Friday, December 31, 2010

Zone of Influence

2011 is approaching. It is natural to think about the upcoming year. The way I see our mid and long term future is as follows. Next on the horizon in time is another big financial crisis that will hit the US, and again it will be mortgage-based. As the US is so big and the dollar so influential this crisis will indirectly and slowly affect other nations, i.e. the EU and the rest of the world. Both the US and the EU will go through a period of recession of 1 to 3 decades. It will not happen instantaneously or especially in the EU, all changes will be slow and gradual. Example changes will be: salary 5% down, unemployment 5% up, food quality 5% down, etc. There won't be this cataclysmic big event, this big crisis is not about suddenly there will be no food or no petrol, instead the typical living standard will be gradually but consistently going qualitatively downhill in most nations. Civil rights will be reduced step by step. Governmental and corporate scams will become wilder and weirder. Our personal sanity and well being must come from the immediate environment around us: our family, friends and neighbors. Despite Tea Parties, Transition Movements and many more activist groups I see hardly any change around me as I walk through the city. Above all I see no change in how-we-do-business and in politics, no corporate ethical change, no politics for the masses. Since it is hard to find positive political change, there is a high level of doubt that in 10 years we have advanced politically into a more ethical, just and sustainable society. I sound pessimistic. Unfortunately. But it just means as a way of safety and a way of moving forward we must focus on our small and immediate surrounding where we do can make change: our homes, our gardens, our neighbors, a small community group in our village or city, etc.

At the national level, we are very reactive: only when the oil prices really hurt and the cars stand idle in the parking lots will be seriously think about other modes and technologies of transportation. We could be so pro-active as a society, but instead we are forced to behave in certain ways through laws and regulations which includes building codes, tax laws, governmental incentive schemes, and so on. Pro-active behavior currently only has room at a personal level, where an individual takes the burden upon himself. We must take this challenge and shoulder this burden for the sake of our morality, our kids and our long-term hope.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Religion and Sustainability

Just by chance I stumbled across this book today on Christmas Eve. After reading a few pages it dawned on me that this book is very appropriate for this religious day. The title is "Religion and agriculture: sustainability in Christianity and Buddhism" by Lindsay Falvey. It is available freely. In the introduction it states that it uses "sustainability as the meeting point of science and religion". It raises questions like "Why chose agriculture as the entry point to sustainability?" "Why even relate religion to the search for sustainability?" "What is sustainability anyway?" For 300 pages it then goes into details on western and eastern religions and how they lead and relate to sustainability. I haven't read all the way through it but if you are interested in any two of the three topics of agriculture, sustainability and religion/spirituality, then this book might be of interest to you. It certainly is spiritually motivating, a good book to start reading on December 24th.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Collaborative Consumption

The term "Collaborative Consumption" was coind in 2007 and in 2010 pushed by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. It is about shared owning, owning access but not the product, and community ownership. This leads to community consumption. Rachel and Roo have written a book "What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption" and created the matching website It gives some good ideas on how collaborative technology (internet and its services) enabled new concepts of sharing (car sharing, ride sharing, real-estate sharing, etc.) and reuse (swapping and donating products). If you are more into audio and moving pictures, have a look here at collaborative consumption videos.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Recycle. Free + recycle = Freecycle. Hence, The idea of Freecycle is so simple. We all have things we throw out, and our trash can be somebody else's treasure. Whenever we throw away an old door, a used book, a child's toy, we fill up the landfills and these items might be reused by somebody else. Freecycle is an online network bringing people together to form a local community. You announce an item that you want to give away for free, and somebody from the community can come by and pick it up.'s mission is: "to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources and eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community." Go ahead, join or start your local Freecycle community.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Home Improvement

If you are planning or working on some home improvement project or even a new home, have a look at these two recent presentations from TED. Both these videos give inspirational ideas on sustainable construction and building. Dan Phillips builds unique and personal houses from reclaimed materials. One can pick up many creative thoughts from him.

John Hardy has created a green school and this video presents his green school dream in Bali. It was interesting to see the first proposal for his school as made by an apparently traditional architect: all building as square boxes and the largest box in the center was labeled "the Administration Complex". It seemed so wrong that the administration should be the largest structure on the school campus. A nagging inner voice hinted that any school should be about teaching and eduction and accordingly the largest building should be dedicated to that objective. It was also speaking of itself to call it a "Complex" implying - even if only at a Freudian level - that it was a complex thing or complex solutions. We should strive for simplicity not complexity. Anyway, this "typical" architectural proposal was rejected and a set of building was realized following ideas from permaculture. The central building was designed as an intertwined double spiral which looked like a permaculture pattern to me. The building was named "Heart of School" (instead of Administration Complex), and yes part of it houses the administration facilities. As material they used bamboo and local natural materials. I found it creative and an idea worth copying to use thrown away glass panel from old cars with white paper placed behind it as white board for kids. Now that is cheap and functional design.

Refuse - reduce - reuse - recycle. These builders give us some examples of how it can be done and how beautiful the result can be. Maybe it will influence our next personal home improvement project.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Just like silver, gold is also up and climbing. And there are lots of news around gold.

First, there is World Bank chief Bob Zoellick who said "Although textbooks may view gold as the old money, markets are using gold as an alternative monetary asset today." He made further comments that hinted at a gold standard. Amazing, the chief of the World Bank hinting about a gold standard. That is massive news. It was reported instantly. The next day came all the expected retractions and he said he was misinterpreted and that in fact he did not call for a gold standard.

One may think about this as a slip of the tongue or true misinterpretation. Independent of that, he was certainly right when he said "Although textbooks may view gold as the old money, markets are using gold as an alternative monetary asset today." Why? Gold has been made an official currency for collaterals of large financial transactions. A press announcement from ICE states: "IntercontinentalExchange (ICE), a leading operator of global regulated futures exchanges, clearing houses and over-the-counter (OTC) markets, today announced that ICE Clear Europe will accept gold bullion as collateral for all energy and credit default swaps (CDS) transactions beginning 22 November 2010." With ICE putting this policy in place other operators and clearing houses will have a competitive incentive to follow.

Gold is gaining in importance in the financial world it seems.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Silver is acting unusually in the markets. In 2010, silver has doubled. The 2010 low-price was $14.82. The 2010 high mark so far was $28.638. What could justify such insane increase in the silver price. Speculation is the only possible answer. When can we get to a real economy based on real productivity, producing real and useful goods? We must move away from a speculative, financial economy where gains and losses are all in numbers if we want to avoid bursting bubbles and a unfair and unjust society.

A friend sent me these links: JP Morgan and HSBC are manipulating the silver market since 2008. This is not the first time in history that banks or rich individuals are manipulating the silver market. The interesting part about this current manipulation is that it was picked up by the independent news and activist groups. People like Max Keiser and Alex Jones rallied and promoted people to buy silver in order to financially hurt JP Morgan and cohorts. It is a risky business to put yourself as a single small investor against the bullies like JP Morgan. Nonetheless, it is fascinating strategy - although uncertain in success - to band together many small investors to bring down a giant bank by betting against it on a market gamble, in this case the silver market. According to Max Keiser as long as the silver price remains higher than $25/oz. JP Morgan is punished. As a last note: let's not forget that this war cry to buy silver to crash JP Morgan is also a form of silver market manipulation. But at least this is a public one talked about on the internet, while JP Morgan's shorting is a stealth maneuver hidden from the public.

PS: About 2 weeks later this was posted: Is J.P. Morgan Getting Squeezed in Silver Market? According to this JP Morgan is now manipulating the copper market to offset losses in the silver market.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

European State of Affairs

European state of affair is very gloomy. First Iceland. Then Greece. Now Ireland. Next is Portugal. And the prediction is that Spain will follow. Thereafter maybe Italy. Many people have predicted it. It did happen just as predicted. Only the governments said it would never happen. Take Ireland, up to the very last day, the government of Ireland was denying any problems and talks to the IMF and the EU about a rescue plan. The next day it was all official. How can anyone lie so blatantly?

