Tue 30 Dec 2008
With the stock market ready to record its biggest annual drop since 1931, conversation automatically advances toward January and what kind of economic recovery investors can look forward to. Pick any of the questionable words/phrases out of that last clause to gauge how out of touch we remain, from a media standpoint, with what is happening to the country, the economy and the planet in concert.
The optimism is hard to overstate; we’re a resilient people, no doubt. The dissonance is amazing. And, truthfully, we shouldn’t be cowering. But we need to put that optimism to the test and face facts. Keeping your head up when things are grim, that’s optimism. Doing the same things over and over and hoping for different results, well, that’s just another way of licking our ears clean.
This future that we’re afraid of is within site; ours is to embrace it, prickly though it be. The assumptions coming back into focus in hopes that this little economic tremor will pass need to be held as suspects for a while longer. Habeas for all – read them their rights, charge them and give them their one phone call. But hold them. We seem to never be able to concentrate on any one problem long enough to get it by the short hairs, if you will, before something conveniently displaces it. I’m not talking conspiracy here. It’s the millions of false equivalences that are a natural outcome of a shallow cultural paradigm we’ve allowed to slip into place, where everyone speaks in the language of commodity but no one understands the slang.
All you money managers out there need to hold your seats for a while. Alternate reality: Figure out something to do with your money within five hundred yards of your driveway as a method to tilt the local tax coffers again. Seriously. Economies of scale have nothing to do with humans.
Recovering the green will mean having people make things for other people. Re-establishing local identities, putting people to work, paying taxes, furthering the public good is the only way to increase the wealth of a wealthy society.
Fri 26 Dec 2008
Posted by editor under lameness
, society1 Comment
Boxing, that is. Via Think Progress, The U.S. Geological Survey now thinks that published estimates on how much sea levels will rise as a result of melting ice caps were a little on the light side.
Tom Armstrong, senior advisor for global change programs at the U.S. Geological Survey, said the report “shows how quickly the information is advancing” on potential climate shifts. The prospect of abrupt climate change, he said, “is one of those things that keeps people up at night, because it’s a low-probability but high-risk scenario. It’s unlikely to happen in our lifetimes, but if it were to occur, it would be life-changing.”
In one of the report’s most worrisome findings, the agency estimates that in light of recent ice sheet melting, global sea levels could rise as much as 4 feet by 2100. The intergovernment panel had projected a rise of no more than 1.5 feet by that time, but satellite data over the last two years show the world’s major ice sheets are melting much more rapidly than previously thought. The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing an average of 48 cubic miles of ice a year, equivalent to twice the amount of ice in the Alps.
So we can continue with the out-of-sight-out-of-mind routine until further notice and new models have been developed which can present finally-irrefutable proof that was has been happening all along has, in fact, been happening all along. Great.
But in the meantime, just until we decide it’s too late to do anything, how about some massive public infrastructure spending to alleviate some of what might be the causes of the above? Ahem.
Building the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles and Anaheim line that will be the spine of the system will cost between $32.8 billion and $33.6 billion, according to the High Speed Rail Authority’s business report. Extensions built later would cost another $12 billion. In addition to the $10 billion from state bond sales, the authority is counting on $12 billion to $16 billion in federal funds plus $6.5 billion to $7.5 billion in private investment and $2 billion to $3 billion in local contributions.
Whoa. Sexy numbers like that are usually reserved an investment bank bailout or derivatives swindle. And this to build something no one will own, that only benefits the public? Who even goes there?
Update: Catching up on Krugman for the last few days, he explains the econ 101 behind my last bit of pith there.
Fri 26 Dec 2008
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New You’ll Tide Hustle up at Flagpole dotcom. Apologies to Mister Dickens
Mon 22 Dec 2008
Posted by editor under lameness1 Comment
This is exactly the type of lame-O ‘Green’ article everyone comes to expect on the road to meaningless for the term, but especially as a stand-in for sustainability.
Maybe it’s the post-modern tendency to strafe both sides with cover fire while you move in for the ambivalent shrug. It works in a dig at two sides that have been set up up for no other reason than to (possibly) make you feel better no matter what side you’re on. Fascinating.
How green are your branches? How useless are your articles? End that one with an exclamation point, you pinheads!
Mon 22 Dec 2008
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is an inventory strategy implemented to improve the return on investment by reducing in-process inventory and associated costs. In order to achieve JIT [status] the process must have signals of what is going on elsewhere in the process.
This means that the process is often driven by a series of signals [...] that tell production processes when to make the next part. [These] are usually ‘tickets’ but can be simple visual signals, such as the presence or absence of a part on a shelf. When implemented correctly, JIT can lead to dramatic improvements in a manufacturing organization’s return on investment, quality, and efficiency. Some have suggested that “Just on Time” would be a more appropriate name since it emphasizes that production should create items that arrive when needed and neither earlier nor later.
