Bowen Birds

A few recent photos I’ve taken on Bowen: Great blue herons, crows, mergansers and geese. The 6th photo was a battle royal between a crow and a really pissed off crab; the crow won. The final photo is of course not a bird, just a little guy resting yesterday in our back yard.

If you want to see more Bowen Birds, here’s my whole collection.

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This is a brief introduction to the subject of biomimicry, a concept developed by Janine Benyus twenty years ago. I’m using it to prompt an upcoming discussion by a Teal business group on how self-managed businesses might draw on natural processes to improve their own, and what an OD program about biomimicry might look like.

For almost 4 billion years, 100 million species, our biological mentors on the land, in the sea and air, and even underground — have evolved chemical, technological and engineering adaptations to deal with problems critical to their survival, using abundant, natural, local materials. Biomimicry (aka biomimetics) is the study and application of these adaptations to human problems.

Here are eleven examples of biomimicry from Janine Benyus’s introductory video:

Spiders need a means to build strong, mobile, weather-resistant homes to catch prey At room temperature and low pressure, spiders have evolved a self-manufactured fibre that is 5x stronger than steel A wide range of engineering and textile applications
Abalone need to build shells that are tough enough to withstand abrasive sand Abalone “paint” their shells with proteins that form ionized crystals in an iridescent mother of pearl finish that is twice as tough as ceramics No-kiln ceramics;

Sea-water-and-protein based “manufacturing”

Plants need to create strong fibres to withstand the elements, and pests Nature converts CO2 to cellulose and other strong and flexible “building materials” that are then used to build wood, shells, coral and other structures Captured CO2 and methane is being used to make biodegradable plastics and packaging materials and even strong, lightweight furniture. And sequestered CO2 and seawater are being used to make low-emission concrete
Insects need to convey information and instructions collectively to achieve shared purposes Insects use sophisticated “hive” communications physics and chemistry to convey precise information and instructions Algorithms based on insect communications are being used in “smart” buildings to enable multiple sensors to minimize energy use
Fish need to conserve energy when swimming long distances in “schools” Fish have evolved “eddying” motions of their tail fins that draw in the fish swimming behind them (birds in flocks use similar “energy-saving” techniques These motions are now being used in wind farms so that each vertical rotor amplifies the movement of nearby rotors, increasing efficiency by a factor of 10 with less land use
Desert creatures need to find ways to collect scarce water Pointy structures on some desert creatures’ wings act to condense water out of fog Fog catching nets in agriculture; surfaces on the inside of water bottles that condense humidity and self-fill the bottle
Ocean fish cells need fresh water to survive Fish membranes (like those in our kidneys and red blood cells) are natural desalinators, using a combination of a unique surface shape and ionization that attracts and produces pure H2O “Forward osmosis” desalination plants mimic this natural process to desalinate 10x more effectively than traditional plants
Some plants need to survive in extreme heat and drought conditions Synergistic fungus in the roots of these plants trap moisture and keep out heat Fungus-inoculated rice seeds produce 5x the amount of rice with ½ the water
Some flying creatures need colour to attract mates but can’t “afford” the weight of pigments Hummingbirds, butterflies and peacocks are ‘naturally’ all brown; it is light refraction depending on the angles of the wing molecules that produce the profusion of apparent colour, not pigment “Structural colour” (surface refraction colour) is 4x brighter than pigment colour and never fades; used in aerospace ‘paints’ and un-counterfeit-able currencies, may soon be used on cars
Leaves need to stay ‘clean’ to be able to photosynthesize Lotus leaves have tiny waxy ‘bumps’ that cause rainwater droplets to ‘ball up’ and slide down off the leaves, taking dirt particles with them “Lotus effect” fabrics, roofing tiles and exterior paints that never need cleaning
Some slow-moving sea creatures need protection against hostile bacteria Some sharks have evolved a surface skin shaped with tiny sharp ridges that bacteria cannot adhere to, and body chemistry that repels bacteria Some door knobs and hospital surfaces now use a thin-film anti-microbial coating similar to sharkskin; some hospital fabrics use threads with ‘natural’ metals that repel bacteria

There are lots of other examples. Airplane shape, wings and tails. Structure of skulls of birds used to design strong, lightweight materials. Velcro, based on burrs, and other non-chemical adhesives based on geckos’ feet (pictured above). Bullet trains and boxy cars modelled on bird and fish body aerodynamics. Beehives inspiring hexagonal structures. Mosquitos inspiring new hypodermic designs. Sonar. Mycorrhizal (plant/fungus) associations for information gathering and communication. Bird and bee navigation. Did you know swimsuits with textiles that mimic the low-friction surfaces of sharkskin are actually banned from professional swimming competitions?

The biomimicry website provides the first chapter of Janine’s book and a lot more videos on the subject.

The above are mostly product examples. Biomimicry can also be used to draw on natural solutions to improve services and organizational processes. For example, some creatures, particularly females, instinctively make sounds of a type and pitch that has a calming effect on babies and even peers in stressful situations. Much study is being made of bird and bee navigation systems, and pheromones that have profound effects on behaviour of many creatures of the same species, and even on their predators and prey.

In biomimicry, the question to ask is always: How does nature deal with this problem?

One of the problems we face when trying to apply biomimicry beyond the mysterious physical/structural, chemical and technological ways nature solves problems, is anthropomorphizing. Particularly when we look at animal behaviour, we expect and look for animals to behave the way we do, and ascribe human-like causes to their behaviour.

So, for example, we are prone to saying that wild animals live in strict hierarchies, with the “alphas” dominating the rest, when closer study shows this is rare: the leaders of most animal groups are selected by the groups themselves, and leadership changes often and generally entails more work and hardship than benefits. We ascribe individualistic, “selfish” behaviours and conflicts to wild creatures when most of their behaviours are collective and done for the benefit of the whole group. We imagine wild creatures living perilous, anxious “dog eat dog” lives “red in teeth and claw”, when the natural state of most wild creatures varies between equanimity and enthusiasm, with the fight/flight/ freeze moments being extremely rare. We love to say that many animals “mate for life” when very few actually do.

