The Network of Global Corporate Control, as revealed by a research group at ETH Zurich (kind of the Swiss MIT). Their core finding: a densely connected “super entity” of 147 corporations, about 75% of which are financial intermediaries, has an amount of control which is ~10 times as great as their economic scale would suggest. They are all majority owned by by other members of the super entity, and so have co-incident interests, and are likely to act as a bloc to protect themselves and each other, and to be subject to simultaneous group failure when under duress. Not like this is a huge surprise or anything, but it’s nice to see it described in a quantitative framework.
A team at the Swiss equivalent of MIT has revealed a dense knot of power and ownership interconnections within a particular subset of the world’s transnational corporations. It will come as no surprise that these companies are overwhelming financial firms… but this is the first time that anyone has really been able to lay out the structure of this network of power that runs the world in detail, accounting for all of the subsidiary ownerships and mutual shareholding. Tyler Durden would be inspired. The research paper will be published in PLoS One here Real Soon Now.
The Boulder Blue Line has a short post entitled This Law Cannot Be Repealed by Albert Bartlett, who is an emeritus professor of Physics at CU, and who is most well known for speaking about the absurdity of “sustainable” growth and what exponential growth really means. He’s also one of the original architects of Boulder’s “Blue Line”, which has limited growth beyond certain boundaries within the city and county.
I agree with Bartlett on a lot. Unconstrained population growth is undoubtedly, in a global context, an epic disaster. In his collection of essays Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley noted of overpopulation that “Unsolved, that problem will render insoluble all our other problems.” Similarly, the unconstrained geographic growth of towns and cities is a catastrophe, resulting in very low-density, car-dependent development which exacerbates the consequences of population growth by increasing the amount of resources that each individual consumes, in terms of land and energy and material goods.
Urban density and good public space make scenes like this possible.
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Continue reading Links for the week of September 28th, 2010
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Continue reading Links for the week of June 4th, 2010
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- Christian high school discussion of climate change – Kurt Klein's AP Environmental Science class is reading Richard B. Alley's Two Mile Time Machine, about paleoclimate, ice cores, and abrupt climate change events. (tagged: climate ice science greenland education religion )
- Prefabricated Passive Houses in the USA – Bau Technologies is attempting to bring pre-fabricated (or rather off-site constructed) passive houses to the US. Looks awesome. (tagged: architecture sustainability energy efficiency passivhaus design )
- Yogurt making tips – Detailed instructions on how to make yogurt, and also a source for equipment and cultures. (tagged: food yogurt homemade cooking recipe )
- 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: politics climate sustainability future war )
- Our Passive House — the first passive house in Utah. – A Utah couple chronicles the design and construction of their passive house, with blog posts and photos. Great to see these things going up on this side of the Atlantic finally! (tagged: passivhaus sustainability design architecture buildings )
- Will Allen: Street Farmer – A long profile of Will Allen and his intensive urban farming project in Milwaukee: "Growing Power". Aquaponics and vermicomposting of donated food wastes. This is realistic urban farming at a moderate scale. (tagged: sustainability urban food agriculture compost )
- Gini coefficient | Wikipedia – A wonderfully simple and general mathematical measure of the non-uniformity of a distribution, mostly used in economics, but applicable elsewhere just as well. (tagged: economics math wikipedia research science finance )
- Here comes the data: OECD Factbook eXplorer – There are terabytes of interesting data out there that nobody can actually understand, because we don't have good interfaces for playing with it, and poking around. This is the OECD's attempt to offer a window into its own demographic treasure trove. Obviously inspired by the gapminder, from Google and Hans Rosling. (tagged: data maps statistics visualization demographics oecd economics )
- 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: technologie urban design economics history technology poverty )
- 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: bicycle transportation urban design economy )
- Behind the Veil by Eve Arnold – A series of photographs of women, from Afghanistan and the middle east from 1969. Very different from our "Summer of Love"… (tagged: photos islam afghanistan women )
- 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: technology politics internet privacy government twitter web2.0 iran )
- 55 km to Amsterdam – A day of inter-city transportation by bicycle in the Netherlands. Can it really be that idyllic? (tagged: bicycle transportation netherlands infrastructure )
- 1993 Y Hike Pictures – Wow, pictures of myself from 1993 on the Y Hike. I still remember just about everyone in that group. I look so… young! (tagged: caltech yhike backpacking wilderness sierras )
- Traitor Joe's | Greenpeace – Trader Joe's doesn't make any effort to source sustainably caught fish. Unfortunately, with 70-80% of global commercial fisheries in collapse, it's virtually impossible to sell (or buy) most tasty fish species ethically. (tagged: sustainability fish traderjoes ocean food )
- Organic Farms as Subdivision Amenities – Housing developments that incorporate small organic farms, CSAs even, instead of the usual golf-course crap. How would one adapt this for denser living I wonder? (tagged: design agriculture urban csa food architecture )
- Enphase Energy System Monitoring – Another real-time and historical solar power monitoring system. This one is installed on the roof of one of the Boulder Housing Coalition Co-ops in Boulder. Pretty awesome! Smart grid indeed. (tagged: solar energy technology transparency electricity )
- Caltech Building Dashboard – A near real time view of the power being generated by Caltech's 200 kW PV installation on the Holliston parking structure. Also shows historical data and weather information. Pretty cool. Would be great to just have the raw datastream available via an API too… and be able to see all the Caltech's per-building consumption too. (tagged: energy solar caltech pasadena technology transparency data internet )
- 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: climate economics gdp )
- Walter Mebane's statistical analysis of Iran's election results – Walter Mebane at UW Madison has done several statistical analyses of the Iranian election results, and finds significant irregularities in the Ahmedinejad results. (tagged: election iran statistics democracy fraud system:filetype:pdf system:media:document )