About Spain? Some say the the European Financial Stability Facility will be out of funds to rescue Spain. Will they increment the fund? Where would the money come from? EU printing presses? US printing presses? Currently the Euro/US$ exchange rate is approaching 1.50. The Euro is very strong and the EU economy is suffering under it. This seems a good opportunity to print Euros, rather taking a $-based credit from the US (IMF or similar). Printing Euros would weaken the Euro currency and remove pressure from EU companies, but it would be against US wishes as the only interest of the US is to flood the whole world with printed US dollars. The gain for the US of sending $-based credits to the EU would be 3-fold: more dependency of the whole world on the US currency, weakening the US dollar even more thereby strengthening US companies, and profiting from future interest payments. So, will the political strength of the US be powerful enough to force the EU to take a US credit rather than print its own Euro money?

Will Spain be rescued? I am sure about it, the question is only how, i.e. by whom.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Lesson in History

This TED video presentation shows a small part of history, as "seen from the other side". It outlines the history of the Native American Lakotah tribe since 1824. History is always written by the victor. 15 griping and sad minutes of video by Aaron Huey. Minority groups and natives around the world have and are still suffering the same treatment.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Germany upholds Restrictions on GMO

This week a German court voted in favor on keeping current restrictions on planting and growing GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) plants. Overall there is good news and there is worrisome news. The good news:
  • Existing restrictions on distance and liability of genetically polluting neighboring fields are kept in place. [Proving pollution and the source of pollution however seems dauntingly difficult.] 
  • In April 2009, Germany's government banned commercial production of GMO maize type MON 810 GMO from U.S. biotech giant Monsanto on health concerns despite European Union safety approval.
The worrisome news:
  • In 2010 Germany accepted an EU decision to approve commercial cultivation of the GMO potato Amflora developed by German group BASF for industrial starches, not human food.
  • The EU is responsible for GMO approvals in the bloc, but is considering new rules to permit individual member states to decide whether biotech crops are cultivated in their countries.
Slowly the rules and laws safeguarding us from GM pollution in the EU are eroding. It seems that the industry (Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, etc.) is partially successfully working on a divide and conquer strategy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Story of Electronics

It started with The Story of Stuff. Annie Leonard presents her thoughts on the sad story of the production process in a concise, yet cheerful manner. Her upbeat attitude to solve these critical issues make her educational videos nearly fun to watch. Annie Leonard made the Story of Stuff a great story. Over the last four years she has added to it, and made a number of sequels: The Story of Cosmetics, The Story of Bottled Water, etc. And now: The Story of Electronics, 7 minutes worth watching. Here is her site: The Story of Stuff, and here is her YouTube channel. Perfect for us as adults, perfect also to teach teenagers the role of corporations and the outsourcing of cost to other nations. Well done Annie.

Friday, November 5, 2010


This phrase taken from Tim Jackson's talk "An Economic Reality Check" at TED (time 7:00) sums it up pretty well. No additional comment needs to be added: The world we live in is an economy in which we the people are "being persuaded to spend money we don't have on things we don't need, to create impressions that don't last, on people we don't care about."

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I like Cash. No, not the green bills, I am talking about Johnny Cash. I admire his songs and lyrics. However, listening to his songs we too often get reminded that things aren't changing. The 1960s and 2010. It is all the same. One of the biggest problems - especially for the poor people and the poor nations - remains debt.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go;
I owe my soul to the company store.

This song under the title "Sixteen Tons" was first recorded in 1946 and later in 1987 by Johnny Cash. How far have we come? It is deja vu all over again. Debt is dictating our lives and enchaining us as individuals as well as at the national level. Today we owe our souls to the bank (or the World Bank and IMF in the case of nations).

And environmental pollution is also not something new. He sung about it in "Don't go near the water" in 1974. Here is a video version that will correlate words from 1974 with photos from 2010. Another one of my favorites is "The Man in Black". Listen to it if you have time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Hemp is a truly versatile material. It is well known that it was used for making quality ropes. It can be used for clothing. It is an excellent insulating material. Recently I found this video on hemp as a construction material: Hemp bricks are stronger and lighter than concrete. Hempcrete is sound absorbent , moisture absorbent, and has thermal mass. The list of uses goes on and on: paper, car bio-fuel, plastic-like panels, shampoos, soaps and food. No surprise that hemp is sometimes called the plant of 30,000 uses because it combines the utility of the soybean, the cotton plant and the Douglas Fir tree into one single plant. Now that is an impressive plant.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


ParEcon is short for Participatory Economy. ParEcon is a social economic model trying to achieve: equity, solidarity, diversity, and self-management. Equity is defined here as "a condition in which each person gets what they deserve for what they have done, and no one gets more (or less) than that". A key site publishing information on ParEcon is at Z Communications, a company adhering to the parecon principles.

A good starting point might be reading the Capitalism vs. ParEcon comparison sections. The full book "ParEcon - Life after Capitalism" published in 2003 gives additional details.

For those who prefer videos of textual info, have a look at this short intro video clip.

The ParEcon model is certainly strong on equalities, justice and democracy. The resulting economy will be stronger in terms of sustainability and social interaction. It has the ingredients for more happiness and promises to reduced materialism. Its criticism is primarily in the area of efficiency. Capitalism as we have it today has certainly failed as it has failed to serve 80% of the population. We need a new model and studying ParEcon is worth the effort of a few hours of reading.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Competition is such a crucial concept in our daily lives. Free market economists see competition as a key element to their economic model. Socially, the results of capitalistic competition have been disastrous. There is positive and negative competition or at least one can agree while competition could be seen as something neutral as a concept, there are positive and negative effects of competition.

While competition is a crucial factor in economy and society, the amount of books written on this topic is relatively small. A simple search revealed that most articles deal with the concept of competition in sports and tend to give instructions to coaches on how to introduce, manage and train competition in their sports team. A typical article is this, published by Damon Burton and Thomas Raedeke in Sport Psychology for Coaches. Here is a simple and limited article on competition at the workplace.

In Webster competition is defined as
  • 1.a: the effort of two or more parties acting independently to secure the business of a third party by offering the most favorable terms
  • 1.b: active demand by two or more organisms or kinds of organisms for some environmental resource in short supply
  • 2: a contest between rivals

This definition is all "negative", it is about one-against-the-other, a zero-sum-game attitude, a fight for scarce resources, and rivalry. Why can't we define competition as something positive? How about a definition like this?
  • the effort of two or more independent parties to achieve a desired common result by comparing and contrasting independent ideas

I was criticized once for criticizing competition and labeling it as cut-throat, stab-in-the-back and winner-takes-it-all. Competition could be a positive force, but for most part in our economy it has a negative social impact. Discussing the topic I started wondering why we don't have two words, one for positive competition and one for negative competition. In the English language at least its definition seems to be describing a rather fierce force in a zero-sum game. Maybe other languages distinguish between competition leading to negative effects and competition leading to positive effects.

I am not against competition, we need competing ideas and we need freedom of choice between these ideas. The same for products, let the best product win. What we need is an open and fair competition that reflects human values and is based on respect for the others (the competing teams). A competition based on sharing which has the benefit of all in mind. Forced monopolies are usually not a good thing. One of the most urgent areas were we need to abolish a monopoly and need to introduce competition is at the heart of the monetary system. Let's legalize creation of money and give the FED some competition. 

That reminds me of code competitions and challenges to solve particular problems that are based on an open and positive competition. For example a mathematical problem is publicly posted to all competing teams together with a means of scoring a result. Different teams now start coding different solutions. Whenever a solution is available it is published online and rated on a public scoreboard. All teams can see all current algorithms and their score. All teams can and are encouraged to take existing solutions (source code) and improve on them, combine them with their own algorithms, and re-post these improved solutions. [Our economy would call that stealing ideas.] This iterative game stops when a defined time has passed or a defined goal regarding score has been reached. Astonishing creativity and results have come forward through such competitions. Some universities and companies nurture such challenges. Some events are called code-a-thon or similar where people from different companies come together usually for a day or two to cooperate and compete in a positive fashion to derive a common solution.