But if we can get past the anthropomorphizing, there’s lots to learn about how animals live and ‘work’ together, collaboratively and cooperatively. The first thing to witness is their capacity for paying attention. They learn by watching others — what foods their parents eat and which they avoid, how to do just about anything more effectively, and even how to overcome those annoying squirrel baffles. They use workarounds and adaptations to adjust their behaviours to better suit their current environment and situation, instead of brute force trying to change the environment and situation to suit them.

Workarounds are, in fact, the way most human activity in larger workplaces actually gets done. So a computer system that, in the interest of top down command and control, blocks the front-line service person from doing what needs to be done to reasonably satisfy the customer (be that a refund, price reduction, replacement or credit), is preventing the precise workarounds that are essential to customer satisfaction. In a healthy workplace, everyone is free and empowered to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, even if that means tossing out the SOP manual. Block the workarounds and not only is the customer enraged, the employee’s morale is battered as well. Everyone loses, just because the system is inflexible.

We can use a process called “cultural anthropology” to just watch and notice where the “wear patterns”, awkward (and sometimes ingenious) workarounds, and other signs of dysfunction and adaptation are, and then institute processes to unclog the former and enable and encourage the latter.

There’s lots of other lessons to learn from studying wild animal behaviour as well. The only limits on our capacity to improve our organizations’ processes to everyone’s benefit, are our attention, our imagination, and a willingness to let go of (illusory) control and let the principles of self-organization, curiosity, and trust that everyone’s doing their best, determine what gets done and how. But few organizations (especially large ones) are willing to do so. Far too many have bought the propaganda of patriarchy, coercion, control, competition and rigidity. Nature knows better.


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Greater Vancouver average housing prices per Real Estate Board. Note that an “average” $1.8M house requires a $400k down payment and a qualifying annual income of at least $400k, even at today’s low 2.25% mortgage interest rates. Average prices in the City of Vancouver proper are nearly double these prices. These prices are all roughly double what they were 10 years ago.

I don’t often write about personal events on my blog, but our landlady’s recent announcement that she’s planning on occupying the house I’ve lived in for the last 11 years has me thinking personally about the meaning of ‘home’. As I’m about to turn 70, moving is not the adventure it once was.

We live on an island in the Salish Sea that is also a suburb (or exurb) of one of the world’s most expensive cities — Vancouver. Housing is expensive as a direct result of the massive and accelerating chasm of inequality between the 1% and everybody else. What that wealth gulf produces is a 1% (those with a net worth over ~$5M) — a few million people in all of North America and perhaps thirty million worldwide — who are so awash in money they don’t need, that they are investing in anything and everything that looks like it might at least hold its value: Teslas, vacant land, houses in exclusive areas, and stocks on the global Ponzi markets. And many are exploiting our deliberately-suppressed interest rates to “leverage” their investments — buying a big “investment property” with a huge mortgage in areas with no rental housing, at 2.25% interest, breaking it into multiple units, and hiring property managers on commission to generate combined rental income from it of from $8,000 to $25,000 per month, per house.

Think about this — you can borrow money at 2.25%/yr and invest it in a real estate market (or stock market) whose prices doubled in the last decade (ie increased by 7%/yr). When the actual rate of inflation is over 10% (the fake ‘official’ rate is 2%), can you see why we have massive bubbles in the real estate and stock markets? This is just asking for trouble. If interest rates spike, look out.

The 1% are doing this because, in some areas like Vancouver where the housing bubble is most frenzied, the only people who can still afford to rent a “whole house” are corporations (for whom it is a tax write-off and a perk for visiting execs), and executives with high-six-figure incomes. Of course, those executives aren’t the least bit interested in renting, as they already own large and usually multiple properties. So the buyers of real estate as an investment (a recent study of West Vancouver showed that close to a third of residents there own more than one home), have two choices: leave them empty and then flip them as prices continue to soar, or break them into multiple units and charge $2-5,000/month rent to each tenant, to recover the mortgage payments and property taxes.

Both are happening. On our island, at least 20% of the homes are vacant all or most of the year; the owners use them as vacation homes in the summer and are rich enough they can let them sit empty the rest of the year and not have to worry about pesky tenants. Some “executive lots” here have sold for $2M+ just for the lot. It’s an open invitation for money-launderers. And as each nation simultaneously creates more and more billionaires and more and more homeless people, those billionaires will just keep pushing up the price of lots, and homes, and rents in “desirable” areas worldwide.

Of course, if (when) interest rates spike to the actual rate of inflation, this whole house of cards comes crashing down. Double the rent on a studio apartment from $2,000 a month to $4,000 a month (there are ways to get around the controls) and you’ll find yourself begging for tenants. Keep the rent at its current (outrageous) level and you’ll be unable to meet your mortgage costs, and as resale prices plummet you’ll be under water. Except of course for the 1%, who will simply push the numbered companies they used to buy the houses, into bankruptcy, get a nice tax write-off, and leave the bank holding the bag — and the house empty.

Our island has been dealing with a massive exodus of residents who don’t own their homes, for most of the 11 years I have lived here. They are evicted (and many are “reno-victed”) as the owners decide to sell at a nice profit and use the profits to buy elsewhere where they can get higher rents, often by adding basement “suites” and separate entrances to what were once “single-family” dwellings. Or the owners just sell off and buy land or houses that they can raze and replace with monster homes, and resell, so they don’t have to deal with tenant ‘rights’ and rent increase ceilings.

There is almost no money being spent in our Ponzi bubble housing market to construct new, “affordable” rental accommodations — it’s an unprofitable business.

Unlike most of my many, many island friends who’ve been evicted over the past few years, our eviction won’t cause us any suffering. We’ll have to move to a smaller, less beautiful place, at least until the market collapses, but that’s all. But there is of course a certain culturally-conditioned shame in suddenly being ‘forced’ to move from the place you’ve called home for so long.

And that’s what’s got me thinking about the whole subject of “home”. Besides being an exhausting, nerve-wracking (in volatile markets), ever-depreciating “investment”, and one that is, for most, the lion’s share of their total net worth, what does it mean, exactly, to call a place “home”?

Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. For many, our home is a symbol of status and of self-worth. We talk about people being “house-proud”. Perfectly functional homes are torn apart and “renovated” simply to display this season’s preferred interior colours and designs, to “keep up with the Joneses”. We feel better about ourselves if our home brings expressions of awe and envy from friends, family and visitors. And vice versa: If our home is shabby, or if we lose it to eviction or foreclosure, we are filled with shame.
  2. Our home’s neighbourhood not only reflects on who we are, it empowers or inhibits us and our families for our entire lives. Proximity to “the right” schools. Our ability to impress the boss, the client, the boy/girlfriend, the bank. Access to people with power and influence. The prevalence of redlining and other racist and discriminatory practices.
  3. Our homes are the anchors of our wage slavery. The increasing cost of homes means the need for commensurate (7%/year) increases in income just to stay in the same place relative to housing costs. That means doing whatever we have to do to get not only raises but promotions. We may say “I no longer want a career“, but if we do we may be essentially saying “I no longer want a home”.
  4. Having a home brings with it the potential psychological impact and trauma of dislocation, whether due to transfer, eviction, foreclosure, or simple incapacity to keep up with the insane upward spiral of home costs. Home for many is the bedrock of security, or continuity, of connection to the earth, the world, and to friends and society. “Starting over” in a new, often less safe and attractive neighbourhood, can be especially traumatizing to children, and to seniors on fixed incomes who fear, often justifiably, that worse may be yet to come.
  5. Home is the reinforcer of caste. While our caste, in the updated sense Isabel Wilkerson uses the term, may be largely determined by our physical appearance, our inherited status and wealth, and our profession/employment, our home plays an enormous role in reinforcing this determination. Live in the right place, your wealth and power will almost inevitably increase, and you will be treated accordingly by almost everyone in society you meet. Live in the wrong place, and you are locked into the lower castes for life (and beyond, through your children and the influences they will have growing up, and the ways they will be treated).
  6. In many indigenous cultures, home is sacred. It is where you belong and what you belong to, not what belongs to you. It gives you a connection to the land and the resources and learning needed to reside and thrive in place. It defines you.

Where will it all end? Like everything in our modern industrial society, the current definition of home, the anonymity of neighbourhoods, the grind of an ever-longer commute from “affordable” residential areas to the places where all the jobs are, the spiralling price of land and housing — none of it is sustainable. It will collapse. But in the meantime it will get worse. There are no “solutions” to a problem that is systemic, global, and worsening at an accelerating rate. No one has the power to fix it.

As we run out of cheap oil, we can expect transportation costs to increase at an even faster rate than housing, and then we’ll encounter a vicious cycle: the soaring cost of transportation will make areas close to good jobs, good schools, in safe, clean, attractive neighbourhoods even more valuable, exacerbating the already massive inequality we are now dealing with. We will reach a breaking point at which most of the bullshit jobs have been automated, and most of the population will have joined what is being called the precariat or unnecessariat — permanently unemployed or severely underemployed. They will be needed only to consume enough mass-produced products and incur enough debt to keep the economy “growing”. So our “first-world” nations will quickly start to look like so-called “third-world” nations — a tiny minority living in staggering opulence with many servants, and the vast majority living in ghettos with just enough money to keep them yoked to the consumer wheel.

Where is the outrage? People can’t be outraged about a situation if they’ve never known anything different, and today’s younger generations have already been primed to expect no steady job or job security, no pension, and certainly no home that they can hope to “own”. This is happening just slowly enough to keep the people in their place, resigned to massive inequality as just “the way things are”.

Much of the world has already lived this way for generations, and soon, like everything else in our globalized economy, this will be our lot as well.

And then, the economy will collapse. We’ll pay for our excesses during this long, oil-financed bubble. And then we’ll discover what “homeless” really means.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 3 Comments

Ten Ways the MSM Need to Clean Up Their Act

image of NYT 1942 by janeb13  CC0 from Pixabay

Scandals. Getting caught repeating disinformation. Harbouring hate-mongers. Forced retractions. Using unreliable sources. Publishing editorials as if they were news. It’s no wonder the reputation of the so-called mainstream media is in tatters.

Here are ten things the MSM must start doing if they have any hopes of the “information media” surviving another generation:

  1. Refuse to accept or republish government and military propaganda, especially from the so-called “intelligence community” citing “sources believed to be reliable” that “cannot be revealed for national security reasons”. When absolutely necessary to refer to such propaganda circulating on social media, include banner warnings that “this information is unsubstantiated and may be incorrect”. Because that’s the truth.
  2. Apologize when you were conned, expose the con, and reiterate the correct information clearly.
  3. If you use headlines like “What we know about x” (which are best avoided in any case) excise anything that is conjecture, or someone’s opinion, even if the source of the opinion is cited and is an alleged “expert”. An expert’s opinion is an opinion, not a fact that “we know”.
  4. All editorials and op-eds should be clearly marked as such right in the headline, so when the headline is republished in an RSS feed or repost, no one will mistake it for factual information. When editorials and op-eds are mistakenly published as news, there should be a formal retraction and apology.
  5. Abolish paywalls and other blockages for news. Citizens need and have a right to facts, free of charge and obstruction, to counter the firehose of disinformation propagated “free” on social media. Use paywalls for when you actually add value to the news — eg investigative journalism (remember when we used to have that?)
  6. Actually add some value to the news you report. Tell people what they can do in response to what is happening. Investigate and expose misinformation and disinformation. Do real primary research about outrageous abuses by corporations and governments of citizens and “consumers”. Offer solutions — what has worked in other places, and why it worked, that could help readers organize to address current problems. Actually help them organize.
  7. End the “both-sidesing” bullshit. Publishing a racist rant by a hate-monger beside a report of facts about systemic racism is not “balanced reporting”; it is encouraging and empowering racism.
  8. Do not provide any platform (column or interview) to known hate-mongers, plagiarists, racists, sexists, misogynists, crazies, or xenophobes. Banish repeat offenders like the execrable Bret Stephens for life. There is no place in the media in these tumultuous and precarious times for hate speech and disinformation.
  9. Self-police. Get AP or some other industry body to rate all the mainstream media on the basis of facts and professional analysis versus misinformation and disinformation, and to keep a Snopes-style list of misinformation and disinformation with the names of media publications that have published it.
  10. Don’t pander. If you want to publish some aw-shucks “good news” stories, that’s fine. But no sensationalism, no celebrity news, and no gossip. If your headline ends with a question mark, think again about including the item until you have an answer. And if you think you have to include celebrity news to appeal to your base, ask yourself what business you are in — information or entertainment.

