It’s frustrating to feel like nothing you do matters. In isolation, we have very little effect on the world. It’s only in aggregate, by organizing with other people that large changes — social chain reactions — can happen. Sometimes it’s done purposefully, as in the case of universal suffrage or the civil rights movement. Sometimes we don’t even realize what we’ve been organized to do, as with our present efforts to terraform the Earth. A few weeks ago I was completely absorbed by the uprising in Egypt. I don’t watch live video much (and no TV), and I was glued to Al Jazeera, and temporarily subscribed to a dozen actively twittering people in Cairo. Then my sister sent me a link to a live hummingbird cam, which was jarringly disconnected from what I’d been immersed in, which looked more like this:
A warning from the UN Development Project in 2002 describing the problems and frustrations of the Arab world. Chief among them western support for their oppressive dictatorships. It’s not like we didn’t know there was a problem here. We just chose to ignore it. America FTW!
A nice long-form piece from The Atlantic on the phenomenon and dangers of the New Plutocrats… not just Lloyd Blankfein and his parasitic bankster ilk, but nearly everyone who stands at the so-called Commanding Heights of industry, including productive innovators. The developed world was all to hot to globalize the economy when we thought we’d always stay on top. But that was ridiculous of course. Now “on top” is just a few people scattered all over, and most of us will slide toward the very large bottom if we’re not careful.
Climate Wars – A Canadian radio show exploring some of the climate change scenarios which have been studied by the US Dept. of Defense in a personal, "War of the Worlds" kind of way. Be forewarned, this is apocalypse porn, and probably not productive unless you need to get yourself riled up. (tagged: politicsclimatesustainabilityfuturewar )
The Choice of Cities – I'm not convinced we really know why the humans are coming to the cities. Whether it's a pull, or a push. How the migrants feel about their lot. Is it, globally, the same as the push we had in this country a hundred years ago? Or was it a pull? What happened when the frontier closed, when all the land was spoken for, and the factories and mines and mills were opened for business.
And what will cities look like once everyone has arrived? If we actually reach that day, when the countryside is emptied, and the flow staunched, then how will cities develop going forward? What will their margins look like? Will the slums filled with newcomers vanish? What will they be replaced with? (tagged: technologieurbandesigneconomicshistorytechnologypoverty )
Bike Among the Ruins – Detroit is half abandoned. The houses are almost free. The streets are empty and the people are poor. It's also flat. Could a cyclone of bicycles wipe clean the slate, even within the sight of our beloved, bankrupted, and now employee owned husk of an industrial titan… GM? (tagged: bicycletransportationurbandesigneconomy )
The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized – Iran is one of the first places we get to see old school blood in the streets mixed with the new age of instantaneous, ubiquitous communication. We've tended to focus on the positive aspects, while briefly forgetting the potential powers of an electronic police state, which is to some degree what Iran has built. No massive army of eavesdroppers and informants is needed in such a regime. A few deep packet inspection boxes from Siemens sitting on the fiber backbone, and a few on the microwave towers from Nokia. Technology is largely neutral. (tagged: technologypoliticsinternetprivacygovernmenttwitterweb2.0iran )
How To Destroy Half the Planet for the Low, Low Price of 5% of Global GDP – Never mind the possibility of unforseen climatic consequences. Even if the pessimistic IPCC scenarios are right, and even if they "only" reduce global GDP by 5% over the next 100 years, that purely economic metric is not sufficient, because it turns out you can wipe 2.5 billion people and their nations off the face of the Earth, mainly in the tropics, and only reduce global GDP by 5%. Cold comfort, that. (tagged: climateeconomicsgdp )
Property Assessed Clean Energy Bonds – PACE bonds are a way of overcoming the capital intensivity of many energy efficiency retrofits which make sense in the mid to long-term, but not on the typical short term investors time horizon. They also allow homeowners who may move before their investment in efficiency has paid for itself to pass on the obligation to future owners, instead of losing the investment. They also shift the costs of doing energy efficiency from capital expenses to debt servicing, which is advantageous in many jurisdictions for tax purposes. Berkeley, CA and Boulder, CO pioneered them for municipalities, but they can also work in a commercial context. (tagged: energyefficiencysustainabilityfinancegreendebtinvestingbonds )
Power Struggle – A commentary on Steven Chu's position that we need major basic scientific and technological breakthroughs to successfully tackle our energy problems in the context of global warming. The hope is that in the short term, the vast array of incremental changes we have available is enough to get us started, and that by mid-century, the major breakthroughs will have been forthcoming. Ah, non-linear dynamics. (tagged: technologyscienceenergyclimatenon-linearsustainabilitypolicy )
The Great American Bubble Machine – An article from Rolling Stone, by Matt Taibbi, on the endless bubble building shenanigans that Goldman Sachs has engaged in over the years, and their supposed current machinations to engineer a bubble in the as-of-yet uncreated market for greenhouse gas emissions. Markets, I like. Markets run by some Great American Gangster Kingpin, not so much. Especially not this particular market. Remember: Nature doesn't do bailouts. (tagged: economicsfinancegoldmansachscapitalismclimatebailout )
Paul Romer: A Theory of History, with an Application – Paul Romer talks about two different kinds of informational goods: "technology" and "rules". The former being knowledge about how to re-arrange the material world to increase its value to humans, and the latter being constraints on the ways we interact with each other. His "new/endogenous growth" theory suggests that overwhelmingly, wealth creation throughout history has been due to these two kinds of goods, and that they are virtually infinite resources. What he does not explicitly admit in the talk though, is that much of our increased apparent wealth has come at the cost of virtual liquidation of material resources. Truly sustainable growth absolutely must close the materials loop somehow. Better sooner than later. The rest of his idea is wonderful: we need a system which enables rule set entrepreneurs, or we aren't going to get sufficient innovation in the field. He suggests myriad autonomous city states, and I agree emphatically. (tagged: economicsurbansocietynon-linearpoliticslongnow )
The Swimming Cities of Serenissima – Improvised and chaotic houseboats built from found bits, floating down the Mississippi (2006-2007), or the Hudson (2008), or sailing the Adriatic from Slovenia to Venice (2009). Like a tiny maritime Burning Man. Only a couple of boats today… What if it were an armada? (tagged: artboatperformancesailing )
Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers – I just don't buy the lament of the newspapermen. If the papers were subsidizing the collection of "real" news with ads, how sure are we that people ever wanted news? Why exactly should we believe that there ever was some public interest at heart in journalism? I'd say it's just as likely that the fragmentation of digital media, and the trend toward tabloid fluff, is an indication that nobody (or at least, not enough people) really cared about the "serious" news in the first place. Disaggregated, opinionated, (truly) non-profit journalism will certainly be different than the muckrakers, or Big Media, but it's unclear to me that it will be worse in any way for government transparency, or democratic interchange. (tagged: technologymediagovernmenttransparencydemocracy )
There's no reason for non-recourse – Options are valuable. That's why we have markets for them. The trillion dollars worth of non-recourse loans (cf pawnbroker) which the Fed is apparently about to offer up to the finance industry, will, because they are non-recourse, lead to a misvaluation of the assets being bought, even if they're being bought by private entities, because the penalty for non-repayment is simply forfeiting the asset (which might very well end up being worthless). The Fed is acting like a pawn shop, but a dumb one: what pawn shop in its right mind would let you exchange your cubic zirconia for half the value of a diamond? (tagged: financeeconomicscrisisbailoutfedgeithnerbernanke )