In a TED talk an education specialist explained that in a test the best results have been achieved by dividing a class in multiple groups, having them all in the same room, requiring that all share their current results at all time, encourage adopting ("stealing") others' ideas, and allowing team members to switch teams voluntarily whenever they wanted.

On Wikipedia the definition of competition is also in terms of a zero-sum game, as rivalry and it states that competition arises whenever two or more parties strive for a goal which cannot be shared. The page acknowledges the positive and negative competition. It labels the one as cooperative competition and the other as destructive competition. Co-operative competition is based upon promoting mutual survival and strives for a "everyone wins" solution through peaceful exchange and without violating other people. This is clearly the type of competition we must foster.

On a side note: The Wikipedia page makes also a reference to the term coopetition. At first glance it sounded like an attractive term for positive competition. At a second look though, it is not the right term as defined by some people. Webster does not recognize the term. Wikipedia defines coopetition as a dual-faced attitude of cooperating with the competitor (enemy) where victory seems impossible while at the same time continuing with destructive competition against the same competitor in other areas. So, the cooperation only stems from the realization that competition is futile and at the same time destructive competition continues. There is no voluntary cooperation in this at all. It is more or less forced cooperation as a last resort to survival. And still the mind set has not been changed as destructive cooperation is still followed as the principle way of doing business wherever possible. Furthermore, at a linguistic level US First claims a trade mark on the term. According to this definition and the legal claim on the term, coopetition is not what we need, and for lack of having found a better term, I will still need to refer to terms such as "positive competition" and "cooperative competition".

Friday, October 15, 2010


Nic Marks talks about happiness at the planet level, the national level and the personal level in his talk "The Happy Planet Index". The HPI (Happy Planet Index) rates all countries on their happiness, or better said on their sustainable happiness, i.e. simply put happiness in relation to the resource consumption. Which is the happiest country? Costa Rica. Why? They did away with the military all together, 99% of the electricity comes from reusable resources, they invested in social and health programs, they enjoy a 78-year life expectancy (higher than US), they have one of the highest literacy rate in the world, they were the first country committed to be carbon neutral by 2020. And they did all this while using only 25% of the resources used by Western countries. Time to get rid of the GDP as measure and replace it with the HPI. Here is the official site of the Happy Planet Index.

On a more personal level, have a look at 5 Ways to Well Being.

An inspiring talk!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Oil and Corexit

Susan Shaw has dedicated a great part of her life to the damages caused by oil disasters such as the Exxon Valdez and the BP crime in the Mexican Gulf. She is an expert on marine toxins and her brief talk "The oil spill's toxic trade-off" is an excellent summary of the dangers of Corexit and the political and big-business attitude in which it is used.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dark Side of Housing Bubble

This is one of the most touching videos about the negative after-effects of the housing bubble: Foreclosure, a short 8-min news report by KCET bringing it all to a (sad) personal level.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Individualism vs. Collectivism

Why is it that "me", "I" and "individualism" are so ingrained in US culture? How does that compare to Asian cultures that are deeply rooted in "us", "together", "community" and "collectivism"? The TED talk entitled "The Art of Choosing" by Sheena Iyengar shows some intriguing scientific results related to this topic. Is this an explanation why cooperation is difficult in the US and most things in the US are based on hyper-competition?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Find Oil, Get Poor

For some time I wondered why rich countries that find oil get richer, but poor countries that find oil get poorer. There is not a single example of an African nation that found oil and by doing so improved economic conditions for its people. In all cases, in the African continent, income and wealth from oil ended up in the pockets of the multinational exploring companies (MobilExxon and the like), arms dealers and manufacturers, and a handful of corrupt politicians, but never in the pocket of the people. Often the issue is also meddled with by intrusions from the IMF and the World Bank. The involvement of these two organizations in these poor countries having discovered oil does not improve these nations' fate of getting poorer. It is not limited to oil, other resources will do as well, and it is not limited to poor nations in Africa, poor nations in other continents are likely to follow the same path. There are some exceptions, most notably Bolivia and Venezuela.

Today I started reading up on this known issue and I learned that there is even a term for this behavior. It is called "the Curse of Oil" or the oil curse for short. The general term is Resource Curse. The 16-page report by Samuel R. Schubert published in the scientific journal Oil and Gas Business in 2006 entitled "Revisiting The Oil Curse: Are Oil Rich Nations Really Doomed To Autocracy And Inequality?" describes the situation and the facts in an excellent fashion. Read it, it is fascinating.

When Western politicians, organizations, corporations (Bush, Obama, Blair, IMF, World Bank, etc.) say and dictate that poor countries must do what is right for the people, they really mean the western corporations. And they (with help from their credits) have the power to modify policies to see through that the benefits of oil finds in poor countries flow back into the rich nations. An article entitled "When Two Poor Countries Reclaimed Oilfields, Why Did Just One Spark Uproar?" in the Guardian written by George Monbiot also talks about this topic.

Also relevant and compelling is the TED video entitled "Four Ways To Help The Bottom Billion" that suggests that the rich nations should help install good governance in poor countries to avoid the resource curse.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

We Feed the World 2

I re-watched the "We Feed the World" video. This 96-minute documentary produced by Austrian Erwin Wagenhofer in 2005 shows the relations between small farmers and fishers and big agro-industry and the effects the global food trade has on individuals, at a personal level. Even the second viewing was interesting. It is the little details that will get stuck in your mind: Austrian farmers today have to work 6 times the size of land to produce the same living standard as their farming parents. ... Every day the largest city of Austria Vienna throws away the amount of bread from overproduction that the second largest city of Austria Granz consumes. ... In the largest vegetable and fruit market in Dakar, Africa, one can find subsidized Spanish vegetables. Subsidized vegetables from European agro-business sell for one third less than local products causing the irreversive death of African farms. ... European governments pay large amounts of subsidies to European farmers to produce wheat and corn. Europe then burns subsidized wheat and corn to fire electric power plant, i.e. wheat and corn are used to produce electricity. Europe then imports soy for feeding its animals, mostly from Brasil. The world's biggest soy exporter is Brasil. Despite being the world's largest soy exporter and one of the world's largest food producing nation people starve in Brasil. ... The global web of interconnections becomes clear. What we eat and how we produce food not only affects us but many people around the world.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

World Economy and Global Trade

One line in the 2002 PBS documentary "Commanding Heights - The Battle for the World Economy - Part 3" subtitled "The New Rules of the Game" (19m49s) stuck out: Global Trade consists of a) $8 trillion in trade in goods and services and b) $288 trillion in trade in currencies. That told me something. Global trade and globalization is much more about moving big money around in split seconds and about multi-national financial speculation than it is about actual trading of goods and services. We should keep this in mind when we hear proposals from the WTO. And since currency trading is a zero-sum game, wherever there is a winner there is a loser. We can assume with near certainty that the big winners in the currency trade are the big financial institutions, while the losers are the millions of average income or poor people that hold a little bit of savings or just have enough cash for the day's food purchase. Global trade has been presented for decades in a false light and above all it is measured by false parameters. It is measured by trade volumes. Just like GDP is not an appropriate measure of the health, progress or wellbeing of a nation, trade volume is not an appropriate measure for economic, social or national health, progress or wellbeing. Countries that have seen explosions of trade volume have seen neither an explosion of national health services, nor of national or social progress. Trade in Mexico has grown 700% in 6 years after the enactment of the NAFTA and yet workers are as poor as before. Global trade should be measured by the benefit for the people: Do people have access to more goods at a reasonable price? How did prices of goods and services develop that were dominating the local eceonomy before the new trade agreement? How did the workers income develop? How did workers rights develop? How about environmental impact of the new trade and production? Is it increasing or decreasing national or global divides? These and similar factors combined would form a better multi-facetted indicator to tell us if increased trade was positive on the whole. Just because we grow soy now in Brasil and ship it to the US and Europe instead of growing it locally does not make the trade a positive thing. In contrary, we increase transport, CO2 emissions and place the burden of mono-culture dependency on Brasil while destroying the rainforest for ever greater soy fields. Is it a good thing that 90% of product X are now produced in country Y and then shipped around the world? Is this positive trade? You may replace placeholder X with product like palm oil, T-shirts, sneakers, television sets and place holder Y with countries like China, Indonesia, or Mexico. The goal of trade should be to enrich people financially, socially and culturally and not to add additional power to a few already powerful banks and corporations. We need high-quality trade, not high-volume trade.