The MSM are in deep trouble. Readership/viewership is off, their credibility has tanked, and they’re hemorrhaging financially. What they lack isn’t more of the drivel and pap of the entertainment media, it’s imagination. Their business model (relying on classifieds and other ads) hasn’t worked for decades. But there is a huge need for reliable information, investigative reporting, in-depth analysis of issues, and possible action plans that citizens and communities can take. And the MSM don’t have to operate like charities, publicly begging for subscriptions and philanthropy.

In many ways, information media and journalism are art forms. And substantially all of the arts and cultural “industries” are financially struggling and looking for new ways to be relevant and get sponsorship from younger generations. The social media and the music/film/TV entertainment cartels have not only starved out their competitors and reduced their suppliers (the artists) to being mere ‘products’ to package and sell, they have likewise starved out the information media with which they once overlapped.

That genie isn’t going back into the bottle. The social media and entertainment oligopolies will eventually implode, as their customers refuse the ‘price’ of their bloated, profit-obsessed, exploitative, unresponsive offerings, and abandon them in favour of smaller, leaner, more customized alternatives.

But the information media need not wait for that to happen. They can reinvent themselves as an essential public utility, whose products — the truth, and understanding — are as important to the health of communities and societies as water. It will take work, collaboration, patience, a radical shift in thinking and operations, and above all imagination. But it could be done.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 2 Comments

Notes From the Rising Dark, Pt. 2

On Chronic Precarity, Civilization Disease, and the Illusion of the Separate Self

We are a sad species — lost, scared, bewildered, and afflicted with an horrific brain disease that has convinced us ‘we’, our ‘selves’, are real, separate, and in control of these poor, maladapted bodies ‘we’ presume to inhabit. This disease, exacerbated by a plethora of modern stresses of ‘civilized’ living, has so disconnected us that we have destroyed the planet’s living systems and ushered in the sixth great extinction of life on earth.

I can no longer be angry at this. How can one rage at those who have no free will but to do exactly as they have been conditioned to do, to react precisely as they have been conditioned to react?

But I am sad. It is as if I am witnessing an act of incredible savagery by someone possessed by endless, terrifying hallucinations, who has finally cracked and, using weapons of mass destruction, is just mindlessly destroying everything and everyone in sight. A monstrous, unnecessary tragedy.

I am grieving, in mourning, not only for all the creatures killed, poisoned, imprisoned and dislocated by our deranged human behaviour, and for the desolation that behaviour has wrought on our fragile little planet, but also for the endlessly suffering human masses, whose misery, partly ‘self’-inflicted and partly the result of reacting to other diseased humans’ behaviours, knows no limits or bounds.

And we make fun of the dinosaurs!

Let us hope it all ends soon. The human experiment has gone on long enough. The end-game is beyond all doubt.


When I use the term ‘chronic precarity’ I am referring to lives of constant anxiety, fear of loss and of “not having enough”, and dread about the future for oneself and one’s loved ones.

This is not how any creature was meant to live. Sane creatures, instead of inventing impossible dreams of an ideal future in the hands of some god or other, would, and do, simply cease procreating when this rare and unnatural state of desperate shortage and anxiety makes life just more trouble than it’s worth. Most extinctions are not from mass slaughter, but from the simple decision not to procreate in precarious and awful environments. Wild creatures ‘know’ instinctively when it’s time to quietly go away.

When I use the term ‘civilization disease’ I am referring to the horrible trauma that we inflict on each other, in anger, fear and grief over the ghastly, self-perpetuating and unending violence that we wreak on each other and on our world, our whole lives through. We are not well. Our mental illness grows deeper as our planetary limits are encroached and the signs of our global culture’s staggering collapse loom ever larger. We are rats in an appallingly overcrowded cage, instinctively fighting over what we know will soon be the last crumbs. And with this instinctive knowledge comes a sense of overpowering grief. What have we done? This is not what we wanted!

When I use the term ‘the illusion of the separate self’ I am referring to the evolutionary misstep, which apparently happened just a few millennia ago, when the human brain abstracted the idea of things being somehow separate and disconnected from other things, within the confines of space and time, and then abstracted the idea of a ‘self’, a homunculus in control of each living ‘separate’ creature. This seems to be an extension of the fight, flight, freeze instinct that briefly impels wild creatures to acts of self-preservation, but then is quickly shaken off. Except in modern humans it’s a permanent condition, utterly believed to be real beyond doubt, even though there’s compelling evidence that the self, time, space, separation, individual things, and meaning and purpose, are all not only illusory, but completely unnecessary to a full, healthy life.

We live in our own stories, conditioned by the stories of other afflicted humans. Everything we think and believe and imagine we know, and all the chronic anxiety, grief, shame, rage, trauma and terror that possesses us is just this invented, nightmarish story, a fiction tragically consuming our every waking moment for no reason, except we have forgotten that it was only ever an idea, and not real at all. As young children we are indoctrinated by other afflicted humans to believe this absurd illusion is real, and we grow up and join our ‘conscious’ diseased human societies acting out the madness of self-hood, and destroying our world and each other in the process.


So now I go walking, among the broken forests, along the littered beaches, no longer looking for answers, or causes, or meaning. I am beyond hope. There is nothing to be done. I am content, now, to just pay attention to what is left, in all its staggering and terrible beauty.

photo above taken last week on Vancouver Island

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 7 Comments

The Lab Leak Hypothesis: Iraq WMD All Over Again?

At least twice already, the US intelligence cartel has used deliberate disinformation to goad the gullible American media and public into an unjustifiable war. The first Gulf War was based on a fictitious account of atrocities supposedly committed by Iraq against Kuwait. It was intentionally manufactured by Bush Sr, in collusion with Kuwait’s leaders, complete with a phoney heart-rending professional script written the by the notoriously unscrupulous PR “reputation management” firm Hill + Knowlton and rehearsed and “acted” by the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador.

The second Gulf War, manufactured by Bush Jr in collusion with the “defense industry”, was based on false, completely-invented “evidence” that Iraq had WMD.

In both cases the US intelligence cartel carefully constructed “intelligence reports” supporting the disinformation campaign, from alleged “trusted anonymous sources” which were published verbatim without review or scrutiny by the sensationalist, audience-hungry MSM.