Semantics of ‘on’ vs. ‘in’ aside, what do these kinds of signals tell us? I alluded previously to complexity theory and the principle of indirect effects as constituent elements of systems ecology; one of the questions we need to reckon with in the ‘what’s next’ phase of our mourning is, how do we begin to untangle some of the many ways in which the American way of life and self-worth is connected to scams and schemes? A dangerous loss of legitimacy is waiting right around the corner for yet another cheek to be turned when a perp-walk might be warranted.
For a proper idea on the state of the reckoning, we can probably zoom past the savvy of green ads for a little while. Just sample/monitor the holiday editorials in your local paper and see what you come up with. Are they typical paeans to the year that was? Or are there little hints and allegations that actual people have had enough? Are people starting to ask questions with uncomfortable answers?
Fri 19 Dec 2008
This is the ING Bank Amsterdam, designed by Alberts & van Huut.
From chapter 5 of Natural Capitalism, Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken, Amory and L. Hunter Lovins:
In Southeastern Amsterdam, at a site chosen by the workers because of its proximity to their homes, satnds the headquarters of a major bank. Built in 1987, the 587,000-square-foot-complex consists of ten sculptural towers links by an undulating internal street. Inside, the sun reflects off colored metal – only one element in the extensive artwork that decorates the structure – to bathe the lower stories in ever changing hues. Indoor and outdoor gardens are fed by rainwater captured from the bank’s roof. Every office has natural air and natural light. Heating and ventilation are largely passive, and no conventional air conditioners are used. Conservatively attired bankers playfully trail their fingers in the water that splashes down form-flow sculptures in the bronze handrails along the staircases. The building’s occupants are demonstrably pleased with their new quarters: Absenteeism is down 15 percent, productivity is up and workers hold numerous evening and weekend cultural and social events there.
The results surpassed even the directors’ vision of the features, qualities and design process they had mandated for their bank. Theor design prospectus had designated an “organic” building that would “integrate art, natural and local materials, sunlight, green plants, energy conservation, quiet and water” – not to mention happy employees – and that would “not cost one guilder more per square meter” than the market average. In fact the money spent to put the energy savings in place paid for itself in the first three months. Upon initial occupancy, the complex used 92 percent less energy than an adjacent bank constructed at the same time, representing a saving of $2.9 million per year and making it one of the most energy-efficient buildings in Europe.
Architect Tom Alberts took three years to complete the design of the building. It took so long mainly because the bank board insisted that all participants in the project, including employees, understand its every detail: The air-handling design had to be explained to the landscape architect, for example, and the artwork to the mechanical engineers. In the end, it was this level of integration that contributed to making the building so comfortable, beautiful and cost effective.
Fri 19 Dec 2008
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To turn them off, that is. First, via Yglesias, CNN’s indomitable weatherman Chad Myers:
“You know, to think that we could affect weather all that much is pretty arrogant,” Myers said. “Mother Nature is so big, the world is so big, the oceans are so big – I think we’re going to die from a lack of fresh water or we’re going to die from ocean acidification before we die from global warming, for sure.”
Millions of people voluntarily invite this genius into their homes everyday. Will the American Meteorological Society credentials committee please reconvene. What does Myers believe are the causes of the lack of fresh water and ocean acidification, anyway? Like Fox ‘News’, viewers are objectively better informed – by not being misinformed – not watching CNN.
Of all the hand wringing about the loss of viewers to TV and readers to newspapers, the damage is largely of the Plaxico Buress variety. Your demise is an economic problem only in the respect that the quality of your product is terrible. See also, companies, American car.
Tangentially, this A.O. Scott review of the new Will Smith feature is curious for its bluntness about the movie’s level of quality.
Frankly, though, I don’t see how any review could really spoil what may be among the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made. I would tell you to go out and see it for yourself, but you might take that as a recommendation rather than a plea for corroboration. Did I really see what I thought I saw?
Really, Tony, that good? Maybe its a sort of cyclical race to the bottom and we’ve entered the low point of the curve with our national villians and popular entertainments. And while the national I.Q. appears to take its continual beating as a kind of badge of honor, we did just elect a new president who, we were continually reminded at high volume, was alternatively a marxist, a communist, a terrorist, a phony, too famous, too unknown and a marxist again. Makes you wonder whether anybody’s listening to the Chad Myers of the world anymore and if they’re not, who are we paying with our attentions?
And a hearty welcome back to Mean Joe.
Thu 18 Dec 2008
Posted by editor under society Comments
Via mefi, a great two year old essay from the philosopher Peter Singer on what a human life is worth and what the richest of the rich should be giving to the poorest of the poor. There are some stunning ratios he dug up, trying to calculate what percentage of their income the richest .001, .1, .5 and top 10 per cent of the American population should give. To wit.