On the official PBS site one can find everything, all videos and all transcripts. A subset is on YouTube.

Monday, September 27, 2010

IMF and Indonesia

There are many examples of the wrong-doings of epic scale of the IMF and the World Bank. Here is the example of the rape of the nation of Indonesia by the IMF. The 53-min video documentary was produced by John Pilger for British television in 2001 and entitled "The new Rulers of the World". After highlighting Indonesia as a case study of the IMF processes at a detailed level, the documentary concludes in the last minutes that the newest ruler of the world is the WTO (World Trade Organization) and that the WTO has been created by a few as an unelected embryonic world government above all nations and responsible only to the world's richest corporations. The last sentences is "Why not abolish the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO and replace them with genuine trade institudions that are democratically acountable? ... Why should we accept this? Why should our children have to face these visions and dangers? None of them is god-given, all of them can be changed."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


The documentary Overdose shows us the future. My favorite sentence is: "The US government has handed out stimulus packages to the tune of ten thousand billion dollars ($ 10,000,000,000,000). That's more than the total cost of the US government for World War I, World War II, the Koren War, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Iraq, the New Deal, the Marshal Plan, and the moon landing". (37:17 or if you are watching the equivalent 3-part series it is Part 3, 6:00-6:22). Wow. Now, that is a good visualization of the amount spent on the bail outs and stimulus packages. My second favorite sentence follows right afterwards: "G.W. Bush has recked up more national debt than all presidents combined before him, from George Washington to Bill Clinton. And Obama is close to create more national debt than all presidents before him, including G.W. Bush."

Watch the Swedish 46-min documentary from 2010 entitled "Overdose: The Next Financial Crisis".

Monday, September 20, 2010

Food Secrets

"Food - The Ultimate Secret Exposed" is a 15-minute video by Alex Jones. In his typical style this video is exaggerated and dramatized. Nonetheless, filtering out some of the theatrical allegations, there is an essence of truth in this video. It is a rapid run through the dangers in today's processed food: Aspartame, GM corn, GM soy, GM cotton seed oil, growth hormone meats and milk, fluoride in water and toothpaste, dimethylpolysiloxane (a type of silicon) in TV dinners, GM salmon, MSG, mercury tainted fertilizers, viral meat spraying, ... For those who do not have time to spend on viewing 1-hour documentaries with more facts on each item of this list, this might be an appropriate summary warning us of the many items to watch out for in the food shopping aisle. Think before you shop.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

War on Drugs

The British newspaper The Guardian wrote a surprisingly candid and thoughtful article on drugs, its social and political implications and the war on drugs. This Guardian article is entitled "Our 'war on drugs' has been an abysmal failure". It is an excellent summary on the issue and a must-read. It reaches the conclusion that the current political legislation of declaring drugs illegal leads to tens of thousands of deaths annually, 1.5 million prisoners in the US alone, millions of impoverished people, social suffering, corruption of entire states, political instability, crime and criminals, 100s of billions of dollars of spending of tax money of fighting it, and the list goes on. Who benefits? Corporations who provide arms and services to fight wars in and outside the US, a few drug lords, people who are offered employment by agencies like the DEA and similar, politicians who gain rights and are given excuses to more control over society as well as support from corporations in the war-on-drugs sector. The war on drugs cannot be won and should not be carried out. Legalization is the path to reduce the negative effects of the drug business and surprisingly to drug consumption reduction as well, as shown by countries such as Netherlands, Switzerland and Portugal.

Independent of this article, a different author published a second - slightly related - article on the topic of drugs in the Guardian on the same day: Hillary Clinton: Mexican drugs war is Colombia-style insurgency. Here are two more articles from the Guardian reporting on the lost war on drugs and calling for an end of drug prohibition: Time to prohibit drugs prohibition and Prohibition's failed. Time for a new drugs policy.

And by the way, war on anything seems to be absurd and misplaced. We should be looking at the approach for tackling difficult issues from a different angle. War on Drugs, War on Terror, War on Hunger, all this indicates a one against another. Problems need a coming together not a fighting each other. A war - no matter on what - can never be a sustainable solution.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Global Dimming and Warming

This 48-minute documentary film produced in 2007 by the BBC for their Horizon series introduces the term "Global Dimming" to the general public and puts global dimming in context with global warming. While the documentary is too dramatic and too sensational for the taste of many people, it still might be a worth while film for the sake of understanding the causes and the trend of global dimming, i.e. the reduction of sunshine reaching our planet's surface due to visible air pollution.

There is a lot of data on both global dimming and global warming, and as with nearly all data, it can be interpreted in many different ways. I do not believe in the main predictions of the main stream scientists. They might be right, but they might also be wrong. Is there global warming? Maybe, probably, but maybe not. Is the global warming caused by mankind? Maybe, maybe not. Is global warming bad? Maybe, maybe not. In my opinion all this data is inconclusive because in today's world it is nearly impossible to know whom to trust.

I am even more opposed to the way greenhouse gas reduction is planned to be implemented. International auctions on CO2 emissions and similar forms scream of injustice, inefectiveness and seem to be another scheme to enrich a few CO2 emissions brokerage companies, paid for by all while not delivering on real, sustainable and just emissions reduction. In short such schemes will turn out to be expensive, ineffective and will be a hidden form of financial transfer from the masses to a few rich, similar to taxation. Emissions reduction will be misused to become a laudable and admirable front face for creating a new system inline with the current abusive banking system that will have a high maintenance cost, induce speculation, will eventually lead to an emissions market bubble, be full of negative side effects, and worse of all: it will not make people responsable for pollution and will not change the attitude of corporations on the topic of pollution. Regarding side effects: Without being able to remember the source, I read a stories that in Thailand large plots of jungle are being cleared to create monoculture palm plantations for palm oil production and that for such actions CO2 emissions bonuses are being handed out. If this story is true than it is clear that we have to expect a lot of unwanted negative side effects to the greenhouse gas emission policies.

Ignoring the data that can be interpreted either way and is only as trustworthy as the scientist who created it, it seems to me it is more appropriate to go back to common sense and basic, local thinking. In your own home, would you want to have a source of air pollution? Image for a second as a mind game, that your hot water boiler has some defect and black smoke would come out of it whenever you take a hot shower. Wouldn't you fix it? In the worst case wouldn't you replace it with a new model that does not pollute your own home with smelly smoke that stinks, makes your baby son cough and paints the walls black with time? It seems obvious. You would not put up with such a water boiler for long. You would replace or fix it. I would extrapolate from your home, to your home town, to your home planet. What is good for your home, along common sense, will also be good when applied on a global scale. Setting strict policies that force the reduction of visible pollution as well as green house gases at the source is a simpler, more transparent, more reliable solution to actually reduce emissions and to do it in a controlable and fair manner for the benefit of all and at the cost of the appropriate corresponding consumer groups.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


If you don't have time to watch "Plastic Planet" or "Addicted to Plastic" watch this different video on the same topic that is a good summary in just 7 minutes. It is entitled "World biggest garbage dump - plastic in the Ocean".

Monday, September 6, 2010


"Overdose - The next financial crisis" is an 45-minute Australian-produced documentary explaining the upcoming financial crisis in layman's terms. It was released in August 2010.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Daily Permaculture News

Are you a news junkie? Looking for your daily dose of up-to-date news on permaculture? Goggle News started to allow the creation of private news channels recently. These channels are published just like any other Google News channel. To date there are 5 Google news channels on permaculture. This number as well as the number of readers is sure to grow over time. Currently the most popular permaculture channel is this one: Permaculture News Channel.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Simplicity and Buddhist Economics

Once you start reading on Voluntary Simplicity each article keeps pulling you in even further. Following E.F. Schumacher's "Buddhist Economics" article a much more detailed work was published by P.A. Payutto (Ven. Phra Dhammapitaka) entitled "Buddhist Economics - A Middle Way for the Market Place". It was first published in 1981 and an improved version followed in 1984. This book goes a lot deeper into Buddhism and one can argue that it focuses more on Buddhism than on economics. If you don't mind reading a philosophy book that touches on economics (rather than an economics book that touches on ethics) this might be a book for your reading list.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

BP, Trust, Transparency

Nowadays it is common knowledge to about everyone that one should not trust to words of a politician, a business man or a car sales man. It is also pretty common knowledge that one should not trust statistics from just any source. What we still have to learn is that we should not trust what we see in the media or photos released by corporations.