When the stories were revealed as obvious falsehoods, there was no acknowledgement of error by either the Tweedledum or Tweedledee parties, or the MSM. Just swept under the carpet. The ends justified the means.

So now we have the ‘lab leak’ hypothesis that China deliberately or negligently leaked the CoVid-19 virus. As background for this:

  1. Every other pandemic has been found to have zoonotic origins (spread by immune animals like bats to humans, sometimes via an intermediary like CAFO poultry, pigs or cows).
  2. There is abundant evidence that that was the case with this pandemic as well.
  3. It is impossible to prove or disprove any theory with certainty. That’s the absolute essence of most conspiracy theories’ (and many propaganda wars’) success.
  4. Epidemiologists have remarked on the exponential increase in novel viruses and pandemics in the 21st century and have been warning another is overdue for over a decade.
  5. Biden is looking for a “smoking gun” to use to attack China. A recent quote from the befuddled president (indicating the severe state of his dementia, as if he were reliving the Cold War):

[I have] made it clear that no American president, at least one did, but no American president had ever backed down from speaking out of what’s happening in the Uyghurs… So I see stiff competition with China. China has an overall goal, and I don’t criticize them for the goal, but they have an overall goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world and the most powerful country in the world. That’s not going to happen on my watch because the United States is going to continue to grow and expand.

Note that Biden has asked the loyal intelligence cartel to lead the lab-leak “investigation”, not health experts who are disinterested in war and have a passion for knowing the truth.

While we should of course acknowledge and investigate all plausible causes of a pandemic, we shouldn’t forget how the “intelligence community” seeded anxiety and doubt (and fabricated evidence) over WMD in Iraq — twice — as the pretext for unnecessary and ghastly, ongoing wars. They’ve done the same in Latin America and elsewhere. Please, please, let’s not get fooled again.

The intelligence cartel and their “defense industry” clients are unhappy that, while the MSM faithfully transcribed their fabricated nonsense about Russia paying the Taliban “bounties” for American heads in Afghanistan, some sources actually wanted evidence, and when none was found, the embarrassed MSM mostly stopped talking about it. Don’t want that happening again.

My second concern is that we know almost all (perhaps all) pandemics are zoonotic in origin, and as long as we keep on factory farming, harvesting exotic species, and deforesting the planet’s last wilderness, there is a huge risk of many more, much worse pandemics in our future, without any labs needed to manufacture them. The ‘lab leak’ hypothesis, if it continues to gain credence in the popular mind, will provide yet another cover for the industries perpetrating these outrageously dangerous ‘farming’ practices. “See, it wasn’t us, it was a lab leak”.

If the intelligence cartel faithfully reports that the lab leak theory has some plausible evidence supporting it (they cannot and need not disprove any of the far more compelling causes), as Biden clearly wants them to do, and the MSM then dutifully report this, then we’ll see the embedded warmongers’ op-ed shills cry out for retribution, and then Biden will use this as a pretext for military sabre-rattling, sanctions, duties, and other xenophobic acts (with the full support of Republicans). If so, the con will have been perfected, and can then be used again to justify any war against any trumped-up “enemy”, anytime. All the players are in place, waiting to dutifully do their part.

I’m afraid I’m about to be proved right. If so, you read it here. If I’m wrong, I will be deliriously happy to admit it.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 11 Comments

The Costs of “White Collar” Corruption and Crime

Another dark post/rant from Dave. Lighter fare is coming soon.

cartoon by Mort Gerberg ( in The New Yorker

One of the problems — or “diseconomies” — of scale, is its increasing vulnerability to corruption and crime. In small, close-knit communities, criminals mostly know their victims, and the community gets to know its criminals. So there’s an inherent disincentive to try to commit crimes.

Not so in our modern society’s boundary-less, disconnected “neighbourhoods”, and in massive centralized systems, where it’s easy to stay anonymous and the victim is just an address or a number. Modern corpocracies seek more and more centralization because it aggregates power, eliminates competition, and puts impenetrable bureaucratic and legal barriers between the corpocracy and its bewildered, helpless, abused, anonymous “customers”.

Customers have now been largely eliminated from modern extreme capitalism, replaced with “users”. “User” is, of course, a synonym for “person addicted to a product”. That is exactly what we have become, utterly dependent on amoral profit-crazed and uncontrolled corporations. Our names on invoices have now been replaced by “user IDs”. Just sign in and roll up your sleeve.

So we have an ethics-free corporate world, just ripe for criminals and the corrupt to exploit on a massive scale, mostly in either legal “grey areas” (to allow corporate crime where it increases profits) or completely, anonymously beyond detection.

Modern corporate systems are now completely rife with corruption and crime, and it is the “customers” — sorry, the “users” — who have to pay for it. Beside the simple greed of banksters, one reason that most of us (especially the poorer “users”) pay mega-usurious 28% interest on unpaid credit card balances, is that the now-endemic rate and cost of highly-sophisticated credit card crime — phishing, cloning, theft, money-laundering and a host of more complex schemes of fraud and extortion — is through the roof. So what is the banksters’ and credit card companies’ response to this crime spree exploiting their systems? Just call it “a cost of doing business”, and flow all the costs through to the “users”. They’ve learned this well from the mega-polluters — the euphemism for refusing to take responsibility for allowing and contributing to the rapid destruction of the planet is “externalizing” costs. The “user” is the addict; let them pay the costs of production. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to “use” our products.

But of course, we do have to use their products. Their oligopolies control the supply, the distribution, the hyper-marketing, and the regulators, law-makers and politicians that once constrained their misbehaviour.

None of this is new, though at one time we did at least have anti-monopoly laws and usury laws; no more. Many corporations pay massive bribes and kickbacks to access foreign markets or “guarantee” contracts, though of course they’re not called that. The money goes to despots; the costs are “externalized” to the “users”. These corporations pay armies of unscrupulous lawyers to intimidate any “user” who dares make a fuss. They pay money to organized crime for “protection” for their stores, factories and executives. They grant no-bid, wildly overpriced tenders to organized crime to ensure their construction sites are “incident free”.

Of course, government departments and agencies with budgets large enough to attract criminal interest — like the US Defense Department, that can’t even pass a basic audit of how it’s spending the “users'” trillions — are also ready targets. So are our chaotic, cobbled-together “health care” systems. No problem, though. Just a cost of doing business, passed along to the same “users” (except of course those rich enough to pay for complex tax-evasion schemes).

