.

Bill Clinton Goes Vegan: How the former US President became a spokesman for healthier, and also more humane and sustainable, eating.

Multi-generational Households Soaring as Recession Sets In: It is necessity, not the draw and logic of community living, that is forcing millions to move in with family members to cut costs, and sometimes tensions run high. But as it teaches lessons of living in harmony as equals, perhaps it’s not so bad after all.

Wi-Pay: A NYT op-ed urges us all to share the bandwidth we are not using.



The rubble of Port-au-Prince Haiti after last year’s earthquake. Photo by Damon Winter from NYT “2010: the year in pictures

Canadian Government Approves the Environmental Desolation of Canada’s North: The Big Oil puppet Canadian National Energy Board has rubber-stamped ExxonMobil’s odious Mackenzie Valley Pipeline proposal, paving the way for massive Arctic oil spills, and the devastation of the fragile Canadian Arctic ecosystem. I fought against this horrific project in the 1970s, and at that point we won because Big Oil wasn’t prepared to meet the stringent (unaffordable) criteria necessary to adequately protect the Canadian Arctic, and because the price of oil was too low to justify the project. Both barriers are now gone. Get ready for BP-style eco-disasters in the Canadian Arctic, so that clean Arctic natural gas can be shipped to power the even more ecologically horrific Alberta Tar Sands, so it can produce dirty oil and clear-cut and desolate an area of Alberta larger than the state of Florida. Utter madness.

Billionaire MegaPolluters’ Secret Meeting: A group of extreme right-wing corporate megapolluters led by the criminal Koch brothers met recently at an exclusive resort to plan funding of further climate change denial and disinformation campaigns.

What the Leaked Cables Reveal About Environmental Issues: A new site, Enviroleaks, discusses leaked embassy cables and other whistle-blower revelations about environmental matters. Thanks to Keith Farnish for setting this up. Meanwhile US Wikileaks hacker Jacob Appelbaum reveals the high personal cost of hacking (thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for this link). And the recent leaks also show how the US and Canadian authorities have been complicit in downplaying the dangers of the Alberta Tar Sands (thanks to Rayne for this link).

Actually, the Retirement Age is Too High: From James Galbraith, an explanation of why people who think as the bulk of boomers age the economy will require us all to work longer have it exactly backward.

End the Fed: Senior economist Jane D’Arista makes a compelling argument that the best way to reform the US financial system is to abolish the private Federal Reserve Bank system and create a publicly-accountable central bank. Thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for the link.

Fracking Causes Earthquakes and Massive Toxic Emissions: Desperate to find ways to extract more oil from an ever-diminished supply, Big Oil has now embraced the catastrophically destructive process of fracking — pumping vast amounts of water and chemicals into the ground at high speed and pressure to create massive micro-fracturing of the Earth, allowing oil to be more easily extracted. Earthquakes in fracking areas are up 10000% and local ecosystems are dying from the direct and indirect effects of this poisonous process. Thanks to Tree for the link.


The Mathematics of Beauty: OKCupid’s surveys of men’s taste in women as possible partners (based on their appearance) suggests that many men are more likely to try connecting with a woman with some obvious physical quirks or imperfections, instead of trying to compete with the many they perceive will try contacting what appears to be a ‘perfect’ beauty. So paradoxically, they say, such beauties receive fewer messages from potential partners. I’m not so sure. Some very beautiful women simply appear (in my possibly unrepresentative judgement) self-preoccupied, too serious, or inaccessible, and hence, despite their exceptional beauty, less “attractive”. Maybe it’s a defensive mechanism that stems from being hit on way too often, but somehow it shows in their photos. (Just learned that OKCupid was recently bought by a big pay dating service; oh well, it was fun while it lasted.)

Another Cousin of Homo Sapiens Found: Discovery of a cousin to Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals — called Denisovans — has touched off further speculation about how and why our branch of hominids survived while these two cousins died out after populating much of the Earth for 300,000 years.

The Science of the Smooch: Tracy Clark-Flory interviews the author of a new book on kissing that suggests its primal importance as a multi-sensory experience is to invoke the rush of ‘attachment’ chemicals and to suss out (subconsciously) the genetic compatibility of your partner. Of course, it’s fun, too.

Jon Stewart on Complexity: Stewart’s musings on the Arizona shootings appreciate that social systems are complex, and oversimplifying cause and effect is always folly.