In just a single week BP had to admit 3 times that photos released to the public and related to the oil spill catastrophe have been doctored and manipulated. The Washington Post published this article "More doctored BP photos come to light". Similar article from PCWorld.

And if you have been to the movies in the recent years it should also be clear, that one should not trust video footage either. Welcome to the virtual world or the world of Orwell's 1984 where words, images and video can be altered after the fact to suit any political or corporate message desired.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Environmental Damage

According to an unreleased report by the United Nations Environment Programme that took 8 years to produce, the world's 3,000 biggest public companies created $2.2 trillion in environmental damages in 2008 alone! Here are two articles by The Guardian and the American Society of Landscape Architects about this report. The study was conducted by Trucost. A final version will be made public.

It would seem only normal and fair if these large corporations were to pay to undo these damages. If they were to pay these $2.2 trillion in environmental repair, they would still take an incredible $4 trillion home in profits. However, today's politicians are far away from putting regulations in place or enforcing existing laws to hold corporations responsible for their environmental damage. Sad. Even more sad if you consider that the cost of the environmental repair for their pollution would only be a third of their profits.

The report also states that the $2.2 trillion is only a lower boundary of the cost, as it does not take into account long term effects and the cost of toxic waste, the cost of social impact, etc. The final version of the report will include some of these costs.

We clearly live in a world with no appreciation or understanding of the value of nature, which lead to the  creation of two sets of rules: Rules for you and me: You do damage, you will be forced to fix it. Rules for the large corporations: Profit is everything without regard to environmental damage.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Simplicity and Non-Violence

Four quotes from E.F. Schumacher's "Buddhist Economics" 8-page article.

"Simplicity and non-violence are obviously closely related. The optimal pattern of consumption, producing a high degree of human satisfaction by means of a relatively low rate of consumption, allows people to live without great pressure and strain and to fulfill the primary injunction of Buddhist teaching: “Cease to do evil; try to do good.” As physical resources are everywhere limited, people satisfying their needs by means of a modest use of resources are obviously less likely to be at each other’s throats than people depending upon a high rate of use. Equally, people who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade."

"Just as the modern economist would admit that a high rate of consumption of transport services between a man’s home and his place of work signifies a misfortune and not a high standard of life, so the Buddhist would hold that to satisfy human wants from faraway sources rather than from sources nearby signifies failure rather than success. The former tends to take statistics showing an increase in the number of ton/miles per head of the population carried by a country’s transport system as proof of economic progress, while to the latter — the Buddhist economist — the same statistics would indicate a highly undesirable deterioration in the pattern of consumption."

"As the world’s resources of non-renewable fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—are exceedingly unevenly distributed over the globe and undoubtedly limited in quantity, it is clear that their exploitation at an ever-increasing rate is an act of violence against nature which must almost inevitably lead to violence between men."

"The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. Again, the consequences that flow from this view are endless. To organise work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people."

There is no need to add any comments. These words (from 1966) speak for themselves.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Voluntary Simplicity, Yet Again

This theme of Voluntary Simplicity is turning into a trilogy. After "The Value of Voluntary Simplicity" and "Voluntary Simplicity" I am onto "Small is Beautiful" a 300-page book by E.F. Schumacher. It was published in 1973. The author, an economist, takes an economic view on voluntary simplicity. The subtitle reveals a lot about the book: Economics As If People Mattered. His thoughts put people and wellbeing of people in the center, and not economic growth and profits. He recognizes that GNP is an ill measure of the economy. He emphasizing that "the aim ought to be to obtain the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption." Under his definition our society today is extremely inefficient and wasteful. Modern industry seems to be inefficient to a degree that surpasses one's ordinary powers of imagination.

He also coined the term Buddhist Economics which is an economic concept founded on ethics and in which people's wellbeing are the essence. The PDF is here.

The E.F. Schumacher Society appropriately has its homepage under

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Voluntary Simplicity, Again

As follow-on to the article "The Value of Voluntary Simplicity" I started reading the 40-page article from 1977 by Duane Elgin entitled Voluntary Simplicity.

According to Duane these 5 values are at the heart of Voluntary Simplicity:
  • Material Simplicity
  • Human Scale
  • Self-Determination
  • Ecological Awareness
  • Personal Growth

As maximum future growth, in 1977 Duane predicted the following figures for the US.
  • Millions of US adults fully embracing Voluntary Simplicity: 5 in 1977, 25 in 1987, 60 in 2000.
  • Millions of US adults partially embracing Voluntary Simplicity: 10 in 1977, 35 in 1987, 60 in 2000.

I have no statistical data for current years, but it seems that the maximum growth has not been reached. He explains that these maximum projected figures can only be reached if both pull and push forces are at work. Here, it seems that while pull force can be seen throughout the society, few pull forces have been created by the economy, media, corporate or political leaders. In other words, individuals seem to continue to have an inner desire for voluntary simplicity, but corporations and political parties are hell-bound on growth and material consumption.

I concur that developed nations seem to be in a period of social drift. They appear to be losing both momentum and a sense of direction. People seem to be waiting for some leader or chain of events to make clear the nature of an alternative social vision.

Duane foresees 4 principal social evolutions (again, remember he did this in 1977) for the US:

  1. technological salvation
  2. descent into social chaos
  3. benign authoritarianism
  4. humanistic transformation

In your opinion, which one most closely matches current reality 33 years later? I would say that the mainstream has evolved along 1 and 3. We live in a near-authoritarian state and pin our hopes on technology to resolve our problems. Example: Laws prevent us from filming and approaching the BP oil catastrophe while at the same time we hope that through technology we can clean up the immeasurable mess. Voluntary simplicity could play a part in the humanistic transformation of choice 4, but only a small minority of individuals have gone that path.

Duane points out that voluntary simplicity not only plays a role in 4, but also in options 1, 2 and 3. Regarding 1, voluntary simplicity can positively amplify technological solutions by tackling the inherent resource scarcity issues. Regarding 2, social unrest and wars can more easily be defused in a society with voluntary simplicity in place. Chaos is likely to stem from imbalances of rich and poor and wars over resources. Voluntary simplicity helps in reducing both risks or the size of the conflicts. Regarding 3, voluntary simplicity with one of its essences being in self-determination can be counterbalancing grass-roots force to compete with authoritarianism and to help keep it in check. Hence, Duane argues that voluntary simplicity will be a positive and desired movement in all sorts of social evolutions (with the 4 mentioned possibilities just being examples).

What kind of society would emerge if voluntary simplicity were to become the predominant way of life? On page 28 he compares the two world views.
Emphasis in Industrial World View
Emphasis in Voluntary Simplicity World View

Value Premises
  • Material growth
  • Man over nature
  • Competitive self-interest
  • Rugged individualism
  • Rationalism

Value Premises
  • Material sufficiency coupled with psycho-spiritual growth
  • People within nature
  • Enlightened self-interest
  • Cooperative individualism
  • Rational and intuitive

Social Characteristics
  • Large, complex living and working environments
  • Growth of material complexity
  • Space-age technology
  • Identity defined by patterns of consumption
  • Centralization of regulation and control at nation/state level
  • Specialized work roles—through division of labor
  • Secular
  • Mass produced, quickly obsolete, standardized products
  • Lifeboat ethic in foreign relations
  • Cultural homogeneity, partial acceptance of diversity
  • High pressure, rat race existence

Social Characteristics
  • Smaller, less complex living and working environments
  • Reduction of material complexity
  • Appropriate technology
  • Identity found through inner and interpersonal discovery
  • Greater local self-determination coupled with emerging global institutions
  • More integrated work roles (e.g., team assembly, multiple roles)
  • Balance of secular and spiritual
  • Hand crafted, durable, unique products
  • Spaceship earth ethic
  • Cultural heterogeneity, eager acceptance of diversity
  • Laid back, relaxed existence

In which world would you rather live?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Voluntary Simplicity

I have blogged about Voluntary Simplicity before. Today I realized that the term "Voluntary Simplicity" dates back to 1936 when it was coined by Richard Gregg in his article "The Value of Voluntary Simplicity". When I saw that the article is only 16 pages long I started reading. Considering it was written in 1936 it is far ahead of its times.