And now, thanks to modern un-securable online computer systems, they pay ransom not only for the safe return of kidnapped executives, but for the safety of their computer systems as well. The recent panic-causing pipeline ransom only cost five million dollars, but a recent report says ransom totalled a half billion last year, and is growing at 300% per year. Add in Bitcoin flimflammery and the total is likely much higher.

I’ve been told that the average “user” now has, thanks to hackers, over 60 online accounts or passwords compromised each year. Apparently, it would be too expensive for corporations to fix their systems to stay ahead of the thieves, so guess what? It’s left up to the “users” to deal with the losses, and the mess.

This is all entirely a problem of scale. Centralized, massive, un-regulatable, thoroughly corrupt and crime-ridden corporate oligopolies, governments, and systems are now simply unmanageable. Like all systems, they will keep growing until the “cost of doing business” becomes unaffordable. And then, if they’re large corporations (or the military), they’ll be bailed out, or else they’ll put their numbered and offshore companies into bankruptcy, stiffing their gullible suppliers, lenders and shareholders, while keeping all their amassed fortunes, in one country or another, intact. Either way, the “users” will pay.

Until they can’t. At some point, the Ponzi schemes of stock, resource, currency and real estate “markets” will run out of even debt-leveraged billionaire buyers. And then, like all massively-overpriced “markets”, they’ll collapse with a suddenness none of us is prepared for. Except perhaps the corporatists and criminals who know it can’t last, who will retreat to their debt-free remote hideaways, like the gangsters of the old west after a heist. At least until they run out of food, and discover their currency is now worthless to buy more.

Then they’ll join the rest of us, wondering how we got here, and what to do next.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 2 Comments

What is Exponential Decay?

A mathematical thought experiment. Warning — this is a rather gloomy post.

 Humans’ incapacity to understand the principle of exponential growth has caused us all kinds of grief of late (notably in our handling of the pandemic), and promises to cause us a great deal more soon (the end of cheap energy, climate and ecological collapse, interest rate shocks, and ‘peak everything’).

We tend to use the metaphor of a hockey stick, but it’s a poor one — that’s a model of sharp linear growth, not exponential growth at all. A better metaphor is the ‘rice on the chessboard’ reward story. The story goes that the inventor of chess, when asked by her ruler what she would like as a reward for coming up with the amusing game, asked for one grain of rice on the first square of the board, two on the second, four on the third, and doubling the amount on each square until all 64 squares were filled. The total amount of rice in this exponential reward turns out to be 1.5 trillion metric tonnes, more than all the grain ever produced on earth.

The human population chart above is one illustration of exponential growth. If you want an even more extreme one, a chart of global resource consumption would track the same curve until roughly 1800, and then would soar six times faster — imagine the chart stretched six times taller with the same line reaching to the upper right corner.

Population agencies at one point believed the human population would level off at eight billion. Then they changed it to nine billion. Now they’re saying eleven billion, at which point it will, supposedly by sheer collective human will, suddenly flatten out, about half a chart higher and one small dot to the right, and then stay there.

That is of course preposterous. Human population is no longer able to increase exponentially, but is still increasing linearly by 80 million per year — another billion every 12 years. The limit is not human will, but the capacity of the planet to — ever more wastefully — produce ever more human food and other resources. As long as we are producing more human food each year (at increasingly catastrophic costs) we will continue to produce more babies to consume it. Human population, and resource consumption (which is still increasing exponentially), will then suddenly stop increasing, as it did in the 14th century, but because of the current growth slope, it will happen much more abruptly. Since we’ve used more than half the world’s resources already and are using the rest up at an ever-accelerating rate, that point will certainly come before 2100, even if inevitable economic, climate and ecological collapse were not additional factors drawing this insanity to an imminent close.

And then what? Since there’s no safety valve this time, no frontier to escape to, what will immediately follow exponential growth of population and consumption will be something you hear much less about — exponential decay.

We’re starting to see how exponential decay works in the case and death counts for CoVid-19 in many countries. We saw a bit of it last summer, and politicians were delighted and prematurely declared the pandemic beaten. This time, despite the fact so many people have been propagandized to fear the vaccines, and despite the slowness and incompetence of the vaccine roll-out, we are seeing sharp drops in case rates in many countries that “mirror” the sharp increases we saw earlier, and this is happening long before herd immunity levels are reached.

Exponential decay is the precise “mirror” of exponential growth. When anything — a virus, locusts, mosquitos, the human species, the rate of consumption — reaches the limits to growth after a period of exponential growth, it will immediately experience an exponential decay that mirrors the exponential growth.

We will hit the wall of the limits to growth in resource production and consumption before we reach the limits to human population, and at that point, human population, with no additional food to sustain it, will likewise stop growing.

For the past 50 years, total global resource consumption (using the surrogate of global energy use) has been rising at an annual rate of about 6% per year. That doesn’t seem like that much until you consider that human population, depicted in the remarkable chart above, is only growing at just over 1% per year. A 6% annual (exponential) growth rate means a doubling every twelve years. In other words, we will use as much of earth’s resources in the next twelve years as we used in all of our previous history. And we’ve already used up half of all the known resources of the planet. Though we may dredge up some more, at ever-increasing incremental cost, it is not unreasonable to believe we will hit the wall about then — 2033. At that point human population will be about nine billion. Even without climate and ecological collapse, the shit will then hit the fan.

My guess is that we will stall off the peak for a few more years after that, at least for those in affluent nations. So let’s be generous and assume we can grind out the global human civilization experiment until 2040, with 9.5 billion humans.

It’s all downhill from there, and it will be steep. On the way up, we hit 4.7 billion humans in 1984, 56 years before the likely 2040 peak. So you might think we’ll be back to that population 56 years after peak, which is just before 2100.

But we’re still not realizing the impact of resource constraints, and just how steep the slope of exponential decay can be. Our population is constrained by resources available for consumption, which has been increasing six times faster than human numbers, and which will decrease six times faster after the peak. When we run out of affordable resources, we will face full-on global economic collapse, and our numbers will have to decrease to keep pace with the smaller amount of food, heat, and everything else we depend on in our vulnerable, prosthetic, human-made environments.