You could spend a long time debating whether the fractions of income I have suggested for donation constitute the fairest possible scheme. Perhaps the sliding scale should be steeper, so that the superrich give more and the merely comfortable give less. And it could be extended beyond the Top 10 percent of American families, so that everyone able to afford more than the basic necessities of life gives something, even if it is as little as 1 percent. Be that as it may, the remarkable thing about these calculations is that a scale of donations that is unlikely to impose significant hardship on anyone yields a total of $404 billion — from just 10 percent of American families.
Obviously, the rich in other nations should share the burden of relieving global poverty. The U.S. is responsible for 36 percent of the gross domestic product of all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations. Arguably, because the U.S. is richer than all other major nations, and its wealth is more unevenly distributed than wealth in almost any other industrialized country, the rich in the U.S. should contribute more than 36 percent of total global donations. So somewhat more than 36 percent of all aid to relieve global poverty should come from the U.S. For simplicity, let’s take half as a fair share for the U.S. On that basis, extending the scheme I have suggested worldwide would provide $808 billion annually for development aid. That’s more than six times what the task force chaired by Sachs estimated would be required for 2006 in order to be on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals, and more than 16 times the shortfall between that sum and existing official development aid commitments.
6X… 12X. Take the excess capacity by which Singer calculates the Millennium Develop Goals could be surpassed and then devote this to sustainable development practices. My point is not that we can create new columns on the balance sheet, which we can. It’s just to note the way all of the chatter about our financial straits is talked about, reported on, filmed and scripted is incredibly skewed toward… doing as little as possible. What is going to detract from our way of life? We can’t imagine how tenuous life can be, and we get all the best books and movies!
Americans think our government provides more foreign aid than all other countries combined; even when you factor this as tracking with our geo-strategic priorities, it’s just not true, proportionately speaking – which is what matters. If we decided to do as Singer suggests and began making sure – as we are capable of doing – that virtually no people went without basic necessities, we would also begin changing most of the ways in which our own society is insupportable, in the strictist sense.
Wed 17 Dec 2008
Posted by editor under Uncategorized1 Comment
Whoever thought home prices would continue to rise forever, please raise your hand(s), we’re doing a head count and just need a round figure. Really, though, not to flog a deceased equine but sprawl-building was our last great industry/swindle and its grand finale is the soft focus of much consternation among the hoi polloi. Soft because we’re not really focussing on it much beyond the mortgage meltdown and the bailouts being processed at the top, not seeing how it might be woven into other problems and the fulcrum for the great transition to come.
There is a profound over-capacity of housing; speculation about how and when the housing market, meaning the building of far-flung subdivisions, will ‘bounce back’ is absurd. Its. Not. Going. To.
Sure we’re rather not think or speak about this kind of unpleasantness, and our remarkable powers of disassociation have been noted. But it doesn’t change the fact of so many people out of work: in the construction industry, real estate, banking, even sandwich flipping and all the tag-along support industries related to building, selling and living in suburbs. These folks will have to find something else to make. Whatever it is, it will be green in that it will be made and sold close to their homes, using materials that have been recycled likely several times and will be made by some post-industrial process that i s carbon neutral – so we should begin imagining what some of the things it might be.
Tue 16 Dec 2008
Posted by editor under Uncategorized1 Comment
When I was a kid, there was probably everyday – and likely precipitated by the specter of nuclear attack (which seems almost surreal now) – 30 seconds of test pattern with a C flat hum on the tv, probably between some favorite shows. You would just get accustomed to waiting it out, then the voice over would come on and say: “This has been a test of the emergency broadcast system. Had this been an actual emergency, you would have been caught practically unaware as you have have become so complacent about the test that…” Well, it didn’t say that. But it could have.
This drop in gas prices is a similar though much more poignant test of our ability to comprehend the circumstances in which we find ourselves, vis-a-vis dwindling energy reserves. I mean, I don’t know what else to call it besides stupid. Actually, I can think of a few things.
“We’re in remission right now,” said Marvin E. Odum, the vice president for exploration and production for Royal Dutch Shell in the Americas. But once the economy picks up, he said, “the energy challenge will come back with a vengeance.”
Come back? It’s gone somewhere? Sure it’s hiding behind the drop in prices that is the result of a fire sale to jetison every asset for cash, including in the commodities market and oil contracts. But it’s… HIDING. This a test of our resolve. The biggest challenge/problem we have in society – all caps implied – is what to do when the price is cheaper. When faced with this, we always do the wrong thing: destroy downtowns, eat poison, willfully trash the environment, put ourselves out of work, live in isolation… all because it costs a little less. Low, low prices. Always.
Listen up, people. This is an actual emergency. You are being defined on your ability to resist your impulses to return to your regularly scheduled programming and wait for this to pass. You must begin to change everything about the way you do everything before this looming catastrophe changes it for you – even and especially when it is supposedly cheaper not to.
I won’t go into why it would be cheaper to begin to change now. I think I’m already starting to have more in common with the sound of the hum than I’m comfortable with.
Update: Interesting addendum to the miles per gallon vs. gallons per mile debate to tack on
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