The most impressive thoughts of the article follow. The quotes are adapted liberally.
  • In Volume III of Arnold J. Toynbee's great Study of History he discusses the growth of civilizations. For some sixty pages he considers what constitutes growth of civilization, including in that term growth in wisdom as well as in stature. With immense learning he traces the developments of many civilizations—Egyptian, Sumeric, Minoan, Hellenic, Syriac, Indic, Iranian, Chinese, Babylonic, Mayan, Japanese, etc. After spreading out the evidence, he comes to the conclusion that real growth of a civilization does not consist of increasing command over the physical environment, nor of increasing command over the human environment (i.e., over other nations or civilizations), but that it lies in what he calls "etherealization": a development of intangible relationships. He points out that this process involves both a simplification of the apparatus of life and also a transfer of interest and energy from material things to a higher sphere. He follows Bergson in equating complexity with Matter and simplicity with Life.
  • The great advances in science and technology have not solved the moral problems of civilization.
  • ... science, technology, and money are on the quantitative rather than the qualitative side of life. The essence of man's social life lies in qualitative rather than quantitative relationships.
  • There can be beauty in complexity but complexity is not the essence of beauty.
  • I commented to Mahatma Gandhi that it was easy for me to give up most things but that I had a greedy mind and wanted to keep my many books. He said, “Then don’t give them up. As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, you should keep it. If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you. Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you, or when it seems to interfere with that which is more greatly desired.”
  • Simplicity can also be applied to our eating habits. Knowledge will help us select food wisely so that we may be healthy while maintaining simplicity.
  • We need examples of people who, leaving to Heaven to decide whether they are to rise in the world, decide for themselves that they will be happy in it, and have resolved to seek—not greater wealth, but simpler pleasure, not higher fortune, but deeper felicity; making the first of possessions, self-possession.

He also argues that world is crumbling because morality is the base for everything. We have overdeveloped our technology and finance but we have not nurtured our morality. As a result our world is like a massive engine but it is supported only by two flimsy legs of morality. We are vastly out of balance and we should focus and strengthen our morality before we do anything else to once again create a sound foundation.

His article weighs pros and cons of individual voluntary simplicity, and then applies it at the level of a nation viewing nations just like a conscious being consisting of many individuals. He finds most arguments against simplicity as flawed and finds real benefits of simplicity at all levels, the individual as well as the national. In his opinion, a simple nation will be more satisfied and more moral nation.

He summarizes that voluntary simplicity is not enough. He says, In addition to the changes in consumption which widespread simplicity would bring about, it will be necessary also to develop great changes in the present modes of production. Decentralization of production would be one of these changes. The social effects of that would be far-reaching and profound. Many other great changes will be necessary, including a different control of large-scale production and of land, and changes in distribution and in money as an instrument and as a symbol.

Later, Duane Elgin built upon the thoughts of Richard Gregg. Duane wrote articles and several books on Voluntary Simplicity. Here is his home page, also the home of Voluntary Simplicity. A 40 page article from 1977 is entitled Voluntary Simplicity. This article looks at the goals and values of people embracing voluntary simplicity. It discusses who the people are, their living patterns, and plausible trends out to the year 2000. The paper then discusses the social and business implications of voluntary simplicity. It sounds promising. I will make it reading material for another day.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Reducing Oil Consumption

Greenpeace just published this simple list of how everyday people can reduce oil consumption in their every day lives.

  1. Carpool, cycle or use public transport to go to work.
  2. Choose when possible products packaged without plastic and recycle or re-use containers.
  3. Buy organic fruits and vegetables (fertilisers and pesticides are based on oil more often than not).
  4. Buy beauty products (shampoo, soap, make-up) based on natural ingredients, not oil.
  5. Choose when possible locally produced products (less transport involved).
  6. Buy clothes made out of organic cotton or hemp - not from oil derivatives.
  7. Use non-disposable items in picnics and summer festivals.
  8. Quit bottled water.
  9. Fly less.
  10. Demand that your government encourage renewable energy instead of oil.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Welfare versus Charity

We as a society don't want anyone to go hungry. It is a shame that there are homeless without a roof over their head. Looking at all members of society combined, we have enough resources (material goods, food, knowledge, mental wit, time and labor) to provide all with the privilege of food, shelter and healthcare. Nobody will doubt that it is a worthy and ethical aspiration to provide these privileges to all. Yet, how do we do it?

Through welfare or through charity? Through statism or through private empathy? Or a mix thereof? Here is an article entitled "Replacing Welfare" arguing against statist welfare. Here is an article with similar arguments in Spanish entitled "What would happen to the poor?".

Several mixed modes come to my mind: Mixed mode 1: How about an environment with alternatives? In short, competing solutions. Have statist welfare coexist with private charity and let the poor chose one or the other. According to the published articles private charity promises a higher probability for the poor to leave poverty, find a job and be treated in a dignified manner. Statist welfare is wasteful with some 70% of the money not going to the poor but to the apparatus (paper shufflers and paper work). If offered the choice between statist welfare or private charity, which poor would chose the possibly lower but more or less guaranteed welfare check? Which poor would chose the probably better and more individualized service of the private charity with the drawback of it being less guaranteed?

Mixed mode 2: How about a set-up where the state/government hands over all welfare money to private non-profit charity organizations? This would eliminate the bureaucracy (or shall I spell it bureaucrazy?), the overhead, and the government waste. It would probably create or elevate other risks and temptations of misuse of funding, etc. However, it would be an attempt to get the best of both sides: efficient private charity services to the poor and guaranteed funding of these private organizations.

So, besides the pure modes exist some mixed modes. One first articles asks in the summary: "If you had $10,000 available that you wanted to use to help the poor, would you give it to the government to help fund welfare or would you donate it to the private charity of your choice?" I would give some to the homeless I see every day in the park, i.e. act locally. The rest I would distribute over a handful of private charities to reduce risk.

There are 2 sides to the coin of poverty. What are we as the donors willing to do? Which solution would the donors prefer? For the other side of the coin, I would also raise the question: What do the poor want? Which solution would the poor chose? Would the poor chose the right to an arguably fair (equal to all, but customized/individualized to none) system of state-guaranteed low welfare or the privilege of individualized assistance of well-meaning private beings with a human touch driven by empathy without any guarantees and without any waste?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Made in China

An artist designed a dollar note featuring Mao Zedong on it and a "Made in China" label as part of an eye catching advertising campaign for the news magazine Trend. The billboard ad asks "Is this the future?" and adds "The Trend magazine predicts what is to come". Here is the Dollar note made in China. Thought provoking! As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


The lyrics of this song are astonishing. They hit the nail right on the head. I can't image a better and shorter explanation of the problems surrounding and created by globalization. Unfortunately the song and its lyrics are in German. The musicians are Christoph and Lollo, a Viennese singer-songerwriter duet. If you understand some German listen to this: Globalisierungslied.

The song starts with these lines:
In our complicated world there are jobs,
which nearly nobody can understand.
For example, there are men whose main purpose
is to invest the billions of their clients
for five minutes, then take the money back
to turn one percent of profit.
This make millions of people jobless,
and poor and sick and dead,
has no purpose for mankind,
and rots the world's economy.
Only a few rich can profit
in a tax exempted way,
They turn richer ....