If you’ve been following the math, that means human population will have to track the pace of exponential decay of resources, which will be halved every twelve years just as it is doubling every twelve years now. By that logic, the decline from 9.4 billion humans to 4.7 billion will occur between 2040 and 2052. And then it will decline again by half to 2.4 billion humans by 2064 and to 1.2 billion humans (the population in 1850) by 2076. And to 600 million humans (the population in 1700) by 2088 and to 300 million humans (the population in 1300) by 2100.

Some of this decline will occur ‘naturally’, as, in a world of severe scarcity and precarity, people will simply stop having children. I’d like to say most of the decline will happen that way, but the numbers don’t lie: The first few decades after peak consumption are likely to be pretty terrible, even if we divert all economic activity to simple food production and stop procreating.

And there is no reason why that rate of decrease won’t continue into the 22nd century, but I think it would be foolish to speculate on what might be sustainable human numbers, without cheap energy or any energy-fuelled technology, and with a suddenly sparsely-populated (by humans) world with 97% of peak-civilization’s abandoned and scavengeable stuff (and nuclear and chemical wastes!) left behind. And we may have so desolated the planet — its biodiversity, its climate, its soils and waters — that even 300 million may be far beyond its carrying capacity for our kind.

My grandparents’ message to me, when they described the Great Depression, was how utterly unthinkable the reality of it was in the roaring 20s — how ghastly the suffering, how far people fell from their positions of privilege and seeming invulnerability, and, most of all, how quickly it overtook everyone. Exponential decline following exponential growth.

So here we are again in the roaring 20s — driverless cars, Mars missions, dreams of living forever, the “internet of things”. Enjoy it while we can. There is no soft landing on the other side of exponential growth; it’s a hard ride down. All civilizations, like all pandemics, end, usually with surprising speed in their last gasp as the limits to growth are reached and breached, and so will this one.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 7 Comments

Who Should Be In Charge of Response to Public Health Emergencies?

Another little rant from Dave.

cartoon by Greg Perry in The Tyee

If and when a country decides to go to war, whether internationally or with some of its own citizens, the strategies and tactics used to combat the deemed enemy are not debated by, voted on, or decided by politicians. If they were, the war would be a lost cause. The strategies and tactics are decided on by military experts.

I would argue the same logic should apply to other types of ‘wars’, dealing with other types of emergencies. Politicians are mostly lawyers. They are as incompetent at knowing and deciding what to do in emergency situations as they are knowing and deciding how to conduct a war.

The obvious example is pandemic emergencies. The decisions should be made by public health experts, and simply implemented, without debate or discussion, by politicians and all other authorities who lack the competence to second-guess the experts. We lost the war against CoVid-19 because we let politicians, not public health experts, make the decisions. They utterly bungled the response because they were not competent to deal with it in the first place. In a handful of countries — Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan — the political leaders deferred completely to public health experts, and they alone have ridden out the pandemic with a minimum of errors and disruptions.

The same logic should apply to other emergencies, many of which are also ‘public health’ emergencies. Murders committed by police are one. Mass shootings in some gun-crazy jurisdictions are another. Deaths from poisoned street drugs, that now kill 100,000 Americans, and 5,000-8,000 Canadians, per year, double the rate of five years ago, are a third. These can all reasonably described as “epidemics”.

And then we have existential emergencies, most notably the climate emergency, that threaten us all. XR has insisted that assemblies of true representatives of all citizens, focused entirely on grappling with the emergency and not beholden to anyone else (including voters not happy with the necessary actions), should have the absolute authority to make policies to address the emergency, which politicians and lawmakers should be required to implement in their entirety and without delay.

That says a lot about the capacity and competence of political bodies to address health issues and existential issues. They are not organized, competent, or motivated to deal with such issues. If we want these emergencies addressed promptly and competently, some other group must be in charge and have the unrestricted authority to deal with them. The political, legal and economic system must be required to support them, regardless of how they feel about them. Politicians, law enforcement and regulatory bodies should have neither the authority nor the responsibility to deal with such issues, simply to abide by the orders of the group (public health officials, citizens’ assemblies, or investigative agencies) that does have the competence, expertise, and independence to make these orders, and those groups should be given both the authority and commensurate responsibility to do so.

I can hear the shudders from libertarians. We’re going to give an unelected group power to issue orders affecting everyone, with no political oversight? Well, we don’t elect generals, but we don’t demand that our elected “representatives” make or second-guess their decisions on the battlefield. We don’t elect regulatory authorities, but when the NTSB demands an incompetently-built Boeing model be grounded, politicians don’t debate whether that’s a little unfair to poor Boeing. They ground the jet.

Our political systems are bloated, corrupted by money, short-term (next-election) focused, and largely paralyzed. It is absurd to think they can be expected to deal with an emergency, especially when it’s not a political emergency but rather a health or existential emergency.

If we want these emergencies dealt with properly, we have to take the authority and responsibility of dealing with them away from elected politicians, and give them to experts who have the knowledge and capacity to present urgent, viable solutions to these emergencies, and have them implemented without political interference. Is that a scary proposition? Of course. Public health experts make mistakes (especially when they wander into the political and “public relations” arenas). Citizens’ assemblies, if they ever see the light of day, are bound to make mistakes, too.

Could it ever happen? Would politicians ever give up the reins of power outside of a full-scale military war? The dress-rehearsal of CoVid-19 suggests the answer is a resounding no. Without it, our chances of being ready for the next pandemic, which could be orders of magnitude larger than this one, or being able to reduce police murders, mass shootings, and a spiralling epidemic of street drug poisoning deaths, or being able to seriously address the existential crisis of climate and ecological collapse, are absolutely zero. We’re kidding ourselves if we believe otherwise.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 5 Comments

10 Reasons the US Should Split Up

map from a deleted Reddit account, with one example of how the US might be broken into logical independent nations

Our Southern neighbours have been in a civil war — words, angry demonstrations, skirmishes, polarization, new hate laws and repression tactics etc — being played out mostly in the media, for years now, inflamed by the deranged ex-president and rapidly accelerating in tone and tactics.

The last civil war ended in horrific bloodshed, and, like most wars, resolved little if anything. It didn’t end de facto slavery, racism or any of the other issues it was supposedly fought over. It didn’t end the resentment among the secessionists. Had the southern states seceded successfully, as the last developed nation to allow slavery, it would have been so ostracized by the global community it would have eventually had to ban the outrageous and inhuman practice anyway. And it would have suffered such a massive brain drain that it would have evolved to be just another warm-climate banana republic. Kind of what, outside its big cities, it has actually become.