Women in Art: An amazing video morphs together hundreds of portraits of women’s faces by artists over centuries to depict how the way women are ‘seen’ and how they dress and express themselves has changed. Thanks to Tree for the link, and the two that follow.

Dave Barry: How to Attend a Meeting: In his inimitable style, Dave Barry explains how the modern corporation really works, and how to survive a culture that is obsessed with hierarchical time-wasting meetings.

Christmas Flash Mob: Hallelujah: Took place in a mall food court. My favourite of the flash mob performances.

I Love Me: A song on learning to self-accept from Dutch comedian Harrie Jekkers. Thanks to Art of Hosting for the link and the one that follows.

Speak from the Heart Even if Your Voice Shakes: A great little speech on courage by teen philosopher Phil Osophical.

Fun With Charts: From the I Can Has Cheezburger? folks comes a new silly blog of charts that tell the real truth. The chart above is a sample. Thanks to Cheryl for the link and the one that follows.

Singing Solo Times Ten: Shane Stever records himself singing multiple harmonies a cappella. And here also courtesy of Cheryl is a link to the debut song by Susan Boyle in case you happen to be the only person in the world beside me who hadn’t heard of her.

Portlandia: A silly song about alternative West Coast culture that is now (I am told) a series. Thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for the link.

Dave Gets Published in Utne: My article Ten Things to Do When You’re Feeling Hopeless has been published online and in print in the Jan-Feb 2011 edition of Utne Reader.


Bonnie Stewart is chronicling, for one year, each Monday, her relationship with her partner (who I met briefly last year) in breathtaking, intimate, candid prose. The latest post, but the earth and sky, describes how love changes, waxes and wanes and shifts in dizzying and unexpected and unpredictable ways over time. It made me ache so much at its perceptiveness, its terrible honesty, that I cried. Extraordinary writing.

Jeanette Winterson: Why I Adore the Night (thanks to Tree for the link)

Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability (three people sent me this link; I’m not sure what I think of this, so I’ll leave you to draw your own assessment)

From Bowen Island’s Lisa Shatzky:


May you find yesterday’s berries
in the early dawn, wet and rapturous
in your hands. And may the wind be
an orchestra and the dark
a birth where light first breathes
its pink and orange splendour.
May your home be
warm and hummingbirds
appear at your door, murmuring
the simplest joys.
For here is your only place
and now is your only time.
So rejoice – rejoice –
like the ancient cedars living
slower, deeper lives
and climbing toward eternity.
May your footsteps be
soft, for all rivers
are one.
And everywhere, inside
everything, something

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6 Responses to Links for the Month: February 3, 2011

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Links for the Month: February 3, 2011 « how to save the world --

  2. Ed says:

    In re: the magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Cascadia…

    Please see
    “Coalescing Effective Community Disaster Response:
    Simulation and Virtual Communities of Practice”.
    December 2005

    I am the author. I can be reached at kickinandtickin [at]

  3. Randall says:

    On the NYT article re: sharing your wireless. Picture it this way: If a neighbour knocked on your door and asked to borrow a few eggs would you:
    1) punch her in the face,
    2) slam the door,
    3) offer her the eggs and say “hey, that’s what neighbours are for.”

    We’ve lost the concept of sharing and being neighbourly and that is no accident.

  4. Jon Husband says:

    The “fun” section is actually pretty short and sweet, Dave, compared to the deluge of dire portent above it.

    I’ve been going through hundreds of letters, cards and other detritutus from my parents’ / family’s almost 60 years together in various parts of North America (including scores of pictures of young grandparents in the late 1800’s in hardscrabble Saskatchewan and immigrant Detroit). The stories reveal an astonishingly different time … formality, civility, time and attention paid to others (often letters contain much news about family’s doing and progress … that area’s version of Facebook updates ?) and a building-up and sustenance of relationships.

    Neighbours have figured prominently in the stories .. lending houses, providing support in times of medical care, picking up relatives arriving from elsewhere, sharing bread and other food makings, after-school childrens’ care that was no doubt substantively different than daycare .. etc.

    Fascinating process from which I am learning much … moving slowly through it, taking my time.

  5. Jon Husband says:

    “that area’s version” should read “that era’s version”

  6. Jon Husband says:

    From your comment re: your family’s homestaed and Sheridan Mall …

    I think I should invoke squatters’ rights and reclaim it :-)

    I was somehow under the impression that you didn’t really believe in property and ownership as it is practiced in North America (and I guess pretty much everywhere else in the developed world).

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