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Windowfarms Project

The ways and forms of gardening and farming are abundant. Vertical gardening (link, link, link, link, linkvideo, video), 3-D barrel gardening (video), old-tire gardening (video, video), roof-top gardening (link, link), square-foot gardening (link, link, link, book), indoor gardening (link, link), ... and now window gardening. Conceptually, window farming is not new, it is just a specific application of vertical farming. It uses indoor gardening technology, combines it with vertical gardening ideas and geographically moves it to the window to take advantage of sun light. The way of communicating and spreading the idea of window farming is open source at its best. It is a grass root movement, and instead of just spreading the idea, people got together, tried various designs, and put together a design kit of the best known reliable solution. In other words, they went one step up in the food chain (pun intended). The second step up is that the the idea was taken commercial and pre-packaged parts kits are now on sale for do-it-yourself home assembly. It has received a lot of public exposure lately. It was on national public radio. The key idea is outlined in this brief video. The official Windowfarms Project site is less than 1 year old, but already people around the globe are imitating, copying and reusing the idea, applying it and and feeding improvements back. A tiny window farming community and ecosystem has been created. People blog about it. And the easiest way of telling that it is becoming a success is that the term "Windowfarms" has now been trademarked.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Urine was used by the Romans as laundry detergent and in the tanning process. Roman emperors had a urine tax. Apart from that urine can be an excellent fertilizer. I found urine as fertilizer fascinating. Simple, effective, reducing waste, keeping rivers and oceans nutrient-free, reduced flushing of toilet, no transportation cost, freely available, ... What I wondered about were the basic rules of use. This short reading list (Humanure book, Liquid Gold book, article, article, article, article, article, article, article, video, video, data on growth benefits of urine The Nitrogen Fix: The use of Urine in Agriculture Eco Sanitation) helped boiled down the rules of engagement to this summary:

  • As a rule of thumb dilute urine with 5 to 15 parts of water for plants in growth.
  • As a rule of thumb dilute urine with 30 to 50 parts of water for pot plants.
  • Trees or lawns should be able to handle urine in undiluted fashion.
  • Don't put it on the leaves of the plants (unless you want to use it as a pesticide on trees), but put it on the soil.
  • Don't apply urine during the last 2 weeks before harvest.
  • Don't use urine older than 24 hours on your plants, instead put it into the compost.
  • Using urine in the compost is safe and beneficial as it increases compost activity and nutrients.
  • Don't put it on your skin over prolonged periods to avoid dermatitis.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bulk Food Storage using Nitrogen

PeakMoment has put together an excellent, dare I say, must-see video on food packaging using food-grade plastic bags and nitrogen for food storage of 3 to 10 years. The video explains the full set-up in detail. A great step towards food preparedness and disaster food storage.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

No Money

Did you know that there was a country without currency not so long ago? A place where money was abolished? A country without banks? Hard to image but true. Under the power of the Khmer Rouge for some five years Cambodia was a country without money. From 1975 till 1980 money did not exist. Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, abolished money, markets, and private property, blowing up the Central Bank to underscore his point. Apparently, not only was there no money, but as there was no property, there was also no trade. Even for extremists this is extreme. This insane regime has brought a lot of suffering and certainly nobody will look at this as a role model. Still I found it interesting that there was one (very flawed and failed) attempt to eliminate money in modern history. A sad historical curiosity. Here is an article looking at the economic, political aspects of being without money in this historic context: The Riel Value of Money.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Crisis of Capitalism

This just in from the Royal Society of Arts (RSA): Crisis of Capitalism. If you have a lot of time and interest available to go deeper into the subject you can "read" Marx's Capital jointly with David Harvey. He made his lecture available as an online series of videos. The lecture series is entitled "Reading Marx's Capital with David Harvey". After viewing the lecture you can join the discussion forum of Marx's Capital.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) is a British institution dating back 250 years. According to their web site they want to be a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress. Their approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.

They provide one of the biggest free events programmes in the UK, enabling leading thinkers and new voices to share ideas on key contemporary issues. They are like a British counterpart to TED. The RSA is a great source for free videos of talks of well known scientists and thinkers. Their web site and YouTube channel provide to the public a huge pool of presentations on a variety of interesting subjects. An excellent place to go to for the curious or for the ones who seek food for the mind.

Some examples: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, The secret powers of time, The empathic civilization, Superfreakonomics.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Oil in Rain

The BP oil disaster has such proportions and such impact that the only event in the world's history to which a comparison can be drawn is Chernobyl. The BP oil disaster might be a lot worse than Chernobyl.

As always language, i.e. words, are used to spin the situation. In this case we have the term "spill". Webster defines it as "2 : to cause or allow especially accidentally or unintentionally to fall, flow, or run out so as to be lost or wasted". So, media is using the term as to indicate an accident (instead of negligence and overly risky enterprise with a high risk of failure) and to imply a small amount (instead of an ongoing leak that daily pours millions of gallons of oil into the ocean without a stop in sight). Instead of "spill" they should be saying "massive oil leak caused by negligence". Here is a real-time counter showing the hundreds of millions of gallons of oil that leaked so far.

It has started to rain oil in Louisiana (video also here). And with the oil drifting into the Atlantic it will rain toxic crude oil in far away places as Western Europe, the East Coast of the US, Central America, and eastern countries of South America. The soil will be polluted with the toxic crude oil. There is no protection and it is irreversible. The carcinogenic oil in the soil will go into our food chain (first crops, veggies, then animals) and finally we humans will consume it, by the millions in small doses causing cancer and other diseases.

Instead of Bon Appetit we will have to say Bon Pollution. Our liberty to select and buy healthy food will be crushed.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Generation M

This article entitled Generation Monsanto is so to the point that no extra commentary word is needed. Absolutely true.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Smile or Die

This is a cool 11-minute video about mandatory optimism in our society today and how it can be used for social control. It brings up a few good points. A longer video that not only includes the presentation by Barbara Ehrenreich but also a question and answer session is here. In the workplace context and the political arena it seems very convincing. Critical voices are disliked and pushed into the background or fired. Whistle blowers are poorly perceived by society in general.

In the private sphere it is not so obvious. Let's take patients with an illness. Are they more likely to recover if they have a positive attitude, i.e. hope, even if false hope?

Just as the author argues, realism should come first. If something is rotten, it should be outed. With realism solidly in place, optimism could fill the voids to give us a positive outlook whenever we have little information to go on. In other words: how about being optimistic by default until realism contradicts are positive assumptions at which point realism overrules positivism.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Happiness Defined

Found this definition of happiness by Chip Conley on TED in this video (10:49).

                         wanting what you have
Happiness =  ----------------------------------
                         having what you want

Ponder it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Addicted to Plastic

"Addicted to Plastic" is a 2009 Canadian documentary film highlighting the issues around plastics, from manufacturing, recycling or lack of recycling and the pollution it causes. It has been on TV in several European countries and on screens around the world. It is a good first introduction on the problematics of microplastics. Various trailer and the film can also be found on YouTube.

A related 95-min documentary film which I haven't seen yet but is on my to-watch list is Plastic Planet which is from an Austrian production, also released in 2009. Both seem to be documentaries on the same topic. It will be interesting to compare the conclusions drawn from these two independent films. Here is the YouTube channel of Plastic Planet (in German).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vote "No" on GM

The European Commission has just allowed genetically engineered crops into Europe, ignoring safety concerns of the public interest. There is a new EU citizen initiative with Greenpeace, Avaaz and Friends of the Earth - calling for a moratorium on GE and GM crops in the EU. The target is to collect 1 million online signature from EU citizens. If this goal is reached these non-profit organizations can submit an official legal request to the European Commission. If you are a EU citizen please sign. It is easy and only takes 60 seconds. It is crucial to keep GM foods out of the EU. More than 600,000 votes have been collected so far.