Scotland, infuriated by Brexit and the patronizing English, are readying for another independence referendum, though their English overlords are so far prohibiting it. Northern Ireland is again in turmoil over its status as an anachronistic English enclave in the Disunited Kingdom. Belgium may soon be two nations, while Québec, which nearly succeeded in its last independence referendum, seems to have backed off from the idea for now.

What is it about a country’s breakup that so often leads to hostility and war? The Soviet Union collapsed only because it became too large and unwieldy to afford to keep together. And even now it’s fighting wars to keep some of the remaining ‘republics’ in its federation from seceding. China is desperately trying to ‘re-educate’ the people in its outposts to prohibit and undermine their aspirations for independence.

It’s easy to say that opposition to independence is all about money and resources — lost cheap labour, oil, minerals, cropland. But my sense is it’s more about nationalistic pride than anything. Like in a marriage breakup, it seems to be taken as an admission of failure (the reason why many religions prohibit divorce) rather than a simple acknowledgement that the relationship just wasn’t working for one or both parties anymore. Any kind of divorce or secession is, of course, expensive and time-consuming, another reason to deny the obvious signs it’s time to move on independently.

As a Canadian, I can see few reasons for the Disunited States of America to stay as a single nation, and lots of good reasons for it to break up, the sooner the better. Here are ten of them:

  1. The diseconomies of scale: Despite all the neoliberal myths, bigger is neither better nor more efficient. Size is actually all about power. It’s about the capacity of giant corporate oligopolies to control markets, eliminate competition, and own politicians, and have laws written in their interests (profits), not the interests of their customers. Research has repeatedly shown that bureaucracy explodes exponentially as size grows linearly, and that centralization increases, rather than decreases, per-capita costs of doing the same thing. Over 90% of mergers, both of corporations and of political entities, actually “destroy value” (the whole is less than the sum of the parts). And research also shows that, beyond a certain size, ‘representative’ democracy ceases to be either representative or democratic. Collapsing the massive bureaucracies of the US would free up billions in wasted money and resources to spend on local needs.
  2. Safety: Because jellyfish were gumming up desalination plants, the Japanese made robots to swim around the facilities cutting them up. The result? The pieces grew into independent jellyfish, greatly worsening the problem. The US is currently a symbol, not of freedom and democracy (if it ever was) but of power, oppression, greed and destructiveness. So it is a target for symbolic anti-oppression actions — hacking, attacks on buildings, sabre-rattling etc. Devolution of the US into a bunch of independent nations would actually improve each nation’s image and security, re-set the bar.
  3. No need to abandon one currency or border security: The ongoing EU experiment has shown that, in this day of mostly electronic trading, the currency you use is not terribly important. The independent nations could have both their own national currency and a regional American currency, so if one were to fail, the other could still be used. And the new nations could have bilateral agreements to protect shared borders while keeping the borders between them wide open. Again, the EU has showed how this might work.
  4. Diversity and cultural growth: The cultural polarization in the US has reduced every issue to a suffocating binary preference. In most of the possible ‘nations’ pictured in the map above, there is no such fierce, incapacitating internal disagreement, so each nation could pilot its own laws and programs, allowing others to see which ones work, and adopt or tailor them, or do their own thing.
  5. Agility: Decentralization nearly always increases the agility of organizations and states. Issues, whether emerging (economic & debt crisis, climate/ecological crisis) or old (abortion, health care, right-to-die, drug laws, poverty, inequality and homelessness) that have paralyzed and polarized the US, could be dealt with much more effectively at a regional level where citizens’ situations and values are much more coherent and shared.
  6. No longer a need for contiguity: When all business was done in person, and travel was a constant challenge, nations had to be physically contiguous. Almost no discontiguous nations have survived in past. But that is no longer the issue it once was. If it made sense, from a cultural, economic, ecological or values perspective for a nation to have two or more discontiguous parts, connected ‘virtually’ (and, while it lasts, by city-to-city air travel), I think that is doable in a way it never has been, and would be a fascinating model to watch.
  7. Eliminates one or more levels of government: I would foresee the current 3-4 levels of government Americans now have to deal with, being reduced to just two: the national and the local (county or municipality, whichever its residents choose). Devolving power in this way will almost of necessity improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of administration, reducing cost and bureaucracy. Coordination is always cheaper than integration.
  8. ‘Nature states’ vs ‘nation states’: As economic and ecological collapse worsens, we’re all going to have to become more locally self-sufficient, and not depend on imports for our well-being. That starts with awareness of our local ecology, its challenges and what it can reasonably support. Nations that share a common ecology will inevitably be able to grapple with these issues better than a nation whose boundaries reflect imperialist, expansionist history, not common ecology.
  9. How problems are actually solved: Whether they are political, social, economic, system or technological problems, most problems are solved at local scale, with the focused effort of people who deeply understand and care about the issues. When organizations get too large, hierarchy replaces collaborative problem solving, top-down replaces bottom-up decision making, and ideology replaces local knowledge as the basis for understanding and improving things, to everyone’s detriment.
  10. The US as a nation just doesn’t work: The federal and many state governments are dysfunctional, failing to represent anyone except the richest 1%. The transportation system is dysfunctional. The education system is dysfunctional. The health care system is a disgrace. The military is so bloated and out of control that it fails every year to pass a basic audit of responsibility for the trillions it spends. The US has been constantly at war with multiple nations, none of which the majority of citizens supports. How could breaking up the country into more manageable sized nations not be an improvement?

I’m not saying the map above is the best, or even a viable, way of breaking up the US. It’s just an illustration. As a Canadian who’s lived across the country, the five ‘nations’ touching the Canadian border line up well with the sensibilities of Canadians I know in the adjacent Canadian areas, so this map isn’t totally out to lunch. But with an appropriate citizen consultation process, I really think the break-up of the US in some way or another would be a good thing for all concerned. Easy for me to say. If it actually happens, it will more likely be because of bankruptcy, like the Soviet Union and the British Empire, than through civil war or negotiated breakup. Still, interesting to think about.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 7 Comments