- Carbon Cap and Trade Debate – Ralph Cavanagh (legislative council for NRDC) and Jim Lazar, an economist, debate the merits of Cap and Trade, for an hour and a half. Looks interesting, but don't have time to watch it at the moment (tagged: video towatch climate policy economics )
- 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: energy efficiency sustainability finance green debt investing bonds )
- It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado – Colorado has taken its first tentative steps down the road to legalizing… rainwater harvesting. I hope they go all the way. I'd hate to have to end up breaking yet another immoral law. (tagged: environment colorado water law sustainability rain green architecture design )
- Welcome to Tällberg – A "conference" analogous to the WEF in Davos, but held in Sweden, in the woods, and with sustainability as the given goal, instead of economic growth. Would be an interesting stop on the Green Cities Bike Tour. (tagged: green economics technology politics policy design conference )
- 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: technology science energy climate non-linear sustainability policy )
- 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: economics finance goldmansachs capitalism climate bailout )
- The Economics of Ideas – An article about Paul Romer by Kevin Kelly, musing on the problems and benefits of having an economy which is primarily driven by informational goods. (tagged: economics technology non-linear )
- 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: economics urban society non-linear politics longnow )
- 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: art boat performance sailing )
- Post-Scarcity Prophet: Economist Paul Romer on growth, technological change, and an unlimited human future. – Reason Magazine – An excellent interview with Paul Romer from Stanford, who has apparently been thinking along the same lines as I have about the deep differences between material and informational goods (he calls them "things" and "ideas"). I don't think he's skeptical enough about the motives and powers of large "market" players to subvert the markets they participate in, but he certainly gets that all growth, in the fullness of time, must be based on knowledge and not stuff. Malthus and Erlich aren't wrong, they just haven't been right yet. Will have to look up much more of his writing! (tagged: economics science history capitalism technology growth non-linear wto corporations interview )
- This is not "socialism" – Semantic arguments are both catastrophically boring, and necessary. What does "socialism" mean? Is the Wikipedia socialist? Is the Internet inherently socialist? Do the ideas associated with "socialism" even have meaning when considered in the context of informational goods that once produced, are non-rivalrous and non-excludable? Why are so many people unwilling (unable?) to try and understand what a speaker or writer actually means, instead tending to just attach all their own cultural baggage to the words they use. All important words subtly change their meaning… (tagged: economics capitalism politics internet socialism copyright technology lessig )
- bikewise – Hooray!!! Somebody implemented basically exactly what I wanted in a bicycle issue reporting system, and licensed under Creative Commons to boot! It lets you report hazards, crashes, and thefts, register your bike, subscribe by e-mail or RSS to changes in your area, etc. Absolutely fantastic, clean, and easy to use. I'll populate it single handedly for Pasadena if I have to! (tagged: bicycle transportation maps wiki google planning policy )
- Housing and Transportation Affordability Index – a nice little application that allows you to browse geographically through several interesting slices of census tract data, looking at transit and housing affordability in various big metro areas in the US. (tagged: maps economics transportation economy urban )
- A Low Impact Woodland Home – A beautiful hobbit hole in wales. Left alone for a century, it would just melt back into the hillside, like many well-designed things. (tagged: sustainability green design architecture )
I finished reading Taleb’s second book, The Black Swan. He openly admits that it’s not really a new book, but a re-writing of his first book, Fooled by Randomness, which I loved. He’s gotten really incredibly lucky with the timing of his book releases… just before 9/11 and just before the stock market laid a giant turd on the doorstep of all the happytalk from Wall Street. Especially lucky when you take into account the fact that The Black Swan was at least 15 months late!
Taleb really has just one big idea, and in his own obnoxious way, he’s humble enough to admit it. His idea is that the world is less predictable than we think. That “rare” events are both systematically more likely that we believe them to be, and that their consequences are disproportionately large. He rails against the use of Gaussian distributions where they should not be used — against the mindless shoehorning of all kinds of processes into that bell shaped box, where they do not belong, and can do great damage.
I think the main differences between this book and his prior one are that in this book, he provides a few short words on how he thinks we should live and plan, given that we live in an inherently, and increasingly, unpredictable world. That, and the fact that because of his prior book’s success, he was able to get away without having this book edited, apparently, at all (which I think may have been a mistake… but oh well). Anyway, his advice in a nutshell:
It’s really a pleasure to talk to smart people who don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. I think it forces you to come up with the best analogies and metaphors. The most essential explanations. It turned out that Sally read my post on watching the Long Now synthetic biology debate, and so she went and watched it too. We talked about it on and off over a walk today, and I ended up making this analogy, which I liked a lot.
Every gene is like a sentence. It’s the smallest unit of biology that expresses a meaningful biological idea, in the same way that it’s hard to say something interesting without constructing a whole sentence. Of course, more complex ideas require many sentences to convey, and similarly, metabolic pathways require many genes to encode. A genome is like a whole book, conveying a large system of interconnected biological ideas into a coherent entity.
Synthetic biology is the business, or art, of writing new biological books, using only sentences that you copied from somewhere else. It’s as if you were given the complete works of Shakespeare, and told to write a new play, using only his own lines, but reorganized however you saw fit. With a big enough library of books, it would be possible to pick and choose sentences, paragraphs, or entire sections or chapters, to convey pretty much any idea of your own, in someone else’s words, especially if your idea had anything to do with love, or loss, or war, or the human condition in general. As it is now, we’re just making variations on a theme, inserting whole chapters from Moby Dick into some tract by Nietzsche or a poem by Lao Tze, but we’ll get more subtle and creative as time goes on.