You can read more and sign the petition here: Please vote.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Intellectual Property Rights

The discussion on IP rights is quite hot. Material property rights seem to be easy. If you own a house and can prove it, it is yours. But the intellectual property is complicated. The in-favor-of-IP camp argues that any person who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof has a moral property right to it. The same camp argues that patents and IP rights create innovation by protecting R&D or other kind of intellectual investment. The contra-IP camp argues that unlike the material domain there are no moral rights on property in the intellectual domain. Furthermore they argue the IP right protection and patents stifle innovation as they prevent follow-up inventions and faster market absorption. In addition, preventing vital information and inventions to reach the market for the good of the common is unethical, immoral and speaks against IP rights. Imagine this example: Someone invents a cure for cancer, patents it and does not license it. Later a different person through independent means invents the same cure for cancer and wants to donate his invention to mankind. He is prevented. The second inventor has been robed of his freedom to donate his invention. The cancer patients are the ones to suffer the consequences. Another example would be big multinational oil companies buying up patents regarding non-gasoline powered vehicles and hiding these patents in a drawer. Such behavior is against the good of the common. And of course there are camps in between these extremes, camps that argue that some IP protection is beneficial for some type of IP.

How far can we go? How far have we gone? The IP rights are constantly expanded. First in time (now 20 years), then in scope. Genes can be patented. Whole plants are protected (see Monsanto and its generically modified seeds) already. Now corporations are trying to claim property rights on animals (e.g. Monsanto wants to patent the pig). What's next? Human body parts? Eye color genes?

This was in the news last week: "If the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) gets its way, the file-sharing company LimeWire will get blasted out of existence with a billion dollar fine. Meanwhile, British Petroleum, with its oil spill, that's on its way to the ecology disaster level of a Chernobyl, is liable for up to $75-million under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. What's wrong with this picture?" (Source: LimeWire provided means to share files, i.e. to enable IP infringement. BP polluted and continues to pollute the world's ocean and air. Does current legislation seem just?

UC Berkeley has a site with several high quality papers on IP. Not that I agree with all the conclusions but these publications offer a good discussion of the topic. "A World Without Intellectual Property? Boldrin and Levine, Against Intellectual Monopoly" by Richard Gilbert, "The Justification of Intellectual Property: Contemporary Philosophical Disputes" by Kenneth Himma, and "Monopoly, Mercantilism, and Intellectual Property" by Thomas Nachbar. Each paper has a button "Similar Items" to show related scientific publications.

Friday, June 11, 2010


As a Top-10 open source application I ran across Bitcoin, a digital currency. I studied it and found this currency very intriguing. There is no central point (such as an issuing central bank or issuing corporation) and there is nothing (no material goods such as gold) that backs it up. Here are some key links to inform yourself about the working and principles of Bitcoin: home page, Wikipedia, a blog entry on, and a summary blog on The Monetary Future.

  • Since there is no central point it is less likely to be manipulated and control is outside the sphere of one powerful organization (like the FED, a central bank, or a corporation).
  • There is no inflation, the Bitcoin currency is limited to 21,000,000 units, i.e. BTCs, brought into existence slowly over time.
  • It cuts out the middleman (i.e. banks) as individuals can trade directly with each other without the need to go through a banking system or a clearing house. That makes it more efficient, cheaper and reduces dependencies, i.e. risks.
  • It is more libertarian as transactions are not monitored by governmental agencies and can be done with anonymity. However, if such a currency were to become popular, it is nearly certain that legislation would be put in place to require individuals to report on such transactions. It would be treated like off-shore banking by governmental agencies.

  • As a weak point I see stability. Clearly the interchange value to other currencies will fluctuate. That's fine. But what will give it intrinsic stability? Apparently intrinsic stability comes from trust into the currency, but as we know trust levels can fluctuate and even be manipulated (e.g. through the media).
  • It is electronic money requiring some sort of electronic device to carry the currency with you. Today this is a laptop. In the future this could be your cell phone and you could carry that to the local store to buy a loaf of bread and pay through a transaction initiated by yourself on your cell phone at the checkout.
Bitcoin can be part of a competing multi-currency infrastructure providing a solution to our monetary problems.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Percy Schmeiser

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Percy Schmeiser and his wife in person on his European tour. He is a soft-spoken person with a simple and direct personality; he is about 77 years old, a life-long farmer, with several kids all working in agro-related areas. This year, due to age and time constraints, he is giving up farming. If you have seen any documentaries on Monsanto it is nearly certain that you have seen some video snippets of Percy Schmeiser. He is the Canadian farmer -- his grandma was from Austria hence his interesting name -- that was sued for years by Monsanto after Monsanto had found patented genetically modified (GM) crop on his field that grew from seeds that the wind had blown in. In short, his fields got contaminated and polluted by foreign Monsanto GM crop and then he got sued for not paying patent licenses to Monsanto. Percy took up the fight and took the topic to the Canadian Supreme Court. There were 3 law suits in total Percy told me over a glass of white wine in a chat. He further explained that even though it is illegal in Canada to patent plants, it is legal to patent genes and the court ruled that if the genes are in plants then the right to the whole plant goes to the gene patent holder. Through this backdoor it became possible to practically patent plants in Canada against their legislation. If I understood him correctly the final outcome of the lawsuits were that it was declared that he infringed on the rights of Monsanto but he was freed from any punitive actions and any punitive payments. This backdoor for patenting plant life was also recognized by the Canadian courts that there are efforts underway to create new legislation to close it, but it will take years before it becomes reality.

Other countries, like the EU and in particular Austria, have learned a lesson from this legal case and this epic struggle of a single farmer against a giant corporation that controls about 80 percent of all the seeds on all the farmlands of all of North America. E.g. Austria has put a rule in place in 2005 prohibiting law suits where patented seeds are accidentally distributed onto fields such that the patent owner cannot request licenses for such seed contamination.

To opposite, the farmer suffering the contamination cannot defend himself or sue anyone. Imagine you are an organic farmer and through wind GM crop seeds are polluting your fields. Suddenly you are no longer an organic farmer and lose your license and farm. Who is to blame? The GM seed manufacturer, i.e. Monsanto, clearly says we are not liable for that, we just hold the patent on the seed. Can't sue the wind. The person responsible is the neighbor planting GM crop, but since no farmer can put an air-tight glass dome over his fields and no truck carrying crop can be wrapped in a giant condom, such gen pollution is virtually certain to happen. The neighboring farmer does not have to resources to prevent it.

Since this GM pollution into organic farms is happening already, regulatory bodies already had to tweak the definition of "organic". According to EU laws, organic food allows up to 0.9% of GM crop. In short, if organic food contains 0.9% GM food it will still receive the "organic" or "bio" label. I am afraid this is just the beginning, as GM pollution increases who prevents that this bar is silently raised from 0.9% to 2 or 3%? In any case, GM producers literally have taken away from us the right to eat 100%-GM-free food, it cannot be found anymore in regular supermarkets, especially if you not only take into account the GM pollution on the fields but also the ingredients like monoglyceride, diglyceride, lecithine, glutamat, E620 – ER625, in prepared food that do not require labeling. Furthermore vitamins B, C and E are frequently manufactured through GM microorganisms.

Since GM pollution is certain to happen and has happened already, and since it is irreversible we should be extra careful. Monsanto knows how to put a new gene into a plant, but they do not know how to take the plant out of circulation. There is no fail-safe behavior. You find a pesticide to be toxic, you can outlaw it and no longer use it. You find a GM crop to be harmful, you can no longer stop it. It will propagate itself, spread itself, mutate itself, ... it is a plant and it has a life of its own.

With Percy Schmeiser in town there is another event tonight highlighting his presence. The 65-minute documentary film "David versus Monsanto" will be screened publicly. It was produced 2009 by a German team. The film is also available here as well as a talk he did at UC Berkeley. Here is a short trailer.

I realized how annoying he must have become for the public relations campaigns of Monsanto when I found a long page dedicated to Percy Schmeiser on the Monsanto public web site. Have a look at this: The same is on their international sites like the Spanish one.

Monsanto regularly wins prizes: Monsanto won the 2009 Award for Worst Corporate Climate Lobbyist (by Angry Mermaid), Monsanto won the Least Ethical Company In The World Award (by Covalence, out of 581), ... (in Spanish).

Watch the film on this oh so ethical corporation Monsanto and the next time you are in the supermarket reach for the organic product (it is at least 99.1% GM-free according to EU regulation).